A tiny house is the site of a gruesome 1905 murder
By Diane Euston
Eleven-year-old David Jenkins boarded the Metropolitan Street Railway from Rosedale, Ks. and rode it along Southwest Boulevard and into the heart of Kansas City, Mo. It had been several days since he visited his father at his tiny two-room home on Pennsylvania Ave. at the banks of O.K. Creek.
David arrived around 5 p.m., the sun still stretching its rays through the sky. As he approached, his eyebrows scrunched in confusion when he noticed his father’s back door wide open. Without much thought, David entered the little house with a skip in his step but quickly stopped dead in his tracks.
There on the floor stooped over in the doorway between the kitchen and main room was his beloved father laying in a pool of dried blood. The walls were covered in blood spatter and his father’s few possessions were scattered on the floor. Lying next to his father’s mutilated body was a blood-covered hatchet.
Practically tripping over his own feet, David turned and ran screaming through the valley and up the 20-foot hill to the top of the street. Neighbors rushed to the child and then continued into the house where they “found evidences on every hand of a murder brutally done after a desperate struggle.”
On Thursday, Sept. 21, 1905, Civil War veteran George H. Jenkins was discovered murdered inside his home at 2434 Pennsylvania Ave. While working to find the culprit, the police uncovered a web of seedy characters that led to suspicions toward Jenkins’ estranged wife, neighbors and transient characters.
George’s Estranged Wife
Mary Bennett was born in Daviess Co., Mo. in 1856 to Washington and Abigail Bennett.
In 1875, Mary married John W. Taylor and settled on a farm in the southeastern portion of the county. The couple welcomed son George in 1876 and a daughter named Jennie in 1879.
Wedded bliss wasn’t in the cards for Mary; she suffered from “bilious fever,” a condition that led to high fever, excess bile, vomiting and the yellowing of the skin. Sometime after 1880, her marriage failed and her husband left her with two children to rear.
With her two children in tow, Mary chose to move to Kansas City where she met and married George Hiram Jenkins.
A Jack of All Trades
Born in 1844 in Illinois, George was born to William and Eunice Jenkins. During the Civil War, George enlisted as a private in Company E of the 156th Illinois Infantry and served through the end of the war.
Around 1870, the entire Jenkins family moved to Franklin Co., Ks. near the town of Pomona. At age 30, George married but his wife passed away. He remarried five years later but his second wife also passed.
Even with these hardships, George was able to secure employment in mining and odd jobs. Likely for employment, George landed in Kansas City. There around 1892, he met Mary Taylor and married her.
Early Warning Signs?
After giving birth to their daughter, Margaret (nicknamed Mattie), the first of many tragedies struck this blended family. George was working as a watchmaker and the family lived at 19th and Tracy Ave. In February 1893, Mary was sent for three months to the insane asylum in Nevada, Mo.
Weeks prior, Mary had been found “waist deep in the cistern of her home to which she had leaped in a fit of despair.” The Kansas City Star reported that she became “demented on account of the waywardness of a daughter.” Jennie Taylor, 14, must have been traveling down a dark path, but the details are unclear.
After her return from the asylum, Mary gave birth to a son named David Franklin Jenkins in 1894 and the family moved just across the state line to Argentine, Ks.
Unfortunately, the couple was unable to make their marriage work. In 1898, they separated. Mary settled with her children, Mattie and David, in a three-room home in Rosedale at 1238 Lloyd Ave. where she took in boarders to earn extra money. Mary later blamed her husband’s love of the bottle and affairs with women. George, however, had a different story.
George’s Tiny House
Rail-thin, blue-eyed and a face covered with a full beard, George lived far from the life of a king, and his chosen abode he built with his own hands in 1898 was so interesting that the Kansas City Star featured a story on his accommodations. Dressed in trousers tucked into his boots and an old soldier’s cap on top of his head, “genial, sociable” George welcomed visitors to his unusual house near the bridge that crossed O.K. Creek.
The one-room structure near the foot of a hill was 8×8 and featured a dining room, kitchen and bedroom. A friend sold him the half-acre lot and for $13, George bought the lumber and erected the dwelling. He would later expand it to two rooms by adding a small kitchen off the back of the home.
George appears to have been the first veteran in Kansas City to live in a tiny house.
A small cook stove and one chair occupied the space. A trunk covered with carpet could be used for more seating, and a square-top table with a lamp hanging above it was suitable for meals. On the opposite side of the room, a long, narrow cot served as his bedroom, and a hand-made cabinet at the foot of the bed was used for dishes.
The walls were thinly covered with pine board, but when the sun was shining, the rays would cut through the cracks of the walls.
The tiny house seemed to be just fine for the old soldier who was collecting $8 per quarter from his Civil War pension and working as a lawn mower and house cleaner for extra funds.
The paper reported, “George Jenkins lives alone because, he said, someone had come between his wife and him.”
On September 21, police were called to to the scene to investigate the murder of 61-year-old Jenkins. The Kansas City Times reported, “His skull was crushed from blows from a hatchet which lay at his side.” Police suspected that the murderer had used the hammer side of the hatchet and also found a hammer covered with blood and hair nearby. George had defensive wounds on his body.
“One blow on the left side of the head crushed the skull for a distance of several inches,” the reporter wrote.
A crumpled-up piece of paper drenched in blood was found in the kitchen, and investigators believed the murderer had used it to clean his hands before exiting through the back door.
The small table in the main room was set for two people, and dinner was left undisturbed on the stove. The house had been ransacked and his trunk at the foot of his bed had been broken open.
The police claimed that the neighborhood was “infected by a number of bad characters.” Neighborhood gossip was that George had gold hoarded inside his house. Because he lived quite differently, it was easy for rumors to spread. To no surprise, the first theory was robbery.
The morning edition of the newspaper from Sept. 19 was inside the home on the table, but the evening paper and all delivered thereafter were piled up outside. That led the police to believe that George had been murdered two days earlier.
Detectives found a trail of blood from the house all the way to Penn Valley Park, south of the scene.
The day of the murder, witnesses saw George putting his furniture and bedding outside to dry in the sun. A week prior, the house was flooded when heavy rains fell. Others noted there was a young woman with black hair seen with him, and a Black man was seen looking through a notebook on the front porch of George’s house.
Around 9 p.m., 48-year-old Mary, the estranged wife, arrived with her daughter, Mattie and two boarders, Ollie Wright and Charles Milledge. She collected her son, David, and asked police if there were any life insurance papers inside the home.
The coroner took effects from the home for examination. He found a business card that verified he was once in the jewelry business, a warranty deed for a property he owned, three insurance policies – two on his children- one on his life for $243- and three letters from family members in Kansas.
Five officers worked multiple leads on the Jenkins murder, but many times their investigation led straight back to people associated with Mary.
A List of Suspects
In 1905, crime scenes were rarely contained and suspects were arrested before any evidence existed against them. Kansas City police arrested several Black men who worked and lived nearby.
They found the 19-year-old woman they believed had been with him the day of the murder and interviewed her. She was released shortly thereafter.
Milledge, the 58-year-old “crippled carpenter” who was staying with Mary, was arrested and quickly released. Another boarder, 35-year-old Wright, was picked up. He had been living with Mary since she separated from George.
The Kansas City Star described Ollie as “a shiftless fellow” who was “too drunk to talk” when he was taken into custody. His finger was smashed, and a dirty rag covered in blood was wrapped around it. Ollie claimed it happened at the railroad yards in Argentine.
Police planned to get Ollie’s story when he was sober.
Mary’s Shifty Story
Mary willingly traveled to Kansas City from Rosedale to give an interview to the prosecuting attorney, with her boarder Milledge. She told police that she didn’t think robbery was the motive–she thought it was revenge.
“[My husband] has been unfaithful to me,” Mary alleged. She explained she was once placed in the insane asylum because of his actions – not for the reasons reported by the newspaper in 1893.
Even after their separation, Mary claimed they had been on friendly terms but she disapproved of his “visits” from young women. Around the time George would get his quarterly pension, she claimed ladies would come by and visit him. Perhaps, she suggested, an angry father or jealous suitor of one of these women committed the murder.
Police did a bit more digging and found out that Mary had written the commissioner of pensions in March 1904 requesting she be given half of her estranged husband’s $8 pension. The letter claimed George “was spending his pension money with dissolute women, while she was working hard to support his two children.”
The pension commissioner wrote a letter to George that in part read, “Your wife states now, under oath that you are at present spending your pension money and earnings on lewd women and in riotous living, and that you have been doing so ever since you left your wife, which she is performing various amounts of manual labor in order to support herself and your two children, aged 13 and 11 years.”
George received the letter and told a friend he had every intention to fight her claims for his money- however, he was murdered before any action was taken.
On September 26, George was buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Kansas City, Ks.
The Trial of the Boarder
By October, police focused their energy on the boarder, Ollie Wright. After questioning him for five hours, they arrested him when his statements didn’t match up to his prior interrogation.
Both of George’s children, David and Mattie, gave statements that didn’t vary much from prior interviews. The police refused to tell the media what evidence they had to prosecute Wright.
On October 24, police arrested Mary from her home in Rosedale. Mary was released just a few hours later even though they thought she could be “an accomplice in the murder.” Attorneys for Wright said he had an “ironclad alibi.”
The preliminary hearing began Nov. 7, and the prosecutor was relying heavily on the testimony of Mattie and David Jenkins. Laws at the time made it impossible to make witnesses living in another state testify, so there was concern that the children would not.
In the end, Mary did have her two children testify, but their statements were “very different than their sworn depositions” given earlier.
It isn’t clear what the children originally told police, but due to their testimony on the stand and his alibi, Wright was released for lack of evidence.
Ollie continued to live with Mary and her children in her home for years after the hearing.
The Mystery Remains
In 1909, the Kansas City Star reported that “an aged woman, blind, decrepit and helpless” admitted in open court that she defrauded the government. She had filed a false pension, and agents weren’t prepared for her web of lies.
The old woman was none other than Mrs. Mary Bennett-Taylor-Jenkins-Milledge.
Agents had uncovered that Mary’s first husband, John Taylor left her and “declared he could not stand her treatment of him.” Mary never secured a divorce from her first husband, and he was alive and well living in Oklahoma.
Thus, Mary married George Jenkins when she was still married to her first husband.
Agents were working her case after George’s death so that Mary could get the $8 pension. While the paperwork was underway, Mary ran off to Independence in 1906 and married her boarder Charles Milledge. Even after this marriage, she still pushed forward with collecting George’s pension.
In court, she cried that she was left with no husband and was now an “object of charity” in the Rosedale neighborhood. Her 16-year-old son David promised in court “to take care of her if she should be released.”
The court was merciful, and Mary wasn’t prosecuted.
For years, Mary was at the mercy of her son and the community. When David died in Kansas City, Ks. in 1930, she is listed as a survivor. What happened to her after this point is a mystery.
In 1905, the murder of George H. Jenkins was one of three unsolved murders for the year in Kansas City. Untangling the events still doesn’t make it clear as to who murdered a Civil War veteran just blocks away from where Union Station stands today.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com