(Editor’s note: This is the first part of a three-part series. The second part will be featured in our Thursday issue, and the the third part in Saturday’s.)
On June 22, 1900 a crime of passion and jealousy shook the El Dorado community. The investigation and trials which followed kept the nation transfixed, with coverage printed in newspapers world-wide.
The principal characters were Jessie Morrison, a 29 year-old beautiful petite brunette with sharp, piercing eyes, Clara Wiley Castle, a lovely 18 year-old blonde with a pleasant disposition who sang in the church choir, and Olin Castle, a handsome 26 year-old musician.
All three were from prominent and respected families. Jessie was the daughter of Judge M.H. Morrison, ex-probate judge. Jessie had been formerly employed in the store where Olin was working.
Clara Wiley was the daughter of respected local merchant and businessman Roland Wiley and his wife Nancy.
Olin was the son of the leading undertaker of the city, T.O. Castle.
Clara and Olin had been married a week when his parents hosted a wedding reception for the young couple. They were happy and looking forward to their life together.
At approximately 8:45 the morning following the festive wedding reception, Mrs. Emma Spangler, who lived next door to the Castles on Merchant St., heard someone scream. At first she had thought the scream had been a child’s, but when she heard more, she rushed next door. The front screen door was locked and she could hear the sounds of a struggle inside. She hurried to the back door and found it locked also. Through a window she saw Clara Castle lying on the floor, covered with blood and Jessie Morrison standing over her. Mrs. Spangler, with the help of another neighbor, broke the screen door open and they entered the house.
Clara was lying near the couch and Jessie had to be pulled away. Clara was cut with several long deep slashes in the front and sides of her neck and a deep one at the back of her neck. It looked as if her head was nearly severed from her body. A tube was inserted in her windpipe in order for her to breathe.
Jessie had several severe slashes on her throat and arms.
A black-handled ordinary razor had been used.
Mrs. Spangler and another neighbor restrained Jessie and she was reported to have said, “I have killed Mrs. Castle. I have cut her throat with a razor, but she can’t kill me.”
Jessie was taken home and put under the care of a physician.
When law enforcement officers arrived the young bride could not speak and was weak, but was able to write, “Jessie killed me.”
Page 2 of 3 - The community was buzzing with news of the tragedy and the evening newspapers reported that some citizens believed that the attack was the result of jealousy.
Both women were alive, but Clara was not expected to stay alive. She had lost a lot of blood and was extremely weak.
The murder weapon was in the possession of the deputy sheriff and statements were made to the County Attorney. The women told two different stories. Clara was forced to write her explanation of events. Her brief note indicated she was home and upon hearing a knock at the front door, she opened and found Jessie Morrison. She asked her in. Moments later, Jessie slashed the other woman’s throat with a razor. They struggled and Clara managed to scream, bringing the neighbors.
She concluded with, “Can’t tell whether I am going to die or not. I make this my dying statement.”
Jessie’s version stated that she had been returning to her home after visiting a friend nearby. When she passed the Castle house, Clara called her in. They had words and when Clara called her a name, Jessie slapped her. And at that point, according to Jessie, Clara turned and walked to a dresser, grabbed a razor and cut Jessie’s throat. Jessie threw up her arms to protect herself and received some more cuts. She managed to knock the razor from Clara’s hand, picked it up and cut her several times.
“I don’t know where, or how bad I cut her. Clara fell...I don’t know what became of the razor.”
Jessie’s father, Judge Morrison and his wife, Jessie’s stepmother, Margaret C. Morrison, both advised the county attorney that their only razor was still in its place at home.
The young newly weds had been in separable, and despite the fact that Olin and Jessie had worked at the same store for several years, no one reported seeing them together. There had been no rumors about affection between Olin and Jessie.
Clara had received immediate medical treatment. An operation was performed and she remained in the hospital for 18 days before she succumbed to the injuries.
News of the murder spread across the country and eventually, people in England were reading about the sensational news from El Dorado, Kan.
At some point, Jessie was arrested for the murder of Clara Wiley Castle and placed in the El Dorado jail. Jury selection and the trial began in late November of that year.
The selection of Butler County men to serve on the jury would prove to be no easy task. Reports indicated that nearly all the men called had formed opinions. The defendant’s lawyer was claiming there was no sufficient evidence to prove motive for murder, but the potential jurors were each answering that he had formed an opinion on Jessie’s guilt. Despite believing that the prisoner was guilty, some expressed that they felt the death penalty was too harsh.
Page 3 of 3 - Present during the jury selection were the accused, Jessie Morrison and Olin Castle, the handsome widower.
To the observer, Jessie seemed casual and only appeared interested when a friend was examined and she leaned forward to catch every word.
Olin looked at her, but she did not seem to notice him.
The jury selection process went late into the first night, but Jessie remained outwardly calm.
(Editor’s note: In Part 2 on Thursday, find out who was secured on the jury, details concerning the individuals involved, and the trial of Jessie Morrison.)
Information was gathered from the archives of the following:
The Walnut Valley Times, The El Dorado Times, Butler County Genealogical Trails, The Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital, The Wichita Daily Eagle, The Enid Weekly Wave, The Newark, Ohio News, The Los Angeles Herald, and the San Francisco Call.
Belinda Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org