Confirming a Family Story: the 1929 Death of Merle Winford Campbell

Sometimes genealogists have trouble finding evidence that proves a family tale. Even if the tale began as a truthful one, snippets here and there eventually get altered, embellished, or even omitted as the story is passed from person to person, and generation to generation. Thus changing how the tale is received or perceived.

And sometimes, we keepers of the family history get lucky.

— Morley Cemetery at Scott County, Missouri*

Merle Winford Campbell was born 1 September 1927 in Vanduser, Scott County, Missouri to my great-grandparents Norma Ethel Robins (1906-2000) and Chester Wesley Campbell (1906-1994). He was their first-born child, coming almost eleven months after their marriage. Though Merle died before she was born, he was a brother of my grandmother, Betty Sue Campbell Lincecum (1934-2014).

Family lore stated simply that Merle died of an ear infection. Fortunately, I was able to find a death certificate to support this claim.

Mearl’s death certificate provides the cause of death as Mastoiditis. Medical News Today defines the condition this way:

Mastoiditis is a serious infection in the mastoid process, which is the hard, prominent bone just behind and under the ear. Ear infections that people fail to treat cause most cases of mastoiditis. The condition is rare but can become life-threatening without treatment.

Symptoms of mastoiditis include swelling behind the ear, pus coming out of the ear, throbbing pain, and difficulty hearing.

Ear infections that do not receive treatment, as well as antibiotic-resistant ear infections, sometimes spread. When this happens, the bacteria travel to surrounding structures, including bones such as the mastoid process.

Without antibiotic treatment, the bacteria can continue spreading to the bones of the skull. They may also travel to the blood and organs, including the brain.

Middle ear infections, which doctors call acute otitis media, and mastoiditis are most common in children younger than 2 years of age.

Norma’s and Chester’s second child Lynuel (d. 2008) was born one month after the death of Merle.

Visit Merle Winford Campbell’s page in the Lincecum Lineage database.

*Image by Graver Gal via FindAGrave memorial #29636238. Permission for use granted in bio.

Another Tragedy from Grandpa’s 1950 Graduating Class

IN MEMORY OF: Bonnie Huffman and LaVerne Sullinger.

The image above is from a “where are they now” type booklet given to those who attended a class reunion in 1990. This was the 40-year reunion for the 1950 graduating class from Delta High School in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. Here is Grandpa’s page (no. 3 cropped out to protect the living):

As was not uncommon at rural, small-town Missouri schools, Grandpa was related to a few of his classmates. Previously, I shared the story of Bonnie Huffman’s murder. She was Grandpa’s 7th cousin-in-law.

Virgie LaVerne Sullinger was more closely related to Grandpa, as she was his third cousin. LaVerne was born 25 January 1933 at Advance, Stoddard County, Missouri. Her parents were Claude E. Sullinger and Maudlue Tidwell.

LaVerne graduated from Delta High School in the Spring of 1950, and within a couple of years was married to George Thomas Reeves (1928-2011). The couple welcomed daughter Rebecca Anne in February 1953.

Five years later, a “tragic series of mishaps” would conclude with the deaths of both LaVerne and Rebecca.

Daily Standard (Sikeston, Missouri)
Monday, 29 September 1958 – pg. 1

Search Fails In Effort To Recover Body Of Girl Drowned Near Allenville
CAPE GIRARDEAU — An unremitting search had failed to recover the body of [5-year-old] Rebecca Ann Reeves, who drowned through a tragic series of mishaps in the diversion channel near Allenville shortly after noon Saturday.

Mr. and Mrs. George Reeves, the parents who live in Cape Girardeau, had gone fishing with their two children and, in some manner, Rebecca fell into the water. The father went to her rescue, got her to the bank where Mrs. Reeves came to help her on land. Mrs. Reeves slipped and also went into the water and all three went under. In the struggle, the girl slipped loose from her father’s grasp.

Mrs. Reeves was given artificial respiration en route to the hospital and was apparently in good shape when she reached there, but today it is reported her condition is critical, mostly due to shock.

— Source: Newspapers.com

Daily Standard (Sikeston, Missouri)
Wednesday, 1 October 1958

Mother Of Drowned Girl Died Monday Evening
Mrs. George Reeves, of Cape Girardeau, who was rescued from drowning near Allenville last Saturday, died in a Cape Girardeau hospital Monday night. She had suffered from injuries while being rescued from a drainage ditch and from a subsequent attack of pneumonia.

Her daughter, Rebecca Anne Reeves, who fell into the water at the time her mother did, was drowned and her body was recovered Tuesday half a mile from the point of drowning.

Funeral services for Mrs. Reeves and her daughter were held in Cape Girardeau this afternoon.

— Source: Newspapers.com

LaVerne and Rebecca were buried together in Union Park Cemetery at Chaffee, Scott County, Missouri.

— Image by Brenda Johnson (2018) via FindAGrave. Permission for use granted in bio.

May mother and daughter rest in peace.

Visit Virgie LaVerne Sullinger’s page at the Lincecum Lineage database.

New Discovery: I’m Related to a Cold Case Murder Victim

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).
Evening Star (Washington, DC) – Wednesday, 7 July 1954
San Diego Union (California) – Wednesday, 7 July 1954 – pg. 5
Boston Daily Record (Massachusetts) – 7 July 1954

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 >>

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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