It’s been more than 65 years since Bonnie Loretta Huffman, my 8th cousin, was murdered in Delta, Missouri.
I was reading through my grandfather’s (Billy Joe Lincecum, 1932-2014) high school graduation — “Baccalaureate Ceremonies” — program and found some surnames of a few of his fellow graduates were familiar. There were only thirty students graduating from Delta High School in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri for the year 1950, so it wasn’t a long list. Trying to chase down any possible familial connections led me to Miss Huffman.
Bonnie Loretta was born 19 November 1933 at Whitewater, Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. Her biological father, Otto W. Huffman, died thirteen months later. By 1940, Bonnie’s mother Lillie Bollinger (1909-1997) had re-married to Millard Thiele (d. 1989). The family, including two more Huffman daughters and a Thiele son, were residing in Bollinger County, Missouri.
In the spring of 1950, Bonnie was the valedictorian of her high school graduating class. The following year she was a freshman studying Elementary Education at Southeast Missouri State College.
The first sad research surprise was finding out Bonnie died at the young age of twenty years. The second was the cause of death: homicide. Per her death certificate, Bonnie died of a “fracture of the 3rd cervical vertebrae.” The coroner’s jury verdict was also noted: “Death from hands of person or persons unknown.”
Next was combing through all the newspaper articles and headlines. First up is from the Detroit Times (Michigan), dated Tuesday, 6 July 1954.
Teacher, 20, Found Slain
DELTA, Mo., July 6 (AP) — Bonnie Loretta Huffman, 20, a rural school teacher, her neck broken and her jaw fractured, was found dead in a culvert near here last night.
Police found no signs of a struggle at the spot where her body was discovered, but her dress had been torn and signs of a struggle were found near her abandoned car.
Glasses she had been wearing and her purse and necklace were missing.
Miss Huffman had gone to a movie Friday night with friends and after the show had left for home alone.
Deep impressions in the gravel near the abandoned car, police said, indicated another car had been started at high speed. They said the gravel indicated her car had not been stopped suddenly.
Police said they found an ear ring on the left running board and the other ear ring and a small seat cushion in the road. Police believed Miss Huffman stopped the car for some one she knew, then was forced into the other car.“Teacher, 20, Found Slain,” issued 6 July 1954, accessed 3 April 2020, name of interest: Bonnie Loretta Huffman, Detroit Times, Detroit, Michigan, online image (GenealogyBank).
The next day it was reported a “novelty salesman” was being questioned about Bonnie’s murder, but nothing came of it. And the following was published in the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune (Missouri) after five more days went by with no developments:
No New Leads in Slaying of Bonnie Huffman
DELTA, Mo., July 13. (AP) — A coroner’s inquest last night failed to turn up any new leads in the mysterious slaying July 3 of Bonnie Loretta Huffman, 20-year-old school teacher.
The coroner’s jury found that Miss Huffman, discovered dead of a broken neck in a weed patch two miles from her abandoned car, “died at the hands of a person or persons unknown.”
…Among the six witnesses at the inquest were the victim’s mother, Mrs. Lillie Thiele, who appeared composed as she testified, and Bobby Gene Thiele, half brother of the slain teacher.
A fund being collected under the sponsorship of the police department of nearby Cape Girardean [sic] and the Southeast Missourian in that city as a reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of the killer had grown to $997. Contributions were being received in amounts as small as 15 cents…
About a week after the one-year anniversary of the slaying of Bonnie Huffman, a “mysterious” cross appeared at the site where her body had first been found. Following from St. Louis Globe-Democrat (Missouri) dated Tuesday, 19 July 1955 (page 3):
Where Pretty Teacher Found
White Cross Mysteriously Appears at Slaying Scene
DELTA, MO., July 18 (Special). — Police are investigating a large white cross found at the exact roadside spot where the body of a pretty rural school teacher, victim in an unsolved slaying, was found a year ago.
The wooden cross was found Saturday, half a mile north of here, the body of Miss Bonnie Loretta Huffman, 20, was found there July 5, 1954…
The cross was carefull [sic] made, about 6 feet tall, the planks painted white. Painted in black on the cross in neat letters are the words:
“To the memory of Bonnie Huffman, July ?, 1954.
“I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall be live: St. John 11:25.”
State highway patrolmen removed the cross this morning, and so far have been unable to offer an explanation.
Hundreds of sight-seers were attracted to the cross over the week-end, and automobiles were lined bumper to bumper on the county road where it was located.
It was pointed out that the deadline for a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the girl’s slayer had passed at midnight Wednesday. A total of $1453 was raised for the reward fund, and authorities are now in the process of returning the money.
The slaying has remained a deep mystery. About 50 men were given lie detector tests during the extensive inquiry by state, local and county authorities, the Attorney General’s office and the Circuit Court grand jury also made investigations.
The remains of Bonnie L. Huffman were buried in Bollinger County Memorial Park Cemetery. Lillie Bollinger Huffman-Thiele-Snider was placed beside her in 1997.
The case of Bonnie Huffman, I believe, remains open. The following is on her memorial record at the BCMP cemetery’s website:
Sgt. Friedrich is currently assigned the case. If you have any possible information or possible items that have been around since 1954, please contact Sgt. Friedrich, the Cape Girardeau police or your local police, with any and all possible information or evidence.— bcmp.org
In the 65 years since Bonnie’s murder, the case has been written about from time to time. See also >>
- Huffman: Hope fades for solving 1954 Delta, Mo. murder
- The Unsolved Murder of Bonnie Huffman (from 2019)
- More than 60 Years Later, Justice Still Elusive in Bonnie Huffman’s Murder
- Woman’s death remains unsolved mystery in southeast Missouri
- March Weather and Murder
Though my grandfather is the one who linked me to Bonnie, he was only her cousin by marriage. His wife, my grandmother, Betty Sue Campbell (1934-2014), was Bonnie’s 7th cousin. Their shared ancestor appears to be great-grandfather Hans Georg Hoffman.
Visit Bonnie Loretta Huffman’s page in the Lincecum Lineage database.
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