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.