Kidnapping and Murder of Dr. J.C.B. Davis
A ransom letter, mailed from West Plains and postmarked January 28, was received the following day, Friday the 29th, and FBI agents were sent to Willow Springs to join the investigation. Opening with the salutation "Dear friend," the letter was written in the doctor's handwriting, meaning the kidnapper had forced Davis to write his own ransom letter. It demanded that $5,000 be paid in four $1,000 bills, nine $100 bills, and five $20 bills. It threatened the doctor with death if the family did not comply, and it contained instructions for delivering the money.
The same day, January 29, Davis's medical kit was found about thirteen miles southwest of Willow Springs in the North Fork River. This no doubt raised fears that the doctor had already been foully dealt with, but nevertheless Davis's son-in-law, following the letter's instructions, drove along the road between Willow Springs and Ava after dark looking for a white flag that the letter said would mark the spot where the ransom money was to be dropped, but the son-in-law, his vision obscured by heavy fog, failed to find a white flag.
On Monday, February 2, Davis's wife received a second note, written in unfamiliar handwriting, renewing the demand for $5,000 in ransom and directing that it should be delivered by 9:00 p.m. February 4th.
Meanwhile, acting on a tip from a person who had seen the doctor and the young man in an automobile together on the day of the doctor's disappearance, highway patrol officers located, early on the morning of February 3, an automobile matching the witness's description at the home of Samuel Kenyon in Grimmet, a small community northwest of West Plains about halfway between West Plains and the North Fork River where the medical bag was found. Officers identified Kenyon's twenty-one-year-old son, Robert, as a suspect in the kidnaping, and during a search of the residence, they found a notebook pad with the top sheet containing barely legible indentations that matched the words and handwriting of the second ransom note. Young Kenyon was also in possession of a .25 caliber automatic pistol, and it was determined that the suspect automobile found on the premises had been stolen from Rolla a few months earlier.
Robert Kenyon confessed to kidnapping and killing Davis, and he led officers to the doctor's body in a brushy area just off Highway 63 near Olden, Missouri. Davis was found face down clutching a pair of gloves in one hand and a checkbook in the other. It was concluded upon close inspection and further investigation that the doctor had been killed shortly after he was kidnapped, having been shot while in the act of trying to write a check to pay his own ransom. The only explanation Kenyon could offer for his desperate deed was that he wanted money so that he and his girlfriend could get married.
Kenyon was arrested and taken back to Willow Springs but quickly whisked away to Kansas City early the same morning (Feb. 3) to avert feared vigilantism. Kidnapping and first-degree murder charges were filed against him later the same day. His trial was held in July at the Oregon County seat of Alton on a change of venue. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Kenyon's lawyers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the verdict was upheld. Kenyon was executed in the gas chamber at Jefferson City on April 28, 1939. He was the first person to be put to death in Missouri by gas, as execution by hanging had recently been abolished.