Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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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.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Murder of the Newlands & Hanging of Charles Waller

About the first of May, 1867, 28-year-old William Newland (name sometimes given as William Newton), his wife, and their 18-month old son left their home in Washington County, Indiana, with the idea of settling somewhere in the Southwest. They stopped over for a few months in Illinois, where they made the acquaintance of 42-year-old Charles Waller, his 34-year-old wife (Hannah), their 18-year-old son (Zachariah), and four younger children. Newland, whose father was a well-to-do farmer in Washington County, had a pretty good sum of money with him with which he planned to buy land. He gave Waller some work, and when he (Newland) decided to resume his family's journey to the Southwest, he asked Waller and his family to accompany them, promising Waller a job when they reached their destination. He even provided Waller with a team and a wagon with which to make the trip.
Sometime during the fall of 1867, the two families reached Dade County, Missouri, where they visited with Samuel A. Harshbarger, a relative by marriage of William Newland. After a short while, they set off again, heading southeast toward Ozark County. About November 1, they camped in Webster County a few miles east of Marshfield, where Newland and Zach Waller went hunting together. Young Waller came back to his family's wagon alone and told his father "Well, it's done," or words to that effect. When Waller asked for clarification, Zach told him that he had killed Newland. (Reports conflict on whether the father or the son killed Newland, but, in either case, the "Well, it's done" statement suggests they were both in on the conspiracy.) Charles Waller determined that, in order to cover up the crime, they had to get rid of Newland's wife and child. He or his son slit Mrs. Newland's throat and presumably also killed the child, Samuel Lincoln Newland, although the child's body was never found.
William Newland's body was found not long after he was killed about six to eight miles from Marshfield, but law enforcement and the citizenry did not become particularly aroused at first. After a lapse of some weeks or months, however, relatives of the Newlands back in Indiana became concerned for the well-being of the family, since they had not heard from them. Newland's father asked Harshbarger to initiate an investigation, and he learned of the discovery of William Newland's body near the same time that the remains of Mrs. Newland's body was found along the Hartville Road (approximating present-day Highway 38) near Cantrell Creek in the spring of 1868 a few miles to the southeast from where her husband had been found. According to at least one report, Mrs. Newland's head was detached from her body. (Reports conflict as to which body was found where, but the evidence suggests that Newland's body was found nearer to Marshfield than his wife's. Mrs. Newland was apparently not killed where her body was found. More likely she was killed near the same spot as her husband and her body then hauled a few miles and dumped, because it seems unlikely she would have willingly continued the journey with the Wallers after her husband went missing.)
The discovery of Mrs. Newland's body caused much alarm. Already suspected of having killed William Newland, the Wallers now became the object of an intense manhunt, funded mainly by Richard Newland, William's father. The Wallers were tracked to Ozark County, where Zach Waller had gotten married, but the family had already taken off by the time authorities got there. Waller was then said to be in Arkansas, while Zach was thought to be in Texas. A deputy was dispatched to Texas to bring Zach back. When he got back to Missouri, he reported that he had captured the fugitive but that he had been forced to shoot and kill Waller when he tried to escape. He collected the $1,000 reward that had been offered ($500 from Richard Newland and $500 from Webster County) before authorities began to suspect that he had lied and that Zach Waller was still alive.
Meanwhile, Sam Harshbarger was hot on the trail of Zach's parents. He tracked them to Rock County, Wisconsin, and then to Beaver Creek in the same state. From there, he traced them to Faribault, Minnesota, where, in August of 1870, he finally caught up with them, still in possession of some of Newland's belongings. Harshbarger captured them and brought them back to Marshfield, where they were lodged in the Webster County jail. Charles Waller was indicted for first degree murder in 1871 and his wife, Hannah, was indicted as an accessory. Waller was tried at the March 1872 term of court, and on Friday, March 29, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. The next day, Waller was brought back into court, and Judge R. W. Fyan pronounced a sentence of death by hanging. The execution date was set for May 17. Cursing the verdict and those who had testified against him, especially Sam Harshbarger, Waller said he had been convicted by a pack of lies but that he was ready to die. Hannah, meanwhile, pled guilty to manslaughter and was given a three-year sentence in the state penitentiary.
From her cell in Jeff City, she wrote to Governor Gratz Brown on May 9 proclaiming her husband's innocence and pleading for mercy in his case as well as her own. Three weeks earlier, she had given birth, while in prison, to a new baby, and she asked to be released so she could raise her child. She enclosed a letter that her husband had written to her just days earlier in which he talked of meeting her in heaven and told her to follow the Lord's path. At least three other people wrote letters to Brown also pleading for leniency. One of them, Waller's court-appointed lawyer, did not claim, like Hannah, that Charles Waller was innocent of the crime, but he instead based his appeal wholly on his opposition to capital punishment. Gov. Brown, however, was unmoved by any of the letters, saying that he did not feel he should countermand a lawful verdict.
Waller had been receiving spiritual counsel since his conviction (and perhaps before the verdict), mainly from Rev. McCord Roberts, a well-known Baptist minister in Southwest Missouri. However, he continued steadfastly denying having committed the crime for which he was to pay the ultimate price, until just a day or two before the scheduled execution date, when, according to newspaper reports, he finally admitted the deed. He had been eating well, but on the morning of his execution, Friday, May 17, he refused breakfast, saying that he felt nauseous, and he reportedly wailed in agony. By early afternoon, however, when he was finally taken to the scaffold, which had been erected just east of Marshfield on what was known as Bald Hill, he had regained his composure and reportedly walked up the stairs to meet his fate with a firm step in front of a spellbound crowd, who were eager to witness the high drama.
Legal hangings during the 1800s and early 1900s were usually public spectacles attended by a picnic-like or carnival-like atmosphere, and Waller's execution was no exception. People had begun pouring into Marshfield on Thursday, the day before the event, and the crowd grew to a reported 5,000 to 7,000 people, who watched as Waller mounted the scaffold. The convict declined to make a statement when given the opportunity, and Rev. Roberts then said a prayer. Waller's face was covered with a mask and the noose adjusted around his neck. The sheriff then pulled the lever and dropped him into eternity. His neck was reportedly broken by the fall, and he died within two or three minutes but was allowed to hang for another ten minutes or so before his body was taken down and buried in a grave that had already been prepared very near the execution site. The crowd gradually began to break up.
Zach Waller continued on the lam, but Harshbarger proved to be a stubborn detective. He ran down a number of leads over the years and finally located the fugitive holed up in Minnesota (one report said Florida), where his parents had also taken refuge. He was brought back to Webster County and indicted in March of 1877. In September of the same year, he pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, an option he was given in hopes that he would tell what happened to the Newland child. He was sentenced to forty years in prison, but he never revealed anything about the fate or whereabouts of little Samuel Lincoln Newland.


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