True Crime Books by Jason Lucky Morrow

Welcome to HistoricalCrimeDetective.com [Est. 2013], where you will discover forgotten crimes and forgotten criminals lost to history. You will not find high profile cases that have been rehashed and retold ad infinitum to ad nauseam. This blog is the official website for true crime writer Jason Lucky Morrow, author of four books including the popular series: Famous Crimes the World Forgot, Volume I and Volume II. If you would like to send me a comment, Contact Me Here. - Please follow this historical true crime blog on FACEBOOK.

New Book : True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe by Roman Vitelli

Home | New Books | New Book : True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe by Roman Vitelli


This book is a collection of true crime stories from different countries (Japan, France, Italy, the UK, and the US) and different time periods that defy simple description. They include:

True Crime Stories You Won't Believe

by Roman Vitelli

• The strange tale of a psychotic geisha who severed her lover’s genitals to carry as a token of her love and who inspired a cult following
• How a small-town murderer helped inspire the movie Psycho and left his hometown with a reputation they never lived down
• A father who sacrificed his daughter to prove his faith in God and his followers who fully expected her to be raised on the third day (she wasn’t)
• A Sorbonne graduate student who killed and cannibalized the woman he loved and went on to become a bizarre media celebrity
• A 19th century serial killer who earned the title of “the worst woman in the world” by killing a series of husbands for profit
• The assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy you never heard about but which very nearly succeeded.
• George Stinney, the fourteen-year-old child who died in the electric chair for a crime he didn’t commit.
• Joseph Vacher, the “French Ripper” whose crimes shocked France but tried to blame it all on the rabid dog that bit him.
• How mob boss Vincent Gigante earned himself the nickname of “the Oddfather”
• Leonarda Cianciulli, the Corregio “Soapmaker” who killed three women as a sacrifice to protect her own children.

These stories, and more, are all featured here making this book a must for any connoisseur of true crime and bizarre justice. This 183-page collection of some the most amazing crimes HistoricalCrimeDetective has ever known is available on Amazon at $2.99 for Kindle, and just $7.62 for paperback. Click on the link below to purchase.

True Crime Stories You Won’t Believe: A Cavalcade of Chaotic Justice by Roman Vitelli

About the Author: Romeo Vitelli received his doctorate in Psychology from York University in Toronto, Ontario in 1987. He spent 15 years as a staff psychologist in Millbrook Correctional Centre, a maximum-security prison run by the Ontario government. In 2003, he went into full-time private practice and has been an avid blogger since 2007.

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That Time Nevada Executed a 17 year-old, 1944

Home | Feature Stories | That Time Nevada Executed a 17 year-old, 1944


This story is dedicated to ‘packerpil.’ Thank you for your continued support.

 

During the summer of 1942, Lafayette, Indiana, residents experienced a six-week “reign of terror” in which fifty serious and misdemeanor crimes were committed by one or more individuals.

Beginning on June 2, the crime wave included:

  1. Twenty counts of breaking into automobiles,
  2. Three counts of motor vehicle theft,
  3. Approximately twenty misdemeanor counts of shoplifting and petty theft (petit larceny),
  4. Six home & business burglaries, and
  5. Two counts of aggravated assault occurred during two of those burglaries.

This list does not include any affiliated counts of selling stolen property.


 Around 2:30 in the morning on June 20, Mrs. Mary Soller, 72, and her sister-in-law, Emma Soller, were asleep in separate rooms when they were both awakened by someone turning on the lights to each room.

Thinking Emma was awake and needed assistance, seventy-two-year-old Mary had just stood up when a man wearing a mask threw a one-quart glass milk bottle that struck her on the left side of her head, which then careened off to hit a door frame where it shattered to pieces. She then collected two twenty–dollar bills and handed them over, satisfying the burglar, who then made his escape.

Suffering from a head injury and shock, the frail woman spent several days at a local hospital. Lafayette detectives investigating the case concluded her attacker used a common-style skeleton key to enter the home.

The next aggravated assault came on June 30 while Mrs. Francis Knoth was ironing clothes in her kitchen as her two young children slept. Since her husband worked the night shift at an industrial plant, she was startled by a noise in the front room. Thinking one of the children made the noise, she left to check on them. 

As she stepped into the front room, a masked burglar accosted her. Screaming, the young man threatened to kill her with a .38 caliber revolver he had found while searching an adjacent closet. He then pushed her into another room and beat her. The intruder then ran out the front door taking the revolver and a Waltham brand watch. Also suffering from shock, Mrs. Knoth sat on the floor for several hours before she summoned the strength to scream for help. Eventually, neighbors arrived and the police were called at 12:50 a.m.

Her attacker’s description matched the description the Soller sisters had given. Local detectives were already piecing together all the separate crimes and looking for connections. Knowing Knoth’s attacker would likely try to sell the Waltham watch, they were keen to find where it would show up. 

Their strategy worked, and six days later, they found a man who purchased the watch in good faith for three dollars. From him, they traced the purchase back to the seller.

On June 7, the front page of the Lafayette Journal and Courier announced the crime wave was over with the arrest of Floyd Burton Loveless, 15, and his brother, Robert Kay Loveless, 17. When Floyd was just three, his mother Hazel, 29, stepped in front of a train on June 15, 1930. It was written up in the newspaper like it was an accident. Their father worked for the railroad and was often gone. Their grandmother raised the boys in Clarks Hill, a village fifteen miles south of Lafayette. On June 2, the boys left home for Lafayette and went on a crime spree.

No stranger to the law, both boys were already on probation for prior offenses. Seven months earlier, Floyd was placed on probation after serving nine days in jail for the burglary of a rural home near Lafayette. Robert’s probation stemmed from a 1939 conviction for motor vehicle theft. He first served time at White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute for that crime, a punitive juvenile facility with a school and working farm.

Memories of that institution may have tapered Robert’s tolerance for crime to only fifteen misdemeanor counts of shoplifting. It was young Floyd who was Lafayette’s John Dillinger for June of 1942.

Behind bars, Floyd’s confessions trickled out of him over the next five to six days. Eventually, a polygraph examination, in which he flunked horribly, encouraged him to get it all off his chest. This included the two assaults, the burglaries, the motor vehicle thefts, and twenty counts of breaking into a parked automobile.

Tried in juvenile court first-degree burglary, Floyd Burton Loveless was given the maximum sentence allowed: commitment to the Indiana Boy’s School until he reached the age of twenty-one, sooner if the school trustees believed he had reformed.

Like most juvenile institutions in other states, IBS was a tough place. Teen boys were subjected to widespread theft, staff violence, violence by older boys, including sexual assault. However, since it was classified as a school and not a penal institution, the 1,300-acre facility did not have an impassable fence or guard towers. The only measure to prevent any boy from escaping was a locked door for their barracks-like quarters and a guard or two wandering the grounds.

Floyd entered the institution on July 15. Thirty days later, he and another boy, David Cline, 15, escaped and it took six hours before someone noticed they were gone. Situated thirty miles northeast of Indianapolis, the boys stole a car and drove west, most likely taking US 40, the fastest and easiest road to get there.

They financed their trip by burglarizing homes. Floyd found a revolver in one of them and kept it for himself. He should have left it there. Shortly, it would change his life forever.

By August 20, the two boys were near Elko, Nevada,[1] where they quarreled and decided it was best to split up. Floyd let Cline keep the Indiana car, but Cline stayed with Floyd until he had commandeered one himself. It didn’t take long before Floyd found a truck with the keys still in it. Cline drove behind him as they got back on the Victoria Highway (US Highway 40) to continue their journey to California.

Stealing the truck was Floyd’s second-biggest mistake that day. It belonged to Elmer Hill, the popular manager of the Horseshoe Ranch at nearby Dunphy. Everyone knew Elmer’s truck, and when Carlin Constable Adolph Berning learned the stolen truck was coming his way, he parked his vehicle along the highway and waited.

With Elko 23-miles east of him, Berning didn’t have long to wait. He had served as the town’s constable for twenty-six years, re-elected by the people each time since 1915. Throughout the county, he was known as a reliable lawman.

But on that day, August 20, shortly before noon, the odds were against him. He spotted Elmer’s truck, noticed someone else was driving it, and stood there until it stopped. At about that same time, the stolen car driven by Cline was also preparing to stop but drove away when the constable waved him off.

Berning walked over, opened the door and told Floyd, “He would have to take me in for being in a car I didn’t belong in,” Loveless later testified.

Not sending the danger he was in, Berning got behind the wheel, forcing Floyd to slide over to the passenger seat. He would later tell officials: “I pulled out a gun and said I wouldn’t go back with him. He grabbed the gun, and I shot him. The gun got jammed, and we started fighting, and then I pulled the trigger again, and it worked, and I drove off down the road.”

Berning collapsed on the driver’s seat, and Floyd pulled him the rest of the way into the truck. Then, with Berning slumped over in the passenger’s side, Floyd got behind the wheel and continued driving west.

Over the next few miles, Berning moaned in agony. Loveless replied that he was taking to him to a hospital.

Instead, he caught up with Cline a little further down the highway at Primeaux Station—a middle-of-nowhere gas station and rest-stop with a natural spring. Loveless abandoned the truck and jumped in the Buick, and the two drove off. 

Cline later testified that when Loveless got into the car, he asked him what happened, and Floyd said he had shot the officer and left him in the truck.

Cline said nothing, drove a little further, and then exclaimed that he saw a pistol lying in the sagebrush by the side of the road. When Floyd went to look for the weapon, he drove off and left him there.

The end for Cline came about ninety miles further down the highway near Winnemucca, where a roadblock was waiting for him. Cline took the shoulder and drove around it, forcing him to take a seven-mile dirt road that was a dead end. He was trapped.

A cruiser belonging to Deputy Sheriff George Armstead pursued Cline. Riding shotgun with him was Wallace van Reed and Arthur C. Sebbas, who were running against each other to be the next sheriff of Humboldt County.

Trailing behind a thick cloud of dust, the two opposing candidates put nine bullets in Cline’s car, hoping to stop him. None did. At the end of the road, they watched as Cline discovered the dead-end, turned the car around, and sped towards them.

Setting up another roadblock at a narrow point in the road, all three got out and readied themselves. As he had done before, Cline steered for the shoulder in the hopes of driving around them. Both candidates saw this and opened up with two shotguns, shredding the windshield. Two of the 12-gauge pellets hit Cline in the cheek, and that was it for him. He was taken into custody and driven back to Elko County.

Meanwhile, an Elko County deputy sheriff found Loveless walking along the highway a few miles west of where he had abandoned the stolen truck and a gravely wounded Constable Berning, paralyzed from the neck down.

On the drive to the Elko County Jail, Loveless confessed to stealing the truck and shooting Berning, but when he met up again with Cline behind bars, he recanted his confession and refused to say anything more. Berning died from his wounds thirty-six hours later.

Elko County’s case against Loveless began in juvenile court but was soon bumped up to district court, a move that would have him tried as an adult. He was formally charged with murder on September 12, pleaded innocent on September 22, and his trial began on September 28—thirty-nine days after he mortally wounded Berning.

Jury selection lasted most of the first and second day, and by the end of business on the third day, September 30, the trial itself was over, and Loveless was found “…guilty as charged in the information.”  His defense attorney had but just one strategy, avoid the death penalty. The high point of the trial was when Loveless took the stand and wept as he described shooting Constable Berning. Explaining himself as best he could, Loveless told the jury he didn’t know Berning was a law enforcement officer since he was wearing plainclothes.

Dale Cline’s actions to rid himself of Loveless and his willingness to testify against him saved him from being charged as an accomplice. He would later be taken into federal custody for interstate motor vehicle theft and “held until the age of maturity.”

According to Nevada state law, district judge James Dysart, who oversaw the case, had no choice but to sentence Loveless to death, which he did on October 5. His execution date was scheduled for December 13.

One Nevada newspaper pointed out that his sentence could later be commuted to life in prison by the state board of pardon and parole or the governor.

But it was clear from almost the beginning that that was never going to happen. From the time he was bumped from juvenile to district court to the judge sentencing him to death, Nevada newspapers, including the Reno Gazette and the Nevada State Journal, systematically lied about Floyd being sixteen-years-old. He wasn’t. He was fifteen. He would turn sixteen on November 2. They had his files. The FBI had his files. They didn’t get it wrong on accident. They never got Cline’s age wrong; he was always fifteen.

Sixteen made Floyd Loveless more of a man and less of a boy if his true age were published.

Several days after his sentencing, Loveless was transferred to the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, where he resided on death row. On November 30, two weeks before his execution date, his defense attorney, Taylor Wines, filed an appeal, something he didn’t have to do.

In his oral argument before the state supreme court, Wines rightly pointed out that his client was found guilty of murder, but the kind of murder was left out. According to section 10068 of Nevada Compiled Laws 1929, murder is not just murder. First-degree or second-degree murder must be clearly spelled out in the charges, and instructions to the jury.

“All murder which shall be perpetrated by means of poison, or lying in wait, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, * * * shall be deemed murder of the first degree; and all other kinds of murder shall be deemed murder of the second degree; and the jury before whom any person indicted (or informed against) for murder shall be tried, shall, if they find such person guilty thereof, designate by their verdict whether it be murder of the first or second degree.”

On April 21, 1943, the Nevada State Supreme Court ordered the verdict set aside and Floyd Loveless to receive a new trial.

Returning to Elko County District Court, his second trial began on November 15, 1943, and like the first one, it was over on the third day (November 17). This time, the language was clear, “…guilty of murder in the first degree.” 

Loveless, now seventeen, was again sentenced to die in the Nevada gas chamber. But fortunately, a  second trial also gave him the right to an appeal which his defense filed on February 29, 1944.

As he waited for oral arguments and the court’s decision, Floyd Loveless lost his bitterness and became a proper young man. He kept time for prison boxing matches, read books in his cell, wrote letters, embraced the Catholic faith, and played on the prison softball team. His skills as a second baseman even got his name in the sports section of the Nevada State Journal when NSP trounced the 947th Guard Squadron 6-2.

Oral arguments were heard on July 10, and the Nevada State Supreme Court published its opinion on August 16. Judgment was affirmed. Execution was scheduled for September 29, 1944.

During his last forty-four days, the state board of pardons and paroles refused to commute his sentence, and the governor declined to intervene. His attorney filed a writ of habeas corpus, claiming Loveless was insane. But this only postponed his execution from 5:00 a.m. to six o’clock that evening.

At that time, the warden read the death warrant to him, and a physician attached a stethoscope to his chest. Loveless’s last request to the warden was for roses to be sent to his grandmother back in Indiana. This was granted.

At 6:24 p.m., he was led from his cell and walked his last thirteen steps with Father Buell by his side. Although no last words were recorded, it is customary for prisoners about to be executed to ask forgiveness from all those in life they had hurt and to forgive all who sinned against them. Loveless was then strapped into a steel chair, and the doctor connected the stethoscope to monitor just outside the small cinderblock building.

At 6:27 p.m, sodium cyanide pellets were dropped into a pot of sulfuric acid, and within sixty seconds, the room filled with white poisonous smoke. Floyd took a deep breath, as he had been advised to do, and by 6:29 p.m., he was pronounced dead.

 

Epilogue: Although it was believed by many that he would be buried in the prison cemetery, Floyd Loveless’ body was transported back to Indiana, where he was buried next to his mother in Fairhaven Cemetery, in Mulberry, Clinton County. His father and brother were buried elsewhere.

 

[1] At the time, US 40 connected with the Victory Highway near the Wendover Cut-off not far from the Great Salt Lake Desert. Nevadans called it what it had always been to them, Victory Highway, while others called Highway 40, or US 40, which was constructed after the Victory highway was built. Soon, it would be neither of them as Interstate 80 was constructed in their place.

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The Most Miraculous Execution in American History (That Nobody Told You About), 1904

Home | Feature Stories | The Most Miraculous Execution in American History (That Nobody Told You About), 1904


Dedicated to Bela Deraj who told me to get back to work! 🙂

 

This is a story I have wanted to write for a long time.

Over the last twenty-years, I have become convinced that the internet is 10-percent original, and the rest is just a copy. 

Case in point: When it comes to botched executions, the ‘same’ listicle gets republished several times a year by different content farms looking for cheap and easy traffic to make a fast buck. Ad revenue is the motive and there’s no motive to reward quality work because that’s just how the USA is now. Content churners are untrained, poorly paid, and the yet-to-be observed consequence is that the world is drowning in content.

 That’s why the name of Michael G. Schiller does not appear on any “Top 10” listicle, nor in Wikipedia, or even on the Death Penalty Information Center’s 10,000-page website – the largest resource for the dissemination of death penalty related information.

His absence from history of executed criminals is just as baffling to me as his own executions. Yes, plural. You see, Michael G. Schiller’s story is unique because he is the only executed prisoner who came back to life.

Twice.

In all the case studies of botched executions throughout the world, there have been: prisoners whose neck had to be hacked several times before it was separated; prisoners hanged who were partially or fully decapitated; those who strangled to death without a broken neck; and a few who even survived their own hanging. When it came to the electric chair, besides being burned or set afire, it was occasionally necessary for officials to order two, three, four, five, and even six applications of the electrical charge before they were declared dead.

But that’s not what happened to Ohio State Penitentiary prisoner Michael Schiller during the midnight hour of June 17, 1904. The first and last detailed account of his execution (until now) appeared in the 1908 book, Palace of Death, A True Tale of 59 Executed Murders, by Captain of the Guards Humphrey M. Fogle. [Historical Crime Detective Books will republish the original version of this book, December, 2021.]

As an insider privy to all that occurred within prison walls, Fogle’s book contains exclusive information of Schiller’s execution. Fogle’s story retold below is augmented by newspaper reports written by journalists present for the execution as official witness for the public.

When Michael G. Schiller was executed on June 17, 1904, he was the thirteenth man to be electrocuted by the state of Ohio. The prior twelve electrocutions had gone well, and there was no reason for prison officials to think Schiller’s would be any different.

Click to view larger images.

(All words and sentences in parenthesis below are the editor’s.)

Notice to content creators (podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers, listicle regurgitators,) do not use this material without accurate accreditation to HCD. I’m tired of you acting you like did all your homework when you just grabbed it from this blog.

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NEVER BEFORE IN the gruesome history of the Annex (the official term used then for Ohio’s death row) was witnessed such a horrible and sickening sight as that which attended the execution of Michael G. Schiller, serial number 34,925, the Youngstown wife-murderer, just after midnight on June 17, 1904.

Electrician Marden had tested the chair several times that evening and pronounced it in perfect order. Schiller grew extremely nervous when he heard the officers testing the chair, and spent the evening pacing restlessly back and forth in the death cage. He flatly refused all spiritual consolation and would tolerate the presence of neither preacher nor priest. He ate sparingly of his supper and refused to take stimulants of any kind (whisky). He had maintained all along that something would intervene to save him from the chair. He had hopes that the governor would, at the last moment, commute his death sentence to one of life imprisonment. He watched the old Annex clock with an anxious heart, as it slowly registered the flow of the river of time into the ocean of eternity.

At 11:30 p.m., the attending guards filed into the Death Cage accompanied by the prison barber. John O’Brien, the genial, good-natured, time-honored guard, who has witnessed more legal executions perhaps than any man in the United States, said: “Well, Mike, it is time to prepare for this unpleasant ordeal,” at the same time placing a stool for the condemned man to sit upon, and motioned for the barber to proceed. Then, and not until then, did the condemned man abandon all hope. From that time until twelve o’clock, he moved about as one in a trance, utterly oblivious to all his surroundings.

While this scene was being enacted in the silent hall of death, Superintendent Marden (supervisor of the prison’s generator) and his attendant were making a final test of the chair. All things seemed in perfect order, and the superintendent expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied that so far as his part was concerned, the execution would be a success. (There’s a lot of CYA going on in that last sentence because of what happened.)

Just as the old clock struck the fatal stroke of twelve, the muffled tread of approaching footsteps were heard within the outer corridor. In another moment, the old death-chamber door swung open, revealing a crowd of thirty-five or forty men formed in a semi-circle around the fatal chair. At a nod from Deputy Warden Wood, the death-march was taken up, and Schiller appeared in the doorway leaning heavily on the arm of Guard O’Brien. Skilled hands quickly adjusted the straps; the death-dealing electrodes were placed upon the shaven head and calf of the leg. The black-cap, which completes the last act of the fatal drama, was drawn over the eyes. The hush of death was on the assembly. The dropping of a pin, at that moment, would have grated harshly on the nerves of the spectators.

Warden Edward Hershey asked in a clear, firm voice, “Michael Schiller, have you anything to say before the sentence of the court shall finally have been carried out?’’ Schiller’s lips moved, but no sound came from them. The warden held his watch in his right hand; with his left, he reached for the fatal lever, and as he broke it, the body of Schiller shot upward as far as the clamps would allow it to go. There was a low hissing sound, as the 1,750 volts of electricity went coursing through his body. This was continued for seven seconds, then the current was reduced to 250 volts for the remainder of the minute; then the current was shut off, and the body relaxed.

Dr. Thomas, chief physician for the prison, examined the heart, pulse, and eyes; five other physicians did the same thing, and all pronounced him dead. The warden and the spectators filed out of the room and up the long hallway. The attending guards loosened the clamps and were in the act of laying him on the cooling board but, oh horrors! A stifled sigh comes from the lips! A gurgling sound emanates from the throat! He gasps and struggles for breath!

(Fogle’s Story Continues after Editor’s Note)

Editor’s Note: Exclamation points aside, it was the most shocking thing the prison officials had ever seen, pun intended. When he was declared dead by five physicians, the crowd of thirty-five spectators, including the warden, filed out of the death chamber.

After they had left, Schiller’s body was unstrapped from the chair, he lurched forward and fell over. He was still alive.

“He was straightened up in the chair, and he began to breathe heavily. Saliva was [falling] from his mouth and guttural groans sounded throughout the chamber, chilling the strongest men to the very heart,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported later that day.

Surviving did not mean it was over for Schiller. All death warrants state the prisoner shall be executed until he or she is dead. They were going to have to do it again. But it would take two minutes to reassemble everyone and have the generator in the power plant turned back on.

During that time, the Enquirer continued, “Schiller seemed to be regaining consciousness. At one time, he appeared to throw back his head as if making a desperate effort to talk. The sight was absolutely sickening. Spectators expected to see him recover.”

(Fogle’s Story Continues)

A courier was dispatched for the warden; the crowd was reassembled; the straps were quickly readjusted. By this time, the poor wretch was breathing quite naturally.

Then, it was discovered that the current had been shut off at the prison powerhouse (the building that housed the prison’s generator to supply electricity). A messenger was dispatched right away to the plant, a distance of several hundred yards. Soon, all was once more in readiness.

Again, the lever shot upward; again, the 1,750 volts of electricity went scorching and singeing through the body of Michael Schiller. This time the high voltage was continued for fifteen seconds, and then reduced to 250 for the remainder of the minute. This time, the doctors made a thorough and careful inspection, and after examining the body for twelve minutes, all declared that he was dead beyond the shadow of a doubt.

(Or was he?)

Once more, the crowd dispersed; the body was lifted from the chair and placed upon the floor to await the coming of the undertaker. The warden had reached his office, and a majority of the crowd had started home.

(Schiller’s body was unstrapped from the chair and carefully pulled to the floor where he was placed in the traditional position for burial. Two of the guards then covered his corpse with a sheet, and he was left there to await removal by the prison’s cemetery crew. As the guards were about to leave the execution room, Schiller let out a long, painful groan.)

The guards were horror-stricken and looked in terror at one another. Again, the gurgling sound was heard to come from the throat of Michael Schiller. Chief Guard O’Brien raised the sheet, and a sickening sight met his gaze. The man was gasping and struggling for breath. Again, the warden was summoned. This time he and the attending physicians came alone.

(There would be no spectators for the third and final execution of Michael Schiller.)

Let us draw the curtain upon this sickening scene. Suffice it to say that the voltage was increased to such an extent that no human being could come in contact with it and live.

The increased voltage literally burned the top of the head to a crisp.

Great was the condemnation of the press the next morning; but who was to blame? Expert electricians were summoned from all over the country. All pronounced the entire apparatus in first-class order and exonerated Superintendent (of electricity) Marden from any and all censure.

Schiller had scarcely tasted water for several days prior to his execution. This is the only plausible theory for his great resistance. The black population of the prison all declared that it was because he was the thirteenth man to die in the chair.

Schiller murdered his wife in Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio, June 1, 1903, literally disemboweling her with a butcher knife. Drunkenness on his part and refusal by his wife to give him more money led to the tragedy.

Schiller was foreign-born, ignorant, and illiterate, but by economy and thrift had amassed quite a snug little fortune, but whisky proved his ruin. Even his little children shrank in terror from him while he was confined in the Annex, and begged their nurse to take them away from him. His crime was a dastardly one, and the price he paid for it is beyond human description.

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Editor’s Note: His children were deathly afraid of him. After his arrest, his daughter Minnie, 12, and two sons, Gustave, 8, and Fred, 4, were allowed to visit their father on two occasions in the weeks before his execution. After their mother’s murder and father’s arrest, the children were separated by sex and placed in two different orphanages. Although they could have been adopted prior to his execution, Schiller refused to relinquish his parental rights, as he was hoping to use his daughter to plead for his life to the governor.

During their second and final meeting together (shorty before his execution), Schiller begged her to call upon the governor in the hope he would find it impossible to turn down a young, sobbing girl.

The following account is from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published 12 to 14 hours after Schiller was executed. 

“Go to the governor and save my life, Minnie,” Schiller pleaded.

“I cannot go,” she answered.

“Then write to him, for God’s sake, and tell him not to let me be electrocuted.”

“No, I don’t want to do that,” Minnie answered in an emotional voice. “The governor has decided and I do not want to ask him anyhow.”

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “This angered the father, and he (scolded) the child.”

A nun, who had accompanied the child to Columbus from her orphanage in Cincinnati, told a reporter that Minnie feared her father would kill her as he did her mother. She did not want to make the trip, and made the nuns promise her she would not be left alone with her father.

“There was a demonstration of Minnie’s fear during the final visit, when Sister Housegardner expressed a desire to see the electric chair,” the Enquirer continued. “She told the child she would be back in a minute and started, but Minnie followed declaring she would not stay with her father, even with the prison guard present.”

The day before his execution, Schiller, who was Austro-Hungarian, met with the same attorney who handled his ex-wife’s estate. He authorized the attorney to liquidate his property holdings in both the United States and Austria-Hungary. Then, only after some of that money was used to erect a burial monument, did he want the money to go to his three children.

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Newspapers barely mentioned the name of the victim. Her name was Mary, she was thirty-eight years old, and she was Hungarian. The Akron Beacon Journal was one of the few to remember her following her ex-husband’s botched execution.

The Deceased’s Crime

Schiller’s crime, a peculiarly brutal one, was wife murder. Late in the afternoon of June 1, 1903, Michael Schiller, a saloonkeeper of Youngstown, whose wife had secured a divorce from him, and the custody of their four children, called at her residence and demanded ‘that she resume her marital relations with him, informing her that if she refused to comply he would cut her heart out.

Schiller had been drinking and was in an ugly mood. Mrs. Schiller refused to yield to the request and, escaping from his grasp ran into the back yard to call (for) assistance. Schiller caught and held her while he stabbed her in the abdomen with a butcher knife. She was removed to the hospital, where she made an ante-mortem statement detailing the facts of the murderous assault. [She died five days later.]

The attack of Schiller on his wife was witnessed by neighbors, who seized him and held him until the police arrived. After the tragedy, Schiller never made any inquiry regarding the condition of his wife, and when informed of her death exhibited no emotion. Shortly before the homicide, Mrs. Schiller sent $4,000 to her former home in Hungary (the 2021 equivalent of $112,000 when adjusted for inflation), and was preparing to take her children there and educate them, when she was murdered.

Always in an Ugly Mood

Before Mrs. Schiller obtained her decree of divorce Schiller had been sent to the workhouse, having beaten her until she was scarcely able to appear against him.

At the penitentiary, where he arrived July 30, 1903, he displayed a stolid indifference. He maintained a stubborn silence and has been ever in a morose, and ugly state of mind. When visited by his children for the last time he exhibited little sentiment.

Michael Willow, of Youngstown, administrator of Mrs. Schiller’s estate spent part of the evening with Schiller and received from him power to administer an estate of unknown value, which Schiller said he owned in Austria-Hungary. The murderer asked that the proceeds from the sale of the property be given to his three children in Cleveland after a monument to him had been erected.

Moses Johnson, colored, will be electrocuted tonight for the murder of an insurance agent in Portsmouth.

Father Kelly, a Catholic priest, labored for hours with Schiller, but was unable to obtain from him a confession of religious faith. His little daughter had written him, urging him to accept Christianity.

 

A Final Note: Just like the Akron Beacon Journal reported, Moses Johnson was executed the following night. It took five applications of electrical charge before he was pronounced dead. He remained seated in the electric chair the entire time.

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Coming Soon to Amazon: Palace of Death, A True Tale of 59 Executed Murderers, by Dewy, Fogle, &  Morrow.


Abraham Lincoln wrote a True Crime Story, and it was Good!

Home | Feature Stories | Abraham Lincoln wrote a True Crime Story, and it was Good!


For a few short weeks during June 1841, residents of Springfield, Illinois, were caught up in the mass hysteria of a sensational murder case that had all the elements of an Edgar Allan Poe murder mystery. Three strangers from out of town arrive in Springfield, but one of them soon goes missing. Wild rumors abound and soon two of the men and their local brother are accused of murder. The motive, $1,500 in gold coins stolen from the dead man who is yet to be found. One brother turns against the other two and agrees to testify as a witness for the prosecution. More sensation-loving witnesses come forward to testify against the two brothers who can already feel the noose around their neck.

Their defense attorney was a thirty-two year-old future president of the United States who flips the script with a Perry Mason plot twist so outrageous, everybody just wanted to go home and forget it ever happened.

Everyone, that is, except attorney turned true crime author Abraham Lincoln. A week after the trial, he wrote about the events in a June 19 letter to his friend, Joshua Speed. In 1846, he wrote the following version for the Quincy Whig newspaper, now the Quincy-Herald Whig. It was later republished in the March 1952 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

Note: Dates in parenthesis are by the  HCD Editor. To the best of my knowledge, they are accurate.

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The Trailor Murder Mystery, 1841

by Abraham Lincoln, Esq.

In the year 1841, there resided, at different points in the State of Illinois, three brothers by the name of Trailor. Their Christian names were William, Henry, and Archibald.

Archibald lived in Springfield, the state capitol (where Lincoln practiced law at the time). He was a sober, retiring, and industrious man, of about thirty years of age; a carpenter by trade, and a bachelor, boarding with his partner in business—a Mr. Myers.

Henry, a year or two older, was a similar man of industrious habits. He had a family, and they lived a farm at Clary’s Grove, about twenty miles northwest of Springfield.

William, still older, resided on a farm in Warren County, situated more than 100-miles northwest of Springfield. He was a widower, with several children.

Abraham Lincoln, about 1847

In the neighborhood of William’s residence, there was a man by the name of (Archie) Fisher, who was somewhat above the age of fifty; had no family, and no settled home; but who boarded and lodged a while here and a while there, with persons for whom he did little jobs of work. His habits were remarkably economical, so that an impression got about that he had accumulated a considerable amount of money.

In the latter part of May 1841, William formed the purpose of visiting his brothers at Clary’s Grove and Springfield; and Fisher, at the time having his temporary residence at William’s house, resolved to accompany him.

They set out together in a buggy with a single horse. On Sunday evening (May 30), they reached Henry’s residence, and stayed overnight. On Monday morning (May 31), they started on to Springfield, Henry accompanying them on horseback. They reached town about noon, met Archibald, went with him to his boarding house, and there took up their lodgings for the time they should remain.

After lunch, the three Trailors and Fisher left the boarding house in company, for the avowed purpose of spending the evening together in looking about the town.

At supper, the Trailors had all returned, but Fisher was missing, and some inquiry was made about him. After supper, the Trailors went out professedly in search of him. One by one they returned, the last coming in after late tea time, and each stating that he had been unable to discover anything of Fisher.

The next day (Tuesday, June 1), both before and after breakfast, they went professedly in search again, and returned at noon, still unsuccessful. Dinner (lunch) again being had, William and Henry expressed a determination to give up the search, and start for their homes. This was remonstrated against by some of the boarders about the house, on the ground that Fisher was somewhere in the vicinity, and would be left without any conveyance, as he and William had come in the same buggy. The remonstrance was disregarded, and they departed for their homes respectively.

Up to this time, the knowledge of Fisher’s mysterious disappearance had spread very little beyond the few boarders at Myers’, and excited no considerable interest. After the lapse of three or four days, Henry returned to Springfield, for the ostensible purpose of makings further search for Fisher. Procuring some of the boarders, he, together with them and Archibald, spent another day in ineffectual search, when it was again abandoned, and he returned home.

No general interest was yet excited.

On the Friday, week after Fisher’s disappearance (June 4?), the Postmaster at Springfield received a letter from the Postmaster nearest William’s residence in Warren County, stating that William had returned home without Fisher, and was saying, rather boastfully, that Fisher was dead, and had willed him his money, and that he had got about fifteen hundred dollars by it. The letter further stated that William’s story and conduct seemed strange, and desired the Postmaster at Springfield to ascertain and record what was the truth in the matter.

The postmaster at Springfield made the letter public and at once, excitement became universal and intense. Springfield, at that time, had a population of about 3,500, with a city organization. The attorney general of the state resided there. A purpose was forthwith formed to ferret out the mystery, in putting which into execution, the mayor of the city and the attorney general took the lead. To make search for, and, if possible, find the body of the man supposed to be murdered, was resolved on as the first step.

In pursuance of this, men were formed into large parties, and marched abreast, in all directions, so as to let no inch of ground in the vicinity remain unsearched. Examinations were made of cellars, wells, and pits of all descriptions, where it was thought possible the body might be concealed. All the fresh, or tolerably fresh graves in the graveyard, were pried into and dead horses and dead dogs were disinterred, where, in some instances, they had been buried by their partial masters.

This search, as has appeared, commenced on Friday. It continued until Saturday afternoon (June 19?) without success, when it was determined to dispatch officers to arrest William and Henry at their residences. The officers started on Sunday morning, meanwhile, the search for the body was continued, and rumors got afloat of the Trailors having passed, at different times and places, several gold pieces, which were readily supposed to have belonged to Fisher.

On Monday, the officers sent for Henry, having arrested him, arrived with him in Springfield. The mayor and attorney general took charge of him, and set their wits to work to elicit a discovery from him. He denied, and denied, and persisted in denying.

They still plied him in every conceivable way, till Wednesday, when, protesting his own innocence, he stated that his brothers, William and Archibald, had murdered Fisher; that they had killed him, without his (Henry’s) knowledge at the time, and made a temporary concealment of his body; that, immediately preceding his and William’s departure from Springfield for home.

(This next sentence is 263 words in length!?!?!)

On Tuesday, the day after Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald communicated the fact to him, and engaged his assistance in making a permanent concealment of the body that, at the time he and William left professedly for home, they did not take the road directly, but, meandering their way through the streets, entered the woods at the Northwest of the city, two or three hundred yards to the right of where the road they should have travelled, entered them; that, penetrating the woods some few hundred yards, they halted and Archibald came a somewhat different route, on foot, and joined them; that William and Archibald then stationed him (Henry) on an old and disused road that ran near by, as a sentinel, to give warning of the approach of any intruder; that William and Archibald then removed the buggy to the edge of a dense brush thicket, about forty yards distant from his (Henry’s) position, where, leaving the buggy, they entered the thicket, and in a few minutes returned with the body, and placed it in the buggy; that from his station he could and did distinctly see that the object placed in the buggy was a dead man, of the general appearance and size of Fisher; that William and Archibald then moved off with the buggy in the direction of Hickox’s mill pond, and after an absence of half an hour, returned, saying they had put him in a safe place; that Archibald then left for town, and he and William found their way to the road, and made for their homes.

At this disclosure, all lingering credulity was broken down, and excitement rose to an almost inconceivable height. Up to this time, the well-known character of Archibald had repelled and put down all suspicions as to him. Till then, those who were ready to swear that a murder had been committed, were almost as confident that Archibald had had no part in it. But now, he was seized and thrown into jail; and indeed, his personal security rendered it by no means objectionable to him. (He was afraid of getting lynched and welcomed jail for his safety.)

And now came the search for the brush thicket, and the search of the mill pond. The thicket was found, and the buggy tracks at the point indicated. At a point within the thicket, the signs of a struggle were discovered, and a trail from thence to the buggy track was traced. In attempting to follow the track of the buggy from the thicket, it was found to proceed in the direction of the mill pond, but could not be traced all the way. At the pond, however, it was found that a buggy had been backed down to, and partially into the water’s edge.

Search was now to be made in the pond; and it was made in every imaginable way. Hundreds and hundreds were engaged in raking, fishing, and draining. After much fruitless effort in this way, on Thursday morning the mill dam was cut down, and the water of the pond partially drawn off, and the same processes of search again gone through with.

About noon of this day, the officer sent for William, returned having him in custody; and a man calling himself Dr. Gilmore, came in company with them. It seems that the officer arrested William at his own house, early in the day on Tuesday, and started to Springfield with him; that after dark awhile, they reached Lewiston, in Fulton county, where they stopped for the night; that late in the night this Dr. Gilmore arrived, stating that Fisher was alive at his house, and that he had followed on to give the information, so that William might be released without further trouble; that the officer, distrusting Dr. Gilmore, refused to release William, but brought him on to Springfield, and the Dr. accompanied them.

On reaching Springfield, the doctor reasserted that Fisher was alive and at his house. At this, the (Springfield residents) were utterly confounded. Gilmore’s story was communicated to Henry Trailor, who without faltering, reaffirmed his own story about Fisher’s murder. Henry’s adherence to his own story was communicated to the crowd, and at once the idea started, and became nearly, if not quite universal, that Gilmore was a confederate of the Trailors, and had invented the tale he was telling to secure their release and escape.

Excitement was again at its zenith.

About three o’clock the same evening, Mr. Myers, Archibald’s carpentry partner, started with a two-horse carriage, for the purpose of ascertaining whether Fisher was alive, as stated by Gilmore, and if so, of bringing him back to Springfield with him.

On Friday (June 25?), a legal examination was gone into before two Justices, on the charge of murder against William and Archibald. Henry was introduced as a witness by the prosecution, and on oath reaffirmed his statements, as heretofore detailed, and at the end of which he bore a thorough and rigid cross-examination without faltering or exposure.

The prosecution also proved, by a respectable lady, that on the Monday evening of Fisher’s disappearance, she saw Archibald, whom she well knew, and another man whom she did not then know, but whom she believed at the time of testifying to be William, (then present,) and still another, answering the description of Fisher, all enter the timber at the Northwest of town, (the point indicated by Henry,) and after one or two hours, saw William and Archibald return without Fisher.

Several other witnesses testified that on Tuesday, at the time William and Henry professedly gave up the search for Fishers body, and started for home, they did not take the road directly, but did go into the woods, as stated by Henry. By others, also, it was proved, that since Fisher’s disappearance, William and Archibald had passed rather an unusual number of gold pieces. The statements heretofore made about the thicket, the signs of a struggle, the buggy tracks, etc., were fully proven by numerous witnesses.

At this the prosecution rested.

Dr. Gilmore was then introduced by the defendants. He stated that he resided in Warren County, about seven miles distant from William’s residence; that on the morning of William’s arrest, he was out from home, and heard of the arrest, and of its being on a charge of the murder of Fisher; that on returning to his own house, he found Fisher there; that Fisher was in very feeble health, and could give no rational account as to where he had been during his absence; that he (Gilmore) then started in pursuit of the officer, as before stated; and that he should have taken Fisher with him, only that the state of his health did not permit. Gilmore also stated that he had known Fisher for several years, and that he had understood he was subject to temporary derangement of mind, owing to an injury about his head received early in life.

There was about Dr. Gilmore so much of the air and manner of truth, that his statement prevailed in the minds of the audience and of the court, and the Trailors were discharged, although they attempted no explanation of the circumstances proven by the other witnesses.

On the next Monday (June 28?), Mr. Myers arrived in Springfield, bringing with him the now famed Fisher, in full life and proper person.

Thus ended this strange affair and while it is readily conceived that a writer of novels could bring a story to a more perfect climax, it may well be doubted whether a stranger affair ever really occurred. Much of the matter remains in mystery to this day. The going into the woods with Fisher, and returning without him, by the Trailors; their going into the woods at the same place the next day, after they professed to have given up the search; the signs of a struggle in the thicket, the buggy tracks at the edge of it; and the location of the thicket, and the signs about it, corresponding precisely with Henry’s story, are circumstances that have never been explained. William and Archibald have both died since—William in less than a year, and Archibald in about two years after the supposed murder.

Henry is still living, but never speaks of the subject. 

Here’s a link to a 2010 article on the story that’s pretty good.

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The Price of His Inheritance, 1995

Home | Feature Stories | The Price of His Inheritance, 1995


This story is newer than most, but it’s also better than most, in the worst ways possible.

 

New Year’s Eve is a celebration of hope. For most, that hope is a resolve we make to begin again. To renew ourselves. To improve who we are, and be better than we were. To make resolutions, set new goals, and to achieve what we could not in the past. Hope like that flies a little higher for those who just want the world to be a little nicer to them in the New Year.

But it doesn’t always work out that way. On New Year’s Eve, Sunday, December 31, 1995, residents of Bastrop, Louisiana, were horrified to learn that an elderly couple, well known in the community, were found shot to death inside their modest home on Collinston Road. The bodies of Lee Elvin Morris, 69, and his wife, Helen Louise Morris, 68, were discovered by their son, Mark Morris, 39. The day before, on Saturday, December 30, Mark had dropped off his son, Ryan Mark Morris, 9, to spend the night with his grandparents. His parents were there, but his son was gone.

Because the bodies were found on New Year’s Eve day, a Sunday, and search teams looking for Ryan were deployed on Monday, New Year’s Day,  January 1, 1996, most Louisianans did not learn of the tragedy until Tuesday, January 2. Northern Louisiana is sparsely populated with small cities and towns where local newspapers offices were closed for the holiday.

However, the lack of initial news coverage didn’t even matter. What did matter, investigators soon discovered, was that the bodies of Lee and Louise Morris were discovered on the last day of the year.

On Wednesday, January 3, the Associated Press released an article by an unnamed reporter who traveled to Bastrop the day before to cover the story. One of the few people he interviewed was Mark Morris, who spoke a little too freely.

“I came in and the door was open. I walked in the house and found my mom and dad lying face down in the master bedroom.”

Mark added that when he saw his parents, the blood on their faces was only a small amount, and he couldn’t tell if they had been shot or stabbed to death. Before his interview was over, Mark made a strange comment that raised eyebrows across Louisiana.

“Somebody has killed my family and taken my boy,” he began. “If they took my little boy and killed him, there’s not going to be any plea bargaining. There’s going to be no plea bargaining to recover his body.”

Recover his body?

As investigators, reporters, and even his friends would soon learn, that bizarre, ‘why would you say that?’ remark was only the first time he did so during the case. It would happen forty more times.

Forty.

Stranger still, the AP article appeared at the bottom of page 30 of Alexandria’s Town Talk newspaper. The second article above the Morris case was an ironic coincidence nobody would understand until much later.

“More than 24 new state laws now in effect”

One of those laws was the catalyst to the entire case. Remember that for later.

On the same day Mark’s odd remark began appearing in newspapers, another news story said that authorities had questioned him and named him a suspect. Mark shrugged it off, said the questions were routine, and his suspect status was part of the process. “They say it’s normal because if they catch the guy, his attorney will scream ‘Why haven’t y’all investigated the family?’”

What Mark did not understand was that he had unsavory reputation within his own family and among many others scattered throughout Bastrop’s population of 13,500 at the time. (It has since dropped to 10,023 in 2019).

The Morris family was well known in Bastrop. Mark’s father, Lee, was born there in 1926, lived there his whole life, and died on the same day as his wife. Lee’s own father and mother, Avery and Mae Bell Morris, also lived in Bastrop and died there together on the same day as well, July 15, 1977. It’s unclear how Mark’s grandparents happened to die on the same day, but all four of them, Avery and Mae Bell, and Lee Elvin and Helen Louise, were laid to rest at Bastrop’s Christ Church Cemetery.

Lee and Louise had two children together, Linda (Morris) Stewart, born in May 17, 1954, and Mark B. Morris, born April 3, 1956. In 1995, Linda Stewart, lived in Bastrop with her three children.

Mark was married for thirteen years until his ex-wife, Norma, divorced him in 1991—a few years after she suffered a debilitating stroke. She returned to her hometown of Minden, Louisiana, where she could be closer to her family whom she needed. Unfortunately, her long-term illness forced her to leave behind the couple’s two children. Kristy Morris, fourteen or fifteen, and Ryan, nine, were left in the care of her ex-husband Mark. With many of his family members living there, perhaps she counted on her in-laws more than she did her ex-husband.

+++

For all that January, authorities were focused on finding Ryan, and unmasking the killer. For some reason, as indicated by newspaper reports, none of them ever considered that Ryan might still be alive. When his own father blundered by saying there would be no plea bargain for Ryan’s body, Morehouse Parish Sheriff Frank Carroll and his deputies understood they were looking for the boy’s body.

However, the terrain where a body might be hidden outside of Bastrop was difficult to explore. A leading member of the search team told reporters that in some areas, they could not get in there with a horse, and in others, they could not get there on foot. It could take a while, he cautioned.

The owner of an oxidation pond behind the couple’s home was dragged when the owner, Ray Wall, found suspicious disturbances in the soil. “There was evidence someone had been around that pond,” Wall said.

He may have been right.

On January 27, Ryan’s pajama clad body was discovered by a local teenager in a drainage culvert below the Naff Street Bridge, three miles from his grandparent’s home on Collinston Road. He had been shot once in the head with a .22 caliber firearm; just like his grandparents.

For nearly four weeks, hundreds of local and parish residents had searched for the reddish, blond haired Ryan Morris. It ended how they expected it would. With that mystery gone and the unimaginable grief began to settle in their hearts, those same people “bedecked the town in little yellow ribbons.”

Click to view larger images.

One month later, on February 27, around 11:30 a.m., Mark Morris was arrested by parish deputies inside of a convenience store on Collinston Road that had been a gathering place for all those who searched for his son. Across the street was his parents’ home: quiet, empty, and impossible to look at without imagining what happened in there.

When deputies walked up and began reading him his rights, Mark Morris looked like he was in shock, but he regained his composure later that day during a court hearing. Inside the courthouse, he showed no emotions and when he was led out, told somebody he knew, “Bring me cigarettes,” and smiled.

On Thursday, February 29, he was indicted by a grand jury for three counts of murder.

Finally able to reveal more information, Sheriff Carroll gave reporters some interesting details he could now share.

The first was that Mark was their number one suspect from day one, but they also had to consider his ex-wife, Norma, a suspect. She hated her ex-husband and when told by an FBI agent that Mark had been arrested and indicted for three counts of murder, Norma said her expectation all along was that he would be charged with the crime.

“I was just waiting for police to arrest him,” she said. Norma also made it clear that if he were found guilty, the only acceptable punishment for what he did to her son, and her former in-laws, would be the death. “He should be sent to the electric chair.”

The most interesting part of the investigation was the self-incriminating comments Mark had made before his arrest. A witness told deputies, and repeated at his trial, that when Mark was riding in his pick-up, they drove over the Naff Street Bridge, and Mark said, “My son could be under this bridge right here!”

Besides speculating on the exact location his son was later found, his friends were disturbed by other things he said.

One friend recalled that Mark had said he was going to be written out of his father’s will, and that the new one would go into effect January 1, 1996.

“That’s why I shot him, the dumb ass,” Mark said.

Another self-incriminating remark he made to a friend before his son’s body was found was that it might have been discovered in a shallow grave, but “that was before I moved him.” (He moved the boy several times, apparently).

Mark told friend Harvey “Scooter” Goleman that he had shot his dad in the eye, and his mother in the temple.

Those weren’t even the most heartless things he said before he was arrested. Bill Hall, an employee of a small local casino, said he saw Mark Morris there Saturday night, the day he dropped his son off with his parents. Morris was playing video poker and the two had a brief chat.

When he spoke again with Mark a few days after his parents were discovered, “I asked him if they were still looking behind (Lee and Louise Morris’) house, and he said, ‘They’re wasting their time looking there because they’re going to find him about three miles from here…. I don’t think it. I know it,’” Hall repeated.

Those were just a few of the self-incriminating statements Mark Morris blurted out. By January of 1997, Mark was up to forty. A few weeks earlier, a pretrial motion was held before State District Judge John Joyce who was asked to decide on the admissibility of those forty statements. The prosecution wanted them in, the defense wanted them out.

Judge Joyce filed his decision on January 18; thirty-six statements were in, four were out.

But 1997 was just a passing year on the long road to Mark’s trial. Firing lawyers and using every delaying tactic he could find, including a change of venue to Lake Charles, 220 miles south of Bastrop, Mark’s trial finally began on October 18, 1999—three years and nine months after he murdered his son and his parents.

District Attorney Jerry Jones asked for the death penalty in his opening statement and made it clear the motive was money; he wanted his inheritance now, not later. Mark Morris was deep in debt over a failed business venture. Initially, his parents were supporting him out of interest for their two grandchildren, but became outraged upon learning their son was wasting it on video poker and other self-indulgences. After many heated discussions, they realized Mark had no ambition to dig his way out the problems he created.

Lee was so disgusted with his son, he stopped supporting him, and told Mark he would be disinherited when their new will went into effect January 1, 1996.

Fearing for his future if he was cut out of the family will, Mark Morris decided to kill his parents before the day before the new one could go into effect. In an ironic twist, the January 3rd article, ‘More than 24 new state laws now in effect’ placed above the AP story on the Morris case had the answer.

In 1995, his parents were legally obligated to divide their estate equally among their two children. That mandated obligation was nailed in place by a 187-year-old state legal doctrine called ‘forced heirship.’ Lee and Louise Morris had no choice but to allow their prodigal son to inherit an equal share of their estate.

But that law came crashing down in October of that year (1995) when state residents overwhelmingly voted to repeal ‘forced heirship.’ Its relevance would cease to exist on December 31, 1995. After that date, parents could shape their estate trusts and wills however they wanted. And Mark’s parents didn’t want him to receive a dime. He didn’t deserve it.

Before New Year’s Eve, his parent met with their attorney, a new will was drafted, signed, notarized and filed at the courthouse. It would go into effect January 1, 1996, and there was nothing Mark could do about it.

It was a great plan, but not a bulletproof plan. Their son made sure his parents died on the very last day of a 187-year-old state legal doctrine.

District Attorney Jerry Jones then had to tell the jury nine-year-old Ryan was murdered simply because he was a witness. “I cared about that little boy,” Jones later said.

For his closing statement that came one week later, Monday, October 25, (1999) Jones told the jury that Mark “had dreams of high living on a food-stamp salary. But he couldn’t buy a corvette and feel the leather on his back. He couldn’t buy a fancy home on Frenchman’s Bend.” That was where all the rich people lived in Bastrop.

Between the opening and closing arguments, those thirty-six self-incriminating statements Mark made to friends were presented as evidence, with many of them called to the witness stand to recount to the jury what Mark had told them. 

However, the best of all of them, the golden ticket for a conviction, was not a person, it was a routine courtroom audio recording made during a December 4, 1996, pretrial hearing where Mark is overheard talking to his defense attorney, admitting to the murders. “I want to go on and confess. I did it.”

He later fired that court-appointed attorney, hired and fired several more, and, apparently, lost his attorney/client privilege from the 1994 hearing. The courtroom audio recording was ruled admissible.

His trial attorney argued to the jury that at the time, Mark was being sarcastic. Cynical. He was that way, after all. Nobody should take him seriously.

But they did take him seriously. One week after it began, the trial ended on Monday, October 25, 1999. The jury deliberated for fours and at 9:45 that night, Mark Morris was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.

In death penalty cases, a punishment trial occurs after the criminal trial. The punishment phase for Mark Morris began on Wednesday and ended on Thursday.

When the verdict was read aloud, Mark Morris was the luckiest man in the world that day. Faced with the choice of life in prison with no chance of parole, or death in the state’s electric chair, the jury could not come to the unanimous decision necessary to recommend a sentence of death. Although most of Louisiana wanted it to happen, one or more of the jurors were staunch, anti-death penalty supporters and they didn’t budge.

+ + +

As of May 2021, Mark Morris is sixty-five-years-old and resides at Louisiana State Prison Angola, where he lives out his days as inmate number 00419088.

If no family members claim his body when he dies, Mark Morris will be buried in the prison cemetery known as Point Lookout #2.

He will receive an impressive funeral for an inmate convicted of three counts of murder. His body will be placed inside of a prisoner made wood coffin adorned with prisoner made shrouds.  And then, his body will be carried to his grave inside of,

“A black, horse-drawn hearse modeled after a 1800s vintage funeral coach. It is pulled by two large white Percheron horses and driven by an inmate dressed in a black tailcoat and a black top hat. Six pallbearers follow the coach on the road to the cemetery and assist with the burial. Inmate ministers conduct the service.”

‒ historichouston1836.com

 

All the dignity of his death will end there. His grave will be filled with dirt, and his unmarked tombstone—a small, white cross made of concrete—will be put in place.

 Nobody will know he was even there.

Angola Cemetery ‘Point Lookout #2.’ Graves with white crosses have no names and no inmate numbers.

Final Note: Lee and Louise’s daughter, Linda Morris Stewart, passed away in 2019. She was sixty-five-years-old. She is buried in Bastrop’s Christ Church Cemetery where her nephew, parents, and grand-parents were laid to rest.

 

Story Author: Jason Lucky Morrow

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