Date: August 22, 1885
Location: Emporia Kansas
Cause of Death: Poisoning
Accused: Minnie Wallace Walkup
|James Reeves Walkup|
Walkup was a man with hearty appetites, especially prone to sexual excess. Throughout his marriages he visited prostitutes and had a mistress fifteen years his junior. Two Emporia physicians would later testify that they had treated him for gonorrhea and that he had hired them to treat prostitutes as well.
In December 1884 Walkup traveled to New Orleans with his friend Eben Baldwin, ostensibly to attend a world’s fair—The New Orleans World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition—but also to visit the city’s famed bordellos. On the recommendation of a man they had met in Baton Rouge, Walkup and Baldwin stayed at a boarding house on Canal Street run by Mrs. Elizabeth Wallace.
Mrs. Wallace, divorced, had two daughters, Dora and Minnie, who played piano and sang in New Orlean’s red-light district, Storyville. The Wallace girls were famous for their beauty and had caught the eye of Judge William T. Houston. He tried to persuade Mrs. Wallace to let Minnie live with him and his wife saying, “She’s too beautiful to be stuck in a boarding house.” Judge Houston escorted Dora Wallace to a Mardi Gras ball, though she was married to someone else. He would later kill a newspaper man who criticized in print his public affection for the Wallace girls.
After a couple of token letters to her mother, Walkup began writing directly to Minnie. He remained so obsessed with her that he could not concentrate on his business. The following April Walkup took his daughter Libbie to see the fair and they stayed at Mrs. Wallace’s. Walkup spent the week showering Minnie with attention. He finally offered her mother $4000 to let him marry Minnie. Mrs. Wallace refused the money and left the decision to Minnie. Then Walkup made offers to Minnie herself. He promised to buy her mother a house and support her, he would give Dora’s husband a job in one of his enterprises, and he would see that her cousin Willie had a good education. Minnie said maybe.
In May, Walkup was in New Orleans again, pleading with Minnie and this time she relented. She agreed to an October wedding in New Orleans but first she and her mother would visit Emporia and see if they approved of where Minne would be living. They decided to travel to Emporia in July then go to Cincinnati to visit Mrs. Wallace’s sister. When Minnie, her mother and her nephew Milton came to Emporia in July, Minnie liked what she saw. Walkup couldn’t wait and wanted to get married immediately. Mrs. Wallace finally agreed provided they were married in Cincinnati so her sister could attend the ceremony. Since neither was a citizen of Ohio, they were married in Covington, Kentucky. They hurried back to Emporia so Walkup could show off his 16-year-old bride.
Walkup kept his promises and in Emporia Minnie lived a life of ease spending most of her time shopping. She began buying clothing and merchandise and shipping them to her family in New Orleans. She also began a series of visits to drug stores. First she had a druggist analyze some powder she had purchased in Cincinnati. She told him it was a remedy given to her by a friend and she wanted to be certain what it was. He told her it was quinine. She had, in fact, purchased strychnine in Cincinnati but the druggist had given her quinine by mistake. At another drugstore Minnie bought eight grains of strychnine—half a grain is enough to kill a person. He had her sign the “poison book,” a legal requirement when buying strychnine, but did not notice that she had left the purpose blank. At another drugstore she was refused strychnine because she would not state the purpose.
On Saturday, August 15, James Walkup had returned from a trip to Topeka and that evening was taken ill. The symptoms were nausea, diarrhea, and a tightening is his leg muscles—classic symptoms of strychnine poisoning. Dr. Luther Jacobs treated Walkup for what he thought was either indigestion or cholera. Walkup recovered on Sunday morning.
Sunday Minnie went downtown and purchased some arsenic. This was much easier to purchase because it was common for women to use arsenic to lighten their complexion. Though Minnie’s complexion was naturally quite pale, she had no trouble buying arsenic stating complexion lightening as the reason.
On Tuesday Walkup was deathly ill again with similar symptoms. Dr. Jacobs was surprised, though, that there was no fever. He began treating Walkup with morphine and by Thursday Walkup was well enough to be eating canned oysters and drinking soda pop. Shortly after eating he began vomiting again and Minnie blamed the oysters.
Dr. Jacobs was beginning to suspect arsenic poisoning and wanted to take a urine sample but Walkup’s kidneys had ceased functioning. The doctor had confided his suspicions with Dwight Bill, Walkup’s business partner, who went to see Walkup. He told his partner that the doctor suspected arsenic poising and it was known that Minnie had recently purchased arsenic. Walkup, on his deathbed, was ready to have his wife arrested. On Saturday August 22, exactly one month after his wedding, James Walkup was dead. Minnie Wallace Walkup was placed under house arrest.
Trial: October 1885
An inquest was held and Minnie Wallace Walkup was indicted for the murder of her husband. One witness at the inquest signaled what would be the defense’s strategy at the trial. Dr. Charles W. Scott of Kansas City testified that in the fall of 1884, James Walkup had visited him complaining of abdominal pains. Walkup volunteered that he was taking prescribed pills that were a combination of arsenic and opium. He took them for two reasons: treatment for a chronic disease (for which he was also taking mercury) and he believed that arsenic was a male enhancement drug. The implication was that Walkup was a chronic user of arsenic and was being treated for syphilis.
An autopsy was performed which revealed what everyone knew; James Walkup had died of arsenic poisoning. However, a thorough examination showed no sign of syphilis and no indication of chronic arsenic use.
For Minnie’s trial, the largest courtroom in Emporia was modified to seat 300 people and the witness stand was placed on a platform so all could see the testimony. At times as many as two thirds of the spectators were women. When the trial started the public was evenly divided, for and against Minnie. Newspapers cautioned against rushing to judgment and seemed to relish any news that might exonerate the poor teenager.
Between the medical testimony and the testimony of druggists who sold Minnie strychnine and arsenic, the prosecution had a fairly tight circumstantial case against her. The defense contended that Walkup’s chronic arsenic use had caught up with him. In what the New Orleans Daily Picayune called “a carnival of filth,” James Walkup’s prodigious sex life was paraded before the court. Pimps, fellow cavorters, and doctors who treated Walkup and his whores for sexually transmitted diseases told all.
Dr. Scott and others testified to Walkup taking arsenic as treatment for disease and to “keep up.” The problem for the defense was that all of these witnesses were from out of town. There is no record Walkup buying arsenic—which as Minnie’s experience showed would have required signing the poison book—and no local doctor had prescribed it. The solution to this came with the testimony of William Jay, Minnie’s new guardian.
William Jay was Minnie Walkup’s most ardent supporter. As she did with all older men, Minnie had thoroughly charmed him—so much so that the testimony he gave was almost certainly perjury. Jay testified that in July 1885 Walkup had come to his office to transact business. He claimed he was not feeling well and asked Jay for a knife and a glass of water. He put some white powder on the knife the poured it into the water then drank it. He told Jay he had better wipe off the knife because the powder was arsenic.
The most controversial claim of the defense was that arsenic that Walkup had taken in Toledo killed him nearly a week later. To support this they cited a case where a woman had tried to kill herself with arsenic but failed. When she succeeded a year later, an autopsy showed that the original arsenic had not killed her because it formed a cyst in her stomach. The same, the defense said, happened to Walkup.
The jury deliberated for fifty-two hours then found Minnie Walkup not guilty. The reason for the verdict was probably their reluctance to send a 16-year-old girl to the gallows. As one juryman said later,
“If I had voted for that little girl’s conviction, her face would haunt me to my dying day.”Verdict: Not Guilty
The trial of Minnie Walkup had gotten national publicity and there was talk of Minnie going into show business. Nothing ever materialized and she moved back to New Orleans. She traveled for a while with U. S. Senator and former Louisiana Governor, William Pitt Kellogg. Kellogg, Minnie’s senior by 39 years, was, according to observers, acting like a “decidedly ‘gone’ lover.” They traveled the southwest together and may have travelled to Europe as well. Kellogg financed Minnie’s move to Chicago.
|John Berdan Ketcham|
Because of Minnie’s background, an autopsy was performed, specifically looking for signs of poison. None were found and the cause of death was listed as “acute alcoholism.” Though the Ketcham family challenged the will and the marriage, Minnie inherited $250,000, the same amount her first husband had left her.
|DeLancy Horton Louderback|
Minnie died in 1957 at the age of 88 in San Diego, California where she was living under the name Estelle Minnie Keating.