January 3, 1909
KILLED HIS LITTLE SON.
After six years and six months of imprisonment in the county jail, accused of having murdered his 6-year-old son, convicted of second degree murder once and sentenced to death by two other Jackson county juries, John Martin Speyer is to be given his liberty tomorrow. After each of the convictions in Speyer's case, the supreme court ordered new trials and in one instance severely criticised the jury which had condemned the prisoner to death, and now Virgil Conkling, prosecuting attorney, has announced his decision to dismiss the case against Speyer and authorized the county marshal to notify the prisoner that today would be his last Sunday in jail.
And Speyer is happy. "Good fortune is going to smile broadly on me tomorrow," he said from within his cell last night, "and I will be free once more. It has been six years and six months since I was brought to this jail, and that time has seemed like an eternity to me."
But Speyer's years of imprisonment have not been wasted. When he entered the jail his education consisted of the ability to read from the third reader, to write a little and to add and subtract. Today the man can converse in four languages: Spanish, German, Latin and English. He has studied mathematics through algebra; has learned to read form the best English and American authors; knows shorthand, history and much of sociology. All of these accomplishments he has taught himself in his cell on the third floor of the county jail.
When Speyer was first incarcerated he began to study not to improve his mind so much as occupy it.
"As soon as I recovered from the shock of circumstances which caused me to be looked upon as a murderer, I began to read, to study; anything to get my mind away from those horrible thoughts which engulfed me. At first I did not think of future liberty, though I had committed no crime, but within a year I determined to study, so that I might be fitted for work when I should leave the prison. And I knew that time would come, for I was not a murderer. I have done everything in my power to improve my mind while I have been in this place. My companions here have not been very choice ones, and I did not care to associate with them, so all of my time, and there was much of it, was spent in reading and studying."
When Speyer was asked if the news of his approaching liberty was much of a surprise to him, he replied: "No it was not. I knew that I could not be convicted of having murdered my child for I was insane when the act was done. The reason I have been here so long is that there are prosecutors who work for convictions only. They misquote and misrepresent and never look upon the merits of the case. But I can never be able to express my gratitude for my liberty."
"Have you made any plans for the future?" the prisoner was asked. "Do you think that the public will give you a fair show to prove your worth?"
"I have not lost my faith in people," replied Speyer quickly, "and I know that they will put nothing in the way of my making an honest living. People do not mean to make mistakes and the public does so only through ignorance. It could not know of all the circumstances which surround this case and so it judged ignorantly. I do not blame the public for my treatment."
"I intend to lecture on crime and punishment as soon as I get out, so that I may make enough money to start in some honest business. My wife has gone. I don't know where, but I have a little girl whom I am going to find and take care of. She is with her relatives, I know, and they do not want her to come to me. They forget that I am her father."
Thoughts of his daughter led to thoughts of his son, whom he himself had killed six years ago and his face would often twitch spasmodically. All of the time during the interview, the prisoner had looked squarely into his questioner's eyes, but as he began to talk of his son and the killing, his eyes dropped and his lashes became wet with tears. He spoke in a low voice, and with a huskiness which had come from long disuse and confinement, and he seemed to forget that others were near him.
"They say I murdered my little boy, but they were wrong. I loved that little boy, my son, like a fanatic worships his God. There is not murder unless there is malice and hat in the heart. Could I have hated my little Freddie, could I have murdered him? No, I tell you, no.. I was insane, insane because I loved him so and could not bear to die without him, and leave him here to starve. His memory now is as sweet to me as he was, living.. He was all that loved me, and all that I loved. Always he slept in my arms at night, and I was never away from him."
Speyer is 39 years old, and confinement has not aged him in appearance. For the past five years he has been considered a model prisoner by the officials. Never has he uttered one word of complaint, and he was always at his work.
On July 17, 1902, John Speyer killed his baby son by cutting his throat. He had just been arrested by officers, charged with criminal assault upon a little girl. Speyer had been given permission to kiss his son goodby and it was then that he killed the sleeping boy. He immediately turned the knife upon himself and cut his own throat severely, his life having been saved by two policemen, who had been standing within arm's length of him all the while.
Speyer had come to Kansas City with a horse show and the homicide was committed at the show tent on East Fifteenth street. Speyer was immediately arrested and hurried to the county jail, mob violence being feared.