When people are sentenced to life in prison, they are quickly forgotten by everyone but the people who loved them most. (Celebrity prisoners like Chris Watts and Scott Peterson are an exception, but that is a recent phenomena.) This post features five prisoners from Missouri, all of whom were given a life sentence in the 1920s. No doubt by the time the men featured in this post met their end, they had been, by and large, forgotten by the world.

Our first prisoner is Walter Hardin Coffey, who was sentenced to natural life in Jackson County, Missouri on Dec 12, 1921.

Mugshot 12/28/1921

 

Coffey managed to survive in prison for 16-and-a-half years before he had to be transferred to Fulton Hospital for the Insane on March 21, 1938. He died there on October 12, 1940.

 

In Jackson County, Missouri, Harry Lynch was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 1923.

Mugshot 12/13/1923

Lynch was sentenced to life on November 21 of that year. He spent 17 years in Missouri State Penitentiary before succumbing in the prison hospital on September 22, 1940. In an unusual side note, the prison records, which tended to be a bit haphazard, very precisely noted that Lynch died at 1:07 AM.

 

Next up, we have William Collins, who pleaded guilty to assault with intent to kill in Henry County. He was sentenced to 99 years on Sept 17, 1924– an effective life term.

Mugshot 9/18/1924

Collins was incarcerated for 18 years before being transferred to Fulton Asylum on January 17, 1942. Nine months later, the asylum returned Collins to prison, presumably he was well enough to go back. But after six months, the prison again sent him back to Fulton and he remained there until his death on October 25, 1946. You may have noticed Collins is wearing overalls in his mugshot. It seems unusual today but there were a surprising number of prisoners sporting overalls in vintage mugshots. A large percentage of the jobs for ordinary people in the early twentieth century were related to agriculture, especially from the middle of the country.

 

Charles Ross Bringman stood trial for first-degree murder in Henry County in January 1925.

Mugshot 1/23/1925

Bringman was convicted and was sentenced to a life term on January 12, 1925. Nineteen years and eleven months passed in the Missouri State Penitentiary, before Bringman was killed by another inmate in the “B” hall.

 

Lastly, we have Roy M. Turner. Turner may look like the unluckiest prisoner of all, but he fared better than the others. Like the other prisoners he was tried and convicted of first-degree murder.

Mugshot 2/20/1926

Turner was sentenced to life in Jackson County on February 13, 1926, but he was paroled on July 19, 1955 by the board of probation and parole. For four years, two months, and three days, Turner was free again. He died of a heart attack in September of 1959.

 

Mugshot March continues with an ugly, mysterious case. There isn’t a lot of detail available.

In 1916, 21-year-old Van Wilson had murder on his mind. His target was Frank Snedigar, a farmer living near Madisonville in Pike County, about 10 miles north of Vandalia.

Wilson shot and killed Mr. Snedigar immediately, but he also spotted his wife, and decided to kill her too. Mrs. Snedigar ran into her home and managed to hide her two small children, ages 8 and 4, behind a bookcase before Wilson entered the house and shot her.

Before the tragedy, Frank Snedigar had sensed trouble, and had even asked a friend to help smooth the trouble between him and Hiram Wilson, Van’s father.

Van Wilson

 

The trial was held in Pike County, and Wilson’s attorneys defended him on grounds of insanity. The jury didn’t buy it. They convicted Van Wilson of first degree murder, and the judge sentenced the defendant to natural life. A curious note in the Ralls County Record reads: “Wilson is related to some of the best people in Ralls County. His parents are among the most highly respected people of the vicinity in which the murder was committed. They have the sympathy of all in their affliction.”

His sentence officially began December 8, 1916, and was punctuated by long stays at Fulton Asylum for the Insane.

July 6, 1918: Transfered to Fulton Hospital for the Insane

January 10, 1922: Returned to the Missouri penitentiary

February 7, 1924: Transfer to Fulton Hospital for the Insane

September 4, 1924: Returned to the Missouri penitentiary

March 30, 1925: Transfer to Fulton Hospital for the Insane

November 30, 1926: Returned to the Missouri penitentiary

In December 1942, Van Wilson, now 47, was discharged from the Missouri penitentiary by Governor Stark

Fulton Asylum, Missouri

Mugshot March continues with the case of Mr. Alonzo Dowell. Dowell was no stranger to trouble. He was a career thief and in 1924, he was convicted of robbing Mrs. W. Arthur Stickney near her residence, and stealing $17,000 in jewels.

This gives one pause: if you take inflation into account, this woman was wearing over $260,000 in jewelry. I’m not trying to judge her. I’m as guilty as anyone else of adorning myself in priceless jewels before taking an afternoon stroll, but it does seem a little much. 

Back to Mr. Dowell. It turned out, robbing Mrs. Stickney wasn’t a totally out of character thing for him to do. While in court, he also pleaded guilty to two charges of second-degree burglary, that had been committed in 1923. In the first instance, he had stolen $30, and in the other he had taken $479.

The St. Louis judge was not happy with Dowell’s improved criminal performance, and handed him a heavy sentence: 50 year and 1 day in the Missouri State Penitentiary, which included a five year sentence for each prior burglary.

Dowell’s luck had not completely run out: he was paroled on November 13, 1939.

He remained free for two years and two months, when his parole was revoked for reasons unknown, and he returned to the penitentiary in February 1942. Alonzo Dowell died in prison on March 3, 1947.