July 30, 1923
Confessed serial killer Roy Mitchell is executed
Multiple murders were committed in or near Waco, Texas over the course of a year, beginning in February of 1922 and ending in January of 1923.
On February 11, 1922, 13-year-old Homer Turk was visiting W. H. Barker, his wife (either Lulu, Lou, or Lula), and their 4-year-old daughter. During the visit two men entered the Barkers’ store and shot Mr. Barker with a shotgun. Turk and Mrs. Barker were then beaten with an axe inside the Barker’s home, with Turk’s skull being crushed and Mrs. Barker’s head “cleft open.” The Barkers’ daughter witnessed the murders and told authorities the men had demanded money from her mother, then promptly beat her to death. A dollar bill found clutched in Mrs. Barker’s hand supported the daughter’s account. Two men were soon arrested for the triple murder and confessed to the crime; Benny Young was convicted and sentenced to life while Cooper Johnson was given a death sentence.
On May 7, 1922, William Driskell was attacked in his garage. His body was found by a carpenter about 9 hours after his murder, and it was determined he had been struck in the head at least 6 times with an axe. His body was covered in a blanket and a note was left on top of the blanket. The letter “contained a post-mortem warning, not permissible of re-publication,” according to the Waco News-Tribune, but highly suggested the killing was out of revenge rather than robbery. Driskell’s wallet, gun, and ring were missing, and his car was taken, though it was abandoned a quarter of a mile (about 400 meters) away from Driskell’s home.
Harold Bolton and his companion Maggie Hays were attacked on May 25, 1922. According to Hays, a man stepped from the brush on the side of the road as the pair drove by and shot Bolton, killing him instantly. The killer then dragged Hays into the nearby woods where he sexually assaulted her. The killer had attempted to shoot Hays as well but when the gun “snapped” 3 times and failed to fire. She made her way back to town to report the incident to the residents, and some 500 people assembled into a mob. Jesse Thomas was found as he was on a freight train bound for a nearby city, and was identified by Hays as her killer. Her father then shot and killed Thomas. His body was later taken from the undertaker, dragged through the streets behind a truck, stripped, and burned in front of some 5,000 witnesses. The sheriff noted no charges would be brought against Hays’ father for Thomas’ murder.
Grady Skipworth and an unnamed female companion were parked at Lover’s Leap on November 20, 1922 when they were attacked. Skipworth was shot with a shotgun, and his body thrown over a 25-foot (about 7.5-meter) cliff. His companion was dragged away, “treated roughly,” and forced to stay with her attacker for several hours. The killer then drove the woman to another bluff where he pushed her off an area with a steep incline. She survived her fall and made her way home at about 3:30 a.m. to recount the events of her attack and Skipworth’s murder.
On January 19, 1923, a “bloody and bullet riddled car” belonging to Ed Holt was found in a business section of Waco. The search for the car’s missing owner led to Holt’s body, found about 100 yards (90 meters) from the side of a road, with rope tied around his feet; it was believed the rope had been used to drag Holt’s body behind his car. Nearby the body of Ethel Denecamp was also found. Holt had been shot twice with a shotgun while Denecamp was shot once.
Police suspected the string of unsolved murders were connected. However, the lack of an apparent motive — robbery was not suspected to have been the primary motive as only $50 (about $800 in today’s economy) had been gained cumulatively through the murders — made tracking the killer difficult.
Roy Mitchell was arrested on January 29. A pistol which had belonged to Holt was found in his possession (matched by numbers from a repair made on the weapon), as was a piece of rope which was similar to the rope left around Holt’s feet. With these pieces of evidence, Mitchell was quickly moved to a jail in another town to avoid a lynch mob. Mitchell refused to talk to authorities while he was in custody and went on a hunger strike, resulting in force feedings. When he was returned to Waco, however, he confessed to a total of 8 murders.
The jury deliberated for 20 minutes before convicting Mitchell and sentencing him to death. He wrote to the governor regarding the murders of Turk and the Barkers in an attempt to exonerate Young and Johnson for the killings. Johnson had by that point died in prison from an unspecified “incurable disease,” however. Mitchell did not indicate who the second person seen by the Barkers’ daughter was.
Mitchell asked to read his own death warrant to the spectators at his execution, a request which was granted. He delivered the warrant with a steady voice before shouting, “Good-bye, everybody” to the crowd of 10,000. His final statement, “Take me home,” was muttered shortly before he was hanged.
“Roy Mitchell, Slayer Of Eight, Meets End Cooly.” The Austin Statesman. July 30, 1923
“Roy Mitchell, Killer Of Six, Pays Supreme Penalty For Crimes.” Bryan Daily Eagle. July 30, 1923
‘History Of Murders Committed By Waco Negro Long Sought.” Bryan Daily Eagle. July 30, 1923
“Disease Kills Negro Slayer on The County Farm.” The Ardmore Daily Press. July 27, 1923
“Slayer Of Six To Hang.” Kenosha Evening News. July 2, 1923
“Grand Jury To Ask Pardons Of Two Negros.” The Marshall Messenger. April 20, 1923
“Mulatto Confesses Five Texas Deaths.” The Lincoln State Journal. February 10, 1923
“Roy Mitchell Confesses He Is Guilty of 5 Brutal Murders; Negro Burned at Stake for One.” The Evening Times [Sayre, Pennsylvania]. February 9, 1923
“Man And Woman Found Dead Near Texas Road.” The Butte Miner. January 22, 1923
“Police Say No Solution Obtained In Murder of Grady Skipworth.” The Waco News-Tribune. November 22, 1922
“Waco Killing May Take New Turn.” Waxahachie Daily Light. November 22, 1922
“Waco Man Is Shot And Killed.” Waxahachie Daily Light. November 21, 1922
“Texas Lynch Murder Toll Mounts To 10 When Father of Outraged Girl Killed The Negro Identified As Assaulter.” The Victoria Advocate. May 28, 1922
“Terrible Crime Of Texas Negro.” The Journal [Logan City, Utah]. May 26, 1922
“Driskell Murder Clues Take Police to Hillsboro.” The Waco News-Tribune. May 9, 1922
“Concord Scene Of Horrible Murder.” The Granbury News. February 17, 1922
“Only Witness Of Crime 4-Year-Old Baker Girl.” The Butte Miner. February 15, 1922