In the year 1834 a man by the name of William Florence settled on a little piece of land in Lincoln County, just West of Auburn, Missouri. He brought his wife and two boys. Thomas was the oldest who was around nine and the younger boy was named William. William Florence ran a small horsepower grain mill. It had been raining for several days, but on this late summer day in 1838 it was bright and sunny with a light breeze. Mr. Florence needed a few supplies, so he left his mill in the hands of Aaron, his slave, and headed into town. William was gone for several hours and on his return discovered that his wife had let the boys next door to their neighbor’s orchard to get some peaches.
Mr. Florence was mad because he knew their neighbor William C. Prewitt had a mean old slave lady named Fanny. And she had more than once threatened to do bodily harm to the boys if she caught them over in the orchard.
With fear in his heart William Florence ran for the orchard. All the while he prayed to God to keep any harm from coming to his boys. He searched the orchard and found no sign of his sons. He then headed to the Prewitt’s house to confront Fanny one-on-one. She was out in the yard hanging clothes on the line. He walked straight over to her and told her that if she caused any harm to his boys that she would pay. She denied ever having seen them.
There was nothing that Mr. Florence could do, so he headed back home. Once he got there he sent Aaron to go to all the neighbors and then into town and tell everyone that his boys were missing. Aaron headed out on the fastest horse that they owned, while Mr. Florence continued to search until it was too dark to see. He was up before dawn to start searching again the next morning. To Mr. Florence’s surprise when he stepped outside there were about a hundred men waiting to search with him. These men included Sheriff Sitton, a member of the state legislature, Hans Smith (a brilliant orator of that day) even a surveyor named Burton Palmer among many other local folks.
The search continued for two full days until Burton Palmer saw some turkey buzzards flying in low lazy circles. He followed them straight to the children’s bodies. They were laying in the creekbed weighted down with stones. It appeared that they had been put there when the creek had been high from the rains and then exposed as the water level dropped. Sadly any evidence that was there on the exposed flesh of the boys, the buzzards had already gotten to.
That evening Sheriff Sitton arrested Fanny, her husband Ben and their son Elick. The interrogation of Elick was brutal, with the questioners pulling the boy into the woods by a rope around his neck. Elick confessed that his mother had told him about how she hit the boys with a horse yoke and then threw them into a sinkhole in the creek, but he had no other information. The prisoners were then taken in for a preliminary trail where their son was released, but Fanny and Ben were to remain in jail awaiting a jury trial.
At this time Mr. Prewitt, Fanny and Ben’s owner returned from Philadelphia. Upon hearing what had happened he immediately began preparing a defense for his two slaves. The trial started on the first Monday in November of 1838. Upon Elick’s testimony all charges brought against Ben were dismissed. After Ben was let go Mr. Prewitt appealed for a change of venue, he did not believe that Fanny could get a fair trial in Lincoln County. The appeal was granted and the trial was moved to Warren County for April of 1839. Meanwhile Fanny was sent to the Pike County jail for safe keeping as many people feared that she would be lynched.
Fanny’s trial was held at the Warren County Courthouse in Warrenton, Missouri. It took almost no time for her to be found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death by hanging. After the sentencing Elick came forward and swore that his confession was a lie and that he had only said it because he was in fear for his life, and had been forced to say it while being tortured. With Elick’s statement the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. In October of 1839 the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling stating that Warren County could not sentence her because it had no jurisdiction over the case. Also because a slave owner was not entitled to change the venue for a slave. The case was then sent back to trial in Lincoln County, but now Fanny’s son’s confession was no longer admissible.
With the lack of evidence the case quickly fell apart. Fanny was acquitted and the people of Lincoln County were outraged. Two young boys died without justice. To this day no one has been found guilty in the murders of William and Thomas Florence.
Hebrews 4: 13
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
If you know of any murder mysteries or haunted places contact Norman McFadden at (636) 233-6878. For more works by Norman McFadden visit polstonhouse.com.