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.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Tunas School Consolidation Dispute

Toward the end of 1972, the Dallas County School District drew up plans to annex the schools at Tunas, located in the northern part of the county, into the much larger school district at Buffalo, the county seat. Tunas was a small school district with only about 155 students in grades 1-12, and it had been struggling to survive on its own for some time.
There was just one problem. Nobody apparently bothered to consult the Tunas School Board or the community's citizens. When the Tunas School Board learned in early 1973 of the proposed annexation, they approached the Skyline School District about consolidating with that school district instead and, upon receiving a favorable nod from Skyline officials, scheduled a vote for February 13 on the question of annexation into the Skyline district. The Skyline Schools, the result of a 1957 reorganization of the schools at Cross Timbers, Preston, and Urbana, were (and still are) located about four miles north of Urbana in Hickory County but were still a couple of miles closer to Tunas than Buffalo was to Tunas.
Meanwhile, the Dallas County School Board scheduled a vote on the question of annexation of the Tunas district into the Buffalo district for February 15, and they obtained a court order restraining the Tunas School District from holding its February 13 election. However, the latter election went on as scheduled, and voters in the Tunas School District voted overwhelmingly (232-19) in favor of joining the Skyline District. As soon as the Tunas School Board certified the results, they met with the Skyline School Board, who voted to accept Tunas into the district. Then on February 15, citizens in the Buffalo School District complicated matters by voting 396-231 to annex Tunas into their district.
Proponents of the Buffalo annexation then obtained an amended court order seeking to prevent the Tunas School District from transferring school supplies and other assets to the Skyline district. It now fell to Judge Charles V. Barker to decide the legality of the Tunas-Skyline election. Even though he was the one who had issued the restraining orders, he ultimately upheld the Tunas-Skyline election. But that was not quite the end of the dispute.
As the time for a new school year to begin approached in August, Tunas students were to be counted as part of the Skyline district, but they were scheduled to remain at their old buildings in Tunas. Then on August 9 fire destroyed the Tunas Elementary School and damaged the high school building. Arson was suspected, but no one was arrested (at least not in the immediate wake of the fire). The fire forced an altering of plans; so Tunas Elementary School students were now shifted to the old Tunas High School building, while the Tunas High School kids would commute to Skyline.
But this was still not quite the end of the controversy. Five Tunas school election officials had been charged with contempt of court for ignoring the original restraining order. Greene County circuit judge James H. Keet heard the case in October. The defendants claimed the restraining order had not been delivered by proper authorities nor had it been delivered in time to prevent the election. The prosecution said otherwise, and conflicting testimony supporting one side and then the other was presented. Judge Keet eventually acquitted the defendants but only because he ruled that the bond of the Dallas County citizens who obtained the restraining order was defective.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Murder of Silas Moody

On Sunday night, December 23, 1923, an unknown assassin shot Silas Moody, 34-year-old farmer, with a shotgun through the window pane of his home at Macomb in Wright County, Missouri, while the victim's little baby played at his feet. Moody's wife and mother-in-law were also in the room at the time. The blast virtually blew Moody's head off, and he lingered just an hour or two before dying. A Springfield newspaper called the crime "one of the most cold-blooded murders in the annals of the Ozarks."
Suspicion quickly settled on 35-year-old O. R. Millsap and 25-year-old Earnest "Benny" Johnson, neighbors who had been feuding with Moody recently. According to later evidence, the source of the dispute was that Moody had recently discovered a still on or near his property that Millsap and Johnson were running, and they were afraid he was going to turn them in. The two suspects were arrested on Christmas Day and released on $2,000 bond each pending their appearance for preliminary hearings.
After their preliminary hearings, Millsap and Johnson were held in the Wright County Jail at Hartville until early January of 1924, when they were formally indicted for murder by a grand jury. After that, they received changes of venue to Laclede County, where Millsap's trial began in early November of 1924. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Meanwhile, Johnson got his case severed from Millsap's, and his trial began at Lebanon in May of 1925. The trial ended in a hung jury, but on retrial in September, he was convicted and also sentenced to life in prison.
Both Millsap and Johnson, however, were paroled by the Missouri governor in 1933, after serving only 8+ and 7+ years respectively.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Satisfactory Hanging

About ten o’clock in the morning of May 26, 1890, law officers in Sedalia, Missouri, received a report that an old man had tried to commit suicide in a local public park by consuming a quantity of strychnine. Responding to the intelligence, the officers discovered fifty-four-year-old Thomas Williamson lying on the floor of an equipment building at the park, and they took him to the local Salvation Army barracks, where medical aid was administered.
About 1:00 p.m. the same day, a man who lived two and a half miles southeast of Sedalia came to town and reported that one of his neighbors, Jeff Moore, had been found dead on his farm and that Williamson, who had recently been living with Moore, was suspected of the crime.
Williamson claimed he’d tried to kill himself because he was tired of living, but “tired of killing” might have been a more apt explanation because, as it turned out, he had a murderous record that stretched back almost twenty-five years.
Williamson had grown up in Tazewell County, Illinois, and he served in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he returned to Tazewell County and was working on Charles Koch’s farm in mid-July 1866 when he killed Koch and took possession of the farm, claiming Koch had sold it to him and left the country. The crime was discovered about a month later, and Williamson was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to hang, However, the Illinois governor granted a reprieve and later commuted Williamson’s sentence to twenty-one years in prison.
After serving slightly over half of his term, Williamson got out of prison in 1879 and drifted west. In 1887, he married Susan Reed Kirk in Vernon County, Missouri, and later moved to the Sedalia area, where Williamson made his living working as a hired hand for various farmers.
Williamson and his wife were living on a farm about six miles northwest of Sedalia in the fall of 1889 when his wife disappeared, but nobody thought much about it at the time, because the couple had few acquaintances in the area. And Williamson explained to anyone who inquired that Susan had died while visiting relatives in Illinois. After his wife’s disappearance, Williamson came to Sedalia for a while and then started working for Jeff Moore southeast of town in the spring of 1890.
When a neighbor named August Brenicke called at the Moore place on Friday, May 25, to collect a debt, Williamson told him that he didn’t know where Moore was. Brenicke and other neighbors grew suspicious the next day when they saw Williamson hauling dirt to the Moore farm with still no sign of Moore. On Monday morning they went to the farm and found Moore’s body buried in a cellar beneath his house and Williamson nowhere to be seen. One of the neighbors brought the intelligence to Sedalia, and the suicidal Williamson, still recovering at the Salvation Army, was placed under guard.
Charles Moore, the son of Jeff Moore, had been missing for a couple of weeks, and after the father’s body was found, it was feared that the son had been similarly dealt with. Searchers found the younger Moore’s body buried face down about 200 yards from the house where Jeff Moore had been found.
Williamson was charged with the death of both Moores. On May 28, the body of Williamson’s wife was found buried on the farm northwest of Sedalia, and he was also charged with murdering her.
On June 5, Williamson handed a written confession to Pettis County sheriff Ellis Smith taking full blame for the Moore murders. He said he’d killed Jeff with an ax during an argument and later killed Charles the same way when the son confronted him about the father’s disappearance. But he still maintained his innocence in the death of his wife, saying she had died from natural causes and he had simply buried her because he couldn’t afford a funeral.
Near the time Williamson gave his confession a letter arrived at the sheriff’s office from Tazewell County, Illinois, implicating the prisoner in the long-ago murder in that county. A reporter called at the jail to get Williamson’s reaction to the letter, and he confirmed that it was true.
Williamson went on trial for the Moore murders in February 1891. The defense introduced several witnesses, including Williamson’s brother, testifying to the defendant’s unsound mind, but he was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. After an unsuccessful appeal to the state supreme court, the execution was carried out at Sedalia on October 31. The condemned man, who’d admitted the evening before that he “ought to have been hung thirty years ago,” gave a brief speech admonishing young men not to follow his example before he was dropped through the trap at 10:02 a.m. The St. Louis Post Dispatch called the execution “one of the most satisfactory hangings that has ever occurred in the West.”
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Kidnapping and Murder of Baby Keet

Late on the night of May 30, 1917, fourteen-month-old Lloyd "Buddy" Keet was kidnapped from his home near the corner of Pickwick and Meadowmere in the exclusive Meadowmere Place neighborhood of Springfield, Missouri. About midnight, his parents, banker J. Holland Keet and his wife (Jenny), returned home from a country club dance to find the boy missing. He had apparently been snatched from his room sometime between ten and midnight while the nurse slept in an adjoining room.
Mr. Keet received a letter from the kidnappers the next day, and late that night he drove out into the environs southwest of Springfield on a presumed mission to deliver a ransom in exchange for his child. He came back empty-handed, however, and would not reveal the exact contents of the letter he had received. It was later learned that the letter had instructed him to drive south on National through Galloway to Ozark, then west to Nixa, then north on Campbell Street taking a circuitous route back to Springfield and then west toward Republic, driving twelve miles an hour the whole way. The kidnappers were supposed to flag him down or otherwise indicate where he was to drop the ransom, but no one ever appeared. Keet received a second latter a day or two later, but it, too, did not result in the return of the baby or yield any clues as to the identity of the kidnappers.
Over the next few days, however, clues began to emerge about a suspected kidnapping ring involving the family of Taylor Adams, who lived on Delmar Street, not far from the Keets, and a young man named Claude Piersol. Specifically, a taxicab owner named Walker said the gang had approached him a few months earlier about participating in a plot to kidnap Springfield jeweler C. A. Clement. Adams was arrested about June 3rd or 4th in Kansas City and brought back to Springfield on suspicion. He gave a statement admitting his part in the Clement plot, which was never carried out, but he denied involvement in the Keet kidnapping. He implicated his two sons, his wife, Piersol, and a man named Dick Carter in the criminal ring. Adams's wife, his two sons, and Piersol were arrested on June 5 along with another man named McGinnis. Carter was later arrested as well. Claude Piersol and the eldest Adams son, Cletus, both gave statements essentially corroborating what Taylor Adams had said--that they were involved in the failed Clement plot but not the Keets crime. Piersol, who was implicated as the ringleader of the gang, gave a sensational statement implicating a mysterious German agent named Riley and claiming that the criminal ring was part of a plot carried out in the interests of the German war effort.
Baby Keet was found dead at the bottom of a cistern at the Crenshaw mansion eight miles southwest of Springfield on the morning of June 9. (It was later learned the baby had first been taken to the Adams home before being moved out of town to the Crenshaw place.) Upon learning the news of the baby's death, angry mobs immediately formed, threatening vigilante justice against the prisoners.
Sheriff J. W. Webb whisked the prisoners out of Springfield to try to avoid the vigilantes, but they trailed him and his prisoners northwest into Cedar Couunty, where law officers finally agreed to the vigilantes' demands that Pierson be given the "third degree." The vigilantes took Pierson a couple of miles south of Stockton and strung him up to a tree until he was almost dead before letting him down. Still, he would not confess to involvement in the Keet kidnapping. Finally he was returned to law officers, and he and Cletus Adams were taken to Kansas City for safekeeping and then on to St. Louis. The other suspects joined them in St. Louis. Adams, his older son, and Piersol were charged with first degree kidnapping.
Brought back to Springfield in July 1917, the defendants got their trials moved to Marshfield on changes of venue. Piersol went on trial first, in October. Despite taking the stand in his own defense to deny his guilt, he was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in the state prison. Taylor Adams decided to plead guilty, and he was sentenced to 15 years. His son also pleaded quilty and was given 10 years. Charges against all the others implicated in the kidnapping were eventually dropped. Before being taken to Jefferson City, Piersol finally confessed to Webster County sheriff B. Ward Mackey his participation in the kidnapping of Buddy Keet. He said that the little boy died after been dosed with laudanum to keep him quiet but that the death was accidental.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Jenny Lind in St. Louis

Jenny Lind, often called the Swedish Nightingale, was one of the most highly regarded opera singers of the nineteenth century. She first rose to fame in the late 1830s, and throughout the 1840s she performed in operas in Sweden and the rest of Europe. During this period she became closely associated with composer Felix Mendelssohn. In early 1849, at the age of 28, she announced her retirement from opera while still at the height of her popularity.
But she was not through singing. Later the same year, showman P. T. Barnum approached her about touring the United States, and she finally accepted. Under Barnum's promoting hand, Lind became a celebrity in America even before she left Europe, and the tour, which began in the fall of 1850, was a great success. "Lind mania," as the press called the tremendous reception she received, swept across the country. The public loved Jenny Lind not just for her singing ability but also for her noble generosity, as she donated all the proceeds from her tour to charity, much of it to support free schools in her native Sweden.
The tour reached St. Louis in 1851 for a series of four performances at Wyman's Hall between the 17th and the 26th of March. Recalling the concerts many years later (1888), a St. Louis newsman said it was hard for the present generation to appreciate the level of excitement Jenny Lind's appearance in the city generated. The price of general admission to the St. Louis concerts was set at ten cents, but, as had been the case in many of the other places Jenny performed, tickets were in such demand that those who wanted good seats had to bid on them. The choicest seat for Jenny's first performance in St. Louis brought $150. The second highest bidder paid $100 for his seat, while half a dozen seats fetched $75 apiece. Very few seats sold for less than five dollars, and almost all brought more than the general admission price.
A man from Hannibal was one of few lucky ones who got in to see Jenny for only the general admission price. He did not get a prime seat, but he was more than satisfied nonetheless. Calling himself "a Jenny Lind man," he described in a letter to his hometown newspaper two days later the exquisite joy of getting to see and listen to Miss Lind: After an overture, exceedingly well performed by the orchestra but which we could hardly appreciate in our anxiety to get a look and a "list" at the gentle Swede, all seemed held in a delightful and almost breathless state of expectation till at last she half fluttering and tripping came upon the stage. She was welcomed with much applause, and scarcely raising her eyes continued curtsying until the clapping stopped, when she burst forth in strains so sweet and clear--strains so unlike anything we had ever heard before, that we were ready to exclaim, "Not mortal, but an angel sings!" ...I cannot find language to do her justice. ...So perfectly beautiful and graceful she appeared.
Not everyone was as impressed with Jenny's beauty and singing ability as the Hannibal man. A correspondent to a Glasgow newspaper who went to one of Jenny's performances said he was disappointed in her singing, even though her voice was perfectly under control. She could easily reach high and low notes with perfect pitch, but he thought her voice lacked the tenderness and sweetness he expected. And as for her appearance, the Glasgow correspondent thought she was rather homely. It was only her natural and graceful movements and the sincerity and simplicity of her expression that made her "appear far more beautiful than she really is."
But even the Glasgow man was impressed by Jenny's generosity. She had already given away $30,000 in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia to local charities, especially those helping orphans. Before leaving St. Louis, she donated $2,000 to be used by churches and benevolent societies to aid the needy.
Jenny was growing tired of Barnun's relentless promotion of her tour, and shortly after her St. Louis performances, she parted amicably with the showman and continued to tour the US for another year on her own terms.
Returning to Europe, Jenny married and reared a family. Although she never returned to opera, she continued to occasionally perform at concert halls. She died in 1887.
Jenny Lind was commemorated throughout Europe and North America both before and after her death. She had buildings, streets, and public places named after her and memorials erected in her honor. In Springfield, Missouri, for instance, there is an apartment building named after her.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Turlington Tumbles

On the morning of March 20, 1890, after a railroad brakeman ejected John Oscar Turlington and Andy Temple from a train near Otterville, Missouri, Turlington took a pot shot at the brakeman. The railroad man came on to Sedalia to report the incident, and the two hooligans were arrested later the same day about four miles east of Sedalia in Pettis County. The twenty-six-year-old Turlington gave his name as William West, and Temple also gave an alias.
Since the shooting had taken place in Cooper County, the pair were charged only with carrying concealed weapons, and they were tossed in jail at Sedalia. Turlington, though, also faced charges in Cooper County for felonious assault and was scheduled to be transferred there on the more serious charge as soon as his short term in Pettis County expired. Had the Missouri authorities been aware of Turlington’s true identity and had they known him as well as the folks back in his native Weakley County, Tennessee, knew him, they might have taken more precautions.
Although of “good personal appearance,” Turlington had a reputation in his home county as “one of the most…reckless desperadoes known to the annals of crime.” He’d served two stints in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. After his second release in the late 1880s, he’d gone to Texas, where he hooked up with Temple, and they robbed an express train in Indian Territory in November 1889.
Afterwards, they went to Indiana and had started back west when they were captured and placed in the Sedalia jail. While still there, Turlington convinced a fellow inmate, seventeen-year-old Wes Hensley, to sneak a gun into him at the Cooper County Jail in Boonville once he was transferred, and young Hensley, who was due to be released soon, agreed to the desperate plan.
After serving their brief terms, Turlington and Temple were released from the Pettis County Jail in late May. Temple went free, but Turlington, still going by the name West, was taken to Cooper County to stand trial for shooting at the brakeman. On June 13, Hensley slipped a pistol into Turlington through his cell window, and the night of the 14th Turlington shot and mortally wounded Sheriff Thomas Cranmer as he made his escape.
A large posse formed and recaptured Turlington within an hour. There was much talk of lynching the prisoner when he was brought back to Boonville, especially after Cranmer died the next day, but the would-be vigilantes finally agreed to honor the dead sheriff’s wishes to let the law take its course. Turlington soon confessed his real identity and told how he’d gotten the pistol. Hensley was arrested and indicted along with Turlington for the murder of Cranmer.
At his trial in late July, Turlington claimed he did not plan to kill Cranmer and only shot him accidentally when he stumbled and fell as he was escaping. He was nevertheless convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang, but an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court delayed the execution. On November 1, 1890, Turlington again escaped from the Cooper County Jail. This time, he made it out of Missouri, but his freedom was again short-lived. He was recaptured in Kentucky on November 11 and brought back to Missouri. Informed that Wes Hensley had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of murder in the second degree and received a sentence of ten years in the state prison, Turlington decried the verdict, saying the boy didn’t know what he wanted with the gun and was “not right in the head.”
In the wee hours of December 21, Turlington escaped from the county jail at Boonville yet again. He was captured later the same day near Otterville and brought back to Boonville. The new sheriff and other county officials received a lot of criticism, good natured and otherwise, as a result of Turlington’s repeated escapes from their jail. One person even remarked that anybody who could escape from the same jail three times in such a short period ought to be turned loose.
The Missouri Supreme Court finally got around to considering Turlington’s case in January 1891, and the justices sustained the lower court’s verdict. The condemned man was hanged on March 6, 1891, from a scaffold inside a stockade on the courthouse grounds. After the hanging a local undertaker took charge of the body and had it buried in the Old City Cemetery (aka Sunset Hills) in Boonville.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Little Chloroformer and the St. Louis Trunk Tragedy

After a man’s body was found on the morning of April 14, 1885, stuffed inside a trunk in Room 144 at the Southern Hotel in St. Louis, detective chief John Burke conducted an initial investigation and announced that he thought the dead man was Charles Arthur Preller, a well-to-do Englishman. Burke said he thought Preller had been killed by the man assigned to Room 144, another Englishman, who had registered at the hotel as Walter H. Lennox-Maxwell, M.D.
The murder was baffling because Preller and Lennox-Maxwell had seemed to be intimate friends during their stay at the hotel. The inscription “Thus perish all traitors to the great cause” had been written inside the trunk, and the shape of a cross had been cut on the victim’s chest. However, Burke thought this evidence might have been staged to make investigators falsely believe the crime was a political assassination. An empty bottle of chloroform found nearby was thought to be an actual clue, because the dead body showed signs of poisoning. The body was naked except for a pair of undershorts with the name “H. M. Brooks” printed on them. Burke could offer no motive for the murder except the possibility that the victim had been killed for his money.
As it turned out, Detective Burke was on the right track. Except that greed might not have been the only motive.
Charles Arthur Preller and Hugh Mottram Brooks, traveling under the name Walter H. Lennox-Maxwell, M.D., had sailed from England together in late January and had become fast friends during the journey. The twenty-seven-year-old Preller was a successful traveling salesman for a London textile company, while twenty-four-year-old Lennox-Maxwell was a lawyer who had also studied medicine. The two made plans to travel to Auckland, New Zealand, together, but Preller had business calls to make in North America first. They landed in Boston, and Lennox-Maxwell stayed there while Preller traveled to Canada.
The two met in St. Louis at the Southern Hotel in early April. Preller was assigned to Room 385, but he spent much of his time in Lennox-Maxwell’s Room 144. In the immediate wake of the murder, investigators learned that the hotel staff considered Lennox-Maxwell and Preller good friends and that the two men were “much remarked about the hotel for their dudish, dandified airs.” Lennox-Maxwell, in particular, was considered very effeminate.
All clues seemed to confirm Detective Burke’s initial speculation that the dead man was Preller and that Lennox-Maxwell was the murderer. A small man fitting Lennox-Maxwell’s description had twice purchased chloroform from a nearby drugstore on Sunday, April 5, and that night Maxwell had come to the hotel dining room alone, asking odd questions such as how much it would cost in America to hire a lawyer to beat a murder rap. The next morning, Monday, April 6, Lennox-Maxwell spent money extravagantly even though he’d previously said he was low on funds. Among his purchases were two luggage chests that were delivered to his room at the Southern Hotel, and he also had his beard shaved at a nearby barbershop, where he seemed nervous and in a hurry. Later the same morning, a porter helped him load one of the new chests, now heavy with clothes and other personal belongings, into a carriage outside the hotel, and Lennox-Maxwell left for the train station without checking out of the hotel. At the station, he purchased a ticket for San Francisco and left on a westbound train.
It was concluded that Lennox-Maxwell had taken his belongings out of a large zinc-covered trunk he’d brought from Boston and placed them in the new trunks, then used the old trunk to stash Preller’s body on the late afternoon of April 5. The body was not discovered until nine days later, on the morning of April 14, when hotel employees were attracted by a putrid smell emanating from the trunk.
By April 15, lawmen were virtually certain that Preller was the victim and Lennox-Maxwell the murderer, and they concluded with some certainly as well that the dead man had been poisoned with chloroform. On the same day, confirmation reached St. Louis that a man fitting Lennox-Maxwell’s description in almost every detail had arrived in San Francisco on April 11. When the ticket he’d purchased in St. Louis was taken up at the San Francisco depot, it bore the name Hugh M. Brooks, the same name inscribed on the dead man’s underwear. Subsequent investigation revealed that Brooks was Lennox-Maxwell’s real name. Brooks checked into the Palace Hotel, giving his name as T. C. D’Auquier from Paris.
Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Brooks promptly purchased a steerage ticket for Auckland, and the ship sailed the next day, April 12. Authorities in New Zealand were promptly notified by telegram to be on the lookout for Brooks, and he was arrested when he disembarked at Auckland in early May. Brought back to St. Louis, Brooks was charged with first-degree murder. The prosecution sought to show that Brooks had killed Preller for his money, while the defense, with Brooks testifying on his own behalf, maintained that Preller had died accidentally while Brooks was performing an operation on him to relieve what was described as a “private disease.”
The state painted Brooks as a chronic liar, and few people believed his sensational story. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang. The execution on August 10, 1888, took place inside a stockade at the city jail, but hundreds of spectators climbed trees or gazed out the windows of nearby buildings to try to get a glimpse of the proceedings.
The case of the Little Chloroformer, as Brooks was often called in the press, made headlines across the country and was considered one of the most sensational crime stories in Missouri history.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

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