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.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Murder of Jacob Sewell

In July of 1885, Henry S. Stair and a woman named Nanetta or Nanette came to Nevada, Missouri, from Fort Scott, Kansas. Representing themselves to be man and wife (although it was later discovered that Stair already had a wife in Indiana), the couple opened a laundry in Nevada.
Shortly afterwards, Jacob Sewell and his sixteen-year-old son also came from Fort Scott to Nevada and camped just outside town. Stair, who was slightly acquainted with Sewell from their Fort Scott days, visited the Sewells' camp several times during late July and early August and apparently got the idea to kill the man and his son for their money and/or other goods. At any rate, according to later evidence, he went to the camp on the late night of August 6 and killed them both with an ax.
He loaded the bodies in the Sewell wagon and came back to Nevada to get Nanette. In the wee hours of the morning on August 7, the couple left Nevada headed north, with Nanette driving the Stair wagon and Stair driving the Sewell wagon, which was still loaded with its gruesome cargo. About 4:30 a.m. the pair disposed of the bodies near the Marmaton River and then headed east. However, the noise they made in doing so and the early hour attracted the notice of neighbors, and the bodies were found not long afterwards. A posse went out in pursuit of the desperate duo and overtook and arrested them that same day.
Both the man and woman were tried for first degree murder, convicted, and sentenced to hang in October. Stair's conviction was upheld upon appeal and a new execution date set. However, the Missouri Supreme Court granted Nanette a new trial.
About 10,000 spectators attended Stair's execution in Nevada on January 15, 1886. After climbing the scaffold, Stair was invited to say any last words he might want to offer, and he spoke for thirty minutes, proclaiming his innocence and apparently trying to postpone his death as long as possible as well. About noon, his head was covered, and he was dropped into eternity.
At her retrial in June of 1886, Nanette was found guilty of being an accessory to the crime and sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary. Later that month, she was taken to the Jeff City prison, and, when her train stopped in Sedalia, a crowd of curious spectators gathered at the depot. A local newspaperman reported, "Mrs. Stair is a coarse looking woman, and was laughing and joking in the most flippant manner with all who came into the car to catch a glimpse of the somewhat noted criminal." When the reporter questioned Nanette about her seemingly flippant attitude, she replied that, although she had been wrongly convicted, she was just trying to be cheerful about the whole thing. She then accepted a cigar that was offered to her and nonchalantly took a puff.

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