This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The murder of Leroy Albert Wilson in 1954 was sensational enough that two of the biggest magazines of the day, Life and Time, wrote about it.
Time even dubbed the killing "The Geiger-Counter Murder" because that's what Wilson was holding when police found his body. Wilson was shot five or six times in the back over an attempt to jump a mining claim near Kanab, and the murder was portrayed as the dark byproduct of Utah's uranium boom. The suspect was acquitted, but a new account says law enforcement had the right man after all.
Larry Zirker, who lived in Kanab as a child, said suspect Cyril "Tom" Holland confided in Zirker's father after the trial. Holland said he used a bogus uranium find as a lure, then murdered Wilson when he arrived to make a claim.
Zirker, 64, wrote his account in a letter to the Southern Utah News, which published it last week. In a telephone interview Monday with The Salt Lake Tribune, Zirker said he was coming forward to help solve a murder.
"Maybe some people would like to know really what happened to the murder weapon, what killed him," Zirker said.
Carl Holland on Monday maintained his father's innocence and said Zirker is "writing a real fictitious story." Tom Holland went on to help form the National Mustang Association in Iron County before his death in 1980.
Zirker's family owned the Purple Sage Motel in Kanab, where Tom Holland and Wilson both lived while prospecting for uranium. Holland taught Zirker's father, Lawrence Zirker, how to stake mining claims, and the two men became good friends, the younger Zirker said.
According to accounts Zirker said he heard from his parents and sisters, Wilson once "jumped" one of the Zirker and Holland claims by going to the county recorder's office and back-dating the documents needed to file the claim. A brawl between the elder Zirker and Wilson erupted at the motel, and Wilson moved out.
Holland set a trap for Wilson when he took a chunk of high-grade uranium ore from Wyoming to the Kane County recorder's office and said he found it on a claim near Kanab.
Word of the find reached Wilson. On May 18, 1954, he went to the parcel where the ore was supposedly found. Holland was waiting and shot Wilson. Holland returned to the motel about 3:30 p.m., where the Zirker children saw him.
Perhaps the same day he used it to kill Wilson, Holland gave Zirker's father the Model 1911 .45-caliber pistol, which is now the Utah state gun. Zirker's father had always admired the gun, but when he learned of the murder, he hid the pistol in a full paint can. Years later, the father smashed the pistol and tossed pieces out the window during a drive to Zion National Park, the younger Zirker was told. Zirker's father died about 10 years ago.
Holland, 50 at the time of the killing, testified he and Wilson were inspecting the mining claim on the day of the murder. Holland said he was with Wilson until 3:30 or 4 p.m., then left Wilson to take a nap. Zirker's two teenage sisters testified at trial and corroborated Holland's timeline.
In August 1954, a Kane County jury acquitted Holland.
Zirker said his father participated in the cover-up because he feared being a suspect in the murder.
"He had a fistfight and he had a motive," Zirker said, adding that he thinks his mother and sisters didn't know what happened until years later.
Carl Holland, then 16 years old, sat next to his father during the trial. On Monday, he questioned why Zirker was coming forward now. He said his family has tried to forget the murder trial because the family went broke paying for his father's legal defense.
"It ruined our lives," Carl Holland said.
Zirker is confident in what his family has told him.
"My father wouldn't make up a story and smash a gun," Zirker said.
'The Geiger Counter Murder'
O Larry Zirker's full account in the Southern Utah News • bit.ly/hL4CVq
The 1954 Time magazine article • ti.me/gD4Xuq
Photo spread from Life about the murder and Utah's uranium boom • bit.ly/hiUFKh