Friday, June 29, 2012

Marilyn Hudson, Bizarre History Genie

I am constantly reminded, one way or another, about how much I DON'T know about Oklahoma City history and what a relatively untapped and deep well that it truly is.

The thing which eventually led to my awareness of Marilyn Hudson was an unsolicited email on June 24, 2012, from Mr. Roland Miller, an African-American man living in Chicago. He inquired if I knew anything about his great-uncle, Bird Gee, who lived in Oklahoma City on or shortly after the April 22, 1889, Land Run, and who remained here until sometime in 1913, he said. I replied that I didn't but that I would ask around and look through the Oklahoman's archives.

Bird Gee was the name of the ancestor, a great-uncle of the gentleman from Chicago. I wasn't optimistic that I'd find anything about the black man with an unusual name — during the referenced period of time. As I have reported previously, the Oklahoman took a decidedly dim view of African Americans and rarely reported anything particularly good about them.

To my complete surprise, I found a good bit of information about Bird Gee in the Oklahoman's on-line archives. Among other things, an October 2, 1907, article said that he was "understood to be the wealthiest negro in Oklahoma City." Articles reflected that he owned considerable amounts of land in the county, operated his real estate sales and rental business smack in the middle of downtown among the town's wealthiest white folk, and lived around NW 13th and McKinley, a white part of town.

But, this post isn't really about Mr. Gee — later, a different article will be just about him. This post is about Marilyn Hudson and her work as a historian and story teller, even though I'm being circuitous and mysterious in getting to the point.

The research disclosed that Mr. Gee was indirectly involved as a bail bondsman in a case associated with and related to the most notorious Oklahoma City murder trials — there were at least three and perhaps a fourth — since the Land Run, the alleged crime occurring right around Oklahoma's 1907 statehood, but I'll get back to that later in this article. Actually, it was Chicagoan Miller who put two and two together and identified Marilyn Hudson to me. Her blogsite is called, Mystorical — where history meets mystery.


About Marilyn Hudson. I'll get back to the sensational murder trials and Bird Gee in a moment. First, here's some information about Ms. Hudson. Here biography at Amazon.com reads:
        Marilyn A. Hudson is currently an academic library administrator in Oklahoma. Prior to that, she served as public services librarian for the Metropolitan Library System, as a library media specialist for Norman Public Schools, and as an archives fellow.
        Her writing experiences include stints as a contributing editor and a local newspaper stringer. Her general research interests are in history, especially social, religious, and church history; women's studies; mythology, folklore and storytelling.
        Hudson was lead writer and editor of the book, One Night Club and A Mule Barn: The First 60 Years of Southwestern Christian University (Tate, 2006), edited a collection of her late mother's religious poetry, In Her Own words (Whorl Books 2010), and authored, Those Pesky Verses of Paul: Examining Women in the New Testament (Whorl Books 2005), Elephant Hips are Expensive (Whorl Books /Hudson House, 2005), and the chilling short fiction, The Bones of Summer (Whorl Books 2011), the true crime When Death Rode the Rails (Whorl Books, 2011), and co-authored The Mound: A Novel (Whorl Books, 2011).
        She received a B.A. in History and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Oklahoma.
But that bio doesn't mention the book which hooked me onto her and her websites, Tales of Hell's Half Acre: Murder, mayhem, and mysteries of early Oklahoma and Oklahoma City (Whorl Books 2011).

Below are book-cover images from some of her books listed for sale at Amazon.com (although she has written others).


One Night Club
& A Mule Barn

When Death
Rode the Rails

In Her
Own Words

Noel
Brooks

The Bones
of Summer

The
Mound

Tales of Hell's Half Acre

Of course, that last book is the one that hooked me on Marilyn's stuff, it being the book that my new Chicago friend located which describes the dime-novel and almost surreal circumstances surrounding the alleged murder of James Meadows. Marilyn's blog opened in 2007 and contains any number of fascinating historical topics, several focusing on parts of Oklahoma City history, e.g., Big Ann's Place: Recruiting Station For Hell; The Meadows Murder: Sensation Before Statehood; The Meadows Murder, The Crime; The Meadows Murder: Part 4. Also, see Marilyn's personal blog and another of her blogs.

OK. Let's get back to the part about the notorious 1907 murder which began this post. I've not yet got my copy of the Ms. Hudson's book but am eagerly awaiting it in the mail. It appears that possibly four chapters of the book focus on the trial (unfortunately, the book's table of contents does not appear at Amazon.com).

Marilyn's Mystorical blog kindly gives some excerpts from the book about the Meadows murder ... Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4.

Excerpts from Part 1 ...
THE MEADOWS MURDER OF 1907, part 1:
        It was little wonder the story remained a major headline event for over a decade. The tale had it all: a murder mystery with titillating intrigue, illicit lust, yellow journalism, city officials on criminal payrolls, a guilty till proven innocent public sentiment, clairvoyant mediums, shady peripheral characters, lying witnesses, plots and shenanigans, a grand standing defense attorney, a lovely and frail widow, a virile young villain, and lingering rumors of a man thought dead still being alive.

Lila Meadows, the Widow
* * *
        She was frequently ill, court testimony identified it is a morphine addiction, and then later she has dramatic appendicitis surgery in 1910. Good woman cruelly used, grieving widow, seducer of the young killer, it is hard to classify the woman but some clues lead to ideas about underlying truths. She is known to have been living in 1908 with Annie Wynne Bailey aka “Big Annie”, and one of Annie’s former courtesans Fannie Ritchie, at the notorious Arlington on West 2nd Street. About this time, Annie left for California after her first unsuccessful run-in with local law. Did Annie cut a deal? Was Lila a charity cause or one of Annie's own girls?
        Significantly, a few days before June 4, J.O. Green of the Sun Accident Insurance company calls to remind Mrs. Meadows of the due date of the life insurance premium on James was due June 1.

Mother Myers aka Rose Myers aka Ronie Myers, the Psychic
        The boarding house had provided some income but it had also brought Meadows' wife into contact with some questionable people. The so-called "Mother Myers", who convinced people she was a clairvoyant with powers to see things, had also swindled people so that she had to flee to avoid arrest or worse. There were others, women mostly, who may have had been giving his wife ideas that were not to her betterment and were detrimental to a happy home. Dorothy Keith was one such friend and confident. He urged them to leave the boarding house and he set out to find somewhere in Capitol Hill for them to live.
        Labeled a fortuneteller, medium, clairvoyant, and physic, Myers had been operating in Oklahoma City, in the boarding house, prior to the death of Meadows. It was suggested at one point she was the real mother of Lila and after some searching was finally located in Doxie near Elk City. One of Annie's connections?
Excerpts From Part 2 ...
THE MEADOWS MURDER, THE CRIME
* * *
        The day after the body is found, the police begin proceeding to indict Mrs. Lila Meadows, Miss Dorothy Keith. Roy A. Baird and Edward Loughmiller identify the remains at the city morgue as James R. Meadows. As a photo in the local paper shows, the body was badly decomposed. Investigators, however, noted he had been shot in the back and the face. They could not find a matching hole in his shirt and this added to the aura of mystery that would ensue. Near the time of the funeral, Dorothy Keith claims the casket is empty and Meadows is not dead. In July of 1912, the witness of two physicians attending the body added to the debate. The body was badly decomposed, but the doctors were able to ascertain the man was a) in good health and b) had a full set of teeth. Some of Meadows closest friends, however, indicated he had been in very poor health and was missing a tooth. Further discussion of these points is missing in later accounts and no explanations are given for the disparities other than the extreme level of decomposition may have hindered findings.
        Two days after the body is found, the theory of the police was clear. Tegler was a na├»ve young man besotted and manipulated by a lovely older woman who used her sexual charms to her advantage. The man's belief in the supernatural powers of the medium Myers, and a sad story of an abusive husband, were used to develop a patsy (at the least) for the murder of her husband, and so soon had both Mrs. Meadows and Rudolph Tegler were facing indictments for murder.
Excerpts from Part 4 ...
1908 VERDICT
        On February 13, Tegler was given a life sentence for the murder of James R. Meadows, with two jurors holding out for acquittal. Out on bail he planned to go to Rock Island, New Mexico for a visit with his step-father and uncle, George L. Tegler and his mother Hermina Tegeler before taking up residence "in the pen". His defense team (now J.W. Johnson and A.N. Munden) had charged that Meadows had been in Panama where he had been working for the telephone company and was returning to New Orleans on the 28 but had not so far been located. The attorneys then suggested he had drowned in the sinking recently of a White Star ship in the gulf. A third trial was set to start in December.

1910 VERDICT: Shenanigans
        In the courtroom of Judge Carney, the Defense lead council was Judge D.B. Welty and Morman Pruiett. The chief tactic was the claim that "Meadows lives." They brought in witnesses from Kansas, a Johnson from Kansas City and a Livingston from Atchison, stating the man was alive. Livingston had known James and Lila Meadows in El Reno and claimed they had been married there and lived in the town for a while. In 1909, he was the proprietor of the Robinson Hotel in El Paso, Texas and there, two years after the murder, he entertained both Lila and James Meadows. They were using the name Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hall and urged his silence. Tegler was set to go to New Mexico again to visit relatives, took a tour of Oklahoma City, visited with his sisters Mrs. J.D. Carpenter (Ft. Worth, TX), Mrs. John Hoppleman (OKC) and his attorneys Welty and Pruiett. His bond was paid by an assortment of local business and farming people. This may indicate there was some public belief that he may have been an innocent pawn in a larger game.

1910: ACCUSATIONS
        In September of 1910, defense accused the victim (Meadows) of having ruined the life of a young girl (Amelia Shamcok, had a child, and had tried to blackmail him (thus explaining the initial missing $200 from the telephone company). This affair and the blackmail was what were behind the disappearance of Meadows. The Judge and the defense attorney noted a morphine problem with Mrs. Lila Meadows (whom one called a "dope fiend"). The defense also charged other lovers for Lila as well. A prominent, but unnamed city official, was implicated in the placement of the young girl in the north Broadway rooming house of Meadows. Tegler, it was claimed, denied leading the police to the grave and that a Webb Jones was the first man there.

1911 VERDICT
        The jury found Tegler guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in the pen by the district court of Judge Brown of Mangum in February. On the way to a cell, he passed Mike O'Brien who had perjured himself years before and had been sentenced the previous month. [Emphasis supplied.] He had said under oath that he had seen Meadows alive after Teglers' arrest.
Note the name, Mike O'Brien, in the last above paragraph. Mike O'Brien aka M.C. McGraw was a key defense witness in the 2nd trial (September 27, 1910 - October 15, 1910) but that trial resulted in a hung jury and mistrial. He testified that he was a detective and had seen and spoken with a very much alive James Meadows in New Orleans in May and June, 1910. His testimony, and state challenges to his veracity and credibility, were sufficiently sensational as to be the subject of major Oklahoman articles on September 27, September 30, October 1, October 4, and October 5, 1910. O'Brien was subsequently charged with, convicted of, and sentenced to a term of 10 years in jail for perjury by reason of his 1910 testimony.

That statement brings this article full circle to its point of beginning — closure is a good thing when it is there to be had.

One of O'Brien's bondsmen on that perjury charge was Bird Gee, the great uncle of my Chicago e-mail friend, first mentioned at the outset of this article. Bird Gee had posted bond for O'Brien in an undertaking in the amount of $10,000. After O'Brien was convicted, O'Brien skipped the state and that led to bond forfeiture proceedings against Bird Gee in 1912. He, too, was charged with perjury — for falsely stating under oath his worth in his bond's undertaking. Interestingly, two of Bird Gee's bondsmen in the stages of those proceedings were Dr. W.H. Slaughter and Dr. John Threadgill. Dr. Slaughter was a black doctor and businessman who, among other ventures, owned and operated Slaughter's Hall/Building which would come to be built around 1921 in Deep Deuce. Dr. Threadgill was a white doctor and businessman who, among other ventures, owned and operated the already built and then-upscale Threadgill Hotel (1903) at NW 2nd (R.S. Kerr today) and Broadway.

Bird Gee and the Oklahoman's coverage of this fascinating tale, as well as the tale itself, will be further described in future articles, a quick peek at which is shown below.


Sample Oklahoman Headlines — The Meadows Mystery


Oklahoman Headlines on June 22, 1907

Oklahoman Headlines on June 25, 1907

Oklahoman Headlines on February 28, 1908

Oklahoman Headlines on July 29, 1908
As to O'Brien, he was sentenced for 10 years
in the state penitentiary for perjury


Oklahoman Headlines January 29, 1911
As to Bird Gee, After O'Brien Skipped His Bond,
Bird Gee Was Acquitted of Perjury



Oklahoman, May 18 and May 19, 1912

In the 1905 Township Maps, Bird Gee was shown to own 160 acres of property in the southeastern part of the county:


By 1912, that could easily have been different. Identified in an October 2, 1907, Oklahoman article as being "understood to be the wealthiest negro in Oklahoma City," after 1912, Bird Gee removed himself from Oklahoma City and moved to Houston. Possibly, his thought was that he had worn out his welcome as a successful black man in the midst of the dominant white culture in Oklahoma City. Certainly the Oklahoman in its many deprecating racial caricatures, slurs, and articles about blacks in Oklahoma City during this time provided him no warm welcome. Who can say for sure, except for one thing: these proceedings marked the end of his time as an Oklahoma City citizen.

There is obviously so much more to say about several of the items/topics mentioned but I'll refrain from saying anything more about them here and will simply close this post by saying,
Thanks, Marilyn Hudson, for the contribution you have made, are making and will make, to the fascinating study of the history of our city and state! Hats off to you!

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