Sunday, May 19, 2024

A Lonely Hearts Club Murder

Fifty-seven-year-old Verna Coe of rural Shannon County (MO) called her attorney Thursday night, August 3, 1961, and told him she had shot and killed a man at her cabin near Winona, and her lawyer, in turn, notified authorities. The county sheriff trekked to Mrs. Coe's remote property and found a man, identified as Walter Harrow, lying beside a path that led from her cabin to a shack about a hundred feet away, where Harrow had been staying for the past two or three months. The man had been shot in the back of the neck, and the woman said she shot him during an argument. Investigation revealed that Harrow, a retired real estate agent from Omaha (NE), had been attracted to Mrs. Coe's place through a "lonely hearts" correspondence. 

Harrow was not the first man who'd come and stayed with the woman during the five years that she had lived in the remote hills of southern Shannon County, and he was not even the first one she'd shot. She'd had three or four other "lonely hearts" lovers, and in 1957 she'd shot and slightly wounded one of them. She was charged with felonious assault in that case, but the man had declined to testify against her and charges were dropped.

This time she was charged with first-degree murder and jailed at Alton in Oregon County, since the jail at Eminence had no accommodations for women. At her preliminary hearing a week or so after the shooting, the sheriff testified that Mrs. Coe told him she shot at Harrow just to try to scare him but that he dodged just as she fired, and the bullet struck him. The sheriff said the woman told him she and Harrow had been arguing because he wanted her to go back to Omaha with him but that she didn't want to go. The prosecution theorized, however, that the argument came about because Harrow was trying to leave the woman and she was trying to prevent his departure. 

Following the preliminary hearing, Mrs. Coe was held without bond on the first-degree murder charge. At her trial in early September, she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a plea-bargain deal and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. 

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