The Lynching of Abraham Withrup

A 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  

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

compilation 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 railroad bridge.  

The Men. 

Abraham (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.  

Confession in Jail. 

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. 

The Mob. 

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 (HATCHET) FOUND” 
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 HANGED”  
June 5, 1902, Monroe City News: “LOOK IN THE FACE” 

Undated, untitled newspaper article from the Nannie Brown Collection 
1933, Proctor Neal Carter’s “Lynch-Law and the Press of Missouri”, M.A. Thesis, University of Missouri – Columbia, pp.29 – 35.