Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written seventeen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History, and Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Schuendler Murders and the Hanging of Thaddeus Baber

Thaddeus Baber was smitten with Lizzie Schuendler from the time he first met her in St. Louis about 1873. She was only fifteen or sixteen, but she had “already begun the downward course of life,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She’d worked as a call girl in the “assignation house” run by her mother, Fredericka Schuendler, and she had a baby boy by another man. But none of that mattered to the twenty-four-year-old Baber. He knew Lizzie was “not the chastest woman in the world,” but he still loved her.
Baber and Lizzie lived together as man and wife off and on for several years. Baber wanted to marry Lizzie, and he treated her little boy as his own son. But Fredericka, who disliked Baber, opposed the match, and he and Lizzie often argued over the interference of the “old woman.”
In 1879, Baber and Lizzie moved downtown, just a few blocks away from Fredericka’s place, and Lizzie would often drop by to see her mother. Sometimes she spent the night, and Fredericka continually encouraged her daughter to come back home permanently and work for her. Baber strongly opposed Lizzie’s visits to her mother’s “den of sin,” and he grew increasingly bitter toward the old lady.
On Sunday, August 10, 1879, Lizzie and Baber had a violent quarrel, and she left to stay with her mother. “Half crazed by the desertion,” according to the Post-Dispatch, Baber “lay drunk Monday and Tuesday,” trying to drown his misery.
Baber tried to get Lizzie to come back, but she refused. Finally, she agreed to see him outside her mother’s place on Thursday evening.
Baber showed up at Fredericka’s address on schedule and stood on the street in the rain waiting for Lizzie to appear. When she came to a window in a second-story room, he waved a handkerchief as a signal, but she retreated without acknowledging him. Waiting despondently for Lizzie to come down, Baber grew convinced that she was with another man, and he became intensely jealous.
About 8 p.m., he strode upstairs with a pistol in hand to see what was going on. At the top of the stairs he found Lizzie’s mother seated in the parlor reading, and he asked to see Lizzie. What the old woman replied is not known, but whatever she said prompted Baber to level his pistol and shoot her in the head, killing her instantly. He then heard footsteps approaching from an adjoining room, whirled, and fired again just as the door swung open. The bullet struck Lizzie in the breast, and she collapsed to the floor gravely wounded.
Arrested almost immediately, Baber freely confessed his guilt and “rather glorie(d) over the killing of the old woman,” but he expressed deep regret about Lizzie. Claiming that shooting her was an accident, he said he thought she was with another man and that the footsteps he heard approaching were those of her gentleman caller.
In reporting the crime the next day, the Post-Dispatch said, “The case is a demoniac one throughout, and has seldom, if ever, been surpassed in the annals of crime.” Lizzie was rushed to the hospital, where she lingered for two days. The body was then removed to the morgue. Baber was allowed to see his dead lover, and he sank to the floor in sobs when he was brought into the room.
A grand jury indicted Baber for first-degree murder in the case of Fredericka Schuendler. When the defendant appeared in court in June 1880, he was described as “a stumpy little fellow with horny hands, a low forehead, wide temples, teeth like Dickens’ Carker.”
When Baber’s trial got underway at the November 1880 term, Baber’s lawyers pled insanity. Various witnesses, including the defendant’s aged mother, testified that Baber had suffered a severe blow to his head when he was a child and had to have a hole cut in his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain caused by the swelling. A silver plate had been placed in his skull to cover up the place where the trephining was done, but his lawyers argued that the operation had not been properly performed and that Baber’s skull still pressed against his brain, causing him to have “spells.”
Unswayed by the insanity defense, the jury came back with a verdict of guilty as charged. Baber’s lawyers filed a motion for a new trial, which was overruled, but the verdict was then appealed. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict in October 1881, as did the Missouri Supreme Court shortly thereafter, and Baber’s execution date was set for January 13, 1882. The defense’s last-minute appeals to the Missouri governor for clemency were denied.
On the appointed day, Friday the 13th, Baber and another condemned man, William Ward, were marched together from the St. Louis jail to an enclosed gallows in the courtyard. Both Ward and Baber declined to make final statements, and they plunged to their deaths before a few hundred gawking witnesses at about 8:30 a.m.
This entry is condensed from a chapter in my book Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Wife Killer Gets the Gallows

About 1896, Carroll M. Rice, who'd been previously married and had three children, married again to a young woman named Mary, who, at eighteen years of age, was considerably younger than he was. The newlyweds took up residence near the Eleven Points River in eastern Oregon County, Missouri, living at least part time out of a wagon. The couple did not get along almost from the time they married. Rice was described as "an ignorant man" who considered his wife chattel. He thought he could treat her like a hog or cow or any other animal he owned. To escape his brutal treatment, Mary left Rice two or three different times during the first couple of years of their marriage, but his solicitations would always convince her to give him another try.
Finally, Mary left Rice about the middle of June 1898, with no intention of returning to her husband, and went to stay at a neighbor lady's house. One evening shortly afterwards, Rice went to the house where Mary was staying to see if she would come out so he could confront her. She did not, but he hung around eavesdropping and heard voices and laughter, including Mary's, coming from the house. The rifle he'd brought along was leaning against the house, and he angrily picked it up with the idea of storming into the house. He thought better of it, though, and went back home. But he was still galled.
Then on Sunday evening, June 26, a couple of weeks after Mary had left, Rice returned to the house where she was staying, again taking his Winchester along with him. Again, Mary did not appear, but this time Rice was more determined to see her. He watched the house all night, and shortly after daylight the next morning, Sarah Conner, daughter-in-law of the woman who owned the house, and Mary emerged and went to a nearby spring to fetch a pail of water.
Rice approached his wife, calling her "Hon," but she was not happy to see him. He then commanded her to return home with him, but she refused. Flourishing his weapon, he threatened to shoot her if she did not. In order to appease him, she agreed but said she needed to go to the house to get some clothes. He objected, ordering her to leave with him at once. When she instead picked up the pail of water as though to carry it to the house, he shot her through the left breast. "There, God damn you, take that!" Rice shouted, as his wife collapsed and he hurried away. Mary died less than thirty minutes later, and when the news was relayed to Rice, he reportedly said that he did not regret his deed and that he was relieved to know she was dead. The West Plains Gazette, in reporting the murder, called it "one of the most brutal and atrocious crimes that ever shocked the people of south Missouri."
Rice was arrested and lodged in the Oregon County Jail at Alton. He was indicted for first degree murder on August 23, and his trial began in the Oregon County Circuit Court on September 5. It was brought out at trial that, during the days leading up to the murder, Rice had repeatedly threatened to kill his wife if she did not return to him. Rice's attorney tried to mount a self defense argument, claiming that Mary had also threatened to kill Rice and that she regularly carried a gun and a knife. The jury didn't buy the defense argument, and on September 8, they brought in a verdict finding Rice guilty of murder in the first degree. The judge sentenced Rice to hang on October 27, but the defense appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, automatically postponing the execution.
Hearing the case in May 1899, the high court rejected the defense's contention that Rice should have been granted a continuance so he would have had more time to gather witnesses in support of his self-defense argument. "The evidence," concluded the justices, "showed defendant to be guilty beyond any question of one of the most deliberate and unprovoked murders ever perpetrated by man." They set June 15 as Rice's new execution date.
On the appointed day, Rice arose early and ate a hearty breakfast. Shortly after noon, he was led from the jail in Alton to the gallows and up the steps. He made an attempt to break away when he and his escort of law officers reached the scaffold, but he was quickly overpowered. He was allowed to briefly address the large crowd that had gathered to witness the event, telling the estimated 5,000 spectators that he hoped to meet them in a better world. He was then led quickly to the trap, where his arms and legs were pinioned and the black cap placed over his head. He dropped through the trap at 12:52 p.m. and was pronounced dead fourteen minutes later.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Chicopee "Black Hand"

Frank Dixon, Lewis Stephanos, and Marie Boso of Chicopee, Kansas, were arrested in the fall of 1909 on suspicion of committing or orchestrating wholesale robberies in the Missouri-Kansas border area around Pittsburg. After Dixon was convicted in February of 1910, newspapers reported that his conviction and the arrest of the other two had broken up “the most vengeful ‘black hand’ society in the West.” During the three years previous to the trio’s arrest, nineteen murders had reportedly been committed in the Chicopee area, and all had gone unsolved, because everybody was scared to testify or otherwise cooperate with authorities.
Even though I’ve lived in nearby Joplin for over forty years and have occasionally heard it rumored that the so-called Italian mob ruled the Pittsburg area in the early part of the 20th century, I was still a little skeptical of the Chicopee report, particularly the number of supposed murders, when I recently ran across it in a Springfield, Missouri, newspaper. However, after delving into the subject a little more, I’ve concluded that there was apparently considerable truth to it.
The Black Hand officially referred to any of several extortion rackets run by immigrant Sicilian and Italian gangsters in large cities across the US from about 1890 to 1920. The scheme consisted of extorting money from merchants or other well-off people (usually other immigrants) by sending them notes with black hands or other menacing symbols printed on them alongside threats of death or property destruction. The Black Hand was more or less a precursor to the mafia, but the term “black hand” came to be used in a generic sense to mean any criminal enterprise run by Italian or Sicilian immigrants, such as the robbery ring run by Dixon, Stephanos, and Boso around Chicopee, which was a coal mining community inhabited mainly by Italians and Sicilians.
At any rate, my search of Kansas newspapers turned up the fact that murders in the Chicopee area were indeed pretty common during the first decade of 20th century. In late May of 1904, a miner named Bartolomeo Vietta was shot and killed in a Chicopee saloon by another Italian, Costimo Bogetti. In October of 1905, brothers Sam and John Devitto got drunk and shot up a saloon, fatally wounding a man named Otto Odoneno and seriously injuring three others. One night in early November 1907, a young man named Salvatore Pollichino was gunned down at Chicopee, apparently in cold blood. The Pittsburg Headlight reported that who did the killing was a question to which no one knew the answer, although the victim was a recent immigrant and it was thought he might have been killed by someone from the “old country” who held a grudge against him. Thirteen other men had been killed in the Chicopee area in the previous four years, said the Headlight, and their killers were likewise unknown. Less than a month later, on a morning in early December of 1907, a Sicilian miner named Antonio Fasulo was beaten and shot to death in Chicopee by six Italians while he was on his way to work. The crime was supposed to be the work of “The Black Hand.” About 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night, August 22, 1908, several gunshots were heard between East Chicopee and West Chicopee, but nobody thought much about the incident until the next morning when a dead Italian man was found with seven bullet holes in his body. “Like the other twenty-four killings which have occurred at or near that place in the past four years,” reported the Columbus Weekly Advocate, “the killing is shrouded in mystery.” In none of the twenty-five cases had a murderer been brought to justice.
On August 4, 1909, however, when two young Anglo-Americans who’d grown up together in the Chicopee area got into a fight and one stabbed the other to death, the assailant, Arthur Connery, was quickly arrested. He was later convicted of manslaughter for killing his friend Harry Kilduff. Both young men came from what were described as prominent families.
On August 14, 1909, three masked men accosted eighteen-year-old Lena Baroni and her fiancé at West Chicopee and ran the fiancé off at the point of a gun. After she refused their indecent proposals, they compounded the insult by offering to pay her for sex. She broke away and started running, and they shot and mortally wounded her. Before she died, however, she said she recognized the men from their voices and other clues to their identity. She named them as Joe Chirafisi, Carlo Caletti, and Tony Mamphie. She again identified Chirafisi and Caletti after they were arrested and brought before her in the hospital. After she died, Chirafisi was tried, found guilty of first degree murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Caletti was later acquitted, and, as far as I have been able to determine, Mamphie was never brought to justice.
Meanwhile, Frank Dixon had been sent to prison several years earlier, but he had reportedly continued to run his robbery ring from behind bars. Then when he got out in July of 1909, robberies in the Chicopee area spiked. He and his cohorts, though, were soon apprehended when about $5,000 of the stolen loot was discovered at the home of Marie Boso, an Italian widow. Dixon himself was not Italian but his two partners were. After Lewis was sent away for another stretch at the big house, the crime wave around Chicopee, including the murders, receded.
So, there does seem to have been something to the stories of an Italian mob operating in the Chicopee area. But I’m still not quite convinced that there were as many unsolved murders as newspaper reports suggested.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Vigilante Murder of a "Sanctified" Preacher

About 1900, D. M. Malone, a former Methodist minister who’d recently embraced the holiness movement started preaching his newfound gospel of Christian perfection in the Little River area of northwest Pemiscot County, Missouri. The holiness movement emphasized union with God or “sanctification,” and those who claimed to have achieved such a state often considered themselves accountable only to heaven. Malone soon learned that many of his neighbors were resistant to his unorthodox religious beliefs, but what really riled them up was his unconventional lifestyle and his mistreatment of his wife. Rev. Malone might have thought he was following the laws of God, but it was his flouting of the laws of man that ended up getting him killed.
Around the beginning of 1903, Malone left his wife, Alice, and their children at home while he took a trip into Arkansas and Mississippi. When he returned, he surprised Alice by bringing a good-looking, twenty-six-year-old “grass widow” named Mary “Molly” Friel home to live with them as their “housekeeper,” claiming that Alice was incompetent to attend to her household duties. The forty-six-year-old preacher had made Molly’s acquaintance while proselytizing in neighboring New Madrid County prior to his trip, and the pair had made the journey south together.
Alice, who had been married to Malone for almost twenty-five years, objected to the new living arrangement, but the preacher said Molly shared his holiness fervor and was indispensable to his evangelical work. Malone and the young woman tried to convert Alice to the sanctified sect, but the thirty-eight-year-old Mrs. Malone “could not believe their doctrine,” and she also greatly objected to her husband having “another wife.”
Malone and Mary continued traveling and preaching together, although they largely avoided the New Madrid County area where she was from, having incurred the hostility of the people in that vicinity with their “holiness” meetings and their growing intimacy. When they were home, though, all that stood in the way of their “entire sanctification” was Malone’s wife. Their attempts to convert Alice having failed, they started plotting to put her aside. Accusing her of being crazy and a danger to others, they even resorted to tying her to a bed.
Meanwhile, some of Alice Malone’s neighbors rose to her defense, and “an internecine war” developed between Malone and his “Holiness” allies versus an “Anti-Holiness/Malone” faction led “by no one in particular.” The mounting tension came to a head on Saturday night, April 25th, when some of the anti-holiness crowd fired several shots into the Malone house in an attempt to “whitecap” the preacher and his paramour.
Instead of backing down, Malone had his wife arrested on an insanity charge, claiming she’d tried to kill someone. A constable brought Alice to Caruthersville on Tuesday, April 28th, and lodged her in the Pemiscot County jail.
Alice denied she was crazy, and most people thought the insanity charge was trumped up. Her arrest so inflamed her neighbors that the local justice of the peace swore out a warrant against Malone for wife abandonment and gave it to Constable W. J. Mooneyhan to serve. When Mooneyhan showed up at the Malone residence on Wednesday the 29th, however, Malone greeted him with a Winchester in his hands and two revolvers strapped around his waist.
Sizing Malone up as a desperate man, Mooneyhan left and reported the incident to county authorities, who swore out a warrant for Malone’s arrest on a charge of adultery. Mooneyhan then rounded up a posse of about eighteen men and set out to serve the warrant late Friday night, May 1, 1903. They surrounded the house and waited until dawn before demanding the surrender of Malone and his distaff partner in holiness. When Malone again resisted, one of the deputies sneaked up and set a fire underneath the house. Malone surrendered, and the fire was quickly doused.
Mooneyhan took the prisoners to his house with plans to convey them to the county seat at Caruthersville the next day, and two deputies were retained as guards. Shortly before midnight, a masked mob, reportedly including some of the same men who’d acted as Mooneyhan’s deputies that morning, rapped on the door and shot Mooneyhan dead when he refused to hand over his prisoner. Malone made a dash for freedom but was gunned down, while Mary Friel managed to escape and hide in an orchard until the mob retreated.
The next morning, one of the deputies who’d been detailed as a guard took Molly to the county jail at Caruthersville. Interviewed there a day or two later, she implied that Malone had compelled her to live with him. From an adjoining cell, Alice Malone overheard the reporter’s conversation with Molly and went into a rage, berating both her husband and Molly. Alice said she couldn’t forgive her husband but that she blamed Molly more than him.
Shortly afterward, Alice was declared sane and released. She returned to her home in Pemiscot County and lived there several more years. How long Mary Friel was held in jail or the final disposition of her case is uncertain. Twelve men were rounded up as alleged members of the mob, and three were eventually convicted of second degree murder for killing Malone.
This post is condensed from a chapter in my book Yanked Into Eternity: Lynching and Hangings in Missouri.

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