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The Redbud City: Love and marriage not so grand in Shawnee

Clyde Wooldridge
Contributing writer
Jessie McGowan, 28, and his 12-year-old bride of the previous week, Goldie Marie Whitten, are here pictured. McGowan was held in the county jail on a perjury charge because the child’s age was listed as 18 on the marriage license.


Twenty-eight-year-old Jessie McGowan languished in the county jail on Wednesday, July 20, 1938, remorseful over abrupt termination of his year-old romance with Goldie Marie Whitten, who would be 13 on July 23. McGowan was jailed the week before, when his marriage to the oldest daughter of Earl Whitten, county farmer, was discovered as a fraud.

“I didn’t know she was that young,” McGowan said. “You can’t much blame her dad for being sore at me if she’s just 12 years old. I met her about a year ago and we’d been going together sever since. She ‘kinda’ jokingly told the folks several times that we were ‘gonna’ get married and I didn’t think they’d mind. Of course, I wanted her to finish school. I was trying to get a job working on No. 9 highway that was in the process of construction. I’ve got a trailer house and we were ‘gonna’ live in it.”

McGowan, who said he had never been married before, said he learned his young bride was taken to the home of her half-sister near Moore in Cleveland County. “I’ve been trying to get Mr. Whitten to come and see me so I can make bond and get out of here,” McGowan added. “Things don’t look so good, though.”

Peace Justice W.F. Durham ordered McGowan held under $1,500 bond, pending preliminary hearing on a charge of perjury July 27. The maximum penalty was a five-year sentence in the state pen. Goldie Marie was large for her age and the Shawnee minister who performed the marriage ceremony said he “had no idea” the young bride was only 12 years old.

“I thought she looked a little young for 18,” he commented, “but after all, there was the license giving her age as 18 years, and I couldn’t dispute it. She looked to be 16 or 17 anyway.”

The license was obtained at the county court clerk’s office by a youth who signed his name as Clifford W. Dawson. He gave McGowan’s age as 28, the girl’s as 18. Neither McGowan nor the child appeared at the time the license was issued. A perjury charge was filed against Dawson, but he was not apprehended.


A tragic tale of unrequited love was unfolded by police Thursday, Sept. 16, 1938, as they officially closed their investigation into the death of Mrs. Virginia Dressler, 36, of Shawnee, and W.C. “Jack” Burford, 45, of Wichita, Kansas. It was termed as “murder and suicide.”

The couple was found dead in Dressler’s upstairs apartment at 401 N. Union Street, shortly before 9 a.m. on Thursday. Police were summoned by Eva McKenzie, occupant of the downstairs apartment, who heard a woman’s scream, followed by a shot, a lapse of a few seconds, and then a second shot. Captain Jack Cook and Detective W.C. McLarney found the bodies of Dressler and Burford sitting side by side on a divan.

She was shot through the heart, while Burford was shot in the head. A .32 caliber automatic pistol, still warm, was clutched in Burford’s right hand. Police Chief F.A. Budd said investigators learned the couple had been going together for some time.

Mrs. Dressler, described as an attractive brunette, was divorced from her former husband, the mother of three daughters and one son. They were students in Shawnee Public Schools. She was district sales manager for the Spencer Corset Company. Burford was a salesman for a Wichita, Kansas, shirt company and was working this territory for some time.

Officers learned that Dressler had dinner Wednesday evening with a man from Holdenville. Burford learned of their meeting and followed them. He came to the woman’s apartment after the Holdenville man brought her home about 1 a.m. Thursday. They had disagreeable words.

Burford returned to the apartment, which occupied the entire upstairs of the residence, at about 8:30 a.m., after the children left for school. The two apparently argued and she put on her hat, preparing to leave. He grappled with her and held her while he fired one shot at close range into her heart. The bullet passed through the woman’s body and inflicted a flesh wound in Burford’s left wrist.

The shot was fired as they were struggling in front of a small table, about four feet from the divan, determined by blood stains on the floor. Burford apparently carried the woman’s body to the divan where he placed her in a sitting position. Sitting beside her, he fired a bullet through his right temple.

Dressler lived in the apartment since the previous March. She told friends that Burford threatened to end his own life because she had refused to marry him. She said she didn’t take the threat seriously. A letter was found on Burford addressed to his sister in Wichita, saying he made “Virginia” the beneficiary of his $1,750 life insurance policy.

The bodies were removed to the Gaskill Undertaking Company following the police investigation.


A motherless, 15-year-old girl, who ran away from home three weeks earlier, returned Saturday, Oct. 15, 1938. She unfolded a sordid story that placed her 42-year-old stepfather, well known in Shawnee, under a charge of first-degree rape.

Mack Woods, lineman for OG&E, was held in the county jail without bond, following his arraignment on the rape charge before Judge Tom Stevens. Preliminary hearing was set for the following Friday afternoon. Woods’ stepdaughter, Loma Jean, a sophomore at Shawnee High School, was the complainant. She was located the previous week in Sweetwater, Texas, after she and two girl companions were missing from their home for more than two weeks.

In the presence of Woods, Sheriff Elza Evans and County Attorney Tom Wyatt, the girl related a story of numerous assaults by her stepfather over a period of four years. They began shortly after the death of her mother in 1934.

The questioning of Woods’ biological 11-year-old daughter, a pupil in junior high school, supported the story told by Loma Jean and charges were filed shortly thereafter. He had lived alone with the two children at 223 N. Union Street since the death of his spouse.

Woods lived in Shawnee for several years and was well-known in the city. He vigorously denied the girl’s story and said he was at a loss to explain it. The girls were picked up in Sweetwater and told the story of the assaults to the chief of police there. When he contacted Police Chief F.A. Budd, he recommended that Woods not be allowed to pick up the girls.


A pretty, 19-year-old mother was dead Saturday night, Oct. 15, 1938, a victim of a self-administered poison, what county authorities termed as “accidental suicide.”

The girl, Mrs. Kathryn Rhyne, died in a local hospital shortly before 8 p.m. after physicians pumped a quantity of disinfectant from her stomach. She was the wife of Gayle Rhyne, 24, clerk at the Shawnee Motor Supply Company, and mother of a 15-month-old daughter. The young couple lived in an apartment at 14 E. 10th Street. They came to Shawnee about three months earlier from Oklahoma City.

Elza Evans, county sheriff, and Tom Wyatt, county attorney, said after an investigation the girl apparently had swallowed “too much” of the poisonous disinfectant in an attempt to “scare” her husband. The young couple had a little “spat.” The girl ran to the medicine cabinet, lifted the bottle to her lips and intended only to take enough to arrest her breath. Physicians, who used a stomach pump, said death was hastened by her empty stomach.

These stories all appear, along with hundreds of others, in the six-volume history of the City of Shawnee. The first four volumes, through 1989, are now available for purchase at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society. You may order them online at their website, or by calling (405) 275-8412. Each volume is $35, but a purchase of two or more volumes can be obtained at $30 each. Volume five, (1990-2009) is coming in the late spring. Volume six, (2010-2021) should follow quickly in the fall.