COPYRIGHTED, MAY, 1907
McMEIN PRINTING Co.,
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
AMOS J. STILLWELL
IN PRESENTING this work it may displease some critics that I should devote my humble efforts to portraying such a hideous crime. It is not my desire to degrade the tastes of the public or give them a distorted view of Society. I believe in this there is a sermon - a warning. These characters are not portrayed in a manner to make their course a tempting one. We cannot cure evil by concealing it. The best remedy for crime is punishment. It is impossible to cure it by ignoring its existence. I earnestly hope and believe that there will come a time when both men and women will be honest and moral, not through fear of public sentiment, but with a love for what is pure. Morality so weak that it trembles at the very sight of sin is not true morality.
An account of this gruesome murder appeared in various newspapers, to which the writer is indebted for important information. In writing this history, the writer has not been influenced by prejudices. There are many versions, and for the purpose of supplying those who desire it with a true history of the tragedy, in a convenient form, this volume has been prepared.
See Editor’s Note
It should first be noted that I use the term “editor” only for lack
of a better word. I first read The
Stillwell Murder when I was around 10 or eleven years old, in the early
1960s. I remember my grandmother,
Harriett (Holme) Hickman, talking about the murder. She was in the same generation as, and a social friend of,
Walter G. Stillwell. He was a
prominent lawyer in Hannibal, and a grandson of the murdered victim, Amos J.
Stillwell. My grandmother was born
in 1892, less than four years after the murder, which occurred Dec. 30, 1888.
The murder trial took place in Dec., 1895, and the book, The Stillwell
Murder, was published in 1908, when my grandmother would have been
approximately 16 years old. Apparently
the publication of the book caused quite a stir locally in Hannibal.
My grandmother claimed that the Stillwell family attempted to buy all of
the copies of the book in print. Whether
that is true, or was just gossip of the day, I do not know.
My grandmother’s parents, and her grandparents, were undoubtedly
social friends and acquaintances of the Stillwell family. I am sure that was partially the reason for my
grandmother’s interest in the story. Another
reason for her interest was probably the fact that her grandfather (my great
great grandfather), John T. Holme, Sr., was on the original coroner’s jury that was called immediately after the death
of Amos J. Stillwell to determine his cause of death. The coroner’s jury was the first body to hear testimony
from the various witnesses in the case, including the widow of Amos J.
Stillwell, his neighbors who she summoned for help, and his household servants.
The coroner’s jury returned the following finding in January, 1899:
“We, the Jury, find that Amos J. Stillwell
came to his death from the stroke of an ax in the hands of some person to
us unknown.” I suspect that my
grandmother would have grown up hearing not only her own parents discussing the
murder and trial from time to time, but also hearing perhaps her grandfather
discussing the murder, trial, and his participation on the coroner’s jury.
One of the reasons my grandmother thought my brother, Howard, and I
would be interested in reading the book, is because we lived on the corner of
Fifth and Church Streets (201 S. Fifth) in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and
the former Stillwell residence where the murder took place was located less than
one block away in the 100 block of South Fifth Street.
We played football with neighboring kids in what had been the yard of the
Stillwell residence. So with the encouragement of our grandmother, Howard and I
went to the Hannibal Public Library located across the street from our house to
read the only copy of the book that my grandmother knew about.
Even then the book seemed very old, and was in poor condition.
We were not allowed to check out the book to take it home to read, but
had to read the book at the library.
I thought about the book from time to time over the intervening decades,
and I always wondered if the library still had a copy of the book.
In late June of 2000, I once again found myself at the library asking if
they had The Stillwell Murder. They
did, or at least the library had a photo copy of the book, which, like the
original book, could only be read at the library and not checked out.
I read the book for the second time, only this time in my own home, after
making a “photo copy of the photo copy.”
I found the book just as interesting and entertaining as when I read it
as a boy.
I had the pleasure of knowing Walter G. Stillwell, who as stated above,
was a grandson of the murdered Amos J. Stillwell. Walter was a very well known and widely respected attorney in
Hannibal and Marion County, when I started practicing law in Marion County fresh
out of law school in 1977. He was
extremely interesting to talk with, and always complimentary of me, which as a
young lawyer at the time meant a great deal to me. He passed away in 1993.
My only purpose in making this private reprint of the original book is
for the enjoyment of anyone interested. However,
it should be mentioned that this private reprint is not an exact replica of the
original book. I
have added footnotes for as many of the people mentioned in the book that
I could find biographical information on. The
biographical information for the people footnoted will be found in Appendix A -
Biographical Notes, which I have added to the book.
The page numbers of this reprint do not correspond with the page numbers
of the original book.
Charles L. Hickman