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.

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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.

William Wallace

The Dastardly Past:  William Wallace.

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On August 23, 1305, William Wallace, the Scottish chief and freedom fighter who led the War of Scottish Independence, was executed using several of the most gruesome methods every devised by Medieval minds.  The catalogue of tortures inflicted upon him at the hands of the English can be read on the webpage of the Society of William Wallace.  I’d list them here, but I’m eating my lunch.

 

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.

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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.

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Hermann Goering Captured

The Dastardly Past:  Hermann Goering Captured.

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On May 9, 1945 Brigadier General Robert Stack, accompanied by a group of soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, intercepted a convoy in Austria and captured one of the most dastardly figures who ever existed—Hermann Goering.  It’s not necessary, or even feasible in this small space, to recount the gross pillaging, looting, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed by Hitler’s right-hand man.  It’s enough to say that it was on a scale that surpassed any other ancient tyrant, villain, or madman in history.  Allied Forces tried him at Nuremburg and intended to hang him. Like other historic malignancies, however, Goering preferred suicide.  He took cyanide the night before his scheduled execution in October 1946.

Waco and Oklahoma City

The Dastardly Past:  April 19.

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Oklahoma City National Memorial by Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Some days in history are darker than others, and they fall within living memory.  April 19th in Waco and then later in Oklahoma City is one of them.  One of my intentions with this blog is to never celebrate the perpetrators of dastardly acts.  With that in mind, let’s take a moment to instead remember the innocent people impacted by these events—I won’t call them victims; first because nobody wants to wear that label and, second, because in the years since these events, they have overcome and tried to move on.  And please also remember the hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who rendered aid, gave comfort, and pursued justice, all while abiding by the rule of law.

New York Doctor’s Riot

The Dastardly Past:  the New York Doctor’s Riot.

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In April of 1788, a young boy peeps through a window into a dissecting room.  The medical student waves a dismembered arm at him and tells him it belonged to the boy’s recently deceased mother.  Upon investigation in Trinity Churchyard, the family discovers that the mother’s grave is indeed empty, and public sentiment boils over.  In the absence of regulated sources for cadavers, students of “physic,” as it was called then, had necessarily turned to robbing graves for bodies to dissect.  As long as the bodies belonged to the poor or to minorities, New Yorkers turned a blind eye.  This time an angry mob reacts against the desecration of their loved ones.  They march on the hospital and destroy the anatomy room.  The incident becomes so heated that it results in a two-day riot.  The militia and cavalry finally quell the mob, but not before almost 20 people die.