Excitement at Moberly

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Excitement at Moberly


Sam Jackson and his two sons were making good use of the fine spring weather on April 26, 1906. They had plowed most of the day on their farm four miles east of Moberly, but about 3 p.m. their work suddenly came to a halt.

Across the plowed field came a Negro woman and her child running and screaming. Jackson recognized her as a resident of the Moberly area who had been picking greens in an old overgrown pasture on his farm. The frightened woman explained between gasps for breath that she had seen a man swinging in the top of a tree in a manner that filled her with terror.

Together they went to the old pasture to investigate. About 30 feet from a clump of cedar trees they discovered a slouch hat. They moved cautiously to examine the trees. Through the branches of a large cedar they saw a man's body hanging high by a leather strap. As they stood there speechless, the wind caused the body to sway and a terrible odor wafted over the onlookers.

Jackson sent his sons to round up several neighbors who came to view the awesome scene. A telephone call was made to Coroner Biggerstaff in Richmond who arrived at the place about dark. Although Judge N.B. Deatherage had urged by telephone that the inquest be held the next day because of the lateness of the hour and the disagreeableness of the task, Biggerstaff and several others went about 9 p.m. to have a look by lanternlight. They returned to their homes but it was said that nobody at Moberly slept much that night.

The next morning a coffin was sent from Richmond by train (Moberly was on the L&A railroad) and then taken by wagon to the Jackson farm. The coroner and his jury, with some 50 onlookers, gathered at the scene and watched as the tree was sawed down. The body was examined on the ground where it fell.

The deceased was identified as Joseph Walker Fry by a brother-in-law, Dillard Berryman. In a pocket was found a letter of recommendation from J.H. Stanifer, Jr. describing Fry as "a first class hand." He was about 40 years old, and was related to several Madison County families. Some thought that he may have had a wife and children in Illinois, but were not sure. In the obituary in the Climax, editor A.D. Miller described the man as a wanderer for several years. "He was a good worker," Miller stated, “but lately was addicted to liquor."

The corner's jury, with W.J. Wagers as foreman, decided that Fry had "died by hanging, how unknown to the jury." It was estimated that the body had been hanging there for four months, since the time in December when he said he was going south to find work. Burial was at Speedwell.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “Excitement at Moberly,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed March 29, 2023, https://madisonsheritage.eku.edu/items/show/822.