Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of 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 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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Luetta Parsons and the Child Bride Murder Case of St. Francois County

On March 4, 1921, Luetta Parsons, the young bride of forty-year-old John Parsons, shot and killed her six-year-old stepdaughter, Lillie Parsons, with a shotgun blast at the Parsons home about four miles south of Bismarck near Iron Mountain in southwest St. Francois County, Missouri. A local newspaper, the Flat River Lead Belt News, reported the death a week later as "one of the most hideous crimes in the history of St. Francois County," claiming that Luetta, whom the newspaper thought was 18 years old, had deliberately murdered the child by "blowing her head off with a shotgun." Supposedly the motive for the crime was that Luetta, who had been married to Parsons only six days, was insanely jealous and suspected her new husband of infidelity. After her husband had left for work on the morning of the incident, Luetta had reportedly gone to a neighbor woman's house expecting to find Parsons there. Although her husband was not at the woman's house, Luetta, so the Lead Belt News reported, got into an argument with the occupant and declared that she would get even with her husband for his supposed shenanigans. Killing his six-year-old daughter, it was reasoned, was her means of exacting revenge. Luetta claimed, according to the local newspaper, that the killing was an accident because she thought the gun was not loaded. Parsons confirmed that the gun was usually kept unloaded. However, Lillie's 8-year-old brother testified, according to the newspaper, that he had seen Luetta loading the gun that morning. According to the newspaper's reconstruction of the crime, Luetta had killed Lillie when the little girl had balked at bringing Luetta a pan of water as she had been instructed to do, and in the days prior to the killing, Lillie had supposedly already received several beatings from her new stepmom.
Luetta was arrested and held in the jail at Farmington to await trial. However, the picture of her that emerged in the wake of her arrest was not nearly that of the demonic stepmother that had been painted by the newspaper. Luetta's grandparents soon produced papers proving that Luetta was only 13 years and 3 months old at the time of Lillie's death. She was described as comely and physically "overdeveloped" for her age but with the mind of an 8-year-old, an illiterate and uneducated girl who enjoyed playing with dolls and other toys. Prior to her marriage, Luetta had lived with her mother and stepfather. The mother reportedly was subject to "spells," and Luetta did not get along with the stepfather. She had married Parsons mainly, she later said, because she was afraid her parents would "whoop" her if she didn't. Apparently the parents wanted to get rid of her and had signed papers indicating she was older than she really was, allowing her to marry Parsons, who was kin to Luetta's stepfather and who had four children, including Lillie, by a previous marriage. Luetta said that, although her marriage to Parsons had not been exactly voluntary, he was "awful good" to her and that she always got along fine with him and his kids. She said the shotgun had gone off when she, Lillie, and the 8-year-old brother had started to the woods to meet Parsons and she was taking along the shotgun to "scare up" a rabbit or a squirrel for supper. The gun accidently discharged as she was breaking it to see whether or not it was loaded.
Luetta's case was promptly transferred to juvenile court and she was charged not with first degree murder but with manslaughter. At her trial in May of 1921, the jury acquitted her, finding that Lillie's death was, indeed, an accident. However, rather than setting her free, which would have probably meant returning her to her 40-year-old husband, the judge ruled that Luetta was a ward of the court, because he reportedly could find no responsible person to take charge of her. The grandparents reportedly were planning to seek an annulment of the marriage, but they apparently did not want to take custody of Luetta or else the judge did not deem them fit guardians, because he awarded temporary custody of Luetta to her lawyer.
In late June, a St. Louis court of appeals ruled that the judge had overstepped his authority in retaining Luetta in custody, and she was released into the custody of an uncle with whom she was reportedly going to live at Bismarck. What happened to her after that is unknown, although she apparently never returned to Parsons.

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