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· William “Bill” Clark (1864-1934)
It’s Monday, October 24, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas. Houston Whiteside, 81, tells Julia, his wife, 59, that the escapees from the Reformatory released their kidnap victim, Roy Lloyd, unharmed, in Kansas City, Missouri, on Saturday afternoon.
“Mr. Lloyd is home safe. He was released after the men on the run decided not to ‘bump him off,’” said Houston. “The police haven’t located the criminals yet.”
“Bill Clark must have an interesting job as justice of the peace, said Julia. “One minute he’s deciding a criminal case from the bench and the next moment he’s officiating a wedding.”
“I wonder if he’s ever done both in the same day for the same person?” commented Houston.
“I recall hearing about a wedding in the county jail when a prisoner and his girlfriend got married so that she could make regular visits,” recalled Julia.
“That reminds me of when Bill was sheriff and there was a bigamist being held at the bastille,” said Houston.
“Oh, do you mean Louis Tucker?” asked Julia. “He was the one who had two wives visiting him and each women was trying to get him to choose her as the one he loved most.”
“That’s his name,” agreed Houston. “I recall how Mr. and Mrs. Sheriff, Bill and Eva Clark, tired quickly of the drama. I can see how the sheriff was faced with a dilemma. Only attorneys, ministers, and relatives had visiting privileges. Which wife was the legitimate one?”
“As you know, Judge, normally it would be the first wife,” answered Julia. “You’d think living a secret life like that—two marriages at once—would be more than one man could handle.”
“Eva finally told Tucker to choose one,” remembered Houston. “Until the bigamist decided, Bill wouldn’t allow either of the women to visit. Do you recall which wife won his affection?”
“In the short run, it was wife number two, Maggie, the newlywed with the strong accent. She was a Boer, born in South Africa,” answered Julia. “When Bessie saw that she had been replaced by the newer model, she settled for $25 monthly alimony and $50 in attorney fees.
“But Maggie had no easy time of it,” continued Julia. “After waiting three months for his release, the Wichita authorities arrested Tucker when he completed his Reno County jail sentence. His new charge was making a false affidavit to a marriage certificate.
“Maggie’s anxiety increased. She said she was done with Tucker and attempted suicide by using chloroform.
“Bessie, the woman who had been replaced by Maggie, divorced Tucker, and soon married again. However, the legal marriage was not the road to eternal bliss.
“About three months after the wedding bells, Bessie’s new husband charged her with abandoning him.”
“What had she done?” asked Julia before answering her own question. “Bessie had traveled to Oklahoma City to live with the irresistible Louis Tucker. As far as I know, at the time he was single, not married.”
Click to view a reward postcard for a bigamist Wanted for Bigamy 1921
As sheriff, Bill Clark learned that catching criminals was only half the battle,” said Houston. “Keeping them locked up, preventing their escape, was a full-time job. He convinced the county commissioners that hiring a night jailer and installing chilled steel bars were necessary steps to maintain jail security, and that those improvements would cost less than the money spent on catching and returning escapees.”
“Every sheriff has spent a good bit of his time on long train rides, picking up and delivering prisoners,” said Julia.
“After the windows of the jail had their iron bars replaced with the steel bars,” said Houston, “the prisoners shifted their attempts at escape to tunneling their way out through the old plaster and stone walls.”
“Ah, yes,” said Julia, “idle time sparks creative minds.”
Prisoners held in the Reno County Jail were charged with a wide range of crimes, including theft and violation of the prohibitory law.
Sheriff Clark, a career insurance agent, said the theft of motor cars were either stolen by professionals, “floaters” (transients), or by people the owners hired in order to collect the insurance. Click to view a Stolen 1919 Dodge Touring Car postcard
Clark also understood how fingerprinting could become an extremely valuable tool both civilly and criminally if it was required on a national scale.
The ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in 1919 didn’t have an immediate effect in Kansas. The state had prohibited the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors” since 1881, and in 1917 the legislature had passed the so-called “bone dry” bill where it became unlawful for anyone “to keep or have in his possession, for personal use or otherwise,” any intoxicating liquors.
“When Sheriff Clark lost his bid for reelection to Jesse Langford in the fall of 1922, he didn’t cry about it, did he?” Julia reminded Houston.
“He sure surprised everyone,” agreed Houston. “After Eva died of cancer in 1921, the sheriff’s residence was a quieter place—if you don’t count the prisoners making a racket in the attached jail. But, to his credit, Bill continued doing his duty.
“On November 7th, 1922, Clark lost the election, but he was smiling the next day, his 58th birthday, when he eloped with Minnie Calvin Bennett, 49, the jail matron. They motored to Newton in the afternoon and returned as Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Clark.”
“Bill has been in the insurance business for a long time,” said Julia.
“He was selling life insurance in 1905 at the time of his tragic accident,” she recalled. “When he was getting off the Missouri Pacific passenger train, while it was moving, he slipped, and his left foot was crushed under the wheels of the cars. It was necessary to have it amputated just above the ankle.”
“Bill never let his injury hold him back,” said Houston. “He was desk sergeant for the Hutchinson police force, undersheriff for Sheriff Scott Sprout, Reno County sheriff, and the first president of the Kansas State Peace Officers’ Association.”
“And Bill Clark continues to sponsor and promote the annual charity concert he started,” said Julia. “I think this year will be the 14th in a row at Convention Hall.”
“It’s a worthy cause,” agreed Houston. “The milk fund benefit concert helps furnish milk to poor and undernourished children in the city’s schools during the winter.”
“Eventually, William Thomas Clark may be remembered better for his charity concerts helping children, than being identified as a former sheriff or justice of the peace,” said Julia.
“Yes, said Houston. “You never know what you’ll be remembered for, do you? You just hope it’s for doing your best and making a difference.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.