Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Murder of the Meeks Family

The killing of Gus Meeks and most of his family in May of 1894 in Linn County by brothers Bill and George Taylor constitutes another chapter in my Murder & Mayhem book, and it is one of the most notorious murder cases in the history of Missouri. The only connection this case has to the Ozarks is that the killers made their escape through southern Missouri and holed up in northern Arkansas, where they were captured at Buffalo City (near Mountain Home) in late June. However, I'm going to use that connection as enough of an excuse to go ahead and write about the case briefly on this blog about Ozarks history.
Meeks had been involved with the Taylor brothers in some shady dealings (cattle stealing, check forging, and arson) and had gone to the state pen in Jeff City in 1893 for his part in one of the crimes. Feeling they would be unable to convict the Taylor brothers without Meeks's testimony, the prosecuting attorneys of Linn County and neighboring Sullivan County petitioned the governor to release Meeks so he could testify, and the request was granted. When Meeks got back home, the Taylors almost immediately started trying to bribe him to leave the territory. They said they would pay him up to a 1,000 dollars to leave, and finally a bargain was supposedly struck, whereby the Taylors would escort Meeks out of the county and give him $800 and a wagon and team.
Meeks's wife, however, insisted on going with him and taking their three little girls. Late on the night of May 10, the Taylors drove the Meeks family away from their Milan home in Sullivan County. The next morning 7-year-old Nellie Meeks came crying to a farmhouse near George Taylor's farm in Linn County saying that her parents and both of her sisters had been killed and buried beneath a haystack on the Taylor farm. Nellie had been left there for dead but had survived, and she implicated the Taylors in the murders.
Because the Taylors, especially Bill, had considerable influence in the community, they succeeded in getting their first trial to end in a hung jury, despite the overwhelming evidence against them. (Jury tampering and bribing of witnesses were suspected.) However, they were convicted on retrial and sentenced to hang. George Taylor escaped a couple of weeks before his date with death and was never recaught, but his brother paid the ultimate price when he was hanged at Carrollton, where the trials had been moved on a change of venue, on the last day of April 1896.
I'm having a book signing for the new book at Half Price Books of the Ozarks in Springfield on Saturday, August 10, from 1-3 p.m.

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