March 30, 1899
Edwin Bates Soper is hanged for the murder of his wife and two children
In April 1891, Soper suddenly announced to neighbors and acquaintances he had heard of a local “blind tiger” (an illegal saloon) and had decided to move there, then quickly sold his butcher shop and moved away. Four days later, citizens broke into the Soper home to find Edwin’s pregnant wife Delia and their two children, Maud and Gillis, dead. (The ages of the daughters were listed as either 5 and 2 or 6 and 4). Each had been beaten to death with an axe, with their brains and blood splattered across the room. Soper had left a note behind claiming he could no longer support his family and felt they were better off dead.
When Soper fled town, he moved from Missouri to Portland, Oregon where he assumed the surname Prentice and married a widow, and the couple had a child together. In April of 1897, Soper abandoned his wife and took their son (who was either 2 or 5 years of age, depending on the source) with him. At some point he killed this child as well, though newspapers disagreed wildly about the method of murder, reporting Soper either drowned the child, buried him alive, or killed him by “choking it into insensibility.”
Soper made his way to California where he assumed the name Homer Lee, though he was found despite the name change and arrested. He quickly confessed to killing his wife and three children, as well as killing his father in January of 1880. According to Soper, he visited his father’s home as he was on his way to a literary society, shot his father to death, discarded the revolver, and attended the society meeting as if nothing had happened. He was convicted of the murders of his wife and two older children (he was not tried for the death of the third child as the murder occurred in a different state), and sentenced to death.
As Soper stood on the scaffold, he was asked if he had anything he wanted to say. “Everything is ready” was his reply shortly before he fell through the gallows’ trapdoor.
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
“Bates Soper Hanged.” Alton Evening Telegraph. March 31, 1899
“Bates Soper Hung.” The Henry County Republican [Clinton, Missouri]. March 31, 1899
“Hanged Before Daylight.” The Kansas City Gazette. March 30, 1899
“His Career of Crime Brought to a Close.” The Green Bay Gazette. March 30, 1899 (image source, via newspapers.com)