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 eighteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Murder and Mayhem in Southeast Kansas, Bigamy and Bloodshed: The Scandal of Emma Molloy and the Murder of Sarah Graham, and Midnight Assassinations and Other Evildoings: A Criminal History of Jasper County, Mo..

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Murder at the Cold Spot

    "Gunman Pumps Nine Slugs into Store Manager,” read the Friday afternoon headline of the March 3, 1967, Joplin News Herald. Earlier that day, about 1:45 in the morning, five men had walked into the Cold Spot, an all-night grocery store at 527 West Tenth in Joplin, and discovered the body of the night manager riddled with bullets. A police officer who had stopped at the store at 1:15 said that about twenty-five minutes later, while he was parked three blocks away, he’d heard what sounded like a car backfiring coming from the direction of the store. So, it was theorized the murder took place about 1:40, although the five men said they’d seen no one leaving the area as they arrived. About $30 had been taken from a cash register, and the manager’s billfold was missing.
    Suspicion soon began to settle on a fourteen-year-old lad from Saginaw. The youth had run away from home on Thursday, taking his stepfather’s .22 caliber revolver, and he had turned up at the home of a paternal uncle in St. Louis about noon on Friday, ten hours after the crime. The pistol taken from the stepfather was found on Saturday in a restroom of the Greyhound Bus Station in Joplin and identified as the likely murder weapon. After talking to the boy’s mother, the uncle brought him back to Joplin on Monday, March 6. The young suspect was questioned at the police station for about six hours that evening in the presence of his mother and uncle. The boy staunchly denied any knowledge of the crime at first but finally gave a partial confession. He was retained in the custody of Jasper County juvenile authorities. Later, a polygraph test further implicated the lad. 
    In April, a juvenile judge ruled that the youngster’s case should be transferred to adult court, and the boy, now named as Robert Eugene “Bobby” Sinderson, was charged with first-degree murder and ordered held without bond.
    At Sinderson’s preliminary hearing in May, the signed statement he’d made during questioning at the Joplin Police station was entered into evidence. He blamed the actual murder on an older boy named Jack Marcus, but he admitted that he supplied the murder weapon. He said he rode to the store with Marcus in the latter’s car but remained in the vehicle when Marcus went inside and committed the murder. Efforts to locate the mysterious “Jack Marcus” proved unsuccessful, and a prosecution witness said he’d seen Sinderson inside the store about 1:15 or 1:20 a.m. on the morning of the crime. At the hearing’s conclusion, the judge declared Sinderson should be held without bond.
    At Sinderson’s trial at Carthage in February 1968, the defendant took the stand in his own defense. He repudiated the statement he’d signed shortly after the murder, saying he’d confessed to his role in the crime only because he grew tired of being interrogated for hours and he was afraid the gun found at the Greyhound Station might implicate some other member of his family. The jurors split seven to five, and the judge declared a mistrial.
    In April, the county prosecutor dismissed the first-degree murder charge against Sinderson after a defense motion to suppress his confession was sustained. The young man was released, but a new charge of first-degree murder against him in early June in magistrate court, and at a hearing a couple of months later the magistrate judge bound him back over to the Jasper County Circuit Court. He was indicted both for robbery with a firearm and murder.
    Sinderson went on trial in Joplin in March 1969 on the robbery charge before a new judge, who admitted the boy’s confession over the objections of the defense. In mid-March, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and sentenced Sinderson to five years in the penitentiary. Commenting on the lenient sentence, the prosecutor said he thought the jury probably believed the boy’s original confession that he was only an accomplice in the crime and not the actual murderer. Based on this conclusion, the murder charge against Sanderson was dropped a few days later.
    Sinderson was taken to Jefferson City to serve his prison time, but in October 1971, Governor Warren Hearnes commuted the sentence and he was released in mid-November after serving about two years, eight months.
    Note: This is a condensed version of a chapter in my latest book, Midnight Assassinations and Other Evildoings: A Criminal History of Jasper County, Mo. 

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

George P. B. Gatewood, Part 2

    In mid-April 1862, George Gatewood was captured by Union soldiers in Vernon County for his part in a guerrilla skirmish a day or two earlier at Montevallo. He was taken to Osceola, and the commanding officer there was getting ready to forward the prisoner to St. Louis when he escaped from the guardhouse.
    He was not seen or heard from again by Union officials until the summer or fall of 1863 when Moss learned that he had showed up in Pike County living with or near relatives at Bowling Green, where he'd grown up. Moss sent word to Union headquarters at St. Louis of Gatewood's whereabouts, but Gatewood was not to be found in Pike County because he had gotten wind that Union officials were looking for him. Instead of hanging around Bowling Green, he fled to Kentucky, where he had other relatives, and he later spent time in Illinois and in the St. Louis area, where he worked on a government boat on the Mississippi River. In June of 1864, special orders were issued at Troy, Missouri, for the arrest of Gatewood, who, in addition to being an escaped prisoner, was also suspected of horse stealing. In early October 1864, Gatewood made the mistake of returning to Pike County, where he was intercepted and taken into Federal custody on October 7 between Louisiana and Bowling Green. 
    The next day at Louisiana, Gatewood gave a statement saying he had been discharged from the Southern army about the first of April 1862. This, of course, was a fudging of the facts, since he’d been taken prisoner in Vernon County about the middle of April while still a member of Taylor’s ragtag outfit. Gatewood said that, immediately after his discharge, he returned to Pike County from Vernon County. Shortly after reaching his old stomping grounds, he went to Mexico, Missouri, and took an oath of allegiance to the Union. He stressed that he traveled from Bowling Green to Mexico specifically for that purpose.  
    Brought to St. Louis and charged with being a bushwhacker, Gatewood gave another statement on October 11, 1864. He again admitted he had been in the Missouri State Guard and the Confederate Army briefly during the early part of the war, but he had never been a bushwhacker. He had taken the oath of allegiance in 1862, and he had never been outside Federal lines since that time. He said he was not now a Confederate sympathizer and that he sincerely wished to see the authority of the Federal government restored. 
    Two days later, on October 13, Colonel Moss gave a deposition telling what he knew about Gatewood. Moss said Gatewood had told him after he was arrested in southwest Missouri that he'd never been in Confederate service, that the hotel fight was the first time he'd ever fought against any Federals, and that he'd only done so because he'd been persuaded by some of his friends. Colonel Moss added that Gatewood, when interrogated at Osceola, had denied killing anybody at the Montevallo fight but that he (Moss) subsequently learned that Gatewood had said in the presence of Union prisoners that he had personally killed one or two of Moss's men. Moss named Granger and Bowman as the men who had heard Gatewood make such a statement. 
    On October 16, Gatewood was re-interviewed and grilled on the issue of whether he had been a bushwhacker. He said he didn't know the men Taylor's company attacked at the hotel in Montevallo were Iowa troops. He thought instead they were Kansas jayhawkers. He also claimed he did not fire a shot during the hotel skirmish. Seeking to prove that Gatewood was not a regular soldier, his interrogator asked him whether he was outfitted with a uniform, arms, and other equipment when he enlisted in Taylor's company. Gatewood said he received some clothes and a minimal amount of other supplies when he joined, but he admitted he had no uniform and that he and his fellow soldiers sometimes had to "press" provisions from civilians. He denied ever stealing any horses from citizens, however. He also said he knew of no instances in which Taylor's men had killed private citizens. After admitting that Taylor's company had only been with the rest of its regiment one time, he was asked whether he wouldn't characterize such a unit as he had described as a bushwhacking outfit. Gatewood said he did not think of it in that manner. 
    Gatewood was also grilled on the discrepancies between his statement and that of Colonel Moss. Why, for instance, did he deny ever being in the Confederate Army in 1862 when he now readily admitted having served in the Confederate Army? He said he had lied about his military service when he was captured in 1862 because he figured it would help get him released from prison. Was it not true, he was asked, that Taylor's company had disbanded or been broken up when Taylor was captured and that the remnants of his command that fought the Federals at the Montevallo hotel were simply acting on their own? Gatewood said he did not believe that was true. On the subject of whether Gatewood had ever personally killed any Federals, his interrogator did not ask about the specifics mentioned by Moss. He asked only whether or not Gatewood had ever killed any citizens or Federals, and Gatewood denied those accusations. 
    Gatewood’s case was turned over to Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Darr, Jr. acting provost marshal general, who sought additional evidence against the accused. Private Granger had already given a statement back in 1862, and Thomas Bowman was tracked down at or near Little Rock, Arkansas, where he gave a statement in early December 1864. Bowman recalled that he'd been taken prisoner at Montevallo about the first of April 1862 by a band of men calling themselves "Home Guards." At the time of his capture, one of the men of his company was shot dead while standing guard in a horse lot, and another was killed while climbing out of a hay loft. Bowman did not witness the killings because it was the middle of the night, but he heard the shots fired and later heard two or three of the so-called home guards talking about shooting at the two soldiers. The only one whose name he remembered was George Gatewood. He added that Gatewood did not specifically say that he had personally killed either man, only that he had fired at them. However, Bannon thought Gatewood was one of the men who'd done the actual killing. 
    Gatewood was lodged at Gratiot Street Prison when he was first brought to St. Louis, and he was imprisoned there throughout the proceedings against him in the fall of 1864. The final disposition of his case, however, is unclear. Presumably he was banished to Illinois. On May 1, 1865, he wrote to Colonel C. W. Davis, provost marshal general at St. Louis, from Washington, Illinois, informing Davis that he had been released from Federal custody.
    After his release, Gatewood returned to Missouri, where he married Mary Alice Noble in Audrain County in August 1866. By 1870, the couple was living in Henry County with two children. Gatewood later lived in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona, where he died in 1924.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Civil War Story of George P. B. Gatewood

    George Phillip Braxton Gatewood was born in Pike County, Missouri, in June 1842 to James M. and Malinda (Hardin) Gatewood. The family moved to Montevallo in Vernon County about 1858, where James M. Gatewood soon became a prominent citizen and was elected to the state legislature in 1860. When civil war looked inevitable in early 1861, the elder Gatewood organized one of the first Southern-allied companies in the region. After the Civil War officially started, Gatewood's company joined the newly organized Missouri State Guard with Gatewood commissioned as a captain in Colonel Dewitt C. Hunter's regiment. Among the members of his company was his nineteen-year-old son, George P. B. Gatewood.
    Young Gatewood came down with camp fever, an ailment similar to typhoid fever, about the first of August 1861, and he returned home on sick leave. At the expiration of his six-month term of enlistment in the fall of 1861, Gatewood traveled to Osceola, where the Missouri State Guard was then headquartered under General Sterling Price, and received his discharge. He then went back to Montevallo and enlisted in a company being raised by former Vernon County sheriff Henry Taylor. The company was sworn into service in February 1862 by Colonel John T. Coffee for the ostensible purpose of going south to join the Confederate Army, even though Coffee was still officially a member of the Missouri State Guard.

    About the same time George was sworn into Confederate service or shortly afterward, his father, James M. Gatewood, accidentally shot and mortally wounded himself at his home near Montevallo as he was returning his pistol to a saddle holster on his horse. (Destroyed during the war, old Montevallo was located about a mile and a half northwest of present-day Montevallo). On April 11, 1862, Captain Taylor was wounded and captured during a skirmish with Federal troops near Montevallo. Two days later, on the 13th, Lieutenant Charles Moss came down to Montevallo from Osceola with a detachment of the 1st Iowa Cavalry and spent the night at the Scobey Hotel. A couple of hours before daylight on the morning of the 14th, Taylor's company (or a part of it) under one of his lieutenants attacked the Federals at the hotel with two or three killed on each side. One of the rebels killed was the notorious Dan "Wild Irishman" Henley. After sunup, a squad of Moss's men chased after and skirmished with some of the rebels, killing another one or two guerrillas and capturing George Gatewood.
    Moss took Gatewood back to Osceola as a prisoner and prepared charges against him for being a bushwhacker, with the intention of sending him to the Union's department headquarters in St. Louis for trial. In his statement against Gatewood, Moss said he lost two men killed and four wounded in the skirmish at the hotel. He mentioned specifically one James Whitford of the First Iowa who was shot dead while coming down a ladder from a barn loft.
    To back up Moss's charges against Gatewood, the provost marshal at Osceola then took a statement from Private Charles Granger, a soldier in Moss's command who had been on the scout to Montevallo. Granger said he and a fellow solider named Bowman did not sleep in the Montevallo hotel with most of their comrades on the night of April 13 because it was too crowded but instead took quarters in a different building about a hundred yards away from the hotel. He and Bowman were awakened around three o'clock in the morning by a squad of about sixteen well-armed men who barged into the building and leveled their guns at the two Iowans. Granger and Bowman were disarmed, ordered to get dressed, and then left in the hands of four guards, while the rest of the guerrillas went on to the hotel to join the attack on the Iowa troops quartered there. Granger did not see the fight, but, judging from the sounds of the firing, he estimated the skirmish lasted about twenty minutes. After the firing died down, several of the guerrillas came back to where Granger and Bowman were being guarded. They retrieved the prisoners' horses from a nearby stable and ordered the two captives to come with them. The guerrillas escaped with their prisoners into some woods and rode about eight or nine miles to a private home, where they stopped for breakfast.
    A number of other guerrillas who had been in the hotel fight, including George Gatewood, were already at the house when Granger and Bowman arrived. From the conversation of his captors, Granger judged that they were "a marauding party" with "no regular organization." Granger heard the men bragging about killing "five or six" Federals, and he heard Gatewood, in particular, say that he had shot and killed one Federal as he was coming out of a barn and that he had watched him fall. Gatewood "seemed to exult in it and was glad he had killed him.” He said he'd like to "finish a few more." The guerrillas claimed the only reason they hadn't killed more Federals at the hotel fight was because they ran low on ammunition. After conferring a while, some of the guerrillas came up to Granger and Bowman and said they had decided to let the two men go. They then led the captives about four miles through a field and some woods, took their horses, and left them on foot. After about an hour, Granger and Bowman spotted a foraging team from the First Iowa and reunited with their unit.
    Shortly after Granger's deposition was taken on April 21, just as Moss was preparing to forward Gatewood to St. Louis, the prisoner escaped from the guardhouse at Osceola and was not seen or heard from again by Union officials for over a year.

    To be continued...

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Eula Gipson Slain at a Joplin Nightclub

    On February 21, 1940, Joplin truck driver Harold Saunders had a date with Dorothy Hill. They met at Draeger’s Beauty Shop, where Eula Gipson, a “comely” twenty-six-year-old divorcee, had just finished giving Dorothy a perm. Eula knew both Dorothy and her date, and they invited her to come along. The threesome went bar-hopping, first to Wimpy’s tavern in East Joplin and then to Metzger’s bar on South Main Street. There they ran onto Delmar Petty, who was truck driver like Saunders. A thirty-two-year-old married man and the father of three children, Petty was also acquainted with Saunders’s female companions, and he joined the three in a booth. Petty appeared to already be drunk.
    About 10:30, the four took a taxi to the Rodenia Night Club on West Seventh, which had a reputation as a “disorderly place.” After the four resumed drinking, Petty and Ms. Gipson got up and started dancing. When they didn’t return, Saunders and Miss Hill went looking for them outside and finally saw Petty staggering back toward the club by himself about one o’clock in the morning. When they asked where Eula was, Petty said she was inside dancing.
    The three went back into the Rodenia, but Eula was nowhere to be seen. They went back outside and looked for her some more but still couldn’t find her. Saunders and Miss Hill finally decided Eula might have caught a ride back into town with somebody else; so, they picked up her coat and purse to take to her and started for home.
    As the couple left, they told the nightclub owner, “Kate” Melton, that Eula was missing, and Melton immediately undertook a search of his own. He, too, had no luck finding the missing woman. Meanwhile, Petty fell into a stupor in a booth. Melton finally aroused him at 5:00 a.m., and Petty went home. 
    When Eula didn’t come home or show up on Thursday morning at the beauty shop, her parents became concerned. After talking to Saunders and Miss Hill, they contacted the police.
    Two detectives went to Petty’s home to interrogate him. They found Petty still wearing the trousers he’d worn the night before, and they noticed blood on them. Petty admitted the shirt he’d worn the previous night also had blood on it, but he’d asked his wife to wash it.
    Petty was arrested and brought to the Joplin Police station for further questioning. He was then taken to the nightclub to help look for the missing woman.
    Meanwhile, Melton had already resumed looking for Eula, and about 2:30 p.m. he found her crumpled, nude body in some tall grass about 150 yards north of the nightclub. The grass had been beaten down all around the body, suggesting a struggle. “There was blood everywhere,” said the Joplin Globe in describing the woman’s beaten, mutilated body. It was “one of the most gruesome murders in Joplin police history.”
    The detectives arrived with Petty shortly after the grisly discovery, and the suspect covered his eyes in horror when he was shown the victim’s body. Melton told the officers he’d seen Petty arguing with Miss Gipson about midnight the previous evening and that he saw Petty “pull her outside.” Although investigators found only a single small knife on Petty when they searched him, Saunders said he knew the suspect had also been carrying a larger knife the night before, because he’d seen Petty take both knives out.
    Petty admitted he’d had a second knife but he didn’t know what happened to it. He said he’d been so drunk that he could remember hardly anything after he left Metzger’s bar. Asked how he got blood on his clothes and scratches on his hands, he said he figured he must have gotten into a barroom brawl, as he’d done a time or two before.
    Faced with the evidence against him, Petty finally broke down and admitted he must have killed Miss Gipson but that he couldn’t remember it. He was arraigned for first-degree murder and committed to the Jasper County Jail at Carthage.
    An inquest into Eula Gipson’s death took place on February 26, and despite both Saunders and Melton testifying against Petty, the jury returned a verdict that Eula came to her death by the hands of an unknown party. Testimony at Petty’s preliminary examination on February 28 was similar to that at the inquest, and Petty was held for trial without bond.
    Shortly after Eula Gipson’s murder, tests showed that her blood and the blood found on Petty’s clothes matched in type. At his trial in May, the prosecution, seeking the death penalty, paraded a whole passel of witnesses to the stand to testify against Petty, whereas the defense’s case rested mainly on one witness, a waitress at the Rodenia who claimed she’d seen some “rough-looking” men at the nightclub while Petty and his companions were there and that one of them appeared to have blood on his hand. She and a couple of other witnesses also said they didn’t see any blood on Petty after Eula disappeared. The defense introduced witnesses who testified to Petty’s good reputation in the community, but the prosecution refuted this by pointing out that Petty had been connected by rumor to the molestation or assault of two or three other young women. Near the trial’s end, Petty himself took the stand to repeat that he had no memory of exactly what had happened on the night in question but that he “wouldn’t do such a thing” as to murder Eula Gipson.
    In his instructions to the jury, the judge reduced the charge against Petty to second-degree murder. Despite this fact and the considerable evidence against Petty, the jury came back deadlocked. The split was rumored to be eight to four in favor of conviction. The judge declared a mistrial, and when Petty’s new trial finally came up in September 1941, the jury acquitted him after just twenty-five minutes of deliberation.
    This is a condensed version of a chapter in my most recent book, Midnight Assassinations and Other Evildoings: A Criminal History of Jasper County, Mo.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Jealousy and a Quarrel

About the first of June, 1938, thirty-year-old Chester Jackson of Joplin got into a quarrel with his paramour, Theola Isaac, and she ended up receiving a five-month suspended sentence for wounding him during the ensuing fight.
   It didn’t take Jackson long to find himself another woman, as he was soon living with Daisy Esmond, but it didn’t take him long either to have a falling out with Daisy. Two years divorced and the mother of two kids, Daisy left Jackson around the end of July and went to stay with her brother-in-law and her sister, Mamie. On the evening of August 2, Jackson called at Mamie’s house on West Tenth and asked Daisy to come back, but she refused.
   About 11:30 the next night, Jackson returned packing a pistol and called Daisy outside. Speaking to her in front of Mamie’s home, he again implored Daisy to come back to him, but she still refused. They quarreled, and when she turned to go inside, he pulled out his pistol and shot her in the back. An ambulance was summoned, but Daisy died on the way to the hospital.
   Meanwhile, Jackson turned himself in at the police station shortly after the shooting and was held on suspicion of murder. After questioning the suspect, a Joplin detective said that the shooting apparently resulted from “jealousy and a quarrel.” When Jackson was arraigned on August 5, he admitted the shooting but claimed he didn’t intend to kill Daisy and was only trying to scare her. Dismissing the suspect’s dubious claim, the justice ordered him held without bond for first-degree murder. The Joplin Globe’s first mention of Daisy’s murder came the next day when the paper reported only that Jackson, a black man, had been arraigned for killing “a Negress.”
   Appearing for trial in Jasper County Circuit Court in late September, Jackson first planned to plead guilty but changed his mind when he learned the prosecution meant to seek the death penalty. Daisy’s sister, Mamie Ransom, was the main witness for the prosecution, testifying that Jackson had previously threatened Daisy and that he shot her as she was retreating toward the house. Jackson took the stand in his own defense, admitting he was angry and jealous when he went to see Daisy on the fateful night but claiming he had no memory of shooting her. The last thing he recalled, he said, was Daisy threatening to kill him.
   The jury found Jackson guilty on September 27 and sentenced him to death. He displayed no emotion when the verdict was read but later remarked that it was a “gross miscarriage of justice.” Sentence was officially pronounced about a week later, and his execution set for November 28 in the gas chamber at Jefferson City. An appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court automatically stayed the execution. In the meantime, Jackson was transported to Jefferson City to await the high court’s decision. In early July 1939, the supreme court reversed the verdict of the lower court on the grounds that the trial judge should have granted the defense’s request for a continuance and should have included in his instructions to the jury an option of second-degree murder. The case was remanded to Jasper County for a new trial, and Jackson was brought back to Carthage.
   In September, he was again convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die. The case was again appealed, but in July 1940 the high court upheld the verdict. The execution was reset for September 20, 1940. Jackson didn’t say a word as he was led into the gas chamber at Jeff City and strapped into the death chair at shortly after midnight on that date. The gas was released at 12:24 a.m., and Jackson died at 12:28.
   This blog entry is a condensed version of a chapter in my most recent book, Midnight Assassinations and Other Evildoings: A Criminal History of Jasper County, Mo.

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Man Kills His Wife on Their Honeymoon

    Nineteen-year-old Charles Garner married 17-year-old Virginia "Jean" Collingham on June 12, 1939, at York, Nebraska. Shortly afterward, the young couple came to Missouri to spend part of their honeymoon with Garner's grandmother, who lived west of Liberal in Barton County, where Charles had been reared. On July 2, he and Jean went to a water-filled strip mine near the Kansas state line, where the young woman waded into the water. According to her husband's story at the time, she slipped on a rock when she reached deep water and fell in over her head. Neither Jean nor Charles were able to swim, and all the young man could do was watch futilely and scream for help. 
    When help finally arrived, Jean had already drowned, and her body was retrieved from the water-filled pit. Authorities believed the young man's story, and Jean's death was ruled accidental. The body was shipped back to York for burial. Jean's death was the second tragedy to befall the Collingham family within a month. In early June, Jean's brother, Alvin, had shot and killed himself because he was reportedly despondent over poor health.  
    Garner also returned to Nebraska, and on September 17, he walked into a jail in Gering on the pretext of wanting to sleep in the jail. As he made the request, he handed the night marshal a note confessing to killing his wife two and half months earlier. In the note, Garner related that he and Jean had gone to the mining pit to wade in the water. After walking out onto a ledge near the deep water, Jean mentioned another young man whom she had dated before she and Garner got married. Garner told her not to mention the other suitor's name again because he despised him, but Jean kept right on talking about Garner's romantic rival. Growing irate, Garner pushed his new wife into the water and held her head under. She tried to fight her way to the surface, but Garner kept pushing her under until she went down a final time. Then he went to the top of a nearby hill, yelled for help, and told his phony story of an accidental drowning.
    Garner was lodged in jail and, later in September, brought back to Missouri to stand trial for murder. He confessed again after he reached the Barton County Jail at Lamar, but at his arraignment on October 16, he pleaded not guilty. Repudiating his previous confessions, he said he'd only confessed "on a bet" because he was out of work and hungry and that he'd repeated the confession in Missouri because he liked the publicity. 
    At his trial in mid-November, Garner reverted to his original defense that his wife had drowned accidentally and he'd been unable to rescue her because he couldn't swim. However, one of the prosecution witnesses testified that he knew the defendant to be a good swimmer. One of the first people to answer Garner's calls for help testified that he shouted "It's no use, she's gone!" as rescuers started into the pit. Other witnesses said Garner kneeled down after his wife's body was brought out of the water, and, showing no emotion, turned a ring on her finger. Two or three defense witnesses testified that Garner showed great affection for his wife, and the defendant took the stand himself to repudiate his confession and repeat the story of an accidental drowning. Late in the afternoon of November 21, the jury came back after two or three hours of deliberation with a verdict convicting Garner of first degree murder. A defense motion for a new trial was denied, and Garner was transferred to the state prison at Jefferson City the next day.
    On or about December 20, Garner gave a written statement to the prison warden confessing to three other murders. He said he'd killed Alvin Collingham during an argument over Collingham's objections to Jean's relationship with Garner. A few days later, he killed another young man who said there was something fishy about Alvin's supposed suicide and suggested that Garner might know something about it. Two years earlier, Garner said he'd also shoved a boy from a freight train near Kansas City and that the lad had fallen under the wheels of the train and been crushed to death. Garner now claimed he'd killed his wife because she was the only person who knew about the three previous murders. 
    Authorities, however, were skeptical of Garner's latest confession, and subsequent investigation did little to change their mind. In January 1940, Garner repudiated his latest confession, saying he'd only admitted the three prior killings in hopes of getting the death penalty. He said he'd rather die than spend the rest of his life in prison. Authorities considered the case officially closed. 


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Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Terrible McWaters

    Prior to 1860, William McWaters moved with his parents from St. Charles County to Cedar County, Missouri, where he and his brothers took up bushwhacking early in the Civil War. In April 1862, William was arrested for stealing and “jayhawking” in neighboring Vernon County and placed in the guardhouse at Butler. One witness testified he’d heard McWaters brag about killing a “damned abolitionist,” but the accused somehow managed to get free, because later that year he joined the regular Confederate Army. 
    After two and a half months, McWaters deserted and returned to his home territory. He resumed bushwhacking and started courting Jennie Mayfield of Vernon County, one of the Mayfield sisters of “bushwhacker belle” fame. Legend holds that McWaters accompanied William Quantrill during his infamous 1863 sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, and that he later rode with Bloody Bill Anderson, but these claims cannot be verified.
    After the war, McWaters continued his outlawry. He was implicated in the March 1867 murder of Vernon County sheriff Joseph Bailey, and later that year, he got into a wild gunfight with a posse that was trying to arrest him at Humansville. Described at the time as “a daring desperado” and “an expert with his revolvers,” McWaters escaped unscathed.
    McWaters fled to Nebraska, where he married Susie Davis at Otoe in December 1868. McWaters was still living at Otoe in mid-January 1873 when he and two other men assaulted Assistant Postmaster Wolf in the neighboring village of Wyoming. When an officer tried to arrest McWaters a few days later, gunplay erupted. McWaters wounded the officer and killed Wolf, who was assisting in the arrest. A report of the incident said McWaters had been a terror in Otoe County since he'd lived there.
   McWaters escaped but was arrested in Kansas City in early May and taken back to Nebraska. At his September murder trial, he was found not guilty, because it was shown that Wolf shot and slightly wounded McWaters before McWaters killed Wolf.
    McWaters went back home to his wife, but he soon got in trouble again. In February 1874, he and John Crook went into a saloon in Nebraska City, the Otoe County seat, in a drunken state and started raising hell. McWaters pulled out his revolver and opened fire, mortally wounding the bartender, Rudolph Wirth. Described as “a noted character and dangerous man,” McWaters and his sidekick were tracked to Iowa and brought back to Nebraska City, where they barely escaped lynching at the hands of a mob.
    On April 10, 1874, the desperate pair escaped the Nebraska City jail and fled south. In Kansas, the two split up. McWaters was recognized at Hays City and placed in the local jail, but he quickly escaped from that place, too. He then ranged back into southern Nebraska, barely avoiding recapture before heading west.
    About October 1, McWaters killed George Weed "without...provocation” in Sparta, Oregon. He hightailed it to California, where he was arrested in late October for the Weed murder. Before he could be returned to Oregon, the Otoe County sheriff arrived with requisition papers, and McWaters was escorted back to Nebraska City to stand trial for killing Wirth.
    He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty-one years in the state penitentiary. At the time of his conviction, a Nebraska City correspondent wrote a story detailing the many exploits of the “terrible McWaters,” which subsequently appeared in newspapers across the country. Although much of the report was accurate, it also contained a number of fabrications and half-truths that became part of the McWaters legend.
    What the writer didn’t know was that McWaters’s exploits were hardly over. On January 11, 1875, just three weeks after arriving at the state prison in Lincoln, McWaters led a mutiny that nearly resulted in a large-scale prison break. After an all-night standoff, he and the other prisoners finally agreed to surrender.
    Four and a half months later, in late May 1875, McWaters was killed by a guard when he attempted to instigate another prison revolt. Thus ended the infamous career of the terrible McWaters, “noted murderer, desperado and horse thief,” as a Lincoln newspaper called him at the time of his death.
    This is a condensed and revised version of an article I wrote for the October 2020 issue of Wild West Magazine.

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