I'm currently working on a new book, tentatively entitled Murder and Mayhem in Missouri
. Like my Ozarks Gunfights book and my Desperadoes of the Ozarks book, this one will be about an assortment of notorious incidents. Whereas the first two books concentrated on the Ozarks, including portions of Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, the new one will concentrate only on Missouri but will include the whole state.
One of the incidents I debated about including in the new book was the murder of Mary Lula Noel in McDonald County in December of 1892. I decided against including it for a couple of reasons, but the incident is still a fairly interesting story.
The basic facts of the case are as follows: Lula Noel was staying with her sister near Lanagan, Missouri, when a young man from Joplin named William Simmons, who had been courting her for several months, came down to visit on December 7, 1892. On Saturday the 10th, the sister and her husband left to visit relatives with the understanding that Simmons would return to Joplin and Lula would go to her parents' house on the other side of nearby Cowskin Creek. Simmons returned to Joplin as planned, but Lula didn't show up at her parents' home. Alarm for her safety grew throughout the following week as she remained missing. On Saturday, December 17, exactly one week after her disappearance, her body was found floating in Cowskin Creek just a quarter mile or so from the crossing she would have used to go to her parents' house. A coroner's examination of the body revealed that she had not drowned but instead been killed before being placed in the water, having been choked and also struck with a blunt instrument.
Simmons was immediately suspected of the crime, and he was arrested on the evening of the 19th in Joplin and taken to the Newton County jail at Neosho the next day. He was indicted for first degree murder in McDonald County at the February 1893 term but got a change of venue to Newton County. The trial there in May resulted in a hung jury. At his retrial in November, the jury was given an option of finding him guilty of second degree murder, and that is what they did. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. His appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court was allowed, but the court refused to hear the case because he and his lawyers were one day late in filing their bill of exceptions. The sentence of the Newton County court was, therefore, confirmed.
Part of what makes this case interesting is that it was supposedly the inspiration for the American version of "Knoxville Girl," which became a popular and well-known folk song. The original version of the song dates back to England many years earlier, but Lula Noel was supposedly America's Knoxville girl.