Old Spirituals readers, I need your help. I’m used to floundering around to find an answer to historical mysteries but I’ve finally found one that I can’t seem to crack.

I’m working on Book #3, which is about a murder that took place in Missouri, and right there we have the mystery. How do you pronounce Missouri? Is it Missouree or Missourah?

You’d think I could get away with just writing it and not pronouncing it, but people often ask about my books so it comes up.

Last week, for instance, I had two conversations that illustrate why this is a pressing question. In the first one, I referred to Missouree, and the other person said, “It’s pronounced Missourah.”

Two days later, I mentioned to a different person that the new book takes place in Missourah, and this heartless person laughed and said, “You mean Missouree?”

I hate mispronouncing things, though I do it all the time. I went to YouTube for the answer, but came away even more confused. More people say Missouree, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. Also, in the state itself, there’s a large percentage of people who say Missourah, including employees at the historical society I’ve been working with. Apparently, even the governor of Missouri alternately calls the state Missourah and Missouree.

The only other word I have this trouble with is “niche”, as in a niche market. (Is it neesh or nitch? Whichever way I say it, the person I’m talking to will invariably correct me and tell me the opposite.) I just stopped using “niche” but I can’t get away with avoiding “Missouri”.

In the future, it’s probably best to avoid writing about locations I can’t pronounce, but since I’ve already put in a lot of work on this one, can anyone shed some light on this mystery?

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