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, December 10, 2017

A Halloween Prank Turns Tragic

During the early 20th century, it was a tradition at Drury College in Springfield for the male students to engage in various campus pranks on Halloween night. The school generally tolerated the tomfoolery as long as it didn't get out of hand, but faculty members were deployed in strategic locations on campus to prevent serious vandalism. Special policemen were also sometimes hired to make sure the student pranks were confined to the campus and to prevent outside trouble-makers from venturing onto the campus.
In 1908, a number of special policeman, including Charles H. Finn, were employed in the lead-up to Halloween and given their instructions. They were told that they need not carry weapons, and Finn said he didn't have a gun anyway. However, he borrowed a pistol from an acquaintance as he headed to the Drury campus on Halloween night. In the wee hours of the morning of November 1, two young men, Calvin Finke and Fred Rowe, were carousing together when Rowe allegedly threw lime on some of the faculty members who were helping guard the campus. Finn chased after the two young men, yelling for them to stop. When they didn't halt, he drew his pistol and fired. The bullet struck Finke, who was the son of one of the faculty members, and he died in the hospital on the morning of November 2.
A coroner's jury found that Finke had died at the hands of Charles Finn and that Finn had fired for no reason. When the incident first happened, Finn had denied even firing the shot. Later he said he drew his pistol with the intention of firing over the boys' heads but that the weapon discharged a lot easier than he expected and he fired accidentally before he'd planned. After he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, he changed his story again, saying that he'd stumbled as he raised the pistol, causing it to fire before he intended.
The charge was reduced to second-degree murder, and Finn went on trial in March of 1909. After testimony was taken, the judge's instructions to the jury included the fact that they could find the defendant guilty of the lesser offense of manslaughter. Instead, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty. It was an unpopular decision with a large number of people, including many in the Drury community, and even the judge later denounced the verdict.

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