Saturday, March 5, 2016

Murder of Sarah Harriet McDaniel : County Prosecutor Escapes the Gallows

Oscar McDaniel excelled at his job.  He was a very respected prosecutor in Buchanan County, Missouri.  Well known for putting away all the "bad guys", the community could count on him to get the job done, and make the St. Joseph area a safe place to live and raise a family.

However, in July of 1916 all of  that changed. McDaniel received a telephone call very late in the evening.  The strange voice on the other end said that Oscar's brother was in  a saloon in the downtown area of St. Joseph.  They said he had better come to fetch him before this drunken patron starts some trouble.  Oscar went to the saloon, only to find that the warning was untrue.  He returned to his home on South 20th Street, parking in the street.  As soon as he started to exit the car, gunshots rang out.  An assailant, hidden behind a large tree, began to shoot at McDaniel.  At least five shots were heard by neighbors.  The dark figure ran off and McDaniel was not hurt.  He ran into his home to check on his wife and three children, Oscar Jr., Helen, and Marion  He shouted his wife's name, but got no response.  Upstairs in the bedroom, he found his wife, Sarah Harriet, laying on the floor in a pool of blood. Her head was crushed, and she was unconscious,  Apparently she had been beaten with a blunt instrument. Her diamond ring and a few nice trinkets were missing.  The children were asleep, and left unharmed.
The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota) · Fri, Jul 21, 1916 · First Edition · Page 1

Oscar called the St. Joseph Police Department to report the incident and ask for assistance with his wife.  Police immediately brought blood hounds to the residence to begin tracking the whereabouts of the assailant who had run away into the dark night.  Since McDaniel was a shrewd prosecutor, responsible for putting away all sorts of thugs from the courts, the suspect list was rather long. The hounds led the  police to a rooming house.  Police took five men into custody there and they were held pending the investigation of this ghastly murder.  The landlady reported that she had seen a dark, shadowy figure run from the house sometime after the crime was reported.

Mrs. McDaniel was transported to the hospital, where she died about six hours later.  Nothing could be done for her.  An autopsy was performed by the coroner.  Cause of death : Homicide.

The state police departments of Kansas and Missouri combined forces to solve the murder of Sarah Harriet McDaniel.  They began to focus their attention on a convicted burglar that had recently been placed in the asylum for the criminally insane.  At his sentencing, he warned Prosecutor McDaniel, "Death, hell and destruction shall be visited on you!".  This man had escaped from prison just days before the murder of Mrs. McDaniel.  He had written a letter to McDaniel, repeating his threat. McDaniel was not upset by the letter, because as a very competent prosecutor, he had received hundreds of such threats for the past two years.  No one had actually carried out their threats.  Many of the threats mentioned that he had better not try to run for re-election.

In September, the murder had still not been solved, and the community began to get restless.  They wanted someone to pay for the death of this dear lady.  Suspicions fell upon Oscar McDaniel, himself.  He was held in the St. Joseph Police department, having been charged with the murder. McDaniel began to laugh at the police and the absurd charges, but he respectfully walked the two miles to the county prison. He requested, and was granted, the permission to buy some cigars on his way to prison.

A special prosecutor asked that a grand jury be called to review the case against McDaniel, although he admitted that he had never questioned him about the murder of his wife.  Tongues began to wag about rumors that Sarah had asked Oscar for a divorce, and being upset by the request, he beat his wife to death. McDaniel asked for a swift trial, as he wanted to focus on his upcoming re-election.  He was a candidate on the Democratic ticket for November of that year.

In October, Bart Lockwood was assigned to prosecute Oscar McDaniel.  The two men had been close friends, having studied law together.  This case was bound to break that friendship.  Lockwood reviewed the evidence that piled up, seeming to indicate that Oscar really did murder his young wife.  He had tears in his eyes when he went before the court and summarized the evidence links that seemed to tighten around his old friend.

The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune (Chillicothe, Missouri) · Fri, Nov 24, 1916 · Page 10

In late November, the prosecutor began to wrap up his case.  But he had a bombshell of a witness that had been called to testify. Miss Aileen Moss, sister of the slain Sarah , aka, Harriet, was asked to tell what she knew about the home life of Mr. and Mrs. McDaniel.  Miss Moss was a well known school teacher and resided with the McDaniels at the time of the murder.  She said she had heard her sister say "No, no no," and then let out a moan the night of her demise.  She also stated that just a week after her sister's death, McDaniel asked her if she thought the young child, Helen, would be better off forgetting her mother entirely.  She said she was shocked at his inquiry, and replied to him that the children should never forget their mother. Lockwood wanted to admit testimony from Aileen regarding McDaniel's association with other women, but the court would not allow it.The last of her testimony included her remembrance of a certain evening when Oscar and his wife were to attend a dinner at the home of an acquaintance.  Mrs. McDaniel refused to attend, and Oscar showed his superior authority and attending by himself.

Louis Gabbert, attorney for Oscar McDaniel was surprised by the lack of real evidence against his client.  He had expected to be confronted by many more witnesses by the prosecution.  He said he did not expect much proof against McDaniel, but he certainly expected more of a showing of evidence than what had been presented.

On December 5th, Oscar D. McDaniel was acquitted of the murder of his wife.  The jury took only one hour and thirty minutes to make their decision.  Five ballots had been taken before the jury could come to an agreement.  The following day, McDaniel could be found seated in his office, resuming his position as county prosecutor.  He said he would devote his time to discover the slayer of his wife.  He would, however, continue his career and take on the criminal cases on the docket, one of which was a case where a man had beat his wife to death.  He vowed that his career would not get in the way of trying to solve his wife's murder case.

McDaniel was asked if he had any evidence or information as to the identity of the murderer of his wife.  He was guarded in his remark, saying that there had been a member of a crook gang that had infested that part of the state and had received a threat in the previous year that they were out to get McDaniel and blow his family to hell.

Meanwhile, Sarah Harriet Moss McDaniel had been laid to rest in Mount Mora Cemetery. Her official cause of death was ruled a homicide.....blunt instrument to the head.

What happened to Oscar and his children?  Well, he found love again.  Oscar and Zora Lee Cook, later known as Cora, were married in July of 1917. He was still registered as an attorney in 1918, as stated on his WWI draft card.  But by mid 1920, he and Cora had moved to Felix Street in St. Joseph, Missouri.  He had become a carpenter by then, and had put his law degree away in a drawer.

Go ahead and research the information about Oscar and his attempt to solve the murder of his wife, Sarah Harriet McDaniel.  I know what happened, but it's more fun if you look for the results yourself.

May I suggest using :

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