Friday, January 23, 2009

Entering "Hatchet"...

The old Showman house is gone but the place where it once stood is known to residents as “Hatchet.” Sheriff R. W. Bradshaw and town marshal Merritt speculated the killer must have had some knowledge of the house. A later investigation by The Whitsett National Detective agency out of Kansas City believed this as well but why would this be the case? The house was typical for its time; a two room house that was originally a one room house with a lean-to addition tacked onto the back. The house extended to the back of the hill it sat on with a concrete foundation laid to support the addition. The house itself was about 15 feet wide by 16 feet long (18’ by 18’ at best) and the two rooms were separated by a wall with a door about the middle of the room. On the door was a bracket on which hung an oil lamp. The bracket could be swung in either direction in order to cast light into the front room, the kitchen or both. It was this lamp that was used by the killer and found at the foot of Will and Pauline’s bed.  

Author's representation of the house

In the front room, where the family slept, two beds were arranged side by side at one end of the room. In the picture above, the beds sat on either side of the double hung window facing the camera. In this layout, the sleeping area would have been incredibly cramped and allowed a maximum of two and a half feet of floor space between the two beds (based on a standard size of three and a half feet wide beds). Investigators felt the light thrown from a chimneyless lamp would have been too dim for the killer to have committed the crimes in such cramped space without prior knowledge of the house. The confined space could also account for Pauline waking up as the killer might have swung the axe across her body at a diagonal from the foot toward the head of the bed but that is only speculation.  I arrived at the measurements in two ways; first by using the intuition of Google Sketchup's Photomatch feature and second using the double hung window as a scale.  Sketchup measured the house to be 15' by 17' while the window measured it to be 18' by 18' (based on a standard width of 29").  The 3D model I created measures 16' by 17', 6".  Either way the front room measures just over nine feet wide in order to accomodate the beds being arranged the way they were.  

Monday, January 12, 2009

More on the family and the crime scene...

Will Showman was the youngest son of David and Sarah Showman. David was a veteran of the Civil War and served in Company H of the Maryland Volunteers. He moved his family to Ellsworth County sometime between 1872 and 1880 and took a job as a mail carrier. David died in April of 1898. Pauline Kratky was the youngest daughter of John and Theressia and was born in Ellsworth County around 1884. John and Theressia had emigrated from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and were part of a burgeoning Bohemian culture establishing itself in the area. The influence of this culture is seen every July when the town of Wilson holds its annual Czech Festival. Will and Pauline were married around 1904 and had three children; Lester, Fern and Fenton. At the time of his death Will Showman was a chauffeur which didn’t pay too much especially in a rural town like Ellsworth. The family was regularly seen at church and Will was an active member in good standing with the local Redmen Lodge. Will was reported to have a kind heart. His former brother in law had been arrested a few years earlier and Will would visit him and bring tobacco and food while he was at the Ellsworth County jail.

As many of you probably read before, it was Laurie Snook who discovered the crime around five o’clock in the afternoon on October 16th, 1911. I have been debating with myself over how much detail on the crime scene to write about since it could very easily cross over into tabloid territory so I’ll give a few generalizations. Will and Pauline’s bed sat in a corner with Will positioned on the inside against the wall. Pauline was on the outside and two-year old Fenton was between his parents. Will was killed first without ever waking but Pauline woke up. She attempted to fend off the attack and in the struggle woke up the children. The children were all killed while sitting up. A bucket of bloody water was found in the kitchen as well as a blood stained piece of cloth. The killer used the water and the cloth to clean off his hands and the blade of the axe. He took a dress belonging to Pauline and hung it over the phone in the kitchen. He pulled the covers up over Will leaving only the top of his head exposed. He leaned the axe against the wall behind the door between the kitchen and the front room. He went about his macabre work by the low light of a coal oil lamp absent its glass chimney. The chimney was found, depending on the source, either under the foot of the bed or under a chair in the kitchen. The lamp was placed at the foot of Will and Pauline’s bed and left to burn out. Out of respect for family members who may be reading or may come across this post I will only say that Pauline was posed by the killer before leaving the scene.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Ellsworth the wickedest..."

Will Showman

In the former cattle town of Ellsworth, Kansas, Will Showman and his family were visiting the home of W. O. Snook on Sunday, October 15, 1911. Mr. Snook worked nights and usually slept during the day so Laurie Snook was glad for the company in the evenings. Around nine o’clock, Will and his family said good night and walked the two blocks back to their house. The Showman's had lived in their little house for about four years. Will had purchased the property from the county after the previous owners had failed to pay the taxes on the house. It sat perched on a small hill overlooking the railroad tracks which were just a few feet from the front door. The house was originally a one room shack but at some point had been expanded with a lean-to addition on the back where the kitchen was located. The family slept in the front room with beds on both sides of the house. Just to the north of the Showman home lived Bill Miller and his family. In his front yard, embedded in a tree stump, was his axe. A few days before, Miller and some friends had a competition to see which of them could drive the axe head the deepest into the stump. Fred Boyer took the honors after driving it in so deeply the men had to use another axe to remove it, chipping the blade in the process. A few houses away lived the Ellsworth town marshal; his name was Merritt but I have never located a first name. Merritt was sitting in his front room reading when he heard a peculiar noise coming from the back room. It sounded as if an animal were scratching at the back door. The noise stopped and Merritt went back to his reading. The noise began again and this time the marshal decided to investigate so he grabbed his lamp and went to the back room. The noise had stopped again and when it didn’t return, Merritt assumed whatever it was had been frightened off and he left it at that. The next morning it was discovered that the screen had been removed from the back window and an attempt had been made to pry the window open. I’m not going to go into all the detail of the discovery of the Showman’s bodies because the Millers Paranormal folks have the newspaper reports available for you to read so go there.

I have more details about this crime to share and will talk about suspects and hypotheses later. I want to talk about the Showman’s a bit more as well since victimology is an important aspect and this site is more or less about remembering the victims and not just the crimes.  Till next time…lock up your axes.