Saturday, December 18, 2021

A Heinous Crime

   We hear a lot about the high rate of crime nowadays. If reports in my local newspaper are any indication, sex-related crimes seem especially prevalent. However, if one allows for the increase in population, I'm not sure the incidence of crime is all that much greater than it was 100 years ago or 150 years ago, and I think this observation applies even to sex-related crime. In making this argument in a post on this blog a few years ago, I cited several examples of rape and statutory rape in the Springfield (MO) area during the late 1800s, as reported in that city's newspapers. Also, I think it's probably true that part of the reason we seem to hear more about sex-related crimes nowadays than we used to is simply that the victims of such crimes are much more willing to come forward than they used to be.
   One example I cited was the case of Springfield dance instructor C. W. James, who was charged in 1894 with raping his underage daughter. I said at the time that I didn't know the ultimate outcome of the case, but I've recently done a little more research and have learned more about the case. It's a fascinating story, if somewhat morbidly so.
   On March 23, 1893, the Springfield Leader reported that Professor C. W. James and his "charming daughter Miss Brooxie (usually spelled Brooksie) have returned from Florida." The report might have served as an omen if readers had been discerning and cynical enough to suspect the worst, because Professor James soon started making a habit of taking along the 13-year-old girl, unaccompanied by his wife, to help with his instruction when he toured the country giving dance lessons.
   However, it was not until the fall of the same year, 1893, during a trip to Arkansas that James first forced or coerced his daughter, who had turned 14 a couple of months earlier, into having sex with him. The "unnatural relationship" between James and his daughter continued on a fairly regular basis after that, but it was not until the following spring, 1894, that Brooksie finally broke down and told her mother, Jennie, about what had happened. She said she would have told sooner except that her father had threatened to shoot both her and her mother if she did. Jennie knew her husband was abusive, but she was skeptical at first that he was actually "capable of desecrating his own flesh and blood." So, she took no action except to keep a closer eye on her husband. She caught him in compromising positions with Brooksie a time or two but still did not report the incidents because she was afraid of her husband, who had often threatened and abused her, and because she hesitated to bring shame on the family. Finally, though, on Monday, May 28, Jennie had had enough.    
   At the noon meal, her husband insisted on eating with Brooksie in a front room while Jennie and her two sons were at the kitchen table. The 44-year-old James "made approaches" toward Brooksie but backed off when they "were objected to." After lunch, however, James announced he was going to take Brooksie with him to a nearby park, and as they were leaving, the girl whispered in secret to her mother, pleading with Jennie to protect her.
   After the father and daughter were gone, Jennie, who lived near the corner of Robberson and Commercial, hastened to Commercial Street and reported her husband's abuse of Brooksie to a couple of businessmen, who, in turn, reported James to authorities. When the professor returned home, Jennie was not there. He found her at the nearby house of another woman, but Jennie refused to see her husband, and the neighbor ordered James off the property. The police arrived shortly afterwards, arrested James, and took him to jail on the complaint of his wife.
   Interviewed later that evening by the Springfield Leader, Jennie, 33, told the reporter she had married James 17 years earlier when she was just 16. She had endured "a long series of insults and injuries heaped upon (her) and the rest of the family" throughout her marriage. She had put up with the abuse partly because she had married James against her parents' wishes and did not want to divulge her humiliation and shame to them. James's "unspeakably outrageous behavior" toward their daughter, however, was the last straw. "There is a point where oppression must cease," she said. The Leader described Jennie as "intellectually bright and with an attractive figure," although the harsh treatment she'd been subjected to over the years had had an effect on her "both physically and mentally." The reporter described Jennie's daughter, Brooksie Dell, as "a pretty girl, a trim and graceful lass, not particularly developed for her age, but very attractive in every way and admired by all who knew her."
   In an interview the next morning, the Leader also gave James a chance to tell his side of the story. He denied that he'd ever molested his daughter and said he was "as innocent as a babe unborn." He said he thought the charge against him had been trumped up by Jennie under the influence of "outside parties." He admitted that he and his family had occasionally had their "little troubles," but "nothing serious has ever been charged against me before." Professor James, the "dancing master," was a small man, not more than 120 pounds, with refined manners, who was generally well thought of by the public, but apparently, according to the Leader, he had "pursued a systematic policy of cruelty to his family for years."
   James came before the criminal court on the afternoon of May 29, the day after his arrest and was committed to jail without bond to await an official hearing. The question of whether he was to be charged with rape or incest was left unsettled.
   A day or two later, James wrote a letter from his jail cell to the Springfield Democrat, once again denying the charges against him and holding himself up as a model parent. A rumor had circulated since his arrest that he was a drunkard, and James also vehemently denied this charge as well.
   In early June, James tried to kill himself by butting his brains out against his cell door until he lost consciousness. He also took to not eating and soon became even more emaciated than he already was. From his cell, he wrote to his wife almost every day, trying to gain an audience with her, but she steadfastly refused to see him. "He pretends to have great affection for his family," observed the Democrat, "but admits that he sometimes treated them brutally when at home."
   James waived examination when the time for his hearing came up in late June, and unable to give the stipulated $3,000 bond, he was returned to jail to await the action of a grand jury. By this time, he was well on the road to recovery from his suicide attempt and was also starting to eat better. However, "He will never be a fat man," observed the Leader, "even should he eat pie."
   The grand jury officially charged James with rape, but when his trial came up in late July (on Brooksie's 15th birthday), the prosecution agreed to lower the charge to incest if he would plead guilty. James readily agreed so that he would not have to suffer the shame and embarrassment of having his family testify against him, as they were prepared to do. Expressing his displeasure with the dismissal of the rape charge, the judge pronounced a sentence of 7 years in the state prison, the maximum allowed by law. Jennie and Brooksie were present at the trial and sentencing, and Jennie said afterward that she never wanted to see or speak to her husband again.
   James was transported to Jeff City on August 6 or 7 and admitted to the state prison on the 7th. He was discharged on December 28, 1899, under the three-fourths law after serving about five and a half years of his seven-year term.


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