An 1880s soap opera saga captivated Kansas City
By Diane Euston
In 1886 a lawyer watched from a distance as the Kansas City Times editor purchased a few papers from a street vendor. As the editor jumped on a streetcar, the lawyer followed him, gripping his Smith and Wesson in his jacket pocket.
He had vengeance on his mind and would stop at nothing to get it. Dr. Morrison Munford searched for a seat as the streetcar began to move. At 5:15 p.m. the lawyer climbed into the open doorway of the streetcar, drew his weapon and aimed.
“You have traduced my wife!” the shooter screamed as he fired his first shot.
Before Shots Were Fired
William Dorsey Carlile was born in 1851 in Virginia, the son of a prominent senator. After serving in the Virginia legislature, he moved to Chicago and became a successful lawyer.
In 1875 Carlile met Mary Saville Foster and they soon married. Due to poor health, Carlile often traveled to California and Colorado where the climate was thought to be beneficial. On a trip through Kansas City, he set his sights on relocating to the growing city.
Early accounts in his adoptive town show he fit in quite well and made friends quickly. He ran for prosecutor of Jackson County in 1884 on the Democratic ticket, but was unsuccessful. He welcomed two children and a third died in infancy.
Carlile Meets Sallie J. Crute
As crowds of newcomers moved into Kansas City, land prices rose. A wood hewer in the East Bottoms named William Crute left a widow and three children to split his 280 acres of prime real estate. His widow, Sarah, remarried and found herself in uncomfortable circumstances. Sarah voiced concerns to her lawyer, William Carlile. The newspapers reported that her relationship with her husband wasn’t the best, so she sent her teenage daughter Sallie J. Crute to live with her lawyer’s family at 13th and Wyoming.
Sallie’s age was always in question, but she was about 18 at the time. Before she moved into the Carlile home, Sallie was given “80 acres of the best of her father’s land.” W.D. Carlile’s intentions are unclear–was he trying to protect a young client, or was he trying to rip her off? Accounts on both sides muddy the waters, but it is clear that Sallie lived with the family and became close to Carlile’s wife.
In 1884 Sallie was given control of her estate and gave Carlile power of attorney. Sallie’s mother grew suspicious of his intentions, especially when she found out that her own inheritance had been sold by Carlile without her permission. In 1886 Sallie’s mother arrived at the Carlile home to talk some sense into her daughter who was still living there. While talking, Mary Carlile allegedly burst into the room and ordered her to leave. On the street, Mrs. Carlile screamed, “We’ll have you in the insane asylum in three months!” Sallie’s mother became convinced that both the Carliles were trying to steal their inheritance.
Despite her mother’s warnings, Sallie continued on a path destined for destruction. That same year Carlile bought two tickets at the Union Depot to California–a place he often ventured to for his health. His companion, however, was not his wife.
It was the “beautiful young girl of easy manners and a good education”—Sallie Crute. Her mother had begged her not to go, stating that her reputation would forever be ruined.
Soon this story was posted as a two-page expose in the Kansas City Times.
W.D. Carlile, described as a 35-year-old “dapper, sallow-complected little man,” arrived back in Kansas City with Sallie six weeks later, irate and well-aware of the newspaper expose. He mulled over what to do, but the damage had been done. It was said that he asked the newspaper editor, Confederate vet Dr. Morrison Munford, to print a retraction.
On May 12, 1886, W.D. Carlile marched down to the junction at 9th and Delaware in front of the Kansas City Times office with a loaded pistol and retribution on his mind. As he watched the editor jump on the streetcar with his friend, E.L. Martin (founder of Martin City), he quickly followed.
Before Munford could even sit down, Carlile drew his revolver and shot into the busy streetcar, striking Munford in his side. He fired a second shot that hit a teenage girl whose corset saved her from grave injury.
As the passengers screamed and sought shelter, Munford reached in his own pocket for his Colt revolver. Before he had the opportunity to shoot his assassin, Carlile jumped from the moving streetcar and fired two more shots. One of them hit a 50-year-old bookkeeper in the face just below the eye.
Carlile was caught by police before he could even cross the street. He was brought to the police station and charged with “assault with intent to kill.”
The Kansas City Times described Carlile as a “smiling villain,” and claimed he was known for this type of mischief, stating, “He believes the revolver is a means of settling all differences, no matter how trivial.”
A few days later Carlile’s wife entered the jail and paid his bail. Allegedly she got the money from none other than Sarah Crute.
All Carlile’s victims miraculously survived the shooting, and after paying $100 to the courts and pleading guilty to assault, he was free to go.
He knew he was no longer an upstanding citizen of Kansas City, so after selling 36 acres of Sallie’s land in the East Bottoms for $43,200, he quickly left town.
California or Bust
Shockingly, Carlile moved back to Chicago with his wife, two children and Sallie Crute in tow. By March 1887 he was buying up property in Napa, Calif., including a ranch known as the Yount mansion. This home still stands today and is on the National Register.
Carlile carried with him letters from prominent people and clippings from newspapers showcasing his stance in society. The San Francisco paper raved about his character, calling him “of engaging presence, a cultured conversationalist, pleasing, refined and intelligent.”
It wasn’t long before Carlile rose within the upper echelon of society, but inside the Yount mansion were secrets Napa was just starting to unravel. As the newspaper reported, “with him lived a very handsome young woman who was not Mrs. Carlile.”
First he told people she was the wife of a friend. Then he told them she was his cousin. Last, he claimed she was his ward.
As people were scratching their heads, his wife arrived from Chicago with her two young children. Her reaction to Miss Crute seemed to put the public at ease. They even co-hosted a grand party at the mansion where both women acted as hosts.
This harmonious arrangement was about to blow up into pieces.
Second Best Isn’t First
In January 1888 Mrs. Carlile ran away from the mansion. She was taken in by a neighbor and reported that her husband and Miss Crute had been “for a long time intimate” and she could no longer take the abuse.
Her story smelled of scandal, and the newspapers were quick to pick it up. She openly spoke with journalists and told them that she and her husband had no money. They had been living for years off the money of his mistress.
The “most abandoned wretch that ever lived,” as she called her husband, was confined to bed at the time in ill health. Poor Mrs. Carlile claimed her husband promised to break off with Sallie, so when she arrived in Napa and found them living together, she was shocked. She declared he begged her to try to live in harmony because Sallie’s money would help them, revealing that Sallie’s money had actually bought the house.
Mary Carlile claimed she tried to make it work, but, “My life was a perfect hell in that house.”
Though Carlile was in bed sick, it didn’t stop him from talking to reporters.
He insisted it was his wife’s idea to take in Sallie and use her money, and that his wife had begged him to shoot Munford in Kansas City for ruining her reputation. He even had the audacity to claim that his wife had told him to divorce her and marry Sallie.
To complicate matters, he did have some incriminating letters that backed up part of his story. Regardless, the headlines had followed the Carliles to Napa, and would force them to leave.
Divorce, Love and Marriage
In February 1888 the tumultuous and confusing love triangle came to a head. Mrs. Carlile filed two separate suits–one in Kansas City and one in Napa. She charged her husband with desertion and asked for financial support. In Kansas City she sued Sallie Crute for $50,000, asserting that Sallie “by means of offers of money, aid, social position and influence, did wickedly, willfully, designedly and maliciously debauch and seduce W.D. Carlile.”
Though most of the California property probably was purchased with Sallie’s inheritance, it was under W.D. Carlile’s name. In April, when Mary Carlile was granted a divorce, she was given 75 percent of the property plus guardianship of their two children. Twelve days later in San Francisco, W.D. Carlile made an honest woman out of Sallie and married her.
Carlile later published a 142-page “Personal Statement” printed and bound in leather. He asked newspapers across the nation to publish its availability so he could give “explanation and vindication of his conduct throughout his troubles in Kansas City and California.”
Rebranding the Carlile Name
A character such as William Carlile wasn’t about to sneak undiscovered into the pages of history. He bounced back and forth from the west coast to Chicago, still allowed to practice law in both states. Once he was sentenced to 30 days in jail after punching a defendant in court.
Law eventually fell by the wayside; his love for orchards became his priority. In addition to some new interests outside Spokane, Washington, he invested in a large apple orchard in Virginia. It seems as if the scandals were left in his dust. This may have been partially because he changed the spelling of his last name to “Carlisle” and became a widely known champagne manufacturer. His ability to turn apple juice into champagne was a brief sensation.
W.D. became a sought-after speaker at fruit conferences across the nation. Called “professor” by his newfound industry, he made his home by 1904 in Spokane.
The following year he stood to address the Northwest Fruit Growers’ Association in Boise and “dropped dead on the platform.” His death came only months before his large apple orchard manufacturing plant was set to open its doors, and it was said that valuable secret formulas for apple champagne perished with him.
In his obituary there is no mention of his children.
Soap Opera Sagas Still Hold Lessons
Sallie Crute, now Mrs. Carlisle, stayed in Spokane. By 1910 her wealth had diminished; she roomed with others and worked as a clerk in a physician’s office. She later remarried, but her fate is unknown. She never had children and lost the bulk of her money. Was it for love? Was it because she was duped?
Carlile’s first wife also opted to distance herself from her past. After moving to Chicago she changed the spelling of her last name to “Carlyle.” She died in 1912 and is buried in Chicago.
Newspapers in the 1880s called the Carlile story “one of the most remarkable scandals ever made public.” There is no mistaking the intrigue even well over a century later. Who were the true victims is still a question.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com