Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Graham Tragedy.

Evangelist, temperance leader, author and publisher Emma Molloy opened her home to the lost and lonely the way others took in stray cats. She had an adopted daughter and two foster daughters and she found a job on her newspaper for George Graham an ex-convict she had met while preaching at a prison. But when George Graham and Emma Molloy’s foster daughter, Cora Lee, decided to marry, the result would be a murder, a lynching, and scandal for the entire family.

Date: September 30, 1885

Location:   Brookline, Missouri

Victim:  Sarah H. Graham

Cause of Death:  Gunshot

Accused:   George E. Graham

In the winter of 1884-85 Emma Malloy, a nationally known leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, held a series of temperance revivals in the town of Springfield, Missouri, accompanied by her foster daughter, 23-year-old Cora Lee. Before the revivals were over, they were joined by George E. Graham, who had worked on The Morning and Day of Reform, a temperance newspaper Mrs. Molloy published in Washington, Kansas. Though he was twelve years her senior, Graham began courting Cora Lee.

Emma Malloy had met George Graham when she held a revival meeting at the Indiana prison where Graham was serving time for forgery. It was George Graham’s second prison term. In 1871 Graham married Sarah Gorham in Fort Wayne, Indiana and they had two sons. Two years later Graham was sentenced to five years in prison for horse theft. When Graham was convicted, Sarah divorced him, but on his release in 1878 they remarried. The following year he was sentenced to prison for forgery and this time, against the advice of her family, Sarah did not divorce him.

When Graham was released the second time, he sought out Emma Malloy who gave him a job on her newspaper in Laporte, Indiana. Graham followed Mrs. Malloy as she moved her operations to Illinois, then to Kansas. In 1885, after the Springfield revivals, she moved again, buying a farm near Brookline, Missouri, about five miles west of Springfield. In July of that year, unaware that Graham was still married to Sarah, Cora Lee married George Graham.

Mrs. Malloy sent for the rest of her children—another foster daughter, an adopted daughter, and her natural son—and George instructed Sarah, still in Fort Wayne, to bring his sons to St. Louis where he would pick them up and take them to live in Brookline. Emma Malloy was away on another series of revivals when Graham went to St. Louis to pick up his boys. Sarah arrived in St. Louis on schedule, but instead of dropping off the boys she insisted on accompanying them to Springfield. Graham left his sons with friends in Springfield and took Sarah to the farm in Brookline.

When he got her to the farm, Graham shot Sarah in the chest and dropped her body down an old well. He later told his 13-year-old son, Charlie, that he had left Sarah in Springfield, but if anyone asked he was to say she stayed in St. Louis. Graham moved his two sons to the farm to live with the rest of Mrs. Molloy’s family.

Around Christmas 1885, Sarah’s family began inquiring as to her whereabouts. Green County constables visited George Graham to ask about Sarah. He told them he had last seen her in St. Louis, but he knew he was in trouble. He tried to cash some forged checks to finance a trip away, but the fraud was discovered before he could leave. Emma Malloy made restitution with the bank and told Constable O’Neil that she believed Sarah Graham was working at a house of ill repute in St. Louis. Thinking the matter settled, Mrs. Molloy went to Peoria, Illinois for another revival.

The following January, T. L. Breese, Sarah Graham’s brother-in-law, arrived in Springfield to look for her. Finding George Graham married to Cora Lee, Breese preferred a charge of bigamy against him. Graham was arrested for bigamy on January 29, and incarcerated in the Green County jail.

Suspecting foul play, Breese, Constable O’Neil, and another Springfield man tried to search the farm but were turned away by Cora Lee. The citizens of Brookline, however, persisted in their attempts to search the farm and on February 25, they found the naked and partially decomposed body of Sarah Graham, shot through the chest, at the bottom of an abandoned well on the farm.

Emma Molloy and Cora Lee were both arrested in connection with the murder—Emma as an accessory after the fact and Cora as an accessory before the fact. They were held in Polk County jail in Bolivar. George Graham, still in Green County jail, was charged with murder.

Preliminary Hearing: March 12, 1886

There was a standing-room-only crowd at the Green County courthouse to witness the preliminary hearing of the two women. The prosecution, intent on proving they were both capable and willing accessories to murder, introduced scandalous evidence against them. The most damaging testimony came from George Graham’s son Charlie, who said that on several occasions he had seen his father, Emma Molloy, and Cora Lee in the same bed together. Interviewed in jail, George Graham admitted that he had been intimate with both Emma and Cora for more than three years. Both Emma Molloy and Cora Lee were indicted; Emma was released on $5,000 bail, Cora was held without bail.


As of April 27, 1885, George Graham had still not been indicted—his lawyers were seeking a writ of habeas corpus—and a group of Springfield men had grown tired of waiting. Around 2:00 AM, between 100 and 150 armed and masked men arrived on horseback at the courthouse. They barged into the jail, and, keeping the sheriff and his men under guard, they took George Graham from his cell. They put him in a wagon with a noose around his neck and drove him to Grant Beach Park. With the wagon under a scrub oak, they made him stand up as they tied the rope to an overhanging limb. The men asked Graham if he had any last words. He said he loved his children and that Emma and Cora were completely innocent. The mob then drove the wagon out from under him and left George Graham hanging from the oak tree. It took him twenty-one minutes to die.

The mob was gone at 5:00 AM when the sheriff arrived to cut him down. Pinned to his back was a note signed by “the three hundred” claiming their right to:
“remove from our midst the worst criminal who had ever infested our country”
it also warned that anyone who tried to
“discover the actors in this tragedy will surely and speedily dispatched to hell, where all things are revealed to the curious.”
On May 10, Emma Molloy issued a public statement declaring her innocence, saying her only fault had been trusting George Graham too much. The slanderous accusations against her, she said, had been motivated by her status as a temperance lecturer:

“There are no two classes of people whom the world…so readily believe a scandal about as a minister of the gospel and a woman, but when the two characters are combined, and a scandal can be concocted sufficiently ingenious for the public to swallow, however nauseating and polluting it may be, it is devoured with an ecstasy of delight.”
There were several more trials involving Emma Molloy and Cora Lee, but by January 1888 both were acquitted of the murder of Sarah Graham. Mrs. Molloy moved her operations to the West Coast and was able to overcome the taint of scandal and reestablish herself as a temperance leader before her death in 1909.

Sarah Graham was buried in Maple Park Cemetery, on March 13, 1886, at the expense of the people of Springfield, Missouri. The grave did not have a headstone until 2004 when, Clifford W. Gorham, a distant relative of Sarah's, provided one.

"Thank you" to Tammi Thiele of Escape to the Silent Cities for bringing this case to my attention.


Sarah H Graham


Wood, Larry. Ozarks Gunfights and Other Notorious Incidents. Gretna, La.: Pelican Pub. Co., 2010.


"A Strange Story of Crime" - The New York Times, April 3, 1887


Anonymous says:
May 5, 2011 at 1:03 AM

Daughter of Marquis de Lafayette and Eunice Gorham? I think additional genealogy would be helpful.

Anonymous says:
May 6, 2011 at 4:46 PM

excellent post.

Anonymous says:
May 20, 2012 at 5:37 PM

Sarah Graham was my Great-Aunt and the brother of my Great-Grandfather, Stephen A. Douglass Gorham. Kudos to you, Clifford, for providing a marker for her grave. Do you know what happened to her sons? Robert E. Gorham

Crystal says:
June 25, 2013 at 12:37 AM

His name is Marquis de Lafayette Gorham being named after war heroes was common the Marquis named one of his sons Georges Washington de Lafayette.

Tessa says:
April 24, 2016 at 4:51 AM

A horrible man, but at least he finally told the truth.

Unknown says:
August 10, 2018 at 8:56 PM

George Graham is my great great great grandpa! I’m recently trying to figure out my family tree and was trying to find out more do you know any more info on Emma and Cora Lee

Unknown says:
July 10, 2019 at 10:29 PM

My great great grandmother's name was Emma Molloy. Hmmm

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