Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fred York Pulaski County Poor Farm Superintendent

Pulaski County Obits recently posted the obituary for Fred A. York. Mr. York was one of the superintendents of the Pulaski County Poor Farm, although the exact years of his tenure are not known at this time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who Killed Bonnie Huffman?

The following article is from The Forensic Examiner, summer 2007, volume 16, number 2. Many thanks to Karissa Scott, Editor in Chief, who kindly granted me permission to publish the full length article on this forum, so that it may be read, in it's entirety, without having to pay a subscription fee to the various services that were charging to access this article. I republish it here, in hopes that it may find a new audience and jog someones memory. The Huffman family, especially Bonnie's niece, Wanda Ross, deserve to know who murdered their loved one all those years ago.

Who Killed Bonnie Huffman?
By Kristin Crowe, Associate Editor

On the night of July 2, 1954, a young, dark-haired schoolteacher known to be prim-and-proper left her friends and headed home shortly after midnight, but she never reached her destination. Searchers found her decomposing body in a road ditch 59 hours after she was reported missing. Her name was Bonnie Huffman, and her case is the oldest cold case in Missouri.

Bonnie left her Delta home on Friday, July 2, after telling her mother that she might spend the night with relatives in Cape Girardeau and not to worry if she did not come home. She lived with her mother and half-brother about 8 miles north of Delta, where she stopped at a gas station to buy a tire and call her friend, Mrs. Bess. The Besses met her at a movie in Cape Girardeau and afterward they all went to the Colonial Tavern to eat. Bonnie’s boyfriend, Doug Hiett, had broken up with her the day before, and Mrs. Bess said that she “had never seen Bonnie quite that upset before.” When Bonnie realized it was near midnight, she said she needed to go home. According to Sgt. Friedrich, the officer currently assigned to the case, the Besses tried to get Bonnie to stay with them. in Cape Girardeau, but she insisted on going home. Shortly after midnight she got in her 1938 Ford and started making her way toward Delta. The Besses just assumed she made it home, and her mother and brother assumed that she spent the night in Cape Girardeau. The truth—she did neither.

A person reported passing Bonnie’s empty car, which was sitting in the road with the lights on at 1:30 Saturday morning. However, no one reported her missing until mid-morning on Saturday. Bonnie’s half-brother Bobby Thiele found her car in the road about 8:30 a.m. Saturday on his way to Delta. He thought she must have had car trouble, left the car, and gone back to Delta, but the car started and he moved it out of the road. After checking with Hiett and calling the Besses, Thiele went home to tell his mother what he had found. Together, they went to Delta and called the police department in Cape Girardeau to report her missing. After an extensive search, the body was found at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, July 5, 1954, by a couple that noticed the smell. Her killer has never been found. The Delta Community has not changed much in the last 50 years, according to Sgt. Friedrich. The tight-knit community still talks about the murder, and it is as if the case never went away. Wanda Ross, Bonnie Huffman’s niece, has kept the case alive and in the forefront of people’s minds. If she had lived, Huffman would be around 73 this year, and the family would like to find closure.

At the time, there was much speculation concerning who committed the murder and how Huffman was killed, neither of which were ever positively determined. Some thought that Huffman’s boyfriend Hiett, who is still alive, committed the murder, but three other people verified his account of the evening. Many thought that she had been killed intentionally and then left in the ditch. Some speculated that the killer felt guilty and left her body where he thought it would be easily found, while others speculated that the killer placed the body there shortly before searchers discovered it. One of the primary tools investigators used to determine whether a person knew anything about the murder was the newly created polygraph machine. A 1956 article reported, “between 65 and 75 persons had been requested or had volunteered to take the [polygraph] test” in relation to the case. The police conducted many interviews and tried to ascertain whether the killer was someone Huffman knew or a transit visiting the area. The communities in the Delta area began collecting money for a reward soon after Huffman’s body was found. By July 14, 1954, The Southeast Missourian reported that someone had given or pledged $1340.75 to the fund, which would have been given to the person who provided information that led to the arrest and conviction of Huffman’s killer. Authorities eventually returned the funds to donors.

In 2004, an anonymous witness sent a letter to the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Department detailing what he or she saw that night. Friedrich said the kind of information given in the letter could only have come from a witness. The person was coming home from a dance and came upon a car stopped in the road. There were two men in the ditch, and when the person stopped to see if they needed help, they tried to pull the person from his or her car. The letter writer managed to get away, but said that there was “someone in the Ditch hollering.” Friedrich said that the location the letter writer gave of the car is the same location Huffman’s body was found. The writer, however, has not come forward or given any other information. Friedrich (2007, March 12) said, “I don’t understand why they can’t come forward and give this family some closure. It’s the right thing to do.” However, he also admits that the writer may have passed away, as all suspects and people living at the time are either deceased or in their later years.
There are many aspects to this case that are not common knowledge. In 1954, police actually arrested a suspect. The Scott County Sheriff arrested Roy Wilson Jr., but the charges were later dropped. Many believe that this was a political move on the part of that county’s department used to garner attention. A psychiatrist determined that Wilson did not have the capability to perform the act of homicide and that his confession had been forced. Wilson later recanted his statement. According to the original officer on the case, Sgt. Percy Little, myriad rumors of how Huffman was murdered circulated in 1954, hampering the investigation from the start. Some of these rumors still persist today. The Southeast Missourian commented on these rumors: “Meanwhile, rumors all without foundation spread like wildfire over the weekend. How they started no one could tell.” Friedrich (2007, March 12) said that it “seems like that area was the wild west down there in the 50s,” with families and clans feuding against each other and trying to blame Huffman’s homicide on whomever they liked the least. There were rumors that she had been held in a cabin in the woods and that her body was carried in the trunk of a vehicle, but neither rumor had any substance. According to photographs, Huffman’s body was bloated around three times its normal size due to decomposition, and the ground beneath the body was reported to have been saturated with bodily fluids. Anything in which the killer(s) stored or transported the body would have contained physical evidence from the body, but investigators only found such evidence in the ditch. Recently, a man reported to the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Department that he thinks his father committed the murder. The St. Louis man’s parents were from the Allenville community. When he was 7, he overheard his father and another man speaking, and the other man said to his father, “I think we should’ve shoved her up in the culvert farther.” However, there is no physical evidence, and both suspects are deceased.

The case proves frustrating to Sgt Friedrich for a variety of reasons, one of which is the case file, or lack of one. Only a single latent fingerprint taken off the rearview mirror has survived. No other physical evidence remains. The fingerprint did not lead anywhere when it was sent through AFIS, the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System. A “boatload of polygraphs” and seven or eight black-and-white photos still exist, but that is all (Friedrich, 2007, March 12). The Highway Patrol destroyed all other evidence in 1974, and the case information from which Friedrich is working is not the complete case file. Sergeant Little was called to the National Guard, leaving State Trooper Swingle to continue the case. Friedrich is working from Swingle’s paperwork. The case file tells who the officers talked to, but not why they chose to talk to each particular person. With so much information missing, Friedrich is unable to follow any sort of coherent thought pattern or evidence trail.

What Friedrich does have, though, is enough to posit a possible scenario. The coroner’s report states that Huffman died of a broken neck—“a displacement of the third cervical vertebra upward and to the left.” Huffman was 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighed 133 pounds, and was very pretty by all accounts. Her good reputation was known throughout the area. Friedrich (2007, March 12) said that the 20-year- old, petite, attractive schoolteacher was known to be “a virgin—prim and proper.” The pathologist stated the following in the autopsy report: There is a single area of contusion and abrasion on the left side of the vaginal wall approximately 3 cm. within the vaginal canal. The speculum is introduced rather easily into the vagina. There is no evidence of a hymen and the introitus is intact with no evidence of blood or damage to the hymenal ring. (Lovinggood, 1954) While decomposition of the body prevents definitive proof the killers raped her, the contusion “suggests that rape was at tempted” (Friedrich, 2007, March 12). When searchers discovered Huffman’s body, the only article of clothing that was missing was her underwear. Her glasses, watch, necklace, and purse were missing, but she was still dressed in her dress, brassiere, and shoes when found. The physical evidence of possible rape, coupled with the missing underwear, provides a semblance of motive. The post-mortem changes and insect larvae on the body indicated that time of death was between 48 and 72 hours before the autopsy. In the autopsy report, the pathologist noted a “superficial abrasion over the left knee” (made before death) and the “dislocation of the 3 rd cervical vertebra and a dislocation at the left tempero-mandibular joint,” or a displaced jaw. There were no other wounds or broken bones. It appeared that Huffman’s killers forced her car over. People found her seat cushion and earrings scattered outside, indicating a possible struggle. Huffman left the car with the keys in the ignition, three-quarters of a tank of gas, and the running lights on. A toy gun was either in the car or in the road near the seat cushion and then placed in the car when Huffman’s half-brother moved the car off the road. Two different witnesses who saw Huffman driving home that night said she was alone. One passed her and saw her pass his house after he arrived home. He also saw “a two-tone green Chevrolet go northwest on the road at a very high rate of speed” shortly after. As the car reached the edge of town, the driver began blowing the horn steadily, which the witness said continued until the car was out of hearing distance. Within 15 minutes, the car came back through Delta, again traveling at a high speed.
The most plausible theory is that Huffman was driving home that night, and as she passed one of the taverns on her route someone noticed that she was alone. It was likely a crime of convenience, not premeditation. She had no known enemies and seemed to get along with everyone. The man (or men) followed her in his car, but allowed her to get a distance ahead of him. He then began honking his horn and sped up, attempting to get her to stop. Huffman stopped and the man drug her out of the car, leaving the keys in the
ignition and scattering the seat cushion and earrings in the scuffle. As he was trying to get her into his car, the letter-writing witness came upon the scene and was scared off. The man forced Huffman into his car and took off quickly enough to leave skid marks in the gravel. Huffman, trying to escape, opened her door and jumped out of the car, thus making the abrasions on her knees. The fracture of the third cervical vertebrae is result of “classical whiplash motion” from Huffman hitting the street. She was killed upon impact and the man sped off after realizing she was dead. At some point, he had attempted to sexually assault Huffman, possibly when the letter- writer came upon the scene.
There is one piece of evidence that has not yet entered this discussion of the case. A VFW magazine, American Legion, was found in the ditch in close proximity to the body. The magazine was the July issue and had been recently mailed to the address on the magazine, which was 150 miles north, in Saint Louis, MO. When police talked to the subscription holder, he admitted to being in Hiram, near the Bollinger-Wayne county line, over the Fourth of July to visit relatives. He had no reasonable explanation concerning why his magazine was found in the ditch with Huffman’s body. The man drove to the area from Saint Louis with his nephew, who says that his uncle then turned around and left that very day—a fact that leaves Friedrich suspicious. The magazine was “something that could have fallen out of the car if there was a struggle” (Friedrich, 2007, March 12). It was later determined that the nephew had raped someone in Bollinger County and had been placed in jail, casting even more suspicion on the uncle and nephew. However, the uncle was investigated and given a polygraph test, which he passed. Friedrich believes “they [police investigators] should have pounded on that and pounded on that.” The man is now deceased, leaving us wondering—was he the speeding man on the road behind Huffman that night? Was the uncle, or uncle-nephew team, responsible for Huffman’s death? Although the man passed a polygraph, Friedrich thought that the situation should have been more thoroughly investigated. While he readily agrees that the investigators at the time were “quickly over- whelmed” by the amount of information to be processed, Friedrich (2007, March 12) said that, as a new tool at the time, investigators “shouldn’t have used the polygraph as the sole tool to eliminate suspects; it is only as good as the operator.” Today, a well-done polygraph takes between three and four hours to complete, but some of the polygraphs given to suspects in the case took less than 40 minutes. As a new tool, it was somewhat unpredictable and the basic standards used to garner more accurate results had not yet been established. Another mistake investigators made at the time, Friedrich said, was to dismiss the case as just a disgruntled girlfriend who had run away. Huffman’s car was not processed for several days, before which her family was allowed to drive it home and let it sit for days in a dusty barn. Friedrich (2007, March 12) mentioned that, because the running lights were left on and the driver was missing, the investigators “should have taken greater care and processed the car.” A lack of manpower contributed to these and other such mistakes.

If the Huffman case had happened today instead of in 1954, Friedrich (2007, March 12) “would like to think we would have solved it.” Southeast Missouri has created a Major Case Squad that can be called in on special cases, contributing a vast amount of manpower and expertise to the specific case. Medical examiners now have better resources, and forensic knowledge has increased tremendously in the last 50 years. Additionally, all evidence is now run through the centralized database of the Highway Patrol, enabling crosschecking and cross-referencing between cases. The lack of preserved evidence and lack of a case file, however, continue to plague the Huffman case. Unless the missing glasses, necklace, watch, or purse are found, it seems unlikely that our improved methods will crack this case.

While he has gotten to know the family and would like to provide closure for them and the entire community, Friedrich (2007, March 12) said that the “chance he’s [the killer] still alive is slim to none.” Huffman’s killer was unlikely to be much younger than Huffman herself, meaning at the youngest he would be in his seventies. At this point, Friedrich’s hope is that the killer, if alive, will come forward, or that someone with information on the case, such as the letter-writing witness, will offer more information that could lead to answering who killed Bonnie Huffman?


Clues fade as hunt goes on for slayer of school teacher. [sic] (1954, July 10). The Southeast Missourian, pp. 1, 8. Lovinggood, T. A. (1954). Autopsy report: Miss Bonnie Huffman. Huffman Official Case File. Missing teacher found. (1954, July 6). The Southeast Missourian, pp. 1, 14. More cleared in slaying case. (1956, April 2). The Southeast Missourian, p. 1. No new clues at inquest into mystery killing. [sic] (1954, July 13). The Southeast Missourian, pp. 1, 4. Press hunt for killer in death of teacher. (1954, July 7). The Southeast Missourian, pp. 1, 12. Redeffer, L. (2004, July 6). Letter may be from witness to 1954 murder. The Southeast Missourian. Retrieved February 20, 2007, from Remsberg, C. (1964, Summer). Schoolteacher murdered after the movies. Unsolved Murders, 30–37. Reward fund in slaying probe mounts to $275. (1954, July 9). The Southeast Missourian, p. 1. Reward grows in hunt for slayer. (1954, July 12). The Southeast Missourian, p. 1. Spur search for mystery killer. (1954, July 8). The Southeast Missourian, p. 1, 12. Why was body of slain teacher left by killer on public road? (1954, July 7). The Southeast Missourian, p. 1. $1340 reported in reward fund. (1954, July 14) The Southeast Missourian, p. 1.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Annonymous Memorial Cross for Bonnie Huffman

The following was published in The Southeast Missourian, June 29, 2008. I republish it here, in hopes that it may find a new audience and jog someone's memory. The Huffman family, especially Bonnie's niece, Wanda Ross, deserve to know who murdered their loved one all those years ago. A discussion forum concerning the article can be found here.

Memorial cross appears at site of '54 Huffman killing

Memories of Bonnie Huffman, a Bollinger County woman found dead July 3, 1954, are still strong, though her case remains unsolved. Last week, someone anonymously left a cross at the scene where her body was found along Route N near Delta across from the Baptist church, continuing hope that information to solve the case is still available.

Huffman's niece, Wanda Ross, was 6 years old when her aunt was killed. She said the cross wasn't left by a family member but must have been put there by someone who knew specifics of the scene where her aunt's life ended.

Ross said the handmade cross was new but identical to one left at the scene 53 years ago. She said the new cross caught her family by surprise.

"My husband and I drove through there on Monday evening, and it wasn't there," she said. "Then when he drove through Wednesday it was there."

Huffman's friends and family have held several benefits to raise money for a reward for information leading to an arrest, conviction or resolution to her case. Ross said each benefit has resulted in a new lead.

"We had a candlelight vigil at the 50-year anniversary of her death," Ross said. "Then the sheriff's department got an anonymous letter."

The letter was sent anonymously to the Cape Girardeau Police Department, which forwarded it to the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department. In the letter, the writer described a frightening encounter with two men the night Huffman disappeared on the same stretch of the highway where her body was found.

Last year's vigil in June was followed by another anonymous letter in the fall.

Last month, another benefit was held with a dance and silent auction to raise more funds for the reward.

"This time we got a cross," Ross said.

Although the cross was placed at the scene after the benefit, Ross doesn't think the same person who wrote the letters left the cross.

She said it was a kind thing to do, and the family would like the opportunity to thank whoever left it.

Ross also said she's unsure how long family and friends will continue to raise money for the reward fund.

"If there's no closure to this, we're going to make sure some kind of memorial is made for her later," she said. "But I feel in my heart that there's still someone out there who knows something about what happened to her -- and if someone saw something like that, I know they wouldn't forget it even in all this time."

According to Lt. David James of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, last week's mysterious cross "does give us hope that someone has the information we need. What I don't understand is the hesitancy this person has to come forward. I can assure them complete anonymity. And even if they think they don't know enough to solve the case, they may have knowledge that is exactly what we need."

James asks that anyone with information call the department at 243-3551.

Bonnie Huffman's Cold Case Murder-2008 Update

The following was published in The Southeast Missourian, June 29, 2008. I republish it here, in hopes that it may find a new audience and jog someone's memory. The Huffman family, especially Bonnie's niece, Wanda Ross, deserve to know who murdered their loved one all those years ago. A discussion forum concerning the article can be found here.

Bonnie Huffman, murdered near Delta, Missouri in 1954Bonnie Huffman, murdered near Delta, Missouri in 1954

Tips on unsolved '54 murder still come in
Sunday, June 29, 2008
By Bridget DiCosmo Southeast Missourian

For 15 years, what's left of the Bonnie Huffman homicide case file has sat in a cardboard box underneath Sgt. Eric Friedrich's desk in the criminal investigations office at the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department.

Old, dog-eared police memoranda and dozens of yellowed polygraph transcripts are the only remaining keys to the unsolved murder.

Every few months, someone will call Friedrich offering information they claim could unravel the 54-year-old mystery of the young schoolteacher found curled up with her neck broken near an open culvert along Route N just north of Delta.

The ditch along Route N where Bonnie Huffman's body was found July 5, 1954The ditch along Route N where Bonnie Huffman's body was found July 5, 1954. Photo from the files of The Southeast Missourian.

Thursday marks the anniversary of the day Huffman's little 1938 Ford was found parked in the middle of Route N, six miles from her home, just two miles from the overgrown ditch where a strong odor alerted an Allenville couple to the site of her body about 60 hours later.

Since then, numerous suspects have been interviewed and many have died, yet authorities are no less mystified by the case, nor any closer to shedding light on what Huffman went through between the hours she left her home to see a movie with friends July 2, 1954, and the discovery of her body in the weeds.

Most recently, a Texas woman contacted Friedrich, saying she'd become aware that one of her late relatives, before his death in 1998, had confessed to the rape and murder of a woman near Delta, but like every other tip, proving it true seems nearly impossible.

Every time the case resurfaces in the media, the cycle repeats itself: A few tips will roll in, and Friedrich will drag out the box of aging documents and drop everything to run down the new lead.

But so far, nothing has panned out.

"We try to keep it in the news because you never know when that one's going to count," Wanda Ross, Huffman's niece, said Friday.

Like Friedrich, Ross knows the frustration of receiving vague tips from callers who won't identify themselves.

They usually say they know who did it but can't tell her, she said.

Ross has even tried listing her number in the newspaper, letting tipsters know they can call her if they aren't comfortable talking to police.

"None of the tips seem to hold any water," she said.

Still, when a "good, hot lead" does cross his desk, Friedrich says he'll chase it as far as it can go, but it does tend to get frustrating.

He still believes that a 2004 letter sent from Florida contained such detailed description that it had to have come from someone who had been at the scene of the killing that night.

The writer recalled driving back from a dance that evening and seeing a car stopped at the curve of Route N about a half-mile from Delta.

"Back then, people would stop to help someone. I did," the person wrote.

When the writer pulled over, two men began hollering for that person to get out, and one tried to grab the driver and pull them out of the car, the letter said.

"Why I tried to help I will never know, because without the help from God I would have been killed," the person wrote.

While the men struggled to get into the car, the person managed to get the clutch in and shift, only to have the two assailants rush to their car and try to block the road.

The letter included a roughly drawn but accurate map of the area near where Huffman's body was found. Friedrich noted that it had been mailed to 40 S. Sprigg St., the address of the Cape Girardeau Police Department, where Huffman's body was taken after its discovery.

Most of what was it the letter was "right on the money," Friederich said, including the fact that there had been a dance nearby in Ancell that night.

Now, four years after the letter worked its way to Cape Girardeau, the section of the sheriff's department Web site dedicated to the county's unsolved homicides reads "unknown from Florida, we received letter. Thank You. Please Call," with the promise of anonymity.

Just about every year, Friedrich has resubmitted a latent fingerprint found on Huffman's car to AFIS, the national database containing prints of convicted felons, but so far, like everything else in the case, no hits have been returned.

Bonnie's disappearance

Temperatures soared past 100 degrees the week Huffman vanished as a blistering heat wave blanketed Cape Girardeau.

Huffman left her mother's home in Bollinger County around 3 p.m. July 2, 1954, to see a movie in Cape Girardeau with Mary Lou and Cramer Bess, friends of hers who had recently gotten married.

The willowy brunette was 20 years old. She had just finished teaching her third term at Buckeye School near Old Appleton and was preparing to start an office job at the Missouri Utilities Co.

She and Mary Lou Bess had become close friends when Huffman taught Bess' younger brother in school, Bess said.

Douglas Hiett, Huffman's boyfriend of four years, had just returned from military service in Korea.

Though the couple was not officially engaged, Huffman had thought they would marry, but Hiett canceled their plans together that evening, and told her he wanted to break things off.

Huffman was upset and talked about Hiett a lot that evening, Bess recalled.

After the movie at the Broadway Theater, they'd gone to Wimpy's drive in to get a bite to eat, and stopped at Cape Rock to watch the barges float by for a while.

Then Huffman asked if they could drive past one of the taverns, near the bridge, presumably to see if Hiett's car was outside, Bess said.

"It used to be kind of a rough joint," Bess said.

Her husband would not let them go inside the bar, and they dropped Huffman off at her car, which she'd just gotten overhauled, Bess said.

"That was the last time I saw Bonnie alive," Bess said.

Huffman planned on spending the time in Cape Girardeau with her cousins, but they weren't at home, so she began the trek back home.

Around midnight, two people spotted her car rattling along Highway 25 at about 30 miles per hour. An hour and a half later, a driver saw Huffman's vehicle parked in the middle of Route N, and Huffman was nowhere in sight.

Bobby Thiele, her half-brother, and a friend were walking into Delta the following morning and saw Huffman's car.

At first, Thiele assumed the old beast had clunked out on her. But the keys were still in the ignition.

Thiele moved the car to a safer spot at the edge of the road, and as he did so, found a Gene Autry cap gun on the pavement near the car.

Authorities later theorized that the toy gun may have been used to threaten Huffman into getting into a strange vehicle.

Chief Percy Little examined a toy gun that might have been used to stop Bonnie Huffman's car the night that she was murdered in July 1954.Chief Percy Little examined a toy gun that might have been used to stop Bonnie Huffman's car the night that she was murdered in July 1954. Photo from the files of The Southeast Missourian.

In 1975, highway patrol documents showed that most of the physical evidence in the case, including Huffman's clothing and the toy pistol, were destroyed, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported four years ago.

The location of Huffman's vehicle was strange enough that investigators, acting on the missing persons report filed by Huffman's mother, suspected foul play but didn't become certain until the body was recovered the night of July 5, 1954.

Only Huffman's Delta High School ring, inscribed with 1950, the year she'd graduated valedictorian of her class, and her initials, B.L.H., let authorities know that was the woman they'd been searching for.

The sweltering heat had badly decomposed the body. Though sexual assault was suspected, the autopsy results were inconclusive because of the decomposition.

Huffman's checkered shirt was torn, and her underwear, purse, white beaded necklace, watch and shell-rimmed glasses were missing.

The serial number of the watch is known and could provide a link to Huffman's killer if it were ever located, even after so much time has passed, Friedrich said.

Her neck had been broken at the third cervical vertebra, and her jaw had been dislocated.

Hundreds of tips poured in to investigators. Two grand juries examined the evidence in the case, and police conducted dozens of polygraph tests.

Percy Little, former Cape Girardeau police chief, who then investigated the case for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, called the case the most baffling he'd ever faced.

False confession

In 1956, Scott County authorities thought they'd solved the case when they obtained a partial confession from a Chaffee man who claimed to have known Huffman for several years.

"Bonnie was a fine good-looking girl, and I always wanted to go out with her, but I was afraid because she wasn't in my class," the man said in a statement taken by the Scott County Sheriff's Department.

The man claimed to have seen Huffman's car that night on Route N and bumped it several times from behind with his own vehicle, trying to scare her.

He finally forced her to pull over and made her get in his car, the statement said.

He began driving toward town because he wanted people to see them dancing together at the dance hall, but Huffman got scared and leapt from the moving vehicle.

After an hour of searching for her, he said he gave up and went home.

Scott County investigators issued an arrest warrant for first-degree murder for the man based on his statement, but after talking to the suspect, the highway patrol investigators handling the case dismissed the charges.

Police reports said he was of "such mentality that he would respond to a suggestion" and that the confession was "made entirely in response to suggestions rather than being volunteered on his own."

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said the warrant would not have been valid anyway because an element of the crime would have had to occur in Scott County for them to make an arrest.

A second witness corroborated the man's statement, saying he drove Route N that night and saw the man intentionally bump Huffman's car, but that man was deemed mentally unsound after also describing seeing a submarine rise out of the river, according to police reports.

The arrest, though later unfounded, was the only one made in the 54-year-old homicide.

"If the opportunity ever comes along, we'll get it done," Friedrich said of the case, and wishes he could devote more time to it.

Swingle said the case has always been of interest to him because his father, the late Morley G. Swingle, was one of the original highway patrol investigators.

"I'd love it if it would get solved, but time is critical," Swingle said.

As more potential witnesses and suspects die with the passage of time, chances of solving the case may slip further away, Swingle said.

Ross said she knows there's a strong chance Huffman's killer may be dead but that deep down she doesn't believe that's true.

One year after Bonnie Huffman's body was found, a cross was anonymously placed at the location.One year after Bonnie Huffman's body was found, a cross was anonymously placed at the location. Photo from the files of The Southeast Missourian.

Eighth Graders Take On Bonnie Huffman Murder Cold Case

The following was published in The Daily Dunklin Democrat, May 22, 2007. I republish it here, in hopes that it may find a new audience and jog someone's memory. The Huffman family, especially Bonnie's niece, Wanda Ross, deserve to know who murdered their loved one all those years ago. A discussion forum concerning the article can be found here.

Inquisitive Gideon students investigate cold murder case

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

1954 Bonnie Huffman Unsolved Murder

The following information is found on Cape Girardeau, Missouri Sherriff's Department web site. If you have any information about this case please contact Sgt. Friedrich at 573-204-2915.

Bonnie Huffman was a school teacher in Delta, Missouri and was found dead in a drainage ditch on Missouri Route N just outside of Delta, Missouri on July 05, 1954.

Letter may be from witness to 1954 murder

By: Linda Redeffer ~ Southeast Missourian (Reprint)

Fifty years ago on July 3, Delta schoolteacher Bonnie Huffman went to the movies in Cape Girardeau with some friends, then left them after midnight to drive home in her 1938 Ford.

She never made it.

Her car was found in the middle of Route N, keys in the ignition, half a mile from Delta, 6 miles from the home she shared with her mother and brother. On July 5, 1954, her body was found in a culvert about two miles from where her car was found. She had died of a broken neck. She was 20.

Huffman's murder remains unsolved. Like all unsolved murders, the case remains open because there is no statute of limitations.

Recently investigators came perhaps a little closer to solving the mystery.

Shortly after KFVS12 ran a recent segment on how investigative advances could have helped the Huffman case, the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department received an anonymous letter that Sgt. Eric Friedrich believes may be from a credible witness.

"It had some information that I would think only a person who might have been in that area at that time would have," Friedrich said.

The letter is handwritten, has no signature and no return address other than Cape Girardeau, where it was postmarked.

Part of it reads: "I was driving back from a dance either Sat or Sunday night about 1 AM turned on Route N and a car stooped at the curve about 1/2 mile from Delta. Back then people would stop to help someone. I did.

"When I stopped 2 men came in a hurry and hollering what the hell are you doing, get the Hell etc. out, then I saw some one in the Ditch hollering. Why I tried to help I will never know because without the help from God I would of been killed. Because one of the men grabbed me and tried pulled me out of my car. I got my foot against the car-body, and my hand on the steering, my other hand was on the door handle, the other fellow was trying to get in the other door luck is that the door was locked.

"How I ever got the clutch in and shifted I will never know."

Fear of retaliation by Huffman's killers kept the writer from coming forward earlier, the letter said.

Friedrich said much in the letter matches other information he already has. He thinks this person may know more and hopes the writer will come talk to him in confidence.

In 1964, investigators tried to reach witnesses by releasing details of Huffman's murder to True Detective magazine, which published a story about the case.

Yet who killed Bonnie Huffman and why remains unknown.

'No place for us'

What is known is that the day before her murder, Huffman's boyfriend, Doug Hiett, had broken up with her. Huffman called her friend, Mary Lou Bess, suggesting they go to the movies.

"She was very upset," recalled Bess, who now lives in Perryville, Mo. "I had never seen Bonnie quite that upset before."

The two women and Bess' husband went to the Broadway Theater in Cape Girardeau. After that, Huffman said she wanted to drive by a certain tavern by the bridge because, according to accounts of that time, she thought it would be fun to watch the people going in and out. Some speculated she was looking for Hiett. Bess said that if that's what Huffman had on her mind, she didn't say it, but she thought it was unusual that her friend would want to go to that area.

"It was no place for us," Bess said. "I certainly would never get out or be seen in a joint like that."

Huffman also did not drive home on her usual route, accounts indicated. Investigators at that time speculated that she took a different route to pass by other taverns where she suspected Hiett might have gone. Hiett was among dozens of men questioned as a suspect at that time. He later was reported saying he regretted breaking up with Huffman and realized too late that he loved her.

"He has the feeling that if he had not broken up with her, none of this would have happened," Friedrich said. "He has a little bit of guilt."

Hiett is still alive but declined to be interviewed.

Sometime around 12:30 a.m. that night someone got Huffman to stop her car. A toy gun found at the scene led investigators to believe someone wielding it made her think it was real. She was apparently forced from her car and taken to another location and killed by a sharp blow that snapped her neck.

A police search turned up nothing, but a passing couple found Huffman's body in a ditch two days after she disappeared.

Because her underpants were missing, police think she may have been sexually assaulted; however, the body was too decomposed when it was found to be certain.

Suspects were questioned and polygraphed. Reward money offered eventually was returned to the donors. It yielded no results.

With a case half a century old, witnesses are becoming scarce. Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle said it's possible Huffman's killer is still alive. People who commit murders are generally between 15 and 25, he said, leaving open the possibility that her killer is 75 at the most. Then there's the matter of 50 years of a guilty conscience.

"It's not unusual for someone who has done such a terrible thing, if he's getting closer to Judgment Day, to start feeling more and more guilty about it," Swingle said.

Looking for closure

Swingle, who has not yet seen the anonymous letter, said he has special reasons for wanting to prosecute Bonnie Huffman's killer. His late father was one of the Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers who worked on the investigation the year before Swingle was born. Swingle has read the entire file in the sheriff's department.

"It would be nice closure for me if I could have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of prosecuting a case my father helped investigate," he said.

Huffman's family wants closure, too. Wanda Ross of Chaffee, Mo., Huffman's niece, is planning a candlelight vigil Saturday at Huffman's grave in Bollinger County Memorial Cemetery. She hopes someone will come who can answer a lifetime of questions.

Ross has grown up listening to rumors about who might have killed Huffman. After reading the anonymous letter, Ross said it firms up her belief that at least two men were involved.

Swingle said DNA evidence, unheard of then, could solve the crime now. He and Friedrich both said they have heard of killers who kept souvenirs from their victims. Such souvenirs could yield DNA evidence. No one has been able to find Huffman's watch, jewelry, purse, glasses and underpants. Someone somewhere might have something with Huffman's DNA on it, Swingle said. If that is the case, Ross said, the family would not hesitate to have Huffman's body exhumed for DNA testing.

Swingle said he wants the killer to know that the death penalty will not apply. It was in effect in 1954, he said, but its constitutionality was then under question. The most he can, and will, go for is life in prison.

After 50 years, the case remains a classic murder mystery.

"It's like picking up a book and reading halfway through," Friedrich said, "and the conclusion is missing."

Looney Vagrants in Cape Girardeau County

The following was published in a Macon, Georgia newspaper, January 16, 1884.

Auction of Vagrants

The negro is free in Missouri; but white slavery still exists in that commonwealth. A few days since there was posted on the courthouse at Jackson in Cape Girardeau county, this notice:

"Public Hire of Vagrants--Notice is hereby given that I, the constable of this county, will on January 12, hire out to the highest bidder, cash in hand, at the court house door in Jackson, the following vagrants for a term of six months: Tabitha Looney, aged forty-five; Barbara C. Looney aged eighteen, and Fanny Looney, aged twenty.
(Signed) "Henry D. Loomis, Constable."

The local paper says of the sale that followed: "The above notice drew quite a crowd to the court house steps in Jackson to-day. The vagrants were brought to the front one by one and their services auctioned off. The crowd and the manner of the auctioneers savored of the days of slavery, but the bidding was not as brisk as it used to be in those times. The oldest vagrant's services were not in much demand, and were taken for $12. Barbara brought $18, and Fanny $24."

Zalma, Missouri 1917 Killer Twister

My mother and her three sisters hail from Zalma, Missouri. Zalma lies on the banks of the Castor River. Until recently, Main Street was dirt. Through tornadoes and floods the town troops on, a testimony to the pioneer spirit that still runs through the resident's veins. My grandfather Cletus O. Cato was two years of age when this tornado ripped through town.

Loss of Life From Tornado Placed at 79. Death Toll in the Missouri Storm Continues to Increase

St. Louis, Mo., May 21.--Seventy-eight persons were killed in the tornado that swept through several counties in southeast Missouri and southern Illinois Wednesday, according to dispatches received from various sources tonight. Hundreds were injured and property loss was enormous. Wires are down in the storm swept districts and communication virtually is impossible.

The greatest loss of life was at Zalma, a village in Bollinger county, Mo., where it was reported by the Globe-Democrat correspondent at Marble Hill that twenty-five lives were lost and 200 were injured. This report was taken to Marble Hill by Dr. Farrar, who said he was certain his estimate of the dead was conservative.

Fourteen persons were reported killed near Chaonia, in Wayne county, three at Ardeola, three at Aquilla, two at Salem, one at Lenox, four at Dongola, one at Advance, one at Bismarck, and several of those hurt at Mineral Point died, the total dead there now being placed at nine. Four negroes were killed in southern Illinois. The storm in Missouri was most severe in Bollinger, Scott, Wayne and Washington counties.

Started at Salem

The tornado evidently came into existence near Salem, Mo., early Wednesday afternoon.

There was no loss of life until the storm reached Mineral Point, in Washington county, where four were killed and twenty-six injured.

Relief has been sent to stricken points from St. Louis

A woman was reported dead at Dongola, and a boy was killed at Advance. Diehlstadt reported two deaths. A telegram from Cairo, Ill., stated that four negroes were killed in a storm that struck the southern part of Illinois last night.

Ha Ha Tonka's Double Murder

The following was published in a Kansas City, Missouri newspaper, February 28, 1899.

To Prison for Double Murder. Brockaway Killed His Wife's Mother and Sister in Camden County, Mo.

Linn Creek, Mo., --John Brockaway, aged 26 years, who murdered his wife's mother and sister near Hahatonka April 22, 1898, was found guilty by a jury of Camden county and his punishment fixed at ninety-one years in the penitentiary. Insanity was his plea.

Brockaway married Ella Vinson one Sunday last April and the following Friday shot and killed his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. His case was continued several times on account of the excitement of the people here. A lynching was narrowly averted.

123 Year Old Man, Formerly of Vienna, Missouri

The following was published in a Columbia, South Carolina newspaper, January 11, 1894.

Cole county, Mo., can boast of the oldest man in the State of Missouri, and perhaps in the United States. His name is Richard Hoops, and he is a negro. He lives in a small shanty on the banks of the Osage river, at Osage City. According to the records of his own statements he was born in Chatham county, N.C. on December 20th 1770, and consequently, was 123 years old on the 20th of last month. He came to Missouri with his then master John P. Haydon, settling at Lane's Prairie, Gasconade county. A few years later he was transferred to the man whose name he now bears, and lived with him near Vienna, Maries county, until the emancipation of the slaves.

Since that time he has lived at Westphalia, but for the past twenty-five years he has made his home at Osage City. Hoops is remarkably well preserved, and lives alone in his shanty. He fishes a great deal for the big catfish that frequent the waters of the Osage, and is never happier than when he can catch a big one and make soup of its head. He is still able to do some work, and it was only a few years since that he contracted with a farmer in the vicinity of his home to remove the stumps and roots of a newly cleared tract of land. He fulfilled his contract, doing all the work himself. His mind is still clear on many of the events that happened towards the close of the last century, and he recalls with great pride that he once held the horse of Gen. Greene of revolutionary fame.

In appearance Hoops is said to resemble a mummy; his skin looks like parchment, and he is toothless and hairless, but his step is remarkably firm and his eye bright and clear. As stated, he lives alone, having no relatives as far as known. He is a member and regular attendant of the A. M. E. Church. His neighbors take a great interest in him, and do him many acts of kindness, as they would supply his simple wants gladly, but he is independent, and says that he intends to earn his own living for many years to come. His house stands under the approach to the Missouri Pacific railroad bridge across the Osage, and, except when absent on his fishing trips, "Uncle Hoops," as he is called, can be found at home. He has the record of his birth, and there is but little doubt that he is the oldest person in the country

Rooms to Let, Fifty Cents

The following appeared in an Aberdeen, South Dakota, newspaper, January 14, 1891.

Jefferson City, Mo., Jan. 13--A double murder occurred at Tuscumbia, Miller county, Missouri. Mrs. Freeman, proprietress of the Tuscumbia hotel; became enraged in a quarrel with a photographer named Fulkerson. She seized a shot-gun and fired at Fulkerson, the charge striking him in the chest, but not producing instant death. Fulkerson snatched the gun from the woman's hands and shot her in the head killing her instantly. Soon after he himself expired from the effect of his wound.

John Wilson's Whiskey

The following appeared in a Kansas City, Missouri newspaper, June 30, 1892.

The New York Sun publishes a story which appeared several years ago in the Jefferson City Tribune to the effect that, in 1822 John Wilson went from Ireland to Missouri and took up his abode in Miller county of this state where he lived in a large cave; and that on his death he was buried in a smaller cave close by, with a demijohn of the best liquor to be had, where he still reposes.

The story as now told in the hills and hollows of the Osage river country in the above, "with variations." The local annalist relates that Wilson was a remarkably tough citizen, who traded with the Indians, and was known to everybody, white and red, throughout a wide and wild region. He entertained all travelers who passed through the country, making it a point, however, never to ask a man his name, where he was going or whence he came. When Wilson was about to die, so the story goes, he directed that his abdominal cavity should (after his death, of course) be filled with salt--that being his idea of embalming; that his body should be placed in the little cave, with two jugs of whisky, one at his head and the other at his feet; and that the cave should then be sealed up with masonry. He further directed that at the expiration of a certain number of years the seplucher was to be opened by certain jolly good fellows and the jugs removed and the contents thereof drank and then the jugs, after being refilled, should be placed in the former positions; then the cave was to be sealed up again, and to so remain till the expiration of the second term of years. The story ran that these provisions were complied with at the expiration of the first period, but the arrival of the second anniversary found the Osage country all torn up by the civil war, and the pall bearers, mourners and friends of the late lamented so scattered that a reunion was impossible; so that, since then, the salted remains of the old pioneer have remained with the attendant jugs in the narrow resting place in the wild hills of the Osage.

To settle the truth of history in regard to old Wilson and his queer funeral an expedition might well be set on foot. If Wilson and his whisky should not be discovered, the explorers would still be repaid by the scenery of the most picturesque region in the state of Missouri.

A Miller County Bushwhacker Tale

The following appeared in a Columbus, Georgia newspaper, March 7, 1866.

Bushwhackers are very troublesome in upper Missouri. A few days ago the house of Mrs. Berry in Miller county, occupied by herself, two sons and a widowed daughter, was entered by two of these miscreants, who, after a few moments of friendly conversation, began firing on the party with their revolvers. Instantly killing the daughter and one of the sons. The other son and Mrs. Berry fled from the house and although fired at repeatedly, they contrived to escape unharmed. The fiends then set fire to the house, which burned to the ground, consuming the dead bodies within it.

The 1907 Houston Hatchet Murder

The following was published in a Kansas City, Missouri newspaper, May 7, 1907.

A Son Accused of Murder

Aurora, Mo., May 7--John Barkoff is on trial in Texas county, Missouri, on a charge of murdering his father, and the case is attracting much attention in the southern part of the state. The crime was a brutal one and aroused much indignation.

George Barkoff, who was 70 years old, was found dead January 17 in his store in the little town of Huston. He had considerable property, including the store. He lived with his son, who is married. The two are known to have quarreled repeatedly, but so far as is known they always adjusted their differences amiably. It is not known that they had quarreled just previous to the death of the father.

The elder Barkoff was found dead in his store one morning. His head had been crushed with a hatchet and his throat cut. Apparently the store had been pillaged. Suspicion at once centered on the son, due in part to the fact that he declared his father had committed suicide. Physicians declared that this would have been an impossibility and the hatchet and the knife or razor with which the old man's throat was cut were not found. In spite of these things the son insists on the suicide theory.

The Siamese Twins of Texas County

The following was published in a Columbus, Ohio newspaper, March 3, 1849.

The Missouri Twins

These wonderful children are now being exhibited in St. Louis. They are the children of Mr. Benj. Ross, Texas county, Missouri, and were born on the 16th of December 1847. They are connected from the breast bone and abdomen, measure 20 inches in height, and weigh 20 pounds. Their connection is such that they stand face to face, heads coated over with fine black hair, and in all other respects perfect in form and features.--Missouri Statesman.

The Unfortunate Lot of Gertie Trost

The following account appeared in a newspaper in Olympia, Washington, April 14, 1904.

A Baby Bride Seeks Divorce. Child From Ozark Mountains in Missouri Tells Shocking Story in Iowa Court--Her Husband an Iowan Aged 60 Years.

Washington, Iowa, April 14.--Clad in dresses scarcely clearing her knees, and with her dark brown hair falling in long curls over her shoulders, Gertie Trost, 11 years old, today filed a petition before Judge Scott for the annulment of her marriage with John Leeper, 60 years old, a resident of Brighton, Iowa, whom, she declared, she had been forced to wed when she was 9 years old.

The girl's story is a shocking revelation of the primitive theory of life that is followed by the scarcely civilized dwellers in the wild mountainous districts of Missouri. Two years ago, according to her story, she lived with her mother in one of the most inaccessible regions of the Ozark mountains, near Lebanon, Mo. She was then scarcely 9 years old. It was there she first met Leeper. He made a contract, of the details of which she is ignorant, with her mother. Leeper stayed in their cabin. Then a traveling preacher--Buck was his name, so far as the child could remember--came to the cabin. There was a ceremony, the nature of which she did not understand, and she was told that she was Leeper's wife. More than that, her mother told her, she said, that she was Leeper's slave and must obey him in all things so long as he lived.

Leeper was bent and crippled with age. He had already been married three times, the girl said, and she hated him, but did not disobey. Some months after their marriage Leeper returned to his home in Iowa. The girl put off the long dresses her mother had forced her to wear for the ceremony and was a child again.

About a month ago the old man sent for his child bride, and her mother sent her to him. Since then she has lived with a family near his home in Brighton. She begged the people with whom she lived to keep her from the man whom she detested. When they heard her story they refused to let her live with him. Angered, the old man threatened to send his child wife to a reform school unless she lived with him. Neighbors, indignant at the fate that had been forced upon the little girl, told her story to the authorities. County Attorney Balley refused to believe until he heard the story from the girl's lips. He brought the matter to the attention of Judge Scott, who today ordered the police to bring Leeper before him.

Laclede County's First Woman Sherriff

The following was published in a Kansas City newspaper, January 27, 1912. I have not researched this further, but at this time, I believe that there is a good chance that Nancy Williams may be Laclede County's ONLY woman sherriff. If anyone knows different, please comment below, or email me at

A Missouri Woman Sheriff. Until an Election is Held Mrs. Nancy Williams Will Serve in Laclede County

Springfield, Mo., Jan. 27--Mrs. Nancy Hays Williams of Lebanon occupies the unique position of being the only woman sheriff in Missouri. The Laclede County Court held a special meeting today and appointed her to the place until a special election is held to fill the vacancy caused by the death of her husbnad, Sheriff W. J. Williams. Sheriff Williams died in a hospital here last week. Mrs. Williams will attend to the duties of sheriff for only a few weeks, however, as the special election will be held February 17. A lengthy petition was sent to the county court asking that Mrs. Williams be named until a successor is elected.

The Ugliest Man in Missouri

I mean no harm, or disrespect in this posting. I am merely reprinting what was published in a newspaper in Olympia, Washington, April 6, 1894. An early example of tabloid reporting? I bet the headline of then, much like mine today, grabbed readers attention and sold newspapers. I wonder if Scott Swartzlander was what would be considered an Albino?

His Face Was His Fortune. The Ugliest Man in Missouri Gets Out of Trouble in an Unexpected Manner.

On the southern edge of Phelps county lives Scott Swartzlander, who is considered the ugliest man in Missouri, and there are some of his neighbors who will bet his equal cannot be produced from any quarter. Swartzlander, who is thirty years old, says the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, has white hair, eyes like a Chinaman, no eyebrows, a nose of abnormal proportions, which lops over almost to his cheek bone, and is ornamented at the end with a beautiful comic bulb. He is lank and tall, and there are numerous other imperfections that add to this picture of general and particular ugliness. Swartzlander was arrested about a year ago for cutting timber on government lands in Pulaski county, and when his trial came up at Springfield before the United States court the prisoner was promptly arraigned. While the district attorney was reading the judge said, addressing the district attorney: "You may enter nolle prosequl in the prisoner's case. After a careful scrutiny of his physiognomy I am convinced that any man who is compelled to carry that face is punished quite enough for the amount of lumber which he is charged with having unlawfully taken from government lands. You are discharged, Mr. Swartzlander. Go as quickly as you can, and don't forget to take your face with you."

Undoubtedly this decision of the learned and discriminating judge at Springfield, MO., entitles Scott Swartzlander to the undisputed title: The Ugliest Man in Missouri."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Finally! A Bushwhackers Name Is Revealed!

I have read many accounts of "bushwhackers" and the mayhem that they wreaked during, and after the Civil War. Every time that I come across a mention of them, I make sure to scrutinize it, mainly because my interests in the murderer of Callaway H. Manes, who was shot and killed in cold blood at Conn's Creek, Missouri. The book "The First Hundred Years Of Crocker", makes several references to bushwhackers, and even recounts a female bushwhacker who continued to openly live in Pulaski County, Missouri, after The War Between The States. Unfortunately, the book's author, Nellie (Stites) Willis, does not disclose names of the purported bushwhackers. The following was published in a Boise, Idaho newspaper, October 6, 1866. It is the first time that I have been able to attach a name to a Civil War Guerilla in the Pulaski County and surrounding areas. The search for the name of Reverend Manes' murderer continues.

Bushwackers in Southwest Missouri
--The St. Louis Democrat of Sept. 6th has the following:

"One of the most noted of the bushwhackers in Missouri, Dick Kitchen, appears to be still keeping up the war in Southwest Missouri and Arkansas. On 12th ultimo he conspicuously figured in a bloody tragedy, resulting in the death of a highly esteemed Union citizen. A gentleman from Rolla narrates to us the circumstances substantially as follows:"

"Kitchen has never surrendered, boasts that he has not, and swears that he never will. Since the peace, has been roving through the border districts of Missouri and Arkansas, always very abundantly armed, usually accompanied by a band of desperadoes like himself, and sometimes alone. He and his men are said to have this season raised a crop somewhere in Arkansas, meanwhile continuing their robberies of Union people, and since then entering fresh upon a premedatory life. Numerous outrages upon the rights of property convinced the Unionists that Kitchen and his bandits were still ranging the country, and a short time ago it was learned that he was at a place known as "The Widow Mace's House," just north of the southern boundary of Phelps county, Missouri. This intelligence was brought to a township near to the line of Texas and Dent counties, Missouri, the residence of several ex-Union soldiers and guerrilla hunters. Among the citizens was Rev. John Samples, widely known for his active Unionism in the war, a Methodist Episcopal minister, yet true son of Mars, at present preaching over 'the Salem circuit.' His son, James Samples, volunteered to be one of the party to go after and arrest Kitchen. Four others--George Reed, Randall, and two more whose name our informant cannot recall, went with Samples.

On the afternoon of Sunday, the 25th ultimo, they reached the Widow Mace's, surrounded the house, and one of them called upon Kitchen to surrender. Three were guarding one door, and two--Samples and Reed--the other. Suddenly Kitchen ran out to pass these two and Samples bade him halt or they would fire. He paid no attention to this, and the two then fired with revolvers he at the same instant turning and firing back with one of his revolvers. All the shots failed effect. Samples and Kitchen then came together and the latter fired first, wounding Samples in the groin. He fired as he fell and missed. Reed then fired, and Kitchen ran, unhurt, then turned and fired at Reed without hitting him.

On Sunday Kitchen reappeared at the Lenox Farm, where, during the war, they massacred Andreas Darling. This place is but eight miles from Rolla, and parties who formerly lived there became so obnoxious to the bushwhackers that the latter have repeatedly called, in the hope of finding them returned. But the obnoxious Unionists of Lenox farm are now permanently located in St. Louis, whither they came just in time to escape the fate of Mr. Darling.

Italians Go To Missouri (1898)

The following was published in a Little Rock, Arkansas newspaper, February 5, 1898.

St. James, MO., February 5., --Ten of the Italians under the management of Tullio Malesani, who have purchased 1,200 acres of land in Dawson Township, Phelps county, for the purpose of forming an Italian colony, have arrived in this city from Sunny Side, Arkansas, and are making extensive preparations to improve their land. They have received a car-load of lumber from St. Louis, and are busily engaged in building houses, etc.

The colony at Sunny Side, which is composed of 900 people, was compelled to look for another location on account of the malaria at that place, and Mr. Malesani has certainly used good judgment in making the selection he did. It is expected that the majority of the colony will come to this place, while some will go to South America, and others will return to Italy. Mr. Malesani is but 24 years of age, and has been in this country only twenty-three months, but he is well posted in regard to the American ways, and handles the language in an excellent manner for one who has been here such a short time.

He reads, writes and speaks five different languages, and is an exceptionally smart young man, and also transacts all business for the colony. At their former home in Arkansas they were well organized, have their own churches, schools, stores, brass band, orchestra, etc., and it is expected that they will do the same thing at this place as quick as arrangements can be made.

One hundred and thirty Italians are expected to arrive as quick as there are buildings enough to accommodate them. Work at this place is being pushed as rapidly as possible, and no time will be lost until everything is completed. The loss of this colony to Sunny Side is greatly regretted by the people of that place, as they were considered good citizens and very industrious people, and used every effort possible to build up the community in which they live. Mr. Malesani is the agricultural engineer.

Smallpox in Missouri Legislature (1907)

The following was published in a newspaper in San Jose, California, February 23, 1907.

Smallpox in Missouri Legislature--Legislators Are Shunned.

Jefferson City, Mo., Feb 22.--Representative
W. J. Salts, of Phelps county, was taken down with smallpox while in his seat upon the floor of the House today. Much commotion occurred among the other members.

The House this afternoon, after its hall had been fumigated, adjourned until Monday. The Senate voted to work a few hours this afternoon, and then adjourn until Tuesday next.

Many boarding house keepers have refused to allow Legislators to enter their homes, and Governor Folk a short time offered the use of his mansion to those who are unable to obtain quarters elsewhere.

Representatives Salts was in conference with Governor Folk a short time this morning. The Governor said: "I noticed the pimples on Mr. Salts face, but thought nothing of them at the time. Possibly I shall have to get vaccinated now, but I do not feel at all alarmed.

The Governor was vaccinated about three years ago, he said.

Missouri Murderer Suicides to Escape Lynching (1901)

The following was published in a newspaper in Aberdeen, South Dakota September 26, 1901

Bullet Through His Heart. Missouri Murderer Suicides to Escape Lynching.

Kansas City, Sept. 26.--A special to The Times from Rolla, Mo., says:

Surrounded in a barn, but a few blocks from the scene of his crime, Professor J. S. Croswell, who Monday night murdered his sweetheart, Miss Mollie Powell, a prominent young woman of this city, at 11:15 p.m. sent a bullet through his own heart to prevent being lynched by an angry posse.

Ever since the tragedy at the Powell home Monday evening, Croswell had been hiding from a large posse of citizens and college students that ransacked buildings and searched almost every spot in the city.

Croswell was located in a barn near the center of the town, where he had been hiding probably ever since his flight from the Powell home. When discovered he ran to another barn near by and here the posse bayed him.

Just as the attack was to be made the report of a pistol was heard inside the building and when the pursuers broke in they found the murderer prone upon the floor. A bullet had pierced his heart and death was instantaneous.

Honey, I'm Home!

This was published in a Fort Worth, Texas newspaper, September 8, 1909. I reprint it here because 100 years later, it is still an interesting story.

24 Years Gone; Returns. Missouri Man Found Wife on Farm Where He Left Her.

Springfield, Mo., Sept. 7.--Twenty-four years ago Jacob J. HILL homesteaded a quarter section of land in Pulaski county but before he proved up on it he disappeared from home. Years elapsed and nothing was heard from HILL. His wife was permitted to prove title to the land, and with her five children she clung to the old hillside farm, barely eking out an existence. Some years ago Mrs. HILL was forced to mortgage a portion of the original tract.

Much to her surprise, her husband put in an appearance a few days ago, and has claimed his farm and his wife, who had not been divorced nor married again. The only explanation HILL offered was that he has been living in Texas all these years. When he returned he claimed ownership of the farm, and, it is stated, declared he would not pay the mortgage put on it by his wife. The story of HILL's disappearance and return after so many years became known when holders of the mortgage executed by Mrs. HILL appeared at the government land office here to ascertain whether or not they can collect their claims on the patent issued to Mrs. HILL

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Updates & Corrections For August 2009

The Irish Cemetery is referenced in the book Tombstone Inscriptions of Pulaski County. It states "Several Irish workers who died while building the railroad are buried near Keeling's Diner on the Spur to Ft. Leonard Wood."
This moves the location further away from the Main Gate, which makes more sense to me. I had wondered how the U.S. Army had not uncovered their remains when they built the gate and then revamped it after September 11, 2001. Of course, Keeling's Diner has been replaced by a gas station, and I do not recall hearing about any bodies being uncovered during the digging for pumps and tanks. Surely that would have been big news in this small town. The description does say, near Keeling's Diner, though, not under the parking lot, so who knows.

I apologize for jumping the gun and commenting that the Pulaski County Historical Society overlooked the Poor Farm in the book mentioned above. I based that off the list of cemeteries included in the Table of Contents and neglected to look in the "Unknown Gravesites and Lone Graves" section. It is included there and I am including it here for posterity:

"The Old County farm Cemetery, near Waynesville is marked by sandstones only."

I have two additions to add to the list of confirmed burials at the County Farm:
BROYLES, CORA BELLE APR 8, 1871-AUG 29, 1951
GATES, ELIAS H. NOV 13, 1866- DEC 24, 1946

Hopefully, if the Historical Society prints an update or a revision to their book, these twenty three names will be included. The book, along with other publications, is available for purchase at the 1903 Pulaski County Missouri Court House Museum. The search for more confirmations of burials at the County Farm Cemetery still continues.

I have been asked about making a database of cemetery info and a compilation of the locations of the places from the past that we have sought out over the summer. Those are both big projects to undertake but I have not thrown those ideas out the window yet. Keep the comments and emails coming, I cave under pressure rather easily!

I have started an online repository of Pulaski County, Missouri obituaries for genealogical research. It can be located at:

As of September 1, 2009 it includes 210 obituaries. A majority of them are from this summer, but a good portion are from the John J. Watts collection.
John J. Watts hailed from Warren, Maine and moved to the northern Ozarks of Missouri sometime after the Civil War. He was a circuit-riding Baptist Minister and his territory covered Phelps, Pulaski, and Texas Counties and parts of Maries and Dent Counties. He established a cemetery, Watt’s Lawn, which is located 1 mile West of J Highway, near the Pulaski County-Phelps County line. This collection covers 1878-1912. I am posting them in blog format, simply because of search functionality. To search by name simply type the name in the box and click "search blog" in the upper left hand corner. If you have a full obituary, other than an abstract, that you would like included, simply email me at

I have spent a lot of time with the deceased this summer, whether by walking through the cemeteries, searching through death certificates, or reading hundred year old ledgers. I want to take a moment to return to the living and celebrate a special occasion of two of my dear friends. Mike Elmer and Terrie Runion were married August 29, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Terrie is one of my dearest, and oldest friends and I am happy to count Mike as my brother-in-law. I wish you two a long, joyful, and prosperous marriage. Congratulations!

Laura a/k/a Snoop Dorky Dork

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Southern Pulaski County Railroad

1861 Lloyd's Map showing the proposed original route of what would later be the St. Louis San Francisco Railroad line through Pulaski County, Missouri.
1861 Lloyd's Map showing the proposed original route of what would later be the St. Louis San Francisco Railroad line through Pulaski County, Missouri.

Above is an 1861 Lloyds Map. I am assuming that it is showing the projected railroad through the county as it shows the line being south of Waynesville. Keep in mind that the railroad line was originally planned to go through this part of the county before the Civil War. After the war, the line was re-platted North of Waynesville because of topography. Supposedly this new alignment followed a road that was blazed by the armies during the war. Take note of the town names of Greenville, Colby, Iron Ore, Finley, and Pine Bluff. These places are not on the map anymore.

In Mabel Manes Mottaz’s book, “Lest We Forget”, published in 1960, she states "There is still evidence of some of the fruitless tunneling and grading.". I have came across accounts that an abandoned tunnel is visible a half mile from the main gate of Fort Leonard Wood." Some portions of the work that were completed before 1861 were destroyed by Confederates during The War Between The States.

I have also read that the Irish Laborers worked intensely on the proposed line near Wildwood, or present day main gate of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Legend has it, that the tunnel mentioned by Mrs. Mottaz was dug by Irish laborers. Irish Immigration was high after the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1852. Some of those who had fled disease and starvation in their homeland lived and worked in the railroad construction camps in Pulaski County before the United States Civil War. Unfortunately, cholera and smallpox, made their way through some of these railroad camps. Many succumbed, in a matter of days, and were buried in unmarked graves. It has been reported that some are buried in Dry Creek Cemetery, which is either near the Water Plant by the Gas Station on Fort Leonard Wood, or on the Fred Gray farm, East of St. Robert in Township 36, Range 11, Section 25. The latter physical description is from “Tombstone Inscriptions Throughout Pulaski County”. There is also a written report in “History of Pulaski County, Missouri Volume 1” that mentions an Irish grave site near Devil’s Elbow, Missouri although it does not give an exact location. Yet another report, by an author that I only know as Smith, refers to “the Irish Cemetery, now the gates of Fort Leonard Wood”. That same author also sheds light on this subject with these sentences: “Also by that time Irish and German laborers were working on the railroad bed and digging a tunnel in what is now known as Tunnel Hollow near the north gate of Fort Leonard Wood. Legend has it that many Irish laborers died from disease and were buried in a mass grave near the post gate along modern Route 17.

Skaggs Bridge, the first bridge across the Gasconade River between Waynesville and Crocker, Missouri.
Skagg's Bridge, the first bridge across the Gasconade River between Waynesville and Crocker, Missouri. Remnants of this bridge can still be seen two miles downstream from the 1932 Pike's Peak Bridge.

Another side note, a railroad spur from Crocker to Waynesville was proposed during the early 1900's. Some grading was finished before the financing for the deal fell apart. The abandoned railroad bed from this effort was later rehabilitated and converted into New Highway 17, bypassing the Old Waynesville Crocker Road, and Skaggs bridge, by approximately 2 miles west.

The three books that I reference in this article are available at the 1903 Pulaski County Missouri Courthouse Museum.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Train Wreckers Part VI

The conclusion of the articles concerning the 1877 case of The Train Wreckers in Pulaski County, Missouri. Most of the records of this case were lost in the fire that destroyed the courthouse in Waynesville in 1903. The beginning of the story can be found in "The Train Wreckers Part I." and continues in “The Train Wreckers Part II”, followed by “The Train Wreckers Part III“ and “The Train Wreckers Part IV“. The last newspaper article can be found in “The Train Wreckers Part V”. The following is quoted from Goodspeeds 1899 History of Laclede, Camden, Dallas, Webster, Wright, Texas, Pulaski, Phelps, and Dent Counties, and was the first reference that I saw concerning the case. It should be noted that Goodspeeds thought the case was still noteworthy twenty-two years after the fact.

A case of great interest occurred in 1878; it was a case against some Richland men, Gibson, Long, Greenstreet, et al., who were accused of wrecking a passenger train near what is now Swedeborg, in which three men were killed; there were pistol-shots an other evidence to show that the wrecking might have been done for robbery, but there was not sufficient proof of complicity of these men to warrant anything less than acquittal. The public feeling at the time was very strong.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Train Wreckers Part V

Part V of the articles concerning the 1877 case of The Train Wreckers in Pulaski County, Missouri. Most of the records of this case were lost in the fire that destroyed the courthouse in Waynesville in 1903. Thankfully newspaper coverage of the events have survived, and I am posting them here so that others can read this colorful tale. The beginning of the story can be found in "The Train Wreckers Part I." and continues in “The Train Wreckers Part II”, followed by “The Train Wreckers Part III“ and “The Train Wreckers Part IV“. This is the last of the newspaper articles covered by the Phelps County New Era, based in Rolla, Missouri. A newspaper in Lebanon, in Laclede County, Missouri, covered the story in depth. The New Era editor noted that “The Lebanon Rustic should change it’s name to The Trainwreckers Gazette.” This story is mentioned in Goodspeeds 1899 History of Laclede, Camden, Dallas, Webster, Wright, Texas, Pulaski, Phelps, and Dent counties.

Who Were the Murderers?

The Pulaski County jury have declared that the men charged with wrecking a train on the St. Louis and San Francisco railroad and with murder in doing it are not guilty. If this is a true verdict, then some other parties did the deed. Who are they? We hear of no effort being made to answer this question-no attempt to discover who was guilty of the crime of which Gibson is declared innocent. The crime was peculiarly coldblooded and devilish, and yet the acquittal of Gibson ends all endeavors to detect and punish the authors of it. Why is this? There can be but one explanation offered: the people and authorities of the Southwest, including the court that tried and acquitted Gibson, have not a shadow of doubt that he was one of the authors of the crime-and that it is not necessary to look beyond him. It is estimated that the trial at Waynesville will cost the state $3000. If there is another state in the Union that can expend as much money not punishing murderers we would like to have it pointed out. [Republican

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Train Wreckers Part IV

Part IV of the articles concerning the 1877 case of The Train Wreckers in Pulaski County, Missouri. Most of the records of this case were lost in the fire that destroyed the courthouse in Waynesville in 1903. Thankfully newspaper coverage of the events have survived, and I am posting them here so that others can read this colorful tale. The beginning of the story can be found in "The Train Wreckers Part I." and continues in “The Train Wreckers Part II”, followed by “The Train Wreckers Part III“. This story is mentioned in Goodspeeds 1899 History of Laclede, Camden, Dallas, Webster, Wright, Texas, Pulaski, Phelps, and Dent counties.

A Court Room Scene from the 1880's
A Court Room Scene from the 1880's

The Trial of the Train Wreckers.
Phelps County New Era March 16, 1878 The trial of Gibson, one of the train wreckers, at Waynesville, Mo, drags it’s weary length along. The evidence in chief for the prosecution has been closed and evidence for the defence is being heard, the attorneys for the defense having omitted making a statement to the jury as to their line of defence. It is supposed that the trial will last a week longer before a verdict will be reached. So far on the direct examination the evidence has been very conclusive of Gibson’s guilt and it is the general opinion that he will be convicted.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Train Wreckers Part III

Part III of the articles concerning the 1877 case of The Train Wreckers in Pulaski County, Missouri. Most of the records of this case were lost in the fire that destroyed the courthouse in Waynesville in 1903. Thankfully newspaper coverage of the events have survived, and I am posting them here so that others can read this colorful tale. The beginning of the story can be found in "The Train Wreckers Part I." and continues in “The Train Wreckers Part II”. This story is mentioned in Goodspeeds 1899 History of Laclede, Camden, Dallas, Webster, Wright, Texas, Pulaski, Phelps, and Dent counties.

An ode to The Frisco, Rolla Missouri  Picture by Snoop
An Ode to The Frisco, Rolla Missouri Picture by Snoop

Phelps County New Era September 8, 1877 THE TRAIN WRECKERS,

CROCKER, Mo,; Sept 5- The little village of Waynesville, nestling in the close embrace of the Ozarks hills, has been thronged for two days in anticipation of the trial of the train wreckers, whose fiendish attempt to glut their greed by the sacrifice, if necessary, of the lives of a trainload of passengers is still fresh in the minds of the public. This morning the attorneys for the defence filed a motion to continue the case of Geo. Gibson, who may be regarded as the chief conspirator in the horrible plot against human life.

The motion was based on the alleged absence of nine material witnesses for the defense, and set forth that the latter would testify that Gibson was at Richland prior and subsequent to the train-wrecking; and could not have participated in that affair. Judge Hill granted the motion.

A similar request was made at once in the case of Allen M. Greenstreet and granted.

An Ode to The Frisco, Rolla Missouri  Picture by Snoop
An Ode to The Frisco, Rolla Missouri Picture by Snoop


In the case of James Long and James Woodward, two lesser lights in the gang, the prosecution asked a continuance, preferring that the case of Gibson and Greenstreet should first be tried. In consequence the cases will not come up in court until the first Monday in March.

The tactics of the defense as plainly revealed to-day are delay. In case the state had insisted on a trial objections would have been made, in accordance with the law passed last winter, to Judge Hill presiding in the case, and another attorney would have been chosen from the bar; whereupon the defense would have probably filed a motion for a change of venue to another county. The policy of the defense is to weary out the State and by a series of delays to avoid coming to trial on absence of material witnesses.

An Ode to The Frisco, Rolla Missouri  Picture by Snoop
An Ode to The Frisco, Rolla Missouri Picture by Snoop

It is a notable fact that all the witnesses whose presence is now deemed imperatively necessary were in Richland but four weeks ago and it is more than hinted that the absence was secured as a necessary manoeuvre in the game of cheating the gallows of their due.

Again, it is made apparent to the people of this Judicial district that it has the misfortune to have a judge who has permitted himself to stand in the way of the swift execution of justice.