Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Funeral of Mass Murderer Bill Cook

After Bill Cook, who killed the Mosser family in Joplin, was sentenced to death in California and was scheduled to die in the gas chamber, a funeral director from Comanche, Oklahoma, Glen Boydston, contacted the Cook family and offered to bring the body back for them if they would agree to let him hold a small service in Comanche before bringing Bill on to Joplin for burial. Boydston said a wealthy Comanche resident had offered to foot the bill as a tribute to his own wayward son, now deceased. Bill's father, William Cook, signed papers agreeing to the arrangement because the family didn't have the money to pay to have the body transported. When Badman Bill, as he was sometimes called, was executed on December 12, 1952, at San Quentin, Boydston was there waiting to take charge of the body.
But what happened after the undertaker got the body back to Comanche wasn't quite what the Cook family had bargained for.
When Boydston pulled up outside his funeral home early Sunday morning, December 14, a large crowd was waiting to greet him. The body was then displayed in an open casket inside the funeral home with the tattooed words "Hard Luck" still plainly visible across Cook's knuckles. Curiosity seekers streamed by all day Sunday, eager to get a glimpse of the notorious killer. "Mothers carried babies in their arms and fathers held their sons by the hand," said an Oklahoma newspaper, "as they stopped to look at the body of the killer from the Joplin slag pits."
One little boy told a reporter that he'd read about Cook in the newspaper and that he'd talked his mama into bringing him to the funeral home to get a look at him. A man said he came because he just wanted to see what "a real bad man" looked like. Women visitors, though, outnumbered men, and several them remarked on Cook's physical features. One woman said, "What a fine looking boy. He has beautiful hair. He doesn't look like a man who would do such a thing." The crowds on Sunday were still coming in droves when Boydston's wife finally locked the doors at 9 p.m.
The next day, Monday the 15th, the curious crowds kept coming and even increased. From all sections of Oklahoma they came and even some from surrounding states like Texas and Colorado. Seven busloads of kids from a school in Texas stopped by, after some school official apparently decided that viewing the corpse of a heinous and notorious killer would make an edifying activity for a field trip. By the end of the day on Monday, an estimated 10,000 people had paraded through the funeral home to view the body.
By Tuesday, so many people had come to take a gander at Cook's body that the funeral directors stopped trying to count them. "The number just got away from us," said one representative of the funeral home. On Tuesday evening, though, it was estimated that 15,000 people had paid a visit since Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, in Joplin the Cook family heard a radio report Tuesday evening about the carnival atmosphere in Comanche and the huge number of people who'd been allowed to view Bill's body. They called the Joplin Globe in anger requesting that word be disseminated demanding that the public display of Bill's body and plans for a public funeral in Comanche the next day be immediately halted. The family was particularly upset by reports that a collection box had been put out near the coffin for donations, because they said they did not want to try make money from Bill's death and they didn't want anybody us to do so either. They said Boydston had violated the agreement he had made with them to hold only a small, private funeral in Comanche and not to seek publicity. The Cook family left for Comanche later Tuesday night with plans to drive all night and personally "put a stop to" the funeral service slated for the next day.
When an Oklahoma newspaper reporter called at the Boydston funeral home in Comanche Tuesday night and informed the attendant of the Cook family's anger, the attendant said Boydston himself was home resting because he was so exhausted from the past few days' activities but he added that only $31 had been collected in the donation box and that it had been used to buy flowers.
Representatives of the Cook family arrived in Comanche early Wednesday morning and threatened a lawsuit if the funeral scheduled later that day was not called off. Boydston, saying he never meant any harm, immediately canceled the service, and the body was taken to Derfelt Funeral Home in Galena, Kansas, later on the 17th. After dark that same evening, the body was taken by back roads to Peace Church Cemetery at the northwest edge of Joplin for burial, arriving about 8:40 p.m. Although one newspaper headline called it an "eerie night service," the burial was, by most accounts, a small, private, brief, and simple service attended only by family, close friends, a minister, an undertaker, and one Joplin newspaper reporter, about fifteen people in total. The Rev. Dow Booe of Galena, minister of Joplin's First Gospel Workers' Church, delivered a short sermon before Cook was lowered into an unmarked grave next to where his mother had been buried almost twenty years earlier, the whole service lasting about ten minutes.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

George "Pea Ridge" Hayes and the Murder of Officer Frank Keller

It apparently came as no surprise to the editor of the Springfield (MO) Leader when George "Pea Ridge" Hayes killed Deputy Frank Keller on July 9, 1895, because the Leader headline the next day read, "Murder At Last." Not only had Hayes previously threatened Deputy Keller, he'd long had a reputation as a "malicious, dull fellow" who was considered insane by many but also very dangerous.
Hayes was born in Tennessee about 1862 and came to Christian County, Missouri, with his family about the time the Civil War ended. In late 1870 or 1871, the family moved to Benton County, Arkansas, and settled near Pea Ridge, where George grew to adulthood. When he was a young man, he struck out on his own, returning to Missouri, where he spent time in Greene, Jasper, and Lawrence counties. Somewhere along the line, he picked up the nickname "Pea Ridge" because of the town in Arkansas where he was from.
In April 1888, a man named George Hayes (presumably Pea Ridge) was run out of Springfield as a vagrant. In early 1891, Hayes was convicted of assault with intent to kill in Lawrence County and sent to the state penitentiary for a two-year term. Pardoned by the governor after only nine months, Pea Ridge returned to southwest Missouri and resumed his "worthless, thieving" ways. In July of 1893, he was sent back to Jefferson City, this time on a grand larceny conviction in Jasper County. At some point in the early 1890s, he also spent time in the Aurora City Jail on a minor offense. During his incarceration, he set fire to the jail "but unfortunately was not roasted alive," according to the Leader. In addition, during the same time period, Hayes picked up a chair in a Springfield courtroom and attempted to assault a judge with it after the judge sentenced him to a short term in jail for a minor offense. He was prevented from carrying out the attack by the constables guarding him, however. According to the Leader, Springfield city officers had made numerous attempts to get Hayes to leave town, including arranging a bogus jailbreak for him, which he took advantage of, but instead of leaving town, he hung around and had to be re-arrested.
Pea Ridge was discharged from his second term in the state prison in November of 1894 after serving three-fourths of his sentence. Returning to the Springfield area, he promptly got into trouble again. In the spring of 1895, he was arrested for stealing a lawnmower and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Sometime in June, while on a work detail, he tried to escape by darting into a saloon, but Frank Keller, the deputy sheriff guarding him, rushed in after him. Hayes picked up a chair and attempted to assault the officer, but Keller subdued the prisoner by hitting him with his billy club. After being recaptured, Pea Ridge swore to kill Keller.
He got his chance on July 9, 1895, when he and a number of other prisoners were out working on a chain gang at a stone quarry on North Grant Street. When Keller leaned down to inspect some work the men were doing, Pea Ridge, who was carrying a pick, hit him on the head with the tool, knocking the officer unconscious and severely wounding him. Another guard, with the aid of one or more of the prisoners, was able to overpower the assailant before he could do additional damage.
Keller died just a few hours after being attacked, and Pea Ridge was charged with first-degree murder and thrown in the dungeon at the Springfield City Jail. When word of Hayes's murder of Keller spread throughout the Ozarks, stories of Pea Ridge's notoriety began filtering back to Springfield from other towns. A report from Eureka Springs, for instance, said that the chief of police at that place had once run Hayes out of town by whipping him with a cowhide.
At his trial later in 1895, Hayes's attorneys put up an insanity defense. Although most people agreed that Pea Ridge was crazy, most felt he still knew right from wrong and should be held accountable for his actions. The jury accordingly convicted him of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Hayes was received at the Jeff City prison in October 1895. He was transferred to the insane asylum at Fulton in 1901, and in 1904, the governor once again intervened on his behalf, granting him a pardon after he'd served less than nine years of his assessed 99-year sentence.
Recollecting Hayes in 1929, a Springfield Leader columnist recalled that Pea Ridge went back to Arkansas after being discharged from his third prison sentence and "all trace of him was long since lost." The columnist remembered Hayes as a "criminally inclined" nut who was "often in jail." According to the columnist, Hayes was saved from the gallows only because it was shown at his trial that he came from "a family of nuts" who had intermarried and were "all kin to each other." One story said his paternal grandparents were first cousins to each other and his maternal grandparents were also first cousins to each other. A variation on the story claimed all four grandparents were first cousins to each other. In any case, insanity was said to run in the family, although George was admittedly the worst of the lot.
The reason the name of Pea Ridge Hayes was called to the columnist's mind was the recent fame of Pea Ridge Day, a well-known baseball player of the time, who was known as much for his comical antics as for his playing ability. His nickname, like that of Hayes, came from his hometown in Arkansas.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Murder at Schaupp's Store

I recall a murder that took place at a store/service station just north of Crystal Cave on Highway 65 about halfway between Springfield and Fair Grove when I was growing up at Fair Grove. There was a little buzz around Fair Grove about it at the time, and I think my dad might have even pointed out to me the place where it happened during a trip to Springfield not long after the incident. Up until a day or two ago, that's about all I could have told you about the crime, but I happened to find a news story about the event in a Springfield newspaper.
Come to find out, the incident happened on August 13, 1956, when I was nine years old. A young man came into the store with a high-powered rifle about ten o'clock that morning and shot two people: Leonard W. "Bill" Murrell, 61-year-old owner of the nearby Avalon Club, who was in the store as a customer; and thirty-eight-year-old Miss Myrtle Schaupp, who was operating the store at the time for her father, C. B. Schaupp. Shot in the head, Murrell was killed instantly, and Miss Schaupp had her right arm practically blown off by a shot just below the shoulder. She was admitted to the hospital in critical condition and had to have the arm amputated, but she survived.
The killer fled, but he was soon identified by eye witnesses, including the teenage granddaughter of the store owner, from police photographs as Robert Lee Popejoy. The girl said the killer just started shooting for no apparent reason, and officers could offer no motive for the crime, except that the suspect had a history of mental illness. He was tracked down at his father's farm north of Strafford on Highway 125 later the same day. Officers from several different law enforcement agencies surrounded the house and demanded his surrender. When he refused, they laid siege to the place. The young man still refused to surrender even after his father went up to the house and pleaded with him to give himself up. Late in the afternoon, authorities finally employed an armored car to get close enough to the house to fire a tear gas canister through a window. Popejoy emerged moments later and surrendered, laying down his Winchester rifle. Bullets recovered from the scene of the crime were later positively identified as having come from Popejoy's rifle.
Popejoy had been taken into custody several times on relatively minor charges, and authorities had recommended to the father that the young man be committed to a mental institution. His mother was already a resident of the state hospital at Nevada. Sheriff Glenn Hendrix said he'd told the father that something like this might happen if his son was not committed, and now it had. Asked about his mental condition as he was taken into custody, Robert Lee Popejoy told officers, "I'm not crazy, you are." He admitted being in the vicinity of Schaupp's store at the time of the crime, but he said he had no memory of having even gone inside.
At his trial in December, Popejoy was acquitted on the grounds of insanity, but he was ordered committed to a mental institution for the dangerously insane.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Most Terrible Deed Ever Committed in Warren County: The Murder of Henry and Nettie Yeater

On Monday, August 31, 1903, rural mail carrier Otto Guggenmoos was running his route in Camp Branch Township northwest of Warrenton, Missouri, when he came to the mailbox of Henry and Nettie Yeater, an elderly couple who had lived in the vicinity for many years. Inside the mailbox Guggenmoos found a mysterious note that read, “Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Yeater have bin killed. Please report.” Not quite sure what to make of the note, Guggenmoos showed it to two or three people who lived in the neighborhood, but they told him it was probably some kind of joke.
The mail carrier wasn’t so sure, though, and when he got back to Warrenton late that afternoon, Guggenmoos showed the note to a US marshal who was personally acquainted with Henry Yeater. The marshal sent a deputy out to Camp Branch with instructions to round up some of Yeater’s neighbors and check on the old couple.
The small posse went to the Yeater home and discovered a ghastly sight. Henry Yeater was lying in bed with his throat cut, and at the foot of his bed, his wife, Henriette “Nettie” Yeater, lay on the floor with her throat slashed in three or four places and several small cuts on her face and arm.
Suspicion immediately settled on twenty-two-year-old William E. Church, the couple’s foster son. The note found in the mailbox seemed to match his handwriting, and he had not been seen since the previous afternoon, when neighbor Daniel Buescher saw him in a nearby field.
Mr. and Mrs. Yeater had no children of their own, but they had taken young Church out of the Moberly House of Refuge when he was about nine years old and raised him as their own. He had always been a wild boy and had been sent to reform school at Boonville when he was about fourteen for stealing a gold watch. Nettie Church, though, doted on the boy and believed he was innocent. She got him returned home after less than a year at the reformatory.
Now Church had apparently repaid his foster mother’s kindness by killing her.
A young man answering Church’s description had been seen boarding an eastbound train in southwestern Warren County a few hours before the bodies were discovered, but all trace of the suspect was lost after that.
Although a small amount of cash belonging to the Yeaters was missing, no reasonable motive for the murders could be offered, since Yeater had recently made out a will bequeathing all his property to Church upon his and his wife’s deaths. The Warrenton Herald called the crime “unquestionably the most terrible deed ever committed within the borders of Warren County.”
The train Church had caught arrived in St. Louis at mid-afternoon on Monday, August 31. He promptly bought a ticket for Chicago and spent the next few months traveling around the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes area.
During his ramblings, Church wrote a number of defiant letters to various people back in Warren County threatening to come back and kill several of his supposed enemies. On December 22, Church enlisted in the US Marine Corps at Cleveland under the name William Buescher, the same surname as the near neighbor back in Warren County. The new recruit was shipped to League Island Navy Yard in Philadelphia nine days later.
Church was tracked to League Island based on letters the young man calling himself William Bueshler wrote to a girl back in Warren County, and he was arrested in late March 1904 and lodged in the Philadelphia City Jail, where he made a full confession of his heinous crime, describing in chilling detail how he’d slit the throats of his elderly foster parents. He said he’d been thinking about killing the couple for four years, because he was convinced they weren’t going to leave him any money (although they had already done so at the time of his crime).
Brought back to Missouri, Church went on trial at Warrenton in late June 1904. His lawyer pursued an insanity defense, and several witnesses described the defendant’s strange and sometimes cruel behavior as a boy and young man. Prosecution witnesses, however, attributed Church’s behavior to pure meanness rather than insanity.
The trial concluded on June 30 with a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder, and Church was sentenced to hang. After a series of unsuccessful appeals, the execution was finally set for January 10, 1907. On the evening before his date with death, Church talked freely of his crime. He said he regretted the deed and wasn’t sure why he did it, except that he’d argued with his foster parents continually in the weeks leading up to the crime and had argued with them again on the fateful night.
On the morning of the 10th, Church walked to the scaffold “with a steady step and did not show the least sign of weakening,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He dropped through the trap into eternity at 9:11 a.m.
This story is greatly condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Most Atrocious Crime in Dunklin County History: The Murder of the Tettaton Family

About 9:00 p.m., April 25, 1899, neighbors of Jane Tettaton living about a mile and a quarter north of Malden, Missouri, were aroused by the sight of Mrs. Tettaton’s home ablaze. Rushing to the scene, they found the home nearly consumed and smelled burning flesh. Five bodies were dragged out of the fiery embers. Although badly burned, they were identified by those familiar with the age and size of each family member as Jane Tettaton and her four children: George, Ben, Ida, and Ada.
Found lying in the yard not far from the burning house was James Henry Tettaton, stepson of Jane Tettaton and an older half-brother of her four children. The 29-year-old Tettaton had numerous knife wounds to his head and face, and he appeared unconscious. However, most people on the scene thought the superficial wounds were self-inflicted, because a bloody pocketknife belonging to Tettaton was found nearby, and most thought his blackout was a pretense. He was taken to a nearby house, where he soon revived enough to relate his story of what had happened.
He claimed the crime had been committed by two unknown men. He’d been talking to his stepmother shortly after eating supper with the family when the men entered the house with weapons drawn and demanded all the money he was carrying. When he refused, they started shooting and hit Jane at first fire. Tettaton said that he ran out of the house into the yard, where he was cut and beat into unconsciousness, and that he was unaware of what happened after that.
Tettaton had previously borne a good reputation, but few people believed his tale, because he told conflicting stories and was known to have previously been at odds with his stepmother over his father’s estate. After James’s mother died when he was a young child, his father, Washington Tettaton, remarried Jane Smith when James was not quite twelve. Wash died about 1897, and James, now an adult, was named administrator of his father’s estate. A dispute developed between James and Jane over his apportioning of the estate. She sued and won a settlement in circuit court.
One of the conflicting stories James Tettaton told involved a note found near the spot where he was lying that related to the settlement he owed Jane. Another inconsistency concerned a pistol found in the debris of the burned house, which, Tettaton acknowledged, belonged to him. He said he’d unloaded the weapon, but the cartridges were not in his vest pocket where he said he’d put them. In addition, a neighbor girl of Mrs. Tettaton told of a conversation she’d had with Jane on the day before she died during which Jane said she feared something might happen to her, and the girl’s mother said James Tettaton had recently paid a mysterious visit to Jane’s home late at night.
Tettaton was arrested on suspicion on the night of the murders, and a day or two later he was taken out of Dunklin County for safekeeping. He was brought back to the county seat at Kennett in late May and indicted on five charges of first-degree murder. Prosecutors elected to try Tettaton first on the charge of murdering his half-brother George, because the identity of the victim and the evidence of his death by gunfire prior to the house-burning were the clearest in his case. The trial was held during the October term of Dunklin County Circuit Court. On November 3, the jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the next day Tettaton was sentenced to hang on December 15, 1899. The defense’s immediate appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, however, acted as a stay of execution.
In early January 1890, Tettaton and another convicted killer named Gregory escaped from the Dunklin County Jail. They were recaptured in mid-January in Butler County and brought back to Kennett. A few months later, the two condemned men were taken to St. Louis for safekeeping.
In October 1900, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the verdict in Tettaton’s case and reset the execution day for January 25, 1901. The Missouri governor later granted a stay, and the hanging was rescheduled for February 19. Both Tettaton and Gregory, who was also scheduled to die, were taken back to Kennett.
Just three days before the execution, Tettaton attempted suicide by cutting his wrist with a piece of broken mirror. Gregory, his cellmate, saw him slice his wrist but declined to alert anyone. Instead, he simply watched as Tettaton lay bleeding to death.
The dying man was discovered “very weak and almost unconscious” and a doctor was promptly summoned. When Tettaton regained full consciousness, he “seemed greatly chagrined” that his attempt to kill himself had failed, and a close guard was placed over him to prevent him from re-opening the wound.
About 1:30 in the afternoon of February 19, Tettaton was led to the scaffold by the sheriff and several deputies. Speaking to the large crowd that gathered outside the stockade, he admitted instigating the murders but claimed he hired two other men who actually did the bloody work. Tettaton was dropped through the trap at 2:10 p.m. in front of about 100 spectators who’d been allowed on the platform.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

They Want Me to Say Yes: The Lynching of Henry Williams

About midnight May 23, 1898, someone slipped into Ann Browitt’s home a mile west of Macon, Missouri, and attacked Ann’s two older daughters. However, he was frightened off before he could complete his hellish work when Ann and a younger daughter awoke and lit a lamp. The younger daughter said she saw in the light of the lamp that the attacker’s skin was black. That was enough to help get Henry Williams lynched when a similar attack occurred in Macon a month later.
On the late night of Tuesday, June 28, a man entered John Koechel’s home at Macon and went into the bedroom of Koechel’s stepdaughters, Amelia and Ann Leubke. Grasping Amelia’s arm when she awoke, the intruder threatened, “If you holler, I’ll do you as I did the girls at the waterworks.” At this point, an older stepdaughter heard the commotion from an adjoining room and appeared on the scene to frighten the man away.
As he was fleeing, the intruder stole a sack of flour from the kitchen. Unbeknownst to the thief, the sack had a small leak in it, and after daylight the next morning, two local officers followed the trail of flour to the home of Henry Williams, a thirty-year-old married black man. Not only was the bag of flour found at the residence but so, too, were a number of other articles that were identified as having been stolen from various Macon area homes in recent months. In addition, a bloody coat found in the home was thought to have been the coat worn by the assailant of the Browitt girls.
Williams was arrested and tossed in the Macon County Jail. He vehemently denied assaulting either the Leubke girls or the Browitt girls, and he offered explanations for how he’d gotten the flour and the coat. But no one believed him, partly because of his reputation for prior bad acts. A few years earlier, he’d been arrested for attempting to criminally assault a young white woman in a room over a downtown Macon store, but he’d received just ninety days in jail because of the woman’s “bad reputation.”
As word of Williams’s arrest spread throughout the morning of the 29th, people began gathering on the streets of Macon. That afternoon, the prisoner repeated his denials to a local reporter who called on him at the jail. He said he did not attack Amelia Leubke and did not say to her that he would do to her as he did the girls at the waterworks, because he did not commit either break-in. Informed of the mob that was forming, he said, “They want me to say yes, but they can kill me before I’ll do it.”
And kill him is exactly what they did.
Around ten o’clock that night, knots of men formed near the courthouse, and they soon came together into one crowd, determined to carry out vigilante justice. A local minister made a speech imploring them to let the law take its course, but he was howled down.
The mob marched to the jail and demanded the sheriff turn over the prisoner. He refused, but the determined gang knocked down a fence surrounding the jail and made a rush on the officers guarding it. The sheriff and his deputies were quickly disarmed, and the front door of the jail battered in. The key to the jail corridor was located and the iron door unlocked. The would-be lynchers took Williams from his cell and herded him outside, where his appearance was greeted with wild hurrahs from the crowd.
The prisoner was taken south through the streets of Macon to a railroad bridge at the edge of town. The doomed man was positioned beneath the bridge, a rope was looped around his neck, and the other end was thrown up to some men on the bridge. The gang leader, described only as a tall man, signaled the men on the bridge to pull, and Williams’s body shot up. It was 12:30 a.m. on the 30th of June, 1898.
The lynch mob tied the rope to the bridge and marched off into the night, leaving Williams’s body dangling. It was still hanging there after daylight on the morning of the 30th, “furnishing an uncanny spectacle for the passengers on the Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad trains,” according to the local paper.
The body was finally cut down about 8:30 a.m., and a coroner’s jury reached the meaningless verdict that the deceased had come to his death “at the hands of some two or three hundred men whose names, identities and residences are to these jurors unknown.”
This despite the fact that the identity of the tall leader was “pretty well known” in Macon, according to a county history written twelve years later.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Case of Patricide? The Murder of Dr. Perry Talbott

After Dr. Perry Talbott was shot on Saturday night, September 18, 1880, through the window of his home about seven miles south of Maryville, Missouri, investigators rushed to the scene to see the critically wounded victim and learn what they could about the incident.
They found the doctor still clinging to life, and when asked who had shot him, Talbott, an outspoken supporter of the Greenback Party, offered a vague opinion that some “enemy of the great cause” sent out by the national banks had done it.
After lingering in pain, Talbott died the next day. A coroner’s jury concluded he’d been killed by unknown parties, but over the next few weeks many people began to suspect that Talbott’s sons, twenty-one-year Albert “Bud” and sixteen-year-old Charles Edward, had murdered their own father. At least one of the brothers had recently argued with the father, and it was also speculated that the boys might have killed the father to protect their mother, Belle, whom the doctor reportedly mistreated.
Detectives were put on the case, and one of them, Jonas Brighton, found work under the name of Hudson on a farm neighboring the Talbott place. Brighton and his wife, Virginia, whom he represented as his sister, moved into a tenant house on the farm and quickly became acquainted with the Talbott brothers. According to later reports, “Miss Hudson” feigned romantic interest in Bud to gain his confidence, and he soon confessed his involvement in his father’s murder.
Brighton promptly relayed the news of Bud Talbott’s confession to Nodaway County authorities. He also told officials the Talbott brothers had offered him $50 to kill the Talbotts’ hired hand, Henry Wyatt, because he was in on the murder and they were afraid he would give them away.
Acting on Brighton’s statement and other evidence, Sheriff Henry Toel arrested the Talbott brothers and Henry Wyatt on October 26 and escorted them to the Nodaway County Jail in Maryville. A preliminary examination began on the 27th.
At the hearing, Brighton described how he and his wife had inveigled their way into the Talbott boys’ confidence and the brothers had revealed their secrets to them.
Belle’s brother-in-law Wilford Mitchell, who was in on Brighton’s scheme to trap the Talbott boys, also took the stand to testify against the brothers. He added that Belle had previously confided to him that Dr. Talbott abused her.
Henry Wyatt also testified, claiming that he was not in on the shooting but that the Talbott boys told him about it afterward.
At the close of the preliminary hearing, Bud Talbott, Ed Talbott, and Henry Wyatt were held on first degree murder charges, Bud as the principal and the other two as accessories before the fact. All three were committed to jail without bail. Although Belle Talbott was suspected of knowing about the plot but not actively participating in it, the grand jury declined to indict her.
Wyatt’s case was severed from that of the Talbott brothers, and when the Talbott trial got underway in January 1881, Wyatt, striking a deal, was one of the main witnesses against the boys. Jonas Brighton was also a principal witness, as was his wife. The defense attacked Brighton’s credibility, because he was an ex-convict and all-around desperado. The defense also attacked Virginia Brighton’s character. The defense theory of the crime was that Wilford Mitchell, Bellle’s brother-in-law, had hired Wyatt to commit the crime.
On January 28, the jury declared the brothers guilty of first degree murder. They were sentenced to hang on March 25. An appeal to the state supreme court automatically stayed the execution. In late April, the high court affirmed the verdict of the lower court and rescheduled the hanging for June 24.
As the execution date neared, many people pleaded with Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden to intercede. Even Brighton and Wyatt thought the boys deserved mercy. Belle Talbott traveled to Jefferson City to meet personally with the governor, but he still declined to intervene.
Until the very last minute.
All preparations for the hanging had been made and a large crowd had already gathered to witness it on the morning of the 24th when the sheriff received a telegram from Jeff City postponing the execution until July 22. It was feared for a time that vigilantes might try to hang the brothers anyway, but no such mob formed.
On July 5, Ed Talbott signed a sworn statement confessing that he had fired the shot that killed his father when he found his father beating his mother and her crying for help.
Bud Talbott signed an affidavit saying that Ed’s statement was true as far as he knew, from the time he entered the house, and he admitted helping cover up the crime. He said he’d been willing to die alongside Ed if his brother preferred to keep the secret, but now that Ed had confessed he was hereby confirming that part of the confession he knew about.
Many observers believed the boys’ affidavits showed “beyond all question the true state of facts” surrounding Dr. Talbott’s murder. But others thought the confession was a self-serving, phony plea for mercy.
Governor Crittenden was among those not persuaded. He said that if Ed Talbott’s confession was true, then his and his brother’s previous defense, including their appeals to the supreme court and to the governor, was based on a falsehood; that the boys had ample opportunity to tell the truth before now; and that he was not inclined to grant clemency based on a last-minute appeal that might also be a falsehood. The governor cited the fact that Mrs. Talbott had not confirmed Ed’s confession as strong evidence of its untruth.
On the evening of July 20, just a day and a half before the scheduled hanging, Bud Talbott issued a detailed confession retracting what Ed had said two weeks earlier, once again fingering Henry Wyatt as the person who’d shot Dr. Talbott, and naming Mitchell as an accomplice. Bud’s latest story turned many people against the Talbotts and soured the faith of those who’d previously argued for clemency.
On July 22, Bud and Ed Talbott, declaring their innocence to the very last, were escorted to a scaffold on a hill just northeast of Maryville and launched into eternity before 12,000-15,000 gaping spectators.
This story is a greatly condensed version of a chapter in my latest book Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri.

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