BUTLER COUNTY, KANSAS
Murders, Mysteries & Just Plain Spooky
List of Surnames in the articles bellow are: Auer, Blakeman, Browne, Corley, D’Wolf, Delaney, Edwards, Ellis, Frederick, French, Harlan, Hudson, Lee, Lewis, McCraner, Milbourn, Moore, Morrow, Nelson, O’Donnell, Palmer, Park, Purcell, Russell, Schaefer, Stebbins, Taylor, Turner, Williams, & Wyman
FIND BABY'S BODY IN HASTILY MADE GRAVE
Quite an excitement prevailed in Southwest El Dorado Tuesday afternoon about 5 o'clock when the body of an infant, supposedly a day or two old, encased in a small wooden box, was unearthed in the weeds on the 5 acre tract belonging to A. J. Palmer and lying west of the residence of Louis Stebbins. Officers were notified and Sheriff Purcell, Chick McCraner and other officers and Coroner W. E. Turner were soon on the spot. The body was brought to town and is now at the Turner undertaking rooms.
For some time Rush McFarland, whose home is nearby, has had traps set for rabbits in the weeds on the Palmer tract. Last Saturday he was looking at his traps and found the mound of fresh earth where the body was buried. He noticed dogs had been digging there and also saw a bunch of hair protruding, but thought some one had buried a dog. He told his mother about the find when he reached home and they talked about it over and the subject was dropped. Tuesday the matter was discussed again and some of the family went to the spot and found that dogs had dug the box out and that it contained the body of a babe. There is no clue as to the identity of the child, but indications are it was but a day or two old. The body was fully dressed and was that of a male child. It bore no marks and officials state there is no indication of foul play. The supposition is that it came from some of the poorer people housed in the many tents and shacks on the outskirts of the city, and that the child died in a natural death. (This was taken from the front page of the Walnut Valley Times - Daily paper dated March 1, 1918 ~ Transcribed by Peggy Luce)
EL DORADO WOMAN CHARGED IN DEATH OF HER HUSBAND
EL DORADO, Kan. - A rural El Dorado woman has been charged with second-degree murder after her husband was fatally shot in the bathroom of their home early Wednesday.
Melba Wyman, 31, was taken into custody at her home about seven miles west of here after the Butler County Sheriff's office received a phone call at 7:07 a.m. Wednesday from an unidentified woman who said she had shot her husband.
Raymond C. Wyman, 26, had been shot several times with a .22-caliber pistol, according to Sheriff Sidney Blakeman, Jr. A pistol, believed to be the murder weapon, was found at the house.
Authorities said Mrs. Wyman seemed to be in shock and was examined at a local hospital before being taken to the county courthouse. A preliminary hearing was set for March 29 and she was released on a $5,000 bond.
The shooting reportedly occurred during a domestic dispute. Several children were home at the time of the shooting. (The Wichita Eagle ~ Thursday, 21 March 1974 ~ Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
THIS PROWLER WEARS A MASK
Something new has been added to the prowler business.
Although prowlers have to date kept their identity a well kept secret from both officers and residents, the man seen peering through a bedroom window of the William A. Lee home, Route 2 Augusta, Tuesday morning took an extra precaution. He wore a mask.
Lee told Deputy Sheriff Harold Taylor he was awakened by a noise in the early morning hours Tuesday and saw a masked man looking in through the window.
To add to the mystery, the bedroom window is some ten feet above the ground. A tree, however, is located near the house, Taylor said. (El Dorado Times ~ 26 July 1962 ~ Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
"FRITZ" EDWARDS ON TRIAL FOR LIFE AT WICHITA TODAY
Fred E. ("Fritz") Edwards, former El Doradoan, went on trial for his life at Wichita today. He is charged with the murder of Mrs. Eva L. Moore, also formerly a resident of El Dorado, last July 23.
The state was ready to place more than 30 witnesses on the stand to support its contention that Edwards should be found guilty and should be assessed the death penalty.
Police broke into a North Main Street rooming house at Wichita last July 23 to find Mrs. Moore dying of a bullet wound in the abdomen and Edwards lying on the floor, shot through the left shoulder. The latter wound presumably was self-inflicted.
It was believed possible that the defense would concentrate all its efforts toward evasion of the death penalty.
However, no hint that Edwards would take a life sentence by the plea route if he knew he would escape death has been forthcoming either from the defendant or his attorney, Charles B. Hudson.
Possible defenses, it was said, included a plea of insanity, fear or betrayal, but this was pure supposition. The state was prepared for any surprise but hardly expected the defense to hold that Edwards did not fire a shot at Mrs. Moore. (El Dorado Times ~ Tuesday ~ 28 Feb 1939 ~ Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
DEATH OF SARAH SCHAEFER A HOAX?
Bedford, Ind., Jan. 20 – Marshal M. C. Russell has received the following letter:
“I killed Sarah Schaefer. I intend to kill myself. I will drown myself at 2:15 o’clock Thursday afternoon in the river between Louisville and New Albany. In my pocket will be found letters from her that will explain all.” (Signed) “W.H.”
Marshall Russell was at first disinclined to treat the letter seriously, but on investigation and consultation concluded that the writer may be the slayer of Sarah Schafer. He telephoned to Chief Ridge of Louisville, requesting the
Louisville police to investigate this feature of the case.
Other letters have been received of a similar nature and pronounced hoaxes, by the police. At present the police say that they have no tangible clue. (The Walnut Valley Times ~ February 5, 1904 ~ Transcribed by Peggy Luce)
MURDER, SUICIDE JURY DETERMINES
A young El Dorado mother and her eight-year-old son were found shot to death at their home early today. The woman apparently shot the boy as he lay sleeping, then took her own life. Dead as a result of the double shooting are Mrs. Ruby May Edwards, 36, and Joseph Edwards, 8, of 706 Walnut. Both had been shot in the head at close range.
What appears to be a suicide note had been written on a Christmas wrapping, apparently from a gift the boy had given his mother.
“Merry Christmas to Mother from Joe,” read the Yule greeting.
The note, indicating Mrs. Edwards has been despondent, lay on a bed with a Cub Scout uniform and a dress which the note designated as burial clothing. A framed group of pictures of the boy also was found on the bed.
The boy’s body was found on a bed in a blood-spattered front bedroom of the small frame house in El Dorado’s Riverside district. The mother’s body lay on the floor in a pool of blood beside the bed.
A 12-gauge shotgun was found on the linoleum floor near Mrs. Edward’s body.
The post-Christmas tragedy is believed to have occurred before 3:30 and 4 a.m. today, according to Dr. Ray F. Lowry, district coroner.
The shootings were discovered at about 4:10 a.m. when Department of Public Safety police went to the scene with Mrs. Edwards’ brother, Robert C. Nelson, 222 North Star, at Nelson’s request.
Nelson had gone to his sister’s home shortly after 3:30 a.m. when he could not get her to answer her telephone, according to Department of Public Safety police and Butler County sheriff’s officers.
The door was locked.
Nelson, unable to arouse anyone at the house, proceeded to the police station. A police dispatcher telephoned the Edwards home, but there was no answer.
Police then went with Nelson to the house.
They arrived at 4:09 a.m. because the door was locked, police entered a window. Investigation soon revealed the grim scene.
Investigating officers were told that Mrs. Edwards earlier had called an aunt, Miss Bessie E. Frederick, to report a prowler. Miss Frederick lives at the same address as Nelson and his brother, Ralph R. Nelson.
Three telephone calls were made early today by Mrs. Edwards to the home of Miss Frederick and the Nelsons.
In the first call at 1:30 a.m., Mrs. Edwards reportedly told her aunt that she could not sleep. After a short conversation with her aunt, Mrs. Edwards apparently was calm.
Miss Frederick received the second pone call at 2:30. The phone rang twice, but when she answered there was no one on the other end of the line.
Mrs. Edwards called again at 3:30 and asked Miss Frederick if “one of the boys” (her brothers) was awake. She requested one of them to “come right away,” police said they were told.
That was when Nelson became worried and started investigating.
After the shootings were discovered, sheriff’s officers and County Attorney Roy S. Fischbeck investigated at the scene with police and the coroner.
Jake Ellis, Mrs. Edwards’ step-father who lives next door north, told officers he had been aroused by what he thought were rocks hitting the side of his house. Officers believe the noise may have been the concussion from the shotgun blasts.
Ellis went outside to check, but reportedly found nothing amiss.
Police question another neighbor this morning.
Nelson told officers he had given the gun and two shells to his sister approximately a year ago for self-protection. Mrs. Edwards had been having trouble with prowlers, officers were told.
Mrs. Edwards who was divorced May 5, 1964, and the son, Joseph, had lived in the house alone. Five other children live elsewhere.
A dress of Mrs. Edwards’ and her son’s scout uniform were found on a bed with the note and boy’s pictures in another room of the house.
Funeral arrangements will be announced through the Dietz-Pittman Funeral home.
A coroner’s jury Monday afternoon determined that Mrs. Ruby May Edwards, 36, shot and killed her son, Joseph Steward Edwards, 8, then died by self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
The jury, composed of six persons, was appointed by the coroner and an inquisition was held at the county court house. Purpose of a coroner’s jury is to determine when death occurred, how it occurred and by what means.
In essence, the jury’s findings mean first-degree murder and suicide, according to County Attorney Roy S. Fischbeck.
The jury was summoned after Mrs. Edwards and her son were found shot to death in their home at 706 Walnut Street early Monday morning. Proceedings began at approximately 5:30 p.m. and ended around 7 p.m.
Sheriff Hobart Auer, Jr., said evidence was presented by police. Evidence included photographs. A suicide note had been photographed as an exhibit for the jury.
The coroner, police and sheriff’s officers concurred on the verdict.
Jurors determined that the Edwards boy, a third grade pupil at Grandview School, died at a time prior to 4:09 a.m. and approximately five minutes before the death of his mother.
Death of the boy, according to the jury, “occurred as a direct result of him being struck in the head by a blast and leaded bullets discharged from a 12-gauge shotgun fired and inflicted by Ruby May Edwards, deceased, in a felonious manner.”
Mrs. Edwards’ death, the jury said, resulted from a self-inflicted 12-gauge shotgun blast in her head.
A 12-gauge shotgun was found on the floor of the front bedroom where the two boides were found.
Serving on the jury were Doris Williams, Martha Morrow, James Corley, Omer O’Donnell, Gene Lewis and Carol Harlan.
Services for Mrs. Edwards and her son will be conducted at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Dietz-Pittman Colonial Chapel with the Rev. James F. D’Wolf, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, officiating. Burial will be in Sunset Lawns Cemetery.
Mrs. Edwards was born in El Dorado march 4, 1929 and had lived here all her life. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Nelson. The survivors include three brothers, Ralph R. Nelson and Robert C. Nelson of 222 North star Street, and Roy J. Nelson, 931 West Pine Avenue; her mother, Mrs. Vera Ellis, 714 walnut Street, and an aunt Miss Bessie Frederick, 222 North star.
Joe Edwards was born March 14, 1957, and was a member of the Cub Scout Pack at Grandview School.
The caskets will not be open at the services. (El Dorado Times December 28, 1965)
No. 3579. FRANK FRENCH
(Alias Frank Delaney.)
White man. Sentenced Dec. 1, 1909, from Butler county, to a term of 1 to 7 years for grand larceny. Paroled Nov. 19, 1913. Violated parole Dec. 1, 1913.
Description: Age, 35; height, 5 ft. 11 3/4 in.; weight, 163; hair, brown (nearly bald); complexion, medium dark; eyes, light gray; nativity, Kansas; build, tall. Occupation, fireman and cabinetmaker.
Bertillon: 82.5, 87.0, 99.0, 19.4, 15.4, 14.7, 6.7, 27.8, 12.3, 9.5, 47.7.
Finger-print classification: 14 U 00 5 U OI 10
Marks and scars: I. Small cut scar at second joint thumb. Small tattoo dot at base of thumb, outer. Tattoo in blue of spade, heart, five-pointed star and shield on forearm, front and outer. Vaccine scar on upper arm. II. Tattoo in blue and red of anchor, cross, heart, $mall bud, woman's head and leg, also eagle, forearm, front and outer. III. Mole center left cheek. Large irregular shaped scar 1 in. above center left brow. Baldheaded.
One term here as Frank Delaney, No. 27.
No. 4080. CHAS. PARK
White man. Sentenced Aug. 22, 1911, from Butler county, for grand larceny. Term, 1 to 7 years. Nativity, Kentucky. Violated parole Aug., 1912. Height, 5 ft. 9 in.; weight, 144; hair, brown; complexion, medium dark; build, slender; eyes, dark gray; age, 36. Occupation, fireman.
Bertillon: 75.6, 80.0, 91.5, 19.6, 15.1, 13.0, 6.0, 26.2, 11.5, 9.0, 46.7.
Finger-print classification: 1 U 1 T 3
Marks and scars: 1. Oblique scar 3 in. long extending from base of little finger to wrist line. II. Large vaccine scar upper arm. III. Eyebrows united. Oblique scar 5 in. long extending from I in. front of top of left ear across left ear and through hair line 1 1/2 in. from center neck, rear. Several small scars on top of head.
Relative: Mrs. Harriet Park, Columbus, Ohio, mother.
CORONERS JURY SEEKS TRUTH ABOUT WOUND WHICH TOOK THE LIFE OF CLARKE BROWNE
THE CORONER’S JURY IN ITS SESSION YESTERDAY AFTERNOON ONLY SCRATCHED THE SURFACE OF THE MYSTERY WHICH SURROUNDS THE DEATH OF CLARK BROWNE BY A KNIFE CUT TUESDAY EVENING IN THE BROWNE MEAT MARKET.
JUST HOW DID CLARK BROWNE MEET DEATH?
This is the question that El Doradoans are asking and especially the coroner’s jury, composed of H. M. Balch, Roland Wiley, J. H. Carlisle, Wm. Bradley, J. E. McCully, and J. C. Hoyt. Was it “purely an accident” as Clark told Dr. Boudreau a short time before he died? Or was it the deliberate act of another person?
When the jury adjourned Wednesday afternoon at five o’clock no decision had been reached by the jury as to how he met his death.
“The jury will be called together possibly Thursday afternoon, at least as soon as the funeral is over,” declared County Coroner Turner Thursday noon.
The testimony yesterday afternoon was damaging in the extreme. It was a sad story of the unpleasant relations which have existed between two brothers, Joe Brown and his dear brother, Clark. It caused the jurors to shake their heads when they were forced to listen to the evidence.
Dr. C. E. Boudreau was the first witness to take the stand. He testified that he found a clean knife wound in the lower part of the left side which went through the seventh rib and about three inches into abdominal cavity. “He was conscious until within twenty minutes of the time he died,” said Mr. Boudreau. “He made no statement except that it was ‘purely an accident,’ saying that ‘I ran into a knife, in the hands of one of the boys. He was going one way and I the opposite,’ said Clark.”
Dr. Eyman declared that the sharp part of the blade was up, and that I went in almost on a level.
The next witness was Miss Virginia Robbins, the nurse at the hospital who attended Clark. She testified that she heard Clark make no statement, except to ask for water.
Fred Peterson was the next witness. His testimony cast a good deal of suspicion and blame on Joe Brown.
“Mr. Peterson, what were the relations between Clark and Joe”? asked County Attorney Steiger.
“Very, very pleasant,” replaced Mr. Peterson after a slight pause. “Clark was never aggressive he got along with everybody except his brother. Time after time when he has given Joe an order to make up Joe would refuse and walk out of the shop.
“Last week was the last time I heard Joe threaten Clark. At that time he said, ‘I’ll get him.’ And I have heard him make that threat many times. Only last week he threw a heavy cleaver at Clark. After these quarrels Mr. Brown would usually send Joe home. And in all of these Clark never touched his brother. He told me that he didn’t want to touch him that he didn’t know his strength and that he might hit too hard. So he always let him alone, and was never aggressive.”
This testimony of Mr. Peterson’s was perhaps the most incriminating of all. It brought forth the quarrels of the two brothers one always amiable, the other quarrelsome and the possessor of an uncontrollable temper.
Samuel Wright, a meat cutter in the Browne market, was the next witness. He was in the shop at the time of the death, but would talk only guardedly.
“Mr. Browne, Mrs. Phoebe Green, and a meat cutter named Hennessey, and Joe and myself were there at the time. Joe was the only one near Clark. I didn’t pay any attention to them, and I heard no conversation. Clark was standing at the east block, facing south, and Joe was on the opposite side of the block, facing north—facing Clark. That was all I noticed until I looked up again and saw Clark put his hand to his left side and heard him utter a gasp, walking out of the meat market. Joe followed him a minute later, but soon returned. He made no statement, except that he was hurt and was going to the doctor’s.”
Mr. Hennessey testified to the same story nor did he see the actual happening, thought like Mr. Wright, he was in the shop at the time.
Mrs. Green who was in the market at the time, and she did not see how the knife cut was made.
“They were standing opposite each other when I saw them,” said Mrs. Green. “There was nothing unusual in it, so I paid no attention until I heard a moan from Clark and saw him with both hands over his left side. His father then said, ‘Joe, go home; we don’t want you here’.”
This is the evidence of the case so far. Many different rumors and stores are afloat. Joe was to have told what he knew, but the coroner decided to adjourn Wednesday evening and wait until later to have him tell his story.
What the jury will decide to do is yet a matter of doubt. The whole story is an ugly one, and the jurors shrink from the task of preferring charges. (El Dorado Republican; Thursday ~ 20 Jul 1916; Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
BROWNE BURIAL WAS HELD TODAY
Funeral services over the Clarke Browne body were held from the A. C. Spain home, 314 North Taylor street, at 3 o’clock this morning, conducted by Rev. Alfred W. Penneli, rector of Trinity Episcopal church. Interment was had in Belle Vista cemetery.
Many of the friends of the deceased were in attendance, and the floral offerings were lovely.
The pallbearers were composed of schoolmates and basketballmates of Clarke Browne. They were: Hobart Kilgore, Ralph Wiley, Luther Tolle, Lawrence Green, Herbert Smith, Edgar Golden, Harry Cousland and Robert Dillenback (El Dorado Republican; Friday ~ 21 Jul 1916; Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
CORONERS JURY WILL HEAR JOE BROWNE’S STORY
County Coroner W. E. Turner stated Friday afternoon that he would call the coroner’s jury together this afternoon to finish testimony in regard to the death of Clarke Browne by a knife wound Tuesday evening, and would ask for their verdict.
It is probable that only one witness, Joe Browne, 19, who held the knife which caused the fatal wound, will be heard. Just what he will testify to is a matter of conjecture. County Attorney C. W. Steiger stated this afternoon that Browne had made a statement to him, but declined to tell what his testimony was. He stated that any statements as to what Browne would testify to were heresay. He said that Browne said that it was an accident and unavoidable, and that there had been no quarrel that afternoon that evening between the two brothers. It is said that Clarke stumbled and fell against the knife which was held in a defensive position by young Browne.
Mr. Steiger stated this afternoon that he did not care to discuss the matter, and that as he had not conferred with Mr. Turner he did not know when the inquest would be finished. Mr. Turner is of the opinion that the four men who were in the shop at the time of the accident could have heard any argument between the two brothers had there been any.
He stated that Mr. Browne the father might be called upon to testify, but that it was hardly probable.
The whole affair remains as much a mystery as ever. (El Dorado Republican; Friday ~ 21 Jul 1916; Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
JOE BROWNE MUST FACE CHARGE OF MURDER FOR DEATH OF HIS BROTHER
CORONER’S JURY’S VERDICT
“THE JURORS UPON THEIR OATH DO SAY, THAT CLARKE BROWNE CAME TO HIS DEATH BY MEANS OF A KNIFE WOUND IN THE LEFT SIDE OF HIS BODY IN THE REGION OF THE 7TH RIB INFLICTED BY ONE, JOE BROWNE, FELONIOUSLY.”
Joe Browne, son of Mr. and Mrs. George W. Browne, must face a charge of murder for the death of his brother, Clarke W. Browne, who was fatally wounded by a knife cut in the Browne meat market on West Central avenue Monday evening, July 17, about 8:30 o’clock.
That was the verdict of the coroner’s jury composed of J. C. Hoyt, W. P. Bradley, H. M. Balch, J. E. McCully, Roland Wiley and J. H. Carlile, after hearing the testimony of the five persons, who were in the shop at the time of the tragedy.
George Hughes, under sheriff, arrested young Browne this morning. He was arraigned before Justice W. H. Avery, and his preliminary hearing was set for Wednesday, July 26, at 10 a.m. His bond was fixed at $2,500 and was signed by his father.
Following his arrest this morning Joe seemed unconcerned over the turn of affairs. He refused to talk other than to say that the affair was an accident. He took matters coolly and did not seem to be perturbed by the serious charge under which he has been placed.
His folks were arranging for the hiring of counsel this afternoon to defend him.
County Attorney C. W. Steiger stated this morning that he did not know what the charge would be, but that it would probably be murder in the first degree.
The coroner’s inquest was completed late Friday evening with the testimony of Joe Browne, and that of his father, George W. Browne. Joe’s testimony differed but slightly from his story told several days ago. He sticks to the original statement that the affair was an accident. He testified that he had frequently quarreled with his brother, but that there had been no quarrel on the night of the tragedy.
He, Joe, was cutting meat when Clarke threw a piece of cheese cloth upon the block. Joe threw the cloth from the block on the floor and Clarke picked it up again and threw it upon the block. A few words were exchanged between the two. Clarke started in Joe’s direction. Joe thought he was going to “slap him” and he stood holding the knife in a defensive position, when Clarke stumbled and fell against him. Not expecting the quick stumble and fall, Joe did not have time to withdraw the knife, and it plunged into his brother’s left side.
Mr. Browne, the father, testified that he did not see the wound inflicted, did not hear any quarrel before. He stated that the boys had frequently quarreled, but that they had had no words that day, that he knew of.
With the jury’s verdict, one of the most startling murder cases in the history of the state has been started. The knife wound, the death of Clarke Browne, and the arrest, is a sordid story, and the jury shrank from preferring the charges. (El Dorado Republican; Friday ~ 21 Jul 1916; Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
OBERST FAMILY TRAGEDY IN 1928 SHOCKED ALL BUTLER AND KANSAS
A seven-fold tragedy that shocked all Butler county and Kansas early in 1928 resulted in a lengthy series of murder trials which came to be the most sensational in Butler annals. The proceedings continued in that nature nearly three years.
It was the case of State vs. Owen Oberst, 17-year-old lone survivor of a family burned to death the evening of April 20, 1928, when the Oberst farm home 20 miles northwest of El Dorado was destroyed by fire.
Those who died in the fire that leveled their seven-room frame home were the youth’s father and mother, William F. Oberst, 45, and Elsie, 41; his brothers and sisters, Dorothy, 16; Ralph, 14; Hugh, 10; Edith, 8; and Herbert, 6.
The Times’ account of the tragedy related on April 21 that the youth, a student at Burns high school, was in Florence with some companions for the evening, and did not return home until midnight—after the house and its contents were destroyed. It also told of an investigation that was in progress because mystery shrouded the incident: how was the family trapped in the home, and what started the fire that gained such rapid headway.”
A number of persons who arrived on the scene after learning of the fire believed the family was not at home, because the family car was gone. Investigation later, however, cast up the grim reality. For a time, identification of the bodies was difficult.
Soon, a long and complicated chain of events started.
In a Times “extra” of May 5, 1928, headlines announced that Owen Oberst confessed that he shot and killed his family, then set fire to the home in an attempt to cover up the crime.
“Owen had always been considered a mild-mannered youth. He had never been in any trouble before and he worked faithfully on his father’s farm when he was not in school,” a story related.
According to a report of the confession of young Oberst, “he just got mad at his father because he would not allow him to use the family motor car.”
Oberst was said to have used the family rifle in the slaying. But, before the confession, he had told officers that he rifle could not be fired because the shells were not of the proper size.
According to the confession, Herbert, youngest of the family, was shot first; then Hugh, Ralph, Edith, the mother, another sister, Dorothy, and the father.
The confession further stated that he went to the cellar of the home where he obtained some coal oil and poured it on the kitchen floor. He said he took some papers, ignited them and set fire to the house.
Afterward, he said, he left the place in the family car, went after two companions who lived nearby, and the three went to Florence where they attended a movie. His companions said Oberst acted “perfectly normal” that evening.
Oberst reportedly told officers he planned the killings only a few hours before they were committed. He said he had worked on his father’s farm until about the middle of the afternoon when he went to the home of a neighbor to see how a tractor was being used in planting corn.
The youth said he planned the murders while on his way home.
During his confession, he also told officers that he killed his father when he returned home from a trip to another town. It was believed the elder Oberst had almost reached the house when he was killed. The youth said he pulled the body of his father into the house and dropped it on the kitchen floor.
The clothes of the father were then searched, according to the confession, and the youth took a billfold containing some cash. The billfold was place in a fold in the top of the car, from which place it fell out the following day, Oberst said. When the billfold was found in possession of the youth shortly after the fire, officers questioned him regarding it. But, Oberst was reported to have said his father often placed articles in the fold of the car for safe keeping.
Finding the billfold was reported as one of the strongest links in the chain of circumstantial evidence leading to questioning of the boy.
Oberst was arraigned May 5, 1928.
Then, on May 9, headlines broke with: “Oberst Pleads Not Guilty…youth backs up his story when taken into court.” That was the plea that Owen Oberst made that day before Judge George J. Benson of division no. 2 of Butler county district court. “The plea greatly surprised the commission of inquiry and a large number of persons filling the courtroom,” related the story.
Oberst was then ordered back to jail. The youth said his confession had not been made voluntarily.
“They made me do it,” he answered.
He was placed in solitary confinement.
But, the see-saw state of affairs had not ended.
In district court on May 16, Owen Oberst pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to “serve the remainder of his natural life in the state penitentiary at Lansing.”
He was taken to the penitentiary May 20. The next day, while being dressed in, Oberst told the record clerk he was not guilty. On May 22, Oberst told the deputy warden that he was guilty.
From that time until early in 1929, the defense counsel was engaged in efforts to have Oberst returned for trial in district court. The Kansas Supreme Court finally voted that Oberst was entitled to trial because he pleaded guilty without having counsel. The case was remanded January 12, 1929.
Oberst was returned to Butler county February 28. The case started anew May 21 on which dated Oberst waived formal arraignment and was bound over.
He went on trial for murder December 2, 1929. An all-male jury was selected. The state moved to introduce Oberst’s first confession as evidence. At one time during the trial, a demonstration by unruly persons in the crowded courtroom caused the court to be cleared of all but about 100 persons having business there.
On December 13, a hung jury resulted after 27 hours and 42 minutes of deliberation. The jurors voted 10 to 2 for acquittal.
The second trial started March 17, 1930. An uncle of Oberst’s testified that no force had been used in compelling the youth to talk, and that his confession had been voluntary. The prosecution rested the case after consuming almost five days with introduction of evidence.
Another Times “extra” of Saturday, March 29, 1930, told what was becoming a familiar story: “Oberst Jury Hangs….votes 8 to 4 for freeing after deliberating 27 hours.”
The story was repeated December 3, 1930. Unable to agree after deliberating 30 hours, the jury which heard the third trial of the Oberst case was discharged. The final ballot showed jurors voted 7 to 5 for acquittal.
On October 1, 1931, the sensational case against Oberst, who was then 19, was dismissed. A report said it was “impossible to obtain a fair and impartial jury to listen to evidence at a fourth trial in this county,” and the case was asked to be cleared from the docket.
So ended the most gruesome chapter of its kind in Butler county history. (The El Dorado Times ~ Friday, 26 May 1961 ~ Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
EBENEZER METHODIST CEMETERY
A Ghost Story
Josh Shriver was in from Towanda today and talked of an experience they had the other night. At half past nine as his two daughters and Miss Gamble, who boards there, were retiring three distinct knocks were heard on the head board. Two of the young women flew to call Mr. Shriver, who got up and searched for the source of the raps but to no avail. The youngest daughter seemed to be the one the raps followed as when she sat or stood the raps came from near her. By this time she had become badly frightened as the other girls had been at the first rap. These noises kept up till three o'clock; the family gave up all thought of sleep and at that hour the two young men played the violin and the spirits were put to rest and have not since been heard from. (El Dorado Daily Republican, April 1, 1901)
Augustan Dies of Wound Caused by Bullet in Brain
A bullet wound in the head proved fatal early last night for Willis W. Rodden, 37, Augusta, who died in Wesley hospital, Wichita. According to Sheriff Roy S. Enright, the wound was self-inflicted Wednesday at Rodden’s home.
The Augustan was shot with a .22 caliber rifle and the bullet lodged in his brain. The shooting occurred in Rodden’s bedroom about 4 o’clock Wednesday afternoon following an incident in which he reportedly threatened his wife and law enforcement officers who went to the home.
The Augustan was born in Fowler, Colo., on Nov. 10, 1912, and for the past 10 years was employed by the White Eagle refinery at Augusta. He was a veteran of World War II and was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post at Augusta.
Rodden was married at Silone, Ark., to Emma Spoon on June 4, 1949, and she survives. The Augusta man was affiliated with the Methodist church at Augusta.
Survivors include the widow; two step-sons, Bill Knowles, El Dorado, and Jimmie of the home; three brothers, Earl, of Canyon City, Colo., Edward, of Longton, and John C. Rodden, Augusta; and two sisters, Mrs. Nora Wilson, Clearwater, and Mrs. G.L. Kennedy, Augusta.
Funeral services have not been set and will be announced later from the Dunsford Funeral Home at Augusta. Interment will be made in the Augusta cemetery. (El Dorado Times ~ Friday ~ 24 Feb 1950)
BUTLER COUNTIANS ARE KILLED IN FEUD FIGHT WITH MONTANA BANDITS
The Klegg brothers, of Andover, 20 southwest of El Dorado, are thought to have been murdered on their Montana claims near the town of Shawmut.
The Klegg boys who went from this vicinity to take land in the northwest, worked at Frederick, Mont., until they had accumulated about $400, with which they expected to improve their homesteads as the law requires.
Just now Montana sheep and cattlemen are incensed at the homesteaders, who are coming in and settling on the free range. It is said that the stockmen have tried to drive the settlers out and even have resorted to killing to do it.
The Klegg brothers were last heard from at Rye Gate, while on their way to Shawmut. The news dispatches from Montana do not give the first names of the missing men. A Klegg family resides in the neighborhood of Derby or Rose Hill, but nobody here recalled the Kleggs from Andover, who had gone to Montana.
A small colony of Kansas settlers went to Montana a year ago and took claims. Among them was the Moone family of Wichita. E. V. Moone, Sedgwick county engineer is a member, was a Wichita newspaperman. His brother, Merle who at one time had a Montana claim not far from the scene of the supposed tragedy.
The Klegg family of the Derby neighborhood, is noted for its tall men, one of whom was with a circus for a time. (Walnut Valley Times, January 26, 1917)
DUAL SLAYER THREATENED TO KILL WIFE AND CHILD BEFORE HE LEFT EL DORADO
Was Walter Harold, 27, who murdered his wife, 18 and 3-months-old daughter in Toronto Sunday afternoon, insane?
Acquaintances who knew him in El Dorado during the three months he worked here as a stove and appliance adjuster for the Western Distributing co., believe Harold’s mind gave way under the strain of domestic infelicities, fancied or real.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, when Harold returned from Toronto, he told Mrs. W. H. H. Lankford, at whose home in the 500 block on South Gordy he roomed, that he intended to kill his wife and child. He showed her the gun, a 32 caliber Colt’s and said he was going to use it. She pleaded with him not to do it.
Last Saturday Harold was more morose than usual. He sat around a back office of the Western Distributing Co., and read a dictionary for hours at a time. In conversation with acquaintances at various times he said his mother-in-law was causing trouble between him and his wife; also that a preacher’s son in Toronto was paying more attention to her than he thought proper; that his mail had been tampered with and that he feared efforts to persuade his wife to leave him would be successful.
Promised to Return
Harold left El Dorado last Saturday saying he would return Monday morning. He was to leave the company’s employ on January 27. For several weeks he had been working nights at the U. S. Vulcanizing shop on North Main and planned to open a similar establishment in Yates Center when he left here.
Funeral services for Mrs. Harold and the babe were held in Toronto Tuesday and the bodies were taken to LaHarpe for burial.
Harold wrote a letter addressed to the public in which the burden of his domestic troubles was laid upon his mother-in-law. It is a part of the coroner’s record. Harold was alive and conscious Tuesday, in custody of a deputy sheriff at the Brightwood hotel. After the double killing he shot himself in the right temple. The hall shattered the frontal bone, ranged across his forehead and appears to have lodged just under the skull on the left side.
Just Jealous, She Says
“Walter was a good boy. He was impulsive and youthful. He was uncompromisingly and unconvincingly jealous. He thought some one else was in love with his wife and felt, regardless of reason or protestation from others that she, too, was in love with another man than himself.”
That was the statement of Mrs. Lankford, 506 Gordy Street at whose home Harold roomed while in El Dorado. Mrs. Lankford, a composite of the grandmother, the mother and the wife, regarded the tragedy with all the seriousness that such a tragedy properly compels. She, in her good splendid way, felt a sympathy for the boy because, she thought, he did not understand, and especially she felt sorry for the young girl mother who was shot down as a result of a misapplied jealousy.
“I read letters she wrote Walter,” she continued. “They were defensive of herself and of her mother, a divorcee, whom Walter believed to be responsible for their estrangement. They were well filled with love and sympathy and hopeful of a better understanding. She came here from Cambridge where she had been visiting an uncle. She stayed in his room all the time. She appeared to love him. She must have loved. She could not have acted as she did unless she felt what she was doing. He at that time appeared entirely happy. It seems only when she was away that he became morbid and suspicious and foolish.
Threatened to Kill
“He showed me a big Colt’s revolver. It was loaded and it looked dangerous. He declared that he was going to leave that evening for Toronto and ‘settle everything.’ I did what any one would do – I begged him to be reasonable. He said he was reasonable. He invariably closed his threats with remarks that indicated a misfounded – I mean an unreasonable jealousy. He seemed to have no real reason for specific instance upon which to haste his jealousy. He was a good boy as boys go – he was finicky and foolish, but he was genteel and companionable.”
According to Mrs. Lankford, the young wife upon her visit to El Dorado displayed an unusual warmth of affection. She was a blonde type, not emotional but plainly lovable. She sought him – refused to stay away from him. He was similar, seemingly. His large brown eyes lighted with a softer glow when she came around. Also, he placed an additional warmth in his tones when speaking of her.
The baby boy – only three months old – was not discussed by him at any time.
Mrs. Ada Thorn, Harold’s mother in law, made a statement to County Attorney George R. Stephenson substantially as follows:
They Had Separated
“Rozella, (the murdered woman) and Harold separated about Thanksgiving. She went to visit an aunt at Cambridge and she came home a few days ago. Harold came in from El Dorado Saturday on the midnight train. This morning I went before breakfast to send my films on the train. When I came back he was up town and Rozella said they had had a fuss; that he had asked her to live with him and she had refused. He said he would take the baby away. I told her he wouldn’t do that. I had to go up town at noon. When I got back Rozella and the baby were at Mr. Dickerson’s across the street. I went over and helped bring the baby home, and I started to get dinner. She offered to help, but I told her to stay with the baby. She rocked it to sleep and then put it in its buggy. Walter was sitting by the stove reading a paper in the front room. As I started after a bucket of coal he called:
Heard the Shots
“Mother, did you see this piece about the couple that was married in black?”
I told him I had read it this morning, and went on after the coal. When I had the bucket nearly filled I heard the shots and ran into the house. I first saw the baby all bloody and screamed. Then I saw Rozella lying on the floor and Walter lying there, took with his head upon her knees.
“Then I ran to the front door and called Mr. Dickerson and phoned for the doctor, and the neighbors came running.” (Walnut Valley Times, January 26, 1917)
FIRE DESTROYS OLD HOUSE WHERE SNYDER SLEW TO; MAY BE INCENDIARIES WORK
Fire discovered at 2:15 a.m. Saturday and believed to be incendiary origin destroyed an old frame house at the northwest corner of Elventh and Mechanic streets for many years used as the Fourth Ward voting station and in early days the scene of a double murder. The property had been unoccupied since two weeks ago when Peter Story, Mo. Pac. section foreman, moved to Towanda. It was owned by W. A. Stone of Cliftondale, Mass., whose interests here were handled by Judge S. E. Black up to four years ago.
Chas. Leonard, Fred Dunn, and Roy Balch, living nearby were the first to discover the fire. The alarm was turned in over George Abraham's telephone and Robt. Green's auto took out the hose cart, which arrived in time to save the other houses nearby.
"When I was awakened the flames were spouting through the roof at the west end of the house in a space that seemed to be ten feet square," said Mr. Leonard. "The shack was dry as tinder and the fire leaped along over the roof rapidly. Fortunately the wind was not blowing or other houses would have caught fire."
This is the second fire within a week which is believed to be the work of firebugs. The other was Virgil Kilgore's residence at 424 Star street, Monday at 2:30 a.m. - pratically the same hour of the night. There C. A. Strong, a neighbor, saw a man run from the premises just after the fire broke out.
The house destroyed Satruday morning was the scene of a double killing in the fall of 1889 when Robert Snyder shot his wife and mother in law and tried to kill a sister of Mrs. Snyder's. Old timers say that Snyder, who was about 28 years old, had been drinking and went home one night with a gun said to have been furnished by another woman, and killed the two women. He ran away but returned and gave himself up.
Charles Schram who was sheriff at the time took Snyder to Wichita to escape a mob led by Abraham Matheney. The gun used in the killing was procured by the woman from a son of Henry Dodson.
When the time came for Snyder's trial, George Stinson and Sid Blakeman went to Wichita after Snyder, taking him to Augusta and driving here with him in Stinson's buggy. It was thought that an effort would be made to mob Snyder and that all trains were being watched to see when he was brought in.
Snyder was sentenced to life imprisonment, but afterward was pardoned and William I. Hoy, then a penitentiary guard, said that he married again. Snyder had lived here for nearly a year before the murder. He was not engaged in business.
Bloodstains remained on the woodwork of the house until it was burned and the fire is thought to have started in the room where the two women were killed. (El Dorado Times, Saturday, August 30, 1913)
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