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Local History 

First Murder

  Colt Navy revolverMurder of John Roberts

"The first murder in Greene county was perpetrated on the 28th of May, 1837. Strangely enough, the man who did the killing was an official of the county, being Judge Charles S. Yancey, of the county court. Yancey had fined the man he afterward killed, John Roberts, for a misdemeanor, and Roberts had threatened his life for so doing. Afterward he attacked Yancey on the Public Square and the judge drew his pistol and shot Roberts dead. After a regular trial, Yancey was acquitted on the plea of self-defense. He lived many years afterward, an honored judge of the Circuit Court and citizen of the county."

Murder of Judge H. C. Christian

"At about 9 p.m. of Friday evening, May 24, [1867] Judge H. C. Christian, of Springfield, was shot and instantly killed, at his place of business, by some parties then unknown.

"The deceased, in company with one Buck, was keeping a market-house on the corner of Mill and Boonville streets. Two unknown persons entered his establishment, engaged in conversation with him, and, seizing a favorable opportunity, deliberately shot him through the head with a navy revolver killing him instantly. The ball entered the left temple, passed through the brain in an oblique direction, striking a bone opposite the right ear and ranged downward and lodged. It was extracted by Drs. Jenks and Chambers. The murderers then left the house and started on a run around the corner up Mill street a short distance, where they were met by Patrick Daly who ordered them to halt; one immediately halted and fired a shot at Daly, but missed his mark. Daly, being unarmed, failed to arrest them. He, in company with one or two others, went to the market-house and found Mr. Christian lying dead behind his counter, his pocket book lying on the floor beside him, and a one dollar green-back on his knee."

"Within an hour after the murder parties started out in all directions in pursuit. A reward of $500 was offered for their arrest, one-half by the mayor of the city, one-half by the sheriff. A plausible theory was that he had been followed from Texas (his old home) by enemies who had sworn to take his life. He had received a letter two weeks previous warning him that his life would be taken. The murderers were pursued and one of them, Jacob Thompson, was captured next morning, west of town. The prisoner was brought to town in charge of Col. Geiger, and the other was seen near where Thompson was captured, but he escaped. On the way to town Thompson tried to bribe Col. Geiger to release him, but of course did not succeed. After being brought to town the prisoner was recognized by Patrick Daly and others.

"The prisoner was examined before Justices Vangeuder and Matthews and was defended by Hon. John S. Phelps, and prosecuted by Circuit Attorney Creighton, assisted by Col. Geiger and J. W. D. L. F. Mack. He was committed to jail to await the action of the grand jury.

"June 21, at 5 p.m., Thompson escaped from jail. He had broken his irons with a brick, and his cell door had been left open. Knowledge of Thompson's escape caused feelings of the strongest indignation among the citizens. The singular manner in which the escape was made caused suspicions of the gravest character to be freely expressed against the jailor, who was removed next morning by the sheriff.

"After making his escape Thompson started east. About six miles from town he stole a horse from Geo. Croson. Croson and others started in pursuit the next morning about 9. They traced him through to Marshfield and from there to within five miles of Houston, Texas county, about one hundred miles from Springfield, when he was captured in a blacksmith shop, where he was getting the stolen horse shod. He mounted his horse and made a desperate effort to escape, but was fired at by his pursuers and shot in the shoulder and thigh. His captors were not aware, until informed by the prisoner, that he was the individual that had escaped from jail, but supposed he was only guilty of stealing the horse in his possession. After capturing him they hired a two-horse wagon and brought him to Springfield, arriving at noon next day. He was conveyed to the jail and placed in confinement.

"Oct. 24, Thompson escaped from jail with a colored man, and was never thereafter re-apprehended. It is reported that he was afterward hung for a murder in Texas.

"Judge Christian had resided in Texas before the war and on account of his Union sentiments was forced to leave in 1862. He and his two sons entered the Federal service and upon the close of the war he was appointed a provost marshal in Texas. It was for some acts of his while in the execution of his office that he was followed and killed."

Many early murders and other "firsts", including the stories of Judge Christian and Charles Yancey, are discussed in our online digitized histories.


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