THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS CRIME EVER COMMITTED
IN WASHINGTON COUNTY, MISSOURI

 


HORRIBLE MURDER & BUTCHERY

FIVE PERSONS BRUTALLY MASSACRED
THE BODIES MUTILATED & BURNED TO CINDERS

November 19th, 1995 marked the 125th anniversary of the most outrageous crime ever committed in Washington County and the entire state of Missouri.   This week begins a three part series telling of this horrible incident.  It was researched and written by Esther M. Ziock Carroll & published in a three part series in the Independent Journal beginning Nov. 1995

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THE CRIME
(Published 16 Nov. 1995)

On Monday morning, November 21st, 1870 Washington County was shocked beyond description upon discovering that a family of French Creoles - David and Louisa Lapine (a.k.a. Lago) and their child along with Mrs. Lapine's sister, Mary Christopher and her child  were brutally murdered in their cabin 1 1/2 miles north of Potosi near Brushy mine diggings.  The horrifying scene of the crime was described as follows: 

"A sullen gloom overhangs it like a tragic curtain,
and the hollow murmur of the stunted oaks constantly
mumbling of things too horrible to tell plainly."

"Over all there hung a sense of fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted;
That said as plain as whisper on the ear,
The place is haunted."

What was left of the Lapine family was gathered and put in a box, brought to Potosi and buried in the city cemetery.  Sheriff Clarke immediatelly began an investigation which quickly determined the perpetrators of the heinous crime.   Upon questioning the citizens of the neighborhood, witnesses were located.   Leon Jolly stated that his brother, Charles Jolly, and his cousin, John Armstrong (also Creoles) were the murderers.  John Jolly (brother of Leon and Charley) and others also testified as to what they were told after the crime.  Their combined stories are given as follows:

On Saturday night, November 19th, after indulging in whiskey, Leon and Charley Jolly and John Armstrong went to the Lapine cabin at about midnight.   Leon, age 14, who was not permitted to enter the cabin, held a jug of whiskey and watched through a crack in the cabin wall.  John Armstrong, who was carrying an ax, burst open the front door.  The Lapine family were all asleep.  Charley shot Davey four times then shot Mary in the head.  Louisa was then around him holding to his coattail and he knocked her in the head with his fist then shot her.  John Armstrong chopped Davey's head off then chopped the women and children in the head with the ax.  The two fiends then set fire to the cabin, burning the mutilated bodies beyond recognition.  With blood still on their hands and clothing, they then returned to John Jolly's home for breakfast.

The murderers did not flee the area until Monday when the crime was discovered.  Sheriff Clarke quickly organized a posse which set off in vigorous pursuit.  The chase led to Jefferson County where four citizens apprehended the criminals as they sat at supper at the Bellagantha Lucas house.  They were given to the posse and returned to Potosi.

On November 26th, an attempt was made to lynch the prisoners by outraged citizens.  About 12:30 at night a mob of 75 people appeared in front of the jail, a one story brick structure about fifteen feet north of the courthouse (the present courthouse stands on the same site.)  The sheriff and four other men were stationed on the 2nd floor of the courthouse armed with revolvers and double barreled shotguns.   The angry mob was ordered to disperse or be fired upon, but they kept yelling, "Keys! Keys!" and howling and shouting.  The sheriff and men fired indiscriminately down at the crowd, sending them fleeing in all directions.  A young man named Mainwaring was killed and six or seven others were wounded.  Next week............The Trial.

 

THE TRIAL
(Published 23 Nov. 1995)

The trial began at Potosi Wednesday, December 21st, 1870, at 10:00 A.M. with J. Brady appointed as defense council.  For the prosecution, G. Reynolds assisted by Wm. Relfe.  The jurors were: Wm. Evens (foreman), D.W. Proffit, S. Philpot, B.S. Dicus, R.H. Dickey, L. Hope, J.P. Blount, R.P. Martin, J. Wilson, P. Wood, J.A. Pinson, and J.W. Garret.  Both defendants pleaded "not guilty" with John Armstrong claiming he was not present at the Lapine cabin the night of the murders.

The case was presented throughout the day with testimony given by various witnesses including members of the defendant's own family.  No family members testified on their behalf or even attended the trial except those ordered to do so by the court.  The proceedings closed at 10:30 P.M.  It took the jury 10 minutes to return with a verdict of "GUILTY."

The next day the prisoners were sentenced to be hanged.    A deathlike silence reigned in the courtroom during the pronouncement of the sentences.  Charles Jolly received his sentence with stoicism and made no reply.    John Armstrong, however, received his sentence with agitation and replied in broken sentences, still denying his guilt and claiming he was not present at the cabin the night of the murders.  The judge solemnly closed the sentencing with the invocation, "May God have mercy on your soul."

The prisoners were then remanded to jail in St. Louis owing to the fact that the county jail had been condemned as unfit for human habitation.  After the courtroom cleared of observers  the following anonymously written poem was found in the rubbish on the floor:

Charles Jolly, Armstrong known as John,
Through their great trial just have gone.

The jury did a solemn task
And rendered all the State could ask

But could the law have given more,
The jury would have granted sure.

For greater crime was never done
Beneath the rolling of the sun

The children, sister, husband, wife
Were all submitted to the knife

Or other instrument of death
That took away all of their breath

To shoot, and cut, and kill and burn
To make a home a lonely urn

Great God! how boson burn and swell
To know susch monsters out of Hell

The sentences next, a few days given
That they may pray and think of Heaven

Then we will live in the brightest hope
That they will feel the tightening rope

And others learn from their example
The power of law so great and ample

When the last rites have been performed
By solemn law, with virtue crowned

Then we may sleep from night to night,
With full conviction all is right.

 

THE EXECUTION
(Published 30 Nov. 1995)

Actual headlines from the "Missouri Republican" - St. Louis: "The Gallows Tree", "Double Execution at Potosi",  "A Gala Day in a Rural Region", "Ghastly Scenes and Exciting Incidents".

Friday, January 27th, 1871 - Potosi bustled with activity and excitement, hotels and streets were crowded as hundreds of people of all ages - men, women and even children - dressed in holiday attire, came from as far as 30 miles away to witness the execution.  One farmer, who was over 80 years old, walked 20 miles through the snow to be present at this historic occasion.

Charles Jolly and John Armstrong were returned from St. Louis by train.  They were held at the courthouse while ropes were placed and readied on the gallows which had been erected on the north side of the courthouse near the jail.   This would be the first "legal" execution to be held in Washington County.  Prior to it only lynchings had occured.

While waiting for the clergy to arrive the impatient crowd, eager to see the prisoners, began to shout, "Bring them out!  Bring them out!"   Four clergymen attended the prisoners, two from St. Louis and Rev.'s Brennan and Manning from Potosi.

Finally, at 1:40 P.M. , the prisoners were taken to the gallows and Sheriff Clarke read the execution warrant with evident emotion.  After the priests spoke with the prisoners, Father O'Reilly stepped to the front of the platform and addressed the crowd: "The men here present and now to be executed, have been condemned judicially by the court of this county, whether tried correctly or not, it is not for me to say.  They only wish to say that they desire to plead neither guilty or not guilty.  If they are guilty, God knows it.  If they are not guilty, God knows it.  The evidence seems to say that they are, and in the eyes of the law they are guilty and worthy of death.  But they desire to die pleading neither one way or the other."

Deputy Breckenridge and his assistant then put black caps over the faces of the prisoners and nooses were placed in position, being drawn so tight as to almost choke them.  Farewells were said - Armstrong trembled slightly.  At 2:08 the order was given, "Now."  The trap was opened and both dropped through.   Jolly's head was almost severed from his body.  Armstrong, however, dropped lower with his toes barely scraping the ground.  His noose had come partially untied and he slowly strangled.  At 2:13 Dr. Bell pronounced both men dead.  They are buried in the Catholic cemetery.  No motive was ever determined for their vicious and bloody crime.

An interesting note - 2 days before the execution, John Armstrong's wife applied for a marriage license to marry another man!  It was refused.

The following also appeared in the Washington County Journal:   Jolly and Armstrong - Excellent photographic likenesses of the Lapine family murderers, for sale at the Potosi Bookstore."  If any of these pictures still existed it would be intresting to see what they looked like.

Two of the jurors, Brad S. Dicus and Robt. H. Dickey, are ancestors of Esther M. Carroll.  Esther's husband, Gene Carroll, is a descendant of Laura Ann Armstrong of Morgan County, Missouri.  Laura's relationship, if any, to John Armstrong is undeterimed at this time.

 

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By: Esther M. Ziock Carroll
(Published in the Independent Journal 30 Oct. 1997)

This tale is bloody and brutal but true,
On Halloween night it could frighten you.
So lock the doors and windows tight,
And don't visit Brushy Run late at night.

Five sleeping victims in 1870,
Would be violently sent to eternity.
The murderers hasten down a darkened path,
So intent to vent their wrath.

At midnight the evil witching hour,
Is when these monsters wield their power.
Beating, shooting, chopping with an ax,
In depravity they were not lax.

One victim awoke and tried to fight,
Struggled she did with all her might.
But the battle she waged was all in vain,
She lost her life in fear and pain.

This horrible crime was the worst one ever,
As the husbands head they did sever.
And the tiny children they did cry,
When they saw it was time to die.

Blood was splattered everywhere,
Terror reigned but they did not care.
In a drunken, fevered, frenzied din,
The fiends committed unforgivable sin.

Then the lonley cabin was set ablaze,
Creating an eerie, glowing haze.
Returning home for their morning meal,
No remorse did the muderers feel.

The criminals tried to flee from the law,
Leaving the county behind in shock and awe.
But they were caught 'n tried 'n hung up high,
Now it was their turn to suffer and die!


So visit Brushy Run late at night,
If you think you can stand the fright.
Maybe you'll hear a desperate scream,
Is it real or just a dream?

Is that a ghostly figure you see,
Lurking by an old oak tree?
Could their spirits travel the mists of time,
And still be near Brushy Run mine?


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For map location of Brushy Run
click here.

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