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Kowalski

The murder of Katie DeWitt James

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Posted (edited)

So, while reading Haunted Heritage by Michael Norton and Beth Scott, I came across an interesting murder mystery, that occurred in Oklahoma during the turn of the century. Although, the ghost story is intriguing, the murder itself, is more fascinating. This is what I was able to find.

According to this link: http://en.wikipedia....ssing,_Oklahoma

Susan Woolf Brenner, a university student from Weatherford, investigated the origin of the name Dead Women Crossing. Her report, Dead Woman's Crossing: The Legacy of a Territorial Murder, was published in Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 60 in 1982.[5]Michael Norman and Beth Scott describe Brenner's findings in their book Haunted Heritage.[4]

On July 6, 1905, a schoolteacher named Katie DeWitt James filed for divorce. The next day, she carried her 14-month old daughter Lulu Belle to a train station in Custer City. Katie was going to visit with her cousin who lived in Ripley. Her father Henry DeWitt came to bid farewell; her husband Martin James did not come to the station.[4]

A few weeks later, Henry became concerned that he had not heard from his daughter. He contacted a sheriff, who suggested hiring a detective named Sam Bartell. Bartell started his investigation from Clinton, but nobody remembered seeing a woman and a baby there. Then on July 28, 1905 in Weatherford Bartell learned that Katie and the baby spent a night in the house of William Moore. They were brought to this house by Moore's sister-in-law Fannie Norton, a resident of Clinton who also was known as Mrs. Ham, and reputed to be a prostitute.[6] In the morning Norton, Katie and the baby left in a buggy; Norton returned alone two hours later. Then Norton went back to Clinton.[4]

Later Bartell found out that two women and the baby were seen around Deer Creek. The detective also was able to find the baby. The witness testified that Norton left the baby with a boy, and asked him to take the baby home. The baby was unharmed, but her clothing was covered with blood.[4]

While locals searched for Katie, Bartell tracked down Norton, who denied she murdered Katie. Later that day Norton committed suicide by poison.[4]

On August 31, 1905, Katie's remains were found near Deer Creek, about twenty miles east of Clinton. Her head was severed from her body. Katie's father confirmed these were remains of his daughter.[4]

Many questions about the murder went unanswered.

  • Did Katie and Norton meet on the train by chance, or had Norton sought out Katie? Was Norton somehow involved with Katie's estranged husband, and if so what was his role in the murder? Katie's husband had a strong alibi for the time of her disappearance, but he did not take a part in her search, and showed no interest in finding her.[4]
  • Why were Katie's remains not found for two months? The area was extensively searched. Did somebody move Katie's body later, and if so, who did it? The only suspect in the case, Fannie Norton, was long dead by that time.
  • Why did Katie leave the train at Clinton, rather than continuing to Ripley as planned? What did a schoolteacher find in common with a prostitute?[4]

Another link: http://mystorical.bl...witt-james.html

Notes:

Henry Dewitt, father of Katie. A look at the 1900 census for Dewey County locates a Henry Dewitt, b. 1844 in Canada who called himself a farmer and next door lives a young woman with a name that looks like "Katie Dewitt", b. 1874 in Iowa, listed as a schoolteacher. Is this Katie Dewitt the woman who marries James? In 1910 he is listed in Beaver County and dies there in 1930.

Fannie or Fanny Bray Ham Norton. In the nearby Custer County is a "Fannie Ham, b. 1872, Tx" listed as a laundress with several children: Roy, Diela, and Lula. Is this "Fannie Ham" the later "Fannie Norton"? Some sources indicate this woman had killed a bartender in Weatherford and had been a prostitute. The grave of the woman who committed suicide in Shawnee while under arrest lists the information for the Fannie Ham on the Custer Country Census.

Martin Luther James, husband of Katie and father of the 13 month old baby girl. In the Dewey Co., OK 1910 census is a “Luther James” with a wife of three years Cynthia and a 6-year-old daughter, Blanche and a 2 year old son. The wife was born in Kansas but the daughter’s information lists that her mother was born in Iowa.

Edited by Kowalski
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Posted (edited)

This IS interesting... but not a lot of information. As it asks, what would they have in common to get her off the train early...hmmm... what was the motive?

edit to add a link I found to a post written by an ancestor of the victim adding some family lore about it all http://wlslack.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/katie-dewitt-james-the-rest-of-the-story/

Edited by RockShaman
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Posted (edited)

That is an odd case... On the face of it there does not appear to be much in the way of motive (for anyone really)... The fact the the husband did not go to the train station may not mean a lot... They were

going through a divorce so maybe they both just wanted some "space" from each other...

As to why she got off the train early... Perhaps she met the other woman on the train and decided to visit with her for a while before moving on...

Fannie is IMO involved in the murder, but I'm not sure if she did the killing, or just provided a victim for another... Perhaps she wanted Katies baby...

But the article says they left in a buggy and Fannie returned (alone) two hours later... Yet Katie's body was found 20 miles away... That means that Fannie would

have had to have driven the horse and buggy 40 miles in 2 hours (plus commit the murder)... 20 miles an hour in a horse drawn cart is pretty fast... Especially on dirt roads...

From a Horse web site...

"Horses can gallop at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour but they can not keep up running these speeds for long. Most horses canter at speeds of 10 to 17 miles per hour, trot at 8 to 10 miles per hour and walk at 3 to 4 miles per hour."

(from the same site)

"Horses can usually travel 20 to 30 miles in a day. A horse carrying heavy gear or that is out of shape may cover less than 20 miles in a day"

She must have nearly driven that horse to death...

Edited by Taun
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oh wow good observations taun, body must have been moved

at a later time

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Posted (edited)

I just looked at Google Earth and determined that Custer City (where Katie got on the train) and Clinton (where she got off) were only one train stop apart... Aparently the route of planned travel was from Custer City, south to Clinton, East to Weatherford through Oklahoma City and then on to Ripley (which is NE of OKC)... Odd that she got off at the very first stop....

Edited by Taun
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This IS interesting... but not a lot of information. As it asks, what would they have in common to get her off the train early...hmmm... what was the motive?

edit to add a link I found to a post written by an ancestor of the victim adding some family lore about it all http://wlslack.wordp...t-of-the-story/

Thanks for the link! :)

That is an odd case... On the face of it there does not appear to be much in the way of motive (for anyone really)... The fact the the husband did not go to the train station may not mean a lot... They were

going through a divorce so maybe they both just wanted some "space" from each other...

As to why she got off the train early... Perhaps she met the other woman on the train and decided to visit with her for a while before moving on...

Fannie is IMO involved in the murder, but I'm not sure if she did the killing, or just provided a victim for another... Perhaps she wanted Katies baby...

But the article says they left in a buggy and Fannie returned (alone) two hours later... Yet Katie's body was found 20 miles away... That means that Fannie would

have had to have driven the horse and buggy 40 miles in 2 hours (plus commit the murder)... 20 miles an hour in a horse drawn cart is pretty fast... Especially on dirt roads...

From a Horse web site...

"Horses can gallop at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour but they can not keep up running these speeds for long. Most horses canter at speeds of 10 to 17 miles per hour, trot at 8 to 10 miles per hour and walk at 3 to 4 miles per hour."

(from the same site)

"Horses can usually travel 20 to 30 miles in a day. A horse carrying heavy gear or that is out of shape may cover less than 20 miles in a day"

She must have nearly driven that horse to death...

I agree, I don't think Fanny did it alone, or even committed the murder herself. I think she was used to lure Katie. I definitely feel Katies husband had something to do with it, though. Strange, in the 1910 census, (5 years later) he is listed as remarried, with a new family....

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I just looked at Google Earth and determined that Custer City (where Katie got on the train) and Clinton (where she got off) were only one train stop apart... Aparently the route of planned travel was from Custer City, to Clinton to Weatherford through Oklahoma City and then on to Ripley (which is NE of OKC)... Odd that she got off at the very first stop....

indeed, and given the fact that the body was found 20 miles, and they left in buggy, could suggest a different murder location and moved at a later time, but why keep a body for 2 months? why sever the head from the neck? why not kill the baby as well? seemed to me like they focused enough on that babies well being

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oh wow good observations taun, body must have been moved

at a later time

Or there was a second person that was given the victim...

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and due to the baby not being harmed i think the husbands right up there

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indeed, and given the fact that the body was found 20 miles, and they left in buggy, could suggest a different murder location and moved at a later time, but why keep a body for 2 months? why sever the head from the neck? why not kill the baby as well? seemed to me like they focused enough on that babies well being

Perhaps control of the baby was the motive... Either by the father - or by Fannie...

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Posted (edited)

Okay... Scenario time...

(and it turns out there was another train stop between the two towns - Arapahoe (the county seat)

Distance from Custer City to Clinton - 11.9 miles (as the crow flies)

Katie and the baby get on the train - total travel time to Clinton (figuring in a 15 minute stop in Arapahoe) perhaps 45 minutes...

Katie meets Fannie on the train and they strike up a "friendship"... Katie is talked into stopping off in Clinton to spend the night at Fannie's Brother in Laws house (no idea if the BIL was home or not) Perhaps it was late in the day

and Katie was planning on catching an early morning train for Weatherford-OKC-Ripley...

While this is transpiring, the husband Martin travelled to Clinton - perhaps on horse back - it would be faster than a train that makes stops for this short a distance... (could also explain why he was not at the station to see her off)

In the morning katie misses the train (probably with the conivance of Fannie) and Fannie offers to drive her and the baby to Weatherford to catch either the same train or another... (I have no idea if Deer Creek is between Clinton and Weatherford or not)

At the creek (probably at a ford point) they meet up with Martin who kills Katie (though I have no idea why he would need to cut her head off)... Fannie high tails it back home with the baby, Martin does the same without the baby as that would arouse suspicion

as to how he got the child, if he was still in Custer City...

What do you think? Plausable?

Edited by Taun
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exactly, given the fact the baby was specificly not harmed and given to an actual person that was sure to bring it to a safe place, means the motive is exactly that taun this murder was def for the baby but why and witch one was it, the father was going through a divorce and could have used the services of a prostitute you quote "would do anything for money" and the fact that she commited suicide could mean she couldnt live with the guilt makes me think automaticly she didtn due the killing and lured, and in that one census the baby is now 6 and with the dad and new wife......

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I found her grave on Findagrave.com and the inscription is interesting:

The inscription on her tombstone reads:

"How Many Hopes He Ended Here."

Link: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=James&GSfn=Katie&GSbyrel=in&GSdy=1905&GSdyrel=in&GSst=38&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=10619462

10619462_111108413635.jpg

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I found her grave on Findagrave.com and the inscription is interesting:

The inscription on her tombstone reads:

"How Many Hopes He Ended Here."

Link: http://www.findagrav...n&GRid=10619462

10619462_111108413635.jpg

i think its a fairly simple case to crack, husband all the way, taking some ones head off is a grudge killng for sure, maybe she was secretly running away with the child and martin found out

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I found her grave on Findagrave.com and the inscription is interesting:

The inscription on her tombstone reads:

"How Many Hopes He Ended Here."

Link: http://www.findagrav...n&GRid=10619462

10619462_111108413635.jpg

Sounds like whoever set up the stone (Katies father?) was thinking the husband did it as well...

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Okay... Scenario time...

(and it turns out there was another train stop between the two towns - Arapahoe (the county seat)

Distance from Custer City to Clinton - 11.9 miles (as the crow flies)

Katie and the baby get on the train - total travel time to Clinton (figuring in a 15 minute stop in Arapahoe) perhaps 45 minutes...

Katie meets Fannie on the train and they strike up a "friendship"... Katie is talked into stopping off in Clinton to spend the night at Fannie's Brother in Laws house (no idea if the BIL was home or not) Perhaps it was late in the day

and Katie was planning on catching an early morning train for Weatherford-OKC-Ripley...

While this is transpiring, the husband Martin travelled to Clinton - perhaps on horse back - it would be faster than a train that makes stops for this short a distance... (could also explain why he was not at the station to see her off)

In the morning katie misses the train (probably with the conivance of Fannie) and Fannie offers to drive her and the baby to Weatherford to catch either the same train or another... (I have no idea if Deer Creek is between Clinton and Weatherford or not)

At the creek (probably at a ford point) they meet up with Martin who kills Katie (though I have no idea why he would need to cut her head off)... Fannie high tails it back home with the baby, Martin does the same without the baby as that would arouse suspicion

as to how he got the child, if he was still in Custer City...

What do you think? Plausable?

That's very likely, but Fannie left the baby with a German family that lived near Deer Creek, where the murder happened. The Deputy Bartell, is the one who found the baby there, and the family gave a description of Fannie, handing them the child, asking them to watch the baby while she went on a "short" trip but never came back for the baby, so I don't think she wanted the baby. Right after the murder, Fanny was able to put all four of her children in a private school, right before she was questioned, so I wonder where she got the money for that?? I think she knew, once she was questioned about the murder, and gave such conflicting accounts about what happened before she killed herself, se was afraid of someone.

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That's very likely, but Fannie left the baby with a German family that lived near Deer Creek, where the murder happened. The Deputy Bartell, is the one who found the baby there, and the family gave a description of Fannie, handing them the child, asking them to watch the baby while she went on a "short" trip but never came back for the baby, so I don't think she wanted the baby. Right after the murder, Fanny was able to put all four of her children in a private school, right before she was questioned, so I wonder where she got the money for that?? I think she knew, once she was questioned about the murder, and gave such conflicting accounts about what happened before she killed herself, se was afraid of someone.

she got paid to do it, and martin is suspect number 1, it was all for control of the baby case closed ! :P

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I found her grave on Findagrave.com and the inscription is interesting:

The inscription on her tombstone reads:

"How Many Hopes He Ended Here."

Link: http://www.findagrav...n&GRid=10619462

I can't believe "findagrave.com" is a real site!

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I can't believe "findagrave.com" is a real site!

A lot of people into geneaology use it to find birth and death dates...

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Nice reasoning, all plausible :). That link I provided talks about the head and how it allegedly got severed. From what the writer said, I gather the family always did believe the husband was involved.

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Nice reasoning, all plausible :). That link I provided talks about the head and how it allegedly got severed. From what the writer said, I gather the family always did believe the husband was involved.

I just read your link (sometimes this crazy computer will let me and sometimes it won't...) Interesting story... My main problem with it is while two people can easily get together to plan something this hideous... Four is a bit more difficult...

Unless Katie's death was "accidental" during an assault by them to get the baby (if that is the reason it was done)...

The story also mentioned a woman named Alta Hood... Does anyone have any more info on her? A quick net search turned up the British Battleship Hood - and little else (an interesting subject in it's own right - but a bit off topic here)...

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Posted (edited)

This google Earth screen cap shows the area... From Custer City to Arapahoe to Clinton and over to Weatherford...

Oddly, the spot marked with the "thumb tack" (Dead Woman Crossing) is, from what I can gather, the site where the body was found...

Seems like they took her body a long way out before dumping it... Even past Weatherford... Keep in mind this map shows the extents of the towns today... 108 years ago I'm sure they were much smaller...

Katie_zps122095dd.jpg

Edited by Taun
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Actually, Taun, when I read my link, it seemed plausible that her death may have resulted from a fall or blow, perhaps during an effort to persuade her to come back home and desist with the divorce idea. I mean, why else have the baby around, and why else would so many women of the day and a (assumed to be ok) cop be involved unless it went bad. THEN the major cover-up effort and apparently no prosecution afterwards despite all of this. Have to consider the times then as well, when divorce was rather extreme and scandalous. Her own family seems to have let it go, even if they did grieve. Per the census, the husband stayed in the area afterwards and remarried and kept his child. I think you are right.

Have not looked to find the Alta Hood person. I will poke around if I find a bit more time.

ok edit to add Alta is aka Altie Hood. One link found with a mention at http://boards.ancestry.com/localities.northam.usa.states.newmexico.counties.colfax/1080/mb.ashx

same author as the previous link, so that may be how the family got the info. Dunno.

Edited by RockShaman
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Interesting. I'm not very good at this sort of thing, but it seems to me the husband at least had a hand in it, even if he didn't do the actual killing.

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Accidental death caused by a fall (from the cart ?) or a blow to the head in a struggle is a definite possibility... Though why they would feel the need to hide the body (not to mention beheading it) is puzzling..

Especially if they have a friendly law officer handy to testify that it was an accidental death... Forensics was pretty primitive back then compared to today...

edit: Just read the link to Altie Hood... She seems either a totally disreputable character or just one of those women who are drawn to bad guys... According to that article she admitted to the murder... Of course

that's not proof... but it is interesting...

Edited by Taun
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