Friday, December 31, 2010

Kansas' OTHER Notorious Killing Clan

Dallas Morning News September 16, 1897

First Reward in Search for Staffleback Victims | Galena All Wrought Up Over the Probable Find of the Bodies--Columbus Jail Very Insecure

Galena, Kan., Sept. 16---The hoist is still at work in the shaft in which victims of the Staffleback family are supposed to be. A large crowd surrounds the mouth of the pit at all times and great interest is shown in each bucketful of dirt which comes to the surface. This interest was rewarded about 9 o'clock this morning by the appearance of a wooden club on which was a bunch of hair. This was carefully examined by barbers and others, and pronounced human. The workers had begun to despair of results, but this find increased new energy in the search.

It is said on the streets that a company of vigilantes has been organized to go to Columbus in case bodies are found and lynch the entire Staffleback family. It is said that the man who will lead the crowd is the one who commanded at the lynching of Joe Thornton in Joplin ten years or more ago. This committee of forty-five is said to be mostly workingmen, but a number of merchants have signified their approval of the scheme and their willingness to join in the work.

The people of Galena are thoroughly aroused. A number of murders have been committed here lately and many disreputable characters have come here from other places. There is likely to be a determined effort to clear the moral atmosphere by making the town too hot to hold those not wanted.

If the crowd should go to Columbus and be successful in gaining access to the jail, the Stafflebacks will not be the only ones hanged as there are nine men in that structure who have been recently convicted of murder in the first degree.

The general opinion in Cherokee county is that Kansas needs a Governor who will sign a batch of death warrants. Opinion is somewhat divided as to the probability of a lynching bee. Public sentiment is undoubtedly in favor of it, but concentrating and leadership are necessary to bring about results.

It is expected that the bottom of the shaft now being dug out will be reached soon. This is the one in which the bodies of the two girls are supposed to be. If nothing is found in this shaft, another one nearly 100 feet deep will be searched for the body of the peddler alleged to have been thrown in there before the murder of the two girls. This is the shaft out of which some bloody clothing was taken Tuesday. The only explanation of finding these things other than the supposition that bodies are there is that these shafts have been used as receptacles for the articles used in connection with the Galbraith murder and as a general dumping ground for as tough a residence district as there is in any part of the state.

The (Kansas) Sun
September 18, 1897

Nine Persons Charged with Murder Are in Hourly Expectation of Mob Violence

COLUMBUS, KAN., Sept. 17---The Cherokee jail, which is at present the home of the Staffleback band, has an uneasy lot of inhabitants tonight. They have been for the last three days in hourly expectation of a visit from the miners of Galena, who have sworn to lynch "Mother Nance" and her brood.

In the stone jail are crowded forty-eight prisoners. Of these, nine are charged with murder in the first degree and seven have already been convicted at this term of the Circuit Court.

If a mob comes to Columbus, its work may not end when the Stafflebacks have expiated their crime. Murderers now in the jail may be left tenantless by such a visit.

Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital
September 17, 1897

Startling Developments in the Gailbraith Murder Trial
The Stiffleback Family Alleged to Be Professional Murderers, Numbering Victims by the Score

Columbus, Kan., Sept. 14---The trials of George and Edward Stiffleback and Charles and Nancy Wilson for the murder of Frank Galbraith at Galena, Kansas, on the 19th day of last June, has developed a carnival of crime only surpassed in the state by the famous Bender family.

Nancy Wilson, one of the defendants, is the mother of the two Stifflebacks and the wife of Charles Wilson, by her second marriage.

For several years, occasionally dead bodies would be found at the bottom of abandoned shafts which are to be found near at hand in any part of Galena or its suburbs, but the coroner's jury would usually have no suspicion of foul play, thinking perhaps that on some dark night the deceased person had carelessly mistaken the road and walked into them, and the fall on the rocks at the bottom of the shaft accounted for not only the death of the person but also for whatever wounds were found on the body.

The defendants were all mutually interested in maintaining a house of ill fame and until this trial it was supposed this was their only means of gaining a livelihood, and when it became necessary to replenish their harem if they could not entice some young victim into their clutches in any other manner, they would marry them.

George had lately married a new wife, but as soon as she discovered what was expected of her she skipped out to her old home. When George found she would not return under such circumstances he wrote pledging that if she would return to him that they would live separate and apart from the other Stifflebacks. This induced her to return. George at once began his efforts to persuade her to embark in a career of infamy. She refused, but did not dare to leave for she had seen enough of the gang to be afraid to directly oppose them, but she was only awaiting her time. After she had been at the Stifflebacks about ten or twelve days, a murder occurred.

On the 19th of June one Frank Galbraith, a miner, came to the house at about 11 p.m. and enquired for Em Chapman, an inmate, but a daughter of Mrs. Wilson. This Mrs. Wilson went to the door and told Galbraith Em did not want to see him, that she was engaged. Frank said "Em had sent him a note to call and see her and he was going to do so," at the same time going to her room to which Mrs. Wilson followed. The old woman again ordered him to leave the house and seeing Ed and George Stiffleback and Charles Wilson entering the room and perhaps anticipating trouble he immediately proceeded to go. As he left the room Mrs. Wilson followed and seized a huge corn knife which she always kept handy, she cut at Galbraith but whether she hit him or not is not known. Galbraith then broke and ran for the nearest street but as he ran the gang followed and Ed Stiffleback drawing his revolver, fire one shot, which Mrs. McCoombs, an eye witness, says must have hit him above the hip for it brought him to the earth. The Stifflebacks still pursued their victim and he struggled and rose and started on the run again with Ed within a few feet of him. When near an abandoned shaft he caught up with Galbraith and placing the pistol against his head, fired, killing him.

After he had fallen the three men and old woman gathered around the body and rifled the pockets and then seizing the corpse plunged it into the deep shaft by the road side.

All these transactions were seen by Mrs. McCombs, a widow, who by mistake came to the house. The wife of George Stiffleback, who was awaiting an opportunity to escape from her husband and his kindred, was also a witness.

Ed Stiffleback told the women if they ever dared whisper to anyone anything in connection with that night's work that they would kill them. The women promised not to tell, but it is a wonder considering after developments that they were not murdered then and there.

The body of Galbraith remained in the shaft several days until at last a man in passing discovered it and it was drawn to the surface.

This, in connection with other murders in the community, aroused the people of Galena until they resolved to find the criminals. Of course suspicion must rest on people with such a record as borne by the Stifflebacks and finally the proper clue was found.

After the trial began the two women finding their lives would be more secure by telling all they knew concerning the Stifflebacks than in a partial clearing up of the Galbraith mystery, informed the prosecuting attorney of other murders that could be laid at the door of the Stifflebacks. Among others of two women who mysteriously disappeared last summer.

Last summer there was first seen at the Stiffelbacks two very handsome and attractive young girls supposed to be about 15 and 17 years of age. Those visiting the house could never learn any particulars about them, either how they came there, where they came from or what were their names. It was supposed they had been enticed away from home by Stiffleback. After being there three or four months they suddenly disappeared.

Cora Stiffleback, the wife of George, now states on oath as a witness in the Galbraith case that both girls were cruelly murdered. She says that Ed Stiffleback killed one of them by crushing her skull with the butt end of a revolver and that his brother George then seized the other victim and beat her brains out by pounding her head on the floor. Both bodies, Mrs. Stiffleback declares, were rolled under a bed until night when they were carried out and thrown into an abandoned shaft.

After hearing the woman's story, the county attorney telegraphed the sheriff at Galena to have the shaft pumped dry and see if the bones are there as represented. News from Galena today said the shaft would be pumped out by tonight.

Last summer a man by the name of Frank Smith of Galena mysteriously disappeared and Cora says he is another victim of the Stifflebacks.

Three years ago a citizen of Joplin, Mo., by the name of Moorehead, was found in a shaft--another alleged Stiffleback victim.

There are yet other parties unaccounted for which Mrs. Stevens, the prosecutor, says will be enrolled among the Stiffleback dead. In fact there is no telling where the list will end. They have escaped so long that they became careless. In listening to the evidence, the entire family seem the most unconcerned persons in the court room, frequently laughing at blunders of the witnesses.

The man Charles Wilson fled as soon as he heard the officers were on their track and no trace of him has yet been found. Not even during the famous Blalock trial was there the excitement that now agitates the people. In case the bones of the girls are brought to this city it has been suggested that the jail had best be well guarded.

Morning Herald 
October 3, 1897

The Notorious Family Convicted of Murder at Columbus, Kansas

Columbus, Kan., Oct. 2---The notorious Staffelback family, whose crimes are commonly supposed to have rivaled those of the Benders, have been sentenced here for the killing of Frank Galbraith, the peddler, who was murdered in their den at Galena.

Ed and George Staffelback, convicted of murder in the first degree, were given life sentences; Mrs. Wilson, their mother, as an accomplice, was sentenced to twenty-one years. Mike Staffelback is serving a five-year term for burglary. Ed Staffelback has been declared insane, his mind having given way through fear of lynching.

An Awful Story of a Series of Crimes Comes to Light in the Trial of a Woman and Two Sons

Columbus, Kan., Sept. 15---A story of crimes rivaling the deeds of the notorious Bidder family comes to light in a murder trial now in progress here in the district court. Ed and George Staffleback, brothers, and their mother, Mrs. George Wilson, are accused of the murder of Frank Galbraith, in June last at Galena, Kan. The evidence is so direct that George Staffleback and his mother were speedily found guilty of murder in the first and second degree respectively, and the trial of Ed Staffleback is still in progress. The family were keepers of a dive in Galena. Galbraith was shot to death and robbed in the place, following a quarrel, with the mother and sons over the woman's daughter. His body was thrown into an abandoned mine shaft. Mrs. Cora Staffleback, wife of George, and two other inmates of the house, gave testimony as to the facts of the murder, and from the witnesses' evidence another triple murder at Galena has become public. Their story is that two girls from western Kansas were visited at the Wilson dive by an acquaintance. Mike Staffleback, another son of the Wilson woman, who is now in jail, charged with burglary, became engaged with jealousy and killed the man and the two girls with a hatchet. The bodies were thrown into an abandoned shaft. At Galena, a force of men are pumping out the shaft in an endeavor to find the bodies of the other murdered persons.

The Oklahoman 
March 10, 1909

Mrs. Staffleback Dies At Age Of 79 In Kansas Prison | Most Nortorious Woman Prisoner was Accused of Many Atrocious Crime[s].

Leavenworth, Kan.  March 9--Mrs. Nancy Wilson, knownas Mrs. Staffleback, one of the most notorious women prisoners on the Kansas penitentiary, died of pneumonia in her cell this afternoon. She was 79 years old and had been in feeble health for some time.

Mrs. Staffleback begged to be permitted to die outside the prison. The prison officials told her they could do nothing and the physician said that it would not be safe to mover her.

Chaplain McBain, the prison minister, spent part of the day with her. She told him she was innocent of the crimes she was convicted of.

She was brought her in 1887 to serve a sentence of 21 years.  Two of her sons were brought in under life sentences at the same time, and a third son to serve seven years, and Charles Wilson, to serve 25 years.

The stafflebacks lived near Galena, Kans., and were accused of numerous and atrocious murders.  They ran a hotel and it was alleged that they murdered guests who had money and threw their bodies into a deserted mine.  A number of skeletons were found on the premises by searching parties.

The Stafflebacks are generally ranked next to the Benders in Kansas murders.

Those of you read my account of Brown Springs in Strange State: Mysteries and Legends of Oklahoma will recall the nefarious deeds of the Bender clan. That another family did something similar in the same state is fascinating.

I wonder: where is the "mine" and does the hotel still exist?

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