Luetta Parsons, Child Bride of the Ozarks


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One of the most hideous crimes in the history of St. Francois County was perpertrated four miles south of Bismarck last Friday morning when Mrs. Luetta Parsons, 18 years old [note: age later established to be only 13 years] and bride of John Parsons, a tie hacker, murdered her six-year-old step-daughter, Lillie Parsons, by blowing her head off with a shot gun. The girl and Parsons, who was consideraly older than his bride and had four children by a former marriage, had been married only six days at the time of the murder. The family lived in a miserable hovel and under circumstances which would have been considered impossible by the average person.

The motive back of the crime seems to have been an insane jealousy on the part of Mrs. Parsons. She charged her husband with infidelity. On the morning of the murder, she went to the house of a neighbor near by shortly after her husband left for work, on the plea that she expected to find him there. He was not there, however. In a row with the woman whom she suspected on this same occasion, she is alleged to have said she would get even with her husband. The murder of the innocent child who was Parson's youngest child and only daughter, and, therefore, his favorite among his children, seemed to have been her plan for carrying out her threat.

She returned home and shortly afterward asked the child to bring a pan of water and a comb, in order that she might comb her hair.

The child, as children are prone to be, was a little tardy in complying. Mrs. Parsons, herself, went for the desired articles, and asked the child to come to her, which it is said to have shown some reluctance in doing, for the reason, no doubt, that the step-mother had, on several occasions, in the few short days of her married life, beaten the child.

Mrs. Parsons is said to have set the pan on a box nearby, picked up the shot-gun which stood in a corner and deliberately shot the child. She [and] other members of the family have made conflicting statements concerning the gun. Mrs. Parsons claims she did not know the gun was loaded and used it with a view to frightening the child into doing what she desired. The husband says the gun was always kept unloaded, and one of his sons, a child older than the murdered girl, makes the statement that he saw his step-mother load the gun, just previous to the crime.

Coroner Hill held an inquest over the remains, with the result that a verdict stating that the child had come to her death, at the hands of her step-mother, was returned. Mrs. Parson was committed to jail in Farmington without bond. She waived a preliminary hearing. Prosecuting Attorney Coffer filed information Tuesday charging her with first degree murder. Her case will be tried in the May term of court.

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. March 11, 1921.


The case of Luetta Parsons, the "child bride" who shot and killed her step child near Iron Mountain several months ago and who since that time had been confined in jail at Farmington, has been attracting unusual attention. The following is from Sunday's St. Louis Post Dispatch.

"The scene of action in the case of Luetta Parsons, called the "child bride of the Ozarks," will be removed from Farmington to St. Louis, when, on June 21, the Court of Appeals will be asked to make final disposition of it.

The case of the girl, 13 years old, who was permited to marry a "tie hacker" in the backwoods near Iron Mountain, 40 years old, and the father of four children, and who, six days after her marriage, caused the death of her stepdaughter, 6, has attracted widespread attention.

Hundreds of letters have been received by persons connected with the legal end of the case at Farmington, in which the events took place; letters expressing horror that in a community not 90 miles from St. Louis, such a marriage could be culminated; letters protesting against holding a child of 13 years for three months in jail pending her trial and later holding her in any way accountable on the charge of murder, and letters expressing a constructive interest in the girl's future welfare.

The protests against holding the girl in jail were founded on fact. She was confined in a cell of the county jail from March 5 to the date of her trial, May 25, most of the time alone, part of the time in company with other women prisoners. But it is said on behalf of the authorities that although there was much agitation, and many expressions of indignation, no responsible person offered, or even would consent to take the child into a private home and care for her. She never was tried on a charge of murder. The case was remanded for trial in the juvenile court, which automatically disposed of the first degree murder charge, legal authorities vested in the prosecuting attorney taking the first step in her behalf.

The fact that she was a married woman, and there was no precedent for trying a married woman in a juvenile court, was not taken into account at all. At the preliminary hearing, there were witnesses, the same who had gone through the formality of consenting to the marriage, who could have given the impression that she was of age, but evidence produced by her grandparents, with whom she had, at times, made her home in Bismarck, to show where she had been baptised a Catholic and was at the time of the trouble 13 years and 3 months old, was more acceptable to the judge.

Her defense that the shooting was an accident was accepted almost without question.

"Little Johnnie and Lillie and me," she told the Court, "were playing in the yard, and we decided to go and meet daddie (her husband) who was working in the woods. We ran in the house and I was going to git the shotgun and maybe scare up a squirrel or a rabbit for supper. Lillie ducked between the beds to get her slippers and I took the gun down from the rafters. When I broke it to see if it was loaded it went off and Lillie was dead. I don't know how it happened, but I didn't do it a-purpose."

The impressions that she was being held in custody following her trial were based upon erroneous reports sent out.

It was not due to any lack of mercy on the part of Judge Peter H.Huck of Ste. Genevieve, presiding over the Circuit Court at the county seat, but, on the contrary, to an interest beyond his mere responsibility that he sought to retain her as the ward of the Court for awhile after the trial was concluded.

Judge Huck took an independent stand in the matter, so much so that the very lawyers he appointed to defend the girl as a poor person, inspired by interests not yet clear, took issue with him as overstepping his authority and took legal steps to obtain a writ of habeas corpus which is returnable before the St. Louis Court of Appeals.

The Judge, it seems, overruled the jury's verdict, which was to the effect that she was not guilty of manslaughter, as decided upon the point of culpable negligence, that she was not delinquent nor dependent nor neglected nor of unsound mind. The Judge holds she is a neglected child and should remain the ward of the Court until some more suitable environment than that from which she came can be found for her. He preferred to take advantage of authority he claims is his, to accept the jury's verdict only as advisory. He explained his position to the jury afterward, and it is said they thereupon acquised in his opinion, acknowledging they had become confused by the speeches of the attorneys directed at showing how the child should be saved from the contaminating influences of a reformatory or other State institution, which fate, they argued, would inevitably follow a judgment of delinquency or neglect or dependance, and unless she were set free to go her way.

Judge Huck, asserting his authority, turned Luetta over to the custody of the probation officer with instructions to find a temporary home for her. One of the defending lawyers, Jerry B. Burks, then came to the fore offering her asylum in his home, to which arrangement the probation officer assented. The habeas corpus suit is a friendly one between Burks and his partner in the case, B. H. Boyer.

And so it is, that it now becomes the duty of the St. Louis Court of Appeals to decide who, if any one, shall have the custody of the girl.

Judge Huck evidently trusts Burks' motives as disinterested, but both Mr. and Mrs. Burks, when interviewed at Farmington, appeared to incline to the idea that the child should, in time, be returned to her grandparents, with whom she was making her home at the time of her ill-fated marriage and who, it develops, are able and willing to provide for her.

"She is a mountain girl," they say, "and would be better off in her native environment." At the same time they discourage Luetta from the idea of returning to her husband. The grandparents will have the marriage annulled, they say.

Luetta, herself, when seen at the Burk home, expressed herself as wishing to forget all about the marriage and its unhappy associations. She is said to have told the people at beginning of her trouble that she married Parsons because she was afraid her folks would "whoop her" if she didn't, but she did not express that sentiment to her present interviewer. Parsons has made one appearance in Farmington, but quickly withdrew when told he could not bear witness either for or against his wife.

"My folks always liked John," said Luetta. "He is kin to my step-father. He is a good man and he was awful good to me. I liked the children and we played together and we got along fine."

She expressed concern for her mother, who, she says, lives on a farm near Leasburg and who could not visit her because she "has spells."

She did not live with her mother because she could not get along with her present stepfather, although she did like a preceding stepfather. Her mother is living with a third husband and Luetta's own father is thought to be living in the infirmary at Farmington.

She is a forlorn little figure, her face puckered with perplexity when her troubles are referred to, but she quickly sheds unhappy memories when some suggestion of childish amusement is offered. Recently, at a neighbor's she was discovered playing with dolls with other and smaller girls. Her face brightened at the mention of moving pictures, church going and piano playing, and such small diversions as the good people of Farmington since the trial have introduced her to, all new and novel to the backwoods girl.

She was heard singing a church hymn as the interviewer departed. Mrs. Burks said she learned the airs while in the jail, which is next door to a church, although she did not learn the words and now improvises words which sound similar to those she heard.

Asked how she occupied herself all those weeks in jail, she responded brightly: "Some ladies fetched me some quilt pieces, but," she added, with a choke in her voice, "I got skeered. I heard noises in the night, and most of the time I just cried."

Her education has been totally neglected. She cannot read or write. Dr. Eaton, superintendent of the State Hospital at Farmington, who examined her, said that while physically she is over-developed, mentally she has not developed beyond the age of 8.

Among the letters that have been received regarding Luetta is one from a woman lawyer in Chicago wishing to use the evidence in the case as material for instituting a measure making unlawful, under any conditions, the marriage of persons under legal age. At least two writers ask further information with a view to adopting the little girl.

Another letter is from an elderly widower in Minnesota, who gives three banks and the names of two retired farmers as reference, and declares he will come for Luetta, adopt her, send her to school and at his death will her $3000 in money or property. It was with the view of investigating these offers in her behalf that Judge Huck wished to retain her as the ward of his court."

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. June 24, 1921.


Luetta Parsons, 13-year-old wife of John Parsons, St. Francois County woodchopper, was ordered released Tuesday from the care of her attorney, J. B. Burks, of Farmington, in whose charge she was placed May 26 by Judge Huck, following her acquittal of the charge of murdering her 6-year-old stepdaughter, Lillie Parsons.

Luetta shot and killed the other child March 4, a short time after her marriage to Parsons. The verdict was that the killing was accidental. Judge Huck felt that the child was entitled to the care of the state and remanded her to the custody of Burks. The Court of Appeals holds that Judge Huck exceeded his authority.

Luetta was in court accompanied by her uncle, named Nash of Bismarck, with whom she will make her home.

The opinion, written by Judge Daues, held that while it was the desire in juvenile cases to construe the law in the best interest of the child, it could not be construed so as to deprive the petitioner of her legal and inherent right. "To stretch the power of the court to the extent sought in this case," he said, "would be tantamount to holding that there need be no trial." However laudable the motives of Judge Huck, his view could not be upheld.

Published by THE LEAD BELT NEWS, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. July 1, 1921.


We believe this may be the John Parsons,  mentioned in the above articles about Luetta Parsons, the "Child Bride of the Ozarks":

1920 U.S. Census of St. Francois Co. MO, Iron Twp., Page 48, No. 321.
Parsons, John L. --- H/H ---38 -- Widower
Parsons, Virgil S. --- Son --- 12
Parsons, Cecil --- Son --- 10
Parsons, John L. --- Son -- 8
Parsons, Lillia E. -- Dau -- 6
Landers, Edith M. -- Servant -- 18 --- Single
Landers, Rosemarie -- Dau --- 9 months

If anyone has further information on either the Parsons family and/or the Nash family mentioned in above articles, we would appreciate it if you would EMAIL US. We've looked in the cemetery books for St. Francois Co. Mo and can't find a grave listed for six-year-old Lillie Parsons. Does anyone know where she was buried?