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 3, 2017

The Lynching of Roy Hammonds

After Roy Hammonds, a nineteen-year-old black man, pled guilty on Friday, April 29, 1921, in the Circuit Court of Pike County, Missouri, to attempted assault on a fourteen-year-old white girl, he was assessed a sentence of ten years in the state penitentiary. But that wasn’t enough for the good citizens of Bowling Green. They wanted him to hang.
Not just hang. They wanted him to suffer.
Two days earlier, fourteen-year-old Virginia Terrell had been to a picture show in Bowling Green and was walking home that night past the Negro Methodist Church when she was accosted by a black youth. The assailant dragged her to the rear of the church and started choking her, but the assault was interrupted by the girl’s father and brother, who had started from their home to meet her. Hearing Virginia’s screams, they came running, and the attacker fled.
The girl’s father dashed after the villain, causing the attacker to stumble and lose his cap as he jumped a fence. Regaining his footing, the young man fled through the town square, with the father, who’d been delayed crossing the fence, trailing behind. Sheriff Charles Moore joined the chase, but the fugitive had “gained headway” and managed to elude his pursuers.
Two bloodhounds were brought in and given the scent of the cap that the fugitive had lost. The dogs followed the path of the chase through the square and eventually to the home of Roy Hammonds north of town. Several people were at the house, including Roy’s father, William, and his older brother, Willie.
Based on the dogs’ behavior and the fact that Virginia Terrell had described her attacker as a young black man, twenty-one-year-old Willie Hammonds was arrested on Thursday evening and escorted to jail. The next morning, he was taken before the girl at the prosecutor’s office in Bowling Green, and she identified him as the person who had attacked her. He was returned to the Pike County Jail over his stout protestations.
Shortly afterwards, Sheriff Moore tossed the cap found at the crime scene into Willie’s cell, saying “Here’s your cap.”
“That’s not my cap,” Willie said. “That’s Roy’s cap.”
William Hammonds, father of the two young men, confirmed that the cap belonged to Roy, but Roy claimed Willie had been wearing it on the night of the attack. Confronted by his brother, Roy finally admitted he had been wearing it. Both the sons were then taken before the girl, and she hesitantly picked out Roy as her attacker.
Roy then confessed and was tossed in jail. He admitted asking the girl to take off her clothes but she refused. That was all he did, because the two men came up and he ran. His confession was reported as a written statement, but part of the statement was that he couldn’t read and write. The confession was, in fact, transcribed by the prosecutor, and parts of it were obviously prepared ahead of time, such as an assurance that the statement was made of Hammonds’s “own volition” without coercion from law officers.
Taken into court that same afternoon for a preliminary hearing, Roy pled guilty to assault and was sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary.
Hundreds of people had flocked into Bowling Green from the countryside on Friday morning, and feelings against Hammonds ran high throughout the day. There were whisperings of vigilantism even before the hearing, and after verdict was announced, talk of a lynching reached a fever pitch. Many in the community thought ten years in the can was not enough punishment for a black man who dared assault a young white girl.
Aware of the rumors of mob violence, Sheriff Moore decided to give the would-be vigilantes the slip. He put out the word that he planned to wait until Sunday to transfer Hammonds to the state prison when his real plan was to get the prisoner out of Bowling Green as soon as possible.
About dusk, Moore and six deputies spirited Hammonds to a railroad station about a mile west of Bowling Green with the intention of boarding the 7:15 p.m. train for Mexico, Missouri, and on to Jefferson City. But somehow the lynch-happy crowd got wind of the ruse, and a mob formed at the depot before the westbound train showed up.
When the train got there, the mob forced the crew to go on without picking anybody up. They then wrested Moore’s prisoner away and took him to a tree about a mile west of the depot, where they hanged him to a large limb. The vengeful mob cruelly treated the young man, purposely leaving his arms and legs unbound so he would be “permitted to fight for his life” once he was dangling in the air. Hammonds reached above his head to grasp the rope and raise his body up to prevent strangulation. Finally growing exhausted after about fifteen minutes, he gave up and slowly strangled to death.
As usual, only token efforts were made to identify and prosecute the lynchers.
This entry is condensed from a chapter in my Yanked Into Eternity book.

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