Lynch Law

Extracted from Proctor Neal Carter’s “Lynch-Law and the Press of Missouri”, M.A. Thesis, University of Missouri – Columbia, 1933, pp.29 – 35. 

“… The lynching of Abraham Witherup at Paris, in 1902 occurred after Witherup had confessed to the murder of Will Grow. Grow’s body was found floating in a small stream near Paris, April 23, 1902. Abraham Witherup was arrested and confessed to the murder April 25. He was in jail at Paris until his arraignment a month later. The day following his arraignment, Witherup was taken from the jail and lynched by a mob. 

In the two stories that appeared in the Paris Mercury prior to the lynching of Witherup, mention was made of the similarity of his crime, to a crime for which Alexander Jester was tried and acquitted a year previous. In the story quoted below, the Paris Mercury (Paris Mercury, Jun 6, 1902) says: “There is about him (Witherup) a certain though indefinable suggestion of Alexander Jester, to whose crime his own bears such a striking similarity. There is the same ignorant cunning, the same feigned impassiveness, the same animal glitter in the watery blue eye, though he is by no means Jester’s equal in intellectuality.” 

It is also brought out in this story that “Witherup was suspicioned of murdering a boy near Medicine Lodge, Kansas, under almost identical circumstances, the two having cropped together.” After the lynching of Witherup, the Centralia Courier was quoted in the Paris Mercury as follows: “The mob that hung Witherup at Paris, Mo., Sunday morning was doubtless incited to the lawless deed by the acquittal of old man Jester at New London last year.” The first story appearing in the Paris Mercury (Paris Mercury, April 25, 1902) recounted Witherup’s confession and details of the murder. 

Thursday noon – Witherup made a detailed confession to Prosecuting Attorney McAllister at the jail this morning. The crime, he says, was committed in a quarrel over rent, in the manner described. He killed Grow with a hatchet, which he threw into the river with the body. This is a story of murder – the most revolting, gruesome and ghastly murder that has ever taken place in the history of Monroe county.  

Late Tuesday afternoon Gene Crow and E.J. Cullifer, living northeast of Old Clinton, went down to North Fork, near Paint Bank to fish. They saw something floating almost on the surface of the water in the middle of the stream and on investigating closer found it was a human body. It was lying face downward and the hair on the back of the head was showing. Assistance was summoned by the two men and the body taken from the water. It was in a badly decomposed state with a number of terrific gashes about the head. Friends recognized it as the body of Will Grow, a young man farming in that vicinity and word was sent to Prosecuting Attorney McAllister at Paris. Directing them to hold the body at the river’s edge until he came, Mr. McAllister notified Dr. Johnson, coroner, at Madison, and the two officers, accompanied by Deputy Sheriff Martin Clark, Clarence Evans and Dr. Bodine as a surgical expert, went to the scene early Wednesday morning. 

In the absence of Dr. Johnson the inquest was held by Squire Martin. Whitecotton refuses to defend Witherup. In a little shed on the river bank in the presence of some 50 or 75 men of the vicinity, the inquest was held and the body dressed for burial by the distressed father and brother of the young man, who live just east of Paris. The verdict of the coroner’s jury was that Grow came to his death by a weapon wielded in the hands of Abraham Witherup, and this is the story. 

Abraham Witherup is a man about 55, and had been cropping with young Grow since February on 60 acres of land near Hunnewell belonging to Mrs. Henry Johnson. The two men had lived together in a house about a quarter of a mile back from the road. Little attention had been paid to them. What cause of motive existed for the murder is not apparent at this time, but later developments may bring it out. From evidence gathered by the officers at the inquest it is evident that murder has been committed, that it is foul and brutal as such crimes ever are, and that Witherup is the guilty man. On Grow’s head were seven gashes, any one of which, says Dr. Bodine, would have been fatal. The attempt made to conceal his act shown the over-cunning with which guilt very frequently betrays itself. Grow was murdered in the house where the two men lived last Thursday night. He was evidently sitting in a rocking chair and Witherup either in a fit of rage or with premeditated plan, beat him to death with some blunt instrument. The floor was covered with blood, the wall was spattered with it, and a broom the murderer had used to clean up the ghastly evidence against him, was smeared with it. In the night he hitched up a road wagon, loaded his bleeding victim in it and drove to the river where he deposited the body, never thinking to weight it down. The distance to the nearest point of the river was 3 miles, but he returned by a different route. Neighbors heard the wagon rumbling over the roads during the night, but none guessed its gruesome mission. The man drove down among the lonely hill of North Fork undisturbed. Next day he went to Hunnewell and bought some red paint, with a sort of ignorant cunning using it to paint over the floor in order to hide way up and scraped and washed the paper on the walls to the plastering, but the damned spot would not out. He chiseled the bottom of his wagon bed where the body had lain and bled and again betrayed himself. Surely no man ever had so much blood.  

It ran under the floor, soaked the soil and stained the rocks to cry out against him. A portion of the floor was taken up and is in possession of the authorities. The blood beneath was still damp. The instrument with which the deed was committed is thought to have been thrown in the river and is being searched for, the well having been examined Wednesday. Tuesday Witherup came to the home of the boy’s parents east of Paris and told them the boy was missing. He was eating dinner with the family when arrested, a dinner cooked by the mother of the boy he murdered. He feigned surprise, but when examined at the jail was found to be reeking evidence of the foul crime. His drawers were bloody, his watch bloody, and a big dirk knife stained. He was arrested by Sheriff Clark and Marshal Masterson on receipt of telephone message from Clinton.  

A Mercury reporter visited Witherup at the jail Wednesday evening. He is a tall, raw-boned man with short stubby blond beard of recent growth and weighs about 180 pounds. This first and final impression of a visitor, is that man is vicious by nature, a criminal from instinct, ferocious, brutal and unforgiving. His conduct is nervous, his face furtive and his light blue eye evasive and restless. There is about him a certain though indefinable suggestion of Alexander Jester, to whose crime his own bears such a striking similarity. There is the same ignorant cunning, the same feigned impassiveness, the same animal glitter the watery blue eye, though he is by no means Jester’s equal in intellectuality. In reply to questions that had any bearing on the case his answers were evasive, “I am a prisoner and don’t like to talk,” was the invariable response. Once only did he appear disconcerted and that was when the reporter asked in reverting to the crime: “So there was no bad blood between you and Grow? You had no possible motive for murdering him?” “I don’t know about that,” he replied quickly and unguardedly, but realizing his indiscretion, stopped short in dogged silence. When told about the pint and the chiseled wagon bed he betrayed no concern. He said the wagon had been chiseled since he left it if the report was true. Witherup is a study for criminologists and if reports be true has a record which shows the ferocious and bloody bent of his mind. He came here from Kansas and like his famous prototype Jester, is a pensioner and has been oft married. Like him also he displays the same cruelty toward animals and has the same ungovernable temper. Sexuality and cruelty are the predominant symptoms marked in the face and oblong head of both men. It has been known to the local authorities for several years that Witherup was suspicioned of murdering a boy near Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and almost identical circumstances, the two having cropped together. The evidence was never sufficient to demand his requisition, but his second wife, Mrs. Miller, who secured a divorce from him about a year ago, told Sheriff Clark that he had confessed to her. She also said he would go into insane rages at his horses and come for his gun to kill them. He is evidently a pervert with a diseased and ferocious desire to shed blood.” 

The second and final story before the lynching took place, appeared is the Mercury, Mary 2nd. It pointed out further evidences of the ‘mental and moral’ kinship of Witherup to Alexander Jester. This story also mentioned that there was talk of mob action and expressed the hope that ‘such talk be given up.’ “Abraham Witherup, charged with the murder of William Grow, is showing additional signs of his mental and moral kinship to Alexander jester. He has fallen back on religion as a stay and is depending on the occult for comfort. By his request Rev. W.N. Briney of the Paris Christian Church has visited him three times during the past week. On the first visit he seemed reserved and would talk only on religious matters, his purpose seeming to be a desire to find out what was going to be done with him. On the third visit he broke down, asked Rev. Briney to pray with him, and made a second confession, which in substance, is the same as that made Prosecuting Attorney McAllister.  

He said that he was born in Ohio, that neither he nor his father were church members and that he himself had never been religiously inclined. He said he killed Grow Thursday night and that the quarrel leading up to the crime occurred that morning. The two men had had an altercation over feeding the horses and Witherup, becoming indignant, had called Grow a liar, accusing him of dealing unfairly with him in regard to the note and contracts made when they rented the place. Nothing more was said during the day and that night Grow dressed up to go on a visit home. Witherup was in bed. Grow reproached him with still being ‘sore’ over the morning’s occurrence and Witherup said he was, referring to having given his companion the lie and saying, ‘I still stick to it.’ At this Grow became angry, saying the repetition of the charge was more than he would stand. He picked up the now famous bloody rocking chair and made at Witherup, who now had arisen from the bed. According to the accused man’s testimony a struggle ensued. The two men alone in the cabin and far removed from the hearing of sight of the world, fought like cage beasts for life and death. He says Grow stuck him twice with the chair, breaking off the rocker, as noted by the officers on investigation. In his extremity Witherup says he grabbed a hatchet from the table and struck Grow on the head, felling him. After this, being in a rage, he pounded the prostrate man on the head until he came to a realization of his crime and found he had murdered him. In two hours he loading the bleeding body in a wagon, and desiring to conceal his crime, hauled it to the river three miles away, throwing it in. Next day he painted the floor, the rocker, the bloody broom used in sweeping up the blood and tried to wash the blood spots from the wall. He felt no fear or remorse in staying on his victim’s mother and father. In confirmation of this story, Witherup’s drawers were bloody showing he had made the struggle in his night clothes, and he had two bruises, one of the leg and the other on the shoulder where he said Grow had struck him with the chair. The chair also had a rocker broken off. In refutation of it, Grow had no bruises about the arms or chest, such as, Dr. Bodine says, would naturally have resulted in a struggle of the kind described, but was evidently struck first in the back of the head—a fatal fracture—a fact almost impossible if Grow had had the cair as a guard. Grow’s father says the two men had had trouble some weeks ago in which Witherup threatened his son with the same chair. The trouble arose because Grow, who was doing the cooking, had put too much salt in the beans, and Witherup had gotten mad. 

The prosecution is inclined to the theory, it is said but not known, that Witherup murdered Grow while the latter was in bed, striking him on the back of the head first and then beating him to death. This accounts for the blood on the drawers worn by Witherup when arrested. The hatchet, tied in a sack, was found by Witherup’s direction, in the river last Friday. When Rev. Briney asked him if he would do the same thing over again under similar circumstances, he replied no and weeping said he would allow the boy to beat him to death…”