Collin County, Texas

Murder of Hardy Mills

Researched and Transcribed by Tam Inman

McKinney, Texas, Sept. 15.--Finding of the badly decomposed body of Hardy Mills, 35 years old, in an abandoned well on the Will Baxter farm, six miles northwest of McKinney at 3 o’clock this afternoon, clears up the mystery of the disappearance of Mills from his home on Sept. 2. He lived three miles northwest of the city.
   Noticing human tracks around the well, Baxter looked down in the well and saw the body partly out of the water which covered the bottom of the well. Bailing wire had been run through the lower part of his mouth and passed down and tied around his waist to hold the head down. The body was weighted down by a piece of iron and a large rock.
   Mills lived on the Elzy Stepp farm and one hour after the body was discovered Elzy Stepp was taken in to custody and placed in the county jail here. At 6 pm. Arlie Stepp, nephew of Elzy Stepp was also arrested and Sheriff Ed Blakeman said other arrests will follow.
   Mills was married and leaves a wife and four children, He had been employed in the construction of a brick building in McKinney and on Friday of his disappearance left home about 5 o’clock for McKinney where he works.
   Officers believe that Mills was killed soon after he left home and his body hidden in a nearby corn field until Saturday night following his disappearance, when it was taken and deposited in the abandoned well. A coroners’ inquest will be held here tonight to determine, if possible, the cause of Mills death.
   Elzy Stepp and Arlie Stepp, who were arrested yesterday after the finding of the decomposed body of Hardy Mills in a well on the Will Baxter farm were brought to Dallas and placed in charge of Sheriff Dan Harston at 8:30 p.m. Fear of mob violence was the reason for the change, according to Sheriff Blakeman, who, with two deputies, brought the two men here.  (Dallas Morning News, Sept 16, 1921 - Page 7)

DALLAS, Sept. 16 — Elsy Stepp, and his nephew. Arley Stepp, were being held, in the county jail here
following the finding of the badly decomposed body of Hardy Mills in an abandoned well near McKinney late yesterday. Mills disappeared from his home September 2. Will Baxter, on whose farm the body was found, looked into the well yesterday and saw it floating, on the water. After some difficulty the body was raised. The Stepps were arrested shortly afterward and were brought here because of fear of mob violence.  (Port Authority Daily News, Texas, September 16, 1921 - Page 1)

McKinney, Sept. 17---Ezell Stepp and his nephew, Arlyle Stepp, were brought back to McKinney from Dallas Saturday and are in jail here charged with the murder of Hardy Mills, 35. Mills mysteriously disappeared Sept. 2 and his body was found Thursday evening in an abandoned well seven miles northwest of McKinney, in cased in a net of bailing wire, and weighted with an iron bar.
   Stepp and his nephew were rushed to Dallas County jail Thursday night immediately after charges of murder were filed against them. (Fort Worth Star, Texas, September 18, 1921 - Page: 15)

Two Men Indicted For Murdering Man Found in a Well
(By Associated Press.)
McKINNEY, Sept 23.—Ezell Stepp and his nephew, Arlye Stepp, were indicted today by the grand jury for murder in connection with the death of Hardy Mills, who disappeared September 2, and whose body was found fourteen days later in an abandoned well near here. (Brownwood Bulletin, September 23, 1921, Page 1)

McKINNEY, Texas, Sept. 17,— Ezell Stepp and nephew, Arlye Stepp, charged with the murder of Hardy Mills, 35, who mysteriously disappeared Friday, September 2nd, and whose body was found Thursday evening in an abandoned well seven miles northwest of McKinney, encased in a bail of bailing wire and a big railroad iron fastened to the body, were brought back to McKinney late Friday night from Dallas and were placed in jail immediately after charges of murder had been filed against them.
   The murder of young Mills was one of the most heinous crimes ever committed in Collin county. Old timers say it rivals the murder of Young Golden of Illinois by Stephen M. Ballew in this county in 1871, Ballew having been hanged in McKinney in 1872, the only white man ever legally executed in Collin county.
   Thursday evening after the body of Mills was recovered the arrest of Stepp and his nephew followed, and it is alleged that others thought to be implicated in the death of the young man are yet to be arrested. As soon as they were taken in charge by Collin county officers they were rushed to Dallas and placed in jail for safe-keeping as feeling ran high throughout this section of the county and it was feared that efforts might be taken to lake them from the custody of local officers.
   Mills' body was discovered by a man named Baxter who was riding through his field on the farm adjoining that of the slain man. Seeing the covering of the well removed, Baxter alighted to replace the cover and was horror stricken when, attracted by the odor from the well below, he dimly saw the outlines of a man's head floating on the surface of the water.
   McKinney officers were immediately notified and the body of Mills was removed from the stagnant water in a horribly decomposed state. Funeral services over the murdered man were held Friday at Celina. 20 miles west of this city, near where be formerly lived. Two other men have since been jailed as accomplices in the case. (Commerce Journal, Texas, September 23, 1921, Page 1)

Special To The News
McKinney, Texas, Sept. 27---Judge F. E. Wilcox has named J. E. Abernathy, John D. Reese and Martin Kindle as attorneys for Ezell Stepp, who is charged with the murder of Hardy Mills. Stepp said to the court that he was unable to employ his own counsel. A special venire of 200 men for the trial has been drawn. The trial is set for October 11.
   Arlye Stepp is held under grand jury indictment as an accessory to the crime.  (Dallas Morning News, September 28, 1921 - Page 12)

MCKINNEY, Oct. 8--The case of the State vs. Ezell Stepp, indicted for murder of Hardy Mills, will be called Monday in the Fifty-Ninth District Court.
   The body of Mills was found Sept. 15 in an abandoned well McKinney fourteen days after he had disappeared from his home three miles northwest of McKinney.
   Officer immediately arrested Ezell Stepp and his nephew, Arley E. Stepp, charging them with the murder. Both were indicted and the trial of Ezell Stepp set for Oct. 10.
   Judge Frank E. Wilcox appointed Attorneys Martin Kindle, Jewell Abernathy and John Droese to defend Stepp after he stated in open court that he was unable to employ suitable counsel. The law firm of Neathery & Truitt will aid the prosecuting attorney’s office. (Fort Worth Star, Texas, October 9, 1921)

Battle To Free Stepp Results in Night Sessions
Special to The Star Telegram
McKinney, Oct. 15.--Arguments in the case of Ezell Stepp, charged with the murder of Hardy Mills, were on here tonight and will be resumed Monday morning. Arguments were opened by Assistant County Attorney H. Grady Chandler. Seven speeches will be made, three for the defense and four for the prosecution. Three addresses were made this evening. The case was called Monday morning, but two days were spent arguing for a change of venue. The motion was overruled.
   Two venires of 200 men and 100 men respectively were exhausted before the jury was completed. The crowd in the courtroom during the trial has been so great that the doors were barred to keep others from entering. Probably not so much interest was ever taken in any other case on trial in this county.
   Mills left his home on the Ezell Stepp farm on Friday morning, Sept. 2. His body was found Sept. 15 in an old well seven miles northwest of McKinney on the W. J. Baxter farm. Stepp and his nephew, Arlye Stepp, were immediately arrested. Grand jury indictments were returned against them a few days later. Arlye Stepp confessed to his connection with the crime of putting the body in the well and named his uncle as the man committing the crime. (Fort Worth Star, Texas, October 16, 1921)

Special To The Star Telegram
McKINNEY. Oct. 18.—A Jury at 4:30 o'clock Monday afternoon, after three hours deliberation, brought in a verdict of guilty, and gave Ezell Stepp the death penalty for the murder of Hardy Mills, on the morning of Sept. 2, and placing his body In an old well, where it remained for fifteen days before discovery.
    A few minutes before the jury brought in its verdict, the wife and other members of the defendant's family had left the court room, and none of his immediate family was, by him when he heard the verdict read. He was immediately taken to Jail by several officers. J. R Dickerson, former mayor of Plano, was foreman of the Jury.
   The case was called Oct. 10. The taking of testimony was begun Friday morning. All during the trial the defendant did not appear to be the least bit worried. nor did he change his countenance when he heard the verdict.
   The crowds during the trial were so large that the doors to the court room were barred, and hundreds coming here from, far and near could not get into the court room. Spectators would remain In the court room during the noon hour, bringing their lunches with them. The court room was filled every
morning two hours before court convened. All deputy sheriffs In the county were here to assist in handling the crowds.
   The murder of Mills rivaled any that ever occurred in this county. Stepp Is the third man to he given the death penalty In this county. Only two persons were ever legally executed in this county. They were Stephen M. Ballew and a negro named Shack. (Fort Worth Star, Texas, October 18, 1921)

Two Accused in Killing of Mills; One Gets Death
(Photo of both Ezell & Arlye Stepp above article)
Above---Ezell Stepp, who recently was sentenced to death in his trial at McKinney for the murder of Hardy Mills who was killed Sept. 2. and his body secreted in a well.
Below---Arlye Stepp, nephew of the convicted man, who also is held in connection with the killing of Mills. Arlye Stepp confessed to his connection with the killing, blaming his uncle for the crime, but he has not been tried. (Fort Worth Star, Texas, October 22, 1921)

Ezell Stepp
McKinney, Texas, Oct. 22---Ezell Stepp, who was given at death sentence in the District Court here, is the third white man to be given the death penalty by a jury in the history of Collin County. One negro received the sentence many years ago. There have never been but two legal executions in Collin County, one being that of Stephen M. Bellew, who was hanged in McKinney in the year 1872 for the murder of a young man named Golden. The other execution was negro Shack.
   The Stepp case has created more interest among the people than any case ever tried in District Court here. Hardy Mills, whom it is charged Stepp murdered, disappeared mysteriously on his way to work early in the morning. Officers made diligent search for two weeks without avail. The body was later found in an old, abandoned well on the Blackwell farm near here. Arlye Stepp, nephew of Ezell Stepp is charged as an accessory crime. He was the chief state witness against Ezell Stepp.
   Ezell Stepp has never shown signs of nervousness throughout the entire trial, always contending that he had nothing to worry about. The first night after being given his sentence he declared that he had a fine nights rest and a good sleep. (Dallas Morning News, Texas, October 23, 1921)

Ezelle Stepp to Ask New Trial.
Special To The News.
McKinney, Texas, Nov. 17---Monday, Nov. 21, has been set as the date for hearing arguments for a new trial for Ezell Stepp who, was recently given the death penalty on a charge of murdering Hardy Mills. (Dallas Morning News, Texas, November 18, 1921)

Special to The News
McKinney, Texas, Nov 28.---Judge F.D. Wilcox of the fifty-ninth Judical District Court, today overruled a motion for new trial in the case of Ezell Stepp, who is under sentence of death for the murder of Hardy Mills. (Dallas Morning News, Texas, November 29, 1921)

McKINNEY, Nov. 29—In an effort to save the defendant from the gallows, attorneys for Ezell Stepp, under penalty of death for the murder of Hardy Mills will take his case to the Court of Criminal Appeals, it was announced at noon yesterday, following denial of a motion for a new trial for Stepp, which was heard by Judge D. E. Wilcox in the Fifty-ninth District Court. Stepp was convicted by a jury here Oct. 17 and given the extreme penalty. The arguments of the motion for a new trial in the case of L. F. Bevil, who has a twenty-year sentence hanging over him for the murder of James Wiley Stockwell, which was set down for yesterday, was postponed until next Saturday. (Fort Worth Star, Texas, November 29, 1911)

McKinney, Texas, April 11.---Ezell Stepp, under sentence of death for the murder of Hardy Mills, and whose case will be argued before the Court of Criminal Appeals at Austin Wednesday, is dangerously ill with pneumonia which developed Thursday. He was removed from the jail to the city hospital Sunday. A day and night guard is kept at his bedside. (Ft. Worth Star, Texas, April 11, 1922)

Collin County Farmer to Pay the Death Penalty For the Murder of Hardy Mills Last September
McKinney, Texas, Oct. 21-—Ezell Stepp, Vineland farmer, was Monday afternoon sentenced to "hang by the neck until dead," for the murder of Hardy Mills, McKinney laborer, on Sept. 2, 1921. The date of execution was set for Friday, Nov. 17, 1922. Justice Frank. Wilcox passed sentence on Stepp, while a crowd that packed the district court room to capacity looked on the unusual proceedings.
   When the word was passed that Judge Wilcox would sentence Stepp and set the date for the execution, at 1:30 o'clock Monday afternoon, the word spread quickly over a crowd which filled the city to witness a circus parade and performance. About 1:20 o'clock Sheriff Ed Blakeman, Chief Deputy Harry White, Deputies Pomp McCollum, Tom Holcomb, Sheriff Elect W, F. Bishop, Jailer James Kimbriel and Deputy Sheriff Jim Herndon, went to the county jail, to escort Stepp to the court room.
   Curious Crowd Gathers
   Only a small group of persons gathered at the jail when Stepp and the officers started to the courthouse with the prisoner. Mrs.; Stepp, wife of the condemned man, and her daughter, Mrs. Lola Trantham, came out first and followed their husband and father and the officers to the courthouse. They did not appear disturbed over what was about to transpire. Mrs. Stepp talked to a newspaper man as they walked to the court room, showing no sign of emotion.
   They sat near Stepp as the court passed the sentence. The crowd was so dense in the court room that Mrs. Alice Taylor, district clerk, had difficulty in reaching her desk with the court docket- which. Judge Wilcox had called for.
   “This, certainly., is some crowd, he told the district clerk as she pushed her way through the mass of humanity.
   "Resembles an old-fashioned political meeting," said another as he surveyed the crowd.
   Talks Freely
   Stepp talked freely to the officers who led him to the court house. In the court room, while Judge Wilcox was delivering his address sentencing Stepp, every neck was craned to catch the words of the court. Judge Wilcox proceeded slowly, articulating distinctly. His voice carried to the far portions of the court room. Judge Wilcox sat in a large chair as he delivered the sentence. Court Reporter James M. Muse made a stenographic copy of the proceedings. Seated, in the Jury box were Senator Woodville J. Rogers, Judge George K. Smith, Assistant County Attorney H. Grady Chandler, and County Attorney A. M. Wolford, who directed Stepp's prosecution. Also Judge Martin Kindle, Attorneys J. D. Reese and Jewel Abernathy who were attorneys appointed by the court to defend Stepp and who conducted his care until a few days ago when they were relieved of their assignment by Stepp, who so to speak, changed horses in midstream by employing Attorney A. S. Beckett of Dallas. Beckett argued a motion for rehearing before the higher court which was denied, and which was prepared by the McKinney triumvirate.
   With all preliminaries out of the way. Judge Wilcox said: “The State of Texas versus Ezell Stepp, No. A; 1963. Mr. Ezell Stepp please stand up.“ Defendant Ezell Stepp stood. "Have you anything to say why the court should not now pronounce sentence upon you?".
   Ezell Stepp; "Well, Judge, I am not guilty of what I am charged with." (Avalanche, Texas, October 24, 1922 -  
Page: 1)

The Express Austin Bureau
AUSTIN. Tex., Nov. 14.—Gov. Neff today continued to study carefully the voluminous record in the case of Ezell Stepp who is under sentence to hang at McKinney, Collins County, next Friday for the murder of Hardy Mills. The Governor has not yet intimated when he will reach a decision on the application of Stepp to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment.
   Mills, according to the record, was killed by a blow from a hoe and his body thrown into a well. Some time elapsed before the body was discovered. Stepp has steadfastly protested his innocence. His conviction was on circumstantial evidence. According to a report from McKinney the scaffold had been erected and all arrangements completed for the execution of Stepp. It is said that Stepp, from his cell, witnessed the construction of the scaffold remarking “ You are preparing to hang an innocent man.” (San Antonio Express, Texas, October 15, 1922 - Page 1)

McKinney, Tex. Nov. 15.—It was Indicated here this morning at the Sheriff’s office that the execution of Ezell Stepp will take place in the special enclosed scaffold, built just south of the Collin County Jail for that purpose, as soon after 11 a. m. Friday. Nov. 17, as possible. He is to hang for the alleged murder of Hardy Mills, near here.
   Governor Neff refused to interfere with the Jury verdict and the action of the court in pronouncing sentence. This morning a telegram was sent to Governor Neff, signed by a number of local business men. asking for a respite.
   Stepp's pastor, the Rev. John L. Oldham, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, announced that a prayer service will he held Friday morning 7 a. m. for Stepp. (Dallas Morning News, Texas, November 16, 1922)

Special to Star Telegram
Austin, Nov 16. ---Governor Neff announced late Wednesday that he had declined to interfere in the case of Ezell Stepp, who is to hang next Friday at McKinney for the murder of Hardy Mills. In declining to interfere, the Governor said that the “people of the State who are opposed to assessing the death penalty as a punishment for crime must look for relief, if any, through legislative channels rather than through the Governors office.” (Fort Worth Star, Texas,November 16, 1921)

By United Press
McKinney, Tex., Nov. 17---Ezell Stepp, charged with the murder of Hardy Mills, was hanged here today.
   Stepp went to his death at 11:22 o’clock this morning .
   “I am innocent of the murder of Hardy Mills,” Stepp declared just before the trap was sprung.
   “I hope I meet each and every one of you in a better place. God bless you my brothers.”
   Mills body was found in an abandoned well September 16, 1921, after he had been missing 14 days.
   Arlye Stepp, nephew of Ezell, confessed to authorities that his uncle was the murderer. Stepp, however, has protested his innocence since his arrest.
   He was tried in the 59th District Court before one of the largest crowds that ever attended a trial in this county.
   When Stepp and his nephew were arrested feeling was so intense here that officers removed the pair to the Dallas County jail to prevent possible violence.
   Since his conviction Stepp has joined the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church here.
   He was the third person to hang in the history of this county. (San Antonio Evening News, Texas, November 17, 1922 - Page: 1)

Special To The News
McKinney, Texas, Nov 17--At 11:23 o’clock this morning Sheriff Ed Blakeman of McKinney sprang the trap door and executed Ezell Stepp for the alleged murder of Hardy Mills here Sept. 2, 1921.
   The body hanged for eleven minutes and forty-eight and three fifths seconds before Dr. J. T. Watson of Dallas, Dr. P. B. Robeson and Dr. W. T. Largent of McKinney pronounced the man dead.
   Stepp's last words were “I am innocent” The hanging is unjust. Please don’t choke me”
   100 Witness Execution
   Sheriff Dan Herston of Dallas and Deputy Sheriff Allen Scale of Dallas assisted Sheriff Blakeman in the execution. Dr. J. L. Oldham, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, held religious service for the condemned man just a few minutes before the execution.
   About 100 persons, including many officers, witnessed the execution. Ranger Tom Hickman and two rangers from Austin were also here. A large crowd of people gathered in front of the jail.
   Ezell Stepp, who paid the penalty of death for the sledged murder of Hardy Mills, near here was tried in the Fifty-Ninth District Court and the jury assessed his penalty at death and the sentence was later pronounced by Judge Frank E. Wilcox.
   The trial of Stepp was attended by one of the largest crowds ever to assemble in the District Courtroom. Many would arrive early each morning from all parts of the city, some bringing their lunches and never leaving the courtroom. He was originally defended by Jewell T. Abernathy, John D. Reese and Martin Kinkle, well known McKinney lawyers, who were appointed by the court. However, after his conviction and after the lawyers had carried the case to the higher courts in Stepp’s behalf, A. S. Baskett of Dallas was employed.
   Arlye Stepp, nephew of the condemned man, made a confession a few days after their arrest and named his uncle Ezell Stepp as the person guilty of the murder. The latter, however, has strongly maintained his innocence and in a recent interview said that Arlye Stepp was the man who killed Mills.
   History of Case
   Hardy Mills lived in a rent house on Ezell Stepp’s farm, about four miles northwest of McKinney. He was working in McKinney as a laborer. Friday morning, September 2, 1921, he left home as usual about sunrise for McKinney. He was never seen alive by his family. That morning a search by officers availed nothing. On Sept. 16 the body of Mills was found in an old abandoned well on the farm of W. J. Baxter, by Mr. Baxter, and the matter was reported to McKinney officers. The body was encased in a mesh of bailing wire, the hand drawn tightly against the breast and wire being fastened through the mouth, bridle bit style. On one leg was tied a large piece of railroad iron and an automobile cover was fastened securely over his head. After much difficulty, the officers removed the badly decomposed body from the well and immediately afterward made the arrest of Stepp and almost at the same time another officer arrested Arlye Stepp, the nephew. Feeling was so intense right at the time that the officers moved the prisoners to the Dallas County jail for safe keeping.
   Since his conviction Ezell Stepp has professed religion and united with the St. Peters Episcopal Church of McKinney, of which the Rev. John L. Oldham is rector.
    The case has been one of the most noted in all the annals of criminal cases in the history of Collin County. He is the third person to hang in the history of the county. (Dallas Morning News, Texas, November 18, 1922)

Murderers of Hardy Mills Is Hanged in County Jail at McKinney and died in 12 minutes
By Associated Press
McKinney, Tex., Nov. 17.---Ezell Stepp was executed at 11:23 o’clock today for the murder of Hardy Mills in September, 1921.
   He maintained he was innocent. Stepp was hanged in the county jail here, death being pronounced 12 minutes after the trap door was sprung.
   When he was placed on the gallows Stepp told Sheriff Ed Blakeman he had nothing to say other than “I am innocent.” The sheriff then sprung the trap.
   The hanging was witnessed by about 100 persons, while outside in a heavy rain a large crowd surrounded the jail.
   Funeral services for Stepp will be held Sunday. Interment will be in Horn Cemetery, six miles northwest of McKinney. (San Antonio Evening News, Texas, November 18, 1922, Page: 4)

Special To The News
McKINNEY, Texas, Nov. 18--The body of Ezell Stepp, who died on the gallows here Friday morning for the alleged murder of Hardy Mills, will be buried in Horn Cemetery Sunday morning, following funeral services which will be held in a local chapel at 10 a.m. conducted by Doctor Clifford S. Weaver pastor of the First Christian Church of this city. Hundreds have viewed the body since the execution. (Dallas Morning News, Texas, November 19, 1922)

Special To The News
McKINNEY, Texas, Nov. 19---Simple service marked the funeral of Ezell Stepp, executed here at noon Friday after conviction on a charge of murder of Hardy Mills near McKinney, in September of 1921.
   The services were conducted by the Rev Clifford S. Weaver, pastor of the First Christian Church and was held in the Harris chapel at 10 a. m. It was attended by the wife and six children of Stepp. A large crowd of friends was also present.
   The body was taken to Horn Cemetery, in the community where Stepp lived for many years, where it was buried. (Dallas Morning News, Texas, November 20, 1922)



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