264 pp. 38 illus.
Deaths on Pleasant Street
The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Dr. Hyde
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Book of the Year Award
2009 ForeWord Magazine, True Crime category
Jackson County Historical Society’s 2009 Outstanding Achievement Award for the Historic Book of the Year
The 1909 murder case surrounding the wealthy Swope family of Independence, Missouri, gripped newspaper readers throughout the nation. This book gathers the facts behind the suspicious fates of three Swope family members: the eccentric Colonel, millionaire donor of Kansas City, Missouri’s Swope Park, his affable cousin, and a young nephew and heir. The mystery pits the Swope matriarch against her disfavored son-in-law, Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde. Charged with poisoning the Colonel and suspected of multiple other attempted murders, Dr. Hyde endures national media attention for this crime of the century. The series of trials and appeals that followed explores the question: Was he a diabolical villain bent on inheriting Swope’s millions or the unfortunate victim of a family grudge? This account of gothic-era America follows streetcar tracks from the courtrooms of Kansas City to the typhoid-plagued Swope mansion in nearby Independence. The author delivers an engaging and accurate retelling of these 100-year-old events in the literary journalism tradition by analyzing court transcripts, newspaper coverage, and personal memoirs. Readers also get a new scenario based on modern science for what may have happened in the dark hallways of the mansion on Pleasant Street.
It has been 100 years since multiple tragedies befell members of the prominent Swope family in Independence, Missouri. But Deaths on Pleasant Street gives those shadowy events and the ensuing scandal the immediacy of today’s headlines. I began the book in early afternoon, and was unable to sleep until I’d turned the last page. Rarely does historical nonfiction deliver so effective a combination of exhaustive research and inspired storytelling.
—C. W. Gusewelle, journalist and author
The trail of western Missouri’s crime of the twentieth century may be stone cold, but Giles Fowler’s master sleuthing and briskly paced narrative restore this still-unsolved country-house mystery to vivid life. Deaths on Pleasant Street will captivate history buffs and whodunnit fans alike.
—Harry Haskell, author of Boss-Busters and Sin Hounds
With a creeping sense of dread reminiscent of Gaslight and the immersive reporting that recalls In Cold Blood, Deaths on Pleasant Street elevates a sensational case of Victorian intrigue, skullduggery, ruinous accusations and black horror to the exalted realm of literature. Poring through a trove of historic manuscripts, legal records and the delicious yellow journalism of the era, Fowler has done graceful service to the dead by telling the tale—with a consistent and unfailing writerly flair—more fully and fairly than it was ever told, or could possibly have been told, at the time.
—Patrick Beach, author of A Good Forest for Dying
The Ames Tribune book review, September 6, 2009 (pdf file)
Kansas City Star page one feature and book review, September 27, 2009 (pdf file)
Anyone who craves a good murder story will find Fowler’s book hard to put down. Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, Deaths on Pleasant Street is true-crime that reads like a cross between Agatha Christie and Stephen King.
—The Ames Tribune
Giles Fowler’s Deaths on Pleasant Street, which retells and examines this real-life crime, has elements of great Gothic fiction. The author revels in the sordid details of death and autopsy, sparing little gained from his research ... Fowler breathes life into events that captivated Kansas Citians 100 years ago.
—Kansas City Star, September 26, 2009
A journalist turned teacher of writing and now retired, Fowler sets out what is known and what is surmised about the 1909 triple murder case surrounding the wealthy Swope family in Independence, Missouri and the long prosecution for the crime of a doctor married into the family. He leaves to historians and legal scholars such questions as whether justice was served and how the incident reflected and shaped the history of the country.
“The object,” in Giles Fowler’s new study of the strange deaths that took place in 1909 at one of the grandest homes in Independence, Missouri, “wasn't to solve the mystery but to reproduce it” (p. ix). To accomplish his task, Fowler used the investigative skills he learned as a long-time Kansas City journalist, bringing together newspaper accounts, court testimony, and memoirs to reconstruct the crimes and guess at their motivations. Did an in-law to the wealthy and influential Swope family murder those who stood in the way of his wife’s full inheritance, poisoning some and infecting others with typhoid? “The stories of exactly what happened . . . don't just diverge—they turn on each other and collide” (p. 35), and they make for engaging reading.
—Kansas History, Winter 2009–10
Fowler’s book uses historical data as source material, as well as the often-breathless accounts of reporters working for what was then a highly competitive field for newspapers, which included the Kansas City Times, Kansas City Post, Kansas City Journal, and The Star. The accounts of the horrors that befell the Swope family and the subsequent autopsies, court hearings and appeals are all fascinating. Just as interesting is the portrait Fowler paints of Kansas City as it was 100 years ago, facing unprecedented expansion, growing wealth and boundless opportunity.
(Includes list of illustrations)
The Swope home, 406 South Pleasant Street
Portrait of Mrs. Logan O. (Margaret) Swope
Portrait of Colonel Thomas Swope
Portrait of Doctor Bennett Clark Hyde
Portrait of Frances Swope Hyde
The Hyde home, 3516 Forest Avenue
Swope mansion dining room
Portrait of Tom Swope
Swope mansion left parlor
Facsimile of Colonel Swope’s handwritten epitaph
Portrait of Margaret Swope
William Chrisman Swope
Portrait of Lucy Lee Swope
Doctor George T. Twyman in court
Swope mansion right parlor
Doctor Edward L. Stewart in court
Col. Thomas H. Swope
“A Home of Fatalities”
John Paxton at the coroner’s inquest
Doctor B. Clark Hyde and Frances Hyde
Chasing Hatred Chase Jordan
Portrait of Frank P. Walsh
Portrait of James A. Reed
Nurse Pearl Kellar on the witness stand
Doctor Ludvig Hektoen, pathologist, and Doctor Walter S.
Haines, chemist, outside the courtroom
Doctor Victor C. Vaughan arriving at court
Mrs. Logan O. Swope on the witness stand
The Criminal Court Building and County Jail
The Criminal Courtroom
Plan of courtroom
The Rev. George W. Hyde and Mrs. Hyde in court
Nurse Anna Houlehan on the witness stand
Margaret Swope on the witness stand
Doctor Ludvig Hektoen on the witness stand
Doctor Walter C. Haines on the witness stand
Doctor Hyde on the witness stand
A facsimile of the verdict
About the Author
Born in Kansas City in 1934, Giles Fowler joined the city’s prominent newspaper, the Kansas City Star, following his graduation from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. During his 24 years at the Star, Fowler worked as a reporter, film and theater critic, and editor of the paper’s Sunday magazine. He transferred this considerable background in journalism to teaching in 1980 and held positions at Kansas State University and Iowa State University’s Greenlee School of Journalism, from which he retired in 2002. Fowler currently resides in Ames, Iowa, and has contributed academic articles to Journalism Educator and Journalism Quarterly as well as short fiction to the Sewanee Review.