What Happened to Morality?
It’s Friday, June 6, 1924, outside the Reno County courthouse in Hutchinson, Kansas. Reno County Sheriff Jesse Langford, 45, and his wife, May Burkhalter Langford, 42, are walking to their sheriff’s residence next door, east of the courthouse.
“He thought he could get away with murder,” said May to her husband, Jess, referring to Dr. Kenn B. Uhls, 31, of Overland Park. Uhls had just been convicted of second degree murder in the brutal slaying of William E. Gibbs, 77, a local, wealthy recluse, who was found in a pool of blood at his cottage home in Hutchinson on December 30, 1923.
“Like others before him, Uhls thought he was too smart to get caught,” replied Jess.
“And he’s a doctor, no less,” said May. “I know he was desperate with the financial failing of his narcotic sanitarium, but how could he do such a thing? Mr. Gibbs was a Civil War veteran.”
“Uhls couldn’t afford to have Gibbs, his heaviest shareholder, sound the alarm, to tell everyone that the promises of a quarterly return of 8% were a lie,” said Jess. “The Uhls Clinic was sinking fast and Uhls wasn’t willing to lose his investment.”
“But for a person to beat another to death over money is beyond reason,” said May. “What’s happened to morality in our country?”
“We personally experienced depravity first-hand when Harvey was shot in the back while he was trying to escape the auto thieves,” said Jess, remembering three years earlier when their son Harvey, just 16, had nearly been killed when a bullet narrowly missed his vital organs. “Because of their age, the criminals were only sentenced to the reformatory, not the penitentiary.”
“The more I read about the kidnapping and murder of poor Bobby Franks in Chicago, the more I question what is happening to our young people today,” said May. “Bobby was only 14; our Harvey, 16. However, the motivation of Leopold and Loeb, so-called intellectuals at the University of Chicago, wasn’t about stealing a car or ransom money. Their families are wealthy beyond our dreams. Those privileged boys, just 18 and 19, have confessed to planning and committing the heinous murder as an adventure!”
“It’s worrisome all right,” said Jess. “A few years ago, Uhls was a tennis star at the University of Kansas, and now look at him, a convicted murderer.”
“And to think,” said May, “our Harvey is attending the same university.
“No need to fret,” said Jess. “Our boy has his head and heart in the right place.”
“Kenn Uhls’ parents were respected,” continued Jess. “It was Dr. Lyman Uhls who opened the sanitarium in 1913 after being in charge of the state hospital at Osawatomie for 14 years. He had a reputation of being a splendid citizen and always interested in the public welfare.”
“Of course, Harvey’s above reproach,” said May. “I’m just thinking about what causes people to go down the wrong path, the evil path. Surely, while in college, Kenn Uhls didn’t dream he’d be beating an old man to death with the handle of a revolver until an eye popped out. At one time, he must have had compassion and empathy, don’t you think?”
“I would hope so,” answered Jess.
“The ladies at the church have discussed this during the Jesus Our Counselor group. Billy Sunday says that ‘civilization and society rests on morals. Morals rest on religion. Religion rests on the Bible and faith in god and Jesus Christ. The Bible doesn’t condemn any man because of his wealth.’”
“Yes,” agreed Jess. “Billy also says that America needs a title wave of the old-time religion.”
“Besides the surviving relatives of William Gibbs,” said May, “I also think about Dr. Uhls’ family. His mother, Anna; his wife, Charlotte; and his seven-month-old baby girl, Mary Lou, the cute thing. She was crying out after the verdict was read, when her father started weeping.”
“The minimum sentence for Uhls’ crime is ten years at the State Penitentiary, but he he could get up to 25,” said Jess. “It’s up to Judge Fairchild.”
“I’m a doubter about him ever spending much time in prison,” said May. “His clinic may go bankrupt, but he still has political influence. He could win an appeal or he could be paroled.”
“Or he could escape,” said Jess, knowing first-hand how elusive the man could be when not in jail. “His attorneys can appeal to the State Supreme Court, but that decision could take a long time. No matter what happens in court, every day, Uhls will need to live with his despicable act. Eventually, his family will need to cope with his absence.”
“I’m still puzzled at how our country has experienced a shift in public morality,” said May. “In a majority of people’s minds, prohibition is only a suggestion. Colleges offer our youth a culture of self-indulgence rather than one centered on work, discipline, and self-denial. This German philosopher, Nietzche, says god is dead.”
“It’s a changing world,” interrupted Jess, “not all for the better.”
As May and Jess reached the steps of their East Avenue B residence, May said, “Some people follow a dead philosopher, rather than religion. Too many people are influenced by a belief that the world is better with no rules, no absolute values, and no certainties. In my opinion, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.