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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Murder of James G. Clark and Hanging of John W. Patterson

In December of 1868, James G. Clark, residing near Roscoe in St. Clair County, Missouri, made a trip to Sedalia to buy lumber for a project on his farm. While in Sedalia he met a young man named John W. Patterson, who had a wagon available, and Clark, who had good bit of money on his person, hired Patterson to haul the lumber for him. Starting toward Roscoe with the lumber, the pair passed through Henry County. Shortly after passing through Brownington in southern Henry County, the twenty-four-year-old Patterson hacked Clark to death with a hatchet, took Clark's money (which amounted to about $400), and also took a watch off the body.
After dumping the body on the prairie a short distance off the road, Patterson started back toward Sedalia in the wagon alone. At Brownington, he unloaded the lumber, tried to trade the watch he had taken from the murdered man, and also mailed a letter to his father, who lived near Carthage in Jasper County. Meanwhile, some kids out for play happened upon Clark's body very shortly after it had been abandoned. Wagon tracks in the soft ground around the body made it apparent that the body had been left there by whoever was driving the wagon, and a posse immediately organized and started in pursuit of the driver. At Brownington, the lumber that Patterson had unloaded was found with some of his victim's blood on it, and local witnesses stated that a young man and an older man had passed through the community together but that the young man had come back alone. In addition, the letter the young man had written had not yet been mailed, and the postmaster opened it and found that the young man's name was John W. Patterson.
Patterson was trailed back to Sedalia and located at a hotel there, where he had put up. He still had most of the money that had been taken from Clark with him, and some of the men who had joined the posse recognized Patterson as the man whom they had seen riding in a wagon with an older man shortly before Clark was killed. Patterson was arrested and taken back to Henry County. On the way, he confessed to killing Clark, claiming at first that he did so in self defense before admitting that he had killed him for his money.
Patterson was placed in jail at Clinton and shortly afterwards was indicted for murder. He won a change of venue to Morgan County, however, and was transferred to a jail there. The calaboose where he was housed was described as a "rickety building," and he soon escaped, despite the fact that he was supposedly closely guarded. He disappeared and was not heard from for several years.
Then, about five years after Patterson's escape, his father died, and the murderer applied for his share of the estate. The detectives were thus once again put on his trail and he was eventually tracked down in Illinois, where he was now living with a wife and a child. He was brought back to Missouri and tried at Clinton in April of 1881 for Clark's murder, with his wife and young child in attendance. He was convicted on April 23rd and sentenced to hang on June 10.
After two stays, July 22 was finally fixed as the day of Patterson's execution, and his hanging at high noon of that day was a public spectacle, as legal hangings normally were in the 1800s. I'll let headlines from the July 26 Sedalia Weekly Bazoo tell the rest of the story in the Bazoo's inimitable style: "GONE TO GLORY. THE ANGEL OF DEATH SPEEDS HIS BLACK WINGS OVER CLINTON. THE READY ROPE SWINGS JOHN W. PATTERSON INTO THE DARK UNKNOWN, AND JAMES G. CLARK, THE MURDERED MAN, IS AMPLY AVENGED. IN THE PRESENCE OF FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE, PATTERSON EXPIATES HIS CRIME ON THE SCAFFOLD. YOUNG IN YEARS BUT RIPE IN CRIME, HIS SOUL HAS GONE TO MEET THAT OF HIS VICTIM AT THE JUDGMENT BAR.... AT TWELVE O'CLOCK, THE DROP FALLS AND PATTERSON SINKS WITH A SICKENING JERK INTO THE MISTY BEYOND. EVERYTHING WORKS SMOOTHLY, AND THE AUTHOR OF A HORRIBLE CRIME IS SENT ACROSS THE STYX WITH THOROUGH DISPATCH.

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