Death in Kentucky

The Dastardly Past:  Death in Kentucky.

general denhardt

September 20, 1937 saw the close of a nearly year-long melodrama that had gripped the state of Kentucky.  Brigadier-General Henry H. Denhardt, age 61 and the state’s former Lieutenant Governor and Adjutant General, lay dead from several gunshot wounds.  The three Garr brothers, accused of attacking him in front of the Armstrong Hotel in Shelbyville, Kentucky, sat in jail.  And not a single member of the public questioned how this had happened.  They knew.

A year earlier, on November 6, 1936, the general’s fiancé, Verna Garr Taylor, had been found shot to death in a wet ditch along a lonely road outside of Louisville.  The beautiful forty-one-year-old widow had spent the day in the city with the general and they were returning to her home that night when the car stalled.  After that the sequence of events grew murky.  The general testified that Mrs. Taylor walked ahead for help at a nearby gas station.  A passing motorist stopped and spoke to the general, offering help.  Later another car passed and its driver reported seeing the general standing by his car.  According a nearby farmer, he heard a shot fired.  Then another.  He went to investigate.  The exact positions of Denhardt and Taylor during this time isn’t clear from reports.  Eventually the investigating farmer encountered the general near the road and they discovered Taylor’s body several hundred yards from the car.  Denhardt’s service revolver rested beside it.

verna

Police arrested Denhardt for Mrs. Taylor’s murder.  He was known to have an “overbearing” personality, and several members of her family, including her two daughters and her three brothers, had opposed their engagement.  Denhardt could not consistently explain the minute traces of blood on his overcoat.  As a defense, he asserted that Mrs. Taylor had been threatening suicide, despite testimony to the contrary as well as their recent engagement.  Authorities ruled out robbery, since the victim still wore her $1500 engagement ring when discovered.  A two-week trial ensued in the late spring of 1937, but it resulted in a hung jury.  The judge ordered a new trial set for September.

Many people believed that Denhardt, given his influential connections, would escape justice a second time.  Certainly Mrs. Taylor’s three brothers believed it, despite the fact that several more witnesses for the prosecution had come forward.  The day before the new trial began, somebody telephoned the hotel to ask if Denhardt was registered there.  The desk clerk said they were expecting him.  That evening Mrs. Taylor’s brothers, Jack, Roy, and Dr. E. S. Garr, encountered Denhardt on Main Street and shots rang out, killing the general.  In a nod toward public opinion, state officials declined to lower the flag over the capitol building in deference to the passing of the former lieutenant governor.  And, as a postscript, a jury acquitted the Garrs of all charges two months later.

The Tangled Web of “Keggy” Jones

The Dastardly Past:  the Tangled Web of “Keggy” Jones.

On Monday, August 31, 1931, in Houston, shots rang out in an upscale apartment building in Montrose, one of the prosperous new developments southwest of downtown.  An alarmed tenant reported the noise to C. C. Bell, the building’s owner.  He called the police.  When Bell let the officers into the apartment, they found the “Anvil Chorus” blaring on the radio and the apartment’s occupants dead from multiple bullet wounds.

pc Houston skyline 1920s

The victims were Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Jones, a young couple who had been married about five years.  Chester Jones, 35, was a rising oil executive with the firm of Martin, Drake, & Jones.  Jane Stackhouse Martin Jones, 25, was the daughter of Chester’s business partner, a respected oil and cattleman named W. F. Martin.  Chester was slumped in a chair in his pajamas, with a shot to the head, four to the chest, and one in the hip.  Jane, daringly dressed in pajamas as well, had been shot four times and had also been beaten.  Under her sprawled body they found a floor scarred by several more bullet holes.

The police concluded that there was more than one intruder:  they found two sets of footprints outside the apartment’s back door and two different kinds of bullets in the apartment.  As to suspects, they were baffled.  But not for long.  As detectives dug deeper into the case, they latched onto the end of a thread that at their touch, began to unravel a convoluted web of criminal activity.

Chester Jones, nicknamed “Keggy,” was not the promising businessman he appeared to be—news that stunned his senior partners W. F. Martin and Ed J. Drake.  Whether Jane Jones knew of her husband’s hidden life is a matter of conjecture; she certainly found out about it.  Through his fingerprints, police determined that Jones was actually a career felon with a number of aliases, who had served three terms in the state penitentiary and still moved in a wide circle of unsavory characters.  As the police rounded up some of Jones’ associates and persuaded them to talk, more of the story of the “Bayou Gangsters” as one journalist called them came out.

Jones headline

Chester “Keggy” Jones, along with his brother, Jack, had been involved in the armed robbery of the Union Planters National Bank in Memphis in May.  Those actually arrested for the crime were Herbert Scales, “a socially prominent young Dallas sportsman and clubman,” Ralph Arnold, and John “The Greek” Cherris.  Cherris was released from jail on a $7500 bail posted by Keggy, but Keggy and Cherris argued over the division of the Memphis loot.  Violently as it turned out, because Keggy, Jack Jones, and another crook named Barney McGanagel killed Cherris and dumped him in the Brazos River near East Columbia, Texas.

Within hours of the murder of her husband, Lola Cherris enlisted the aid of seasoned gangsters Del McCabe and Shiloh Scrivnor to do away with Keggy Jones.  At the end of September McCabe’s wife in St. Louis gave police the whole story from a hospital bed.  She was laid up with a broken leg that she sustained in a car accident that had killed Lola Cherris.  McCabe and Scrivnor entered the apartment to kill Jones, making him sit in a chair and firing point blank, as the powder burns on his clothing proved.  Jane had tried to fight off the killers but they beat her back, shot her, and fled.  Lola Cherris drove the getaway car.  McCabe and Scrivnor were now on the run.

By October 10th, authorities caught up with McCabe and Scrivnor in Des Moines, Iowa.  They had booked into a downtown hotel posing as machine-gun salesmen (seriously?).  As police approached his hotel room McCabe engaged them in a gun fight and was killed.  Scrivnor turned up at the hotel a few hours later, was arrested, and brought back to Texas to stand trial along with Jack Jones and Barry McGanegal.  And so the mystery of who killed the affluent young oilman and his wife was resolved.

Keggy Jones grave

As a postscript to the story, the apartment building where the bloodbath occurred was torn down.  According to the city of Houston web site, Mr. C. C. Bell eventually donated the land on which it stood to the city to be made into a park.  Bell Park, with its statue of Christopher Columbus, still exists on Montrose Blvd., just a few blocks away from Houston’s Museum District.

Bell Park 1Bell Park 2.jpg

Mata Hari

The Dastardly Past:  Mata Hari.

hqdefault

On August 7, 1876, a baby girl called Margaretha Geertruida Zelle entered the world in the Netherlands.  Forty years later she would be executed as a German spy in France under the name of Mata Hari.  The details of her life read like something from the tabloids including, as they did, an affluent childhood, a bankrupt father, a wicked step-mother, a mail-order husband who turned alcoholic and abusive, a sojurn in the Dutch East Indies, bouts with syphilis that would claim the lives of her two children, work with a dance troupe, a circus, and as an artist’s model, and much more.  Openly promiscuous, she wound up an exotic dancer and “courtesan,” who mingled in high society and slept with Europe’s important politicians and high-ranking military officers.  The ease and frequency with which she crossed national borders made her an ideal candidate for espionage in World War I.  Whether Mata Hari actually passed along information or was merely set up by those wanting to rid themselves of her, her name has become synonymous with femmes fatale since her death by firing squad in 1917.

Button Gwinnett

The Dastardly Past:  Button Gwinnett:

Button-Gwinnett-Duel-Sketch

On May 15, 1777, signer of the Declaration of Independence Button Gwinnett engaged in a duel with General Lachlan McIntosh, who had publicly referred to Gwinnett as a “Scoundrell and lying Rascal.”  (Gwinnett’s signature is at the top of the left-most column of the Declaration–see below.) The duel, which took place in Savannah, Georgia, resulted in both men getting shot in the leg.  McIntosh’s was a flesh wound, but Gwinnett’s thigh bone had been broken.  Gangrene set in quickly and Gwinnett died in a matter of days.  He is buried in Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetery, although the exact location of his grave remains a mystery.

stone.tif

 

Eddie Cicotte and the Chicago Black Sox

The Dastardly Past:  Eddie Cicotte and the Chicago Black Sox.

Cicotte

May 5 marks the anniversary of the death, in 1969, of Eddie Cicotte.  Cicotte was one of eight Chicago White Sox baseball players alleged to have thrown the 1919 World Series.  Cicotte was a right-handed knuckle-baller who, according to legend, was promised a $10,000 by team owner Charles Comiskey if he won 30 games that season.  When Cicotte won game 29, Comiskey is said to have had him benched for fear of having to part with the bonus money.  The embittered Cicotte was therefore willing to listen when approached by a gambling syndicate proposing to throw the Series.

While Cicotte was acquitted of criminal conspiracy charges in the aftermath of the Black Sox Scandal, he was banned from baseball for life.  He returned to his home state of Michigan where he worked for Ford Motor Company, then retired to a strawberry farm.

Dastardly Past: Beulah Annan

The Dastardly Past:  Beulah Annan.

Chicago-02-27-1

On this day (April 3) in 1924, mechanic’s wife Beulah Annan of Chicago argues with her lover whereupon they both reach for a gun lying on the bed.  Annan gets it first and shoots him, claiming self-defense.  She is arrested, tried, and acquitted, becoming the inspiration for the character of Roxy Hart in the 1926 play Chicago, by Maurine Dallas Watkins.  Watkins’ play has since been adapted as a silent movie, a remake starring Ginger Rogers, a stage musical, a revival, and a movie musical.

A Mystery Writer’s Almanac–Dueling

A Mystery Writer’s Almanac–Dueling

the-tradition-of-duelling-in-19th-century-3

On February 20 in 1839, Congress prohibits dueling inside the District of Columbia, presumably after the failure the previous year to create a Constitutional amendment banning it.  The popularity of fighting duels remains firm in various regions of America, especially on the western frontier, throughout the nineteenth century, and becomes a staple of western movies and romance novels alike.