The Mrs. Robert J. Isley Murder Case

A few days into the New Year of 1910 and a promising lead. Cherokee County, Kansas Sheriff James F. Hatton, a 60-year-old North Carolina native, was on a mission. It was just over three months since the murder of 25-year-old Mrs. Louisa Isley (née Holtz). Her slayer, 21-year-old Thomas Hicks, was still at large. The week after her murder, Kansas Governor Stubbs offered a $200 state reward for Hicks’ capture. The news coverage and manhunt encompassed several states. According to the Thursday, 6 January 1910 The Columbus Weekly Advocate (Columbus, KS), which tells of Sheriff Hatton’s quest, by this time other contributors raised the bounty to about $700. As of New Year’s 1910, Hicks had evaded capture. Several suspects had been reported to authorities. But upon examination, those detained by officers were found not to be Hicks, and thus released. Although earlier news articles at time of the murder suggested the perpetrator would soon be found, later reports reflected dismay that he might never be caught and face punishment for his wicked deed.

But today Sheriff Hatton was on a new trail; this one taking him to the home of Hicks’ uncle in Carney, Lincoln County, Oklahoma. Accompanied by a Lincoln County, Oklahoma deputy sheriff, the two lawmen approached the home of Hicks’ uncle. Finding Hicks, Sheriff Hatton and the Lincoln County, Oklahoma deputy instructed Hicks to raise his hands in surrender. Hicks replied, “No” and, again, “No,” as he began backing up, reaching for his hip pocket, which contained a gun. Sheriff Hatton persisted, “Throw them up now!” but Hicks continued reaching for his gun. In his twenty-two years as sheriff, Sheriff Hatton never had to kill anyone he was arresting. But this time, in self-defense, he shot Hicks through the heart, killing him. Sheriff Hatton regretted having to take the murderer’s life, but, as the coroner’s jury verdict agreed, the sheriff was justified in his action. Hicks’ uncle also testified that Hicks had told him about his crime of murdering Mrs. Isley, and boasted that no one would capture him alive.

According to the Friday, 25 January 1910 The Daily Republican (Cherryvale, KS), news from Topeka, dated same day, Governor Stubbs was referring the case of Sheriff Hatton’s eligibility for the $200 reward money to the attorney general for payment.

Mrs. Isley had been young widow of Robert J. Isley. (Robert’s 16 January 1873 birth year at Find a Grave does not agree with fact he was age 1 in 1876 McDonald Co., MO state census, age 5 in 1880 Elk Co., KS census, age 11 in 1885 Cherokee Co., KS state census, but age 21, birth January 1878, in 1900 Cherokee Co., KS census. My guess is his real birth year was 1875.) Robert’s father was James O. Isley, whose Find A Grave memorial gives middle name as “Austin,” though he was always James O. in census and children’s marriage records. James O. was son of Bartlet(t) Yancy Isley, son of Mary (Loy) Isley, daughter of George Loy, son of John Loy, son of Martin Loy (to America 1741).

Robert’s first wife Rosa Brumbaugh was daughter of Henry and Martha (Williams) Brumbaugh. Rosa was possibly sister to Robert’s brother James Bartlett (“Bart”) Isley’s wife Minnie Brumbaugh. Robert and Rosa married 4 March 1900 in Cherokee Co., KS, just in time to appear together in the June 1900 census. In their household was boarder Arther Cogswell, a 17-year-old teamster. Robert J. Isley was also a teamster. Rosa apparently died between the 1900 census and Robert’s 27 September 1904 remarriage to Louisa Holtz, daughter of John Jacob and Martha (Land) Holtz. Louisa was about 9 years younger than Robert. There were no children from either of Robert’s marriages.

The year 1909 brought great tragedy to this family. On 12 March 1909, Louisa’s 18-year-old younger brother Fred W. Holtz died of consumption (tuberculosis). Fred’s death notices in two different papers misspell the family name as “Holt.” The Monday, 15 March 1909 Pittsburg Daily Headlight (Pittsburg, KS) incorrectly gives his age at death as 21, but does state cause of death and that he died at the Galena, KS home of sister, Mrs. Robert Isley. The Friday, 13 March 1909 Galena Weekly Republican (Galena, KS) correctly gives his age at death as 18, stating he died evening of that previous Friday “of a complication of diseases” at home of sister, incorrectly given as “Mrs. Bart Isley.” (Bart was Robert’s brother.)

Less than 3 months after Louisa’s brother Fred’s death, her husband Robert J. Isley died, at 5 a.m., 3 June 1909. His death notices give no cause of death, but I suspect he may have succumbed to tuberculosis, considering his young brother-in-law recently died of this disease and in same house. On 18 June 1909, P. M. Clark was appointed Administrator of Robert’s estate.

As previously mentioned, Robert and his first wife had taken in at least one boarder for extra income. After his remarriage, Robert and new wife Louisa continued taking in boarders at their home near the Galena smelter. After Robert’s death, and her household breadwinner now gone, Louisa relied on boarders for her main income. From the time of Robert’s death, Hicks began boarding. Robert, being a teamster, had left a team and wagon that Hicks began driving over the next several months. I would assume Louisa was allowing him to drive them, in order to carry on hauling delivery services for Louisa’s late husband’s clients.

Another boarder at the Isley home was Louisa’s cousin William Holtz (spelled “Holt” in newspaper accounts). Hicks became jealous of 25 year old Louisa, especially of her spending time with her cousin. What happened next varies by different newspaper accounts:

  1. The Thursday, 9 September 1909 The Columbus Weekly Advocate (Columbus, KS), news from Galena, dated 3 September, relates that on that night (3 September 1909) a drunken Hicks came home, angry, and began quarreling with Louisa and her female cousin, who was visiting. He brandished a revolver at them, firing one shot at the cousin. Both Louisa and her cousin fled into the street. But Hicks ran after Louisa. Grabbing her by the hair, he shot her three times in back of head, one penetrating the base of her brain. She died less than 30 minutes later.
  2. According to the Saturday, 4 September 1909 Galena Evening Times (Galena, KS), Louisa was in company of her 20-year-old cousin William Holt [sic], having made a business trip with him to Joplin that Friday afternoon, arriving back home at 5:30 p.m. They were sitting down to eat supper when drunken Hicks came in from his work. While he was still in the barn, they had heard him fire a shot and after he came in, he began quarreling with them. He was angry because Louisa had gone to Joplin with her cousin William. Then he fired a shot at her and then William. William ran out the door, then came to another entrance of the house, where Louisa was standing. He asked if she was hurt, and she said no. Then William ran east and found officer Brown. Just as he met the officer, they heard two more shots, coming from near a neighbor’s home, across the tracks from the Isley home. When they got there, the neighbor, Mrs. Phillips, told how Hicks had chased Louisa as she ran toward Mr. and Mrs. Phillips’ home for help. Hicks had said he “demanded a reckoning” and Louisa replied that she would go with whomever she pleased. It was then that Hicks fired the last and fatal shot. An ambulance and more officers were summoned. Louisa was taken back to her own home, placed on the couch, dying at 9:30 p.m.
  3. And, yet, the Saturday, 4 September 1909 Pittsburg Daily Headlight (Pittsburg, KS), news from Galena, dated 4 September, details that Louisa, her mother, cousin William, and several friends went to “the reunion at Baxter Springs” that previous Wednesday (1 September). William had been boarding at Louisa’s for the past several weeks. Upon Louisa and William’s return, Hicks, who had not gone with them, displayed great resentment towards these cousins. That afternoon, Hicks had gone to Buchtown and returned about 6 p.m. He began a drunken argument with the cousins, blaming Louisa for “being too friendly with another man.” Showing his revolver, he began threatening he’d kill that “other man.” They convinced him to put the gun away, but soon he had it out again, firing once at William, who was slightly grazed. Hicks tried again, but a defective bullet kept the gun from firing. William ran off before there could be a third shot. Louisa began to run for safety to the home of neighbor John Phillips. Hicks caught up with her, grabbing her by the arm, and saying for her to come back or he’d kill her. She got away, but he caught her again. As she broke away from him again, running to the Phillips’ house, Hicks fired at her three times, the last one lodging below her brain. Hicks ran back to the Isley house, took off his overalls, and put on other clothes, running off before authorities came. Louisa, unconscious, was brought to a neighbor’s house, dying 30 minutes later.

After Hicks made his escape, every city and town within a 100 mile radius was on the lookout for him. Posse citizens aided authorities in the search. There had been leads to Hicks’ trail, but he eluded them for several months. Until Sheriff Hatton found him.

5 Replies to “The Mrs. Robert J. Isley Murder Case”

  1. Mary

    I was so fascinated by this article. I’m the great grand daughter of Sheriff Jim Hatton. He died a year before my father was born. I’ve heard stories about him growing up. He was marshal before he was elected sheriff. Everything I’ve ever heard about his balance of temperament vs his desire for law and order seems to be affirmed by this article, and the very unfortunate circumstances..

    1. loyhistoriansavant Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Mary! Glad you enjoyed the article. Hearing from a descendant of Sheriff Hatton adds another dimension to this story. Robert J. Isley was my grandmother’s 5th cousin.

      1. Mary

        The tragedy that family suffered must have been unimaginable ! Fred and Robert dying within 3 mo.s of each than 3 mo.s later Louisa getting murdered. My great grandfather had 3 daughters, and my grandmother Ella was only a year older than Louisa when the crime took place. I sure my great grandfather having daughters of his own was very determined to catch Hicks… And I’m sure the whole town must have been mourning for the Isley and Holt families. Thanks so much for posting this piece of Kansas history, you did a great job compiling all the articles to give a fuller picture.

  2. loyhistory Post author

    Thanks for the compliments, Margie! 🙂 Rather than have all your previous posts scattered throughout this site’s previous blog posts (where I’d actually prefer comments now be kept mainly regarding post topic) I’ve moved your posts to the LOY query forum page, where they are at
    I believe you may have to log-in to the forum, which uses same credentials throughout this site. But there will be a better place to discuss family in detail and have LOTS of room for questions. I also encourage those of you readers who descend from Joseph William Sanford Loy’s grandfather Henderson to join this forum to discuss family with Margie. I’m hoping this forum will grow and this provides the perfect opportunity. The forum also has ability to accept digital files for sharing, making it easier to exchange information.

    I’ve been rather busy lately, hence this longer time between blog posts, but currently planning a future blog post sketch regarding Henderson’s sister Elizabeth and her family.

  3. Margie Puckett Barton

    I think you for this site. I need help in putting ancestors together from the TN state any help or suggestion would be wonderful.

    Thank you,
    Margie Puckett Barton

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