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, August 26, 2013


Louis T. Hardin, Jr., usually known as "Moondog," was a blind musician and composer well known in the world of jazz, classical, and rock music. However, during the mid-twentieth century, he was perhaps best known as an eccentric and iconoclastic street personality who hung out in Manhattan, mostly on the corner of 6th Avenue and 53rd Street, dressed as a Viking and banging a drum.
Hardin was born in 1916 in Kansas and then lived in Wyoming, but his family moved to Hurley, Missouri, when he was thirteen. He played in the Hurley High School Band, but when he was sixteen, he lost his sight in an accident when a dynamite cap exploded in his face. He finished high school at a school for the blind in Iowa and later moved to the Batesville, Arkansas, area with his family.
In his mid to late twenties, he moved to New York, made the acquaintance of classical musicians like Leonard Bernstein and jazz performers like Benny Goodman, and soon made his own name in the musical world. In 1947, he started calling himself "Moondog" in honor a dog he had had in Hurley that, according to the musician, howled at the moon more than any dog he had ever heard of.
In 1974, Moondog moved to Germany to be closer to his Viking heritage, and he lived the rest of his life there, dying in 1999.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Pretty Boy Floyd

Another chapter in my Murder and Mayhem book concerns the so-called Kansas City Massacre, which occurred at Kansas City's Union Station on June 17, 1933, when three gunmen tried to rescue underworld figure Frank Nash as he was being escorted to federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. According to the FBI, one of the gunmen was Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, although certain modern-day historians have claimed Floyd was not involved.
What is known for sure is that Floyd and his sidekick, Adam Richetti, started driving from Springfield toward Kansas City early on the morning of June 16 along Highway 13. South of Bolivar, their car broke down, and a passing farmer towed them into Bitzer's garage in Bolivar. Richetti had formerly lived in Bolivar, and his brother still worked at the garage. While the mechanics worked on the disabled vehicle, Sheriff Jack Killingsworth dropped by the garage. Although he was simply paying a friendly visit, Richetti grew suspicious, pulled a machine gun from the floorboard of the car, and threatened to start shooting. A customer pulled into the garage and, seeing the situation, made his escape to a drugstore across the street, where he called the cops.
As the situation started to get out of hand, Floyd took over inside the garage, ordering the hostages to stand against a wall and instructing Richetti to go find a getaway car. Richetti commandeered his brother's car and brought it back to the garage, where he and Floyd transferred guns and other items from the disabled vehicle to the getaway car. Floyd forced Killingsworth into the backseat of the car as a hostage, and it sped away with Richetti at the wheel. Officers gave chase and at one point got very close to the fugitives, but the sheriff, at the point of a gun, waved for the lawmen to back off.
In the late morning, the gangsters exchanged vehicles by waving down a passing motorist and then continued their trip toward KC with the motorist as an additional hostage. Late that night, they let both hostages loose in Kansas City, and early the next morning the Kansas City Massacre occurred.
The FBI identified the ringleader of the gang who pulled the crime as Verne Miller, and Floyd and Richetti were identified as his two sidekicks. Miller was killed in a gang-style murder a few months later. Floyd was killed by police a year or so later, and Richetti was captured, convicted for his role in the crime, and sentenced to death.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pearl Welton Murder Case

Another chapter in my Murder and Mayhem book is about the murder of Pearl Welton in western Shannon County, Missouri, near the small community of Teresita, in January 1919. Twenty-three-year-old Pearl had married Frank Welton, a man about twice her age, in September 1917. In the spring of 1918, Carrie Hofland, showed up, and Frank convinced her to let him introduce her to Pearl as his sister, even though he and Carrie were, in fact, common law husband and wife who had lived together for thirteen years. Carrie left after a few days and went back to her Nebraska home.
By the time Carrie came back to the Shannon County farm in January of 1919, Pearl had given birth, and she and Frank were now the parents of a baby about five months old. Carrie resumed the charade at first but after a couple of days, while Frank was out in the field working, she told Pearl that she was, in fact, Frank's wife. A heated argument ensued, and Carrie killed Pearl during the struggle, apparently with a blow to the head with a blunt instrument. Carrie dumped the body in a nearby low-water cistern and then apparently tossed the baby in, too.
She was still standing over the cistern when Frank walked up, and she panicked, telling Frank that Pearl had jumped into the cistern with her baby in a suicide attempt. She then helped Frank get the mother and child out of the cistern. The baby revived, but attempts to revive Pearl failed.
Frank at first believed Carrie's story that Pearl had jumped in the cistern and had apparently drowned. However, neighbors called to the scene were skeptical, and an investigation led to the arrest of both Carrie and Frank. Frank was released after Carrie confessed to the whole thing.
At her trial, however, she began to change her story, placing part of the blame on Frank. She was convicted of second degree murder, and Frank was rearrested and also tried for the murder. He, too, was convicted when Carrie was brought from the state prison to testify against him, and she incriminated him even more in the crime than she had previously.
Frank's conviction, however, was overturned by the Missouri Supreme Court. The high court said that Frank's story had been consistent from the very beginning, whereas Carrie's story had changed with each retelling. The evidence seemed to indicate Carrie's guilt and Frank's innocence. The court surmised that Frank had probably been convicted only because of the prejudice that existed against him becasue of his perceived moral failing.
Book signing from 1-3 p.m. at Always Buying Books on North Main in Joplin this Saturday August 17th for Murder and Mayhem.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Murder of Stanley Ketchel

Photo of Ketchel courtesy of Wikipedia.
Another chapter of my Murder and Mayhem in Missouri book is about the murder of world middleweight champion boxer Stanley Ketchel by Walter Dipley and Goldie Smith in October of 1910 on a farm near Niangua in Webster County, Missouri. The farm was owned by R.P. Dickerson, a wealthy Springfield businessman and a family friend of Ketchel. Dickerson had hired Ketchel to stay on the farm as its foreman while training for his next fight, and Dipley and Smith, lovers who were posing as husband and wife, were hired to work at the farm as a ranch hand and housekeeper respectively.
After just two days at the farm, Dipley shot and killed Ketchel as the latter was at the breakfast table, supposedly because Ketchel had sexually assaulted Goldie the day before while Dipley was at work in the fields and because Ketchel had displayed a pistol in a threatening manner when Dipley confronted him about the assault. Both Dipley and Smith were arrested for the murder and tried at Marshfield early in 1911. The state's theory of the case was that Goldie had helped in the murder by arranging for Ketchel to be seated at the kitchen table with his back to Dipley and that robbery rather than an assault on Goldie was the motive. Both defendants were found guilty and sentenced to long terms in the state prison.
Both Dipley and Smith appealed their convictions. Dipley's was upheld, but Goldie's was overturned. The state supreme court said there was absolutely no evidence showing that Goldie was in on the murder, and she was released after serving about a year. Dipley served another twenty-five years or so before he too was finally released on parole.
This is an interesting case because of the diametrically opposed theories of the state and the defense. I tend to think that there was probably something to Walter and Goldie's story that Ketchel had assaulted Goldie and that Walter had acted at least partly in self defense. However, the prosecution successfully painted Goldie, who had been married and divorced three times, as a loose woman, and Dipley, who had deserted from the navy, was also portrayed as being of low character. Ketchel, on the other hand, was well known and well liked, and his friend Dickerson was rich and powerful.

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