John W. Hillman a.k.a. John W. Hillmon, Barber County, Kansas WHO IS IT? IS IT A CRIME?

A Collection of
Contemporary News Articles
About the John W. Hillmon Case.
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A Protocol for Excavation and Analysis of Remains Located in a Gravesite in Lawrence, Kansas
"The Hillmon Concealment" by Lewis & Bombaugh

Who Is It? Is It a Crime?

A Collection of Contemporary News Articles About the John W. Hillmon Case

Three Views of John W. Hillman a.k.a. John W. Hillmon

Archives: National Archives and Records Administration in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson.
Three views of John W. Hillman a.k.a. John W. Hillmon
National Archives and Records Administration, Kansas City, MO.
View larger images of above photos in new browser windows:     Left     Center     Right
All photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson.

"At the trial plaintiff introduced evidence tending to show that on or about March 5, 1879, Hillmon and Brown left Wichita, in the state of Kansas, and traveled together through southern Kansas in search of a site for a cattle ranch; that on the night of March 18th, while they were in camp at a place called 'Crooked Creek,' Hillmon was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun; that Brown at once notified persons living in the neighborhood, and that the body was thereupon taken to a neighboring town, where, after an inquest, it was buried. The defendants introduced evidence tending to show that the body found in the camp at Crooked creek on the night of March 18th was not the body of Hillmon, but was the body of one Frederick Adolph Walters. Upon the question whose body this was there was much conflicting evidence, including photographs and descriptions of the corpse, and of the marks and scars upon it, and testimony to its likeness to Hillmon and to Walters."

-- U.S. Supreme Court: MUTUAL LIFE INS. CO. OF NEW YORK v. HILLMON, 145 U.S. 285 (1892)

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, October 5, 1878.


Oct. 3rd, at the residence of Mrs. Judson, on Henry Street, by Rev. Geo. W. Henning, Mr. John W. Hillman, of New Mexico, to Miss Sadie E. Quinn, of Douglas county. (SB)

(View Marriage License)

The Medicine Lodge Cresset, March 20, 1879.

A Sad Accident!

Yesterday, G. W. Paddock, J. P., acting coroner, arrived in town with the body of J. W. Hillman, a resident of Lawrence, Kansas. Mr. Hillman was traveling with a pony team and spring wagon, in search of a location for a stock ranch with Mr. J. H. Brown as traveling companion. They had gone into camp on Spring Creek fourteen miles north west of Medicine Lodge, to spend the night. Mr. Hillman had placed a loaded carbine in the wagon and was engaged at the fire about ten feet from the wagon. Mr. Brown stepped to the wagon to get the blankets out to make the bed for the night; the gun standing on part of the blankets, had to be removed, and in doing so - was accidentally discharged, the ball taking effect, just behind the left ear, passing straight through the head causing almost instant death. We ascertained by his books and papers that he was a gentleman of taste and culture. He leaves a young wife at Lawrence, Kansas, who will sadly mourn her loss. His remains will be interred today with all the care possible to bestow among strangers. Mr. Brown will return to Lawrence with his effects. (SB)

The Medicine Lodge Cresset, April 3, 1879.

J.W. Hillman

Our readers will remember the accidental homicide of J. W. Hillman by J.H. Brown. Last Monday some relatives of Hillman accompanied by Theodore Wiseman, who is general agent for the State of Kansas for the Mutual Life Insurance company of New York and C.Tilinghast of the New York Life Insurance company. The party came down to identify the body as Hillman was largely insured in both companies. The identification was satisfactory and the body started Tuesday morning to be returned to his relatives near Lawrence. Col. Walker of Lawrence accompanied the party. The Col’s. fame in early Kansas history is too well known to need any comment. (KF)

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, April 4, 1879.

Who Is It? Is It a Crime?

Some time ago The Tribune contained an account of the marriage of Mr. J. W. Hillman to Miss Sadie E. Quinn, of this city. Since that time a terrible tragedy has occurred which has for its sequel the death of Mr. Hillman, and today the remains lie in a rough board coffin in a little shop on New Hampshire street, and curious spectators have at time during the day viewed the remains.

To go back in the history of this dark and mysterious case: About first of March Hillman and a young man named Brown, went to western Kansas, near Medicine Lodge, with a view to following the business of keeping a ranch, taking with them the usual paraphernalia of a camp. On the night of the 17th of March they camped on the prairie, and, it being cool, they built a fire, near the wagon, using the wagon as a wind break. During the evening Brown says he went to the wagon to get a needle gun that was wrapped in some bedding, leaving Hillman SITTING by the fire, while undoing the gun or taking it from the wagon it was discharged and Hillman was shot just above the right ear, the ball going clear through and coming out pretty near the center of the left ear. Brown says he saw him stagger, and caught him in his arms in time to prevent him from failing into the fire. Hillman must have gotten up while Brown's back was turned. Brown laid the body down and mounted a horse and rode to Medicine Lodge reported what had occurred: An inquest was held; the body was afterward moved to Medicine Lodge, an other inquest held and the body buried.

The dark part in the whole matter is that there were policies taken out on the life of Hillman soon after his marriage, for $25,000, $10,000 in the New York Life, $10,000 in the Mutual Life, of New York and $5000 in the Connecticut Mutual. The aggregate premium for six months was about $800. The policies were made payable to hillman's wife. When the report reached the city of the tragic occurrence, Mrs. Hillman made application for the money, but as the only evidence the agents of the companies had of the matter, was the newspaper reports. The insurance authorities sent Col. Sam. Walker to Medicine Lodge to ascertain the facts and to bring the body back for identification. He arrived at Medicine Lodge on Monday morning, and had the body taken up and sent to this city. The body arrived yesterday morning, and was placed in charge of Bailey & Smith, undertakers. Brown, by the advice of Col. Walker, came down and is still in the city. The body was examined by Drs. Stuart and Miller, who had examined Hillman when he procured his insurance. The physicians were unable to say positively it was or was not the body of Hillman. Some marks by which they supposed he could be identified they were unable to find.

Major Houston, who knew Hillman well, viewed the remains but was unable to identify them. He said in some respects it resembled him, and in some it did not. Ollie Walker and Mr. Hosmer also viewed the remains, but would express no opinion.

Mrs. Hillman went to see the corpse this morning, but refused to say anything. The body, as we saw it, was that of a large, robust man, with large, coarse features, brown hair and a light mustache, large coarse teeth, and a rather small nose that looks as if it had been broken. The clothing worn by the deceased is identified as that worn by the missing Hillman.

A coroner's jury, consisting of W. G. Hubbell, G. W. Morris, S. W. Adams, E. B. Good, A. Tost, and O. D. Pickins, held an inquest on the body at the court house this morning. J. H. Brown, the companion of Hillman, was put on the stand. His testimony, up to the time of the death of Hillman, is unimportant, except as to where he testified to the appearance of a stranger, who came to them soon after they left Wichita, and that he disappeared somewhere near Cow Creek, other wise it was simply a rehearsal of what they did from the time they left Wichita until Hillman was killed - if the dead man be Hillman. Adjourned for dinner.


Testimony of Brown continued: He was asked to testify with regard to another stranger who came into the camp; described him as a small man, sandy complexion; did not learn his name; talked like he was going to Medicine; was from Salt Fork; had been herding cattle on Salt Creek; went on in the morning; in the morning we went on; never saw or heard from that man since; would not know him if I should see him. Here Brown made a diagram of the direction that they traveled. Of the tragedy, March 16th, went into camp at the usual hour; picked ponies and built a fire, the wagon fronting to the southeast; fire south side of the wagon, about ten feet distant; took out cooking utensils and prepared to cook supper; fed the ponies, made down beds; did not take off the wagon sheet as usual; slept on blankets; did not start out on the 17th inst.; remained in camp next day; was too cool and windy; good place to camp; did prepare to go; sat round the fire and talked about going and finally concluded to stay all day and took the cooking utensils out of the wagon again; on the second day (17th) after supper, about sundown the accident occurred; of the shooting had no weapon except the needle gun, about three feet long; Hillman was using the gun during the afternoon; shot once or twice afterward put it back in the wagon; the gun was with the breach down in the bed, and the muzzle sticking out between the sheet and the bed, the bed is about 15 or 18 inches deep; I went to the wagon to take quilt and bedding out of the wagon; threw the quilt on hind wheel; as I was taking blankets out saw the gun and went to take the gun out of the way; I raised it out of the wagon; the deceased was standing between me and the fire, while moving the gun it was discharged; did not know the gun was loaded; I took hold of the barrel with the right hand, and took it out of the wagon; I could not say where I took hold; as soon as the gun was discharged I dropped it on the ground; do not know whether the gun fell out of my hand or out of the wagon; whirled round and saw Hillman was struck, and put my hands out to keep him out of the fire; caught him about the body; do not know that I got any blood on me; never thought of it; he fell pretty near straight; discovered blood on his face; did not look to see where he was hit; he made no outcry that I heard; went to a house near by and called for help.

At this time we go to press. (SB)

The Daily Reporter, Lawrence, Kansas, April 5, 1879.


Mrs. Hillman went on the stand to-day to give her testimony. Up to going to press nothing of importance had been elicited. An impression is gaining ground that the Insurance men have little hope or right in the matter other than to pay over the amount of the policy.

Mrs. Hillman is a very intelligent lady, and gives her evidence in a clear, straightforward manner. (SB)

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, April 6, 1879.

The Hillman Case.

The examination of the witnesses in the Hillman case was continued this morning. Brown examined as to his former acquaintance with Mr. Hillman, but nothing that we could see that had any bearing on the case was elicited.

Mrs. Hillman was put on the stand and submitted to a rigid examination as to her acquaintance with the deceased before her marriage to him, and how many times she visited her sister and mother since her marriage. There seems to be but little to the case so far as the statements of the witnesses examined show. They both testify in a strait forward unembarrassed manner. Nothing has been said, so far, about the insurance on the life of the deceased. (SB)

The Daily Reporter, Lawrence, Kansas, April 6, 1879.


The case continues to attract the attention of the usual crowd of court-room-hangers-on, but for the community in general it has ceased to have much interest.

Why this case was ever hauled into out courts at all, and at a very considerable cost, is a mystery. But it is a still greater marvel that it has not been finally disposed of long ago.

To the dullest understanding it must be perfectly apparent that the Hillman who was accidentally shot by Brown, was the identical Hillman whose widow to-day claims the amount for which he was insured. The evidence could not possibly be more direct and corroborative.

Beyond furnishing remunerative employment for the officials and jurors engaged upon it, this tedious and prolonged examination has ceased to have any earthly utility. It will be a relief to everyone else when it is concluded. (SB)

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, April 7, 1879.

The Hillman Inquest.

Some considerable discussion is going on in this community as to the authority or rightfulness of the coroner's inquest now being held at the court house, upon the body alleged to be that of J. W. Hillman, from the fact that the death took place in another county-Barber-and that a coroner's inquest was duly held in that county.

Nobody objects to having the facts of the case sifted out, no matter how carefully, but the people-very many of them-do object to having the EXPENSE foisted upon DOUGLAS COUNTY! The proceedings here are instituted, we understand, by the Insurance companies who have $25,000 at stake, and it is claimed to be simply a matter of justice that they should foot the bills, instead of our overburdened tax-payers.

Insurance companies are proverbially sharp and if they can fight their battles at the expense of Douglas county, it will be a smart dodge. How many inquests are necessary? We hope the county board will examine into this matter before paying any bills.

Hillman Examination.

The examination of Mrs. Hillman was continued this morning. Examined by J. W. Green, on the identification of the body of Hillman.

Question, Did you see the body?

Yes, on the morning of the evening on which he was buried; recognized it as my husband, John W. Hillman; it was he; looked just like him in all respects, as one could recognized a body as much decomposed as that was; I recognized him before I stepped inside the door; afterwards I had no doubts; don't know that I noticed particularly only that I recognized him.

Three Views of John W. Hillman a.k.a. John W. Hillmon

Archives: National Archives and Records Administration in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson.
Three views of John W. Hillman a.k.a. John W. Hillmon
National Archives and Records Administration, Kansas City, MO.
View larger images of above photos in new browser windows:   Left   Center   Right

Description: He was a man who weighed about 175 pounds, his height I do not know; brown eyes and his hair was dark not black; but dark brown (pointed out); nose long and straight; nose rather large; nothing remarkable about his mouth; rather medium size; face rather long; not a very high forhead, medium, chin did not notice, but it was broad; complexion sandy; rarely wore mustache, light broad shouldered; rather full chested, rather thick set in build, not so thick as Barker; rather more like the coroner; didn't notice hair particular, if it had been either dark or light I should have noticed; recognized him in the height or breadth of the forhead; the general build corresponded with Mr. Hillman; there were no other points by which I recognized; I would say that the body was the body of John W. Hillman; recognized by the general appearance rather than by any particular marks; I took him all together; do not remember whether lips were thin or not; think his mouth projected; rather medium sized mouth; nothing to attract; he did not use tobacco that I know of.

The examination of Mrs. Hillman here closed. Levi Baldwin was then examined. After preliminary questions and answers about his age, occupation, etc, the examination proceeded.

Became acquainted with Hillman about seven years ago at his home; he was tending cattle for Major Huston; he afterwards tended cattle for others; boarded with Baldwin some; never lived in his family since '72; has simply visited in his family; have known his wife since '72 ot '73, Sally Quinn; a second cousin; her mother's father was a brother to his father; did not know her until 1872; the Quinns came to Kansas about 1870; Miss Quinn lived in his family a part of the time during the time Hillmans boarded or lived there about six months in '72; at this time the Quinn family lived in their farm in Leavenworth county; also lived in his family some since; knew them during the time they carried on Globe restaurant; knew John Brown about two years ago; came to his place with Hillman; think that they were intimate friends; know of the time Hillman went to Colorado; don't know how long he was gone; three or four years; think he returned two years ago last winter; came to my place alone, about 1877; remember he went to Texas; Brown and Hillman were at his place before; they left for Texas two years ago; didn't have much conversation with them; have had dealings with Hillman in stock in 1877; talked with them both before they started; said they were going west; did not see them again for about one year, when Hillman returned; wrote Hillman; think I have the letters; think addressed the letters to Sweetwater; was on friendly relations with Hillman; saw him at his place after his return; his wife did not live at his house during his absence; never corresponded with Brown; do not know what Brown's business was; had a business settlement with Hillman; he left a horse with him until his return; had no other business; remained at Baldwin's house several weeks; made it his home more than any other place; do not know where his wife lived.

A good many questions were then asked about stock relations. I think stock was kept near Wyandotte; think Mr. Brown's father took care of them; think he bought some cattle on his own speculation; do not know much about it, but it was before he went away; he was married; was present; don't know the month, but think in October, 1878; do not know just how often Hillman and his wife visited his house; had conversations about his future business; don't know how many; talked with him just before he went away the last time, at Hillman's house; Brown, his wife and Mrs. Judson were present; in the last conversation he said he was going to find a stock company; don't remember all that was said; think I was there the day they started; he said he was going to look at Barber and other counties, the southwest country did not say which way he was going; said Brown was going with him; said they were going to buy a team; there was snow on the ground; did not say anything about his financial matters; think he said he was coming back; did not say how he was going to pay for his ranch; was going to buy young cattle; did not say how much he would be able to invest; do not know whether he took his means with him or not; left some money with me; saw them the day they departed; did not go to the depot; his wife was quite sick; swapped coats and vests with him.

We left Barker trying to find out who Baldwin bought his clothes of, and whether he ever bought any others from the same man. -ED. (SB)

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, April 8, 1879.

The Hillman Case.

The inquest was continued at 3 p.m., yesterday, Levi Baldwin was still being on the stand.

Witness saw Hillman at his house about three weeks after he left. Hillman said he had been in Barbour county; thinks he said it had been cold and muddy and a little snow, said he was going back to the southwest when the weather moderated, but did not say what he was going to do there. Hillman then went away again and was gone for two or three weeks. Witness had had no correspondence with him while he was gone the first time. The last time he came back Hillman was at witnesses' house, some time in March. Witness paid Hillman $75 in cash on the 23d of January, and on the 28th of January sent him a money order to Wichita for $25 more. This was the only letter witness wrote to Hillman while he was gone. He first heard of Hillman's death from Mrs. Judson, who also told Mrs. Hillman. Witness made up his mind to go to Medicine Lodge, and started with his brother on Thursday, and arrived there on Saturday morning. Had been there but a short time when he met Brown, who came up with Paddock; he talked with them and told them that he had come down to look into this matter. Brown said he was glad of it. Paddock said he had made an examination, and was confident that the killing was an accident. Witness does not know who was the first person with whom he conversed in regard to the accident. Talked with Bailey and Carmichael, also with an old man whose name he did not know, to whom he said that he had come down to see about the shooting of Hillman. The man said it was an accident that Brown felt very bad about it, but that nobody blamed him. Bailey and Carmichael used to live near Belvoir, in this county. They said that Hillman was given a decent burial. On Sunday Brown brought in the team; the trunk was in the wagon. Witness did not particularly examine the trunk. Brown gave the key to witness at Hutchinson. Brown opened the trunk at Hutchinson. Witness open the trunk this side of Hutchinson in a baggage car to get Hillman's overcoat out of it. The gun with which Hillman was shot and some cartridges were in the wagon. Brown drove the wagon containing Hillmans' remains from Medicine Lodge to Hutchinson. Team, trunk,. etc. were turned over to witness by Brown. Brown and witness got home on Thursday.

Three Views of John W. Hillman a.k.a. John W. Hillmon

Archives: National Archives and Records Administration in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson.
Three views of John W. Hillman a.k.a. John W. Hillmon
National Archives and Records Administration, Kansas City, MO.
View larger images of above photos in new browser windows:   Left   Center   Right

Witness described Hillman as follows: About five feet eight or ten inches high, dark complexion, brown eyes, weight about 175 pounds, hair almost black, well built, broad shoulders, full chest, lips not thick, mouth not protruding, chin round, neither projecting nor receding, nose medium; does not know whether he wore chin whiskers when he left or not, had mustache, sandy and thin; does not know color of eyebrows nor eyelashes; does not know whether he had any on upper eyelids or not; does not know size of feet, pretty good sized hand; does not know whether his fingers were long or short; no marks by which witness could identify the body as that of Hillman, the money which witness sent and paid to Hillman is all the money he has knowledge of his having. He does not know intimate Brown and Hillman were. Witness never asked of Brown the particulars of the incident. Witness saw the remains at Medicine Lodge, and also saw them here Thursday and Friday and described them as follows: hair dark, almost black, does not know the color of the eyebrows; face appeared broad, looked different in expression from that of Hillman-nose looked larger than that of Hillman; countenances was similar to that of Hillman, but could not recognize it by any particular marks. Hillman sometimes, though rarely, chewed and smoked tobacco. Would have known these were the remains of him if he did not know he was dead. He had good teeth; thinks these were no defects, is positive he had lost no teeth and had none broken. Witness afterwards corrected the above statement and said that his teeth were perfect as far as he had any knowledge. The witness was now dismissed and the inquest adjourned to eight o'clock this morning.

Testimony was continued this morning and Arthur W. Judson called to the stand. He testified of the acquaintance with Hillman and his personal habits. In speaking of his return to Lawrence he said he did not expect him back; thinks he said that he came back on account of weather. He spoke of his trip. Said nothing about his business. Said they had a rough time. Made his home at my house. He received some visitors. There was snow on the ground when he left. He still said that he was looking for a ranch, and would go to New Mexico if necessary, to find a good ranch. Did not hear from him. Heard his wife say she heard from him. Took the letter sent to Judge Bassett by the coroner. Could not tell the day of the month when the letter was received, but it was on Monday, last month. Hillman was over thirty. Had the appearance of a man about thirty. Saw the body that was brought from where the accident occurred. Saw it I think on Thursday about noon. There were present Mr. Smith, Mrs. Hillman and Levi Baldwin. The body was not buried that day. Recognized the body as that of John W. Hillman. Recognized it as soon as the door was opened. It was in a little shop in the rear of Mr. Smith's. Recognized by the forehead which was high and round like Mr. Hillman's in life. Recognized the hair and mustache. Did not examine his teeth. Could not say that they were prefect. Do not know whether I saw the body on the day of inquest. There was nothing peculiar about the mouth. Do not remember whether his upper lip closed over under lip or not. The nose was large like Mr. Hillman's. Did not notice the ears. Could not see the eyes. Do not remember shape of chin. The face was rather long, not out of the way-medium. The size of the body compared exactly with Mr. Hillman's. He was not six feet high. Have mentioned those marks by which I recognized Hillman.

J. A. Brown was again put on the stand. The witness was shown a Sharp's rifle, which witness recognized as the gun he held in hand at the time of the accident. The letter M was on right hand side. The cartridge was also shown. Witness fitted the cartridge to the gun. Baldwin marked the cartridge. The jury snapped the gun around. The hammer would not go down after it was past half cock. Do not know what became of shell. Shell was similar to the shell of the cartridge.

Frontal and Profile Views of the Corpse in the Hillmon Case.

Archives: National Archives and Records Administration in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson.
Frontal and Profile Views of the Corpse in the Hillmon Case.
National Archives and Records Administration, Kansas City, MO.
View larger images of above photos:  Frontal view   Profile view

Dr. A. Fuller was sworn: He was asked by attorney Green, after giving name, age residence and profession to his examination of the body. Did you hold a post mortem examination? It was done in accordance with proper authority. The body was 5-11-5/8 inches. Size of the head do not remember. The weight was 147 pounds nude. Did not measure breadth of the body.

Found gunshot wound through the head. The ball entered at the right side just above the ear and came out just below point of entrance. Should judge that it was a large size ball. The ball had fractured the scull and the cheek bones. The cheek bone, on the left side, was broken and detached; also a distinct fracture from the eye brow running over the head on the right side. The bones were moveable. The entrance was smaller than the exit. We are able to determine that by the wounds' looks, should think the person making the shot was quite near, from the fact the at the ball went clear through, and from the extent of the fracture, a spent ball would not have passed through. Could not be accurate as to the distance but near enough to get the full force of the ball. The skull was fractured at point of entrance, did not open the head; there may have been some bones inside that were fractured. The effect of a ball striking one at such a spot would be to drop him instantaneously. There were no powder marks. The hair was not singed, it would have shown if it had been. I don't know how far the flash of the gun would reach, but think not more than two or three feet; it would depend on the amount of powder. Examined the stomach of the deceased; it was in a healthy condition, a little tender from length of time it had been dead. The body was in a remarkable state of preservation. There was no undigested food in the stomach, only a little mucus. Q. How long would it take for a meal of bread, bacon or ham, to digest? A. In a healthy, vigorous person, about an hour to an hour and a half, the heart was in a healthy condition: the lungs were sound, and in a healthy condition. In the body of the lungs, the lungs proper. We examined the teeth, they were prefect, full and sound. The under teeth slightly behind the upper; none were broken. Judged he was about twenty-five years old. We can judge as well as other people, within certain limits. His general appearance, his hair, being sound, and the appearance of his mustache indicated his age. In dissecting the cartilages of the ribs were softer than in an old person. His hair would pass for black but was brown, was not strait it was curly. Noticed it all over the top of his head; pulled out some. Cheek bones rather prominent, but probably owing to the wound. Face was not remarkably long or short; it was medium and well proportioned. Face was dark but body was light; should say he was a light-skinned man, not a blonde but light. The gun was shown witness. Could not determine the color of the eyes. Could not determine the distance that the person firing the gun stood; would think that the gun would send a bullet through a man's head five rods distant. Think that the butt of the gun was a little above the level. (here a number of hypothetical cases were submitted to the Doctor as to how a gun held in such positions would shoot, and as to the kind of wounds they would make, etc.)

Judge that the wound was a post mortem wound. It was made during life. Should say that the gun shot would was the cause of the death. Was not acquainted with John W. Hillman. Question by jurymen. Did you notice any scar on his arm at the time you examine him. Answer. A portion of the flesh had been removed. I saw there were two marks of vaccination. Dr. Stuart had dissected the piece out. The vaccination I judge had been made three or four weeks. Did not see it removed. Saw the piece and saw the mark on the arm which corresponded. There could be a difference between the weight of a dead body and of the same while living. It would depend on the kind of soil in which he was buried. In examining the lungs we found that the man had had pleurisy, and the lungs adhered to the lining membrane of the cavity of the chest. The adhesion would have but little effect on his general health. The ball might vary according to the position of the head. If the head was leaning towards the wagon the ball would come out a little lower and visa versa. Digestion may dissolve a little after death. There would be no vital force, but be a chemical action, otherwise the food would remain in the stomach. Absorption would cease. The motion would cease.

Dr. Miller was sworn and answered the usual questions. I know John W. Hillman. In September last became acquainted. He presented himself for insurance. Major Wisely accompanied him. He was a man of good figure, about five feet and nine inches, good chest, well formed, his hair was a shade lighter than one of those present (pointed out), beard light, hair straight, pretty long, did not curl, head round, not broad, only ordinary in height, forehead if anything receded, do not remember color of eyes. Even deep set, do not remember as to his eyebrows, nose a little turned to one side, cheek bones rather prominent, mouth not remarkably large, upper lip rather turned up, mustache light, the upper lip short, the lips did not abut tightly, one ot two of his teeth were broken out, the incisor on the left, do not think I'm mistaken, think his chin was rather sharp and receded a little, he had a mustache, whiskers a little thin and pretty light, his weight somewhere 165 to 175, build pretty straight, shoulders square, gave his height at time of insurance as five feet eleven inches, afterwards came back and told me he had made a slight mistake as to his height and said he was five feet nine inches. I made a note of the fact, measured him carelessly and thought it corresponded, with height names, thinks he measured 5.9 in his boots. Regularly examined him. Found him a very good subject. Saw him frequently. I saw the body from which the examination was made. Saw it more than once. I do not think it was the body of John W. Hillman. I could see no resemblance. The hair was a great deal darker and heavier on the head. The hair on the dead man's head was curly. Examined teeth. They were perfect. More so than I suppose Hillman's were. There was nothing in this man's features to correspond with Hillman's. This man was taller than Hillman. He was 5-11-1/? in his stocking feet. The dead man had no whiskers. Looked as though he had shaved recently. It might make considerable difference in the appearance of a man after death. I made up my judgment from his appearance. I am quite well satisfied that this man is not Hillman. Am satisfied about the defect of teeth. I don't think I am mistaken. The complexion was not what might be considered dark. This man I would judge was a little dark. I did not notice any special mark when I examined him.

Dr. Fuller recalled: Does a person measure more after death? Yes, a little more-about 1/2 or 3/4 inches.

Adjourned to 2-1/2 p.m. (SB)

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, April 9, 1879.

The Hillman Inquest.

At the continuation of the coroner's inquest this morning, Dr. Miller was recalled and questioned briefly with regard to hypothetical cases of shooting, and also as to the vaccination. Nothing new was elicited.

A. L. Selig being sworn testified that he was a resident of Lawrence, 32 years old, and an insurance agent. Says he was a acquainted with John W. Hillman since October '78 and had business relations with him. His height was five feet and nine inches in his boots or shoes. Saw the body at Bailey & Smith's first on the 3d day of April, examined the remains. He further said that to the best of his knowledge they were not the remains of John W. Hillman. Was present when the coffin was opened and from appearances is positive it was not the body of John W. Hillman. Saw him measure and think the discrepancy between Hillman and the body, as to height, too great, also judged from the hair, on the body it was darker than Hillman, his hair was also curly and Hillman's was straight. He gave other points as to color and thickness of mustache. Upon a careful examination he did not believe it to be the body of Hillman.

Mrs. M. J. Dart being sworn, testified that she had met John W. Hillman upon one occasion. She was introduced to him at Mrs. Faxon's; observed his personal appearance somewhat. Said she was an admirer of pretty teeth; noticed that one of Hillman's upper teeth was decayed or was out. She was out riding and stopped at Faxon's and was introduced to Hillman and his wife.

Mr. Selig recalled: The jury inquired as to whether Hillman solicited insurance of him. Mr. Selig made the following statement. I did not take the first application, but it was taken in my office, afterwards solicited a $5,000 accident policy which was issued and sent to me for collection. When reading the policy to Hillman, he noticed that it prohibited racing, and as he thought his occupation of herding cattle necessitated fast riding, he requested me to write to the company to obtain permission. Subsequently he inquired if I had received any word, and I answered that I had not. I suggested that if the company refused to grant permission to cover fast riding that he take a $5,000 policy in the New York Life, in which his first application had been made, he said if the company refused his request he would. The company refused and I filled up an application in the New York Life. At the time Hillman asked if the company would issue $5,000 more. I said if they would not, I would issue him one for $5,000 in the Connecticut Mutual and made but one application for him to sign. He signed both applications and I sent them in. Hillman paid me a semi-annual premium on each policy, partly in cash and partly by note, as he did to the party who took the first application. The gentleman who took the first two notes on the first payment, the balance of which was paid in cash and the other on the deferred payment.

Next was called Mr. Wiseman, a special agent of the New York Life, who took the first application. He testified that Hillman applied to him for insurance, and that he never saw Hillman before, and that it was a rare occurrence for anyone to make application without solicitation, for life insurance.

Mrs. Hillman being called, showed two tin types, one of Brown and Hillman taken two years ago, at Emporia, and one of Hillman taken about one year ago. In answer to the question as to whether she had heard directly or indirectly from Hillman after he left Lawrence the last time, said she had not.

Adjourned to 2 o'clock. (SB)

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, April 10, 1879.

The Verdict

There is an unreasonable curiosity on the part of our citizens with regard to the verdict of the coroner's jury in the Hillman case. We say the curiosity is unreasonable in the sense that it is unseemly to be curious about what does not concern us. In fact it is none of our business. It is a private matter and hence we have no right to be too inquisitive. We do not say this ironically, but in sober earnest. It is not county or city business; we do not pay the bills; we did not encourage or justify the official action; we have no right to ask any questions. If justice be meted out well and good. We might guess but we deny our right to hazard guesses about somebody else's business, when by our surmises we may defeat their plans. Good people be patient.

The Hillman Inquest.

The inquest in the Hillman case was continued yesterday afternoon at 3 o'clock.

Robert Blake said he knew Hillman; had conversed with him a number of times. His height was 5 feet, 8 or 9 inches; dark complexion; spoke of the defect in his teeth.

Ollie Walker's testimony corresponded substantially with the description of Hillman given by others; was quite positive that the body was not Hillman's.

Clark Holliday, of Tonganoxie, gave the same description.

A number of witnesses were examined as to when Brown, whom rumor said had skipped town, was last at the Lawrence House where he boarded. The evidence shows that he must have left some time in the night, as his room, Mrs. Sampson testifies, was occupied, but one of the dining room girls says he was not at breakfast.

The body was exhumed yesterday in order that a Mrs. Lowell of the city might, if possible, identify the body which she feared from the description was her brother. She was unable to determine; in the meantime photographs were taken of the remains by Lamon for future use. The body was again critically examined by Doctors who found that there was no mark of a gun shot wound on either hand as is said to be in case of Hillman. His sister, a Mrs. McCoy, of Grasshopper Falls, says he had bad teeth and the wound; is not a large man and has straight hair. The body in question has curly hair; as the Doctor expresses it, "it curls clear to the roots."

The jury were at this point in the proceedings allowed to retire to make up a verdict.

Frontal and Profile Views of the Corpse in the Hillmon Case.

Archives: National Archives and Records Administration in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson.
Frontal and Profile Views of the Corpse in the Hillmon Case.
National Archives and Records Administration, Kansas City, MO.

Summing up the Hillman Case.

We went to Lamon's gallery this morning and inspected the negatives taken by him of the body supposed to be some one other than John W. Hillman. He has two negatives, one a front view and one a profile view. They are well taken, show the curly hair and a full even set of teeth. The eyes are badly sunken. Of course they do not give the color of the hair or mustache, but we think that there is a strong resemblance between these negatives and the tin type in Mrs. Hillman's possession. If this be true, when the two are compared the mystery will only be the darker. There has been much positive swearing on both sides. Mrs. Hillman, Mr. Levi Baldwin, Mr. J. H. Brown and Mr. Arthur Judson, swear positively that the body is that of Hillman. Dr. Miller, Dr. Stuart, Mr. Selig, Mr. Ollie Walker and Mr. Blake swear that it is not; while Dr. Andrews is in doubt. The discrepancies in the testimony is not great, but what makes it the more singular is the fact while the witnesses testify, pretty generally alike, there are marked distinctions between the testimony and the body. For instance, all or most all testify that Hillman in life was about five feet, eight or nine inches. The body measures almost six feet. Most all testify to Hillman having straight hair, rather light. The hair on the body is quite dark, or black, and very curly. The widest difference in the aggregate testimony is in regard to the teeth. The immediate friends of Hillman either deny or say they do not remember any decayed or broken teeth. Other witnesses are positive in their recollection as to his having some broken or decayed teeth. In any event it is a dark mystery which probably will never be solved.

The jury in the case returned a sealed verdict which has not yet been made public. (SB)

The Daily Tribune, April 14, 1879.

More Hillman.

The findings by the coroner's jury, in the Hillman case, was made public this morning and was as follows:

State of Kansas, Douglas County

An inquisition on the fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth days of April, A. D., 1879, before me Dr. R. Morris, coroner of said county, on the body of an unknown man there lying dead, by the jurors whose names are hereunto subscribed. The said jurors upon their oaths do say, that the unknown body before us, came by his death on the 17th day of March, A. D. , 1879, by a gunshot would through the head. Said wound was caused by a gun, held in the hands of John H. Brown: we further believe it was feloniously. In testimony whereof, the said jurors have hereunto set their hands the day last and year aforesaid.

W. O. Hubble,
E. B. Good,
O. D. Pickens,
J. W. Adams,
G. W. Adams,
Andrew Tosh,

Attest: R. Morris,
Coroner Douglas county, Kansas.

By the above it will be seen that John H. Brown is charged with feloniously killing a human being. The shooting he acknowledges as having been done by him, but claims it to have been accidental. The jury in the inquisition charge him with murder. Brown left suddenly; went to his father's house near Wyandotte; how he got there, no one knows who is willing to tell. He was not seen to get on the morning train, yet he went to Wyandotte; he probably went on horseback; but who furnished the horse? Telegrams sent him were received by him, but, officers fail to find him at his home. He seems to have suspected the findings of the coroner's jury and left in haste. It is positively claimed that Hillman will be found and brought back. That detectives are already on his track. It is also claimed that Brown did not kill the man whose body is claimed to be Hillman. Many other claims are made that it will do no good to mention. On the other hand it is said that Brown, did not leave on account of any fear as to the result of the inquest, but on account of the testimony of Marshal Brockelsby, who said he had been watching him in answer to letter received from Texas, and that Brown and Hillman had both been concerned in some scrape down there. A warrant is out for the arrest of Brown. It is thought that the Governor will offer a reward for the detection of the guilty parties. A view of the photographs and by comparisons favor the idea that the body brought here is not Hillman. (SB)

Frontal and Profile Views of the Corpse in the Hillmon Case.

Archives: National Archives and Records Administration in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson.
Frontal and Profile Views of the Corpse in the Hillmon Case.
National Archives and Records Administration, Kansas City, MO.
Photos courtesy of Marianne Wesson

The Daily Tribune, Lawrence, Kansas, April 15, 1879.

Unbiased Testimony.

Little incidents are constantly being brought to the mind of those who were acquainted with Hillman that tend to discredit in the minds of some the idea that the body buried and Hillman are identical. One that would have more than usual weight, to an unbiased mind, is that told by Mr. Wm. H. Lamon, the photographer. It seems that the vignette shown by Mrs. Hillman to the coroner's jury was taken by Mr. Lamon about a year ago. During the sitting, Mr. Lamon talked freely with Hillman who told all about his trips through Texas; said he left his teams out west of Fort Worth, and also told how he was going back. Mr. Lamon did not see him again until, he thinks about camp meeting time, when he came into the office with a number of young ladies and was addressed by Mr. Lamon as his Texas friend. He did not see him again until one day while in Dr. Morse's office Hillman applied at the door for Dr. Morse and on being told by Dr. Morse that he was the man for whom he was looking, Hillman said he was not the man, and went out. Mr. Lamon remarked to Dr. Morse that he knew him by sight but not by name. He never knew his name. When Mr. Lamon came down stairs he found Hillman standing at the bottom of the stairs and talked with him. When the papers first spoke of the Hillman case, Mr. Lamon thought that the Brown spoken of in connection was the Texas man that he was acquainted with.

We speak of this to show that Mr. Lamon had no idea that Hillman and the Texas man he knew were one and the same, so that when he was called upon to go and take a picture of the corpse of the supposed Hillman, he was prepared to give an unbiased judgment. After taking the negative of the dead man, he said that he did not understand how any one who had ever seen the face of the dead man could ever mistaken it for another. When the picture he had taken of Hillman, mentioned before, was shown him, and he then learned for the first time, that his Texas friend was Hillman, he was perfectly astonished. He had seen nothing in any features of the dead man that corresponded with the man he supposed was Brown, but who was Hillman. Mr. Lamon has not yet been able to see any similarity between the picture of Hillman and the body claimed to be Hillman's. (SB)

The Medicine Lodge Cresset, April 17, 1879.

Hillman Tragedy.

Many of our readers will remember the brief account we gave four weeks ago, of the fatal accident on Spring Creek, whereby John W. Hillman, a resident of Lawrence, Kansas, came to a violent death by the accidental discharge of a gun, in the hands of one J. H. Brown.

Hillman was buried in the grave yard in Medicine Lodge, where for ten days he lay at peace with all mankind.

The sad news of his death traveled on swift wings to the grief stricken friends and heart broken widow, and they mourned over the loss of a friend and husband.

Meanwhile the fact was discovered that Hillman had his life insured, in three different companies, aggregating, 25,000 dollars, and parties were sent to this place to identify the body and take it home. And now comes forward divers and sundry medical experts, versed in the intricacies of insurance swindling and purpose to choke down our throat the monstrous falsehood, that, Mrs. Sadie E. Hillman and the man J. H. Brown are accomplices in a matter of selling human life and human blood for money. The legal and medical twisting shows an evident strain on the part of the insurance departments, to establish, by quack doctors, old women and hack drivers, that Hillman was not Hillman, but that some poor unfortunate soul has been sent to eternity and his body made to do duty as dead man in Hillman's boots. At last account (in Lawrence Standard) a party was enroute to cemetery, to unearth the dead man that he might be recognized, by a Mrs. Lowell, a lady who has not heard from a long lost brother, who went to the south west part of Kansas. We would kindly suggest to the lady in question, that she search the Penitentiary, as these silent brothers are more likely to turn up there or on a cottonwood tree, than in the grave of a respectable citizen. The whole affair is claimed, to be wrapped in a deep mystery. A shade of suspicion hinges on the fact that the transaction took place, (as the Lawrence Standard gives it) "away down in the wilds of Barbour county." It might have added, where the Lion roareth and the Whangdoodle mourneth for its first born."

But so far as our researches have gone, we find instead of a deep plot laid in blood, the mysteries are on the part of the Insurance companies, who have availed themselves of some cheap testimony to disprove the identity of J. W. Hillman. The friends of Mrs. Hillman, have, as yet, made no showing, and, we predict that hundreds who have examined the body, can be found willing to make the necessary identification. The whole affair, will be thoroughly sifted and the light of calcium truth be permitted to shine through the dark and infamous swindle which the Insurance companies propose to so coolly carry out. (SB)

The Medicine Lodge Cresset, April 24, 1879.


The Hillman sensation is still a subject of grave discussion among all classes. The Insurance companies have left nothing undone to disprove the identity of the dead body. They have succeeded in obtaining a verdict from the coroners jury that the dead man was unknown and not the body of J. W. Hillman.

Brown is reported to have fled and we are promised startling developments in a few days. We believe the Insurance companies like all the other corporations, wholly devoid of soul, and they, in a financial point can well afford to hang Brown for murder, and probably will do so to avoid the payment ot the 25,000 dollars. One thing we can say for Brown, is that he has the confidence of almost every body "away down in the wilds of Barbour county" where the people have a knowledge of the transaction.

No amount of testimony can convince us, unless Hillman produced in court, that Brown is guilty of any thing but the accidental killing of J. W. Hillman. (SB)

The Medicine Lodge Cresset, May 8, 1879.

Hillman Case

We are still waiting for the startling developments promised in the Hillman case, but they come not by these promises. The Insurance company has gained time to poison the public mind against Mrs. Hillman and horrify public sentiment. (KF)

The Medicine Lodge Cresset, September 26, 1879.

Hillman Insurance Case

A.S. Baldwin is back again from Douglas county. He reports that Mrs. Hillman has brought suit to recover the insurance money on John W. Hillman and the Company have sixty days in which to make reply. (KF)

More Information About The Case:

Benjamin Hillman Family, 1860 Census, Grasshopper Falls, Jefferson County, Kansas.

Benjamin Hillman, father of John W. Hillman/Hillmon. Obituary from the The Oskaloosa Independent, 27 Nov. 1869. Jefferson County, Kansas.

Marriage License: John W. Hillman and Sadie E. Quinn, dated 3 Oct 1879, Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas.

Tales From The Crypt by David Fasgold, The Gyp Hills Premiere, 27 Feb 2006.

A Gallery of Photographs: The Hillmon/Hillman Case.

Map of the Location Where John Wesley Hillman Was Shot and Killed

(All of the following hyperlinks are to off-site pages and will open a new browser window.

The Case of the Anonymous Corpse, by Brooks W. McCracken.

The Hillman case was written about by T.A. McNeal in When Kansas Was Young, see: Frontier Justice on the web site.

188 U.S. 208, 23 S.Ct. 294, 47 L.Ed. 446, CONNECTICUT MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Petitioner, v. SALLIE E. HILLMON. No. 94. Argued November 13, 14, 1902. Decided February 2, 1903.

U.S. Supreme Court: MUTUAL LIFE INS. CO. OF NEW YORK v. HILLMON, 145 U.S. 285 (1892), 145 U.S. 285. MUTUAL LIFE INS. CO. OF NEW YORK et al. v. HILLMON. No. 181. MUTUAL LIFE INS. CO. OF NEW YORK v. SAME. No. 182. NEW YORK LIFE INS. CO. v. SAME. No. 183. CONNECTICUT MUT. LIFE INS. CO. OF HARTFORD, CT, v. SAME. No. 184. May 16, 1892: "At the trial plaintiff introduced evidence tending to show that on or about March 5, 1879, Hillmon and Brown left Wichita, in the state of Kansas, and traveled together through southern Kansas in search of a site for a cattle ranch; that on the night of March 18th, while they were in camp at a place called 'Crooked Creek,' Hillmon was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun; that Brown at once notified persons living in the neighborhood, and that the body was thereupon taken to a neighboring town, where, after an inquest, it was buried. The defendants introduced evidence tending to show that the body found in the camp at Crooked creek on the night of March 18th was not the body of Hillmon, but was the body of one Frederick Adolph Walters. Upon the question whose body this was there was much conflicting evidence, including photographs and descriptions of the corpse, and of the marks and scars upon it, and testimony to its likeness to Hillmon and to Walters."

Gravesite in Lawrence’s Oak Hill Cemetery might hold clues to the mystery of Crooked Creek, By Charlie Brennan - Special from Rocky Mountain News, Lawrence Journal-World, January 30, 2006. Includes a photo captioned: "University of Colorado professors Dennis Van Gerven and Mimi Wesson hold pictures of a body believed to be John Wesley Hillmon, who died in 1879. Van Gerven and Wesson plan to ask Lawrence officials for permission to exhume Hillmon’s body, supposedly buried in Oak Hill Cemetery."

Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Hillmon - 145 U.S. 285 (1892)

Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Hillmon

The Hillmon Case: An Exercise in Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching - Dennis VanGerven and Mimi Wesson with Jim Curry, moderator. "The Wisdom of Practice in Teaching and Learning", Fall 2005 Retreat, University of Colorado President's Teaching Scholars Program.

A Plausible Cause of Death?

Death resulting from the accidental discharge of a firearm being taken from a wagon or carried in a horse-drawn conveyance was not an uncommon occurence around the time John Hillman/John Hillmon was killed.

Other examples from the Barber County area are Harrison Jones of Barber County, who died in 1887, Frank Robinson of Barber County, who died in 1890, Tom Brown of Barber County, who died in 1901, Joseph Young of Barber County, who also died in 1901, Willie Richardson, of neighboring Comanche County, in 1907, and Forrest Tatton, also of Comanche County, in 1919.

Related Biographies

John Harrison Atwood:   "He was attorney in the famous John W. Hillman will case remembered because of the claim of the insurance companies that another body than Hillman's was being palmed off to obtain $25,000 of insurance money; there had been six trials of this case without result; on this trial a verdict was obtained and over $40,000 recovered for the widow."

George J. Barker:   "He was the chief attorney for the insurance companies in the Hillmon case, and conducted for the companies every examination of witnesses."

Colonel Samuel Walker:   "The party came down to identify the body as Hillman was largely insured in both companies. The identification was satisfactory and the body started Tuesday morning to be returned to his relatives near Lawrence. Col. Walker of Lawrence accompanied the party. The Col’s. fame in early Kansas history is too well known to need any comment." -- The Medicine Lodge Cresset, April 3, 1879.

$25,000.00 in 1879 = $478,207.10 in 2005

"What cost $25,000.00 in 1879 would cost $478,207.10 in 2005. Also, if you were to buy exactly the same products in 2005 and 1879, they would cost you $25,000.00 and $1,306.97 respectively." -- The Inflation Calculator.

Thanks to Kim Fowles - (KF) and Shirley Brier - (SB) for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news items to this web page.

This RootsWeb website is being created by Jerry Ferrin with the able assistance of many Contributors. Your comments, suggestions and contributions of historical information and photographs to this site are welcome. Please sign the Guest Book. This page was created 21 July 2005 and last updated 15 April 2007.

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