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Exquisite Eminence Executioner

The Kroeger Family

Fred and Minnie Kroeger. Lived in East St. Louis until they bought a farm on the current river in 1944. Their daughter, Betty Jane, stayed behind in STL with an aunt; her mother’s sister and attended school. When Betty Jane was 14, in 1945, she moved to the farm with her parents. Betty Jane hated farm life. She loved the animals, but despised the work and the loneliness. She badly missed the excitement of the city. She also no longer attended school after moving away from STL. Whether it was because of her bitching, or another reason, her parents sold the farm and moved into the town of Eminence, MO. Population 450! Her father leased a building and ran a variety store out of it right on the main street in town. The house in which they lived was only about a block away from the store. Betty Jane seemed to be somewhat better. She liked working in the shop, helping customers and visiting with the shoppers as they came in to do their shopping. Betty Jane was the normal teenager, bickering with her parents about stupid things that seemed like a much bigger deal to her than it was. That is what seems to have happened on, March 2 of 1948. There are a few different reports on the argument. Laundry, ironing, visiting STL. She said mother said she hated her. Had never said that before. She grabbed the Italian souvenir pistol her brother, Fred Jr., had brought back from his time in Europe while serving in the army. She knew it was loaded and her father had shown her how to use it for protection. Instead, when her mother turned to unlock the front door to go to the store, she shot her mother in the back of the head. She claims that she was standing about five feet from her, and the gun actually went off and it was unintentional. Minnie was dead immediately and Betty Jane fell to the floor sobbing beside her mother’s body. She said she must have laid there crying about an hour before getting up and moving her mother’s body. She put the body against a wall and then shoved a couch against it to conceal it. She then went to the store to work with her father for the day. She returned to the house Tuesday night and moved her mother’s body again. She put her against a wall again, placed a catalogue under her head and pushed a davenette over her mother’s body. She then cleaned up the blood with soap and water and located the spent shell casing. She wiped it off and placed it on the table in the room. She then left the house and went back to the store. She told her father that her mother had sent her to have him check the cash register. He had been sleeping in the store to guard from burglars. He had setup a sleeping couch in the back room. She told her father goodnight and went to the front door. She opened and closed the door and hid under a record counter. She stayed there for hours. Around 3AM, she snuck out from under the counter to the back room where her father slept. She pulled out the Italian souvenir pistol and shot her father between the eyes killing him instantly. She pulled the couch out from the wall, rolled his body behind it, and shoved the couch against it. She then changed the bed clothes and went to sleep in the couch. She stayed in the store until about noon, keeping it closed. She took $200 from the register, got in her father’s buick, and drove to STL. In STL, she went on a shopping spree and had a permanent wave put in her hair. On her way back to Eminence, she ran off the road near Salem just north of Eminence. She rolled the car, but was uninjured. A HP gave her ride into Salem, where she got a cab to take her home. The cabby grew suspicious when she brought along a five gallon jug of gasoline. He phoned authoritied in Eminence to voice his concerns. The town marshal, RB Shedd, phoned the Kroeger’s store on Thursday morning to ask about the gas. Betty Jane told him her parents had went to STL for a visit, but she didn’t know where they were staying even though she had claimed to have been on her way back when she had the accident. When he asked about the gas she said perhaps she had misunderstood her father’s instructions about the gas. Thursday night, Shedd returned to the store to again question Betty Jane. After his knocking went unanswered, he hoisted a ladder to a rear widow and peered in. Betty Jane was asleep in the couch in the back room. Her father’s body lay beneath that couch, but out of sight of the marshall. He returned to question her again on Friday. When he pushed more on the gas questions, she stated she was planning to burn herself up. Anything else? NO. She kept the store open all day Friday, helping customers and getting frequent visits from Marshall Shedd. On Friday night, she rented a room at the Riverside Hotel near the store. On Saturday morning, she took a taxi to salem and then boarded a bus to STL. Betty Jane went to Clayton Motors in STL that evening to purchase a car with a check on her father’s account. He would not take the check from her until he spoked with her father, and so he offered to take her back to Eminence to get her father’s permission. While Betty Jane was away this time, though, people had become too suspicious. Deputies had broken into he store and the home and found the bodies. When the car salesman pulled up with Betty Jane, deputies were waiting to arrest her. Betty Jane made an attempt to hide in the floorboard of the carlol.

Betty Jane was taken to the Shannon County courthouse for questioning and quickly made a full confession. She signed her statement and was take to West Plains to the Howell County Jail as Shannon County was not suitable for a young woman prisoner. The very next day she recanted her story. She now claimed that her father killed her mother and told her he would kill her too. She killed him out of fear for her own life. On May 12, 1948, Betty Jane was found guilty in murder of her father. She was sentenced to 20 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary. After her release, she lived out a full life and never spoke of the murders again.

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