Saturday, September 18, 2021
On Thursday night, September 3, 1959, a dynamite explosion ripped through the upstairs office, apartment, and lounge above the restaurant, injuring six people, one of them critically. Apparently, five sticks of dynamite had been placed on the roof of the two-story building, directly above the office of the restaurant owner, Vern Wilder. Police theorized that the explosion was an attempt on the life of Wilder or his associate, Harry Hunt.
But Wilder was downstairs in the restaurant at the time and was not injured, and Hunt was also not injured. All six of the injured people were in the upstairs part of the building, including 70-year-old Charles Greenwood, who was critically injured. The blast showered bricks and glass onto Main Street street outside the restaurant and shattered the windows of several neighboring businesses. "It shook the hell out of everything," said a man who happened to be passing by on the sidewalk and barely missed being killed or seriously injured. Greenwood, an employee of a cigar store next door to the restaurant, died on the morning of September 5.
Police immediately undertook an investigation of the explosion. It was suspected that either someone with a personal grudge against Wilder and/or Hunt or underworld figures involved in illegal gambling were responsible for the bombing, because it was an open secret that Wilder's was one of the main "casinos" in Joplin. In fact, one report said that Wilder's was among the three largest gambling establishments in the entire state of Missouri. Wilder had even admitted during a civil action in 1950 that Hunt operated a gambling room above his restaurant, and the two men had both been indicted in 1951 for setting up gambling devices, although the indictments were later quashed. At the time of the explosion, Wilder was suing an insurance company, claiming a safe containing $10,000 ($7,000 of which belonged to Hunt) had been stolen from the restaurant property and that the insurance company had refused to pay for the loss. This was cited as another possible motive for the crime.
According the the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the upstairs part of Wilder's was Joplin's "only big-time gambling casino." The previous year (1958), Missouri governor James Blair had named Joplin as one of the "worst spots in Missouri for gambling." Although he had not identified Wilder's specifically in his formal statement, he had reportedly mentioned the restaurant in private remarks. Informed of the governor's remarks, Wilder denied that he ran the biggest gambling operation in Jasper County. He just "ran a friendly game," Wilder said. "I just try to run a good restaurant."
The Post-Dispatch went on the assert that there had recently been "considerable jealousy among gamblers" in the Tri-State area of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, as some of the gamblers not associated with Wilder's resented the fact that the restaurant had apparently been granted an exclusive right to operate in Joplin with police turning a blind eye to Wilder's activities while clamping down on others.
In addition, after Blair's 1958 report, some of the big-time gamblers in Kansas City had felt the heat because of the governor's vow to crack down on gambling in KC and had allegedly invaded Joplin as a more lucrative and wide-open field for their gambling operations. Several months before the restaurant bombing, the Kansas City high-rollers had begun demanding a cut of Wilder's gambling proceeds. Despite these allegations, little proof was offered, and no one was indicted for the explosion or the murder of Greenwood.
In early 1960, a Jasper County grand jury launched an investigation not only into the explosion but also into gambling activities in the county. The investigation uncovered evidence of gambling not only at Wilder's but also in Carthage and at one or two other locations in the county. Wilder and several associates, including Hunt, were indicted for gambling, but the grand jury report, issued in February, failed to uncover a definite motive or to name a suspect in the September explosion.
Saturday, September 11, 2021
The two younger men testified that Osborn was the trigger man in the murder and that Herrelson was the leader of the gang. They said that Herrelson and Osborn had been involved in a number of previous robberies. So, I knew, or at least suspected, that Herrelson and Osborn had been involved in other crimes, but only recently did I uncover some of the details of those crimes.
Residents of Cherokee County, Kansas, George and Bertha Herrelson were, from all appearances, fairly upstanding members of society during the early to mid-1920s. They had two popular and pretty teenage daughters, one of whom was selected a school queen at Galena. But somewhere along the line, "Big George," as he was sometimes called, got sidetracked, and his life took a criminal turn.
Herrelson's illegal shenanigans first came to public attention in the spring of 1928, when he allegedly set fire to his own house in an apparent attempt to collect the insurance. Charged with arson, he was acquitted at trial in the spring of 1929. By this time, though, or shortly after, he had become involved in other criminal activities.
The murder of Thompson, as previously mentioned, took place in October 1929.
Then, in late December of 1929, a gang of men robbed a prominent, elderly businessman named William Cottengin and his daughter at Cottengin's home in Hartville, Missouri. The gang pulled up outside the home, and when the daughter came to the door, they forced her at gunpoint back into the house. They forced the old man and his daughter to lie on the floor and bound and gagged both of them. With their victims incapacitated, they chiseled open a safe Cottengin kept in his home and took about $700 from it. They then jumped back into their car and sped out of town.
As with the Thompson murder, there were no suspects in the Cottengin case at first, but in early January 1930, just days after the Hartville caper, a jewelry store in Herrelson's hometown of Galena was robbed, and he was arrested in connection with the heist. Then, in March 1930, before the Galena case could be prosecuted, several men were arrested in northwest Oklahoma as alleged members of a robbery ring that had been operating in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri for several months, and one or more of the captives named Herrelson and Osborn as fellow members of the gang. Herrelson was also fingered as the leader of the group who had robbed Cottengin.
The Missouri governor filled out a requisition to have Herrelson returned to Missouri to face charges in the strongarm robbery of Cottengin, and Kansas authorities, who already had the defendant in custody for the jewelry store robbery, honored the request. Herrelson was taken back to Hartville to face assault and robbery charges and was lodged in the Wright County jail. However, he somehow got free of the charge or perhaps was released on bond, because he was back home in Cherokee County when he and his wife were arrested in October 1931 on charges of murdering Thompson. And that was the end of "Big George" Herrelson's criminal career.
Saturday, September 4, 2021
A native of Dallas County, Missouri, Hawkins attended Buffalo High School, where he was a star basketball player during the late 1930s and early 1940s. He played one season of basketball for Missouri Valley College in Marshall before he was called into military service during World War II.
After the war, he transferred to SMS, where he lettered for two years under legendary coach Andy McDonald (after whom McDonald Arena was named). Hawkins started his broadcasting career while still in college, calling Bears games on KGBX radio during the 1949-1950 season, McDonald's final season as head coach. In 1951, Hawkins moved to KWTO, becoming news and sports director.
One of the highlights of Hawkins's career was broadcasting Bears games during the team's back-to-back NAIA championship years of 1951-52 and 1952-53. In addition to announcing Bears basketball games, he also broadcast Drury College basketball games for several years, and later he added SMS football games to his schedule. Hawkins retired from broadcasting in 1985, having announced approximately 900 Bears basketball games.
While he was still broadcasting, Hawkins also went into partnership with Bill Virdon (former Major League Baseball player) and Beryl Swan in a sporting goods store in Springfield. He also became a stockbroker and investment advisor.
Hawkins died in 1993, and he was posthumously inducted into the Springfield-Area Sports Hall of Fame two years later.
To be sure, there have been several other long-time play-by-play sports announcers in Springfield over the years. These include Bill Maynard and Dick Bradley, both contemporaries of Hawkins. Another name that comes to mind is Ned Reynolds, whose career giving sports news and announcing sporting events for KY-3 TV in Springfield spanned almost fifty years from about 1967 to 2014.
But I always associate Vern Hawkins, first and foremost, with Springfield sportscasters, because he was the one I listened to as a little kid and he was still going strong long after I grew to adulthood.
Saturday, August 28, 2021
On that night, she and a friend went on a double date with Shay and Carl Sidney Roberts, a twenty-three-year-old friend of his from Bolivar. The foursome went to a drive-in movie, and after the show, Roberts, who was driving, took his date home. Instead of then taking Elaine home, however, he drove south of town on Fremont to the Lake Springfield vicinity and pulled off the road in a secluded area. According to Miss Hale's later story, when Shay got some beer from the glove compartment and he and Roberts started drinking, she got anxious and asked to be taken home, but Shay threatened to "rough her up" if she didn't shut up. She started screaming, and Roberts punched and choked her to make her be quiet. He then held her down while Shay raped her, and then Shay held her while Roberts also criminally assaulted her. Elaine tried to resist, scratching Shay and biting Roberts, but to no avail.
After the assault, the young men dropped Elaine off in the wee hours of April 27 near her home on East Trafficway, and she immediately reported what had happened to her father, who promptly notified police. The officers took Elaine, who was bleeding from the mouth, to a doctor, who confirmed that she'd been sexually assaulted, and she identified her attackers. They were located and taken into custody at a cafe on Kearney Street a short time later. Shay had scratches on his hands and arms and abrasions on his face, while Roberts had a mark on his wrist. In addition, Elaine's socks were found in the car stuffed behind the back seat, where she said she'd put them.
Charges of forcible rape were filed against the two men on Monday the 28th. At their preliminary hearing on May 12, Elaine, the main prosecution witness, identified the defendants as her attackers and testified to the facts in the case much as she had related them in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The defense grilled her on cross-examination, trying to find discrepancies in her story, and she was finally led crying and screaming from the courtroom. At the conclusion of the hearing, the defendants were bound over for trial in the circuit court and, at the urging of prosecutor Lyndon Sturgis, held without bond. Sturgis announced that he would seek the death penalty for both defendants in the case.
Defense attorney Bob Yocum sought a change of venue for his clients, saying they could not get a fair trial in Greene County because of all the publicity surrounding the case, and the motion was granted, with the trial being moved to Christian County. The defense was granted a separation, and Shay's trial got underway in December. At the start of the trial, Sturgis announced that he was no longer seeking the death penalty. Elaine Hale again testified as the main state witness, repeating the story she'd told previously. For the defense, Shay took the stand to tell his side of the story. He denied raping Miss Hale but admitted having consensual sex with her, and he claimed Roberts had nothing to do with the incident.
Shay was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in the state prison. A motion for a new trial was denied.
At Roberts's trial in June 1959, defense attorneys attacked Miss Hale's character. They got her to admit that she'd first met Bobby Shay when he picked her up on the streets of Springfield and that she'd allowed herself to be picked up at least one or two other times. She also admitted that she and Shay had been kissing in the back seat before the alleged rape. As for their client, the attorneys said, Roberts had not even had intercourse with Miss Hale, much less raped her.
In closing arguments, the state said that not only did the evidence, such as Elaine's bloody mouth, indicate a forcible attack but that it came down to a matter of logic and reason. Who were you going to believe? It took courage for Miss Hale even to testify, and why would she testify to anything but the truth? The defendant, on the other hand, was highly motivated to lie in order to try to save his own skin. After the jury was already in deliberation, the judge granted a defense motion for a mistrial because the prosecution had drawn attention the fact that Roberts's wife had declined to testify in her husband's defense and because Miss Hale was allowed to sit on the front row sobbing and wiping her eyes in full view of the jury.
After the hung jury, charges against Roberts were dropped. Then, in October 1960, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the verdict in the Shay case on a technicality and ordered a new trial. Prosecutors subsequently dropped charges against Shay, too, because Miss Hale, the complaining witness, had moved to California and did not want to have to go through the ordeal of another trial.
So much for the death penalty that was originally sought by the prosecution. Instead of dying in the gas chamber, Shay served less than two years behind bars for the alleged rape of Elaine Hale, and Roberts got off scot free.
Note: This is a case that I considered writing about when I was researching my most recent book, Lynchings, Murders, and Other Nefarious Deeds: A Criminal History of Greene County, Mo., but I ultimately decided not to include it in the book, at least partly because of the rather anticlimactic ending to the story.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
When twenty-one-year-old Adela Adams and her nineteen-year-old sister, Donna, left their Springfield home for school on the morning of February 3, 1970, their father, Robert Fay Adams, was lying on the couch, and their mother, Willa Lee Adams, was getting ready for work. It was the last time the girls would see their mom alive.
When Adela and Donna came home that afternoon, their father said Willa had left after he fell asleep on the couch, taking some personal items with her, and he didn’t know where she’d gone. The girls knew their parents had been having marital problems, but some things about their mother’s disappearance just didn’t add up. For instance, Willa hadn’t shown up for work, and that just wasn’t like their mother. The longer she stayed gone, the more concerned the young women became.
Later in February, Adams went to Florida, and when he came back, he told his daughters he’d met their mother there and she was coming home in early March. When she didn’t show up at the appointed time and their father left for Kansas City, the girls finally went to the police.
A check in Kansas City revealed that Adams had never arrived there. In mid-March, he was located in a Pensacola (Florida) hospital. He’d been admitted the night before when a young woman sought help for him after he took an overdose of medicine. Just twenty-two, the woman had run away from Springfield with the older man about ten days earlier.
Adams’s stomach was pumped, and when he regained consciousness on March 18, he admitted he must have killed his wife but claimed not to remember how. All he remembered, he said, was seeing her lifeless, bloody body on the floor of their bedroom with a revolver beside the body. He’d loaded the body into a vehicle, cleaned up the mess in the house, and buried the body with a bulldozer at a gravel bar southeast of Forsyth in the Kissee Mills area. He also disposed of the gun in the same general area.
Willa’s body was found on March 19 buried in a ditch that ran beside a gravel bar along the banks of Beaver Creek. A post mortem determined that she had been shot in the head, and a first-degree murder charge was filed against Adams, who was brought back from Florida on March 21. Acting on a tip from Adams, divers retrieved the suspected murder weapon from Bull Shoals Lake near the Highway 86 overpass.
At Adams’s preliminary examination, the state introduced the admission Adams had made about burying his wife’s body. To establish motive, the prosecution also called Patricia Weidmann, a Springfield woman, to testify that Adams suspected his wife was cheating on him. The witness said she’d accompanied Adams on the night before the murder as he followed Willa and saw her meet another man at a Springfield motel.
Arraigned in Greene County on May 1, Adams pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect. The trial finally got underway in February 1971. Testifying for the prosecution, the defendant’s daughters both said they’d seen their father’s revolver in his closet right before their mother disappeared but that it was gone after she disappeared. Both also testified about their parents’ marital problems, and Adela added that her mother had told her on the morning of her disappearance that she was irritated because the girls’ father had followed her the night before.
Although called by the state, Mrs. Weidmann was treated as an adverse witness because she kept offering testimony painting Willa Lee as promiscuous and even suggested that Donna might not be Robert Fay Adams’s biological child.
The defense claimed Adams killed his wife during a heated argument that ensued after she confronted him on the morning of February 3 about following her the night before. During the quarrel, Willa Lee threw up the fact that he’d raised a child that wasn’t even his, told him who Donna’s real father was, and called Adams a “damn fool.” Willa Lee went for her husband’s gun, but Adams got it and shot her in a fit of anger. He couldn’t remember actually pulling the trigger, though.
Adams took the stand to deny killing Willa, claiming he’d never hurt his wife in his life. Also, two mental health experts testified that Adams had a hysterical personality that might lead to a mental breakdown when confronted with his wife’s infidelities. This might very well cause him to have no memory of killing his wife.
During rebuttal, the prosecution, seeking to refute the idea that the murder was not premeditated, called a woman to the stand who said Adams had discussed with her in 1969 possible ways of killing his wife.
On February 20, the jury came back with a verdict of murder in the second degree and a sentencing recommendation of forty years in prison. Adams was released on $25,000 bond while the defense appealed his case to the Missouri Supreme Court. He absconded during the first half of 1973, while the case was still awaiting a hearing.
Adams was recaptured in November 1973 at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as he returned from Germany, where he and a new wife had been to visit her parents. Adams was brought back to Missouri and taken directly to Jefferson City to begin serving his prison term.
Because of his reported good behavior at the state prison, Adams was transferred to a minimum-security facility in Fordland prior to 1981 It was thought he’d probably be released on parole in a few years, and he was being considered for a work-release program. In mid-March 1981, he was even granted a furlough to visit friends in Columbia.
Big mistake! He was last seen in Columbia on March 14, and he didn’t show up on the 17th when he was scheduled to be back at Fordland. Nobody knew where he’d gone, and nobody in Missouri ever saw him again.
This blog entry is condensed from a chapter in my latest book, Lynchings, Murders, and Other Nefarious Deeds: A Criminal History of Greene County, Mo.
Saturday, August 14, 2021
May was born in 1880 in Carthage, Missouri, to J. Thomas and Delia (Fike) Kennedy. When May was a young child, the family moved to Stone County, where she grew up. She married traveling salesman Charles C. McCord in 1903, and the couple had three kids. The family moved to Springfield in 1918. In July 1924, when May was 43 years old, her first piece of writing in print, a poem entitled "Alarming," appeared in a very small local publication, appropriately called Midget Magazine, edited by Thomas Nickel, who was also publisher of the school newspaper for Southwest Missouri State Teachers College (now MSU). The poem appeared under May's maiden name, May Kennedy, because her husband, thinking she was already too busy with her music, her church work, and her involvement in various organizations such as the WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union), did not want her to launch a writing career as well. However, he soon relented, and she quickly had an article accepted in Sample Case magazine, a publication of the United Commercial Travelers, a national organization to which her husband belonged. Subsequently, she published several other articles in the same magazine, and she soon started writing a column called "Hillbilly Heartbeats" for Ozark Life, published by Otto Ernest Rayburn, noted author, editor, and promoter of all things Ozarkian. Ozark Life was the official publication of The Ozarkians, an organization for regional writers based in Eureka Springs. May was an active member of the group.
In October 1932, May's "Hillbilly Heartbeats" column began appearing in the Springfield Sunday News and Leader, and she continued writing the column for Springfield newspapers for almost eleven years. In addition to May's own writings and musings about the folklore and folkways of the Ozarks, the column often carried the work of other area writers. This column was something of a forerunner of "The Wastebasket" column edited by Lucille Morris Upton and others (see my March 13, 2012, blog entry about Lucille Morris Upton). Actually, I think McCord's "Hillbilly Heartbeats" column and "The Wastebasket" column (under another predecessor of Upton's) ran simultaneously in Springfield newspapers for a while, but the two were more or less combined under the name "The Wastebasket" after McCord quit writing her column in mid-1942. Upton came along as editor of the combined column about three years later.
The reason May quit her column was so that she could move to St. Louis and take a job at radio station KWK as a musician (e. g. guitar player), folksinger, storyteller, and on-air personality. May's husband died shortly after the move to St. Louis, and she moved back to Springfield in 1945 and took a job with KWTO doing a program called "Hillbilly Heartbeats," the same title as her former newspaper column. It was during her time with KWTO that May became widely known as the "Queen of the Ozarks" or "Queen of the Hillbillies," although one or both monikers might have occasionally been used to describe her prior to this time. May continued doing this show at least through the mid-1950s, because I remember that it was still on when I was a kid. I rarely listened to it, but I think my parents occasionally did.
Mrs. McCord was named Missouri's Mother of the Year in 1950. She was cited not just for her accomplishments as a writer and radio personality but also for her work with church and charitable organizations.
Sunday, August 8, 2021
The Ford, which belonged to Vaughn, had blood smears inside and outside. It appeared there had been a struggle and that Vaughn had stumbled and crawled a considerable distance after being shot. Lawmen theorized that robbery was not the motive for the crime, since Vaughn’s billfold still contained several dollars and about $300 in cash was found in the car’s trunk.
Officers interviewed several acquaintances of Vaughn, who ran a grocery store in Springfield and had formerly taught school at Reeds Spring and other area towns. However, the investigation mostly hit dead ends.
Vaughn died of his wounds early Monday morning, August 3. Over the next two years, investigators chased several leads. By 1966, though, the case had gone cold, and little was heard about it for two more years.
Then, on Sunday evening, December 8, 1968, a man registered at a motel in Corpus Christi, Texas, and then went across the street to a Baptist church. He told the pastor he had something he wanted to confess. He said his name was Donald D. Campbell of Central Point, Oregon, and that he’d killed a man in Springfield, Missouri, four years earlier. Since he’d been saved, Campbell said, the crime had been weighing on him and he needed to get it off his chest.
The pastor called authorities and made arrangements for Campbell to be taken into custody but not until after the evening service, at which Campbell confessed his crime to the congregation and received the sympathy of many in attendance.
Campbell signed a written confession while still in Corpus Christi. Although his home was in Oregon, he was a drifter, and he’d been passing through Missouri the evening before the killing when he stopped and booked a hotel. A man named Johnny picked him up at a bus station in Springfield and drove him out into the country. They were outside the car when Johnny made homosexual advances toward Campbell, and the two men got into a heated argument. The suspect said he lost his temper, pulled out a .22 caliber pistol, and started firing.
After the murder, Campbell went back to Oregon and became a Christian. Described as “clean-cut and well-dressed,” he’d been doing volunteer work, but his conscience continued to bother him. He’d left Oregon in late November 1968, telling his mother that he’d done “a very bad thing” and was “going East to clear it up.” He came through Springfield on November 29 and tried to turn himself in but authorities didn’t take him seriously and he went on to Texas.
Charged with first-degree murder, Campbell was brought back to Springfield on December 13. He was arraigned in magistrate court three days later and bound over to circuit court in late December. The trial got underway in May 1969. The prosecution relied heavily on the several confessions Campbell had made, while his attorney pursued an insanity defense. Campbell’s mother, one of the main defense witnesses, said her son’s behavior was erratic and tempestuous even as a child.
Campbell testified in his own defense, repeating the story he’d previously told that he shot Vaughn after he’d made homosexual advances toward him. “I didn’t want to kill a man,” Campbell declared. “It didn’t seem like me doing it; yet I know I did.”
Largely rejecting the defense’s insanity plea, the jury came back on May 21 with a guilty verdict. However, the conviction was for second-degree murder, not first-degree, and the jury assessed a punishment of twenty-five years in the state penitentiary.
After a couple of years in prison, Campbell tried to recant his confession and get a new trial, based partly on a contention that he was on drugs at the time of his trial. At the hearing, he said he’d confessed only to get help with his drug problem and that he’d kept up the pretense throughout the legal proceedings because he liked the publicity. He said he’d learned the details of the crime from a newspaper story.
Several prosecution witnesses refuted Campbell’s claim that he was on drugs during his trial, and the judge denied his claim, ordering him back to prison. Campbell then appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but in November 1974 the justices upheld his conviction and the judge’s refusal to grant him a new trial. They pointed out that Campbell’s claim that he had continued to lie about killing Vaughn because he delighted in the publicity did not mesh with his failure to seek a new trial in the immediate aftermath of his conviction. If he really enjoyed the publicity, why did he not prolong it by seeking a new trial when first convicted?
In August 1976, Campbell escaped from a prison farm but was recaptured the next day. Charged with prison escape, he was convicted and given a two-year sentence in addition to the twenty-five-year sentence he was already serving.
In late 1976, Campbell was transferred to the Kansas State Penitentiary. He was paroled in 1978, but he was returned to the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1980 on a parole violation. He was paroled again in 1984, and he was discharged altogether in 1987.
This story is condensed from a chapter in my most recent book, Lynchings, Murders, and Other Nefarious Deeds: A Criminal History of Greene County, Mo.
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