A sexual assault like many others in the past several months took place in Shawnee at 11 P.M. on July 12, 1915. It happened when an unknown black man held up and robbed George Myers and assaulted his companion, Jenima Barto, two blocks from the girl's home on Dewey Street.
DASTARDLY CRIME LAID ON ED BERRY
A sexual assault like many others in the past several months took place in Shawnee at 11 P.M. on July 12, 1915. It happened when an unknown black man held up and robbed George Myers and assaulted his companion, Jenima Barto, two blocks from the girl’s home on Dewey Street.
The couple was down town together, and after taking Tressie Wynn to her home on Oklahoma Street, proceeded out the Santa Fe tracks. As Myers and Barto left the tracks to follow the path which left the railroad north of Highland Street, they heard steps on the rock ballast and turned around. They were confronted by a black man who had them covered with a big pistol.
The perpetrator first robbed Myers, taking $4.50 in silver. He then forced him to set down with his back toward him. Seizing the girl, he choked her close to unconsciousness, and then assaulted her. Following the assault, he prevented either from leaving and questioned them for a time. He then ordered them to stand still and proceeded about 75 yards north, disappearing into the bushes. Myers and Barto hurried home and notified the police station of the occurrence.
At 2 A.M., Night Chief Jerry Spann, Deputy Sheriff T.J. Darden, and Detective Charles Rose, after having questioned the victims, drove to the home of Ed Berry on south Bell Street. They arrested him and took him to the police station. He was later taken to the county jail in Tecumseh. At the time of his arrest, he did not inquire as to what he was being arrested for or make any comment.
In his pocket was found the silver that Myers said he took from him. He also fit the description given by the victims. He later said he supposed he was being taken for gambling. He eventually denied all knowledge of the assault.
In every one of the numerous cases of assault of a similar character in which two of the women were killed, the description of the assailant was always the same. He was also described as rather heavy set, stoop shouldered, and a dark complexion.
In the present case, the police said the sheriff’s force hoped to solve the mystery of proceeding cases in which three companions of the girls were given penitentiary sentences, though the public at large was never satisfied as to their guilt. Berry was removed from the city jail in an automobile to avoid the possibility of mob violence.
A couple of nights earlier, Detective Rose, who was especially watching Woodland Park during the summer caught Berry slipping up on a couple in the park. He accosted Berry, who flashed a gun.
“I know you, Ed Berry, drop that gun,” commanded Rose, and Berry turned and fled making his escape.
SHERIFF ROMBERG FOILS LYNCH PARTY
Sheriff F.E. Romberg foiled a Pauls Valley posse of 30 men while he had Ed Berry there for safe keeping. He used a trick that proved successful by a few minutes that caused his captive to almost die from fright.
When Berry was taken to Pauls Valley, he was placed in the new jail, which was not yet occupied. A mob organized as soon as it was known that Berry was in town, and 30 men marched on the old jail, expecting to find him there. Learning what was taking place, Sheriff Romberg hastened to the new jail, took Berry out to an automobile, and started for the train, which was just pulling in. Seeing the mob coming around a corner down the street, the sheriff deserted the car, which he ordered to proceed in another direction. He then ran with his prisoner to the train.
The mob followed the empty automobile, and before they learned the prisoner was not in it, he was safely on his way to Oklahoma City. From there he was moved again to Granite.
Berry was removed from Pottawatomie County because there were grave doubts whether he could survive a “necktie party.” The inflamed universal contempt among the public was clear that if the citizens had their way, he would have been strung up.
EARLY TRIAL FOR BERRY SOUGHT
Oklahoma’s constitution guaranteed to one accused of crime a fair, impartial and speedy trial. It was clear that a monstrous individual was guilty of a series of fiendish outrages upon innocent young women in the Shawnee community. The diabolical attacks were characterized by a marked uniformity of execution, un-paralleled for cunning, for daring, and bestiality.
Ed Berry was apprehended and incarcerated in prison in the state. The whereabouts, unknown to the public for safe keeping. He was formally charged with at least one of the unspeakable outrages. The prosecution assembled its evidence and was ready for trial. The judge of the superior court was anxious to hold a term of court, but the court fund was exhausted and could not proceed until the funds were replenished.
That being the case, certain citizens of Shawnee gave $1,000, to be donated to the court fund, so that a term of court could happen at the utmost dispatch. With that done, the public expected to see a trial in the very near future.
BERRY’S “NECKTIE PARTY” AT THE HANDS OF UNKNOWN PARTIES
All day Friday, August 6, 1915, there was a stream of curious people passing in and out of the undertaking establishment of Moore-Henniger-Gaskill Company, to view the remains of Ed Berry. The black man was lynched by an organized group of determined citizens the night before near the Beard Street bridge. They forcibly took him from the officers at the Rock Island station.
It was estimated that not less than 4,000 people came by to view the remains and that the overwhelming approval of his fate was evident. The rope which arrived with the body was soon cut for souvenirs by the callers. Since Berry proved to be a pauper, interment of the remains was at the expense of the county.
One well-known officer of the county remarked that if the people of Shawnee would have known all the evidence against him, they would not have restrained their feelings as long as they did. He said they would have broken down the walls of the penitentiary to get hold of him.
It was known as early as the preceding February, Sheriff F.E. Romberg instructed Deputy T.J. Darden to make an arrest of Berry the very next time there came to light any case of an assault upon a woman. Such was the gripping evidence and suspicion even that early attaching to Berry’s movements though he had been so cunning in his atrocious attacks that ample evidence had not yet accumulated against him.
The sheriff and deputies joined by other officers, were on the ground making investigation of the tragedy that night, but no clue was developed as to the personnel of the lynching party. A coroner’s jury to inquire into the death of Berry was empaneled by Justice of the Peace D.P. Sparks at the undertaking parlor. The witnesses examined were Deputy Sheriff Gus Mitchell, Sheriff Romberg, Fred Carey, who cut down the body and brought it to the city, the News reporter, and Deputy County Attorney Clarence Robison. The jury was composed of George E. McKinnis, E.F. Carson, A.H. Ikenberry, Stanley Vaughn, George B. Graf, and W.S. Higgins. Their verdict was that Berry came to his death “at the hands of unknown parties.”
Berry was charged with rape in two cases and suspected in at least 10 other similar events. He was taken from the officers on Thursday night, August 5, and hung to a telephone pole south of the Santa Fe bridge on south Beard Street. Since his last crime on the night of July 11, Berry had been carried from one place to another, and finally landed in the McAlester penitentiary for safe keeping.
It was the intention to try Berry at the term of the superior court called for August 9. Public sentiment had been quieted by the promise of an early trial, and when he was arraigned two weeks earlier, he was successfully slipped into the county and out again by the alert officers without molestation.
There was nothing to indicate that Berry would not be accorded a fair and impartial trial in the county. In fact, everything possible was done in the handling of the news and of the crime to discourage mob action of any kind, and to insure he could have a fair trial in Pottawatomie County.
In preparation for the term of court that was to open on August 9, Sheriff Romberg ordered Berry brought to the county jail. He was brought over in charge of Deputy Gus Mitchell, who was chosen because of his known courage and discretion. When Berry was brought to Shawnee from Oklahoma City for his preliminary, it was Mitchell who received him at Shawnee from the hands of Jerry Spann, who had successfully brought him secretly to the city from Oklahoma City.
When the train arrived from McAlester, Berry was in the charge of Deputy Mitchell. As soon as he alighted from the train, he was covered by six-shooters in the hands of masked men, who darted in a solid phalanx from the darkness. Taken by surprise, he yielded to the inevitable after a fearless gun-play, in which he was quietly, but firmly relieved of his weapons. Then 10 to 12 automobiles filled with masked men started for the Beard Street bridge over the North Canadian, the scene of one of the crimes laid to Berry.
A News-Herald reporter, who was at the Rock Island station on a business mission, followed the procession of automobiles to the river and disguised himself to escape detention from the crowd. He then witnessed the proceedings. Deputy Sheriff Mitchell had been compelled, after being disarmed to accompany the party, and while restrained from the immediate point of the hanging, witnessed the showing of guilt by the prisoner.
When they arrived at the bridge, Berry was given a chance to confess. He was not so frightened, but that he wished to save his immortal soul, and before the rope was drawn taut, though he was shaking like a leaf, he several times nodded his head to the question as to whether he was guilty of various crimes committed at Benson Park and other places. The final two at Squirrel Creek and on the Mission road, and north of the city on the Santa Fe. To nearly all the questions he mumbled “not that way,” indicating that he was wrongly accused.
The hanging of Berry, while in such a form as could not be sanctioned by law, and was to be greatly deplored, even if deplored 10 times less than the crimes he committed, was really a visitation of justice richly deserved. This seemed to be the sentiment of much of the community. He was known among the black community as a bad person. He did not associate with members of that area but was known to lie around without any special purpose. He was arrested time and again in the alleys with a gun on his person. He was known to take a car for the Santa Fe crossing and get off and walk around the park.
He was also seen time and again going north on Oklahoma Street towards Woodland Park and be near the scene of crimes that were perpetuated. In most of the cases, the description of the assailant was much the same; either a black with a small moustache, or a Mexican or an Indian, always with stooped shoulders.
Before identifying Berry, as she did, one of his victims told Sheriff Romberg: “I have lived a virtuous life for 23 years, many times against great temptations. I have always looked forward to the time when I might be happily married. And the thought that I must be despoiled by such a brute is almost more than I can bear.”
In a lineup at the Oklahoma City jail, she said this about Berry. “Heaven help me,” she exclaimed, “I don’t want to cause anybody’s death, but this is the man who assaulted me.”
Because of his past suspicious activity, the trailing of Berry was a matter of years of investigation. He was suspected long before by Night Chief Jerry Spann and other city officers picked him up. Several weeks earlier, Sheriff Romberg began trailing him. Spann believed he was guilty but could not prove it and was forced to await his time.
The sheriff believed so strongly that he was guilty that he patrolled the vicinity of Benson Park looking for him on July 5. City Detective Charles Rose and Deputy Sheriff T.J. Darden believed so firmly in his guilt that the night of his last crime, they immediately went with Night Chief Spann to his residence to arrest him.
Berry’s body was cut down at 4 A.M. and removed to an undertaking establishment to prepare for burial.