special thanks to Professor Michael Pfeifer of Evergreen
State College in Olympia, Washington for his information on
“Missouri Lynchings” and sharing the 1933 Lynch Law
thesis; visit his webpage at http://academic.evergreen.edu/p/pfeiferm/Missouri.html.
Thanks to Sheila Helser, Venango County PAGENWEB coordinator
for providing her Witherup family information and once
again, thanks to the original newspaper reporters and the
local genealogists whose article collections and
transcriptions made this
possible: Kathleen Wilham and Kathy Bowlin. LPP
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the verb lynch as
“to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without
legal sanction”. On Sunday, May 25, 1902, Abraham Witherup
was taken from the Paris jail and lynched at the Salt River
(Abe) Witherup was born about 1843 in Ohio. A farmer, he
lived with his mother, Susan, and sister, Lydia, in Marion
Township, Doniphan County, Kansas in 1880. He came to the
Shelby-Monroe County, Missouri area and began cropping in
February 1902 at a farm near Hunnewell. He had a sister in
Monroe County but shared a nearby house with a young cropper
named William Grow.
William (Will) T. Grow was born in Jackson Township, Monroe
County in 1880, the oldest son of Stephen and Mary Belle
Grow. He was 21 years old and had been cropping with Abe
Witherup at the farm. Will was last seen alive on Thursday,
April 17, 1902.
Grow’s Body Found.
On Tuesday, April 22,
Abe Witherup went to the Grow home east of Paris and asked
if Will was there; Abe explained that he had not seen Will
for five days, since the previous Thursday.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gene Crow and E.J. Cullifer went down
to fish on the North Fork, near Paint Bank. They noticed
something large floating in the water and upon closer
investigation they discovered it was a human body. The men
summoned others who pulled the body from the water and,
despite numerous gashes to the had, identified it as Will
Grow; word was immediately sent to Paris via telephone.
The body was held at
the river’s edge until Prosecuting Attorney McAllister and
the coroner, Dr. Johnson of Madison, arrived. Later Sheriff
James C. Clark and Marshal Polk Masterson went out to the
Grow place and arrested Witherup while he sat at the dinner
table, eating with the family of the dead boy.
Witherup feigned surprise when arrested but an examination
at the Paris jail uncovered condemning evidence – bloody
underwear, a bloody watch and a stained ‘dirk” knife.
Deputy Sheriff Martin Clark led a party that went to the
house to see what, if any, evidence could be found. They
found blood stains on the floor and the ground under the
floor boards, and on a wall that had been scraped and
washed. The bed of a wagon had also been scraped but there
were stains on the underneath side. The verdict of the
coroner’s jury was that Will Grow came to his death on or
about April 17 by a weapon in the hands of Abe Witherup.
Witherup later confessed to Prosecuting Attorney McAllister
and told where he had hid the hatchet used to commit the
crime. The hatchet was recovered and he remained in jail at
Paris until his arraignment one month later.
Led by the murder victim’s father, about seventy-five men
surrounded the Paris jail and overpowered the Sheriff and
his officers. James Whitecotton, a lawyer who had refused to
defend Witherup, even tried to reason with the mob but to no
avail. The mob broke into jail and ultimately made their way
to Witherup’s jail cell. He did not resist when they
placed a noose around his neck and marched him to the
bridge. Witherup reportedly answered several questions posed
by Steve Grow but indicated that he had no further
confession to make; he was then pushed from the bridge and
his neck broken in the fall. The next morning the coroner
had the body cut down and removed to the courthouse where
the body was embalmed, dressed and displayed.”
For more detailed reporting on this incident, please refer
to the documents linked below:
April 30, 1902, Shelbina Democrat: “BLODDY
May 28, 1902, Unknown source: “VERY MUCH AS EXPECTED”
May 29 1902, Monroe City News: “A MOB’S
BOLD DELIBERATE WORK”
May 30, 1902, Higbee News: “HANGED BY A MOB”
June 1902, Shelbina Democrat: “WITHERUP
June 5, 1902, Monroe City News: “LOOK IN THE
Undated, untitled newspaper article from the Nannie Brown
1933, Proctor Neal Carter’s “Lynch-Law and the Press of
Missouri”, M.A. Thesis, University of Missouri –
Columbia, pp.29 – 35.