Monday, June 15, 2009

Affinity or False Love

Miami County Courthouse - Paola, Kansas

"My Dear Sweetheart: I am becoming desperate. You must arrange a meeting. True love cannot be trifled with in this fashion. You know my love for you and I cannot stand this thing much longer. People have been killed for less, and more may follow. Don’t get the idea this is a threat, or that I mean it that way, because it is the real thing. Be true to me. I love you." 


On June 10, 1912, before news of the tragedy in Villisca had spread, a three and a half page letter was discovered on the stairway leading to the local Justice of the Peace’s office. The quote above is taken from the memory of a Judge who read it and once Sheriff Chandler had it in his possession he turned it over to a Kansas City detective. I have never seen the letter in its entirety and as far as I know it is lost to time. The opinion of those who saw it was the writer was uneducated and the letter rambled incoherently for most of its length. The section above is a “recreation” written by the newspaper so it cannot be adequately analyzed for authenticity. The one thing that strikes me as odd is the lack of names. Not just by the writer but the salutation. I would expect, at the very least, the use of pet names. Contrast the letter above with the one below left by Rollin before leaving Anna on May 31st.
Well, I am going to K.C. Leave my clothes and those too (sic) pictures with Charley. I will be back next faul (sic) and get them. You will not be bothered with me eny (sic) more. Good-bye. ROLLIN" 

Even in a rage strong enough to simply pick up and leave (he’d done it before so maybe the rage wasn’t all that strong), Rollin addressed the note to Anna and signed his name. The use of the word “sweetheart” as a term of endearment was fairly generic, even in 1912. To use it twice in reference to different people is very unimaginative. The line “people have been killed for less, and more may follow” is ridiculously cryptic and written for effect. It’s the equivalent of writing in big red letters at the top of the page “THIS IS A DEATH THREAT FROM A MANIAC!”  

So is this letter authentic? As it is printed above I would say no. But that is only one paragraph as remembered by a person who read the letter a couple of times. The actual letter of three and a half pages could very well have been real. If that is the case then how did the letter come to rest on those steps ninety-seven years ago? I suppose a curiosity seeker could have picked it up while touring the crime scene, in fact it could very well be what happened; stranger things have been boosted from victim’s.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A quick wrap up

It has been 97 years since the "worst crime in Iowa History" was discovered by a concerned neighbor.

Just five days after Rollin and Anna Hudson were discovered bludgeoned to death in their home in Paola, Kansas, the Moore family and two Stillinger girls were discovered to have met a similar fate. Go to the Villisca blog or hit their Facebook page and find out more.

In Paola, there was a brief memorial service, attended by hundreds, for the young couple. Rollin Hudson's father, Jonathan, took the bodies back to Ohio for burial. The memorial in Paola included a viewing of the bodies. Investigators began looking for "Hooky" Adams and the stranger who had visited just hours before their murders. They also began a search for an "affinity" letter. George Cole had told investigators Rollin had insinuated he had in his possession a letter or note proving Anna to be untrue. This letter was believed to have been received by Anna on the morning of Decoration Day, May 31st. Hooky Adams turned out to have an air tight alibi but as far as I know, the stranger was never found. Something like an affinity letter was left on a stairway between two businesses with a note on it suggesting it be turned over to the proper persons. I'll get into this letter in another post.

Who was the stranger visiting the Hudsons that night? The description of the clothing would suggest a traveling salesman, likely out of Kansas City. A dark suit and a straw boater were pretty posh items to travel around in at the time. He may have been a friend from Ohio passing through Paola on sales calls and stopped by the Hudson's home on the way to the train station, leaving after a brief visit. The items inside the house were situated in such a way as to suggest some brief reminiscing. A photo album was out on the table as well as a box of letters; the dinner dishes had not been cleared and it looked as if the laundry had been interrupted. This suggests an unplanned, hurried visit. The stranger was invited into the house immediately and may have told Rollin and Anna he was on his way to catch a train. Anna might have thrown together a quick meal and they sat down to look at photographs from back in Ohio. The stranger may have asked about a mutual friend so they pulled out the box of letters in order to find out what city the friend lived in. After the visit the stranger left; Mr. and Mrs. Pryor may not have seen him leave due to being occupied elsewhere or just not paying attention to something that really wasn't all that interesting. The stranger boarded his train and took off to his next location; with the way news traveled (and in comparison to other crimes, Paola received very little press) he may not have known they had been killed for a year or more. It's very possible he didn't know he was the last person, other than the killer, to see them alive.

Could this stranger have been the killer? Sure; was he? Probably not. I think it is safe to assume the late night intruder into the Longmeyer house was the killer of the Hudsons or had something to do with it. If it was our stranger then the scenario gets stupidly complex. Said stranger is invited into the house; he then subdues the couple (investigators thought chloroform may have been used but never explain why), lays them on the bed in a sleeping position and bludgeons them to death with the pick axe he had hidden under his jacket the entire time. He then washes up, steals Anna's robe for kicks and leaves through the back room window. Before leaving he pulls out the photo album and letter box to make it look as if they had been sitting around looking at them the entire time. The album may have been sitting on the table to begin with but it was sheer luck he found the box of letters without needing to ransack the place. Once outside, he decides to go try to kill the next door neighbors so he breaks in through a back window but before he can begin, he drops the chimney, wakes the occupants and flees back through the house, leaving his souvenir from the first murder behind.  Setting aside that it is near impossible to chloroform two concious people back to back, why go through all the other trouble of making the crime look like a burglery but not do anything inside the house to make it look like a burglery.  Typically, when a killer "stages" a burglary-gone-wrong, they tear the place up but fail to take things in plain sight like money and jewelry.  In this case, Anna's jewelry was untouched and the house was in order.  The perpetrator here was of a single mind; kill.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Paola, Kansas - Follow up

So it isn’t a mystery; Rollin and Anna Hudson were found in the afternoon of June 5th dead in their bed. The weapon used had been a coal pick, the comforter was thrown over the bodies and several blows had been struck through the comforter. A coal oil lamp sans glass chimney was placed near the foot of the bed andthe window curtains were pulled closed. The killer apparently had entered by removing a screen and prying up the window of the back room on the east side of the house. Doors were not locked and there wasn’t any evidence of the killer washing up at the scene although there was a laundry tub filled with water in another back room. The weapon wasn’t found on scene and a search of an empty lot found nothing, however there was a coal pick with a broken handle discovered which was eventually identified as the likely murder weapon.

The victimology of the Hudsons, especially Anna, makes this a good candidate for an acquaintance crime. There were events surrounding the murder that are also indicative of this. A few days before the Hudson’s deaths, a stranger was in town asking about their location. He acted as if he were a friend passing through on business and was interested in looking them up. Witnesses also stated that Anna was seen arguing with an unidentified, taller man, on a bridge outside of town and that the man made a threatening gesture towards Anna. That was on the morning of Decoration Day (now called Memorial Day) which was Thursday, May 31st. It is hard to say how accurate these testimonials are. Paola was a hub for two large railroads and a common stopping point on the way to Kansas City so there were many strangers in and out of the little town and it could be the witnesses who reported the scene on the bridge saw a different woman.

About nine o’clock on the night the Hudsons were killed, Mr. and Mrs. William Pryor, the next door neighbors, saw a man in a dark blue suit and a straw boater’s hat walk up to the porch of the Hudson house. This man generally fit the description of the one seen around town in the days before. According to the Pryors he was allowed to enter the house immediately, as if “he were an old friend.” Neither neighbor remembered seeing the man leave but Mrs. Pryor was certain the house was dark around ten o’clock. Around midnight another neighbor, Mrs. Joseph Longmeyer and her daughter, Sadie, were awoken by the sound of shattering glass in the dining room. Mrs. Longmeyer was up in time to see a man fleeing through the back of the house. The source of the glass was a smashed chimney lamp. The intruder had left behind a “kimono” that was believed to have belonged to Anna Hudson. A screen from a back window had been removed in order to gain access to the house. If Mrs. Longmeyer and Mrs. Pryor were accurate then the Hudson’s were killed between ten and midnight on June 5, 1912.

Some conclusions can be drawn about the killer from this crime: The killer had burglary skills; the killer took “souvenirs”; the killer either wasn’t confident enough to face a conscious victim or wasn’t aware there was only a woman and young girl in the Longmeyer home; the killer wasn’t likely the man who visited the Hudsons that night.

Three of those four seem self explanitory; the fourth will require another post.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Hudsons of Paola, Kansas

The Hudsons moved to Paola, Kansas in April of 1912. They had been married a year before in North Industry, Ohio and by all accounts it had been a rough year. Anna was a flirty type and during the stick-up-your-butt years of the Edwardian period that meant you were a loose woman, although there seems to be quite a bit of circumstantial evidence she actually had an affair. Her husband, Rollin, was a year younger than she and was the son of Jonathan and Emma Hudson of North Industry. Jonathan was a Justice of the Peace in Stark County, Ohio and was reported in the papers to have been a prime mover in the Republican party. How likely this is I don't know. A Justice of the peace in Ohio made roughly the equivalent of $26,000 a year in 1910. Rollin worked for a time as a "cone grinder" in an automobile factory and eventually, the factory dust forced him to change professions - to a coal-man - go figure.

The source of most of the young couple's marital problems seem to be a man named Roy "Hooky" Adams, a friend of Anna's from Akron, Ohio. In the short time they were married, Rollin would "leave" Anna three times and they were often seen arguing in public. When they first moved to Paola, they lived with the George Cole family a few blocks from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (the Katy) railroad line and the Frisco coal chutes. Sometime in May the Hudsons moved into a five room cottage across the street from the Cole family and Rollin would overnight with the Coles a few times after blowouts with Anna. Rollin was a hard worker who seldom missed days and was always trying to better his position. But he also had a short fuse and tended to "disappear" for unknown reasons. One day he went to the Frisco chutes to get some coal and disappeared for a week. He had gone up the line to the town of Beagle to take a coal job there and hadn't told anyone. The problems with the marriage were likely two fold; Anna's incessant flirtations and Rollins volatile personality probably made for some interesting conversation among the neighbors and definitely lead to some red herrings after they were found murdered in their bed.