Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Finding a Murderer in My Family Tree

Let's face it, when we research our family histories we don't know what we'll uncover. And, when you get beyond the names, dates & places, you might find some incredible stories. You might find stories of an ancestor who was a war hero or someone who abandoned his friends. You might find true love and Christian sacrifice, or someone who disappeared and is later found with another wife and additional children. You might find a Civil War nurse or a prostitute. And, you just might find a murderer. I did.

I've made multiple posts now about the brother of my great, great grandmother, Elizabeth (Bennett) Coppenbarger. Her brother, Ephraim, killed their sister's husband, Nathan L Buchanan. The sister, Louisa Jane, was reportedly abused by her husband to the point that she went insane from a blow to the head and was put in an asylum. In retaliation, Ephraim killed Nathan.

Or maybe he killed him for some other reason.

When I first found out I had a murderer in my family, I was apprehensive. Who did he kill and why did he do it? Then, when I learned that he had killed his sister's very abusive husband, I was actually kind of  proud! Yes, I believe murder is wrong. But, I still felt proud that this man would defend his little sister to such lengths and even face jail time. Then I read about how he calmly shot his brother-in-law five times and calmly walked away with his young nephew and boasted "I was too quick for him and fixed him." And, I read articles about a lynch mob ready to hang him from a limb, and I wondered about what had actually happened. Why was this mob so ready to kill him when they weren't after the hired hit-man who was also in jail?

I hope to one day uncover the court documents and learn more about his trial, but for now I keep looking for additional newspaper records. I'm hoping they'll enlighten me as to what really happened.

Here's another story about the lynch mob. In this newspaper, the mob is reported to be over 200 men! That's quite a different story than my posting yesterday which said 14 masked men entered the jail and 50-60 surrounded it. It goes to show that you can't always trust what you read!

A Disappointed Lynching Party, The Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, Sedalia, Missouri, 
13 Jun 1893, page 3, column 5; digital image
( accessed 09 Sep 2014)

A Disappointed Lynching Party

Marshfield, Mo., June 8 - Ephraim Bennett, who killed his brother-in-law, Nathan L. Buchanan, was bound over to await the action of the grand jury Wednesday. After the preliminary trial small knots of men were seen gathering on different parts of the public square. In the meantime Sheriff James Goss became suspicious and managed to spirit Bennett out of jail. He also took with him Wesley Hargis, the self-confessed murderer of Lum Yandles, who committed his crime in the same neighborhood. With a posse Sheriff Goss took his prisoners to the woods. A little before midnight Deputy Smith, who was in charge of the jail, was aroused by repeated knocking on the door. Upon opening he was confronted with twenty masked men, who demanded of him the keys and ordered him to lead them to Bennett's cell. The deputy informed them that Bennett was not in the jail. Not satisfied, they searched the sheriff's living apartments on the first floor and then proceeded to the cells on the second floor, which they thoroughly ransacked. The jail outside was surrounded by almost 200 men. No noise was made and persons living a few yards distant did not know what had transpired during the night. The mob dispersed as quickly as it came. Wednesday afternoon the sheriff brought the prisoner from concealment and took Bennett to the Springfield jail on the evening train for safe keeping. 

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