By Diane Euston
Scandal crossed the headlines in 1924 when a man and woman living near Grandview, Mo. aired their dirty laundry and involved their child in an unfortunate custody battle.
When 41-year-old widow Eb J. Washer married 23-year-old Ursula Farrell in 1920, the couple certainly hoped to have a lifetime of love. Eb was a county marshal in Jackson County and was a well-known member of the community.
Ursula wanted children, and due to fertility issues, the Washers couldn’t have one of their own. One report stated that Ursula stuffed her belly to make the community believe she was pregnant. Finally in May 1922, the couple adopted a beautiful baby girl they named Kathryn Patricia. They called her Patty.
In 1923, Eb had opted to sell his farm in Grain Valley for $22,500 and move to a large estate just south of Hickman Mills on Grandview Rd. near where he was raised. He dabbled in real estate and was worth quite a bit of money.
This family of three wouldn’t be happy for long.
On September 3rd, Ursula was desperately searching for her husband and daughter. Eb testified later that on September 2nd, he met his wife near the Marlborough street car line and his wife threatened to drive her car into the Blue River. As the quarrel continued, Ursula allegedly took a knife from her husband’s pocket and said she would go into a field and kill herself “so that people would believe he drove her to do it.”
His response was to get into his car, retrieve their daughter from his sister’s house near Hickman Mills, and drive away into the night.
But Ursula told a very different story to the newspapers in her hometown of Herington, Ks.. She insisted that she and her husband had attended church at Hickman Mills and left Patty with Eb’s sister, Mary Barrie.
Ursula told the story that Eb “appeared ill and pale that morning.” Shortly after dinner, she claimed that Eb jumped in his Packard, with no explanation of where he was going, and picked up his daughter. They had not been seen since.
The truth likely lies somewhere in between the drastically different stories.
For 90 days, Eb and little Patty remained hidden. Ursula offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who knew their whereabouts and allegedly went as far as to hire a psychic. She was informed by the fortune teller that she would find her husband and child in Lexington, Ky. In fact, Eb did have relatives in Lexington.
Ursula quickly rushed to Kentucky to the home of Eb’s relatives, stormed into the home, snatched up poor little Patty out of bed and ran out to the street. Eb, screaming in protest, rushed after his wife but was stopped on the front porch by a uniformed officer. Ursula was to be allowed to take Patty back to Jackson Co. with a companion appointed by the court.
Thus, pintsized Patty Washer had been snatched twice before her second birthday. She was put into foster care until the courts could decide what to do next.
Ursula moved out of the Grandview estate to 914 E. Armour Blvd. Just before Christmas in 1923, Judge E.E. Porterfield of the juvenile court declared, “Since Mr. Washer has had the child 90 days, Mrs. Washer shall have it until the suit for divorce is decided in the circuit court.”
It was ordered that Eb could drive from his estate in Grandview and visit his daughter every other day. Ursula stated he could come any time he wanted.
Eb had already filed for divorce from Ursula, charging that his wife threatened his life and on one occasion “threatened his life by shooting a pistol.”
In April 1924, Eb was granted divorce from Ursula. In this era, separation was extremely uncommon and only eight out of 1,000 marriages ended in divorce. But due to the drama that unfolded across numerous newspaper headlines, the court acted quickly in order to terminate this tumultuous three-year marriage.
The final decree ordered that Ursula receive $40 a month in alimony and custody of two-year-old Patty. As she stood listening to the judge, Ursula fainted and was carried from the courtroom.
A complicated case such as this never ends well. As time would tell, the fate of the Washers seems to show signs of open wounds and broken hearts.
Ursula packed up little Patty and settled finally in Los Angeles, Ca. In 1926. She married for a second time but the marriage didn’t last. She set off with her daughter to Miami and passed away in 1973.
Eb stayed in the Grandview area and operated a small apple orchard for over 20 years. He married for a third time to Lucy Carrys Dodson, a dressmaker. By 1943, Eb became ill and was bedridden for the final years of his life. On April 5, 1945 Eb J. Washer passed away from cardiac arrest.
Did Eb have a relationship with his beloved Patty after his ex-wife moved with her to California? Eb’s obituary published in the Kansas City Star lends a clue. His adopted daughter is not listed within the words.
Patty married and went on to have children of her own. When she went to apply for Social Security at the age of 65, she learned a hidden secret. She had no idea she had been adopted.
Today, her family is trying to still find the clues to her lineage. The little girl born May 3, 1922 never was able to obtain the answers she sought. Her daughters are continuing the search with hopes of finding out the truth.
Diane writes a blog about the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com