Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thriller Thursday - Murder of Wm E Dawson, wife, and daughter, 1 Oct 1911

In May 1936, Taylor Dawson wrote a five part "History of Dawson Family" for the Chrisman Courier, Illinois. In Part 2, Taylor wrote about his father's brother:  "He later went to the army and died.  It was his son, wife and daughter, that were murdered at Monmouth a few years back - your readers no doubt remember the account of it." 

Taylor's father was Thomas Lewis Dawson.  Thomas L's brother was Charles Hardin Dawson who died 26 October 1863, of pneumonia or typhoid fever, while enlisted as a Private with Co. E in the 115th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers.

William Ervin Dawson, was one of eight children of Charles Hardin and Elizabeth (Digby) Dawson.  He married Charity Hollingsworth on 7 June 1877 in Vermillion Co, Indiana.  They had eight daughters.

In a letter dated April 7, 1965, Idamae (Dawson) Morley, niece of William E Dawson, wrote "Uncle Will had a large family of daughters, several of whom are still living.  Back in 1912 the death of Uncle Will, his wife and daughter, Georgia, age 13, made news headlines all over the nation when they were clubed [sic] to death in their beds. (Now - things like that happen too often to make headlines.) Georgia, in panic, ducked under the bed-clothes.  Her head was beaten completely off.  The only thing that saved others of the family, none of whom were yet married, was that it was Sat. night, and the girls were visiting in friends homes.  Georgia had cried to go, but her sisters said she was "too little".

Lincoln Evening News, Lincoln, Nebraska, Mon. Oct 2, 1911, Front Page [Source: NewspaperArchive]
Three Slain in Bed by Fiend
MONMOUTH, ILL, Oct.2 - Accepting revenge as the motive, the police and Warren county officers today sought an unknown enemy of William E. Dawson, fifty-five years old, who with his wife and their thirteen-year-old daughter, Georgia, were slain in their beds with an axe.  Bloodhounds from Decatur, Ill., arrived today and took up at the house a trail which they followed to the county fair grounds, but there became confused.
     The coroner is investigating the report that an ex-convict, who went to the Illinois penitentiary with Dawson more than twenty years ago, had threatened Dawson.  Dawson since his release had been a law abiding citizen and had reared a family of six daughters.  Discovery of the crime was made known when Dawson failed to appear at the Christian church, where he was janitor.  Members went to his house to get a key.  Lying in one bed was Dawson and his wife and in an adjoining room Georgia was found slain.  Each had been struck a single blow.  The motive could not have been robbery since Dawson was a poor man and $40 was left untouched in his clothing.
     The authorities today are working on a new theory.  It is that a farm hand, formerly employed near here, is the murderer.  Two years ago the man was sent to Joliet for larceny on the testimony given by the murdered daughter, Georgia.  It is thought he may have committed the crime.
     Authorities throughout the state were notified by the local chief of police today to hold and question all suspicious characters.  It is believed the murderer has gone either towards Peoria or Rock Island.
     The inquest will be held this afternoon.

The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., Monday, October 2, 1911, p.4c.6 [Source: NewspaperArchive]
Father, Mother, and Daughter Dead; Motive Believed to Be Revenge.
Money in House Left Untouched - Bloodhounds Placed on Trail of Slayers
Monmouth, Ill., Oct 1 - William E Dawson, his wife and one daughter were found dead in their beds today, the skull of each crushed in.  Dawson was the caretaker of the First Presbyterian Church, and when he failed to open the building for services today four men went to his home and found the bodies.
     There was no evidence of a struggle, and the murderer is believed to have killed each with a single blow.  The police have no clew [sic].
     Although the police have been investigating the crime, no motive has been discovered.  Some years ago Dawson was sent to the penitentiary at Joliet for horse stealing.  He is said to have "peached" on his partner, and was given a short term.
     The other man was given a longer sentence, and was released about a year ago, and has not been heard of since.  Since his release Dawson had led a better life, joining the church and becoming highly respected.
     Robbery was not the motive, as $40 in money was found undisturbed.  Bloodhounds have been placed on the track of the murderers.


1911 October - First Article about the Death of William E. Dawson
George Dawson received a telegram
[Source:  Marilynn E., great-niece of William E Dawson]

G. W. Dawson received a telegram Monday morning from Monmouth, Illinois, apprising him of the fact that a brother residing at the place and his wife and daughter had been killed. The telegram gave no particulars, but Mr. Dawson made preparations to go to Monmouth Tuesday morning. Just before taking the train his attention was called to a telegram in a daily paper which gave the information that the brother and his wife and daughter had been murdered. The telegram in the paper was as follows:
"Monmouth, Ill., October 1, 1911 - William F. Dawson, his wife and daughter were found dead in their beds today, the skulls of each crushed in. Dawson was the caretaker of the First Presbyterian Church, and when he failed to open the building for services today, four men went to his home and found the bodies.
"The police have no clue but bloodhounds from Decatur were brought to Monmouth. Several routes were followed but nothing definite was obtained from this source up to eight o'clock.

The police are inclined to believe the murder is the result of a grudge of more than twenty years' standing. Dawson's life was at that time threatened when his testimony is said to have sent a companion to the penitentiary for twenty years. After the trial the convicted man said he would get Dawson when his term expired. The police say the sentence of this man expired less than a year ago and while he has never been seen in this locality, those familiar with the case are inclined to investigate. The police have asked for records from the prison officials at Joliet.


The Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, Cedar Rapids, IA; Wed., Oct 4, 1911 [Source: NewspaperArchive]
Monmouth, Ill., Oct 4 - Officers and detectives still are puzzled regarding the murder of William E. Dawson, his wife and daughter Sunday morning.  The belief is growing that the motive was revenge.  The funeral of the victims was held yesterday.  The corner's jury will meet Thursday.

The Pointer, Dolton or Riverdale, Illinois; Oct 6, 1911 [Source:  NewspaperArchive]
     The bodies of William E Dawson, his wife and their thirteen-year-old daughter Georgia were found in their beds in Monmouth, Ill., having been killed by blows with an ax while asleep.  The authorities have sent out a call for the arrest of an ex-convict against whom Dawson is said to have given information which led to conviction on the charge of horse stealing.

2nd newspaper article – No Date

The murder of the Dawson family at Monmouth, Illinois, promises to remain one of the unexplained mysteries. G. W. Dawson, arrived home from there Monday afternoon and he reports that though every effort has been made by the officers to find some clue that would lead to the detection of the murderer they have been unsuccessful, not even being able to discover a motive for the murder. It was one of the most atrocious murders ever committed in Illinois. The circumstances showed that the three victims had all been beaten to death in their beds, the murderer having used some blunt instrument with which he literally crushed their faces and heads to a pulp. The father and mother were evidently killed first and the little girl afterwards, as the latter's body was found down in the center of the bed, as though she had been awakened and frightened, had huddled down into the bed and drawn the sheet over her head, the cover having been beaten into her face. After killing the mother and father the murderer carefully folded the hands of his victims over their bodies and then pulled the bedclothes up over their faces. The walls and everything in the room of the mother and father were bespattered with blood, although there were no evidences of a struggle.

It as reported in the first dispatches sent out regarding the murder that it was supposed to have been committed by a man whom Mr. Dawson had been a witness against over twenty years ago and who got a sentence of twenty years in the penitentiary. It was remembered that this man had made a threat that he would get even with Mr. Dawson when he got out, and it was thought that he had put his threat into execution. This man, who was released from the penitentiary about a year ago, now lives at Danville, about two hundred miles from Monmouth. An investigation showed that he was in Danville both Saturday night and Sunday morning, so that he could not have committed the murder at Monmouth Saturday night. Mr. Dawson, to make sure of this fact, made a trip to Danville and satisfied himself beyond question that the man was in Danville Saturday evening and Sunday morning, and it would have been impossible for him to have gone to Monmouth, committed the murder and got back to Danville by Sunday morning.

So far as it has been possible to learn the family had no enemies, they were on good terms with all their acquaintances, and no motive for the murder can be conceived, and it is now thought that the deed was the work of some insane person and that the Dawson fami ly just happened to be unfortunate enough to be the victims of the fiend's inclination to murder. There are two other young girls in the family aside from the one who was killed and probably they would also have been killed had it not happened that they were away from home on that night. One was at the home of a sister in the country and the other went to spend the night with a girl friend. The latter was a member of the choir of the church of which her father was janitor. She went from the home of her friend to church and was singing in the choir when the bodies of her parents and younger sister were found.

Mr. Dawson says there is a reign of terror throughout the city of Monmouth since the murder the people fearing that a bloodthirsty maniac is at large and that any of them are likely to meet the same fate as the Dawson family at his hands at any time. As a consequence many of the citizens have their houses guarded at night, and people generally are afraid to go out after dark.
The police and detectives have been working on the case constantly since the murder, and it is a matter of much wonder to them that such an atrocious triple murder could have been committed outright under their very eyes and the murder get away without leaving any trace whatever.

Note: Letter received by George Dawson - There was $40 in salary and valuables about the house that were not disturbed.


Monmouth Cemetery
Monmouth, Warren Co, Illinois
Photo by Inspector Winship on FindAGrave
"FATHER Wm E Dawson, June 4, 1854 - Oct 1, 1911; MOTHER Charity, his wife, Nov 8, 1858 - Oct 1, 1911; and SISTER Georgia, dau, 15 Nov 1898 - Oct 1, 1911"

BELLEVILLE NEWS-DEMOCRAT, Oct. 18, 1911 [Source:  FindAGrave]
Slayer of Dawson Family Believed to Be Same Person Who Is Responsible for Colorado Crime

Monmouth, Ill., Oct. 18 - Local officials believe they have discovered the instrument with which the Dawson triple murder was committed in this city October 1.
A gas pipe 18 inches long, with an elbow jointed on one end and covered with hair and blood, was found at the rear of the Dawson house when a fence was removed.
With the pipe was found a pocket flashlight marked "Colorado Springs, Sept. 4, '11'" This strengthens the belief which the local authorities have had that the Colorado Springs tragedy and the local crime are connected.

-ber, 26, 1911 [Source:  Marilynn E., great-niece of William E Dawson]
Denver Authorities Think It Was the Work of Some Man Who Has Committed Various Crimes
     G. W. Dawson furnishes us with some Monmouth, Illinois, papers giving further details of the circumstances surrounding the mysterious murder of his brother and his wife and daughter at that place on the night of September 30th.  It is learned from these that while the murderer is still at large the instrument with which the murder was committed has been found and proved to be a piece of gas pipe, the murderer having hidden it under some rubbish in the yard.  The pipe was covered with blood and hair, plainly showing that it was the instrument the fiend used.  A flashlight was also found with the pipe which had on it "Colorado Springs September 4th."  This discovery led to the belief that the Dawson murder was committed by the same party who perpetrated the murder of the two families at Colorado Springs.  This theory had been advanced by the Denver police and the finding of the gaspipe and flashlight strengthened the theory.  The Denver papers have contained several interesting stories regarding not only the Colorado Springs murders but the Monmouth murder as well, and also several others including the one at Olathe, Kansas, some months ago, as the methods used in each case were very similar, and no motive for any of the crimes have been discovered.  It is thought that some party with a mania for killing people has been stalking through the country, and the victims of his lust for blood have simply been those who happened to come in his way.  This seems to be the plausible theory, and the only one that the police and detectives can arrive at inasmuch, as no motive whatever can be discovered for the commission of any of the murders, and all have been executed in a similar manner.  It is probable that the identity of the murderer will never be learned unless it is through some accident or confession.

The New York Times, New York NY, March 22, 1915 [Source:  Ancestry on-line]
Negro's Arrest for Illinois Crime Recalls Thirty in Three Years.
     ST. LOUIS,  March 21. - The investigation of thirty ax murders committed in five States since 1911 was reopened here today after the arrest last night of Loving Mitchell, a negro.  The warrant on which Mitchell was arrested charges him with the murder of William E. Dawson, his wife and daughter, who were slain in their home in Monmouth, Ill., on Sept. 30, 1911.  Since that time communities in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, and Kansas have been terrorized by similar crimes.  In every instance the murderer killed an entire family as they slept by the blows of an ax.
     In the house at Monmouth where the Dawson family lived the police found an electric flash light on which were scratched "Colorado Springs" and "Lovey."  Mitchell's arrest followed a search of more than three years.  He had been employed near Monmouth, but disappeared after the murders.
     The prisoner tonight was taken back to Monmouth by Chief of Police Morrison, who said:  "Dawson, his wife, and daughter were murdered by three negroes, two men and a woman.  Revenge for attentions which the negroes believed Dawson had shown to their relatives was the motive.  The negro woman I shall arrest soon.  The other man is now in the Joliet, Ill. Penitentiary."


San Antonio Light, San Antonio, TX, March 22nd, 1915
Two Persons Held In Connection
With St. Louis Crime.

MONMOUTH, III., March 22—The second arrest in connection with the murder of the Dawson family with an axe, was made today in St. Louis, when a (black) woman named Knight, of Monmouth, was
locked up. Loving Mitchell, accused of the murder, was seized in St. Louis yesterday and is held in Galesburg.  The arrest of both Mitchell and the woman was based on affidavits signed by residents of Monmouth, whose names are suppressed.  John Knight, husband of the woman, and also named in the affidavit, is in Joliet penitentiary, where he was sent two years ago for bigamy.

The Monmouth Daily Review, Monmouth, Illinois; Sat., Feb. 2, 1918 [Source:  Marilynn E., great-niece of William E Dawson]
Jury Brought Verdict This Forenoon at 11:15 - Given 19 Years.
Receives Sentence Calmly - Asks Court About His Present Sentence.
     William E. Dawson was murdered by John Knight, according to the verdict returned into circuit court at 11:30 o'clock this morning.  After wrangling and debating since 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon the jurors notified the officer in charge at 11:15 that they had agreed, and as soon as was possible the defandant, his counsel, and Attorney J. H. Hanley, who had assisted in the prosecution, were summoned into court.
     Judge Grier odered that the jury be ushered in, and seldom has a more solemn bunch of men taken their places in the jury box.  When the Court asked if a verdict had been reached Foreman C. H. Madden replied in the affirmative, and the important slip of paper was handed up to the bench.  Judge Grier passed the paper to the clerk who read the verdict finding the defendant guilty and fixing his punishment at nineteen years in the penitentiary.
     There was a fair sized audience present, but the most unconcerned person in the room was the prisoner himself.  With the same nonchalance which has characterized him all through the arduous proceedings of the past week he watched the jury take their places, heard the verdict read, and watched the jury file out of the box after they had substantiated their verdict.
     When his attorney made the customary motion for a new trial Knight himself came to the bar, and as though he expected that all further proceedings would be futile, begged the Court for the privilege of asking a question.  When he was told to proceed he inquired if his present sentence must terminate before the new one begins, and being told that was the rule, he said he still had two years and eight months of his present term to serve.
     The verdict solves the mystery surrounding the murder of William Dawson in this city in 1911, so far as the verdict of a jury can settle anything.  Never did a stronger body of men sit in a jury box in the county's history, according to some court attachees, and never did twelve men give a case more serious attention, so that it may be reasonably be assumed the People were able to prove their assertion that John Knight was implicated in the murder of three members of the Dawson family.

     Many things that did not reach the jury have been more or less generally known among the people of Monmouth, and the thing has been to the fore ever since the triple crime was committed, and that was that every trail led eventually to John Knight.  That this theory is near the truth would appear to be substantiated by the verdict this morning.
     According to rumor, the twelve men who had Knight's fate to consider reached an agreement some time last evening as to his bing guilty, and had spent the time since then in agreeing as to the degree of punishment.
     The trial of Tom Lewis, also charged with complicity in the Dawson tragedies, is set for next Tuesday morning, and Judge Grier has ordered a special venitre[?] for fifty jurors returnable on that day at 10 o'clock.  After receiving the verdict court was adjourned until Monday morning.
                                     Masterly Summing Up.
     The closing argument in the case, made by State's Attorney Lauder on behalf of the People, was a masterly summing up of the evidence and a reason might be expected to know of Knight's doings than anybody else.  Mr. Lauder declared that Bogguess came to the stand unwillingly, that he still is Knight's friend and not at all anxious to say a word that would get the latter in bad, but in spite of these facts his testimony was to be given considerable weight, especially in view of the fact that the principal facts narrated by Bogguess had been corroborated by Ella Turpin and Mrs. Lillian Bogguess.
     Mr. Lauder reserved his sharpest shaft of sarcasm for John Knight, the defendant.  Pointing squarely at him, he said, "Why shouldn't he sit calmly throughout this trial?  This is no new experience for him.  When he was sixteen years old he was being tried in this very court on a charge of attemped murder; later he was here being tried again, that time for burglary and larceny; still later he was a prisoner at the bar on another burglary charge; his history was read from this witness stand the other day and shows with appalling clearness the fact that for practically all of his life he has been a violator of law and a defier of the conventionalities of life.  He's shrewd and calculating, steadynerved, and could face any ordeal without flinching.  I do not see in his face as I look at him the promise of reform, nor do I see anything to indicate the firm resolve that the attorney for the defendant pretended to see there; I can see only the 'poker face' of John Knight, a face that would not change expression in the gravest circumstances."
     In closing, Mr. Lauder declared that the People were not asking for the death penalty for Knight, but would be satisfied to have a verdict returned carrying with it punishment by imprisonment for life.
     The argument by the state's attorney was a fitting finale to the state's presentation of the case against Knight; it was an admirable complement to Mr. Hanley's brilliant address on behalf of the People on Thursday afternoon, and it constituted a fromidable attack on the strong argument made for his client by Attorney J. M. Mercer of the defense.

[Source:  Marilynn E., great-niece of William E Dawson]


  1. This is wonderful information and very much appreciate finding the information, which is pretty much unavailable elsewhere.

  2. Does anyone know where the house was located in Monmouth?