When the deadly sin of greed infects the mind and soul the limits of evil that people are capable of have no boundaries. Those with the desire to covet that which is not theirs often leads to the act which is the most hideous of sins, murder. Those that gather together and conspire to commit these repugnant acts must surely be brought to justice and in our world that calls for judgement by their peers.
The door to the Juror’s deliberation room slowly opened and Jury foreman Jake Bailey led the group of twelve men, peers of the defendants, toward and into the juror’s box. The men’s stoic appearing faces gave no indication of what their decision would be, innocent or guilty. Each man’s eyes were keenly focused on the chairs they had occupied for the past three days and not even the turn of a head or slight glance was directed toward any of the three brothers.
The August 1896 trial of three brothers who stood accused of the seemingly senseless murders of C.L. and Mary Moore lasted just five days. It was alleged that the married couple, who lived on a small farm near the southwest Missouri town of Tiff City, were brutally dispatched from this world on the night of Wednesday, July 19, 1894, and for what; the lust for money.
The trial began on Tuesday August 5th in the small McDonald county Courtroom. The presiding judge in the matter was the Honorable John C. Lamson. Over the next five days between thirty and forty witnesses would testify while hundreds of onlookers crowded into the small courtroom to get a look at the accused murderers. The August Sun created sweltering temperatures within the inside of the packed courtroom but that didn’t deter interested spectators. The accused were represented by several attorneys but J.A. Sturgis acted as the lead defense counsel while Prosecutor J.D. Edge represented the state and the interests of the victims.
George Williams, a neighbor and husband of the Moore’s youngest daughter, testified that he and his wife lived approximately two hundred yards from the Moore couple’s home. Mr. Williams stated that he heard nine gunshots on the evening of Wednesday July 19, 1894 but paid little attention as the sounds of shots fired in that rural area were not uncommon.
A young boy testified that he went to the Moore’s home at approximately 10:A.M. the following morning intending to return a previously borrowed buggy. When his calls went unanswered he walked to the farm house’s front porch where he found Mrs. Moore lying motionless in a pool of blood. The McDonald County Sheriff’s office was notified of the gruesome findings and Sheriff John C. Kelley, Prosecutor Hugh Dabbs and Doctor A.J. McKinney rushed to the scene.
Mr. Moore’s body was discovered lying on the floor of a room within the house. An examination of the body found four bullet wounds; one to each shoulder and two to the head. An examination of Mrs. Moore’s body revealed gunshot wounds to the arm, neck and back of the head. A search of the home for anything of evidentiary value led to the discovery of nine .38 caliber empty shell casings found on the porch and inside the home. Both victims were in their stocking feet. Two smoking pipes were found on a porch window sill and a kerosene lamp was found to be still burning. Doctor McKinney placed the time of death at approximately 7:00 P.M. the night before. It was determined that approximately $500.00 in cash, a substantial sum of money in 1894, had been stolen.
As the trial progressed everyone waited for the introduction of a possible motive to the killings. Finally, the jury heard testimony that indicated the three brothers wore masks when they visited the Moore home that tragic evening with the intent to rob the couple. It was stated that Mrs. Moore pulled the mask from one of the three which led to the fatal shooting of both she and her husband. It was also stated that one of the brothers purchased a race horse for the sum of $150.00 a short time after the murders.
In his closing statement Prosecutor Edge told the twelve jurors that the motive for the murders was the most terrible of sins, greed. He explained that when the mask was removed from one of the brothers thus divulging their identity, the three evil conspirators shot the couple numerous times ensuring that the wounds would be fatal and the identities of the killers would not be discovered. But, the identities of the murderers were in fact discovered, and they sat in that courtroom before the jurors that day.
As the jurors passed William and Lafe scanned the faces of each of the twelve men looking for some sign, any sign at all, which would somehow subside the fear that swelled up within them. The slightest nod of a head, wink of an eye or a wry smile might give them hope for a favorable verdict, but no reassuring hint of the decision was given. Thomas however, sat with a slumped head looking only downward at the surface of the table he sat next to. Over the past five days he had come to know every inch of that table and every grain in the wood so very well.
On Saturday evening August 8, 1896 Judge Lamson asked jury foreman Bailey if the jury had reached a verdict. The foreman stood and said “We have your honor.” A deafening hush fell over the room. The ladies in their gingham dresses stopped fanning their faces and the men in their best overalls lowered the sweat moistened handkerchiefs that a moment ago had swabbed their temples and the backs of their necks. The judge asked if the decision was unanimous and he was assured that all twelve men were in agreement. The judge asked Mr. Bailey to read the verdict. Bailey unfolded a piece of paper and began to read; “We the jury find the defendants, William Hamilton, Lafe Hamilton and Thomas Hamilton not guilty of murder in the 1st degree in the manner and form as charged in the indictment.”
Was justice served? Well the answer to that question most certainly depends on who was asked. For the Hamilton brothers and J.A. Sturgis, the answer was most assuredly, yes. But, for Prosecuting Attorney Edge and the family and friends of the murdered couple, the answer was no, there had been no justice given at the end of those five days in the Pineville, Missouri courtroom. A fourth suspect in the murders, Andrew Taylor was initially charged along with the three brothers but he was never brought to trial.
One-hundred and twenty two years have passed since the blood stained bodies of C.L, and Mary Moore were found at their home near Tiff City, Missouri and no one has ever been found guilty of the couple’s murders. The two are remembered in a Tiff City cemetery where an obelisk was erected with the name of C.L. Moore inscribed on one side and his wife’s name, Mary Moore on another. The inscription, “Murdered in 1894” is found beneath both names.
Over time, those in the area got back to living their lives. People occasionally talked about the murders and the subsequent trial but growing crops and raising families once more became their priorities.
Thomas and Lafe Hamilton seemed to disappear from the face of the earth and not much is known about their lives in the years following the trial. William, however, remained in the area and worked off and on as a carpenter until 1906. On a dark June night William sat alone on a train returning from a job hunting trip. He was believed to have gotten off at the Elk Springs stop but no one saw him, at least no one saw him for several days.
Thanks to everyone at the McDonald County Court Clerk’s Office.