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 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 Later in 1919, the law banning capital punishment was rescinded.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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

reference only
p.62 picture of Sherriff Harlow
p.63 picture of lynched Lynch

February 9, 2014 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Thanks for posting the links.

February 9, 2014 at 2:26 PM  

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