Barber County Kansas

The Barber County Index, January 9, 1918.



James L. Rutledge, son of D. C. Rutledge, formerly a citizen of Deerhead township, this county, was killed by a fellow inmate in the State Reformatory at Hutchinson last Thursday, January 3rd. Young Rutledge was serving a short-term sentence for the theft of automobile tires. His assailant is said to be a hardened criminal who boasts of having committed a murder previous to this one although there is no absolute proof that what he says is true.

The elder Mr. Rutledge, father of the slain man, will be remembered by all of the earlier settlers here. After leaving Deerhead he resided in this city about a year, when he moved to Wichita. He was noted for his versatility on subjects pertaining to Indian fighting and other frontier adventures. When the B. W. A. Henson murder case was first tried, he was the subject of much newspaper publicity as an alleged witness of great importance for the defense but it began and ended in a newspaper story. He was not called to the witness stand in any of the trial.

The crime is told in all its revolting details by the Hutchinson News of January 4th, which is here reproduced:

"A murder in cold blood, with every detail figured out ahead of time yesterday afternoon stirred every inmate of the State Reformatory, members of the Board of Administration and was a shock to those outside the institution when the facts became known. Thomas Lee, white, a holdup man sent to the reformatory from Wyandotte county, slipped up behind a fellow inmate, James Lee Rutledge, white, against whom he had a grudge, felled him to the ground with the blunt edge of an ax, and then as he lay insensible on the ground struck two quick blows with the sharp edge, almost decapitating him, causing death almost instantly.

"The two inmates were working on the extra line detail, made up of newly received men who do odd jobs inside the prison walls, and Officer James Bates, who was standing about ten feet away when the crime was committed, saw the last blow struck but before he could interfere Lee had started on a run for the cell house, Bates overtook him, took the ax from his hands and later marched him to a dark cell.

"The State Board of Administration, which comes to Hutchinson, but once every two months, was in session in the main office when the crime was committed. Lee was brought before the members, Ex-Governor, E. W. Hoch, of Marion; Dr. Wilbur N. Mason, of Baldwin, and C. W. Green of Kansas City. Judge A. W. Smith, pardon clerk for Governor Capper, was also present for the session.

"Appearing before the board, Lee was asked about the crime, and he admitted killing Rutledge, giving the reason for his act that the other inmate had accused him of having a contagious disease and having said that he (Lee) should not be allowed to eat with the other inmates. The men quarreled last Sunday but the officers or guards knew nothing of their words, or following the usual practice, they would have been placed on separate working gangs.

"While before the board and after having regained his composure Lee boastfully told of once before having killed a man. He said no one had ever accused him of the murder and no one knew of it. Lee said that in September or October, 1912, while bumming his way east on the Denver & Rio Grande railroad in a box car with another man, he held up his pal. At the point of a gun he commanded him to give up his money, when the man refused Lee said he shot him and took his pocketbook, containing about $70. This murder occurred between Helper, Utah and Green River, Wyoming.

"The board has not fully decided what will be done in the case, whether to give Lee a discharge and have him persecuted for murder, or send him to the penitentiary.

"The murder yesterday was the first one in the history of the Reformatory according to Supt. J. N. Herr. There have been fights and several cuttings and attempts to kill, but this is the first time one inmate has killed another. Several of the guards have been attacked but have always managed to escape with their lives, though Officer Sherm Monroe was terribly beaten up at one time.

"The killing could hardly have been prevented, Supt. Herr says, for every precaution is taken to separate men known to bear ill-feeling toward another. Lee had not caused any trouble since he arrived at the institution December 9th, and Rutledge was quiet and had not been in trouble. Rutledge did not fear Lee and openly dared him to fight it out, inmates said yesterday.

"Officer Bates was standing with his detail of men, who were chopping wood, but the act was committed so quickly that no one could reach the men before it was over.

"Officer E. M. Ford, who late in the evening talked with Lee and secured from him details of the first murder he says he committed, declares Lee did not feel the least concern over the killing. His chief worry is the fact that he will probably have to spend the rest of his life in a penitentiary.

"Lee, who was sent up from Kansas City has a long record of crime back of him,. though most of it was unknown when he was sent to the institution. Only 22 years old Lee has used the name of George Pierce, Jake Browley and Thomas Larned, and has served time in the House of Refuge, St. Louis, Mo., a term in the Reformatory at Ogden, Utah, where he escaped; in the penitentiary at Salt Lake City and also at Little Rock, Arkansas.

"With James Hamilton, another man, Lee got into a taxi during the street car strike at Kansas City last fall, and after driving to the edge of the city, ordered the driver to give up all hs money. He then pulled a revolver and made the driver run back to town, but an officer saw the gun and arrested them.

"Rutledge, who was sent back to the Reformatory from Sedgwick county on October 30, for the theft of some automobile tires, was 23 years old. He was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Rutledge, of Wichita, and the parents were notified of his death. They will take the body there for burial.

"Coroner H. M. Stewart had decided to hold an inquest but this will probably not be done as all the facts in the case are already known and further investigation would do little good, it is claimed.

"Officer E. M. Ford, Bertillion expert at the institution, will write to officials of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad to find out if Lee is telling the truth about the first murder he claims to have committed. His only living relative he says, is a brother James Lee, who lives in St. Louis, but this is thought to be a fake name. Officials at the reformatory believe Lee, which is probably not his real name, is a criminal of the worst type, one of the worst on record at the institution, and that he was always lived a life of crime."

Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!

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