Missouri and Ozarks History

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

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Location: Missouri

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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bonnie and Clyde Again

One chapter of Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents was about Bonnie and Clyde's infamous shootout with police in Joplin that left two lawmen dead. I've devoted a chapter in Desperadoes of the Ozarks, followup to the Gunfights book, to the notorious duo's other misadventures throughout the Ozarks. For instance, in November of 1932, several months before the April 1933 Joplin shootout, the Barrow gang held up a bank at Oronogo, about 15 miles north of Joplin. In January of 1933, they kidnapped a Springfield motorcycle cop near the Shrine Mosque and took him on a pell-mell journey along the back roads of southwest Missouri before releasing him north of Joplin near present-day Stone's Corner. In February 1934, the gang stole a car in Springfield and took off to the south, roaring through Hurley and Galena, before kidnapping a local man (whom they later released) and having a gunfight with law officers near Reeds Spring. Less than two months later, in April of 1934, Bonnie and Clyde killed a lawman at the edge of the Ozarks near Commerce, Oklahoma. Another month later, the desperate duo were themselves finally killed by a police ambush in rural Louisiana.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Lamar's Lynching of Lynch

One chapter in my Desperadoes book is about the murder of Barton County (Mo.) sheriff John Harlow by Jay Lynch in early March of 1919 and the subsequent lynching of Lynch in late May of 1919 on the grounds of the courthouse at Lamar. A career criminal, Lynch was arrested on March 2 in northern Barton County as a fugitive from St. Louis and taken to Lamar, where he was turned over to Sheriff Harlow. The sheriff, who had a reputation as being kind and indulgent toward prisoners, allowed Lynch's wife and mother to visit the jailbird in his cell the next day, and later that evening he allowed Lynch to make a phone call as he was getting ready to escort him to St. Louis. Suddenly, Lynch whipped out a pistol that his mother or wife had apparently slipped to him and fatally shot Harlow. He also shot and mortally wounded the sheriff's 18-year-old son when the lad promptly appeared on the scene.
Lynch made his escape but was recaptured in Colorado in late May and brought back to Lamar to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Harlow. He was quickly convicted but sentenced only to life in prison because the Missouri legislature had recently passed a law banning the death penalty. Furious over Harlow's murder and the new law, a mob quickly gathered outside the courthouse where the sentence had been pronounced and soon broke in, took the prisoner from his guards, and strung him up to a tree on the courthouse grounds. Later in 1919, the law banning capital punishment was rescinded.
This incident had at least a couple of ironic twists to it. The obvious one was that the victim of the lynching was himself named Lynch. (The word "lynch," by the way, comes from a Revolutionary War colonel named Lynch who organized a group of vigilantes in Virginia after the war and went about the countryside meting out punishment to former Tories. At first, the term meant any extralegal punishment and only later came to refer specifically to vigilante execution, especially by hanging.) The other ironic twist to this episode was the fact that Lynch was hanged from a tree that his victim had planted on the courthouse grounds about twenty years earlier during his first term as sheriff.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Pleasant Hill Shootout and Lynching

Another chapter in my Desperadoes book is about a shootout that occurred at the Pleasant Hill (Mo.) train depot (at left) on February 20, 1915, between city marshal Joseph Adams and nightwatchman Clarence Poindexter on one side and two tramps named Williams and Ryan on the other. The gunfight ensued when Marshal Adams tried to arrest and search the two men on suspicion of having committed a robbery at Richards, Missouri, sixty miles south of Pleasant Hill, the night before. The shootout left Poindexter dead, Ryan mortally wounded, and Williams less severely wounded but under arrest for the killing of Poindexter. In the wee hours of the next morning, February 21, Williams was dragged out of his cell by a determined mob and hanged from a water tower just a block or two from the jail. Later evidence showed that Williams and Ryan had not been the Richards robbers, but the feeling around Pleasant Hill was that they must have been guilty of something or they wouldn't have resisted arrest.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Arthur Tillman and Mandy Stephens

Another chapter in Desperadoes of the Ozarks is about 22-year-old Arthur Tillman's murder of his lover, 20-year-old Amanda Stephens, in March of 1913 in Logan County, Arkansas, near the small community of Delaware. Perhaps I should just say that the chapter is about the murder case involving Arthur Tillman and Amanda Stephens, because there are people, even today, who question whether Tillman really killed Mandy and suggest that he was wrongly convicted. I think that such a claim is nonsense, because the circumstantial evidence against Tillman was overwhelming.
Briefly, the facts of the case were as follows: Tillman, as he freely admitted at trial, was having regular sexual relations with Mandy and she turned up pregnant. She had also gotten pregnant and miscarried three years earlier, and Tillman had been one of several young men who had had sex with her prior to her first pregnancy. This time she was pressing Tillman to marry her, but he had another girlfriend and did not want to marry Mandy. The couple, though, were seen together on the day Mandy disappeared. Confronted, Tillman claimed not to know where Mandy was and then left town. A few days later he came back and was seen looking into an abandoned well on a neighbor's property adjoining the Tillman family farm. The next day, Mandy's body was found at the bottom of the same well, with a rock tied to her body with telephone wire. By the time the body was retrieved, Tillman had again skpped town but was tracked down at Fort Smith a couple of days later and brought back to face murder charges.
At his trial, it was revealed that telephone wire exactly matching that used on Mandy went missing from a general store in the Tillman neighborhood on the same day Mandy went missing and that Tillman was seen by witnesses in the vicinity of the store. Mandy had been killed with shots from a .22 rifle, and testimony further revealed that Tillman's father had given away a .22 rifle a day or two after Mandy went missing. A doctor testified that on the day before Mandy's disappearance, young Tillman had come to him seeking a potion or medicine that would abort her pregnancy but that he told Arthur he had no such medicine. The defense, of course, attempted to explain all these circumstances as mere coincidence. The defense also tried to suggest that Mandy's father had killed his own daughter or that perhaps Tillman's father had done the deed. However, the prosecution in turn rebutted the defense's rebuttal.
Tillman's first trial ended in a hung jury, with eleven voting for conviction and one for acquittal. He was retried, convicted with a unanimous verdict, and hanged in July 1914.
This, of course, is just a bare-bones accounting of the case. For full details, you need to read the book. By the way, I'm having a book signing for Desperadoes at Half Price Books of the Ozarks on the Plaza Shopping Center in Springfield on Saturday, November 19, from 1-3 p.m.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jodie Hamilton and the Parsons Family Murders

Another chapter in my Desperadoes of the Ozarks book is about Jodie Hamilton's murder of the Parsons family in Texas County, Missouri, in the fall of 1906. Jodie worked for sharecropper Carney Parsons, but in October Parsons prepared to return with his wife and three kids to Miller County, where the family had formerly lived. Parsons sold his crop to Hamilton, but the two men got into an argument as Jodie was seeing the family off.
Reports vary as to whether the argument was over the price of the crop or involved a saddle Hamilton had apparently sold to Parsons, but all agree that it involved some sort of business deal. After Parsons and his family set out, Hamilton became more and more convinced that he had been cheated, and he started in pursuit of Parsons to try to make things right. The argument escalated when Jodie caught up with the family north of Houston on the Success Road just west of the Big Piney River, and Jodie ended up shooting Parsons with a shotgun blast and finishing him off by beating him with the barrel of the gun. Parsons's wife came to her husband's aid as he was struggling for his life, and Jodie also bludgeoned her to death with the gun barrel. He slit the throats of the Parsonses' six-year-old and three-year-old sons before finishing them off with the gun barrel to keep them from identifying him and finally beat in the brains of their one-year-old child to stop it from crying.
Hamilton was readily captured, convicted of murder, and sentenced to hang in late December of 1906. Although the killings of the five members of the Parsons family was one of the largest and most gruesome mass murders in Missouri history, Jodie elicited sympathy from some observers when he started professing religion from his jail cell and issuing statements exhorting young people not to follow his wayward example but instead to follow the straight and narrow path. Jodie started receiving letters of support, and some folks even composed poems about him. The convict went to the scaffold on December 21 with a sure-footed step, a song on his lips, and a friendly attitude toward the people gathered to witness his execution, cementing the legend of Jodie Hamilton that persists even today among longtime residents of Texas County. But, as I say in my book, who sang for the Parsons family?

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