1919 double drowning remains a mystery
Editor’s note: his is part two, the conclusion to the mysterious 1919 double drowning in the Walnut River at El Dorado.
There were few clues to the mysterious drowning of a young couple on Aug. 7, 1919 in the Walnut River, just north of the East Bridge in El Dorado.
The newspaper reports indicated that some people who helped at the scene believed one of them had fallen overboard and in trying to help the other, was pulled in and both were drowned. The only marks on either of the bodies was a slight bruise and cut on the man’s right ear. His shirt was also torn. The position in which the body of the woman was found led some to believe that she had tried to get up the bank but had fallen back into the water.
The depth of the river where the two must have fallen out of the boat was not over five feet. The area where the drowning occurred was a short distance from the road and if the drowning had happened early in the evening the cries for help would have been heard by the many cars passing the place.Without any further developments that might lead to clearing the mystery, the bodies of the victims were released to their families.
The funeral service for Theola Richardson Taylor were held on Aug. 11, 1919, at the Sprinker Chapel in Newton. Besides three children, she was survived by her parents, three brothers and three sisters. She was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Newton.
Claude Jones’ remains were taken later that week to Fort Scott by train, and then to Redfield, where his funeral service was held and his burial in the Woods Cemetery.
One woman’s theory
The El Dorado Daily Republican published a version of one of the women who was present a few minutes after the bodies were discovered.
“Every indication pointed to the probability that the two did not accidentally drown. The first thing I noticed about Mr. Jones was a severe bruise on his head, just behind the ear, where, I believe, he was struck by a heavy instrument or club, dying instantly,” the unidentified woman continued, “His body was relaxed and had a serene expression on his face. He was south of the boat and a distance from Mrs. Taylor. On the other hand the woman standing in water that did not come over her head. She was rigid and her hands were clenched, and her expression indicated that she had fought for life to the last moment. I believe that her head was held under water until she drowned. There were many scratches on her face...The man’s face was only slightly scratched. In support of my theory is the fact that the woman was drowned near the bank. She had a tree for support. She could simply have walked up the bank, or held her head up out of the water, had not some force been used to hold her under.”
Weeks turned into months, months into years, years into decades and still no reasonable explanation for the drownings was confirmed. The Walnut River continues to hold the grim secret of what happened on a summer evening almost 100 years ago.
Sources: The Walnut Valley Times, Aug. 9, 1919; El Dorado Daily Republican, Aug. 12, 1919; The Wichita Daily Eagle, Aug. 10, 1919; The Evening Kansas Republican, Aug. 12, 1919; Fort Scott Tribune and The Fort Scott Monitor, Aug.14, 1919.
Belinda Larsen can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org