A 1903 mystery
William Jones, a well known farmer, was found in his buggy along the road leading to his home near Haverhill on the morning of Dec. 23, 1903. A bullet hole under his eye was evidence to the manner of his tragic death.
Jones, 32, was found by another local farmer, Charles Wright, who spotted a team and buggy standing in the road tangled in their harness. Wright caught the horses and while leading them toward his home, saw something in the road some distance away.
Miss Morgan, a school teacher of the neighborhood, came along the road about the same time and they discovered the body of William Jones. It seemed evident to both Wright and Morgan that Jones, who weighed about 200 pounds, had been killed in the buggy and that, as the vehicle struck a rock, his body had been thrown out.
His hat was found further down the road and a bullet hole in the brim indicated the shot had been fired from above. The bullet, after passing through the brim of the hat, entered Jones’ face just under the eye came out at the neck, severing the jugular vein. Death had been instantaneous.
Word was sent to Butler County Sheriff George A. Young and he arrived at the scene around 10 a.m. A coroner’s jury was summoned an an inquest was held by J.H. Leonard, justice of the peace of Spring Township, as Coroner Hunt could not be reached. A sealed verdict was returned by the jury. It was thought that the verdict simply stated that Jones came to his death at the hands of persons unknown.
An examination of the body disclosed the fact that the motive of the shooting could not have been robbery. The pockets of the dead man contained his 38-caliber revolver, full loaded and securely put away in his hip pocket, and $13.70 in money. His overcoat was buttoned and it was plain that he had made no defense from attack and that the shooting must have been unexpected on the part of the victim.
There were whispers that there was trouble concerning a woman.
The body was taken to the home of Jones, who lived with his brother, Walter on a rented farm one and a half miles north of Haverhill. Jones’ parents were dead and besides Walter, he had one other brother, Wesley.
Sheriff Young disclosed to newspapers that early investigation showed that Jones and Harry Henderson, who were close friends, had gone to Leon on Sunday night to attend church. Henderson said that he left Jones outside while he went inside the church. When he came out, he said Jones was gone. Henderson then went to the home of friends, where he spent the night. Suspicion was aroused by the fact that he did not reach his home which is near the Jones farm, until the next evening.
Henderson claimed that he started to walk home from Leon Monday morning and that he laid down in a grove and slept from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Henderson lived on his mother’s farm and had a good reputation in the community.
“It is the strangest case that ever has come to the notice of the officers in Butler County. Jones, as far as we can learn, had no enemies. He was not a drinking man and his reputation in all respects was the best. Henderson also enjoyed a splendid reputation and he is being held simply for investigation,” Sheriff Young continued, “It is plain that the man who shot Jones must have been very close to him. Everything indicates that he was deliberately shot by someone standing up in the buggy. He could not have been killed and then placed in the buggy and the horses driven away. It is evident that the murderer after committing the deed, jumped out of the buggy and that the horses ran along until the wheels struck a rock which sticks up in the road, throwing the body out.
The whole case is shrouded in mystery and is very puzzling to us, but we will do everything in our power to unearth the culprit.”
Henderson was being held in El Dorado pending an investigation. Also being held were Mr. and Mrs. Demor Loach, who were frequent visitors in the home of Harry Henderson. During these visits Mrs. Loach and Henderson became infatuated, he insisting that her husband was not caring for her as (Henderson) would do.
According to Mrs. Loach, her husband laid in wait to kill Henderson, recognized the buggy, but shot Jones mistaken for Henderson.
Brother is charged
Two days after Christmas, a fourth person was being held in the murder of William Jones. Walter Jones, brother of the deceased was also in jail. It was claimed that Walter Jones had been acting very strangely and had told two or three different stories as to his whereabouts the morning of the tragedy.
When asked by a reporter, Wesley Jones stated there had been trouble between Henderson and his slain brother, Will.
“But not for some time. Some time ago, before my mother’s death, Will had been going down to see Henderson’s sister. Henderson told him to stop going there and threatened to fix him if he didn’t stop. Will told mother about it and she told him to quit going there and he did. There are some other things I might tell but I do not think it would be best to do so at this time.”
Jail cell interview
Two weeks after the crime had been committed, Walter Jones spoke to a reporter with the Walnut Valley Times from his jell cell in the women’s ward on the second floor of the court house. The accused was a large man, red faced and freckled. His clothing was decorated with ribbons and he wore a string of beads for a watch chain.
He spoke freely, maintained his innocence, although circumstantial evidence was against him.
“It seems like they’ve got me, but I never done the killing,” he said, “I didn’t kill Will, but they are making it look bad for me.”
“I know I did some things about the house the night after Will was shot that I should not have done. After hew was killed I was talking with a lot of folks around there and they told me that we would have to go into court and settle up his affairs and I thought I wouldn’t get anything out of it.”
It was learned that the night after the killing, Walter Jones left the men who were sitting up with the corpse of his brother and making the excuse that he was going out to look after the stock, but went to visit Ransom Cody to persuade Cody to pay $375 owed to Will Jones. Cody refused to pay the note, saying that he was ready to pay it and that a share of it should go to the other boys. Jones tried to dispose of another note to Charles Lehr. He took the notes out of his brother’s trunk when he went to get the suit of clothes for the burial.
The reporter asked, “Whom do you think killed your brother?”
“Well, I think Henderson coaxed him to go to Leon with him and had planned to kill him and get his money.”
“Did Henderson know he had any money with him?”
“I think he did. Sunday morning Henderson came over to our house and wanted to borrow $20 from Will.
He already owed him $11.25 for some kafir corn that he had never paid, and Will wouldn’t let him have it. Henderson wanted the money pretty bad. You see he was mixed up in an affair with the Loaches. He went away with Mrs. Loach and stayed over night and Loach told him he would let the matter drop for $25.”
When Henderson returned to the church in Leon he was panting for breath, as if he had been running.
“I believe Henderson killed Will and then laid in the house all the next day - he said he was asleep along the railroad track. People don’t sleep out of doors this time of year” said Jones.
“Did Henderson and Will ever have any trouble?”
“They didn’t get along very well, although they were together a good deal. Will always tried to get along with him. They would have come together once I guess, if it hadn’t been for Henderson’s sister coming between them,” Jones continued, “I think Henderson meant to kill him. He had a razor.”
A while later, a newspaper report indicated that both Demor Loach and his wife, Sadie, had been released. That left Harry Henderson and Walter Jones behind bars.
Learn their fate in the conclusion of The Killing of William Jones in Saturday’s TG edition.
Sources: El Dorado Daily Republican, Dec. 22, 1903, March 4, 1904; The Wichita Beacon, Dec. 23, 1903; Lawrence Daily Journal, Dec. 24, 1903; Walnut Valley Times, Dec. 25, 1903, Jan. 1, 1904, Jan. 2, 1904, Jan. 22, 1904; The Topeka Daily Capital, Dec. 27, 1903.