An Ozark Murder Mystery

Jack Dyer, The Joplin News Herald January 19, 1939The seeds that were planted each spring in the fields grew into stalks of corn, babies were born and the elderly passed into memories. The routine of life itself continued on relatively unchanged.  But, for five long years questions had gone unanswered.  The dark suspicions that tormented many living in the small southwest Missouri Ozark town of Pineville were finally going to be affirmed.  The soft spoken Main Street conversations could now be voiced openly and some felt relieved as it appeared that justice would finally be served.

What did conversations on the streets of Klamath Falls, Oregon and Pineville, Missouri have in common?  The people in both towns who were separated by almost two thousand miles were talking about the murder of Mary Sullivan Bougher and those that were accused of that most heinous crime, murder.

The truths to the long unanswered questions regarding the events that took place on February 3, 1933 which led to the death of Mary Sullivan Bougher were thought to be found not in Pineville, but rather in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

In the early morning hours of Friday February 3rd in the year 1933 Jack Dyer telephoned Lee Carnell, the owner and operator of the only ambulance service in the Pineville area, and said “Come on out, Olie’s mother’s hurt.” Although Lee also owned the only hearse in the area he prepared to use the ambulance as Jack stated Mary was hurt, not killed.  Lee called a local physician, Doctor Horton, and the two drove to Mary Sullivan’s farm located just a short drive East of Pineville.  Mary, a 60-year-old widow, lived on the property with Jack Dyer and his wife, Olie, who was the forty-year-old daughter of Mary.  Carnell and Dr. Horton made the short trip to the Sullivan farm where Jack pointed to a barn located a short distance from the house and stated, “She’s in there.”  Mary’s lifeless body was found leaning against the wall of a stall in the barn.  Jack surmised that she must have fallen from a hole in the loft and struck her head on the manger wall.  He also said that, without knowing exactly why, he lifted Mary’s body from the floor of the stall and propped the body against the stall’s wall.

Sheriff Bob Vansandt was called to the farm and conducted what could best be called a cursory investigation into the death.  Although facets of the possible cause resulting from an accidental fall seemed inconsistent with the actual scene, there were no witnesses to the event.  Years later Vansandt was heard to say that he believed Mary was murdered and Jack would eventually become a witness.

The funeral services for Mary were well attended and while regret over the death was shown whispers were spoken and fingers were covertly pointed at Olie and Jack.  Following the service Mary’s brother Al openly accused Olie of murdering his sister.

Olie and Jack continued to live on the farm until February 6, 1935 when the farm was sold to Charles W. Grimes of Tulsa, Oklahoma for the cash sum of $9000.00.  The land had been deeded to Olie and her brother Earl when Olie’s father died in 1919.  When the former county judge passed away he willed the property to the two siblings but that will contained a condition commonly referred to as a “widow’s dowry.”  That condition stated that the land could not be sold prior to Mary’s death. Olie was able to complete the sale because she previously paid her brother $700.00 for his interest in the property and Mary had conveniently, at least for Olie, passed away two years earlier.

Olie and Jack gathered up their belongings and, along with their recently acquired $9000.00, moved to a place far from the farm, Pineville and the people there.  They moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon; a place where they, and the story of Mary’s death and the suspicions that surrounded it, were not known to those living there.  The couple lived a quiet life in Oregon until one December day when everything changed.

The couple’s fragile relationship had for some time begun to unravel and on a December morning in 1938 Olie announced to Jack that she was filing for divorce.  Jack became furious and announced that he would contest any effort to dissolve the marriage and hurled threats at Olie.  His threats prompted Olie to call the Klamath Falls Police who later that day arrested Jack and whisked him away while bound in handcuffs.

Olie was no stranger to divorce.  She had been married three times prior to exchanging nuptials with Jack.  She first exchanged her given name Sullivan for that of Heckles.  That marriage ended when her husband was killed in 1918 on the battlefields of France during World War I.

Jack was enraged over Olie’s intent to file for divorce and her accusations that led to his arrest so he decided to extract his revenge.  He told the Klamath Falls police that he had a story to tell, and it was a story about a murder in Pineville.

Jack told the police that in 1933 while he and Olie lived with Olie’s mother, Mary Olie became impatient waiting for her mother to die so she could sell the family farm and she took matters into her own hands.  Jack said that Olie killed Mary by beating her to death with a singletree, striking her numerous times in her head.

When Olie was certain her mother was dead she coerced Jack into helping her move the body to another place in the barn and under a hole in the loft.  Olie and Jack cleaned the blood from the actual site of the murder and brushed away the ground to hide any evidence.  Olie tutored Jack on the story he would tell the authorities in which he would speculate that an accidental fall was the probable cause of death.

Jack admitted that he did as Olie requested and was an accomplice in concealing Mary’s murder but insisted he was not the killer and had no part in planning that gruesome act.  Jack followed his verbal accusations by authoring a lengthy statement.Jack Dyer story_ Lee Carnell Floyd Bone and Klamath Falls  officials from the December 15, 1938 Oregon daily Journal

The Klamath Falls Police contacted the Pineville Police and told the story of Jack’s description of the murder and Olie’s involvement.  The Pineville police asked that Olie be arrested and both she and Jack be held as fugitives in the matter of Mary’s murder.

When confronted with Jack’s scathing accusations Olie struck back at her husband stating that his statements were nothing more than vindictive slanders prompted by her recent filing for divorce.  Olie went further in her defense by claiming that Jack murdered her mother and involved her in the subsequent cover-up.

Jack waived extradition and McDonald County Sheriff Floyd Bone and Coroner Lee Carnell, both of whom were childhood playmates of Olie, traveled to Oregon and returned him to Pineville.  Olie fought her extradition and it wasn’t until the middle part of January in 1939 that she was escorted back to Missouri.

A preliminary hearing designed to determine if enough evidence existed to hold Olie and Jack for trial began on March 7, 1939.  Olie was represented by attorney’s Kelley and Tatum while Jack’s counsel was Earl Blansett.  The State’s case was presented by Prosecuting Attorney W.G. Tracy, and court reporter Dorothy Noel documented the testimony.  The hearing took place in the courtroom of Justice of the Peace S.B. Shannon.

The list of witnesses scheduled to testify contained the names of Lee Carnell, Ina Martin, Dr. Buck, Frank Chandler, Al Maness, J.N. Brown and L.R. Smith.  In testimony it was stated that Mary died as a result of blows to the head and neck inflicted with a blunt object.  The blows were so numerous and given with such force as to crush her skull.

Frank Chandler testified that he was at the farm the day the body was discovered.  Jack maintained that Mary had a basket and was gathering eggs prior to her death but neither basket nor eggs were found at the scene.  Chandler also stated that no blood was found near the site of the deceased.  Justice Shannon also heard testimony regarding the statements given to the Klamath Falls Police by both Olie and Jack.

Doctor Buck testified that after the news of the Dyer’s accusatory statements came to the attention of McDonald County authorities the exhumation of Mary Sullivan’s remains was ordered.  Dr. Buck stated that he was the physician of record when the body was disinterred and after a careful examination he found that Mary’s death resulted from severe trauma to the head caused by several blows with a blunt instrument.  He declared that Mary’s death was not the result of an accidental fall but was indeed caused by something of a much more sinister nature, murder.

The hearing continued and after its conclusion, and after time for consideration passed, Justice of the Peace Shannon ordered that Jack be held for trial but he stated that there was insufficient evidence to hold Olie and he grudgingly ordered that she be released.

Olie traveled back to Oregon on April 18, 1939 where she lived out the remainder of her years.  On April 20, 1939 Prosecuting Attorney Tracy asked that the charges against Jack be dismissed for lack of evidence.  Judge Emory Smith granted the motion and Jack was released.

Jack returned to Klamath Falls where he remained until his death in 1956.  Not much is known about Oile after her divorce from Jack but it is believed she remained in Klamath Falls, remarried and died some years after Jack.

You’ll have to draw your own conclusions as to Olie and Jack’s culpability regarding the murder of Mary Sullivan Bougher but several things cannot be disputed.  Whomsoever struck and beat Mary with that singletree is a cold hearted murderer but the other of the two clearly assisted in fabricating a scene with the intent to make the death appear to be an accident.  That person, whether it was Olie or Jack, also kept secret the actual cause of Mary’s death for many years.

Greed and the treachery that often follows its birth can consume the mind and heart.  The awful sickness which leads to cruel murder inhabits the minds and hearts of some but those among us who are morally just and of good conscience cannot abide the wicked.

Eighty-three years have passed since Mary Sullivan Bougher was murdered and no one has ever stood trial for that villainous act.

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