The Amazing Case of Alexander Jester

Story by Glenn Shirley printed in “True West”, pp 14-21 of the September 1992 issue.

(Note: William Alexander Jester was the first settler in the Grant Township of Sedgwick County, Kansas; he located there with other old Civil War soldiers and his family as early as January 1868.  In the fall of 1870, he left his family and went to Indiana on his annual hunting excursion and while returning, met a 16 year old boy headed West named Gilbert Gates.  It is said that he gained the confidence of the boy by assuming the role of guide and protector then brutally murdered him in Monroe County. Source: Wm G. Cutler’s History of the State of Kansas).


“… As the years roll by, public opinion will modify and the desire to execute vengeance on a cold-blooded murderer will degenerate into passive indifference.  Not so with the wrath of John Warne "Bet-you-a-million" Gates, American promoter and daring speculator, of Chicago, who championed the pursuit and trial of the man he believed killed his brother in the West in 1871.  Gates' favorite Biblical text was "an eye for an eye," and he thirsted for the blood of his brother's slayer "even as the hunted doe panteth for the waters.”


            The summer of 1870, John was sixteen years old, his brother Gilbert eighteen -sons of Ansel A. and Mary Gates, of West Chicago, DuPage County.  Gilbert was five feet seven inches tall, with dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and weighed 145 pounds.  He was in poor health and decided on a trip to the buffalo ranges of western Kansas as a cure for his ailments and for recreation.  Hides represented money and Gilbert was a good hunter; the trip bade well.  His parents outfitted him with a fine team his father had raised and a covered wagon well supplied for the journey.  He took along, in particular, a small leather trunk of clothing that included a suit of underwear his mother had made for him; a muzzle-loading gun and powder horn; a pocket watch that had belonged to his uncle George Gates (killed in the Civil War), which the family was keeping as a relic; and a shepherd dog named "Abe Lincoln."


            Gilbert left West Chicago on August 26, accompanied by a friend, Charles Hazelhurst, who was returning to his home at Augusta, Kansas.  They were six weeks on the road, going by way of Quincy, Illinois; Paris and Sedalia, Missouri; and entering Kansas at Fort Scott.  There they met one Alexander Jester, who was freighting for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.  The Santa Fe was building toward Newton, soon to become the new end-of-the-track town for longhorn herds from Texas, and had reached Doyle Creek (later named Florence).  Jester needed an extra team and wagon, and put Gilbert to work.  Hazelhurst continued to Augusta.  Jester was forty-eight years old, six feet tall, with a "peculiar-shaped" Roman nose "easily remembered", a scraggly beard and mustache, dull gray eyes, and large bony hands that made him appear "stronger than he actually was."  He mentioned having homesteaded near Valley Center on the Arkansas north of Wichita, Sedgwick County.


            Gilbert worked for Jester until November, then rejoined Hazelhurst at Augusta to hunt buffalo during the winter.  Ansel and Mary Gates sent word to Hazelhurst, expressing anxiety about their son's continued absence.  Gilbert wrote that he would return shortly.  Early in January 1871, he left Augusta in his wagon with three choice buffalo hides he had cured, his dog Abe Lincoln, and leading a buffalo calf that he was taking home to domesticate.  A few days later, Gilbert was seen leaving Fort Scott with Alexander Jester, each driving a team and wagon, Jester saying something about visiting his boyhood home at Hagerstown, Indiana, where he had lived until after the Civil War.  The last week in January, Ansel Gates received a letter from Gilbert.  It mentioned no traveling companion but bore the postmark of Renick, Missouri, a village twenty miles southwest of Paris, seat of Monroe County.  Another month passed with no further word from Gilbert.  In addition to that uneasiness, Mrs. Gates was awakened by a dream in which it seemed that while at a funeral she had stepped up to view the corpse and had seen Gilbert lying in the coffin. The premonition so affected her that Ansel Gates set out at once to search for their son.


            On March 1, Gates struck the trail Gilbert and a man of Jester's description had taken from Renick to Middle Grove, in southwestern Monroe County, where they had stopped January 24 "having with them a shepherd dog and a buffalo calf which they were exhibiting, charging ten cents admittance.....Almost the entire population of Middle Grove bought tickets."  The two had left next morning, traveling east on the road to Paris, after which Jester was observed on a little-used byway with the covered wagons, alone.


            A Middle Grove man named Atkinson and his eighteen-year-old nephew told Gates, “There was a deep snow on the ground.  We were driving up a narrow lane to get on the Paris road....saw this man get out of the front wagon, go to the back wagon, and get under the canvas.  In a short while he got out, tied the team behind the front wagon, then got into the front wagon and drove east into the timber at Hulen Ford, on Allen Creek.  After the wagons disappeared, we noticed bloodstains on the snow, but just supposed it was caused by one of the horses getting hurt someway.”  Earlier that morning, Mrs. Amanda Clarke, of Middle Grove, had seen the wagons turn off the Paris road.  “A gust of wind blew aside the curtain on the back wagon,” Mrs. Clarke said, “and I saw a body stretched out, head toward the rear and feet resting on some object immediately behind the seat.”  Later, the woman “came across a large splotch of blood in the snow.’


            A farmer, William Maxey, stated that he had met the wagons that afternoon on Hulen land and “positively saw a body in the rear wagon, covered with a buffalo hide, save the feet.”  At Hulen Ford, he noticed a hole had been cut in the ice.  The wagons had stopped at that point and “a heavy object dragged to the creek bank and dumped in.  There was blood on the snow crust about the hole.”  At Paris, E.T. Wetmore told the distressed father that a man of Jester's description had spent the night of January 25 at his livery stable.  “He had two outfits, the buffalo calf and dog seen at Middle Grove....slept in the wagon that belonged to your boy....left before daylight.”


            Ansel Gates continued eastward.  He lost the trail after the wagons crossed the Mississippi at Hannibal, but found it again at Springfield, Illinois.  Livery stable operator Herman Hofferkamp remembered, “The man stayed at my barn for about a week.....sold the buffalo calf for cash....had some clothing that didn't fit him and a leather trunk.  He left me a very intelligent dog, which I kept.”  Gates recovered Abe Lincoln.


            The father next struck pay dirt at Decatur, Illinois, where Jester had sold three buffalo hides to a merchant named Dennis.  Dennis had taken the hides to the Dunham Tannery.  They were still soaking in the vat.  Blood was detected on the hairy side of one of them.  A chemical analysis “showed it to be human blood.”  Gates obtained the hides, convinced they were the ones in his son's possession when he left Augusta.  The father hurried to Hagerstown, Indiana, hoping to intercept Jester with Gilbert's team and wagon.  Jester had been there, admitted Mrs. Cornelia Street, a widowed step-sister, saying nothing of his trip east except that he had “traded for a new outfit.”  He had sold his own team and dilapidated wagon and left Hagerstown with this new outfit the last of March to return to his homestead in Kansas.  Gates hurried to Sedgwick County and called on Sheriff Walter Walker.  Walker was well acquainted wiht Jester, as was Constable L.D. Fisher of the Valley Center district.  They made careful inquiry.  Jester was not home and his wife denied knowing his whereabouts.  So Gates went to the farm and “looked it over in the ostensible view of buying it.”  When he offered a good price, the woman told him where her husband could be located.  Walker and Fisher arrested Jester on May 2, fishing in the Little Arkansas.


            Gates identified the team he had raised.  In the wagon was part of Gilbert's clothing, including the underwear his mother had made, and his gun.  The trunk was missing.  Jester was carrying the watch which the family had kept as a relic.  Jester told Gates, “Your boy and me traveled together until we went into camp past Middle Grove.  He took a sudden notion during the night to go to Texas.  I paid him $350 for his outfit, watch, gun and young buffalo to make the trip.  It's a mystery to me why he didn't take his dog.”  Jester declined to comment on the discoveries made by Ansel Gates at Middle Grove, in Illinois and Indiana.


            Sheriff Walker notified the Missouri authorities.  A warrant was issued in Monroe County.  Deputy Ownby went to Jefferson City, obtained a requisition from Governor B. Gratz Brown on the Kansas governor, then took a train to the Santa Fe terminus at Florence, thence by stage to Wichita.  Jester was given a hearing before Judge Allen E. Dodge, the requisition was honored, and Ownby departed with his prisoner for Florence.

According to Ownby, “We reached Kansas City by special train that evening.  Here I found a telegram from my father, telling me that a mob intended meeting the Wabash train at Renick and hang the prisoner.  I took the Haninbal & St. Joseph line to Shelbina, hired a buggy there, and drove across country to Paris.  Jester waived preliminary hearing.  The grand jury indicted him for murder, but for some reason he was not tried at the next term of court.  He got a change of venue to Audrain County, and was removed to jail at Mexico, Missouri, the designated place of trial.  Jester's wife disappeared from Kansas.  In mid-November 1871, he tunneled out of the Mexico jail, and we could find no trace of him.”


            Young John Gates had joined his father in Missouri following Jester's arrest and “saw the suspect several times in the Paris and Mexico jails.”  Jester's escape filled him with wrath.  The family offered a $1,500 reward for his recapture, and in their burial plot at West Chicago they placed a stone shaft bearing the following epitaph: "Gilbert W., son of A.A. and Mary Gates, was murdered in Missouri by Alexander Jester, January 25, 1871, aged 19 years and 25 days.”

            The accusation gained credibility in 1877, when some boys who were swimming in Allen Creek pulled out the arm of a young man, thought to be Gilbert's.  It revived the interest of Missouri authorities, but Jester remained unapprehended.  Vengeance on the murderer of his brother continued as one of John Gates' burning ambitions.  John began his business career in St. Louis selling iron and steel products for the Cleveland Rolling Mill company.  The barbed wire industry was in its infancy.  Patents were controlled by the Washburn & Moen Company of Massachusetts, with all other manufacturers as licensees.  Seeing enormous profits and believing the patents would not hold in law, Gates did a little manufacturing on his own in an obscure St. Louis factory.  Washburn & Moen naturally went after the so-called "moonshiners," but Gates continued to worry his persecutors until a federal circuit judge declared the Washburn & Moen patents invalid.  Using his St. Louis factory and another in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as a nucleus, Gates organized a strong company which he operated so successfully that, in 1889, he began absorption of some twenty barbed wire plants in the United States.  By 1893, he was president of Consolidated Steel and Wire and the Illinois Steel Company.  He moved to Chicago, where he could keep in touch with men of large capital and ideas, and in 1898, at age forty-three, controlled the barbed wire industry of the country.  Gates boasted that he “worked twenty-two hours and slept two,” and had never been beaten in anything he undertook.  Throughout those years, he expressed his willingness to suspend his efforts in all lines, at any time, and expend any portion of his wealth necessary to apprehend and convict Alexander Jester.


            The murder case took a surprising turn on June 21, 1899, when Sheriff Charles W. Simmons, of Sedgwick County, Kansas, received the following letter: “I wish to make a statement to you in regard to Alexander Jester, who was arrested near Valley Center in 1871 for killing a young man for his team, watch and clothing.  He was sent to Missouri and broke jail.  He is my brother, but I want him punished for that crime.  I know of my own personal knowledge that he is guilty as charged.......He is living here at Shawnee, Oklahoma Territory, and is known as W.A. Hill.....”

                                                                        Respectfully, Cornelia Street


            Simmons notified Sheriff M.N. Melson at Mexico, Missouri, and the authorities of Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma Territory.  On Friday night, June 23, Deputy Sheriff Howard Smith of Shawnee took the so-named Hill into custody.  Mrs. Street told Deputy Smith that she and her brother had moved to Shawnee a few months previously and purchased a three-roomed house on two lots.  Each occupied a separate part of the structure.  They quarreled constantly, and each tried to get the other to leave.  “I wrote the letter to Sheriff Simmons because I feared my brother,” Mrs. Street said, “and because I was prompted by the Lord.....For the last seven years I have scarcely slept.....I prayed to forget the crime, and it would seem to me as if I could hear the Lord saying, ‘You are as much a sinner as your brother.’”


            Hill was clothed in the “cheapest maud” and had but twenty cents when arrested.  He stated that his interest in the Shawnee property was his “earthly possessions,” claimed to be eighty years old, and “appeared debilitated.”  Mrs. Street said that she was sixty-eight years old; that he was seventy-six and faking. 

            The old man maintained, “My name is William Alexander Hill.  I was baptized under that name in 1858.  I was born in North Carolina in 1819.  My father died before I was born.  My mother remarried, and we moved to Henry County, Indiana.  There I grew to manhood and enlisted at Richmond when the Civil War broke out.  Since the war I have been traveling the West, preaching the gospel.  I know nothing of Gilbert Gates or his family.  This wicked woman made the accusation to prevent my marriage to a woman she don't like....She thinks I'm craze.  I think she is filled with the devil.”


            Mrs. Street countered, “He was thirteen when his father died.  His mother married my father, Isaac Jester, and he was known as Jester after we moved to Indiana.... When eighteen, he married Delilah Bryant and his mother started him in housekeeping so far as her means allowed.  Once he kicked his wife in the side, nearly killing her.  He knocked me down during a visit to his mother's house years ago, and when I tried to escape, he stabbed me in the arm with a big dirk knife.  He always carried a big dirk knife.  He is a vicious man.  After escaping jail in Missouri, he went to Texas and claimed to be a preacher.  His wife died in 1883.  In 1889 he moved to Norman (Oklahoma Territory), and since then has been married and divorced twice.  He was to be married again next Sunday to a woman who has a bunch of children, and I knew I would be turned out of my home.”  Mrs. Street added, “I was told by his first wife before she died that Gilbert Gates’ trunk was burned and thrown into the Arkansas River.”  Thus began a great legal controversy.


Hill was jailed at Tecumseh, and his attorney, W. R. Asher, applied for a writ of habeas corpus before Probate Judge J.D.F. Jennings, to show he was being unlawfully detained as Jester.  Judge Jennings was the father of Al and Frank Jennings, notorious train robbers recently sentenced to federal prison upon failure to prove an alibi.  Pottawatomie County Sheriff W. B. Trousdale opined that, in Judge Jennings, Hill had a “sympathizer.”  County Attorney L.G. Pitman vigorously protested the writ, claiming that Hill was “lying to gain time in hopes of breaking jail again.”  While the public agreed that Hill, if he was Jester, should be punished for his crime, Mrs. Streets’ “unnatural act of a sister in delivering her brother to the hangman brings down upon her only scorn and aversion.”  Attorney Asher propounded, “Her motive is to share in the $1500 reward.... the letter she wrote is false and her brother never killed anyone.”  Judge Jennings granted the application and set a hearing for Monday, July 3, allowing Hill time to produce witnesses to prove he was in Texas when Gilbert Gates disappeared.


            Pitman summoned Sheriff Simmons from Wichita with Cornelia Street's letter, and telegraphed John Gates in Chicago.  Gates reached Tecumseh the night of June 27.  Next morning, he entered the county jail, accompanied by Pitman and Sheriff Trousdale.  Jailer Elias Riddle had fifteen prisoners sitting in the corridors.  So indelibly stamped in Gates’ memory were the features of the man charged with murdering his brother that he approached Hill without hesitation and asked, “Do you remember me?”  The old man gave him a pitiable gaze and answered, “No.”  Gates demanded, “Don't you remember me visiting you many times in the Paris and Mexico jails?  Don't you think it is time you admit taking the life of my brother, cutting a hold in the ice and shoving his body into Allen Creek?”  The old man grew very nervous and requested, “Don't talk about the death of your brother.”  Gates told Pitman and Trousdale, “This man is Alexander Jester as certain as God reigns in Heaven.”


            In Missouri, Sheriff Melson obtained a requisition from Governor Lon V. Stephens at Jefferson City, and entrained for Oklahoma Territory to return Hill to Audrain County for trial.  Governor Cassius M. Barnes honored the requisition at Guthrie, June 26.  Melson hurried to Oklahoma City, where he boarded a special train for Tecumseh, “for fear Hill would be released and again escape.”  Already a number of persons had appeared to prove the prisoner was innocent.  Two Texas men alleged he was living at Denton in 1871 and was known as William Alexander Hill.  One of several citizens who knew him during the time he lived at Norman remembered, “When the Sac and Fox country was opened in 1891, he went there and secured a claim, which he sold for $800.  He returned to Norman with a new wagon, team and harness.  Afterwards he furnished proof of his war service and secured a disability pension.  He at once bought a buggy - seemed to have a passion for new rigs and women.  He separated from his wife and remarried.  His last wife divorced him last winter, and he and his sister moved to Shawnee.  He never preached any that I knew of, but he attended church and was called ‘Old Man’ Hill.”  The third wife testified in the prosecution's favor, “I secured my divorce in the district court of Cleveland County on account of non-support and cruelty.  Though I knew him as Hill, he said his age as 76 when we were married.  He's putting it on rather thick....his signs of physical failing are only adopted to arouse sympathy.”


            Attorney Asher submitted a new list of witnesses, and Judge Jennings postponed the hearing until July 8.  John Gates had returned to Chicago on an emergency matter.  He telegraphed Governor Barnes, June 30, “Is it possible that the ends of justice can be defeated in Pottawatomie County?  My identification of Jester was complete.  He can also be identified by many residents of Monroe County.... I fear that after 28 years, justice will be defeated unless you can suggest some way in which Jester can be removed to Missouri promptly.”  Governor Barnes replied, “I think you can rely upon the court giving just consideration to the case... Suggest you secure good counsel in behalf of sheriff holding by warrant.”  County Attorney Pitman did not like the course the proceedings were taking and called on B.F. Burwell, associate justice of the Supreme Court for the Third Judicial District at Oklahoma City.  Justice Burwell assured him that Judge Jennings had no jurisdiction and that he would speedily act upon an application for a writ of mandamus, which he advised Pitman to pursue.


            Pitman admitted afterward, “I immediately returned to Tecumseh.  The Missouri sheriff had been kind and friendly toward me, and after some consultation, an abduction was decided upon.  Sheriff Trousdale was favorable to this plan when assured that Justice Burwell had given his opinion that the action of Judge Jennings was arbitrary and illegal.  He suggested that we go to Shawnee and wait until midnight so attention would not be attracted to us being together in Tecumseh and our plan suspicioned....”  At 3:00 a.m., Sunday, July 2, a special train arrived in Oklahoma City from Shawnee, with Hill in custody of Trousdale, Deputy Smith, and Pitman.  Sheriff Melson was in charge of the party.  The officer refused a Daily Oklahoman reporter an interview with the prisoner –“would say absolutely nothing except that the requisition papers were in proper form and signed by the governor.”  At 4:00 a.m., connection was made with a northbound Santa Fe train, allegedly ordered by John Gates.  Deputy Smith accompanied Sheriff Melson with his prisoner to Mexico, Missouri.


            The Oklahoman called the removal "kidnapping" but noted, “The efficacy of modern official methods are properly vindicated....the reckless daring in which the prisoner was borne away in triumph is entitled to a mention on the temple of fame.”  Governor Barnes considered it “an outrage” and felt that the courts should “inquire into the conduct of the Tecumseh officers.”  Attorney Asher filed information before Judge Jennings charging Pitman, Trousdale, and Jailer Riddle with “contempt of court.”  Justice

Burwell issued a writ restraining Judge Jennings from proceeding with the contempt cases.  Pitman files a motion to dismiss the habeas corpus, alleging want of jurisdiction, and the matter was quashed.  At Mexico, Missouri, ex-Deputy Sheriff P.S. Ownby, ex-Sheriff W.H. White ofAudrain County, and others around at the time of Jester's 1871 arrest and indictment, said Hill was Alexander Jester, and the old man no longer denied it.  However, after retaining as counsel Mexico attorney P.H. Cullen and T.P. Bashaw, of St. Louis, who had defended him in 1871, he told the Mexico Intelligencer, “If hell was to open and I knew I would fall into it, I would still say I never killed Gilbert Gates.”


            Strangely, all important papers in the 1871 hearing had been lost.  The order for change of venue and the indictment did not state the manner in which Gates came to his death.  A rumor spread that the prisoner would soon be released.  Monroe County Attorney T.T. Rodes declared it “pure rubbish” and announced that he would present new evidence showing how Gates was killed to obtain a new indictment on which Jester could be tried at Paris.  During July and August, both prosecution and defense “prepared for a desperate struggle.”  John Gates reportedly send Rodes a check for $1500 with which to secure evidence and witnesses and employed ex-Governor Charles P. Johnson, of St. Louis, to assist in the prosecution.  William S. Forrest of Chicago, attorney for Gates’ enterprises, “lent a helping hand.”  Pinkerton detectives were sent to Sedgwick County, Kansas, “to interview witness and examine records of Jester's trial there.”  Rodes spent several days at Middle Grove, “where he interviewed all the old witnesses in the Jester case, and found five new ones who made very important disclosures.”  Attorney Johnson obtained the application made by Jester under the Civil War disability act, in which he gave his name as Alexander Jester, a member of Company G, Thirty-Sixth Indiana Volunteers—“conclusive evidence that the Reverend William A. Hill and Alexander Jester are the same man.”  Cullen and Bashaw basked in the belief that the state had “no stronger case than in 1871” and pointed to “the inability of the state to produce the dead body of Gilbert Gates.”


            On September 20, Jester was brought before Circuit Judge E.M. Hughes at Mexico. The prosecution moved that the old murder charge be dismissed.  The motion was granted, and Jester was a free man.  A moment later, Sheriff J.W. Clark of Monroe County intercepted Jester in the corridor and read him a new warrant charging him with the same crime for which he had been under indictment.  Jester said, “Well, I reckon I'm your prisoner now.”  The sheriff rushed him to jail at Paris “for fear he would be rescued by an Oklahoma delegation.”  Next day, Jester was arraigned before Justice of the Peace James T. Moss.  He refused to answer any question put to him by Rodes or Justice Moss, and was remanded to jail to await preliminary examination.


Sixty-five witnesses from five states were examined during the preliminary at Paris in mid-October.  The aged Ansel Gates minutely described the outfit his son had left home with, his failure to hear from him, and his long search through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and to Valley Center, Kansas, where Jester was arrested.  Charles Hazelhurst identified Gilbert's clothing, gun, watch, and said the dog's name was Abe.  Several witnesses testified that after Jester left Middle Grove he was in possession of young Gates' team, wagon, dog, and buffalo calf.  William Maxey and Amanda Clarke told how they had seen Jester alone the morning of January 25, 1871 with two outfits and

“the body of a young man in the wagon he was leading behind the other.”              Throughout the hearing defense attorneys questioned witnesses as to whether John Gates, the Chicago “capitalist” had advanced money to secure their testimony.  The prosecution admitted that Gates was paying the expenses of the witnesses to the Missouri state line and expending money necessary to secure the conviction of his brother's slayer.  Jester was ordered held for action of the grand jury, without bail.


            The grand jury indicted Jester on October 20.  When formally arraigned before Circuit Judge David H. Ebey, he pleaded not guilty and made affidavit alleging prejudice against him in Monroe County, asking for a change of venue.  The prosecution bitterly contested the application.  The defense argued that the case had been dismissed at Mexico and brought back to Paris because the prosecution believed Jester could be more easily convicted in Monroe County.  Judge Ebey order the case transferred to Ralls County.  The trial began at New London, July 9, 1900.  Newspapermen swarming into the little city from throughout the Midwest billed it as “one of the most famous murder trials in the history of Missouri,” and elaborated:  The courtroom is packed to capacity.... The jury is composed principally of farmers, three-fourths of them born since the alleged crime was committed.  Prosecuting attorney Rodes is assisted by Johnson of St. Louis,

Forrest of Chicago, and several other celebrated criminal lawyers.  J.G. Hoffman, assistant superintendent of the Pinkerton Detective Agency and several other detectives who worked on the case are here in the interest of the state.... Jester's sister will be one of the principal witnesses against him....  Two things will prove a strong assistance to the defense.  There is a strong prejudice against trusts in Missouri and John W. Gates is the brother of the man Jester is accused of having killed.  Then age is an unspeakable factor - Jester is now a tottering wreck and supposedly over 80 years old....  Mr. Forrest said last night: “We hope to overcome these two factors by such convincing evidence that the jury can do nothing but convict him.”


            Testimony began July 11 and continued two weeks.  Twice the number of witnesses took the stand than at the preliminary in October 1899.  Ansel Gates repeated in detail the search for his son and the subsequent arrest of Jester with Gilbert's outfit and personal effects.  Tears streamed down his face as he examined some of the articles which had been preserved during the many years.  Hazelhurst was so unshakable that the defense admitted Jester had some of Gates' possessions, but “they were included in the outfit he had purchased from the young man when they separated near Middle Grove.”  The defense also attempted to impeach witnesses Maxey and Clarke, who had seen Jester alone with the wagons the morning of January 25.  A janitor for the Middle Grove church testified he had met Gates and Jester, both alive, as he was going to church in the afternoon.


            In final arguments to the jury July 27, the defense propounded that the state's evidence was “purely circumstantial....the dead body of the young man never has been found... the state has failed to show that he is dead, that he died in Monroe County, Missouri.”  It pointed further to the presence at the trial and the active work of the Pinkerton detectives, and “made it plain” that the case had been “worked up by men in the hire of John W. Gates, the millionaire steel man”, that the prosecution “does not deny that John W. Gates has paid the expense of witnesses from a distance, and that the hotels are keeping them at his expense.”  Judge Eby instructed, “The members of the jury are the sole judges of the evidence, and unless they believe and find that Gilbert Gates is dead and that he came to his death through the criminal agency of some person and that person is the defendant, and that defendant murdered Gilbert Gates, in the manner and by means charged in some count of the indictment, the jury should acquit the defendant.”


            The New London Record of August 1 reported, “Three ballots were taken... The first stood nine for acquittal, three for murder in the first degree.  The next stood ten for acquittal, two for conviction.  The third and last, unanimous for acquittal, was given by the tired jurymen: “We, the jury, find the defendant, Alexander Jester, not guilty.”  The old prisoner, worn from watching, sat as if dazed... The courtroom throng sat in breathless silence and seemed hardly to grasp the meaning of the words just spoken...  Jester, finally realizing the import of the words, arose, his fact beaming, and moved toward the jurymen to thank them... When enable to disengage himself from his attorneys and friends who surrounded him, he made his way to the hotel.  He left here at once for Oklahoma, where he was taken prisoner two years ago.”


            Jester again took residence in Norman and discarded the name Hill.  On August 6, he announced, “I have not yet returned to preaching, although I am preparing a sermon on the sixth commandment.”  A few weeks later, he left for points in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, lecturing on his adventures and tribulations, under the auspices of the attorneys who had defended him.  Early in August 1904, he wrote P.H. Cullen at Mexico, “I am now in my eighty-sixth year and unable to get to the St. Louis World’s fair.”  A dispatch to the Oklahoma State Capital on August 21 stated, “Bent and shriveled with his years of eventful life, Alexander Jester, the most noted alleged criminal who ever set foot in Shawnee, returned here yesterday after an absence of six years.”  Jester died shortly afterwards.  The Carbondale (Illinois) Free Press and Guthrie Oklahoma State Capital reported that on his death bed he admitted killing Gilbert Gates by cutting his throat and sinking the body in Allen Creek.


Oklahoma State Capital, August 23, 1904








Gilbert Gates, the Murdered Man, Was a Brother of John W. Gates and Was Killed in 1871 -- Story First Told by Jester's Sister at Shawnee.


Carbondale, Ill.  Aug 22 - “The great mystery which for thirty years and more has surrounded the murder of John W. Gates' brother, Gilbert Gates, has been cleared and Alexander Jester, a preacher, the accused, has confessed to the murder, according to information received in this city today.”