Hell Before Dinner: The Ann Baker Murder

In the winter of 1897-1898, Oscar H. Baker Came to Winona, MO looking for land. He traveled there from Crawford County, PA. People in the small town noticed he had plenty of money, but also spent plenty of time at the saloon. After a quick trip back to PA, Oscar returned with his wife, Ann. Ann was a small woman of about 50 years, and with no children, she only had her husband to focus on. Ann had all the money; she had sold her house in PA at a loss in order for the couple to make a quick get away. Oscar had been in the penitentiary twice, and Ann wanted a fresh start where no one new of her husband's past. The couple bought a home and 80 acres in Winona. They also purchased a team. Oscar's idea was to clear the land to start a fruit farm. This fruit farm would never come to be. Oscar spent all of time and Ann's money at the saloon in town. He was always drunk, and being a big man, became known as quite the saloon bully. One story in the papers tells of a time when Oscar was leaving the saloon. He stumbled out to his horse, but he was too intoxicated to mount the steed. He instead took the horse by the neck, and wrestled it down to the ground. At this point he stood astraddle the horse and forced it to stand up under him. It's no surprise that Oscar was abusive to the much smaller Ann. Neighbors would later say that she never complained and she took the abuse without so much as a whimper. On the night of March 21, 1898, like many nights, Oscar forced Ann to go to Lee's Saloon with him. Now, this is how it was reported in the papers. Whether he forced her or not, she went with him and drank fairly heavily. At about 10 PM the couple were seen leaving the saloon by the night watchman, Mr. Jones. Winona has many creeks that run through it, and when it rains, these creeks can get very high and even be dangerous. On this particular night, the creeks were running quite high from recent heavy rains. They came to a creek which they must cross in order to get to their home, and Oscar traipsed right across. Ann was hesitant as she was much smaller. Oscar yelled at her front he opposite bank. She finally got up the nerve and walked across the water. As she approached the other side, she put one foot on the bank and Oscar punched her in the face, sending her sailing back into the creek. She quickly scrambled out, and the couple continued on home. At around 1 AM, Oscar made his way back to town to get the night watchman, Jones. He told him he needed him to come to his home and see about his wife. Jones followed the man home, and after tying up his bulldog outside, he went into the dwelling. He saw what appeared to be a person under the blankets on the bed. Oscar pointed and said, "You see her?" Jones simply stated that he saw what could be a person covered up on the bed. Oscar walked to the bed and uncovered Ann. She mumbled something to him, rather unhappily. Jones peered over Oscar's shoulder and saw Ann Baker lying there. Her face was flushed and her breathing somewhat labored, much like you expect from someone that was intoxicated. Beyond that, she was just fine, not a bruise or scrape on her. Jones says, "Yes, I see your wife, Ann." Pleased with this, Oscar led the watchman outside, passing a travel bag on the way out the door. When the men were back outside, Oscar made a peculiar remark. He said some to the effect of this: "Now, you see my wife is fine. Nothing wrong with her. I am going to Springfield tonight. If they find her dead, they can't blame me, right?" I cannot say what the reply to this bizarre statement was, but nonetheless, it would only be a short time until Jones saw Oscar again. He showed up at the Jones home before 9AM that very morning. Mrs. Jones asked him if he'd like some breakfast, and he made another odd comment. He said, "No, I already had breakfast, but I got no wife." Some reports say he said something about his wife being naught but a ghost. Either way, there isn't much about what was said to these strange comments. Most of this next piece comes from testimony at trial, but I put it here for chronological sake. Mrs. Joe Miller (since no women seemed to have names back then), lived with her husband, and stated that there home was merely 17 feet from that of the Baker's. She said that on that morning, she could hear Oscar beating Ann. She could actually hear the blows as they landed. She heard Ann yell out, "Oscar, quit! Don't hit me anymore!" The licks kept coming. Then she heard her call for her husband's help: "Oh Joe! Oh Joe! Oh Joe!" This was somewhat quieter than when she yelled at Oscar. The beating continued. Then she hear Ann struggle to get out Joe's name once more. She described this as sounding weak. Still, she heard the blows, and one last time she heard Ann's voice; this time it was just a moan. It was impossible to tell what she said, it was so low and incoherent. At some point, someone roused the police, whether it be Mrs. Miller or someone else. J.D. Rutledge, the city marshal of Winona, along with Deputy Sheriff, Mr. Reary, arrived at the Baker home around 1 PM on March 22,1898. The two men walked into the home and were met by a horrific scene. The house was covered in blood. There was a club lying on a bed in the front room, and even a butcher knife sticking out of the wall. The blinds were pulled but broken and smeared with blood. There was a pail in the kitchen floor with bloody water standing in it and a bloody rag upon its rim. There had obviously been an attempt to clean up, though there would be no cleaning up that amount of blood. They head Oscar from the back room, "Are you dead, Ann?" Just then, one of the men kicked something and Oscar asked, "Mrs. Miller?" The marshal told him no it wasn't Mrs. Miller, and Oscar quickly said, "Don't come in here!" Rutledge told him they didn't want to come in there, and he should come out to them. Oscar opened the door, stepped over Ann, and walked out of the bedroom. Ann was lying on the floor, her head nearest the door and her feet up on the edge of the broken bed which had a pool of blood gathered at its sunken center. She was covered in bruises and lacerations.Her eyes were black and swollen and her neck bruised. Her nose was completely smashed and she had a large cut on her leg and another on the side of her head above her ear. Ann was wearing two skirts and her calico dress had the sleeves torn off. She was mostly nude as here clothes were rolled up under her arms as though she had been dragged. Everything in the room was wet, and it seemed a cleanup had been attempted here as well. Rutledge told Oscar to consider himself arrested. To this Oscar said, "Okay." He was carted off to jail and the coroner called. Ann was still warm to the touch, and when the coroner arrive between 4 & 5 PM, he estimated she had been dead around 3-4 hours. The cause of death was determined to be two skull fractures, although the coroner stated there were likely more than just the two. At his trial just three months later, Oscar would testify in his own defense. He sought to explain away every detail of the crime scene, even after the damning testimony of the night watchman and the neighbor, Mrs. Miller. He stated that on the morning of Ann's death, he came home and she was washing and changing clothes. She was carrying on, because she was jealous. She eventually hit him with a wet rag and this set him off. He said that he hit her square in the nose once (smashed nose) and she fell back hitting her head on the bed (skull fracture#1). This left her unconscious, and he picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. As he was putting her in bed, he hit her head on the wall (skull fracture#2). He fetched some water and threw it on her (water everywhere), and when he went to get some more she woke up. He ran to her side and then heard a noise in the front room which frightened him and he broke the bed when he jumped. Then he called out, "Mrs. Miller." He was then arrested. During his testimony, he stated that he still had friendly feelings for his wife. That's warm and fuzzy, don't ya think? He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to hang. After the verdict and sentencing was upheld by the supreme court, an officer went to tell him his execution date had been set for January 10,1899. His response? "Okay." The sheriff responsible for carrying out this first execution in Shannon County was newly elected Sheriff Bay, and he was just 26 years old. Nonetheless, he stated he would do it himself. He would not ask a deputy to carry it out. Construction on the gallows began, and Oscar could often be heard yelling out to the carpenters as he could see the scaffold going up right outside his cell window. He would tell the to build it strong, because it would be a shame to have to hang him twice. He demanded whiskey constantly, and from what I could find the officers obliged. He told the sheriff he wanted to be hanged before noon, so he could get to Hell before dinner. As the execution date approached, Oscar must have started to worry more than he showed. The officers found a rope fashioned from bedsheets that was intended to end his life quietly and without the crowd. This was, of course, confiscated. On the day of the execution, Oscar drank most of the morning. As the sheriff put on the cuffs to take him out he said, "This is pretty tough." Given his history, it is no surprise that officers expected to have trouble getting him to the scaffold, but Oscar gave them none at all. He almost pulled the men along and up the stairs. There were more than 100 men in the stockade including officers, physicians, and reporters. The crowd that turned out to watch this first execution was quite impressive. It was a terrible day as far as weather goes, with a cold misty rain falling. It is estimated that 2500-3000 people stood in mud up to their knees in some places for nearly six hours to watch this hanging. There were people that had perched up in trees and on rooftops to watch the spectacle. After hurrying the officers up the scaffold, Oscar asked for more whiskey and was given a drink. Then they asked him if he would like the reverend to say a prayer, which sent him off into a tirade of obscenities. The only thing weirder than him getting that angry over prayer is the fact that he stopped when he noticed there were ladies in the crowd. He asked for more whiskey and to shake the hand of the prosecutor. At 12:14 the death cap was place over his head, but he yelled out when he noticed the whiskey bottle had one more drink left in it. After taking his last gulp of the very vice that likely led him to this place, the cap was pulled down over his head and the rope placed around his neck. He began to curse and yell that the rope was too tight, but only for a short time. At 12:15 sheriff Bay brought down the axe, cutting the rope supporting the trap door. Baker's body shot down before coming to an abrupt stop; his neck was broken. Silence fell over the crowd as Oscar's body was stationary a moment before turning to face the cell from which he had just come. After 8 minutes, 15 seconds, death was pronounced and the body was taken down after another 4 minutes. The body was put into a coffin and placed in the jail to await the transfer for burial. There was some controversy surrounding the burial of Oscar Baker. According to a newspaper article, rumors that the sheriff sold Oscar's body and filled the casket with rocks were so rampant that the body was exhumed in front of a host of witnesses to prove it was in fact in the grave. What a way for that one to end! Ann Baker is buried in Pine Lawn Cemetery in Winona, MO.

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