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.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Murder of Sheriff Cranmer and Hanging of John Turlington

On the evening of March 21, 1890, after a brakeman on the Missouri Pacific Railroad ejected John Oscar Turlington and another man from a train near Otterville, Missouri, Turlington took a pot shot at the brakeman. He was later arrested in Pettis County for carrying a concealed weapon and was jailed at Sedalia under the name of William West, but he was also charged in Cooper County for felonious assault and was scheduled to be transferred there on the more serious charge. While still in the Sedalia jail, Turlington met a young man named West Hensley, who was soon to be released, and he convinced Hensley to sneak a gun into him at the Cooper County jail in Boonville once he was transferred there. Hensley agreed to the desperate plan, and, after he was released and Turlington had been transferred and sentenced to six months in jail on the assault charge, he climbed a ladder at the Boonville jail on the night of June 13 and handed Turlington a pistol through the bars.
The next evening, June 14, Cooper County sheriff Thomas Cranmer and a trusty entered the jail to gather up the inmates' dinner dishes. When Cranmer opened Turlington's cell door, the prisoner walked up to the lawman, shot him point-blank with a .44 revolver, and made his escape out a rear door of the jail. The mortally wounded Cranmer managed to get the cell-block locked down so that others prisoners could not escape before staggering into his living quarters and collapsing. A large posse immediately formed, and Turlington, still going by the name William West, was recaptured later the same night.
After he was brought back to jail, there was much talk of lynching Turlington, but the sheriff had requested, before he died, that the people of Cooper County not take the law into their own hands, and a Baptist minister and other influential citizens were able to convince the mob that formed to honor the sheriff's wishes. A few days after his re-arrest, Turlington confessed his real identity and also admitted that he and man named Temple had held up a train at Pryor Creek, Indian Territory, the previous fall. In late July, Turlington was convicted in Cooper County Court of murdering Sheriff Cranmer, and his execution was set for September, later rescheduled for mid November.
The case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but before the judges made a ruling, Turlington escaped on November 1, 1890, from the jail at Boonville by putting a dummy in his bed and tricking the jailer on duty into thinking he had retired for the night. He was able to sneak out and make his getaway before his absence was noticed. The fugitive was recaptured less than two weeks later in Caseyville, Kentucky, where, it was learned, he had killed two men about two years earlier. In fact, Turlington turned out to be a much more desperate character than Missouri authorities had at first realized, because he also had killed a man in Tennessee prior to the Kentucky killings.
Turlington was brought back to Boonville, where he again escaped on the evening of December 20 by soaping his body and slipping through a hole at the top of his cell and then rappelling to the ground using a rope fashioned from a blanket. He was recaptured the next afternoon.
In late January of 1891, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling, and Turlington was hanged in the jail yard at Boonville on March 6, 1891. Sources: Cooper County history, Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, and various other newspapers.

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