When Clara Wiley and Olin Castle were joined in marriage in the summer of 1900, they had their whole lives ahead of them. The possibilities were endless. Maybe after they settled into life they’d have a couple of kids or maybe do some traveling first. But they never could have imagined everything would be ripped away from them just 9 days after their wedding day.
Growing up in Ohio, Clara Wiley had always been incredibly active in the church. This didn’t change when in 1892, she and her family moved to El Dorado, Kansas when she was 18 years old. She immediately joined the church choir where she was admired for her pure and clear soprano voice. (1) (2) (3)
People in El Dorado quickly fell in love with Clara’s kindness and selflessness. People seemed to be drawn to her and wanted to be around her as much as they could. She was often described as loveable with the sweetest disposition. It seemed people couldn’t help but invite her to their parties, family get-togethers and weddings. Clara always made sure to attend as many as she possibly could. (4) (5)
Eventually, she joined a Methodist Church youth group called the Epworth League where she met Jessie Morrison, a woman about 10 years older than her. (6)
Jessie was a hardworking woman. She lost her mother at a young age and — although her father remarried — Jessie served as a mother figure to her younger siblings. Aside from taking care of her family, Jessie often worked various jobs, usually in making women’s hats. Most recently, she had started a position at the local department store, The Racket. (7)
Like Clara, Jessie was well liked and attended as many parties as her busy schedule would allow. But Clara seemed to always capture more attention from their peers. (8)
Guy Olin Castle — known as Olin — arrived in El Dorado in 1897. He and his family had lived there 3 years earlier. (9) (10) Before leaving town the first time, Olin had been well liked and quite popular in town. When he came back to town, he picked up right where he left off attending parties and other social events. (11) (12)
He even became the bass player for a local band. The band played similar gigs to the church choir Clara sang in and the two instantly hit it off. (13)
With his social life blooming, he next decided to start looking for work. He took a position at the same store Jessie worked at in a department near her. They became fast friends. Olin was only interested in her as a friend, but Jessie was immediately infatuated. (7)
As the months passed, Clara and Olin’s relationship became more serious and by October of 1897, they were officially dating. Jessie and Olin’s friendship also continued to grow. (14)
Olin had made it a habit of walking her home most nights after work. Sometimes he would even stick around to hang out with Jessie, her sister, Mary and brother-in-law, Henry.
Though Olin had never expressed any romantic feelings toward Jessie, the long shifts spent together at work followed by the walks home gave her the impression that sparks were flying between them.
It wasn’t long before Jessie began to openly flirt with Olin. She had always been a great seamstress and decided to use those skills to show her appreciation for him. She started sewing him all types of gifts, but making him neckties was her speciality. Olin always accepted the gifts.
By the beginning of 1900, Jessie had quit her job at the Racket so she could spend more time with her sister, Ida, in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. While she was out of town, she often wrote Olin letters. Letters he sometimes responded to but always showed to his mom and Clara.
By this time, Clara and Olin were officially engaged and planned to get married in the summer of 1900. Nevertheless, Jessie was still just as infatuated with Olin as she had been before.
Even though she had quit her job she still managed to spend almost as much time in the Racket store as she did when she was working there. On a couple of occasions, Olin walked her home after his shift was over. (7) (14)
As Olin and Clara’s relationship grew more serious, it seemed, Jessie’s gifts became more frequent.
To her credit, Clara had shown extreme patience while she watched Jessie openly flirt with Olin while he did little to dissuade her. But as their wedding grew nearer, she was starting to get tired of all the attention Jessie had been paying to Olin. And she didn’t like how Olin seemed to encourage it.
One day, Olin wore a tie Jessie had made for him. When Clara saw it she became very upset and finally confronted him about it. She told him that she didn’t think it was appropriate for her fiance to accept gifts from another woman. Much less wear those gifts around her.
After a brief discussion, Olin took the tie off and gave it to Clara to keep. Evidently he felt this proved he didn’t care about Jessie or her gifts. Whether this helped calm her anger is unclear. (7)
It did, however, upset Jessie. She didn’t like the fact that he’d given her gift to another woman, even if that other woman was his fiancé. (15)
With just a few weeks until Clara and Olin’s wedding, Olin became more distant towards Jessie. And she grew more desperate to communicate with him. One evening, she approached him on the street and handed him a note. Olin threw the note in the trash without reading it.
Her visits to the store also became more frequent. Employees described her as milling around different parts of the store, not always in Olin’s department but never too far away. Some of them said they saw her lingering around a case where shaving razors were kept, not far from Olin. (15)
Her behavior was also becoming more erratic.
On one visit to the store, Jessie approached Olin and asked him to visit her at her brother-in-law, Henry’s house later that night. She warned him that if he didn’t, “mark my word, you’ll wish you had.” Olin did not meet her that night.
Then with two days until the wedding, Olin was hanging out with Clara and her parents at their house. He left late at night and was approached by Jessie on his way home.
She grabbed him by the coat and tried to lead him into the woods nearby. She said she had some letters she wanted to show him. He had no interest in talking to her so he jerked his arm away from her and continued towards his home. She chased after him. By the time she caught up with him he was at the door of his house. She grabbed him by the hands but before she could say anything, he jerked away again and went into his house. (14)
On June 13, 1900, Clara and Olin were married in front of a large group of their family and friends at her parent’s house. Some of their musical friends even played a few songs before escorting the couple to their new home where they planned to spend the rest of their lives together.
The guests admired their commitment that day, noting it was “an impressive thing for two young people, standing at the threshold of life […] to agree to share mutually the joys and sorrows of life as one.”
The couple was the perfect example of newlywed bliss. (16)
A peaceful day
On June 22, 1900, Emma Spangler, a neighbor of Clara and Olin’s, was talking with friends in the front room of her house. She could hear the usual foot traffic on the street and didn’t think anything of it when she heard someone walk up the Castle’s pathway.
She could hear the murmuring of — what she described as — a pleasant conversation between two women. She assumed one of the women was Clara but didn’t recognize the other woman’s voice.
Within a few moments, the conversation turned hostile and the two women were talking in raised voices. Emma couldn’t make out everything that was being said, but she heard one of them say, “no, I never wrote that letter!”
She then heard a physical scuffle followed by screams. Alarmed, she rushed over to the Castle house but the doors were locked. When she looked in the windows she saw Jessie sitting on the floor next to Clara. Clara was covered in blood.
Another neighbor, Bettie Mobberly, had also heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. Together, Bettie and Emma forced their way into the house. (17)
Once inside, Bettie saw Jessie kneeling over Clara. Bettie pulled her away from Clara and saw that Clara’s neck had been cut badly and that she was “literally bathing in a pool of blood”.
When Bettie asked her what had happened, Jessie replied, “she tried to kill me,” and pointed out a few minimal cuts on her neck and arms. (18)
Emma took Jessie by the arm and steered her out of the house. Jessie became incredibly agitated, saying she needed a letter she had left in the house. Emma went back inside and got the letter. When she came back out, she asked Jessie what had happened. Jessie told her, “I’ve killed Mrs. Castle. I’ve cut her neck all to pieces.”
Deciding it was best to get Jessie away from Clara, Emma hooked her arm with Jessie’s and the two women started towards Jessie’s home. (17)
As the two walked, Jessie grew more agitated and started sprinting down the street. Arms still hooked, Emma had no choice but to run along with her. After a short distance, they stopped running and Jessie said, “I think I’ve killed her. She’s bleeding pretty bad, she will soon bleed to death that way.”
Back at the Castle house, doctors placed Clara on her kitchen table and operated on her wounds. They were able to stop all the bleeding and did the best they could to stitch up her wounds. Severe damage was done to her trachea and esophagus and there was little hope that she’d live much longer. (19)
With her death all but certain, the county attorney was called to the Castle house to take down her statement.
Because of the severe damage done to her throat, Clara could only respond to the county attorney’s questions by writing her answers on a pad of paper. Her answers were then copied down again by the county attorney as her official dying statement. (20)
According to Clara, she was doing chores around her house that morning when Jessie came to the door, held up a letter and asked her if she had written it. Clara asked to see the letter, but Jessie wouldn’t give it to her.
Jessie then asked her why she didn’t like her. Clara was frank with her, she didn’t like the way she had acted towards Olin. Particularly, the way she had hung around the Racket store.
Jessie denied ever acting inappropriately towards Olin saying she had every right to be in the store.
She then went to the door, possibly getting ready to leave and asked Clara if there was anyone else in the house. When Clara said there wasn’t, Jessie turned and slashed her across the throat with a razor.
Clara grabbed at the razor and tried to wrestle it out of Jessie’s hands. She started screaming hoping to get a neighbor’s attention. After Jessie had cut her several times, she turned the razor on herself and cut her own throat and arms before Bettie and Emma came into the house.
The letter Jessie had asked about had been a letter to Jessie from her sister, Ida. It had nothing to do with Olin or Clara. (21)
She might pull through
As the days passed Clara showed tremendous strength. She chatted — using a pen and paper — with her many visitors who dropped by to keep her company. Her condition even began to improve and the doctors were cautiously optimistic that she might make a miraculous recovery. (20)
But at the beginning of July, she took a turn for the worst and it was certain she wasn’t going to make it. Accepting her fate, she began distributing her belongings to her loved ones. And wrote final farewells assuring everyone that she was at peace. She even led — though voiceless — her friends and family in singing some of her favorite hymns.
She even had one last message for Jessie, “The Lord will forgive you if you will only ask Him. I forgive you.” (22)
On July 10, 1900, just two weeks before her 26th birthday, Clara Castle passed away. (23)
An outpouring of love and support were shown by Clara’s many friends. Her family was showered with beautiful floral arrangements. A large public service was held before she was laid to rest — wearing her wedding dress — at Belle Vista Cemetery. (24) (25)
Jessie Tells Her Story
Olin was one of the star witnesses for the prosecution. He recounted, in detail, moving to El Dorado, meeting both Clara and Jessie and his friendship/encounters with Jessie.
Most of his story was corroborated by several other witnesses. (7)
Jessie was the defense’s star witness. She’d never shared her story publicly and the town was eager to compare her version of events against Clara’s.
Her story directly contradicted everything Olin had said. The letters she sent him while she was out of town? He wrote to her first and she was simply responding. Her threatening him when she invited him to her brother-in-law’s house? Never happened. What about when she approached him outside his house a few days before his wedding? Didn’t happen either.
Her story of the attack was also very different from the story Clara gave on her deathbed.
According to Jessie, she was on her way home the morning of June 22, 1900 when she passed the Castle house. Clara saw her and called for her to come in.
Once inside, Clara verbally attacked her. Clara told her they should stop pretending, “I hate you and you hate me,” Jessie was shocked, she knew Clara didn’t think much of her, but she would never have imagined she hated her.
They continued to argue until Clara insulted Jessie and Jessie slapped her.
At some point, Jessie accidently dropped her handkerchief and when she bent over to get it, Clara cut her throat. Luckily, she was wearing a high collar so no real damage was done.
The women began to fight and Jessie was knocked onto her back on the chaise lounge, Clara sprang on top of her and continued to cut at her. They continued to struggle and rolled off the lounge. The razor fell to the floor and Jessie picked it up and cut Clara across her throat.
She said the only reason she cut her was because she was afraid that if she didn’t, Clara was going to kill her. She said throughout the whole attack, she was screaming.
She also claimed that she never showed Clara a letter and that there was no mention of the letter at all. (14)
Not Worth A Penny
Throughout the trial, jurors connected with Jessie. And they found her testimony to be incredibly believable.
They didn’t, however, connect with Olin or his testimony and didn’t think it was “worth a penny”. One juror went so far as to say, “most if not all of the jurors thought he ought to be in Clara Castle’s place.”
Furthermore, while they didn’t necessarily discredit Clara’s dying statement, they felt that it had “passed through too many hands”. If she had somehow been able to tell her story in another way, they said they wouldn’t have questioned it.
While none of them thought Jessie should be convicted of murder, the jury ultimately couldn’t agree on whether she should be convicted of fourth degree manslaughter or not. Nine jurors were for acquittal while three were for conviction.
It was ruled a mistrial.
The Morrison family and lawyers saw this as a huge win. They knew Jessie would probably be tried again, but were convinced she’d never be convicted. (28)
The case was tried again in June of 1901.
Since Olin proved to be unsympathetic with the jury during the first trial, the prosecution took a different approach. They decided to not call him to testify at all.
By not having Olin testify they hoped to keep the jurors focused on Jessie and her actions that day, not the social drama surrounding the murder. (17)
Jessie was once again called to testify in her own defense and told the same story she had during the first trial. (29)
The prosecution’s new approach worked in their favor. On June 29, 1901, Jessie was convicted of second degree manslaughter. (30)
She was sentenced to five years in prison. (31)
Her legal team immediately appealed the conviction. They took it all the way up to the Supreme Court, arguing that several of the jurors admitted to being biased but were still allowed to be on the jury which they argued was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court agreed and she was granted a new trial. (32)
Third time’s the charm?
In June of 1902, Jessie was tried for a third time. The prosecution approached it similarly to the second trial. Olin once again didn’t testify. (33)
Overall, the third trial was similar to the second trial. Jessie testified in her own defense, telling the same story she had in the previous two trials. (34)
There were no real surprises until the defense called a new witness, Dr. John C. Brownfield.
John was visiting El Dorado on business on the day Clara was attacked. He claimed to have seen Clara call Jessie to her door. Corroborating Jessie’s version of events and casting doubt on Clara’s version of the attack for the first time.
After an extensive cross examination the prosecution asked for John to be arrested on the charge of perjury. The prosecution claimed he hadn’t been near Clara’s house the morning of the attack, in fact, he hadn’t even been in El Dorado at all that day.
The trial continued with no more sensational surprises. The case was closed and sent to the jury for deliberations. After 11 hours, they found her guilty of second degree murder. (37)
She was sentenced to 25 years in prison. (38)
Again, Jessie’s legal team appealed the conviction all the way up to the Supreme Court.
This time they argued — among other things — that the trial judge, G. P. Aikman had prejudice against Jessie. They said that during the second trial he was overheard saying he had been asked to join her defense team as an attorney. But he said he turned it down because he “did not feel like defending a person that was as guilty as I believe Jessie Morrison is.”
However, several people disputed this claim and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that there was no evidence to prove Judge Aikman held any prejudice and Jessie’s conviction was upheld. (39)
Jessie’s friends and family immediately rallied around her. They thought her 25 year sentence was unnecessarily harsh especially considering she had already been sentenced to only five years in her previous trial.
Her sister, Ida, was so desperate for Jessie’s release that she visited Kansas Governor Willis Bailey’s home and pleaded with him to grant a pardon. But it was useless. Governor Bailey declined to pardon her and Jessie was to remain in prison. (42)
With the election of a new governor, the family renewed hope that she’d be pardoned. However, in 1907, Governor Hoch declined to grant a pardon. (43)
Again, when Walter Stubbs was elected Governor in 1909, the Morrison family was optimistic. A member of his administration had petitioned previous Governors to grant Jessie a pardon. The family was hoping he’d be able to persuade Governor Stubbs. (44)
Ida again went to the Governor’s house to plead Jessie’s case. She told him that their father was in poor health and his last wish was to see her free.
Governor Stubbs, though sympathetic of what the family was going through, declined to grant a pardon. He later wrote a letter to Ida saying that “after carefully considering all the circumstances connected with this case I do not feel the public interests would be conserved by granting this request.” (45)
However, a year later, he changed his tune. In September of 1910, he granted her parole saying, “the fact that at the second trial she was awarded a sentence of only five years, I believe the twenty-five year sentence is excessive punishment.”
After eight years in prison, Jessie Morrison was a free woman. (46)
Following the third trial, Olin and his family moved to California. His father, Theodore had died during the second trial and the family was ready to move on from El Dorado. (47)
Shortly after moving to California, Olin married Lillian Detalante, a newspaper editor he’d met in El Dorado. (48) The couple remained in California where they developed a thriving social life. It wasn’t uncommon for them to throw elaborate parties for every occasion. (49) (50)
Olin and Lillian remained married until her death in 1939. (51)
Olin remained in California but it’s unclear when or where he died. We were able to locate records for a Guy Castle but after further research it was determined these records were not for Guy Olin Castle. No other records were found showing when and where he died.
Her father — who was said to be on his deathbed in 1909 — lived for another eight years. (54)
Jessie eventually made her way to Los Angeles, California where she met and married a veteran of the Spanish War, Joseph Hemfling in 1934. (55)
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