Saturday, July 6, 2024

Mattie Collins.

Mattie Collins lived with her mother in a large farmhouse in Buckner, Missouri, about 9 miles from Kansas City.  Also living in the house were her brother, Davis “Doc” Collins, and her sister and brother-in-law, the Darks, with their four children. 

Twenty-year-old Mattie was described as beautiful, intelligent and talented. In February 1879, she was engaged to marry John Bast. Some in Buckner believed Bast was an average young man who would make a good husband, while others thought he was a ne’er-do-well. Mattie’s family was in the latter camp and did not approve of the engagement.

On the night of February 8, 1879, Bast came calling and Mattie’s brother-in-law, Jonathan Dark, met him at the door. He would not let Bast in the house and told him he must cease his visits. Mattie was livid. She spent the rest of the night berating Dark, her anger becoming increasingly fierce.

The next morning, she was still angry. She went into a fit of rage, smashing windows and threatening Dark with an axe. Her mother was alarmed and sent for Deputy Constable James M. Adams. Mattie left the house for a while. When she returned, she was still angry but seemed more subdued. Constable Adams believed the danger was over and left the house.

When Adams was gone, Mattie approached Jonathan Dark.

“I have you now,” she said, drawing a pistol from her pocket. She fired, hitting Dark in the right breast. He fell to the floor.

Dark drew his own pistol, and Mattie called out to her brother, “Doc, don’t let him kill me!”

But Dark did not have the strength to stand. Five minutes later, he was dead.

Mattie screamed with joy, “I have killed him! Thank God, I have killed him.”

Adams was still close enough to the house to hear the gunshot. He ran back to find Dark lying on the floor in a pool of blood, surrounded by his wife, his mother, and four crying children. Mattie tried to escape but did not resist when Adams caught her.

A reporter visited Mattie while in the county jail. She seemed indifferent to her situation.

“I do not expect things to be as agreeable here as at home,” she told him, “but I’m not going to stay long.”

She was cheerful to everyone who visited her, but she indulged in long crying spells when alone.

Her murder trial began on September 19, 1879. The prosecution called Mattie’s mother, her sister, her brother, and James Adams to describe the murder. Under cross-examination, they told of Mattie’s unsound mental condition. Adams testified that Dark was carrying a loaded pistol and had tried to strangle Mattie.

While this testimony opened the door for a plea of self-defense, Mattie’s plea was temporary insanity. Her attending physician, Dr. Starnes, testified that he believed her insane. Several other physicians testified that Mattie was insane when she committed the murder.

Throughout the trial, the public sympathized with Mattie. After testifying, Mattie’s mother and even her sister, the widow Dark, threw their arms around her and cried together.

When the case went to the jury, they were given only two sentence choices – acquittal or execution by hanging. They deliberated for fifteen minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty.

“Close of a Remarkable Murder Trial,” News and Courier., September 19, 1879.
“The Daily Leader,” GRAND RAPIDS DAILY LEADER, September 24, 1879.
“A Girl Murderess,” Illustrated Police News, February 22, 1879.
“Man Shot,” Sedalia weekly bazoo., February 11, 1879.
“Mattie Collins,” Sedalia weekly bazoo., February 25, 1879.
“Mattie Collins' Trial,” The Kansas City Times, September 10, 1879.
“Mattie Collins' Trial,” Kansas City Journal, September 10, 1879.
“Mattie Collins's Trial,” The Kansas City Times, September 11, 1879.
“Neighborhood News,” Kansas City Journal, September 9, 1879.


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