February 19, 1901
Kennett, Missouri
James Tettaton (29) is hanged for the murders of his step-mother and 4 siblings

(Note: Newspapers report the family by a variety of names, including Tettalon and Tetterton, though the grave of Mrs. M. J. Tettaton establishes the correct spelling.)

On April 25, 1899, neighbors of the widow Malinda Jane Tettaton and her four children were alarmed to discover the Tettaton home was on fire. The neighbors noticed the bodies of the five family members in the burning building and attempted a rescue, but it was immediately obvious the victims were without hope as all had been burned beyond recognition. Still, five bodies were retrieved before the blaze cremated them fully. Initial inspections of the bodies revealed one child had a bullet wound to his head while half of Malinda’s skull had been destroyed.

Malinda’s step-son, James, was found in the front yard slipping in and out of consciousness, and was bloody from 13 stab wounds to his face and head. When he was capable, James explained the family had been attacked and he had only just managed to escape death. James claimed he had visited his step-mother to settle a debt of $350 which he paid, and for which Malinda had issued a receipt. He then produced the bloody receipt as proof of his claims. James further explained two men unknown to him had entered the home and demanded money, which James refused. In retaliation, the men shot and killed his half-siblings (Ben, Ida, Ada, and George whose ages ranged from 6 to 13) and step-mother before stabbing James lightly in the face and head and leaving him for dead.

Suspicion immediately fell on James, after his wounds were determined to be superficial and self-inflicted. The suspicion grew when one of Malinda’s friends told police Malinda had reported seeing James sneaking around the home the night before the attack.

James eventually confessed to being a part of the murders, though he claimed he did not kill any of his family himself. He explained he and his step-mother had been involved in arguments concerning his late father’s estate worth $20,000 (roughly $622,000 today), with his portion being less than he believed he was entitled to. While on the scaffold awaiting his execution, James implicated W. T. Barham and A. J. Ransom in the murders, stating he paid the pair $500 for their roles in the killings.

If Barham and Ransom were real people and, if so, if they were charged with the Tettaton murders, I could find no record of either.

“Malinda Jane Smith Tettaton.” Find a Grave. Accessed: February 19, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/155791882/malinda-jane-tettaton
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
“News of the World.” The Scottsboro Citizen. February 28, 1901
“Confession on the Gallows.” The Lincoln Sentinel. February 28, 1901
“Hanging in Missouri.” The Montgomery Adviser. February 20, 1901 (image source, via newspapers.com)
“A Terrible Crime.” The Democrat [Caruthersville, Missouri]. May 5, 1899
“Bloody Murder in Missouri.” The Wichita Daily Eagle. April 27, 1899

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