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.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

James Wisdom's Murder of William Judy

On the night of December 3, 1883, William Judy, a young man not yet 20 years old, went to a dance on Elk River in McDonald County, Missouri, not far from Saratoga. Sometime during the evening, thirty-eight-year-old James M. Wisdom, who was postmaster of Saratoga and also a deputy sheriff for the county, showed up, according to his own later testimony, for the purpose of arresting a couple of young men for whom he had warrants. Wisdom might or might not have been acting under the auspices of the law, as he later said, but what seems clear is that he himself was drunk and behaving in an unruly fashion.
He flourished a pistol and starting swearing and verbally abusing Judy, who was presumably one of the men the deputy had come to arrest. Wisdom threatened to kill Judy if he didn't get on his horse and let the deputy ride behind. The young man volunteered to walk and let Wisdom ride the horse, but the older man insisted on riding behind Judy and continued to threaten and curse him. Finally Judy mounted up and rode over to a stump so that Wisdom could get on behind him. The two men rode off with Wisdom reaching around the other man to control the reins.
Some people on foot who trailed behind Wisdom and his captive heard shots and soon came upon Judy's dead body along the roadside not far from where the dance had been held. The next morning, Judy's horse was found at Wisdom's home, the deputy apparently having ridden it home after the murder. Wisdom claimed to have no memory of the events of the night before except for arriving at the dance with the warrants.
Wisdom was tried for first degree murder at the April 1884 term of McDonald County Circuit Court and found guilty and sentenced to hang. Wisdom appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the high court upheld the verdict around the first of March 1885 and set the execution for March 27. Governor John S. Marmaduke, however, intervened on March 17 and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.
Wisdom was received at the Missouri State Prison in Jefferson City on March 24, 1885, to begin serving his life term. In 1887, however, he fell ill, and his family, friends, and a sympathetic physician petitioned for his release, based on their belief that he was in the late stages of consumption (tuberculosis) and had only a few weeks to live. Governor Albert Morehouse pardoned the convicted murderer on October 8, 1887, only two and a half years after he had been committed to prison, and Wisdom went home, supposedly to die. However, he soon regained his health and went on the live many years as a free man, even though he'd been convicted of first degree murder. At the time of the 1900 census, he was living in Oklahoma Territory with his wife and three adult children.

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