The Murder of a Murderer in Johnson County

Gertrude and Henry Muller pictured with Gertrude’s mother.

By Diane Euston  

A quadruple murder in 1910 rocked the rural farming communities of Jackson County, Mo., and Johnson County, Ks., when the crime went unsolved.

The Bernhardt Murder- December 1910

 Earl Gray, a rural mail carrier in Oxford Township, knew something wasn’t right when he rode up to the Bernhardt farm at present-day 119th and Roe and noticed mail spilling to the ground on Dec. 10, 1910. He scratched his head, gathered two men fixing a culvert nearby and returned to the farm to investigate.

 Emeline Bernhardt, a 78-year-old widow, and her bachelor son, 49 year-old George, were known in the neighborhood as being quite different than other farmers in the area. J.W. Wallace, who knew the Bernhardts for 20 years, claimed in a sworn deposition, “They were peculiar people.”

 In the distance, the men could hear a whining noise. As they approached the barn, two chained dogs tried to stand but their weakness from lack of food knocked them to the ground. A horse could be heard whinnying inside the stable. Suspicion mounted within the men as they crept up to the lock on the stable and broke it.

Excited by their entrance, the horse kicked up some of the straw in his stall. The men’s faces turned white when they saw what was hidden beneath—blood-soaked clothing and the shoulder of one very dead man.

 Although nearly unrecognizable, the postman assumed that battered and broken face was none other than George Bernhardt’s. Shocked and full of terror, they stumbled backward, slipping on the frozen ground as they turned away. The slip of their boots kicked more horror into full force when the straw parted and revealed a second body next to George’s corpse.

 The men ran to a neighboring farm and called Olathe. By the time Sheriff John Steed arrived with the coroner and county attorney, a crowd of farmers had formed.

 Sheriff Steed shoved the straw aside from the second victim assumed to have been Bernhardt’s mother, and found quite a surprise. It was a man—not a woman.

 The body was identified as 17-year-old Tom Morgan, who had recently been hired by the Bernhardts. It was clear an axe had been used to bludgeon the victims to death.

Soon, a third body was found—another hired hand. But where was Emeline Bernhardt?

  Dusk settled in, and the search proceeded by lantern light. Authorities moved on to examine the home, and in an upstairs closet they found the lifeless body of Emeline. The murder weapon, a bloodied clock weight, sat nearby.

Despite the offer of a $500 reward by Emeline’s daughter, leads went dry and no arrests were made.

A Criminal is Born

 Albert Dudley was born and raised on a farm in Cass County. Petty crime seemed to be in his blood; he was arrested multiple times for bootlegging and served a short sentence for wife beating. After release, he bounced around as a farm hand throughout Kansas and Missouri, but quickly went back to his old ways. He was arrested and served less than three years for raping a 16-year-old girl, and arrested again for white slavery—the sex trafficking of Caucasian women. But after serving just one year, he asked the governor for a pardon or parole. Shockingly, his request was granted and he was released in March 1916.

The Muller Murders

 Arriving in Johnson County that summer, Dudley easily found work helping a middle-aged couple, Henry and Gertrude Muller, harvest crops on 160 acres at 199th and Antioch. After the job ended, he decided to stay put in a boarding house to continue courting a girl in Stilwell.

 In August 1916, a young man claiming to be Henry Muller sold a load of grain in Bucyrus, about six miles southwest of the Muller farm. The grain elevator operator became suspicious, and called the authorities.

 Sheriff Carroll arrived at the Muller farm and began a search. As the wind died down and the landscape stilled to silence, a sharp, pungent odor crossed his senses. It was the scent of death.

He followed the stench to an abandoned cellar, where the mutilated bodies of Henry and Gertrude Muller rested inside, covered by straw. Their faces had been smashed, probably with an axe.

 After a lengthy interrogation, Dudley confessed to the murders. He admitted he shot them both, hitched the bodies to the back of a horse, and dragged them a quarter mile to the cellar.

Dudley’s lynching made national news.

Jailhouse Snitch

 Dudley was locked up in the Olathe jail, sharing a cell with a man named Fred Sickler who was suspected of hog stealing. Feeling talkative, Dudley told Sickler about the Muller murders. He also ’fessed up to an earlier crime from 1910.

 Fred Sickler recounted Dudley’s words: “I suppose this Muller affair would blow over, for I kept the mail box empty. I made no mistake this time, as we did in the Bernhardt murder, in letting the mail accumulate and the alarm was given by the rural carrier.”

Dudley boasted that he wouldn’t be put to death since Kansas had no death penalty, and predicted he would be paroled by the governor for good behavior in about 10 years. He also warned he would come back and cut the throats of all those who testified against him.

 When the jury reached a quick decision—guilty, life in prison—witnesses commented that he only smirked and chewed gum.

The Last Lynching in Kansas

 The next day, just after midnight on Sept. 21, 1916, a mob arrived at the Olathe jail. The sheriff watched in horror as they broke down the door and entered. He fired a warning shot but was overtaken by 60 men on a mission.

 They wanted Dudley dead.

 Members of the mob yanked Dudley out of his cell and threw a noose around his neck as he shrieked in fear, “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!”

 They threw him in the back of an automobile and turned down the aptly-named Dudley Road (now current-day Ridgeview at approximately Wabash) a mile east of town. Marching toward the nearest electrical pole, they strung Dudley up and shot him, before disappearing into the night.

Justice Served?

 Dudley’s death was the last lynching in Kansas and the only one recorded in Johnson County. Was he responsible for more than the Mullers’ murders? We will never know, but the mob in Olathe chose to deliver their own justice and murder a murderer.

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