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, June 17, 2013

Ezell Killing

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about A.J. Bass's supposed murder of his wife near Bassville, Greene County, Missouri, in 1911. As I noted at the time, the case was not particularly notorious or memorable except that it happened only a short distance from where I grew up. Likewise, I have long been vaguely familiar with Joseph L. Smith's killing of Benjamin Franklin Ezell because it happened at my hometown of Fair Grove, about three or four miles from Bassville.
On the morning of April 21, 1871, 31-year-old Joseph Smith and 25-year-old Ben Ezell got into an argument at the Ezell farm in the Ebenezer vicinity, southwest of Fair Grove. The quarrel was over a 17-year-old hired hand named Peter Goodwin. Smith had employed Goodwin to do some work for him, but then Goodwin had agreed to go to work for Ezell, and Smith accused Ezell of coaxing away his hired help. However, neither man was armed, and nothing serious happened at the time.
That afternoon, though, Ezell went to Fair Grove and, while there, was met by Smith, who had armed himself in the meantime. The argument was renewed, and Smith shot Ezell, who fell to the street mortally wounded and died three days later.
Smith was arrested and charged with murder. His first two trials ended in hung juries, but his third trial ended in early December of 1883 with a not guilty verdict. A newspaper report at the time observed, "Mr. Smith, from first to last, has had the sympathy of and support of many warm and influential friends, who rejoice with him and his family that this sad misfortune has at last been forever settled."


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