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.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Irene McCann: Good Girl or Bad Woman?

Irene Scott, according to her mother, was a “good girl” growing up in Alabama in the 1920s and even taught a Sunday school class, but shortly after she turned eighteen she just decided to “pick up and run off.” After sending a few letters home, Irene quit writing, and her mother, Velma Richardson, began to worry she might be dead. She wasn’t, but Velma was right to be worried.
Irene traveled back and forth across the country from Dallas to Chicago to New Orleans working as a waitress and dancer in various restaurants and clubs. In the fall of 1930, while working as a waitress at a restaurant and boardinghouse in Springfield, Missouri, she met a seventeen-year-old Joplin boy named Albert McCann. They were married just a few weeks later, and Albert, supposedly a perfect gentleman during their courtship, began to curse and beat her during drunken rages. She stayed with him out of fear, she later claimed.
In late November of 1930, Albert, Irene, and another couple drove from Joplin to Kansas City, where Albert and the other young man killed a drugstore owner during a robbery attempt, while Irene and the other woman waited in the car. After the crime, the foursome fled back to Jasper County.
In mid-December, Irene agreed to help Albert try to break a friend of his out of the Jasper County jail at Carthage. During the attempt, McCann shot and killed jailer E.O. Bray when he put up a struggle. After the shooting, Irene and her villainous husband ran from the jail yard through a gate, where she stumbled and broke a heel off one of her shoes.
The couple fled to Oklahoma and stopped at Chelsea to buy bandages for a wound Albert had sustained in his gun battle with Bray. Irene went into a drugstore to make the purchase, and the town marshal, who happened to be present, noticed the missing heel on her shoe. The next day he read a news story about the killing of Bray, and it mentioned the woman accomplice having lost a heel from her shoe. The marshal sent for photos of the suspects to confirm they were the same couple he’d seen at the drugstore. When they showed back up in Chelsea a couple of weeks later, he arrested them without incident, and they were taken back to Missouri to face first-degree murder charges.
Tried in April 1931, Albert McCann was convicted and sentenced to hang in July, but the verdict was appealed and the sentence postponed. Irene testified in her own defense at her trial in May, claiming she’d only gone along with Albert out of fear, and she was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to ten years in the state prison.
Transferred to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City, Irene escaped from a hospital at the prison farm on November 10, 1931. She left behind a note explaining that she escaped because she wanted to try to get evidence to help her husband. Irene, whom one of the prison matrons called “a bad woman,” was recaptured the next day. Granted a retrial in Springfield, Albert was again convicted of murder in May of 1932, but this time he received a sentence of fifty years in prison instead of the death penalty.
In December of 1932, Irene made another dash for freedom. She and another inmate, Edna Murray, known as “the kissing bandit,” sawed their way out of a building at the prison farm that was reserved for unruly female prisoners.
After more than a year on the lam, Irene turned herself in at Chicago in January of 1934, saying that she was tired of running and wanted to go back to prison and finish her term. She was taken back to Jefferson City but stayed only about two years. Suffering from serious illness, she was paroled in January of 1936 and died shortly afterwards.

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