|Gardner dictating one of his|
many Perry Mason novels
Gardner never stopped practicing law and, in fact, spent much of his later life helping prisoners. This may have been mentioned in Gardner’s biography by Dorothy B. Hughes but I’ve never read it. Nevertheless it was fascinating to learn that Gardner was one of the first people to create a foundation that examined miscarriages of justice (The Court of Last Resort), reviewing cases of prisoners who wrote letters claiming innocence and of being wrongfully imprisoned. One such letter written in 1951 found its way to Gardner’s desk. The writer was Silas John Edwards, an Apache medicine man who had started his own religion. In 1933 he had been tried for the murder of his wife, was quickly found guilty on largely circumstantial evidence, and sent to prison. Gardner reviewed the court transcripts and interviewed others on the reservation where the murder took place. Many of those he interviewed were convinced of the Apache’s innocence. Some even claimed to know the name of the true killer. It was a piece of supposed evidence presented by the prosecution, however, that set Gardner off on his quest to save Edwards.
|Silas John Edwards (left) and his father|
©E.E. Guenther, from collection of
William Kessel as published in Smithsonian
Rather than summarize the entire story which has more than its fair share of life’s irony and twists to rival any Perry Mason novel I point you to the full story as written by journalist Jack El-Hai. Luckily it’s one of the articles you can read in full at the online version of the December 2020 issue of Smithsonian magazine. It makes for eye opening reading.