Monday, June 27, 2016

October 29, 1879: Bill Young

today we learn about a lynching of a man acquitted of a crime through the courts but not the community through the pages of the Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) dated October 30, 1879:


The Vengeance of a Mob Visited upon a Supposed Murderer.

Bill Young, After Being Once Acquitted, Is Executed by Lynch Law.

Believing Him Guilty of the Murder of the Spencer Family,

The Northern Missouri Farmers Take Retribution into Their Own Hands.

He Is Dragged from the Presence of His Newly-Married Wife;

And, Bleeding and Exhausted, Is Hanged from His Own Gateway.


Special Dispatch to The Tribune.

KEOKUK, Ia., Oct. 29.—The case of Bill Young, whose trial for the murder of Lewis Spencer and his four children, near Luray, Clark County, Mo., in 1877, which closed at Kahoka on Saturday last, and resulted in a verdict of not guilty, culminated to-day in a resort to mob violence. There was strong circumstantial evidence against Young, but the prosecution was greatly weakened by the fiasco of Detective Lane in attempting to account for the bloody overalls. Although acquitted, a majority of the people in Clark County were convinced of his guilt, and, however much they may deprecate lynch law, it is safe to say that the public at large who had read the evidence shared this opinion. it was not known or even suspected outside Clark County, however, that any move would be made to execute summary punishment.

On Sunday afternoon Young was married to Miss Lydia Bray, of Ohio, to whom he was engaged before his arrest, and who has been in this section for the past four months assisting him in preparing his defense. They arrived in this city on Monday evening and remained here until this morning, when they left for Young's house near Luray. Their movements have been closely watched. Last night a mob numbering 100 to 200 men assembled north of Kahoka, and was waiting there this morning when the train passed. Finding that Young went on to his home, they followed on horseback and in wagons, and after his arrival there surrounded his house and demanded his surrender. Young, who was accompanied by J. C. Coffman, of Toledo, one of his attorneys, refused to surrender, and opened fire on the mob, but without effect. Shots were exchanged, and firing was kept up until Young was wounded. Eight men then forced their way into the house, took Young out and hanged him until he was dead. The most intense excitement prevails, and it is impossible as yet to obtain the particulars.

The mob that hung Bill Young is variously estimated at 250 to 500. They met at Lincoln College, near Kahoka, last night, voted to carry their purpose into execution, and arranged all the details. It was part of the plan to take Young from the train on its arrival to Kahoka, but the man who was sent to this city to notify them of his movements delayed sending his dispatch until it was too late. The mob then proceeded with great haste to Luray, a distance of ten miles. Upon their arrival there Young had reached his home, and two ladies had called on Mrs. Young. Coffman was also there. The mob surrounded the house, and demanded all but Young come out,—Coffman and the two ladies,—but Young kept his wife and children with him. Firing was soon opened, and for a time a perfect volley was kept up. Young's mode of defense was to open the door, fire into the crowd, and dodge back, the crowd returning the fire whenever he made his appearance.This was kept up until Young received four wounds and fell to the floor, bleeding and exhausted. The mob then piled hay around the house, and were about to fire it. When Young's children came running out, exclaiming, "Father is killed." A squad of men then entered the house, placed him in a wagon, ran it under an arched gateway leading to the premises, and placed a rope about his neck.

They then endeavored to draw a confession from him, but reports are contradictory as to how well they succeeded. Some say that he admitted enough to convinced them of his guilt, and that he mentioned the name Langford and Bill Rhodes as having been implicated in the murder. Others say that he maintained his innocence to the last. It was proposed to him that if he would pay the costs of the prosecution, make a confession, and leave the State, he would be released, and it is said he agreed to all but the confession. After allowing him to make his will the wagon was driven off, and he was left hanging until he was dead.

Young was warned at various points along the road that a mob was waiting to hang him, but he refused to stop. His only reply was that he had beaten them once, and could do it again, and that he did not propose to run off or be frightened off.

The time occupied in carrying the plans into execution was about two hours.

The men wore no masks, and made no attempt at concealment. Many of them were well-known citizens of Clark County; others are said to have been from Illinois and Iowa. A large number were boys from 14 to 18 years old. The crowd had been drinking freely, were, no doubt, greatly incited to the desperate deed by liquor. Detective Lane was among the leaders of the movement, and is said to have taken a very active part in the hanging. None of the mob were wounded so far as reported.

The Gate City, commenting editorially upon the lynched, will say:  "The reasonable doubt in the mind of the twelve Clark County jurors leave the men who did yesterday's deed without any warrant for their act that can stand the test of their sober reflection. We think Bill Young was a bad man. We don't think his death, per se, any loss to the community or the world. We think he may have had a guilty participance  by act or knowledge in the Spencer murder. His deportment during his trial, and since his acquittal especially, has been very foolish and very offensive. It showed him to be a man of little personal or moral sensibility. It was such an extraordinary display or crude and coarse vanity, that it almost helps the jury's presumption that maybe he was not guilty of the Spencer murder after all, because it was a foolish and self-conceited vanity that all seemed to hang upon the fact that he was a hero of a conspicuous trial. If he had been really guilty, and unless he was not at all human, but every whit a devil, instead of this exhibition of pompous vanity over his trial, some thought of the white, cold faces of those he had killed would surely have come into his mind, and made him reserved and timorous after so narrowly escaping the hangman."

Young was repeatedly warned at different points on his way to Luray not to return; that there was much dissatisfaction over the verdict, and that his life would be in great danger if he persisted in going back. He disregarded these warnings, however, and continued his journey.

The mob surrounded his house at 11 o'clock. The inmates at that times were J. C. Coffman, the Toledo attorney; Young, his wife, and four children, and Mrs. Rowe and her three children. Random firing was carried on between the besieged and the besiegers until the afternoon, when Coffman came out and a parley was held with Young. The latter agreed to surrender, pay all costs of the late trial, and leave the country, but he would not confess that he committed the Spencer murder. He asserted his innocence, and said he had no confession to make.

At one time the mob got a load of hay, but instead of making use of it in their attack, deposited small quantities of it about the house, and set fire to it. This was soon extinguished by the mob, however. Young went upstairs, and, while there, was shot and wounded in the stomach and breast. For a period of half an hour following this all was quiet, when a rush was made for the house and an entrance effected. Young was found lying on the floor up-stairs, his wife and children standing over him and crying, "He is killed."

Young called for the picture of his first wife and kissed it very affectionately. He also called for Detective Lane, who shook hands with him. Two of the men wrote for Young a short biography of his life. The mob then formed in line in the yard, and Lane selected from the number nine men to hang Young. Four men carried him to the orchard gateway, near the house, he praying in a very supplicating manner on the way.

Young was placed in a wagon, with his feet and hands tied, and allowed time in which to make a statement. He said he had made a written statement agreeing to assist in ferreting out the Spencer murderers, and given the same to Hanson and Johnson. He then indulged in a rambling talk, probably for the sake of gaining time.

The crowd yelled:  "That is not what we want, tell us who assisted you in the murder of the Spencers." His last words were:  "I am as innocent of that crime as the angels in Heaven."

At 4 o'clock the noose was adjusted and the wagon pulled out. The body swayed back and forth until life was wholly extinct. In twenty minutes the crowd mounted their horses and rode away. As they were departing, Mrs. Young crying and wringing her hands, and beg them to cut Young down, which was refused.

Young's gunshot wounds were not serious.

After Coffman came out of the house, he was locked up in the granary.

It is said that the mob was composed of good citizens of Clark County. There were a few from town. The sentiment  of the people is divided. Some approve of the action of the mob openly. Others were not sorry Young was out of the way, but do not endorse this summary method of disposing of him, while his friends regard it as dastardly outrage.

We continue with an article found in the November 3, 1879 edition of The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota):


Warrants were issued yesterday for the arrest of all persons known to have been engaged in the lynching of Bill Young, at Luray, mo. last Wednesday. Detective Lane, who was very active in procuring evidence against Young, is said to have been the leader of the lynching mob, and several citizens of Luray are among those to be arrested. The warrants were issued at the instance of Young's wife, J. C. Coffman, one of Young's lawyers from Ohio who was at Young's house when the mob surrounded it, and has been missing since, appeared yesterday at Memphis en route home. it is said he admits an attempt was made to bribe the jury in Young's favor.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) keeps us informed in their November 6, 1879 edition:

Bill Young's Lynchers Likely to Escape From Justice.

Bill Young's Lynchers. 

St. Louis, Nov. 6.—Detective Frank Love [sic], who is accused of leading the mob that lynched Bill Young, at Luray, mo., a few days ago, and several other persons who have been under nominal arrest for the past two or three days for being concerned in that affair, appeared before the examing magistrate at Luray yesterday, but nobody was there to prosecute, and no action was taken. John Young, son of Bill Young, who had threatened vengeance upon the murderers of his father, he's left the country, and Mrs. Young, at whose instance [sic] the above arrests were made, will leave Luray.

Our next article comes to us through the pages of The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) dated November 18, 1879:


Important Revelations Coming to Light—A Number of Persons Implicated.


KEOKUK, IOWA, November 17.—The facts connected with the lynching of Bill Young are gradually coming to light through the preliminary examination of S. Cross and Buck Brown at Memphis, Mo., and the names of those implicated are multiplying daily. David Bowman was on the stand to-day, and testified that Brown helped pull the wagon from under Young. John Young, son of Bill Young, was the principal witness examined. He testified to seeing Cross at the landing on the side of the house from which his father was shot, and the latter said it was Cross who shot him. No shots were fired from the house at all. William Edin opened the door and let the mob in, and about fifteen men went upstairs. Ralph Stewart and Bill Smith guarded the family after they took Young out among the others. The witness testified to having seen Frank Earl Wagner, Alex Yalton, Ballard Guthrie. Cal- Kennedy, of Peaksville; Charles and Wm. Carter, john Scott, Henry Bartlett, Samuel Armstrong Dowell, John Carr and Bill Flennings.

A letter has been received here from Mark Lane dated at Corydon, in which he says that if the authorities of Clark County want to take the matter in hand he is willing and ready to come back and answer for the part he took in the affair.

A small tidbit from the Marion County Record (Marion, Kansas) dated November 21, 1879:

Gov. Phelps of Missouri, on the 8th, telegraphed Adjutant-General Mitchell, whom he sent to Clark County to investigate the lynching of Bill Young, that the law must be executed at all hazards; that the local authorities should be sustained; and that if the people of Clark County engage in insurrection, he could assure them that he (the Governor) would suppress it.  

The Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) dated November 23, 1879:


Special Dispatch to The Tribune.

KEOKUK, Ia., Nov. 22.—Judges Anderson and Schofield gave their decision at Memphis, Mo., to-day in the case of O. S. Cross and Buck Brown, who had been undergoing a preliminary examination for the lynching of Bill Young. They held both partied to answer, but admitted them to bail, fixing Cross' bond at $2,000 and Brown's at $5,000. The decision was a surprise to nearly everyone, as it was generally anticipated that Cross would be discharged, as he not only established an alibi by responsible witnesses, but impeached the witnesses for the prosecution. there is much indignation in Clark County at the result. The parties will be brought to Kahoka on Monday, when it is said they will be able to give bonds without any trouble.

The Great Bend Weekly Tribune (Great Bend, Kansas) dated December 6, 1879 gives us this small statement:

Frank Lane and Bill Smith, two of the leading spirits in the mob that hung Bill Young at Luray, mo., and for whose arrest the Governor offered a reward of $250 each, are now in custody.

The Rolla Herald (Rolla, Missouri) dated December 18, 1879:

Gov. Phelps certainly deserves great credit for the course he has taken in the matter of the hanging of Bill Young in Clark county. his course is to rebuke to the too common practice of mob law, a mode of dealing with human beings that is depreciated by every law abiding citizen. Viva la Phelps—Cass Co. Courier.

The Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) dated April 11, 1880 keeps us informed:

The Lynchers of Bill Young, at Kahoka, Mo., Discharged.


Special Dispatch to The Chicago Tribune.

KEOKUK, Ia., April 10.—The Grand Jury in session at Kahoka, mo., failed to find a bill against any of the parties held for the lynching of Bill Young, but found a bill against Frank Lane for perjury while on the witness-stand in the Young case. He is held in $500 bond for his appearance at the October term of the court.

The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) gives us a little information on the man the case is starting to surround in its May 19, 1880 edition:

Deceived and Deserted.


KAHOKA, Mo., May 18.—The wife of Frank Lane, the detective who headed the mob which hung Bill Young in Clark County last October, returned to-day. She states she was abandoned by Lane at Laharpe, Illinois. She left here a month ago with Lane against her parents' will. They were united in marriage, according to the lady's story, by a Justice of the Peace at Alexandria. No such Justice can be found. The supposition is that the girl, who is very young, was imposed upon by a bogus marriage. Lane has not been heard from.

The continuation comes to us from the Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) dated May 27, 1880:



Special Dispatch to The Chicago Tribune.

KEOKUK, Ia., May 26.—At the last term of the Circuit Court of Scotland County, Mo., the Grand Jury indicted Frank Lane, the so-called detective, for the murder of Bill Young. Lane was held to answer at the preliminary examination, and admitted to bail. On the morning of the indictment he made his escape, but was overtaken and arrested to-day at Yankton, D. T., and will be brought back for trial. Young was tried and acquitted in Clark County, Missouri, for the murder of the Spencer family, and afterwards taken from his home and hung by a mob headed by Lane.

As time passes, the newspapers reflect the growing disinterest in the case by relegating news on it to small paragraphs. This paragraph comes to us from the Weekly Graphic (Kirksville, Missouri) dated June 12, 1880:

Detective Frank Lane arrived at Memphis, Mo., in irons, on Thursday night. He will be tried for the murder of Bill Young.

An article found in the Portsmouth Daily Times (Portsmouth, Ohio) dated August 14, 1880 gives us information about a monument to the Spencer family:

—A LARGE monument has been erected at Kahoka, Mo., with the following inscription:  "The Spencer Family.—We are all here, murdered with an axe night of Aug. 3, 1977, at their home. Their bodies lie beneath this tomb, their virtues shout it."  It marks the spot where the five members of the Spencer family were slain, and its dedication, with elaborate ceremonies, drew together 50,000 persons, so great had been the excitement over the crime. The deed was palpably committed by one man, who killed his victims one after another as he came upon them; but who he is has never been ascertained. Bill Young was hanged by a mob, but a jury had acquitted him, and there was nothing at all proven against him except his bad character. His last words were:  "I am as innocent of this thing as the angels;" but the leader of the lynchers replied:  "You're a good man to hang anyhow."  His wife has now sued the county for $10,000 damages.

Another article comes to us from The Atchison Daily Champion (Atchison, Kansas) dated November 6, 1880:

OUR readers may remember the hanging by a mob, in Clark county, Mo., last October, of a man named BILL YOUNG, who had been acquitted of the charge of murdering a family named SPENCER. The principal witness against YOUNG on the trial was a detective named FRANK LANE, who also headed the party which executed YOUNG. The feeling against YOUNG was so strong that the grand jury refused to find a bill against LANE. The Judge of the court appears to have been so much interested in favor of the YOUNG gang that he ordered the grand jury of Scotland county to take cognizance of the murder, and that grand jury found a bill, as it appears the statute of Missouri allows to be done in some cases. LANE was arrested and held in jail, and his counsel to his case to the Supreme Court, which has decided the statute unconstitutional, and ordered LANE'S discharge from custody. No man will ever be punished in Clark county for the hanging of BILL YOUNG.

I have two more articles that are less about the lynching and more about life after the lynching for two participants of this story. Our first article comes to us through the pages of the La Plata Home Press (La Plata, Missouri) dated May 14, 1881:

—The detective who worked up the evidence that convicted the Talbott boys of murder in the first degree, was none other than the notorious Frank Lane, the leader of the mob that hung Bill Young in Clark county a short time ago. A Holt county paper now thinks that the boys are the innocent victims of a deep-laid and diabolical conspiracy. Lane's actions  in Clark county stamp him as a wretch who would hesitate at nothing to accomplish his vile and nefarious purposes.—Linneus Bulletin.

Our final article is found in The Boston Weekly Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) dated April 20, 1881:

Mysterious Death of Bill Young's Widow.

KEOKUK, Ia., April 17.—The sudden death of Mrs. Lydia Young, the youthful widow of the notorious Bill Young, who was lynched in Missouri, is creating considerable interest from the fact of a mysterious letter, which arrived the day after her death, dated "Earl Station, Ill.," and signed "I. C. Pierce." it is hinted that there was something very curious about her sickness. The body will be disinterred and examined.

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

1 comment:

  1. The research presented in this case study is very impressive. This is the first I have seen in which so many different perspective were offered, in the form of new print from various communities in this post.

    I learned of this specific lynching while researching my family geneology. My of my fathers side led me to Luray Mo. Though I know the last name Young is one of my surnames, no verbal history was shared connecting Bill Young to my family, however, I found a photograph taken in Keokuk Iowa of a man resembling Bill Young in my grandmothers box of family photos. The photo is from the correct time period. Penciled on the photo: Uncle William Young and Wife. I believe the man in the photo is the same man lynched more than 100 years ago. Photos were rare in the 1800s and many of those who could assist in identifing my photo have past on. My thought is that if I can find a photo of Lydia Bray I can better determine if this photo is the same William Young. The woman in my photo has unique qualities. She likely has Native American Indian in her blood line. Could you advise me the best way to locate information to identify Lydia Bray and/or the woman in my photo.

    Thank you vety much,
    Patricia Callihan Allen