Jackson County, Illinois

Premeditated and Diabolical Murder

Southern Illinois Herald, Carbondale, December 29, 1894


In last week's issue of the Herald brief mention was made of the finding of the dead body of a man on Friday morning near the track of the Short Line railroad a short distance west of the county line, and that from appearances a murder had been committed. The facts are now fully developed and disclose one of the most horrible crimes ever placed on record in this county. The victim's name was James Towle, a man aged forty-five years, formerly a resident of Harrisburg (Saline County), this State. The murderers are Douglas Henderson and Frank Jeffries, both residents of Carterville (Williamson County).

When the intelligence of the finding of the body reached this place Coroner Bastien, of Murphysboro, was notified by wire. He at once came here and summoned a jury. Sheriff Wells was here on business and actively interested himself in the case. Later in the afternoon State's Attorney Herbert came also. The officers and coroner's jury, with quite a number of citizens, repaired to the place where the body was found and began an investigation.

The body was in a thicket about fifty yards from the railroad track. On the ties east of the track blood and brains were found, and there was a distinct trail from the spot across the track and into a ravine and to the clump of bushes which concealed the body. Two wounds, one in the back of the neck, the other in the forehead, gave evidence that the man had been murdered in cold blood.

As noted in the Herald, the body discovered late Thursday afternoon by Marion Claunch, residing in the locality, but the boy, supposing it to be a sleeping tramp, passed on. The following morning another son of Mr. Claunch, while hunting, came upon the body. He gave the alarm, whereupon a messenger was dispatched to this place.

While the coroner was investigating Officers Ryder and Robertson were seeking a clue to the murderers. It was observed that two men had participated in the crime, as the tracks were plainly visible along the trail made by dragging the body through the soft earth at the side of the railroad and along the ground. These tracks continued from the thicket through a field to a strip of woods, and from the length of the strides, the men ran away from the scene of their bloody work.

The body was brought to Carbondale and deposited with Undertaker Romig. Saturday Mr. Lee Brandon, of Carterville, came to view the body and at once identified it as that of his uncle, James Towle. Then Mr. Lewis Brandon, a brother-in-law of the deceased, corroborated his son's conclusions by a positive identification of the dead man.

All day Saturday the officers devoted their time to working the clue furnished by Ryder and Robertson. Satisfied that two men had committed the murder in broad daylight, the officers pushed their investigations rapidly.

Towle left Carterville on foot and alone Thursday forenoon for a visit to a sister at Makanda. For over a week he had been working for his nephew, Mr. Lee Brandon, a farmer. When Mr. Brandon settled with Towle Wednesday evening he paid him three dollars. This was probably all the money Towle had in his possession. Some distance out from Carterville three men were seen together going west.

Saturday morning Sheriff Wells and Marshal Ryder repaired to the place where the Carbondale officers had left the trail of the two men the evening previous. They followed the trail to the Carterville road. While on route the sheriff was informed that two men had been seen the day before going across the field toward the road. A description of the men was secured. Further on several parties were found who had seen the men.

About one mile west of Carterville Mr. William Nicholls resides. This gentleman while returning home Monday night of last week had been held up by two men, but no money was found on his person. Sheriff Wells now visited Mr. Nicholls and obtained from him a description of the robbers who had waylaid him. The two descriptions -allied exactly. The sheriff also obtained a glove that had been dropped at the scene of the robbery.

In the meantime the officers and people at Carterville had been active. Jeffries and Henderson had been suspicioned as the murderers and were arrested separately and prevented from having any conversation with each other. Then parties who had seen the three men together the previous day identified Jeffries and Henderson as two of them. The sheriff brought the glove mentioned to Carterville, and one of the merchants identified it as one of a pair he had sold to Jeffries a short time before. At this juncture Mr. James H. Conner gave valuable assistance to Sheriff Wells. Mr. Conner had Jeffries brought to his store, where he began a most rigid "seating" process. Conner cross-questioned the man most unrelentingly, and got him very badly mixed up. He then presented the glove and boldly charged him with being one of the robbers of Nicholls as well as one of the murderers of Towle. "What's the use of lying!" asked Mr. Conner. "We have arrested Doug Henderson and he has given the whole thing away. Henderson says that you helped to rob Nicholls and that you shot Towle. You might as well own up, for we've got all the evidence we want." Upon this Jeffries wilted, and told the story of the robbery and murder, implicating Henderson as the principal in both cases. Then Mr. Conner put Henderson through a similar process and succeeded in getting from him exactly the same story as told by jeffries, except that Henderson claimed that Jeffries had done the shooting.

Sheriff Wells, deeming that he had sufficient evidence to convict both men of the murder, took them to Murphysboro late Saturday night and incarcerated them in the county jail. The prisoners were given a preliminary examination Monday and held without bail.

The gist of Jeffries' confession was to this effect. He and Henderson had met Towle when he was making some purchases at Carterville and knew that he had a little money. They watched the direction taken by him when leaving town and followed him, coming up to him on the railroad track. While Towle was several feet in advance Henderson remarked: "That fellow has stuff and it would pay to get it from him." Jeffries objected and thought the matter had been dropped. A short time later he was in front, Henderson behind and Towle walking second, when he heard a pistol shot, and turning saw Towle turn around and say to Henderson, "what do you want?" when the last named fired a second shot striking Towle in the forehead and killing him instantly. Henderson then turned the pistol on him and commanded him to search the dead body, after which he compelled him to help drag the body away and secrete it.

Henderson told all the circumstances just as above, but claiming that Jeffries, and not himself, had done the killing. Sheriff Wells did not trust to memory for anything, but has a record of everything connected with the affair down to the smallest detail, and had there been no confession he had succeeded in securing a chain of circumstantial evidence that would have a great deal of weight. Too much credit cannot be given the sheriff for the promptness and clever manner in which he handled the case.

Jeffries is about 28 years of age, Henderson is 22. Both have wives but no children. They were day laborers, and have resided sometime at Carterville.

Towle was 45 years old. He had a family of grown-up sons and daughters, some of whom reside at Harrisburg. These were notified of the murder, but they made no response. The body was buried in the cemetery at this place Saturday night at public expense.


Getting Ready for the Execution

Southern Illinois Herald, May 25, 1895

The Murphysboro Independent of Wednesday states that Sheriff Wells has secured the scaffold from which George Centrel fell into the unknown beyond at Belleville a few months ago to do similar service for Henderson and Jeffries. The same scaffold was used at Nashville two years ago in the execution of two negro murderers. The erection of a stockade has also been provided for

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