Archive for August 2011

A Wicked Affair: Part 4 – Lives Destroyed

August 31, 2011

Ed Clum partook of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner “consisting of a nice baked chicken with all the fixtures, such as dressings, choice jellies and pickles, beautiful bread and butter and choice coffee for desserts, different kinds of pies that suit the taste to a T, and the choicest varieties of cakes.”  The meal was quite a feast for a man who found himself on death row for the murder of one-time friend, John Jay White, and White’s paramour, 17-year old Ella Bowe.  Even more astonishing is the fact that this tasty meal was delivered by no less than ex-Senator S. R. Bridges and his wife of Cassville, Missouri.  No matter.  It would prove to be Ed Clum’s last Thanksgiving dinner.  Despite the stay of execution he had received the previous week, Ed Clum could not put off the hangman’s noose forever.

On April 15, 1887, Ed Clum was hanged in front of an audience estimated to be between 5,000 and 7,000 people.  Newspaper accounts note that nearly one-third of the spectators were women and children.  An article in The (Fairport) Herald dated April 22, 1887, discussed the event that had everyone in Cassville, Missouri and Fairport, New York riveted to the newspapers:

“Clum confessed that he did the deed, and said he was ready to pay the penalty; while he was in hopes that God had forgiven him.  This makes the end of a series of causes and effects, which have resulted in the suicide of Mrs. White, the death of Mrs. Clum, probably by murder, the murder of White and Ella Bowe, and the hanging of Clum.”

Edward F. Clum was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Missouri.  My question was whether I could allow this story to languish beside him, untold, where it had already lain for over a century unnoticed.  This was the first instance I had found where two Civil War soldiers I was researching proved to be of less than stellar character.  Illuminated History‘s goal is to shine a light on the Civil War soldiers of Monroe County, New York.  I felt the story needed to be told, if only to remind myself that these Civil War soldiers were real people with real faults.

A Wicked Affair was written as a serial, because the subject matter lent itself to the telling of a story in the most dramatic of fashions.  This story of lust and deceit and passion was a tale that could easily have come from the reels of an old Hollywood film – except it didn’t.  It came from my own community.  As I dug further into the circumstances surrounding the murders, I was saddened by the number of lives destroyed by these two men.  Not only their lives and those of their wives, but the heinous crimes committed also weighed heavily on the parents, siblings and children in the Clum and White families.  John Jay White had three children who were left orphaned.  The devastation and confusion they must have felt at the loss of their parents is unthinkable.  Those children grew to adulthood, married and had children of their own.  To their credit, they remained in the same area in which they had always lived.  It should be said that, with the exception of Ed and Jay, the Clum and White families were well-respected in this community.  I would hope that same respect continued to be shown to them even after the events of July, 1886 unfolded.

This concludes A Wicked Affair:  The Story of Clum & White.

A Wicked Affair: Part 3 – A Vile Nest

August 6, 2011

In Missouri, John Jay White’s attention became drawn to another woman.  Seventeen-year old Ella Bowe was a local farmer’s daughter.  Despite the fact that Jay and Lottie Clum were living as man and wife on the 132 acres of land he had purchased, Ella soon began spending time at the White home.  By the time Lottie died in mysterious circumstances in January 1886, Ella had all but moved into the house.  Lottie Clum was just 35 years old at the time of her death.  It would later be suggested that the cause of her death was due to the “medicine” she had been given by Jay and Ella.  Also living in the home were the housekeeper, Mrs. Olive Vassar, and her son, Buddy.

At some point, Ed Clum heard that his wife, Lottie, was ill.  Although his parents begged him not to go to her, Ed headed out west.  He arrived in Missouri several weeks after Lottie’s death.  What was said between Clum and White at that time remains unknown.  However, Ed Clum began living in the house with Jay White and young Ella Bowe.  Ed became known around Cassville as “Mr. White’s brother-in-law”, for it was thought that he was the late Mrs. White’s brother.  The threesome seemed to be getting along well.

On Thursday, July 8, 1886, something finally snapped in Ed Clum.  He had been working the farm all day with Willis DeHoney, the hired man.  At sundown, Willis beckoned to Ed to come help him load onto the wagon the wheat he had mowed.  Ed assisted, and Willis drove off toward the barn with a full load of wheat.  When Willis looked back, he saw Ed Clum firing his gun, discharging both barrels in rapid pace.  Then Willis watched as Ed reloaded and shot twice more.  Ed must have known Willis was watching, because he motioned for Willis to come over.

Upon Willis’ arrival at the scene he saw John Jay White and Ella Bowe lying close together against a tree, dead.  Ed Clum threw some straw over the bodies, and the two men returned in the dark with an empty wagon.  They began their ghoulish task of loading the bodies onto the wagon and depositing them into a ditch near the creek, covering them with straw and rocks.  Ed Clum threatened Willis’ life if he told anyone about the murders.

For one week, Willis lived under the watchful eye of Ed Clum.  Then, after complaining of a need to get medicine, Willis was allowed to leave the farm and head to town.  He went straight to the City Marshal’s office, and told the story of the double murders of John Jay White and Ella Bowe by Ed Clum.  Warrants were issued, and Ed Clum was found to be working on the farm as though nothing had happened.  He was immediately arrested and jailed.

The authorities contacted friends and family back in New York for information about Edward F. Clum.  In a letter to Marshal J. F. Dumont responding to this inquiry, Adjutant John F. Huntington of Fairport’s G.A.R. E. A. Slocum Post #211 wrote of the unpleasantness of the characters of both men, finishing his missive with “…the world can well get rid of such a vile nest
as these people were.”

Coming soon – A Wicked Affair: Part 4 – Lives Destroyed.


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