Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, 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 sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Franklin County Hangs a Prussian General

Twenty-five-year-old Arthur Duestrow was a young man of leisure living off his inheritance when he killed his wife in St. Louis on Valentine’s Day Eve of 1894. Son of a wealthy St. Louis businessman, Arthur had always had everything he wanted, but this time even the best lawyers money could buy wouldn’t save him from the gallows.
Arthur had wed twenty-five-year-old Albertina Leisse when he was just twenty-one, and married life seemed to have an ameliorating effect on him at first. Wild and rebellious since his early youth, Arthur seemed to settle down after the marriage.
Arthur and Tina moved into a stately home at the edge of the exclusive Compton Heights district, and the couple appeared happy. After a couple of years, though, about the time their son, Louis, was born, young Duestrow resorted to his old ways. He enrolled in the Missouri Medical College and appended the title “Doctor” to his name, even though he failed to graduate and never practiced medicine. Instead, he spent his time frequenting saloons and carousing with women of questionable virtue.
His demeanor toward his wife turned nasty, and he took Clara Howard, a young woman who kept an “immoral resort” near downtown St. Louis, as his mistress. He visited Clara on the snowy morning of February 13, 1894, and left about noon. Wending his way home, he hit several saloons along the route.
When he reached the Duestrow residence, Tina’s servant girl, Katie Hahn, met him at the door with two-year-old Louis in her arms. “You damned bitch,” the drunken Duestrow swore at the girl as he brushed past her.
Duestrow continued his rampage when he entered the house, calling both Tina and Katie names and accusing his wife of keeping a whorehouse. He tried to hit Katie, but his wife intervened. “If you hit anybody,” she said, “hit me.”
Duestrow promptly struck his wife several times, knocking her against the bed. He picked up little Louis and went madly down the stairs but soon came back with his revolver in his hand. Another angry argument erupted between Tina and her husband, and Katie, who’d run upstairs to her third-floor room, heard gunfire and heard Tina yell that Arthur had shot her. As Katie dashed back down to the second-floor landing, she saw Tina lurch to the floor. The “doctor” then raised the little boy up and placed the revolver against his son’s heart. Panic-stricken, Katie turned away, but she heard two more shots ring out in quick succession as she hurried down the steps to give an alarm.
Duestrow made a halfhearted attempt to kill himself, but the bullet barely grazed his head. He then turned himself in.
Investigators rushed to the Duestrow home and found the little boy dead with two gunshot wounds. Tina Duestrow had been shot three times and was in critical condition.
Duestrow claimed the shooting was all an accident. When he arrived home, he said, he started to toss his revolver up to his wife on the second floor but she yelled for him not to, because it might go off. He went up the steps, where Tina met him and reached for the weapon. As he handed it to her, it accidentally discharged and kept going off on its own.
Unconvinced by his fantastic story, the police took Duestrow to the city jail, where he spent the night ranting and raving that he couldn’t have killed his baby. A few days later, Tina died also.
Duestrow got a change of venue to nearby Franklin County, and his trial for first-degree murder was set for January 1895. Duestrow’s lawyers filed an insanity plea, and a hearing to determine Duestrow’s competence to stand trial began. Both sides called experts as well as ordinary citizens who had known Duestrow throughout his life to testify as to the defendant’s sanity. Defense witnesses testified to Duestrow’s bizarre behavior, such as his claim to be a Roman Catholic cardinal, while state witnesses said his only eccentricities were laziness and drunkenness.
The sanity hearing ended in a hung jury, but a second hearing in the spring found the defendant competent to stand trial for the murder of his wife. However, the trial, which took place from late July to early August also ended in a hung jury.
At his new trial in early 1896, Duestrow was found guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to hang, and the prisoner was taken back to St. Louis for safekeeping. The execution was postponed when Duestrow’s lawyers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
In January of 1897, the high court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, and the new execution date was set for February 16, 1897. On the morning of the 15th, Duestrow, now claiming to be Prussian general Count Brandenburg, was taken from St. Louis to Union. The next day, Duestrow walked onto the platform without hesitation and placed himself on the trap. The sheriff tied Duestrow’s arms and legs and, addressing him by name, asked him whether he had any final words to say.
“I am not Duestrow,” the prisoner replied. He then bid farewell to Countess von Brandenburg.
Duestrow dropped to his death about 1:00 p.m. Afterward, his body was placed in a coffin to be turned over to his sister, Hulda Duestrow, for burial in St. Louis. Hulda had estranged herself from Arthur after his crime and he had denied even knowing anybody named Hulda Duestrow, but she had her brother’s body buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery near the son he had killed.
This post is condensed from a chapter in my book Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Billings Bank Robbery

About one o'clock in the morning of Wednesday, March 16, 1927, several men suddenly seized Billings (Missouri) night watchman J. F. McElhaney as he was making his rounds, bound him, and took him to the Bank of Billings. Several sidekicks of McElhaney's abductors were already inside the bank, making eight gang members in total. Some of the men went to the Frisco section house, broke in and secured several crowbars, which they used to tunnel through a brick wall leading into the bank's vault. One robber crawled through the hole and then pried open the door to the vault with one of the crowbars.
About 2:00 a.m. C. S. Musgraves, Frisco station agent at Billings, heard a noise uptown and started in that direction to investigate. The robbers, seeing the beam of the railroad agent's flashlight, was ready for him as he approached. Musgraves was seized and marched to the bank, where he joined McElhaney as a second hostage.
The robbers worked for several hours preparing and setting off nitroglycerin charges in an attempt to blow open the safe. The first "shot" about three o'clock was unsuccessful. The second one shortly afterward set the building on fire, but the outlaws were able to extinguish the flames.
When Musgraves did not answer a call from the train station at Springfield, the telephone operator at Billings, Wallace Swift, was aroused to go check on the Billings train agent. As he started in that direction about 4:00 a.m., he, too, was taken prisoner and bound alongside the other hostages.
The robbers finally blew the safe shortly before five o'clock and promptly finished their work, securing about $4,000 in cash and about $28,000 in bonds. A considerable amount of currency and other paper was blown to bits by the final blast. The eight crooks made their getaway, leaving the prisoners bound but unhurt. The three men managed to work themselves free about ten minutes after the robbers left, and they notified authorities. However, they were unable to give good descriptions of the gang members because the robbers kept the lights dim and were careful not to expose their faces. The bank opened for business as usual a few hours later.
On Wednesday night, three men were arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as suspects in the Billings bank robbery. One of them, Edis Tinsley of Republic, had been seen in Billings on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, but McElhaney traveled to Tulsa and was unable to positively identify any of the three men. Tinsley, however, was convicted of auto theft in Lawrence County two months later and sentenced to three years in the state pen.
Law officers thought the Billings bank robbers were not "local talent," and, as it turned out they were right. Nearly all the robbers, at least the ones who were ultimately captured, were hard cases with previous criminal records. Bob Binnum, a 30-year-old ex-con was captured in Kansas City in early April and brought back to the Christian County Jail in Ozark. He was later extradited to Oklahoma on a murder charge.
Charley Stallcup was also arrested in early April in connection with the Billings job. He was extradited from Vinita, Oklahoma, to Christian County. He was released a month or so later, however, when witnesses from Oklahoma failed to appear for his preliminary hearing.
Danny Daniels was arrested in Nebraska as a suspect in the Billings robbery about the same time as Stallcup was arrested in Oklahoma. However, the Nebraska governor refused to extradite Daniels, choosing instead to hold him for the state of Oklahoma on another charge. Daniels, however, made his escape and was recaptured in June of 1927 after a shootout in Oklahoma. He was later sent to the Colorado State Prison and was killed in October of 1929 while participating in a prison riot. A Springfield newspaper subsequently did an extensive write-up about his long criminal history throughout southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma.
In May of 1928, Jack Perry Long, who was serving a 99-year prison sentence in Texas for bank robbery, was identified as having been a member of the gang that robbed the Billings bank 14 months earlier.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Niangua Bank Robbery

On the late afternoon of October 31, 1928, two armed men walked into the Bank of Niangua, Missouri, eight miles northeast of Marshfield in Webster County, and demanded all the money in the place. And it wasn't a Halloween prank, because they weren't masked. The holdup men ushered the cashier and his wife, who were the only two people in the bank, into the vault and locked the couple inside as they made off with a reported $4,000 in cash. It was about thirty minutes before customers walked into the bank, found the cashier and his wife still locked in the vault, and released them.
The next day, 24-year-old Louis Petty, who'd served two previous brief stints in the Missouri State Penitentiary for larceny, was arrested as a suspect. On November 2, Eldon Baumgarner, a 35-year-old farmer, was arrested near Northview as a suspected accomplice and joined Petty at the Webster County Jail in Marshfield. Baumgarner denied that he had anything to do with the robbery, but officers thought his car had been used in the holdup and he'd been seen in Niangua on the day of the crime.
A third man, 24-year-old Lawrence Baumgarner, who was related to Eldon but not his brother, was arrested on November 10 at his father's farm three miles south of Marshfield after Petty implicated him in the robbery. Baumgarner was brought to Springfield at first before being returned to the Webster County Jail. About half of the stolen loot was found near the same time Lawrence Baumgarner was arrested.
About noon on December 21, Petty and Lawrence Baumgarner escaped from the Marshfield jail along with a 16-year-old trusty named Griggs who was incarcerated on a minor charge. He'd been given free rein of the jail, and he was able to get the keys and let the older men out (probably at their urging).
Petty and Baumgarner were tracked down early the next morning about five miles south of Marshfield, and a shootout ensued. Baumgarner was captured after the brief gunfight and returned to jail, while Petty was able to make his escape.
A few days later, though, Petty showed up in Marshfield, accompanied by two friends, and turned himself in. On December 30, he and Baumgarner made full confessions and volunteered to plead guilty in exchange for fifteen-year sentences. The proposition was turned down.
Shortly afterward, Louis's older brother, Roy, was also implicated in the Niangua heist, and all four of the defendants faced trial in January of 1929 at Marshfield. Louis Petty, as ringleader of the gang, was convicted and received a 45-year sentence in the penitentiary. Lawrence Baumgarner, as the other gunman who'd entered the bank, got 25 years. Roy Petty was sentenced to a three-year term as an accomplice, while Eldon Baumgarner managed to get a change of venue to Pulaski County. He was acquitted there in July of 1929.
All three of the convicted robbers were sent to Jeff City in late January of 1929. Roy Petty was released early for good behavior in October of 1930 after serving 7/12ths of his time. Lawrence Baumgarner was also discharged early in July of 1942 after serving 13 1/2 years of his 25-year term. Louis Petty, too, was released early in January of 1943, paroled by Governor Donnelley. However, the parole was revoked in 1947 after he violated its terms and was returned to prison. In 1958, the parole was rescinded (meaning officials ruled that it never should have been granted). Petty was finally discharged for good in 1962, having served 33 years, minus the four years he'd been out on parole.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Dirty Old Men

I have commented on this blog before that, despite the seemingly soaring crime rate in our country and the talk that one often hears about the declining morality of the present generation, I think incidents of serious crime (i.e. crime directly resulting in harm to another person) are not that much more prevalent than in the so-called good old days. Yes, young people nowadays are probably exposed to and perhaps acquiesce to more temptations at a younger age than youth did when I was growing up, and society has more sophisticated ways of killing people in mass numbers than we used to. But I'm talking about the total number of incidents of crime, not the total number of victims, and I'm talking only about violent crime or crime that results in serious physical and/or emotional damage to another human being. By that standard, I don't think there's that much difference between now and then.
For instance (and I think I've cited this example before), when I was writing my Wicked Springfield book, I did an informal comparison of the number of murders that took place there during the 1880s and the number of murders that occur in present-day Springfield. What I found was that, if you allow for increased population, there's not a lot of difference. Specifically, I found that there were about ten murders in Springfield during the decade of the 1880s, and there were ten murders in Springfield for the most recent year for which statistics were available at the time I was writing the book (around 2011 or 2012). If you consider that the population of Springfield is about ten times as great as it was in the 1880s, that works out to a similar murder rate for both time periods.
More recently, I've been looking at another kind of crime against persons: rape and statutory rape. This time, I haven't actually conducted a comparison, even an informal one, but I've glanced through enough old newspapers to know that rape and statutory rape were not at all uncommon in the 1880s and early 1900s, although they were often called by another name. When a woman was raped, newspapers often reported the incident by saying she had been "outraged" or some similar term. Statutory rape was often called "criminal intimacy," a broad term that also subsumed less serious offenses like adultery and premarital sexual intercourse.
A quick glance through early-day Springfield, Missouri, newspapers reveals a large number of incidents of "criminal intimacy" involving girls or young women being raped or sexually exploited by much older men, often their fathers or father figures. And the following list represents just the few incidents I've chosen to highlight. There are many others.
In 1894 a Springfield dance instructor named Professor James was charged with incest with his 15-year-old daughter. The professor often traveled to give his dance lessons, and his daughter began accompanying him after she became an accomplished dancer herself and was old enough to help out with the lessons. In the fall of 1893, the father allegedly coerced his daughter into sexual intercourse during an overnight trip to Arkansas, and the criminal relations continued on a more or less regular basis thereafter. Finally, the girl told her mother what was going on in May of 1894, and James was arrested and charged with criminal intimacy. He denied the allegation, and I don't know whether he was ever convicted of a crime or not.
In February of 1897, a single, 15-year-old girl living just north of Springfield gave birth to a baby. Investigation revealed that she also had given birth to a baby two years earlier when she was only 13. The girl's mother had died a number of years earlier, and the girl had been placed in the custody of Rufus Sharon and his wife. Rufus was charged with impregnating the girl on both occasions. Apparently his wife knew about the criminal relations between Rufus and the girl but did not report her husband to authorities.
In 1897, 17-year-old Mrs. Pearl Huffman (whose husband had recently been sent to prison for bigamy) and her 64-year-old great uncle John McGill were arrested for "lewd conduct" on a complaint from McGill's neighbor. McGill was subsequently charged with criminal intimacy. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, while Pearl was released from the lewd conduct charge because she was unable to pay a fine.
In 1899, 16-year-old Mattie Hansford left her foster parents, a doctor and his wife, and went to the home of another doctor, M.C. Wyatt and his wife, complaining that her foster parents had mistreated her and asking to stay with the Wyatts. Dr. Wyatt had recently treated Mattie for an illness, and apparently they had developed a relationship that went well beyond that of doctor-patient. Wyatt and his wife took the girl in, and a few months later, Wyatt was charged with criminal intimacy with her.
As I say, there are numerous other examples, but this is enough to give you an idea that rape and especially statutory rape were not uncommon in the good old days.

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