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.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Murder of Jasper Francis

An interesting murder case in the Ozarks was the killing of Jasper Jacob "Jap" Francis by Charles Blackburn near Stoutland, Missouri, on the early morning of November 10, 1915. The two men were farmers and stockmen who lived on the same road leading out of Stoutland. Some business transactions between the two men in late October and early November involving land and cattle reportedly led to the killing. One of the transactions was the sale of some cattle by Francis to Blackburn for $1,400. Blackburn had given Francis a span of mules as a $200 down payment on the cattle with a promise to pay the remaining $1,200 in the near future.
When Francis had still not been paid the balance a few days later and he learned that Blackburn had already shipped the cattle to market, he began to believe that Blackburn, who had several other debts outstanding, was trying to cheat him out of the cattle. On the evening of November 9th, after making some inquiries in Stoutland at the bank and so forth, Francis started toward home but never made it there. Then, on November 11, Blackburn appeared at the Stoutland bank and cashed several checks or notes purportedly signed by Francis.
Twelve days after Francis's disappearance, his dead body was found covered with leaves about twenty yards from the road that he had taken out of town. He had been shot in the back of the head or neck, and his skull had also been fractured by some other weapon.
A coroner's jury was called, and a woman living near where the body had been found testified that she had heard a gunshot on the early morning of November 10 that came from the direction where the body was found. Blackburn, who was almost immediately suspected of the crime, was also called to testify at the coroner's inquest, and he apparently made statements that were incriminating, because he was charged with murder in the death of Francis.
At his trial the next spring, Blackburn explained that he had sold his farm to Francis and that the notes he had cashed at the bank on the 11th represented payment for the farm that was above and beyond the $1,200 that he owed Francis for the cattle. The jury, however, didn't buy his explanation, and he was convicted of murder. He appealed the verdict, and it was overturned in 1918 by the Missouri Supreme Court, largely on the grounds that Blackburn's statements to the coroner's jury were improperly used against him, since he was testifying at the time as a witness, not as a defendant, and had not been advised that he did not have to testify. The appeal was also based on the fact that Blackburn had been convicted partly because the farm he claimed to have sold to Francis for $12,000 was worth only $7,500 and partly because he had declined to participate in the search for Francis when he first went missing. Blackburn's lawyers maintained that these facts should not have been admitted as evidence against him, but the supreme court disallowed these appeals.
Whether Blackburn was ever retried, and if so, what the outcome of the second trial was, I do not know. However, this case is the subject of a historical novel entitled Murder on Rouse Hill that was released a few years ago by Southeast Missouri University Press. Perhaps the answer is contained in that book, but I have not read the book yet.

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