Archive for January 8th, 2009

May Colvin: She was Fond of Horses

January 8, 2009
May Colvin, Horse Thief

May Colvin, Horse Thief

This is the first in what will be a series of articles on horse thieves,  featured every Thursday.

May Colvin Does Not Hesitate to Appropriate Her Neighbor’s Nags.
Kansas holds the trumps in the game of horse stealing. She has outdone all other states in the line of phenomenal thieves and still has a few, despite the known fact that her Anti-Horse Thief association is noted for carelessness of life in dealing with thieves. In truth, there is a proverb in the southern boarder counties that a murderer has a much better chance of life than a horse thief; yet Washington Waterman, famous as the octogenarian horse thief, died last year in the Kansas state prison at the age of 92 and in the first year of a 20 year sentence, and now a handsome miss of 18 years is awaiting her second trial for a similar crime.

May Colvin is the name of this heroine of darkness, and her home was with her parents near Thayer, Mo., till her mania for horseflesh made her a fugative. A true mania it is, no doubt, for she steals fine horses and gallops away on them without thought of the consequences. In early womanhood she showed such a passionate desire to fondle and caress fine horses that the neighbors declared she was insane, and her father, evidently not a very wise father, resorted to hard whipping and close confinement. She was then 17 and took to thieving.

Entering a neighbor’s barn in the night, she bridled and saddled the first animal that sped her away from its owner, and she has since been either a refugee or a prisoner. After perpetrating several successful thefts and adroitly eluding the officers of each locality in which she operated, she made her appearance in Fort Scott last summer and was for a short time known as a girl of the town. Suddenly she disappeared, and with her a fine buggy and valuable trotting mare from Louis Albright’s livery stable. She drove all night and the next day and was heard of three days later at Weir City, Kan., where she was captured and the animal recovered.

Here was a queer case, and the prosecuting attorney decided to rate it as one of true mania. She made an attempt to escape by sawing off one of the bars of her cage with a steel saw procurred from a fellow prisoner, but was frustrated at the vital moment. Hon. Eugene F. Ware, known among Kansas writers as “Ironquill,” made an earnest plea for her, and the prosecuting attorney was induced to nolle pros the case against her. Consequently she was released from jail immediately.

In less than 12 hours she was on the dead run behind a span of stolen horses and a buggy taken from a farmer’s barn in Crawford county. With insane daring she drove to Fort Scott, called on some of her fast friends, then drove furiously on to Nevada, Mo., where she put the stolen team in a livery barn as security for another team, with which she continued her journey, she cared not where.

Another day, however, found her in the grasp of the sheriff of Vernon county, Mo., just as she was driving into Irwin, Boston county, and she is now a prisoner in the jail of Crawford county, Kan., where the next to the last theft was committed.

And now the question is, What shall be done with her? It is perhaps worth noting that the women say, “She ought to be hanged,” while about half the men say, “Poor thing.” She is pretty, that’s certain, and aside from her peculiar mania seems to be ordinarily bright and sensible. Nevertheless a year or two of quiet life, honest industry and strict moderation in the use of rich food — just such advantages as she will enjoy in the Kansas penitentiary — will doubtless go far to cure her.

The Anti-Horse Thief association has recently effected several very sudden and radical cures of male patients, and the only wonder is that in such a country Washington Waterman lived so long. That man served five full terms in Missouri and Kansas penitentiaries, yet kept right on stealing horses and died in prison, as aforesaid, at the age of 92. Truly he was “possessed.”

The News (Frederick, Maryland)  Mar 4, 1893


Female Horse Thief Captured
FORT SCOTT Kan. June 19 — May Colvin the female horse thief who escaped from the Carthage (Mo.) jail last Friday, has been captured by the officers and posse of citizens who were in pursuit.

Bismarck Daily Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota) June 20, 1893

May Colvin, who escaped from the jail at Carthage, Mo., where she was confined for horse stealing, was recaptured on the border of Indian Territory.

The Salem Daily News (Salem, Ohio) June 21, 1893


She is May Colvin, an Ozark Girl of 18, and as Pretty as a Picture.
The female department of the penitentiary undoubtedly furnishes the most depraved types of humanity. Primarily the partiality of courts and juries for women characterizes every judical system of civilization, and so it must be a depraved and dangerous woman indeed whom a jury of Americans will sentence to penal servitude.

Decidedly the most unique personality of the female population of the prison is May Colvin. May is only 18 years old and is a rustic beauty. Dress her in the gorgeous paraphernalia of Lillian Russell and she would be a more brilliant beauty than that stage celebrity. She has great blue eyes and a mass of touseled hair of Titian tint. Her form is luscious — well rounded and plump — and her cheeks are red with the vigorous life of the Ozarks, whence she came. Her mouth is one that an impressionable artist would go wild over, with its cherry red lips of sensuous curves, the whole forming the most perfect Cupid’s bow. And, withal, May is a horse thief and doesn’t deny it. Certainly the confinement in the penitentiary has brought out her native beauty, that must have been blurred or obscured by her exposure to all sorts of rough weather while fleeing over the plains and mountains of the southwest from the officers or else no jury could have ever been induced to giver her a term in prison, especially for so common and plebeian an offense as stealing horses.

But May is not only a horse thief, but a jail breaker as well by her own confession. Her feat in breaking from the jail at Girard, Kan., where she was confined about two years ago for horse stealing, her escape to Jasper county, Mo., and her subsequent capture there and prosecution on an old charge will be recalled by the readers of newspapers.

“Well, I have no hard luck story to tell,” was the way May greeted The Republic representative. “They made no mistake in my case. Nearly everybody else in here is innocent, according to their own statement, but I’m not. I’m here for horse stealing.”

“When I heard you were here and wanted to see me, I thought you were an officer from Girard, Kan., and wanted to take me back there for breaking out of jail. I’m glad you are not, but I guess they’ll come for me as soon as my term is out here, which will be in about 14 months if I behave myself. I’ve been a pretty good girl since I’ve been here. The reason for it, I guess, is that I haven’t had a chance to be bad. However, I’ve so managed to break the rules as to be put in the dark room two or three times. But I’m going to behave myself from now on so I can get the benefit of the three-fourths rule.”

“I don’t know why I’ve turned out so bad unless it is that it was just born in me. My mother is a good woman, only 35 years old now, a member of the Methodist church and has been married three times. She raised me right, and my father, who is a dentist, was always kind and indulgent to me. I went to the public schools in Webb City until I was 16, and then the devilment began to crop out in me. I don’t know why either.”

“Nobody ever taught me any wrong. I’m not like other women, either, in blaming my downfall on any man.”
–St. Louis Republic.

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) June 14, 1894

Krebs & Preston: Unfortunate Victims

January 8, 2009


Here is the follow-up to “The England Family Murders.” Was justice served?

Fully Pardoned and Restored to All Their Rights and Citizenship.
Been Imprisoned for Over Eighteen Years

Review of Case — Four People Assassinated — Some of the Evidence.
Austin, Tex., Nov. 28. — The state of Texas vs. Ben Krebs and James Preston, life sentence in the penitentiary under conviction of murder. Application for pardon. The two applicants, Ben Krebs and James Preston, are now in the state penitentiary at Rusk serving a life sentence on conviction for murder. For over eighteen years they have been imprisoned in jail and the Penitentiary under that charge. One is over 76? and the other is just under that age. They each are old and on the verge of eternity. Of all the cases that I have ever read or that have appeared before me for consideration, this is the strangest, most novel and peculiar.

In the night of August 26, 1876, William England and his wife, and her son and daughter by a former marriage, were assassinated at their home several miles from the county seat in Montague county. The two applicants and a youth named A.K. Taylor, a stepson of Ben Krebs, were arrested, put in jail, tried and convicted for the crime. Krebs and Preston were sentenced to be hanged, and Governor Roberts commuted their penalty to a life term in the penitentiary. Young Taylor, by reason of being less than 17 years of age, under the law, could not be executed, and therefore was sentenced to the penitentiary for life. After serving several years therein he died. Krebs was convicted and given the death penalty in Montague county. The case was appealed to and reversed by the court of appeals. The venue of all the cases was then changed to the adjoining county of Cooke, where the trials resulted as before stated.

On appeal to the court of appeals their cases were affirmed, and had not Governor Roberts interposed executive clemency the two applicants would have been executed as murderers.

The blackest pages of criminal annals do not portray or present a blacker or more fiendish deed than the destruction of the England family for which these two men have been condemned. That night Mr. England and his wife and her three children by a former marriage, Isaiah D. Taylor, a young man, and Miss Susie Taylor, a young lady, and Harvey Taylor, also a young man, were at the England home, and were about going or had just gone to bed when three men came and began the savage slaughter. Mr. England was shot and had his throat cut. Isaiah and Susie were shot to death. Mrs. England was shot and mortally wounded, but survived until the second day thereafter, when she died. The young man, Harvey Taylor, was the only survivor of the massacre.

Excuse for or palliation? of the brutal deed has never been attempted. All efforts to do so would have deepened its atrocity. Those who did it merited and should receive the death penalty, with all its terrible consequences. That’s the question: Who did it? Mrs. England, after being shot, ran to the home of Mr. John Musick, over half a mile distant and said: “Krebs came in and presented his pistol at Isaiah D. Taylor and shot him, and that she and Susie ran and Krebs followed and shot her, and she asked him to shoot her no more.” She also stated that as she and Susie ran out of the house Krebs followed them and Susie exclaimed: “Oh, mother, Ben Krebs has come to kill us all!” And on being shot Susie further exclaimed, “Oh, mother, Ben Krebs has killed me!” The next day Krebs was carried before her and she told him to his face that he was her murderer; “that she knew him by his whiskers, by his Dutch talk and ????ing, and even by that old white hat that he then held in his hand.” Krebs denied the charge and said to Mrs. England: “It must be your imagination.”

Had not this dying woman made these declarations or had she accused some other person of the crime, Ben Krebs and the other two defendants would doubtless have gone unmolested. She fashioned the guilt on Krebs by this identification. The other two became involved by reason of being at Krebs’ home that night –Preston as a boarder and Taylor as a visitor, being a kinsman of Krebs — and by the further apparently criminating fact that when Krebs was charged with the crime Preston denied it and stated that he knew him to be innocent because they had stayed together that night at Krebs’ house.

Aside from these facts or circumstances there are some other bits of evidence (not clear of conflict), used in the cases against the defendants, which, considered by themselves or collectively, could not have been deemed sufficient under the rules of circumstantial evidence to cast more than suspicion on either of the accused. It is true that Krebs and the England family were on unfriendly terms as neighbors, and they were then prosecuting witnesses against Krebs in a misdemeanor case soon to be tried. So it may be noted that John Musick, another neighbor, according to an affidavit on file with me, was also “at outs” with the England family, because, he claimed, they had taken the land they occupied from his father, and thus had deprived himself of valuable property rights.

On the other hand, Preston and the England family were good friends; so much so that but a few months before the homicide Mr. England had preached the funeral of Preston’s deceased wife. If Krebs was mad at the Englands Preston was not. If Krebs was their enemy Preston was their friend. If Krebs had a motive Preston had not. Looking another way, it may be said that if Krebs was unfriendly to the Englands, so was Musick, their other neighbor. If Krebs had malice toward them, so had Musick. If Krebs had a motive, Musick had one quite as strong. The hatred of Musick was as deep, as malignant, as deadly, from all accounts, as it was possible for Krebs to harbor. Had Mrs. England said “Old Musick killed me” he would have taken Krebs’ course through jail and the courts to the scaffold or to imprisonment for life by executive clemency.

It was natural for Mrs. England and her daughter Susie to suspicion Krebs, for the two families, but a short while preceding, had fallen out over “gaps in the fence” and “hogs in the field.” Nothing provokes more ill feeling among farmers as neighbors than had fences and trespassing stock, especially of the swine kind. It never entered the mind of the England family that on that fatal night that perhaps their neighbor, Musick, had a greater grievance over the land question than their neighbor, Krebs, had over the stock trouble. Excited by the gun flashes and gory scenes that  plunged the pitiful family through blood into death. It was quite probable that the unfriendly impressions and feelings against Krebs produced on the minds of Mrs. England and her daughter, his full picture as their savage assassin and led them to proclaim him the villain.

As said before, it was the supposed personal identification of Krebs by Mrs. England and the declarations of her dying daughter that led to his conviction. Without these he would certainly have escaped punishment and perhaps suspicion. Without Preston’s defense of Krebs and declaration that he was with him all night, neither would he have been implicated. Then my mind turns upon the inquiry; Were not Mrs. England and her daughter mistaken? On this point I have carefully investigated the facts. Mark Mrs. England’s statement to the effect that “Krebs came into the house,” presented a pistol at her son, Isaiah D. Taylor, shot him dead, and then followed her and Susie out of the house and shot them. She was positive that the man who shot Isaiah was Krebs, and that he also pursued and shot her. Her younger son, Harvey Taylor, positively, ???????, and unequivocally contradicted her on the point as to who shot Isaiah in his testimony given on the trial. This young man, Harvey, states that he had ??????? on the front gallery on a pallet and the other four members of the household had gone to bed within the house. Soon after he had retired he noticed three men coming up to the front gate. The moon was shining brightly. They were bending over as if to hide their faces. They came into the gate, and the smallest of the three, who was in front, “came up to me (Harvey) and presented a bright pistol” and said: “G-d d–m, you, get into the house!” He obeyed orders, ran into the house, and was followed by this man, who at once shot down his brother, Isaiah D. Taylor. Harvey tells this tale and relates how he escaped, and while running heard the women screaming and other shots fired. He had a full opportunity of knowing the man who ordered him into the house, and following him, shot down his brother, Isaiah, for he was on the gallery in the bright moonlight, close to him. His opinion was the he was one William (or Bill) Taylor, who, from the evidence before me, was an escaped convict and a refugee from justice at the time. He also stated that he knew Krebs well, and he did not recognize him at all. He further says the man who followed him into the house wore no hat, but had a rag around his head. He is positive that it was this young man, whom he thought to be, Bill Taylor, who shot down his brother, Isaiah, in the house. His mother, Mrs. England, was just as positive that “Old Krebs” shot down her son, Isaiah, and followed her and Susie out and shot them to death. She said she knew him, among other things, “by that old white hat.” Harvey said the man who shot Isaiah was a “young man,” and “had on no hat,” but “had a rag on his head.”

To my mind right here is the fatal conflict. Who had the best means of being correct — the young man that was lying on the front gallery in the moonlight, face to face with the criminal, receiving his orders to go into the house, or the ladies who got their first sight of the man from the indoors darkness, and their impression, by the flash of a pistol that left Isaiah a lifeless form at the feet? A statement of the proposition seems to me to carry with it the answer that of all the persons there that night, Harvey Taylor had the best opportunity of telling accurately whom and what he saw. He knew Krebs and Preston well. So did he know the escaped convict, Bill Taylor, and their near neighbor, John Musick. His opinion was that Bill Taylor was the man who followed him into the house and began shooting. Just after the tragedy he went to the Musick place, where his mother ws lying on the floor bleeding, and told her that he took one of the assassins to be “Bill Taylor” and another to be “John Musick.” She told him to hush, “that Musick was at home when she came to the house.”

This man Harvey Taylor, the only survivor, testified on the witness stand that he took one of the men to be John Musick. Affidavits before me show that Musick and Bill Taylor were out hunting together that evening; that Musick was unfriendly to the Englands about the land claim; that Taylor has not been seen in the neighborhood since; that soon after the murder Musick “wound up his affairs,” quit his wife and family and left the country and has not returned. Additional to this otherwise his conduct and insinuations about the tragedy more or less cast suspicion on him. If Mr.s England was mistaken as to who shot her son Isaiah, she was also mistaken as to who shot her. Arrayed against her statement that Krebs did it are the following facts:

1. The testimony of her son Harvey that in his opinion the escaped convict, Bill Taylor, did it.

2. The testimony of Johnny Savage, the stepson of Krebs, that the two defendants and A.K. Taylor were aroused by the shooting, got out of bed, and with other members of the family went into the yard barefooted to listen.

3. The testimony of Mary Jane Savage, Krebs’ stepdaughter, to the same effect.

4. The testimony of Mrs. Rhoda Krebs, wife of applicant Krebs, proving the same alibi.

5. The dying declarations of the young man, A.K. Taylor, who was convicted as one of the criminals, solemnly asserverating the innocence of all the accused, including himself.

6. The spotless character of both men for a life of over fifty years.

Viewed from others sources, the innocence of these two men is established by a preponderance of circumstances, to the benefit of which they are certainly entitled in their old age after such long service. Krebs is a German, incapable, it seems, of writing English. Preston is an American, and appears to be fairly intelligent. They both are farmers. Up to the terrible tragedy, each stood well and above reproach. Preston has all the time claimed that he and Krebs were together at the latter’s home when the homicide occurred, and that they were aroused by the shooting. Among other things in a letter addressed to me from the Rusk prison, he says:

“After long, weary and miserable years, waiting in the hope and belief that time would right the great wrong that has been done to me; after spending the accumulation of almost a lifetime of honest toil in the effort to bring my grievances before the chief executive of our state in such a manner that he would see, know and feel the truth; after my head is whitened and bowed by time and suffering, I come to you, sir, while on the brink of my grave, and beg you to spare me one moment while I recite to you as truthful and pitiful a history as was ever the misfortune of man to hear.

“I was charged of murder, which has resulted in life imprisonment in the state penitentiary….Before my God and you I come to day and swear that I am an innocent man….Now, your excellency, the evidence is on file in your office, I suppose, and I believe your examination of the papers would give to “me my liberty, I am an old man, and there remains for me at best a very few short years of life. God in heaven knows I am innocent of the crime for which I suffer. But what am I to do? Penniless, and with nearly a quarter of a century of prison life, during which time I have been forgotten by those who knew and honored me when my name was spotless, I have no recourse but through you, no hope but that God will direct and bring to light the truth.”

In this appeal there is something which arouses my conscience to action. From deep down in the record, carefully analyzed, springs the conviction which becomes fastened upon me, that I am dealing with an innocent man.
I shall now quote from documentary evidence upon file in the record to show that I am not alone in this conclusion.

In support of his elaborate argument, commuting the death sentence of Krebs and Preston, Governor Roberts used in each case the following very significant language:

“There is a direct conflict of evidence upon the principal points of the case. The identity of the defendant as one of the murderers is not so certain as to remove a serious apprehension of a mistake as to the parties who did the deed.”

The Hon. E.G. Douglass, for three years assistant superintendent of the penitentiary at Rusk, before voluntarily retiring from the office, in writing to me about these men, said:

“I was present at the trial of Krebs, and though it was many years ago, I was so impressed with the innocence of both parties that it has ever remained a lasting regret with me that they were condemned to suffer. All the long years since that day have strengthened my convictions of their innocence.”

Mr. Lucus F. Smith, now a citizen of California, who assisted in the defense of the cases, wrote:

“I am thoroughly convinced that the parties are innocent. Harvey Taylor had known Preston and Krebs longer than had his mother, yet he told Judge Hurt and myself in the hotel at Gainesville during the trial that he knew the defendants were not the men who did the murder. He called upon Got to witness the truth of the assertion. Asked why he had not so testified in court, he said he was afraid the people would kill him.”

He has since died.

A large number of officers, ex-officials and citizens of Montague county write:

“We have doubted, and the public here have doubted, the guilt of James Preston. It was entirely circumstantial evidence on which he was convicted, and it is of a very unsatisfactory nature.”

Colonel T.J. Goree, the then superintendent of the penitentiaries, in a certificate giving the records of Krebs and Preston, said:

“That young A.K. Taylor, who was sentenced to the penitentiary for life on the same charge as Krebs and Preston, received here in June, 1878, and who died here June 6. 1880?, with dropsy and consumption, declared to me on his death bed a few days before his death that he and Krebs and Preston were guiltless of the crime for which they were convicted and had nothing to do with it whatever.”

An affidavit on file before me shows that the sister of this same youth, A.K. Taylor, went to him while he was a prisoner before his trial and pleaded with him to “turn state’s evidence” to escape punishment himself, but that he replied that he “would rather die in the penitentiary than to swear falsely, for he knew nothing to swear, and that neither he, Krebs nor Preston had anything to do with the murder of the England family.”

Judge J.P. Gibson, the assistant superintendent of the penitentiary at Rusk writes as follows,

“There are about ninety officers, guards and employes connected with this prison, some of whom have been connected with the prison management ever since Krebs and Preston have been in the penitentiary, and there is not one but what believes implicitly in their innocence.”

In all their long service not a charge or black mark has been made against ???? of them. In the penitentiary their record is spotless and clear.

The Hon. J.M. Hurt, chief justice of the court of criminal appeals, was one of the counsel who defended the applicants. He writes as follows in reference to Preston and Krebs:

“Harvey Taylor did not believe that the defendants were guilty and so stated to us. After making myself acquainted with the facts in these cases I have not the slightest doubt of their innocence.”

Writing to my predecessor on the subject, ex-Governor Roberts, says: “I fully believe he (Preston) and Krebs are innocent men.”

In addition to these expressions by men of high standing, there are among the papers on file many petitions, letters and arguments by citizens of all classes, contending that these men are innocent, and for that reason should be pardoned. For many years most of these documents have been on file in the case. About one year ago I submitted the case to the board of pardon advisers, composed of ex-Governor F.R. Lubbock and L.D. Brooks, esq. After an exhaustive consideration of it they made an able, elaborate report, recommending pardon of both Preston and Krebs, which they conclude as follows:

“For the foregoing reasons, and being ourselves impressed with the belief that these men are the unfortunate victims of a combination of circumstances, prejudice and passion, and are being punished for the crimes of other men, we recommend their immediate pardon and their restoration to full citizenship.”

After receiving this report I have taken the time commensurate with the grave responsibility resting upon me, and have carefully examined into the whole case. My deliberate opinion, formed without bias, fear or favor, is that both Krebs an Preston are innocent men. May the great God, the keeper of my conscience and soul, decide that I am right.

Ben Krebs and James Preston are fully pardoned and restored to all their rights and citizenship.

Governor of Texas.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Nov 30, 1894