Hello everyone and welcome Okie Investigations. My Name is Trevor Shelby. In this episode we are going to discuss the power of greed and the death of Joe Novotny, who was gunned down in the streets of Tonkawa. In this episode we will discuss What happened, Why and what’s happened since.
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Joseph Hubka Sr, who went by Joe, was born in Kochiny Bohemia on December 20 1855. His childhood was full of fear of having to live under the then oppressive and cruel form of government. he sailed across the seas, landed in Baltimore Md where together with his wife they built themselves a little home of their own and enjoyed the beautiful air of freedom. After a few years there they moved to Cleveland Ohio later to Chicago and then to Oklahoma City.
Finally in 1893 they settled on a homestead in Glen-rose township where at first he engaged in farming and later in fruit raising. The Family was known at the time for having the finest vineyard in Noble county
Greed can be a powerful thing, it can be used to create empires of wealth, it can also be used to destroy lives. It was once said by American Author Edward Abby “A house built on greed cannot long endure”. This little homestead in the Glen-rose township in Noble County was built on the Oklahoma Foundation of Greed. Oil.
For a number of years the Hubka family lived on the quarter section of land. They built a small homestead, raised a loving family and lived the early 20th century American dream. It wasn’t until 1919, when a local Oilman Joe Novotny, who was also Joe Hubka’s son in law, offered the family 18,000 dollars for the land that Joe hubka, the family patriarch, even thought of selling the land.
The Oilman Joe Novoty had a suspicion that there might be Oil on the Hubka land, he knew he could be wrong but he was willing to take the chance. At the time, 18,000 was more than fair for a land with no oil, so if nothing came from it, he might just sell it again and get his money back.
It didn’t take long for Joe Hubka to make his decision. By selling the homestead for 18,000 they would be able to move into a better situation. But he didn’t get to see the fruits of his labor. Before the deal could be signed and finished. Joe Hubka fell ill, he was rushed for treatment in Oklahoma City but later died. He left behind his wife Anna, son Joseph Jr. and four daughters.
Now, Anna Hubka decided that it was the wishes of her husband to sell the land and they would continue to do so. The deal was done and the family received their 18000 dollars.
Just months after the deal was made, it became quite clear why Joe Novotny wanted the land. He began drilling for oil on the former Hubka Land and after a considerable amount of money was spent drilling, a year after the purchase, He struck Oil.
This was not just a little bit of oil either. This was enough oil to recoup everything that was put into purchasing the land, the constant drilling and would go on to fund future endeavors. This was a big moment for Joe Novotny, but not everyone in town was happy for him.
After finding out that Joe had struck oil, Anna Hubka felt a little slighted, perhaps cheated. If their land had oil, then why did they sell off for so little? When she sold the land, it was for the land and the mineral rights. So they had no claim any longer to what was hidden under the earth there.
Anna’s frustration was taken in by her son, Joseph Hubka Jr. Joseph was unwilling to accept that the land that they had owned for so long, that had enough oil to change the lives of his family, could be stolen in such a way and by someone that was considered family.
Joseph confronted his Brother in Law, Joe about it. Although Joe did not want the Hubka family to hate him, he felt he was completely in the right not to share any of his new found wealth with their family. They might have owned the land at one time, but he took the risk of purchasing the land and fronted the money to drill for oil.
Joseph began or obsess over the sale of the land, he began to write letters to his brother in law. Through considerable research, I was able to locate one full letter.
“Joseph Novotny, Tonkawa, Oklahoma: About thirty days ago I wrote you stating certain facts up to this date I did not receive a word from you. I am not surprised at all because that is the way you have conducted yourself in the past. I have studied you from every angle. And this is the whole thing in a nut shell it is your motto day by day.
“I am doing well and let the others go to hell. I have said to them that they can do me as they like. But to you I say for the last time. That I have been trampled and stomped on all I care to be by you. And before I would have you do this any longer. I would rather see myself in hell. I enclose the five dollars you loaned me.
“I will give you just six days to write or call in person.
Over the next few years, Joseph would sew Joe in the local court but was shot down every time he tried. Joseph had done nothing wrong when he purchased the land. Every time he would lose, Joseph Jr. would get madder and madder.
This came to ahead on September 22nd 1926. Joseph left his house, with gun in hand to look for Joe Novotny. He decided that this needed to end, once and for all.
Joseph found his brother in law on the streets of Tonkawa, he approached him and fired seven shots. Joe was dead before he hit the ground. Joseph then threw the pistol at Joe, striking him in his lifeless face.
There were many witnesses to the crime. Many of them knew both parties involved. Here are their sworn witness statements.
Edward Daniel, a witness on behalf of the state, testified: That his home was in Tonkawa. That on the morning of September 22, 1926, he was at the corner of Seventh and Tonkawa avenue; and about 10 o’clock that morning he saw Joseph Hubka. When I first saw the defendant, I was sitting in front of the Kruger building on the steps. I did not know the deceased during his lifetime. The defendant came running around the corner of the building and hollowed to another man. The other man looked around and he came up and hollowed, “Hey!” and the man looked around, and a shot was fired, and the man fell. I did not see anything in the hands of the man. The defendant was running as he passed me. The man that was killed was out in the street about the length of an automobile from the curb. He was walking around in front of one automobile and behind the other. I heard nothing said by the man that was killed; there wasn’t a word uttered. The man who fired the shots was about 8 feet, the best I can remember, from the man he shot. After he fired the shot, the man reeled and fell. Maybe I could have counted ten before he began to shoot again. I can’t tell how many shots were fired; they were fired so fast. After he was through shooting, I jumped and ran right close to him and says: “My God, man, what have you done? You have murdered this man.” Before that he had thrown his gun out on the pavement. I was about 24 feet, as near as I can tell, from the party that fired the shots.
Ralph Stone testified: That he was in Tonkawa on September 22, 1926. That he knew the deceased during his lifetime, and also knew the defendant when he saw him. I was standing on the corner of Grand avenue and Seventh Street, right west of the drug store. While standing there, I heard some gunshots, and saw Joe Novotny reeling right behind a car. Directly after that I saw another fellow come out from the east side of the car. After Novotny fell on his back, the defendant came around up to the side of him and shot him. I don’t know how many shots; they were fired so rapidly, and I didn’t realize what it was all about. After the shooting, the defendant took his gun and throwed it apparently at the deceased; I could not tell from where I was whether he hit the body of deceased. Defendant just stepped back and put his hands on his hips and stood there. All I heard him say was, “He would have done me the same way.”
L.D. Eastman stated: That he lived in Tonkawa. That he knew Joe Novotny prior to his death; also knew the defendant. He was in Tonkawa the morning of September 22, 1926. When I heard the first shots, I was on the corner at Main and Seventh, right at corner of the drug store with Mr. Stone and Mr. Brown. After I heard the shots, I looked around and saw Mr. Novotny was just staggering back behind a car. Then, as Joseph Hubka followed him up, Novotny fell right behind the car, and Joseph stood there and went to shooting. When the gun quit firing, he drew it up and looked to me like he drove it at his face. I did not see the gun any more after it struck the pavement.
It didn’t take long for the police to catch up with Joseph. When arrested, Joseph made a official statement.
Novotny was my brother-in-law, and that trouble had been existing between him an Novotny since 1920. The deceased had threatened my life a number of times. He threatened it a week ago last Monday. That was about the 13th day of September, 1926. We was in Tonkawa at the time. There had been no words between us since the 13th of September, 1926, nor has he made any threat against me since that time, and I had made none against him. I left Maryland the morning of September 22, 1926, about 6 or 6:30 o’clock. I had my gun with me. It was a .32 automatic. I have owned it for three or four years. I bought it in Oklahoma City. I brought it over there with the intention of killing Joe Novotny. I just decided to kill him this morning. I don’t know whether I killed him or not, but I shot at him. When I threw the gun, I aimed to hit him in the face with it. He was about 10 feet from his car, northwest, when I shot him. I was about 25 feet from him when I shot first. Novotny was going toward his car, and I said to him, “Here is what you promised me, and I am going to beat you to it.” He started to say something, but I did not understand what it was. I don’t know whether Novotny had a gun on him that morning or not. This is, in substance, the testimony on behalf of the state.
Joe’s defence was that he was insane at the time of the shooting. He was no longer in control at the time of the killing. The state brought many witnesses who believe otherwise, they also presented doctors who studied Joseph and stated that he was sane. The Defence presented others who quite believe Joseph to be insane at the time of the killing and their own doctors who stated that Joseph may have been insane at the time of the killing.
The Jury believed the prosecution, they named Joseph Hubka Jr Guilty and that he should die by electric chair.
Joseph was given time to file appeals, many of which made the news papers but didn’t take hold in court. Each time, they were denied and Joseph was getting closer and closer to the Electric chair. In their final appeal, Joseph was saved from that fate.
It was decided by the court that they would commute the death sentence, and give Joseph life in prison. A big victory for someone who would either way, spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Ironically, Anna Hubka would gain considerable wealth from the Oil on their former land. Through time, the family did benefit from it. Anna disputed the sale of other property that they owned that was separate from the original sale and they received some of the land back. Land, that contained oil.
Greed continued to plague the family. They were sewed by their former attorney for more money and another one of Anna’s son-inlaws would eventually commit suicide.
Joseph would die in prison in 1941.