1980 Murder Case Closed This Week
Everyone has those little small towns where they are tucked away unknown within the states. These little towns make up peaceful little neighborhoods until something so tragic happens, it shocks not only the townspeople but other surrounding locations as well. That is what happened on the night of September 22, 1980, when a cold case was born. Almost forty years later, the man who shocked the little community was found almost 1,500 miles away. From Clayton, Idaho, where the shooting took place, to find the suspect in Eastland County, Texas, in a small farmhouse. Walter James Mason was wanted for almost forty years and finally found and arrested this week for the murder of Daniel Mason Woolley.
Clayton was a small mining town based at the foot of a mountain that was home to 43 people. On the night of September 22, 1980, the population would go down to 42 before the night was over. That night most of the town was inside a Sports Club Bar. Walter Mason was a bareback rodeo cowboy from the professional rodeo in the 1960s. He moved to Clayton, where he worked as a rancher and hunting guide for many years. Mason kept mostly to himself, and he did not have many friends if any. In fact, no one really knew who he was until after that tragic night.
Witnesses told the local newspaper, the Post Register, reported what happened. “Mason stormed inside the first bar around 10 p.m. that September night to accuse his wife of cheating on him with another man at the bar named Daniel Mason Woolley. The bartender threatened to throw Mason out “if he couldn’t clean up his mouth,” and before long, three men dragged him outside. A brawl erupted. Woolley, a 52-year-old father of three, went outside to break it up. But at that point, Mason had crossed the street to grab two pistols from his truck. He allegedly returned to fatally shoot Woolley in the head. He went back inside the Sports Club bar to fire multiple shots in a fit of rage, striking the jukebox, the pool table, and a man in the shoulder. Then, escaping the grasp of the bar patrons who disarmed him, he fled for the Silver Bar at the Clayton Hotel across the highway. He sat down and ordered one last drink, and then he allegedly said, to no one in particular, ‘I have just killed a man.'”
When the Custer County deputies arrived at the scene, Mason fled the scene in his truck and was never heard from or seen since that day, until Monday. Custer County Sheriff Stu Lumpkin put out a statement, “On Monday, the Custer County Sheriff’s Office revealed that after nearly 40 years, Mason was discovered living under the alias Walter James Allison on a Central Texas ranch nearly 1,500 miles away, located on the outskirts of the sleepy rural town of Rising Star, Tex., population 835. Now 86 years old, Mason was arrested by Texas authorities and extradited back to Idaho this month to face murder charges in Woolley’s death.” The sheriff continued, “His identity was confirmed through fingerprinting, and he has since pleaded not guilty to the charges. Mason’s court-appointed attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.”
The townspeople of Clayton never really got over the shooting and death of Woolley. In 1986, The Post Register ran a postmortem column about the incident. Dan Strand, a resident, was interviewed and new both men. He stated, “It was a shock, I’ll tell you. Nobody could believe it.” The column also mentioned Mason’s wife, “The fatal shooting affected nearly the entire community in more ways than one. Mason’s wife was the town’s only teacher in its two-room schoolhouse.” She was no longer there after the shooting, which meant the town was without a teacher.
The Post Register continued the report stating, “With no schoolteacher left in Clayton, all the children had to be bused to Challis to attend school more than two dozen miles northeast of the town, a treacherous journey in icy conditions along a two-lane highway.”
The Idaho State Journal also picked up the story around the same time as the Post Register. They reported, “The woman believed to be Mason’s wife was battered on the face on the night of the man’s alleged rampage. Shaken up by what happened, and the lingering publicity, his wife reportedly left town for Challis, Idaho.” The town is now down to seven people with everything closed.