Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Remembering Monmouth Today...

As the Coroner’s Jury in Colorado Springs was being released, nearly a thousand miles away William Dawson, caretaker of the 1st Presbyterian Church, diligently spent his paycheck paying bills at the kitchen table of his little five room cottage. The house was typical for the time. Originally a four-room cabin, a lean-to addition had been built on at some point in order to expand it. It was still a very small house for him, his wife Charity and his three daughters, Maud, Clarabel and Georgia; the youngest of William and Charity’s seven daughters. William had moved his family into the little house about eight years before, after having spent time in prison for horse theft. Clarabel and Maud had spent the day with friends and family outside of town and were going to stay the night with them as well. Georgia would be thirteen in a couple months and likely sat at the table with her father finishing up her schoolwork.

The Dawsons lived south of the railroad tracks that cut the little town of Monmouth, Illinois in half. It was the section of town referred to by locals as the “Colored” section and Dawson home was next door to the “Colored Church,” Cavalry Baptist. The congregation at Cavalry would eventually move into another building closer to the town square and that building is currently being torn down due to maintenance costs. I’ve already told the story of the discovery of the Dawson’s bodies on Oct. 1, 1911 so I won’t rehash it now but I can tell you the Dawson murders were the first to actually have a suspect arrested and put to a grand jury. Today we remember the victims, William, Charity and Georgia Dawson.  

Monday, September 29, 2008

Very inquesting...

To the defense of all involved in the investigation at Colorado Springs, the victims were not discovered until nearly three days after they were murdered. If the killer was mobile (and it seems he was) then he was long gone from the city by then and certain missteps could be forgiven since the Colorado Springs authorities really had no hope of catching a mobile serial killer in 1911. But on the other hand if this had been an acquaintance murder then the investigation would have been an even bigger failure. At the inquest held ten days after the crime's discovery and ten days after the swearing in of the jury over the victims' bodies as they lay in the morgue, four witnesses were called, neither of them able to shed any better light on the crime than what the newspapers had already reported.  

Two people mentioned in newspaper reports were never called to testify; the milkman who on the morning of September 18 (around 2:00 a.m.) saw a peculiar man leaving the neighborhood on a bicycle and the miner, C. Marshall, who saw a man loitering in the area around midnight on the 17th. Marshall got close enough to the man to see a mustache but we don't know the context of the sighting (where in the area was he seen, what clothes he was wearing, what was the suspicious behavior noticed, ect...). The description given by Marshall was vague at best; medium height, mustache and wearing a soft hat. Who knows what details further questioning could have brought out. Also noticably absent from the witness list were Tony Donatell, Arthur Burnham, John Merritt (Anna Merritt's brother) and at least one person (a woman) who had paid for the use of the Burnham's front porch hammock a week before the murders. At least three people walked past or visited the Burnham's house on Monday September 18th; Grant Collins' son actually knocked on the front door in an attempt to deliver the Burnham's grocery bill. He tried again on Tuesday and ended up leaving the bill tacked to the front door. Anna Merritt's niece walked by the house on Monday and Tuesday and not only told her aunt the Burnham children had not been to school those days but told her the house was closed up. Anna herself walked by Monday morning on her way to and from the Meskimen-Collins grocery store and testified not only did she notice the house looking empty but had made a conscious decision not to visit since she was very busy that day. The Burnham's nearest neighbor, Mrs. C. L. Brown, was also not called to testify even though she may have been the last person, other than May Burnham's sister, to see any of the family alive. Would any of the above individual's testimony have helped the investigation? In short, probably not but the more information an investigator has, the better the chance of finding a lead.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Find A Grave...

Find A Grave is a wonderful website. If you are a genealogist I suggest you utilize it. I had never tried the "photo request" feature until the other day. I don't know why I was apprehensive about making a request but I was. Two days after I make the request and BAM! I have a photo of the Wayne's headstone in Medaryville Cemetery. Special thanks goes out to Find A Grave volunteer clanema for getting the photo. By all accounts, the Wayne's funeral was small and attended only by friends and family. This was a stark contrast to the Burnham funeral in which hundreds attended. Later funerals for later victims would have much the same carnival feel of the Burnham funeral.  

Special thanks to Beth Klingensmith for the photo of the Burnham's headstone.  

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The neighborhood today…

Unlike the Villisca house and the Lizzy Borden Bed & Breakfast, the Burnham and Wayne cottages are gone. Many of the original houses in the neighborhood are still standing after much modernization. The photo above ran in the Colorado Springs Gazette the morning after the murders were discovered and shows the crowd outside of the Burnham cottage. The house immediately behind it is the Wayne cottage. The photo below is from Google Street View and shows the view of the neighborhood looking from west to east. Note the similarity of the houses; these houses are nearly 100 years old. If the Burnham cottage was still standing it would be at the east end of this street. In 1911 a trolley line ran north and south perpendicular to the Burnham’s street. The lines were removed in the 1930’s but the street is still a major roadway. Just a few houses south of this location another axe was found, which was tested for signs of human blood. The test was not conclusive.

Do the people who live in this neighborhood know about the history? It’s hard to say. I have intentionally kept addresses private in order to ensure the privacy of the current property owners. If the current owners know about it, they probably don’t want curiosity seekers hanging around, and if they don’t know they definitely don’t need strangers driving by all the time. The Colorado Springs Gazette called this the “worst crime in the city’s history.” Almost a hundred years later I believe it still has that designation but the crime has been largely forgotten and only the silent houses left standing can testify to the chaotic crowds that descended upon the little neighborhood on a cool September morning ninety-seven years ago.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A grim anniversary...

It’s been almost 100 years since a mine worker named Marshall noticed a strange fellow hanging around a neighborhood in what was then known as West Colorado Springs. The time was about midnight and the Marshall thought nothing of it at the time. Ninety-seven years later I am left wondering just who it was he saw. Mr. Marshall may have been one of the only people to actually see the person responsible for one of the most brutal series of crimes in U.S. history. We probably will never know; no one was ever caught and Marshall was never called to testify before the Coroner’s Jury. Those involved with the investigation would call the inquest a “farce” and useless. Sheriff George Birdsall would pass the investigation off to Pinkerton’s who would soon give up on a case with few leads and little chance of paying money. In 1929 Birdsall would become a very successful mayor of the city and even worked for a period in 1918 as a special agent for the FBI in Utah. The murders in Colorado Springs would be headlines for a less than a year and very soon, the worst crime in Colorado Springs history, labeled by newspapers as a crime that would never be forgotten, would be forgotten. History forgets more than it remembers. The people most affected by the murders are long gone. Arthur Burnham had no family left to mourn; Blanche Wayne’s parents had died before her and her siblings have all passed; the same with Henry Wayne and May Burnham. Maybe somewhere in Indiana is a trunk or box filled with old photos or a little diary whose owner cannot be identified. For today, remember the victims or ignore them. They are not the first and they were not the last. They simply lived; and 97 years ago tonight, they were brutally killed.