Category Archives: People

P.R. Wreuster Murder

Have you heard of the P.R. Wreuster Murder of 1911?  It is a legend that has faded with time, but was once the talk of the town.

A Plymouth Rock rooster

Picture of the murder victim from the December 28, 1911, Olathe Mirror

What started out to be a school assignment caused quite a stir in 1911 Olathe.  William “Pug” Ferguson, a student at the School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, was assigned to come up with an actual situation for a murder for his short story writing class.  Several students in this class all lived together in Lawrence.  They were sitting around discussing the class, each hatching their own murder scheme. Mr. Ferguson knew his plan was so good that he claimed it would bring the large city papers running within 4 hours.  He said anyone can write about an imaginary situation, but he wanted to be original.

William Ferguson

William Ferguson, 1911 KU Yearbook
Source: Ancestry.com

senior class portraits

1909 Senior Class from Olathe High School Source: Johnson County Museum Collection JoCoHistory.org

A graduate of Olathe High School in 1909, he found the perfect place for his scheme: the old abandoned Ott’s Mill.  The building was located on Cedar Street, not too far from the water works pond and Frisco Lake.  During Thanksgiving break, he enlisted Jim McKay, a high school friend, to help with his plan.  They took the blood from a Plymouth Rock rooster (hence the name P.R. Wreuster), and smeared it on the second floor of the structure.  Mr. Ferguson had previously snatched his sister Nanette’s hairpins, barrette, breastpin and a gold beaded necklace.  They placed these on the floor beside the blood, along with a blood-smeared pipe matted with hair.  They also positioned bloody handprints on the wall.  Upon leaving, they let the blood drip as they walked back down the steps.  The boys then went to the Olathe Mirror and wove a tale about the bloody evidence.  The newspaper man did not believe them and told them as much.  At this point the boys admitted to their experiment. They thought the matter was over, but later at Christmas, the building’s watchman came upon the blood.  He hurried to notify Deputy Sheriff E.G. Carroll (later known for the Bert Dudley lynching).  In addition to the Deputy, C.B. Little, the county attorney, rushed to the mill.  All Christmas Day, the deputy and a dozen assistants armed with long poles dragged lakes and ponds searching for a dead body.  They waded through icy waters and, of course, came down with colds the next day.   Shortly after the Sheriff’s office was notified, the big city papers, the Kansas City Post and the Kansas City Star, caught wind of the story and headed to Olathe.  Speculation was that the woman road the Strang line from the city before she was lured to the room and killed. She was then dragged down the stairs and thrown into one of the ponds. There was even an eyewitness to an unidentifiable couple walking by the mill at the time of presumed murder.

Ott's Mill drawing

Ott’s Mill depiction of the 1874 Kansas Atlas
Source: Historical Atlases of Johnson County Collection JoCoHistory.org

Within 24 hours the murder mystery was solved.  The story of a murder hoax spread throughout the state.  Newspapers exploded with the story, Headlines read, “Boys Faked Mystery”, “’Murder’ At Olathe Work of U. Students” and “Planned Fake”.  When it was discovered that the blood was from a Plymouth Rock Rooster, the headlines started to get clever: “P.R. Wreuster of Olathe ‘Fowlly’ Murdered” and “Olathe Murdered ‘Miss’ Turns out to be a ‘Mr.’ Rooster”.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a little newspaper rivalry going on between the local Olathe paper and the big city papers.  The Star claimed that the local newspaperman was deceived also.  The Olathe newspaperman was so incensed by this accusation that he printed a two-column front page story defending himself.  The young men were not prosecuted, but they both experienced notoriety afterwards.  Mr. Ferguson landed a job at the Atchison Champion before moving on to the Dallas Dispatch, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angles Record and the Los Angeles Examiner.  He was an early WWI pilot, and held a flying license with the army, the navy and the Marine Flying Corps.  While training in Florida it is said he fell 600 feet but sustained no serious injury.  Then he fell again 4000 feet in Tampa Bay, but this time spent four months in the hospital.

Professor Merle Thorpe, head of the journalism department at KU, denied there was ever such an assignment where students were expected to create an actual murder situation, they were only to create one on paper.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Fun with Family at King Louie West

The Arts & Heritage Center’s 1st Anniversary is on Sunday, June 10th. Come and celebrate anytime in the month of June! The Johnson County Museum, located inside the Arts & Heritage Center, is open Monday – Saturday 9:00 am – 4:30 pm.


After visiting the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center last year at it’s opening, I had an episode of dejavu.

I had been to the building before, but it was completely different.  I hadn’t been there for fifteen years when my sons worked at the King Louie Bowling Alley and Ice Rink during their senior year of high school in 2002. They worked on weekends for gas money, and they said it was one of their favorite jobs.

King Louie

King Louie West  Source: Johnson County Museum Collection JoCoHistory.org

One of the boys worked in the snack bar cooking up any kind of fried food you could order and the other worked in the little shop where you could turn in tickets for prizes. They made lots of people happy and were even able to get a discounted bowling ball. The rest of the family used to go over while the boys where working and go bowling.

King Louie West bowling ball

One of the bowling balls the Kazmi boys bought while working at King Louie West. They were smooth balls so the owners could have custom holes drilled to fit their hand. Source: Melody Kazmi

This being near the end of the King Louie heydays I remember it being rather dark and considerably smokey-smelling. I remember it being very large, and usually not very busy when we went. Once my little girl even got to go down in the basement and go ice skating. I didn’t even know at the time that there was an ice skating rink down there!

It was the largest place of that type I have ever seen. Now that is has been renovated, cleaned, and made bright and shiny it has become a wonderful renewed source for the public to visit in a completely different capacity. But to me it will always be where my family and I spent some fun weekends bowling and skating and eating fried foods.

Six members of the Kazmi family

The Kazmi family, ca. 2002 Source: Melody Kazmi

-Melody Kazmi, Johnson County Library

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Buddy the Deaf Dog

Your dog can sit, but can it answer its own fan mail? Can it play piano and wear a stylish cap? Buddy could!

Buddy answering fan mail

Buddy answering fan mail in 1953 Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

“Buddy the Deaf Dog” was a touring stage act put on by Bob Parker and his famous performing dog Buddy.  Buddy and Parker made a splash in the 1950s, touring schools and stage events throughout the metro area and traveling as far as St. Louis. Buddy had total hearing impairment but, with some ingenuity and a lot of practice, the team were able to develop a series of tricks that were based on visual cues given by Parker. When asked how the two came to be, Parker claimed to have found Buddy wandering lonely on the plains of Kansas. He had a mean attitude and tried to bite Parker, but the two quickly became inseparable friends.

Bob Parker and Buddy

Bob Parker and Buddy Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

Buddy was particularly popular at Olathe’s Kansas School for the Deaf, where the duo performed a myriad of tricks meant to show that Buddy’s lack of hearing didn’t prevent him from excelling and learning new things. Some of Buddy’s best-loved tricks involved him writing letters, smoking a pipe, or joining Parker on the piano.

Buddy playing the piano

Buddy playing the piano Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

Buddy "smoking" a pipe

Buddy the Deaf Dog Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

The man behind the dog, Bob Parker, was born in 1899 as Parker B. Melluish in Ottawa, Kansas. Parker was a veteran of both World Wars, dropping out of high school to join the army at age 17. He fought in the Battle of the Argonne and was honorably discharged due to injury, at which time he joined the vaudeville circuit and toured the country as a song and dance man. When World War II arrived, Parker rejoined the service and took charge of theatre and entertainment for his regiment. He arranged USO shows, performed in variety programs, brought in the newest films, and was responsible for keeping up his company’s morale. He remained an active member of Olathe’s American Legion post and Veterans of Foreign Wars throughout his life. After World War II, he returned to Kansas and became a theater manager, touring with Buddy in his free time. He was a lifelong supporter of the Kansas School for the Deaf and continued his support long after he and Buddy had retired. Parker passed away in 1975 and requested that donations be sent to the school in his memory.

Bob and buddy perform

Postcard to Kansas School for the Deaf Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

 

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“An Ideal Home in an Ideal Location with Ideal Surroundings:” Richard Hocker’s Suburban Developments in Merriam, Kansas

By the turn of the 20th century, industrialization in Kansas City resulted in overcrowding, pollution, and disease. Looking to escape these less-than-desirable conditions, Kansas City’s upper-middle classes sought homes in new suburban developments in northeast Johnson County. The advent of the electric trolley led to “streetcar suburbs,” which made transit into downtown accessible and convenient.

One such suburban neighborhood was planned by Richard Weaver (R.W.) Hocker, who was a banker and real estate developer in Kansas City, Missouri. Envisioning early suburban development in Johnson County, the “R. W. Hocker Subdivision” was platted in 1910 for eight 5-acre lots. One of two houses originally built, the “Walker House,” was added to both the State and National Registers of Historic Places in March 2017.

3-story house with limestone porch

This image from Google Maps shows the Walker House as it appears today at 5532 Knox Street.

The Walker House is a single-family dwelling built between 1906 and 1911 (the Kansas State Historical Society estimated 1910). The home, located at 5532 Knox Street, was built as a “spec house,” short for “speculative,” essentially serving as a model for the neighborhood’s intended development. The home’s first occupant was Mrs. Azubah Denham, the wife of Rev. B.Q. Denham. Rev. Denham was a popular pastor in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in the 1890s. Between 1904 and 1910, however, he had become infamous for adultery and indecency scandals in Buffalo and New York City. In 1911, Azubah Denham purchased the Walker House in her name only for $5,500 ($137,500 in 2015). In 1920, many working class families lived on less than $1,500 per year, so the home’s price illustrates the intended middle-class nature of Hocker Subdivision.

Architecturally, the Walker House is indicative of the Kansas City Shirtwaist Style, named for ladies fashion at the beginning of the 20th century. Shirtwaist dresses included a seam at the waist where the material often changed. The Shirtwaist influence is evident in the Walker House: a single-floor local limestone exterior, an upper floor and a half of cedar clapboard, and flared gable eaves on the eastern face and one-story porch. Inside, original woodwork, including oak and pine hardwood floors, contribute to the historic character. The Walker House originally sat on a large 5-acre lot, but today occupies just .31-acres.

Hocker Grove area of Johnson County atlas map

This excerpt from the 1922 Standard Atlas of Johnson County, Kansas, shows both of Hocker’s residential developments. The Walker House occupied Lot K, located in the upper right. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/atlas/id/138/rec/4)

Hocker also platted “Hocker’s Grove” in 1915. This neighborhood contained 1-acre lots for modest—but still middle-class—Craftsman bungalow homes. Just seventeen were originally constructed. Both neighborhoods were within a half-mile walk from the “Hocker Line,” an inter-urban, electric trolley that was speculated to extend from Kansas City to Lawrence and even Topeka (it reached as far as Mill Creek, to the east of Zarah, or about two miles west of I-435 today). By 1907, the trolley ran the the seven-and-a-half miles between Kansas City and Merriam. Residents could reach Union Station in 35-minutes, the intersection of 12th and Main Streets in 45-minutes, and make connections to Kansas City’s urban trolley line along Southwest Blvd.

Trolley station at Hocker Grove, 1915

The Hocker Line Trolley Station near Merriam. This image appeared in the 1915 Hocker Grove promotional booklet. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/jcm/id/5594/rec/25)

Hocker promoted his neighborhoods with the slogan, “The Home For You.” A promotional booklet printed in 1915 testified that buyers would find “an ideal home in an ideal location with ideal surroundings.” The booklet indicated that the “modest, artistic homes in a restricted neighborhood” were equipped with natural gas, fronted on macadamized rock roads, and were located in “natural and picturesque beauty.” Buyers could take advantage of flexible deferred payment plans, as well. The “restricted neighborhood” wording communicated to white, middle-class buyers that the area was reserved as residential for a twenty-five year span, and that no African Americans could purchase or lease the homes there for 100 years. This developer’s tool of racial segregation, often referred to as a “deed restriction,” was used throughout Kansas City and Johnson County’s suburban neighborhood developments, as well as across the nation during the 20th century suburban boom.

Hocker Grove homes located on the southeast and northeast corners of the intersection of Knox Street and Hocker Drive, 1915

These Hocker Grove homes are located on the southeast and northeast corners of the intersection of Knox Street and Hocker Drive. Both streets were called “Avenues” in 1915. Image from the 1915 Hocker Grove promotional booklet. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/jcm/id/5595/rec/27)

Hocker Trolley line map

An undated map of the route of the Hocker Line electric trolley. The trolley line followed the Frisco and Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad lines. (Johnson County Museum)

Both of Hocker’s neighborhood developments were located near Hocker Grove Park, a 40-acre amusement park that Hocker planned and built with O.M. Blankenship between 1907 and 1908. The park was located on Hocker Drive, north of Johnson Drive today. This amusement park featured roller-skating, dancing under a large pavilion with a Wurlitzer automatic band organ (the pavilion doubled as a basketball gym), and was the site of balloon ascensions, professional boxing matches, and picnics. Families rode the Hocker Line from Kansas City to enjoy picnics in the natural setting. There was also a 2,000-seat grandstand for watching baseball games, an extremely popular sport at the time. A “Trolley League” soon developed with six semi-professional baseball teams.

Picture of the Hocker Grove 'Trolley League' baseball team, 1908

The Hocker Grove “Trolley League” baseball team, c. 1908. (Johnson County Museum, 1990.025.018)

Crowds skating at the Hocker Grove skating rink, 1908-1915

A postcard image of the Hocker Grove Park skating rink, c. 1908-1915. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/jcm/id/11817/rec/30)

Hocker was not the only real estate entrepreneur working in the area. Increased real estate competition in and around Merriam at the time of Hocker’s developments may have limited the construction there. After all, despite the beauty and convenience of Hocker’s two neighborhoods, only 19 homes were built between them. William B. Strang’s competing interurban trolley line and his suburban developments, most notably Overland Park, were located nearby and were equally convenient, beautiful, and middle-class in nature. Hocker died in 1918, and his amusement park closed the following year. After more than a decade of financial difficulty, the Hocker Line trolley closed for good in 1934. By then the automobile had become accessible for Johnson County families.

In the century since the construction of the Walker House in the R. W. Hocker Subdivision and the smaller Craftsman homes in Hocker’s Grove, most of the empty lots have been built upon, the large lots have been subdivided, and many historic homes have been remodeled or razed. Yet it is still possible to discern the beauty of the location and, with Interstate 35 following the Hocker Line into Kansas City almost exactly, the convenience remains evident. Hocker’s suburban dreams for his neighborhoods nestled between Merriam and Shawnee have been thoroughly realized today, if not during his lifetime.

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Path of the Shawnee

Living in Johnson County, Kansas, we see the name Shawnee all around us. Schools, streets, newspapers, neighborhoods and cities adorn the name. Our county’s namesake, Thomas Johnson, ran the Shawnee Indian Methodist Mission. The Shawnee were not originally from this area, so we pay our respect this Native American Heritage Month by taking a look at the path that led them to Kansas. It was not what we would call a voluntary path by any means.

According to the Shawnee Tribe’s official website, Shawnee are an Eastern Woodlands tribe. In Sauk, Fox and many other Algonkian languages the name for the Shawnee, Shawunogi, and its variants means “Southerners.” Before being forced west by European encroachment, the Shawnee lived in areas that include Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Tenskwatawa

Tenskwatawa, a Shawnee who was strongly opposed to Indian removal and brother to the legendary Tecumsah. He was forcibly relocated from Ohio to Kansas. Image courtesy of the Kansas History Society.

In 1793, the Shawnee received a Spanish land grant near Cape Girardeau, Missouri and a large group of Shawnee headed west for that land. After the Louisiana Purchase, that land became property of the United States government. This prompted some of the Shawnee to leave and head even further west to Texas and Old Mexico. They are known as the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, and they later moved to Oklahoma.

For the Shawnee remaining in Ohio, the Treaty of Fort Meigs granted them three reservations in 1817. By 1824, there were 1,383 Shawnee left in Missouri and about 800 in Ohio.

hist_map_span_1793

Spanish Land Grant map from 1793. Courtesy of the Shawnee Tribe.

Not long after 1824, the Missouri and Ohio Shawnee would find themselves being forced out of their homes and onto 1.6 million-acres in eastern Kansas, part of which is now Johnson County. Relocation of the Ohio and Missouri Shawnee started in 1826. To begin cultural assimilation, missionaries were setup throughout the Kansas reservation, one being the Shawnee Indian Methodist Mission located in present day Fairway.

indianGirlsNew

Girls at the Shawnee Indian Mission School. Photo Courtesy of KSHS.

By the late 1860s, the Shawnee would once again find themselves compelled to leave their home for several reasons. The 1.6 million-acre reservation had been decimated to 160,000 acres by the U.S. government after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Shawnee were also antagonized by the settlers coming into Kansas during and after the Civil War. The Shawnee and Cherokee Nation were then forced into an agreement by the U.S. government allowing the Shawnee land and citizenship in the Cherokee Nation reservation in Oklahoma. It was not until the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000 that the Shawnee Tribe was restored to its position as a sovereign Indian nation.

We didn’t address the fascinating history of Indian removal resistance that took place in Ohio or the Shawnee involvement in the War of 1812. Perhaps we can look into that another time.

-Beth Edson, Johnson County Library

Resources:

Howard, James. (1981). Shawnee!: The ceremonialism of a native Indian tribe and its cultural background. Ohio University Press: Athens.  

Kansas State Historical Society. Shawnee Indians. Retrieved from: http://kshs.org/kansapedia/shawnee-indians/19230

The Shawnee Tribe. History. Retrieved from: http://www.shawnee-tribe.com/History.html

 

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In the Line of Fire, Part 3: The Trial

A cold snowy day, November 17, 1952, opened the trial of Merle William Martin, man of numerous nicknames including “Steve” and “Red.” People blowing hot air into their cold hands were seen hurrying into the brand new Johnson County Courthouse. Dedicated not a month earlier, this $985,000 building was for the next two weeks where the fate would be decided for the man previously known as the “pillowcase burglar” and murderer of Deputy Sheriff Willard Carver.

Johnson_County_courthouse_in_1955

Johnson County Courthouse

Throughout a day and a half, 36 men were called in and questioned to be potential jurors. It finally dwindled down to 12. Many were excused because they did not believe in capital punishment, others for business reasons and some because they had knowledge of the case or were acquainted with persons involved.

County Attorney John Anderson indicated in his opening statement that ballistic tests proved the gun found in a vacant lot close to the apprehended Birmingham, Alabama, car was indeed the murder weapon. Deputy Sheriff Floyd Gaunt, Carver’s partner on the night of his homicide, was questioned for three hours describing the events of June 23. Others who testified included Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Van Schoelandt whose trucks were stolen, Mrs. Irene Bruce and Mrs. Moss Davis who identified stolen articles, Olathe photographer Guy Pierce who took pictures at the scene, and Mrs. Barth who initially called in the attempted theft of her car.

Fingerprints belonging to the defendant were found on stolen vehicles at the murder scene and in Birmingham.  When Roberta Rae Carter, Martin’s girlfriend, was called to the stand, all she replied was, “I refuse to answer the question on the grounds that the answer might tend to incriminate me.” Earlier Martin’s attorney, who visited Carter while she was incarcerated, tried to not include her as a witness, attempting to prove she was Martin’s common-law wife. This attempt was not successful.

Prisoner_William_Merle_Martin_with_deputies

Merle William Martin being lead to the courthouse

Martin’s attorneys used insanity as his defense. Three Psychiatrists testified throughout the trial, all appointed by Judge John L. Kirkpatrick. Two of the three psychiatrists found him sane and able to understand his position. The third psychiatrist found him to be suffering from a severe nervous disorder.

On Saturday, November 29, at 6:10 p.m., after deliberating only three hours and 40 minutes, the jury found Merle William Martin guilty of first degree murder, felonious assault, burglary and grand larceny. They recommended he be put to death. It was the first death penalty recommended by a county jury since the penal code of 1935 was enacted. After one stay of execution and another attempt, he was hanged by the neck on July 16, 1954. Before his execution he penned a letter taking full blame for the shooting: “Isgrigg did no shooting,” he wrote. He walked calmly and unaided to the gallows. The trap was sprung at 1:03 a.m., and he was pronounced dead at 1:16 a.m.

Three days after Martin was found guilty, Charles Wilford Isgrigg, Martin’s accomplice, entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.  After serving approximately 20 years, Isgrigg was paroled in 1973 and released from parole in 1975.  He died in 1981 in Joplin, Missouri.

Sgt_Willard_Newton_Carver

Deputy Sheriff Willard Carver

Deputy Sheriff Willard Carver was a popular man. He served in World War II for three and a half years and was awarded the purple heart and a presidential citation for action during the Normandy Beach invasion. In 1949, he joined the staff of the Johnson County Sheriff’s office, and at the time of his death he was a sergeant. Also at the time of his death he was in the running for the Republican nomination of Sheriff.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

Resources:

Johnson County Archives

http://law.justia.com/cases/kansas/supreme-court/1953/39-055-0.html

https://news.google.com/newspapers

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In the Line of Fire, Part 2: The Manhunt for Merle William Martin

After the death of Willard Carver, the first officer killed in the line of duty on record in Johnson County, Kansas, police immediately started looking for the suspects. On June 24, 1952, the day after the murder, Charles Isgrigg surrendered to authorities. It would take more effort to capture suspect Merle William Martin.

After almost two months on the run, Martin along with his “statuesque blond” companion, Roberta Rae Carter, was spotted on August 17, 1952, in Utah. Police roadblocks were put in place, and a mother and 13-year-old daughter were injured when an officer mistakenly shot. Throughout the next few days Martin was spotted in Colorado and California, with one report stating that he was carrying a sub-machine gun.

Roberta_Rae_Carter

Roberta Rae Carter, Martin’s companion while on the run

It was not until Carter was captured while sleeping in a stolen car that officers began to believe they were getting close. Then on August 27, Martin was sighted driving along a St. Louis highway and forced into a ditch. Jumping from the car he fled to a nearby cornfield. Troopers and FBI agents searched for him, and three bloodhounds were added to the hunt. The troopers and agents searched all night, but at daybreak with no sight of Martin, a spotter plane was called in. When there was no luck and the bloodhounds lost the scent, the agencies were forced to give up. They believed a man could hide for days in the rough terrain.

Unlocking_handcuffs_of_William_Merle_Martin

Removing handcuffs from Merle William Martin

Their luck turned on August 30 when two motorcycle policemen spotted Martin driving down a St. Louis street, and they pulled their revolvers. They raced alongside Martin, and then two other policemen joined the chase and rammed Martin’s car into a curb, thus ending the hunt for one of FBI’s Ten Most Wanted. Tired, hungry, disheveled, cut and bruised, Martin was finally apprehended. His pants were torn at the knees and he was covered in mud. The apprehending officers described Martin as a “whipped dog.”

William_Merle_Martin_in_jail_cell

Merle William Martin captured in South Saint Louis

Stay tuned for part three of this series that will cover the trials of Merle William Martin and Charles Isgrigg.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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