January 15, 1910
The Swope Home in Independence.
The Swope home, a magnificent three-story brick structure on South Pleasant avenue in Independence, is regarded as the abode of death by nearly every resident of that rural city.
The sudden death of J. Moss Hunton, closely followed by that of Thomas H. Swope, the millionaire benefactor and that of his nephew, Chrisman Swope, awoke suspicion that all was not well and that the Swopes were a marked family among even the most easy-going of the inhabitants. Men and women passing to or from their homes during church hours of a Sunday evening gazed fearfully up at the now tomb-like building with its darkened windows and barred doors. If they ahd been asked ubruptly why they did this they would have stammered out the answer that they did not know. It was all so mysterious that one after another of the same family should be stricken with a fatal illness of different kinds, but uniformly ending in convulsions.
Where there are suspicions there are those to invent tales of various sorts or to uncover significant incidents from the charmed house of the past. Some of the stories were undoubtedly founded on fact. Many were as wild and incredible as any ever bandied about the boar's-head dinners of King Arthur's court or the tales taken as evidence in the days of Salem witchcraft.
Some of the followers of Joseph Smith, the Independence seer and prophet, it is said, believed that sometime in the life of the philanthropist he had offended his God and that a curse was now being visited on his household. There would be no end, they said, until the last vestige of the family was swept away.
Another rumor that always had credence was that someone skilled in the use of subtle poisons was profiting by his knowledge.
Soon after the death of Chrisman Swope, it was announced by physicians of the family, that a city chemist of Kansas City had been summoned and that he had declared the presence of typhoid germs in the water used by the Swopes. In the same statement was added that the well formerly used by the family had "played out" and that another long out of commission was furnishing the supply. The water, it was said last night, was analyzed and said to be free from typhiod bacilli, notwithstanding the report.
"There is evidence that Mrs. Logan O. Swope believed the house unsanitary. About the time the well story was given out, she sent word to John Welch, a plumber, to come to the place and overhaul everything. This was done. Not a pipe but was inspected, not a hydrant or sewer outlet but was dested and disinfected. They were, according to the plumber, in ship-shape. No trace of disease laden decomposed matter was found.
All this time solicious neighbors were making inquiries of Mrs. Swope and others closely conneted with the family, touching the cause of the unusual spread of typhoid in the home. They seemed at their wits end to account for the disease.
Thus it was given out that the milk used in the kitchen was tainted; that the water was stagnant; that there was a quantity of decaying sewage in the pipes and that a servant girl, recently hired, who had had typhoid, had thrown her infected clothing in the milk house adjacent to the kitchen. No one knew what to believe.
Just when Mrs. Swope or her lawyers awoke to the real peril is not known definitely It is supposed to have been less than a month ago, when the doors of the palatial home were shut finally upon all visitors and a private detective employed to watch that no one should step within.
This detective is William C. Rice, former chief of police at Fairmount Park. A reporter who knockked at the big outer folding doors last night was met by him and warned off the place.
"I am here to see that no one shall see Mrs. Swope," said he. "There is no hope of getting an interview. She is indisposed and would not talk for publication. It is impossible."
The bland officer said this with a degree of finality. Without another word he stepped backward into the lobby. the heavy doors swung to. A bolt dropped in place. While the disappointed interrogator was yet on the porch a distant click like that made by an electric switch, was heard. The great house was as dark as a tomb.
The story of several deaths in the Swope family, as told by some of their intimate friends last night, points to many susicious circumstances.
The family from the oldest member to the youngest was described as about of one disposition, kind, generous and impulsive. Thomas H. Swope would travel many a mile to help a friend.
Logan O. Swope, brother of Thomas H., died about ten years ago leaving a large inheritance in property around Independence. Naturally the burden of hte care of htis estate would devolve on the shoulders of Thomas, who already was loaded with business cares of his own. the year following Logan's death, Thomas sent for a cousin, J. Moss Hunton, then in Kentucky.
Hunton was a good manager anda man of high social standing in St. Louis, where his father, Judge James Hunton, is conisdered an authority on corporation law. Hunton came to Independence nine years ago and assumed the management of Mrs. Logan O. Swope's estate. He was acting as her major domo at the time of his death.
The Swopes, with the exception of Thomas Swope, a son of Logan, who owns a farm three miles northeast of the city, resided in the home on South Pleasant avenue. Hunton also lived there and as time went on Thomas H. Swope and he became inseparable companions and confidantes. Not a charity did the philanhopist indulge in but was previously laid before Hunton and met with his approval. The people of Independence came to love one as the other and Hunton acquired the unique reputation of being the only man in the city who would give a cigar or a box of candy to collectors presenting him with his month's end bills.
"I am Colonel Swope's bodyguard," Hunton told a friend on one occasion. "there is no danger of his ocming to grief when I am about. I guess things would go different if I shou ld die."
On the evening of Friday, October 1, the night of Hunton's death, he came home from a trip to the business district in good humor.
Suddenly, a few minutes after supper, he complained of feeling mortally sick and threw himself on a lounge in the sitting room, calling Mrs. Swope to his side. they had always been the greatest of friends.
"Maggie," said Hunton, "I believe this is the end." He then closed his eyes and the fatal convulsions came. Two hours later he was dead.
The death of Homas H. Swope came quite as suddenly two days from that of his confidant and friend, at about 8 o'clock the following Sunday morning. The abrupt taking away of all that was dear to Mrs. Logan O. Swope, except her children, was a great strain on her nerves and for several weeks she was on the point of a break down. She was advised to go to Chicago to recuperate. She followed the instructions and went in company with two of her personal friends, Mr. and Mrs. C. R. Thomas.
While she was in Chicago word was sent to her that her eldest son, Chrisma, 31 years old, and a daughter, Margaret, were very sick of typhoid fever. She hurried back and arrived at the home four days before the death of Chrisman.
The home to which Mrs. Swope returned wsa one of hte blackest sorrow and apprehension. Margaret and Chrisman were both at death's door. One of hte servants was sick and MIss Cora Dickson, Margaret's governess who had thrown over her position as teacher of the third and fourth grades in the Columbian ward school to attend to her mistress, was down with the fatal malady.
In mortal dread of impending trouble as deep and poignant as any that had occurred heretofre, the widow cabled at once another daughter, Stella Swope, taking music lessons in Paris, to come home as quickly as steamship and train could carry her. Before she arrived in America, however, Chrisman was dead from a convulsion which turned the trend of his sickness to the worse at the climax.
Perhaps Mrs. Swope at this time believed as did some of her neighbors, that there was something supernatural in the calamities which had come to her in such close succession. anyway she sent a distant relative by marriage to meet Stella at New York and escort her home. Stella contracted typhoid fever on the train or home, it is alleged, and when she arrived was ready for the sick bed.
When the body of Thomas H. Swope was taken from its resting place in the vault in Forest Hill cemetery to the morgue of the H. J. Ott undertaking establishment in Independence it was about as much of a mystery as the more important details of this remarkable case. The physicians who examined the body, the lawyers at whose insistance the body was exhumed and the undertaker and coroner would not talk yesterday.
It is known that the body was at the Independence morgue, however, at 4 o'clock Wednesday afternoon, for it was at this time that a special coroner's jury was called to the Ott undertaking rooms to formally identify the body.
After they had been filed through the rooms and gazed at the face of the dead benefactor they were dismissed on call. The jurors were T. J. Walker, A. J. Bundschu, S. T. Pendleton, S. H. Woodson, Bernard Zick, Jr., and William Martin.
"We were asked merely to identify the body and our opinion as to how Colonel Swope came by his death was not asked," said T. J. Walker, one of the jurors, afterwrds. "We probably will not be called again until the contents of the stomach have been examined by the Chicago specialists.
Henry Ott of the undertaking firm would not give out a statement last night. He said he has been instructed to tell nothing and he intended to do as he was told.
Dr. B. H. Zwart, county coroner, said that Dr. Frank Hall asked his permission of the autopsy on the body of Colonel Swope, which was granted. the autopsy, he said, was performed by Dr. Heptoek of Chicago and Dr. Hall. A jury ws provisionally impaneled and viewed the body. This jury will be reimpaneled, according to Dr. Zward, providing an inquest is held.
"If there is a request for an inquest, I will order one," he said. "If after a reasonable time nothing further is done in the matter, I will then have to investigate and find why no request is being made for an inquest. It will be my duty to learn why the autopsy was made."