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Examiner
  • Mansion deaths still a mystery

  • The Jackson County Historical Society recently welcomed author Giles Fowler to present his new book, “Deaths on Pleasant Street: The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Dr. Hyde,” for a special lecture and book signing commemorating the series of tragic events that began transpiring in the prominent Swope Mansion in October 1909.

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  • The Jackson County Historical Society recently welcomed author Giles Fowler to present his new book, “Deaths on Pleasant Street: The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Dr. Hyde,” for a special lecture and book signing commemorating the series of tragic events that began transpiring in the prominent Swope Mansion in October 1909. 
    Yes. One hundred years ago this month, three deaths and several other Swope family members struck with typhoid (when there were no other cases in town) lead some to suspect foul play, and a plot to plunder the momentous Swope fortune.
    The foreboding Swope Mansion on Pleasant Street (where the Campus RV Park is situated today; the mansion was razed in the mid-1960s) was the setting. Unpleasant as the details presented in Deaths on Pleasant Street, the fascinating story is prime fodder for a leading Hollywood mystery movie. 
    What followed was a nationally publicized trial akin to the O.J. Simpson trial of 1994-95…except there ended up being three trials. Law students to this day often study the “Swope Murder Trials.” The odd twist is that after seven years of grueling litigation, nobody was convicted as the leading perpetrator. Still, the high-society Swope family was demoralized…and had outlaid more than $100,000 in the legal battles.
    The Swope Mansion at this time was headed by the resolute family matriarch, Maggie Swope, who was a daughter of the well-known William Chrisman. Her husband, Logan Swope, had since passed. Their children and Logan’s brother, Colonel Thomas Swope--who had in 1896 donated more than 1,000 acres for Swope Park to the people of Kansas City – lived with the family in the Swope Mansion. Colonel Swope (Colonel was an attribute to wealthy capitalists in those days; he was not a veteran) enjoyed a room in the Swope Mansion as he commuted daily from his office in the New England Building…Kansas City’s first skyscraper made famous in a Rogers and Hammerstein song in Oklahoma.
    Another resident of the home was the beloved elderly family cousin, Colonel (also an attribute) “Moss” Hunton, who was quite popular in Independence social circles.
    Colonel Moss Hunton died dramatically with terrible convulsions on Friday, October 1, 1909, in the Swope Mansion at Independence. The next day, funeral arrangements were made. But why were two coffins ordered from undertaker, R. B. Mitchell of Ott & Mitchell Furniture and Funeral Home? Coincidentally, on the following evening, Sunday, October 3, the wealthy businessman and benefactor, Colonel Thomas Swope, died in a similar manner as Hunton…in the same house.
    The twist of events that transpired over the next couple of months would add up to what looked suspiciously like murder, and one of the family’s own, Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde, became the controversial suspect. Hyde was the husband of one of Logan and Maggie Swope’s children, Frances, who was an heir to a massive fortune…that was, by the way, made even more robust with each passing heir.
    Page 2 of 2 - The 1910 murder case surrounding the wealthy Swope family of Independence, Missouri, gripped newspaper readers throughout the nation. Gruesome autopsy reports. Outstanding testimony of questionable medical practices. Details of suspected murder and mayhem. Fowler’s mystery recaps these details exploring the still unanswered question: Was Hyde a diabolical villain bent on inheriting Swope’s millions, or the unfortunate victim of a family grudge?
    Fowler delivers an engaging and accurate retelling of these 100-year-old events in the literary journalism tradition by analyzing court transcripts, newspaper coverage, and personal memoirs. To take in the scenarios based on modern science, revisit the dark hallways of the Pleasant Street Swope Mansion in 1909, and judge for yourself. Was it murder?
    Deaths on Pleasant Street is available for $23 through the Jackson County Historical Society bookshop (jchs.org).

    David W. Jackson is archives and education director of the Jackson County Historical Society.

     
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