January 12, 1931
A vigilante mob chains a man to the roof of a school and set on fire
Gunn had been accused of attempting to rape and successfully killing a 19- or 20-year-old teacher. He confessed to the murder, though many suspect he confessed under duress during his interrogation. Even if the confession was under duress, circumstantial evidence pointed towards him including blood on his clothing, a bloody shoe print left at the scene matching Gunn’s shoes, and a fresh bite wound on his thumb.
Gunn’s trial was scheduled to be held on January 12, but a large lynch mob formed and intercepted Gunn and the officers escorting him. The mob reportedly told the sheriff he could hand him over peacefully or die with him. Gunn was chained to a ridge pole on the roof of the schoolhouse where the original murder occurred. Holes were drilled in the roof to help fuel the upcoming fire, and gasoline was poured along the roof and walls which were then set on fire. It was said Gunn was calm throughout his murder, screaming only once and appearing to be dead or unconscious after 11 minutes. The building itself collapsed after 16 minutes and some spectators gathered pieces of the charred building as souvenirs.
The St. Joseph Gazette gave a chilling and graphic description of the lynching he had witnessed. (WARNING: it is fairly graphic) “He twisted and revealed a huge blister ballooning on his left upper arm. Pieces of his skin blew away to the wind as the blistering heat became more intense and soon his torso was splotched with white patches of exposed flesh. His hair burned like a torch for moment then his head sagged. His body writhed. It took the appearance of a mummy.”
After Gunn’s death, rumors began to circulate that the black community was planning a retaliation. To proactively combat this threat, machine gun nests reportedly were set up on Main Street and Gunn’s family’s home was burned down.
From the Fitchburg Sentinel, Jan 12, 1931, front page