Murder in Memphis Missouri

I walk through cemeteries. I view headstones, markers, and read the various inscriptions. Occasionally I will pause and wonder, “Why did he/she have such a short life?” or “Is this area a family plot?”

My mother’s grave is in the Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery. It is located just north of Memphis, Scotland County, Missouri. Walking through the cemetery one day, I saw a stone that indicated a male and female, yet nothing about the stone indicated they were husband and wife. The headstone read:


BARNETT                      ELIZA M.

Nov. 16, 1896                Jan. 29, 1887

Aug.  18, 1930               July 26, 1942

I started searching for information on Barnett Baxter. I found his death certificate on the Missouri Archives website.

Barnett Baxter, male, white divorced, Date of Death: August 18, 1930. The cause of death is stated as “Gunshot .22 by persons unknown[i].”

I began my search.

Barnett was born on the family farm in Scotland County, Missouri in 1896 to David and Sarah Baxter. The 1900 Federal Census indicated that Eliza M. was the older sister of Barnett[ii].

Barnett was working on the farm in 1910[iii]. He registered for the WWI draft[iv]. On January 20, 1919 Barnett married Lila (last name unknown) in Scotland County, Missouri[v]. They were living with his father and Barnett was working on the farm on January 10, 1920[vi].

However, on May 3, 1930 Barnett is divorced, living in Chicago, Illinois and employed as a locomotive fireman on the railroad[vii].

I searched for information on his death. Oh did I hit the jackpot!

Numerous newspaper accounts from August 19, 1930 to July 7, 1932 tell the story[viii].

Barnett was visiting his mother in Scotland County. While sitting at the table he suddenly slumped forward. When his mother raised his head she noticed he had been shot. His sister attempted to call police and found the telephone line dead. No one in the room heard the shot due to the wind and rain at the time.

The immediate thought was someone from Chicago had trailed Barnett to Missouri and then shot him for reasons unknown. An investigation was undertaken.

No shell casings were located. The telephone line to the mother’s home had been cut.

W.J. Shawley, a neighbor, was one of the first to respond to the calls for assistance following the shooting. The autopsy report determined death by a .22-caliber bullet. Examination of the bullet determined it had been fired from W.J. Shawley’s gun. Shawley stated he was at home at the time of the shooting and denied having a reason for Baxter’s death.

The investigation determined that Barnett had been seeing W.J. Shawley’s young daughter, Pauline. Pauline testified that she and Barnett were friends and not engaged to be married. During the trial, the State evidence showed Barnett and Pauline had been engaged to be married. The engagement had been broken. The engagement being broken off had angered W.J. Shawley.

W.J. Shawley was tried twice for the murder of Barnett Baxter. The first trial in 1931 resulted in a hung jury – six for acquittal and six for conviction. The second trial, June of 1932, resulted in W.J. Shawley being convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Barnett’s sister, Eliza M. was known as Minerva. She died on 25 July 1942 at her home at 402 N. Franklin, in Kirksville, Adair County, Missouri. She died of metastatic carcinoma[ix]. (I have not found any evidence she ever married.)

The headstone is for the brother and sister.

Every person has a story. We all are born, live and die. Often the gravestone, headstone or marker only states the name, birth and death dates. Searching for the life between the dates provides stories of joy and sadness; failure and accomplishment for celebrities, historical figures and relative unknown individuals.

Take the time to seek out your ancestors, their stories, accomplishments and failures. You will be amazed at the lives they led.

Good Hunting!

[i] Baxter, Barnett – Missouri State Death Certificate #28819, Date of Death 18 Aug 1930;

[ii] 1900 Federal Census, MO, Scotland County, Sheet 7B, SD 142, ED 145, family #149

[iii] 1910 Federal Census, MO, Scotland County, Sheet 7A, SD 1, ED 153, family #140

[iv] WWI Draft Registration Card, Registration #32, Baxter, Barnett, dated 6,5,18 Local Board, County of Scotland, State of MO., Memphis, MO.

[v] Missouri, Marriages, Scotland County, page 331, 20 January 1919

[vi] 1920 Federal Census, MO, Scotland County, Sheet 2B, SD 1, ED 153, family #61

[vii] 1930 Federal Census, IL, Cook County, Chicago, Sheet 20B, SD 7, ED 16-637, family #389

[viii] The following newspapers (dates indicated) reflect a partial list available. These are the ones from which I obtained my information:

Jefferson City Post Tribune (Jefferson City, MO) Aug 19 & 21, 1930; June 16 & 19, 1931

La Plata Home Press (La Plata, MO) Aug 21, 1930; July 7, 1932

Macon Chronicle Herald (Macon, MO) Aug 21, 1930; June 16 & 17, 1931; June 29 & July 2, 1932

Moberly Monitor Index (Moberly, MO) Oct 29, 1930

The Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, MO) June 19, 1931

The Leadwood Press (Leadwood, MO) Aug 29, 1930

[ix] Baxter, Minerva – Missouri State Death Certificate #23691 Date of Death 25 July 1942;


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