16. Lillian Knox Part 2

Crime Behind the Pine Curtain
Crime Behind the Pine Curtain
16. Lillian Knox Part 2
Mary Knox

At the end of 1918, Hiram Knox Jr. borrowed money to buy more timberlands, believing it would be years before World War I ended. He struggled to continue payments before he sold to Temple Lumber Company in 1921 for nearly $2 million.

When Hiram died, Lillian didn’t seem to have a motive. There was no big insurance policy on Hiram.

She was arrested on Christmas Day 1922 after making her way back to Hemphill from a holiday visit to Houston. She stayed behind bars for the next 10 days.

The grand jury no-billed her on all charges related to Hiram’s death.

In 1937 a second fire destroyed most of the mill in Hemphill.

Arthur Temple Jr. shared memories of standing on the porch of the old Knox Lumber Co. and taking photos of the fire.The Temples decided not to rebuild.

Most of the employees were given jobs at Temple’s mill in Pineland. Those two towns are about 11 miles apart.

Some mill workers went to the Diboll mill.

The Temples also now owned the spectacular mansion that Hiram and Lillian had lived in — and where Hiram breathed his last.

Blanche Toole told Bob Bowman that the Mansion was eventually sold to businessman Carol Arnold.

Arnold was later killed on the Sabine County courthouse square in the 1930.

Fire destroyed the home sometime later and Arnold’s widow rebuilt on the site.

East Mayfield was disincorporated after a vote of 28 to 23. It eventually was swallowed up by Hemphill. Those two Hemphill fires combined with others in Bronson (Sabine County) and Browndell in Jasper County damaged the East Texas economy that was already suffering because of the depression.

Those failures spread to the railroads.The Temples began selling the houses Knox built for mill managersAmerica is in the midst of the depression .She sold her remaining assets, packed her bags and disappeared.

Well, almost.

Before Lillian went to trial for Hiram’s murder she deeded over thousands of acre to John W. Minton, a Hemphill attorney and “valued friend.” I’m not sure how much smooching was involved in that friendship.

Minton and Lillian waited two years to probate Hiram’s will leaving everything to her. Possibly they were waiting out additional criminal charges that could have been field.

Some of the Knox lands we replanted by the CCC, and eventually became part of the Sabine National Forest. Other portions were flooded to create the Toledo Bend Reservoir in 1967.

In 1924, Lillian returns to Livingston, and exhumed Col. Knox, her husband’s first wife, Grave Eva Knox and her stepson, Willie Knox. They were removed from Forest Hill Cemetery (that’s Cemetery Hill for you natives) and shipped to Texarkana by train.

Then she resold the now-vacant plots for a dollar each.

There are several reports of her investments in business ventures by members of her family. In 1927, she moved to Dallas with five of her six children.

Hiram, 16; William, 15; Marcene, 10; Merton, 9 and Mary Marguerite, 7 enrolled in North Dallas schools.

She leased a colonial mansion and made efforts to establish herself as a grande dame of Dallas.

She told a newspaper reporter that she had been educated at Miss Mason’s School in Tarrytown, NY — but her rural accent, poor grammar and gaudy taste disputed that.

Dallas shunned her, not only because of the murder charge that made headlines there, but also because she just didn’t fit in with the North Texas elites.

In a 1991, her son Hiram recalled in an interview that she lived with a guy and they had an office across the street from the Adolphus Hotel, where they sold fake stocks and bonds.Lillian may have chosen Dallas as a new home in an effort to reconnect with her mother-in-law Mary Knox.

Mary and Col. W. H. Knox had divorced in 1912, and she was left with enough resources to life comfortably — but not necessarily lavishly.Mary was now the last surviving member of the family that moved from Wisconsin to Dallas around 1900.

Her daughter-in-law Grace Eva Briggs Knox, died in 1908.Her first grandson, Willi Knox, died in 1911. Her only son, Hiram, died in 1922.

All but the colonel suffered sudden, tragic deaths. Her daughter Grace died in 1900 from TB.

As Lillian’s financial resources declined, she moved the children to the attic and she turned the home into an upscale boarding house.Her children were instructed to climb a large oak tree and walk across a cat walk to enter through an attic window so they didn’t mingle with boarders and diners downstairs.

Orginally, Lillian’s boarding house attracted professionals and politicians, but then strange people began showing up at all hours.

The number of neighborhood disturbances increase and there was even a publicized fugitive search by police. The respectable boarders began moving out.Resorting to a new survival plan, Lillian took work as a housekeeper at the St. George Hotel in 1934-35.

The St. George became known for gambling. Games were operated by Jack Binion.Lillian left in 1935 for Baltimore.

She returned in a few months. She went back to work at the same hotel, which had been renamed the Whitmore.

Dallas news articles claimed the hotel was populated by a “running rampage of women.”Mary Knox, now nearing her 90s, had always blamed Lillian for Hiram’s death. But she did love her grandchildren, especially her namesake Mary Marguerite.

The children were welcomed into their grandmother’s home, occasionally with their mother

.In the fall of 1936, Mary Knox told her neighbor that she was changing her will and leaving her considerable estate to the Presbyterian orphanage in Dallas. Lillian and the children would receive $5 each.

The reason for the change became clear in October 1936 when Lillian was named in arrest warrants for forging Mary’s name on five check totaling $1,155.

When officers when to arrest Lillian, she had disappeared. She was indicted Jan. 2, 1937.

Lillian’s son, William Hiram Ambrose Knox was also indicted for forging two more checks.

Hiram had worked in Dallas for several years, then accepted a job with the CCC in Big Spring.

When officers came to arrest him, he had vanished as well.The remaining Knox children remained at the boarding house and were cared for by an elderly couple that worked for Lillian.

On Saturday, March 13, 1937, Dallas residents woke up to a screaming headline: “Rich woman recluse brutally killed by intruder; Safety box is missing.

The victim was LIllians’ mother in law Mary Knox. 91.

The murder was discovered Friday, March 12, 1938 when a neighbor noticed that Mary had not taken her customary early morning walk.

When she got to Mary’s house, the neighbor — Mrs. Hugh Boedeker — noticed the window shades were drawn from the night before.

She was concerned, but assumed Mary was away from home. When she still saw no activity at about 5 p.m., she notices the newspaper on the porch. She rang the bell, but no one answered.

Boedeker called another close friend, Mrs. Frank Rutherford, who came to the house with her nephew, Charlie Steger.

Steger ultimately crawled through an unlocked window and opened a back door for the two ladies.

They saw untouched eggs and a pot of coffee on the kitchen table. Nothing seemed out of place in the kitchen.
That changed when they got to Mary’s bedroom.  The drawer of a marble-topped dresser was open and its contents were strewn over the floor. 
They found Mary’s body in the parlor.  She was lying on her back in a pool of blood.  By the time police arrived, the house was full of gawkers, Bowman said in his book. 
Dallas Police Detective Inspector Will Fritz and detectives Jack Archer and Buck Stroud came to Mary’s home and found that her skull had been crushed in four places.  Investigators believed the weapon was a flat-sided bar with sharp corners or a jagged pipe. 
I am guessing is was a chilly March in 1937 Dallas, because Mary was wearing a cotton nightgown, a cotton dress, several petticoats, an old sweater and slippers. 
The detectives also found that one of the front doors was unlocked.  Their theory was that someone knocked when she was about to sit down to breakfast. 

Once inside, the killer chocked her, then bludgeoned her to death. 
The scene also showed that she tried toe space.  There was a splattered blood trail from the front doors to the living rom. 
The found  a bloody footprint in the corner of the living room rug near the body.

They cut out the footprint and preserved it for evidence. It appeared to be a man’s shoe. 
Later, investigators determined that a similar long and narrow footprint was found outside Hiram Knox’s home after his murder. 
They called in a fingerprint expert named Harry Riddell.

Riddell found two smudged prints on the dresser in the bedroom.  They were made by an unusually large “spatulate thumb and firefighter”. 
Spatulate means spoon shaped — broad at the top or apex, then tapering as you move towards the hand.

They also found a half-smoked, hand-rolled cigarette.  Mary didn’t smoke. 

Neighbors said Mary had recently begun keeping her doors locked all the time. A departure from her prior policy of keeping them unlocked, so she could easily escape if a prowler entered. 
Mary also reportedly distrusted banks after the major collapse in the depression era.  The woman reportedly always wore a money belt stuffed with cash and kept large sums locked in a steel box in her house …
Detectives did not find either.
They did find $11,000 in bonds, a cashier’s check for $1,600 and $6 in cash. 
Fritz’s theory was that Mary knew her killer, and was aware of the hidden cash.  But if the murderer knew her, why was it so brutal? 
While detectives were searching the house, the phone rang. When a detective answered, a man with a gruff voice asked who he was. 
When the detective answered that he was the police officer in charge, the caller hung up. They got several more hangup calls while they were in the house, but the calls were never traced. 
Fritz thought breakfast was a strange time for a brutal murder, so he returned to the neighborhood each morning for several days to analyze the scene. 
The news of Knox’s murder was front page needs for days, pushing Amelia Earhart’s landing in Hawaii and the Spanish Civil War to an inside page. 
The Dallas Times herald reported that the Dallas County Sheriff had been searching for Lillian since Jan. 2 for the fie forgery warrants. 
The forgeries were on checks from the FNB Dallas, and endorsed to Mrs. Lillian Russell.:
Other newspaper reports indicated that Mary had about 30 rent properties that continued to provide income.  The rumor mill in Hemphill went into overdrive. 
DPD continued to watch Lillian’s house and on Sunday, March 14, they saw Hiram Knox climb an oak tree and enter the third floor attic via the catwalk.  They arrested Hiram on the outstanding warrants and searched the house. 
Then Lillian called Inspector Fritz and negotiated her surrender.  She went to DPD and turned herself in to Deputy Bill Decker, who was described as an old friend of the family.   On March 15, the Dallas Times Herald reported that a handwritten will had been found in Mary’s house. It left $5 to  Lillian and her children.
Hiram later said his grandmother had dropped them all like a hot potato because of one person, meaning his mother.
Mary’s assets were divided among other relatives and the presbyterian church. 
While Lillian was in jail, she was served with another warrant for passing a forged check for $178 at a Dallas furniture store in November, 1936. That brought the total to six. 
They particularly wanted the new charges on the books, because the others were in jeopardy since Mary was not available to act as a witness. 
Hiram had reportedly called on his grandmother the day before she died, asking for $500.
When Fritz questioned Lillian about the murder, she said she was in Texarkana all that day and the night before. 
When Fritz asked who Lillian suspected for the murder, she said “An old family enemy and I’m afraid for my children.”The next day, she changed her story. She then told Fritz Mary was stingy and refused to keep regular help, often using “thieves and tramps” to do chores. 
Fritz also wanted to question “a Ft Worth attorney” who used to handled Lillian’s business affairs. Presumably, that’s Chester Collins, but he was never referred to by name.
The Texarkana Gazette reported that four of Mary’s grandchildren had voluntarily submitted information. 
DPD also had help from volunteers.  One man called and offered to solve the case. The 33-year-old had training — he was taking a mail order course on detective techniques. 
He was arrested after he deluged detectives with press clippings about the murder. He was released when he told detectives he was on the verge of solving the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby.  That case had been solved two years earlier.

DPD was waiting on the crime lab in Austin to report on the shoe print and fingerprints — so that factor hasn’t changed in 80 years.  When those reports came in, the prints were too smudged to make a comparison, and the footprint was too indistinct to say whether they matched Hiram’s shoes.

Meanwhile, the owner of Lillians Dallas mansion she was renting filed an eviction suit. Then there were collection suits from a Longview clothing firm, and Oklahoma City woman for taking a suitcase and clothing when she left a boarding house the woman owned. 
Constables began removing leased furniture from the Dallas mansion. The phone and water was cut off and the boarders began moving out. 
Then Lillian offered a $500 reward for Mary’s killer.  Lillian was released after nine days in jail, on bonds totaling $12,000. 
Fritz questioned one other male suspect, then the case hit a dead end. 
In April, Hiram was inched on 11 new forgery charges in Big Spring as well as mail fraud.  The fraud charges were related to Hiram’s job with Templeton & Cannon.  The company build post office buildings and found shortages in their funds. 
Hiram was later cleared when he convinced investigators his mother had framed him. 
Hiram eventually entered Texas A&M and joined the Cadet Corps.  He became an engineer, married a woman in Big Spring and had a successful rarer with Brown and Root. 
Lillian briefly returned to Livingston in 1937 to sell some land to B. Frankurt.  And after Mary’s death, Lillian and her kids go their separate ways. 
When 1938 rolls around, we return to the land of weird burials. 

Lillians first husband, a man named Roy J. LaRue, died in Texarkana at the ripe old age of 56 …He and Lillian had been married for less than 2 years, but he gets planted in Woodlawn Cemetery next to Hiram Knox!
HIs widow, Effie, dies in 1941 and is buried next to him. 
LaRue was a marble worker and he is likely the craftsman who created a large marble monument for Lillian’s mother, Daisy Marshall. She died during the Knox heyday in Hemphill.
Lillian and the LaRue’s must have been close, because Hiram’s funeral was held in their home in 1922. 

On Aug. 14, 1938, Mary Lyllian is 20 years old and decides to take her vows starting the process to become a nun. This is the child that Lillian had left at a Shreveport convent as a toddler.  Sister Mary Clement Knox was a twin to Merton Knox, but Lillian separated them. Merton went to live with a family in Wisconsin. 
Merton and Sister Mary reunited while Merton was serving with the Air Force. The mother superior revealed the secret when she believed she was nearing death. 
When Lillian went to visit John Minton in Sabine County, she arrived in a chauffeured car ad stayed with a former millworker.  She asked this man, A. A. Wilson, she asked to borrow seven or eight dollars. He wrote her a check, but she had added a zero, so the check cleared the bank for $70 or $80 dollars. Witnesses couldn’t remember which by the time they were interviewed.  Lillian also cashed a hot check at a Hemphill bank.