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Mollie Lewis Acquitted


Posted By: Karen Brewer (email)
Date: 1/7/2018 at 20:56:36

The Osceola Democrat, Osceola, Iowa
Thursday Feb 23, 1899, Page 1

Mollie Lewis Acquitted.
Found Not Guilty of Criminal Libel by the Jury.

The State vs. Mollie Lewis was called at 2 P. M. Monday. This was the celebrated case resulting from the secret distribution during part of 1897 and '98 of anonymous letters, obscene in character, principally in the door yards of Osceola citizens. Many of the most prominent residents of the town, of both sexes, were named in a scandalous way in these letters.

The defendant, Mrs. Lewis, is a young woman with clear-cut features, dark eyes and hair, and an erect, graceful carriage. She has been a teacher in the city schools. She is now separated from her husband, and living with her parents.

On this occasion she was accompanied in the court room by her mother, Mrs. A. C. Forney, two sisters, her cousin, Miss, Etta Paul, of Cherokee, Kansas, and her brother, Corporal Herman Forney, a soldier of the 50th Iowa in the late war. Mrs. Lewis' dress was plain black with a black hat having a dash of pink in its trimming. Her manner was but slightly nervous. Messrs. Jamison and Park, her attorneys, had associated with them, in the defense Attorney Williams of Clarinda.

County Attorney Touet stated to the jury the charge against Mrs. Lewis and proceeded to challenge on examination, using three peremptory challenges. The county attorney had associated with him Attorney V. R. McGinnis of Leon.

The defendant's attorneys asked the jury if any were related to Mrs. Peake, Mrs. or Dr. Armstrong, Mrs. Wick, Mrs. Fiero, Mrs. F. P. Barnhill, the defendant's husband Charles A. Lewis, Mrs. P. A. Boylen, or Miss Vi Fouche; also whether Mr. Touet or Tallman & Crist were employed by anyone as attorney, or whether any employed Dr. Armstrong as physician.

The jury as finally chosen was as follows: William Brower, A. L. Baldwin, A. Coon, J..W. Hidy, Frank Johnson, W. P. Kernahan, Elias McKinney, D. A. Royce, J. C. Stull, George Schaffer, T. D. Smith and S. S. Critchfield, all from the regular panel except Mr. Critchfield who is a member of the grand jury for 1899.

The opening statement for the state was made by Mr. McGinnis of Leon. He read the indictment made on the letter found by Mrs. Armstrong July 25, 1898, omitting part of the letter as indecent. He said the prosecution expected to prove that on or about the 25th of July, 1898, Mrs. Mollie Lewis dropped this letter accusing Miss Vi Fouche and Mrs. Nan Peake of various scandalous and libelous things, in the yard of Dr. G. T. Armstrong; that it accused Nan Peake of unchastity, and spoke of G. T. Armstrong and "his Indian wife" and Nan Peake, and asks them if they can why they do not find who wrote these letters; that they had the grand jury investigate and a detective; that it accused Dr. A. of having Miss V. F. at his office and other places for vile purposes, and asserted that men had been seen coming out of Nan Peake's room at all hours of day and night; that they had dropped ten of these letters and would kill Nan Peake yet. The letter was signed "Committee of Three," as many others were.

Mr. McGinnis said the testimony would show that Mollie Lewis told Mrs. Armstrong there would he the worst scandal in town ever heard of before snow flew; also that defendant made vile statements to Mrs. Boylan about Mrs. Peake. Villifying anonymous letters soon appeared.

About February, 1898, a letter was dropped in front of A. B. Lewis' house, and a few minutes after Mollie Lewis
was seen by G. T. Armstrong at that place acting strangely. Mrs. F. P. Barnhill also saw her, and walking along soon after her picked up a letter. A letter was found in Dr. Armstrong's woodshed. In April, 1898, Mrs. Armstrong saw Mollie Lewis come out of her brother's home opposite and go to the woodshed, and the next morning Mrs. Armstrong found a letter similar in character and writing in the woodshed to the one on which the indictment was found. On July 25th Mrs. Armstrong saw Mollie Lewis come to the woodshed and throw a letter into the yard. It was about 11:30 P. M. Dr. and Mrs. Armstrong went up stairs to go to bed; Mrs. Armstrong came back down to pick up a mattress that had been left out. Their are lights of the street and from the house lighted the space around the woodshed. Mrs. Armstrong stood in the shade of the house, and saw Mrs. Lewis coming across, and saw her come in the light and throw the letter in the yard. Mrs. Armstrong picked it up, took it upstairs and read it to her husband. The grand jury found the indictment on this letter.

J. H. Jamison for the defense said about one hundred letters had been found. He said no attempt would be made to say that these letters had not been dropped or that the parties named in any of them had not been libeled. The defendant would only prove that she had no part in the writing, or distribution or publication of those letters. She would prove by witnesses that on the 25th of July, 1898, she was not from home from 9:00 o'clock P. M. to 9:00 o'clock A. M. next day. She would show by her room mate that night, by two business men of Osceola there until 12:00 o'clock that night and by all the family that she was at home. Hundreds of people passed on the streets where these letters were dropped, nightly. There is no proof of the defendant more than of others dropping them there.

Mrs. P. A. Boylan was the first witness called after the state's witnesses were sworn. In '97 ran a home bakery. Mollie Lewis came in there in fall of '97. Staid about one-half hour and talked. Said Mrs. Peake was a vile woman; called her bad names. Accused Mrs. P. of having a loathsome disease. Said she'd make it very warm for her. Mrs. Lewis at other times made the same remarks about Mrs. Peake when in the bakery. Often came there.

Cross examination: Could not remember what month the talk occurred in. Persisted in saying Mollie Lewis called Mrs. P. bad names, but witness declined to repeat the words saying to the jury "I should think you'd understand without my saying them." Mrs. Lewis began the talk. Was busy and could not pay much attention but heard what was said. Could not remember month or day or year of second time Mrs. Lewis came.

Mrs. S. S. Wick: Had a conversation a year ago in Goldsmith Bros'. store with Mollie Lewis. Defendant said Mrs. Peake was a woman of bad character; said Miss Painter could not be used for same purpose Mrs. Peake had. (Miss Painter being the new clerk in Lewis' store instead of Mrs. Peake.)

Cross-examination: Did not talk to Mollie Lewis about Nan Peake separating her and her husband. Did not believe Mollie Lewis referred to this matter of separation in saying they could not use Blanche Painter as they did Nan Peake. (Mrs. Wick's testimony before grand jury recalled. Said there Mollie told her Miss Painter was different from Nan Peake, as she was a nice girl.) Mrs. Wick said the idea was the same. Said she understood that Nan Peake was accused of being of easy virtue with Lewis.

Mrs. F. P. Barnhill: Had talk with Mollie Lewis about February, '98, concerning Vi Fouche going to Hot Springs. Defendant said Mrs. P. had gone—concluded to leave the doctor. Mrs. Barnhill picked up anonymous letter in front of A. B. Lewis' residence gate. (Identified it.) Had seen Mollie Lewis pass there about ten minutes before she passed up street. Saw no one else pass. It was about 10 or 11 in forenoon.

Cross-examination: Mollie Lewis did not say what doctor Vi Fouche concluded to leave. As to the letter, witness saw Mollie Lewis going north past Lewis'. Was watching her. Did not see her drop letter. Gave letter to Miss Fouche. Dr. Armstrong was passing. Miss Fouche called him in and he read it.

Mrs. G. T. Armstrong: Witness is one of the persons that have been libeled in these letters, In the spring of '97 had conversation with Mollie Lewis. She said there would be one of the biggest scandals ever known in this town before snow flew. No letters had been written then. She said there were worse persons than Mollie Lewis and she'd prove it.

On July 25, 1898, about half-past eleven witness had gone up stairs to retire. Had come down again to get a mattress on a line by the woodlouse. The wood house is on the street and 15 or twenty feet from the dwelling house. Saw Mollie coming from the direction of Mrs. Ballreich's. She paused every two or three steps and seemed to be looking at the house. Witness was standing at the northeast corner and Mollie came up on walk on the northwest corner, in the electric light of the house from the open door. Four lights shone in her face. Witness stood in the shadow. She saw her throw a letter. Picked It up. (Identified it.) After picking it up witness carried it to her husband. Was 12 or 15 feet from the defendant when the letter was thrown.

Cross-examination: Wrote on letter "Monday evening, July 25th, 1898," knowing it was of importance. Also had company that evening, so know date. First saw Mollie Lewis coming from the south by the lot next to theirs—probably 50 feet away. Witness was about three feet from northeast of the woodhouse, and about 15 feet front Mrs. Ballreich's lot. Saw her by arc light as she came. Before the grand jury witness said she saw her in the moonlight. Witness said she called attention to the fact of this being a mistake after Mr. Touet read it to her. Did not notice it when minutes were first read to her. Knew arc lights were on because company was there about half-past ten and was talking about them and reference made to their being shining. Mollie Lewis wore a a brown skirt, probably her wedding dress; light shirt waist, white standing collar. Knew Charley Lewis gave her this brown dress. Had no hat on. Arc light on both sides of block they live in. One from the south shone on her must. Was a fence between her and Mollie as she came up. Heard clock strike 1/2 hour before retiring. Lights burn all night in their house, so were not turned off. Did not call doctor, or speak to Mollie or anyone. Did not ever tell anyone at any time that this incident occurred between eight and nine o'clock in the evening. Did not tell Ethel Dague
so. Thinks it was nearer 11:35 to 11:45 than any other time. Did not tell Lottie Binkerd she found the letter shortly after 10. Told Mrs. Binkerd it was strange she received a letter through postoffice accusing Mrs. Barnhill. Afterward made it up. Asked Mrs. Burr, Mrs. Tabler and others next day if they saw Mollie Lewis that night, but didn't ask how she was dressed.

Redirect: Saw Mollie Lewis another time, in the door of her brother's house, then saw her go to the gate and cross to their woodhouse, on 14th of April, 1898. Next morning about 10 o'clock a letter was found in the woodshed. (Identified it.) Talked to Ethel Dague next morning after the 25th of July incident. Asked her if she saw Mollie. Did not tell the time of seeing the letter dropped. Mrs. Binkerd was at the house and talked about letters in August.

(The County Attorney offered the letter dropped near the woodshed July 25 and also one found in woodshed in April as evidence, also letter Mrs. Barnhill picked up in front of A. B. Lewis'. The one found in woodshed was afterward withdrawn, and all testimony relating to it.)

G. T. Armstrong: Remember hearing of a letter found in front of A. B. Lewis'. Saw Mrs. Mollie Lewis about opposite Babb's barn at the time between 10 and 11 that day. Was called in the milliner's shortly after this and shown the letter. Was about Lewis' folks. On the evening of July 25th, '98, was retiring about 11:30. Wife soon came with a letter and said she saw Mollie Lewis put it in the yard. (Identified letter.) Has found that lights shining through the west door will shine on the northeast corner of the woodshed, and part of the street. Light from the arc light east of his house would shine on anyone in front of Mrs. Ballreich's. Repeated the testimony of his wife as to the time.

Cross-examination: Does not know personally about the finding of this letter before A. B. Lewis'. There is a maple tree 3 or 4 feet from the northwest corner of the coal house, trimmed about 8 or more feet from the ground.

Mrs. Armstrong recalled: (Indicated positions of self and Mollie Lewis on the evening of July 25th, by a plat offered.) Vine on the porch made shade. Corner of the house is north of the woodshed. Light could not shine south on account of the vine. Shone out of west door front the library and sitting room.

Tuesday morning the witnesses for the defense were sworn immediately when court convened.

Mrs. Lottie Binkerd: Talked to Mrs. Armstrong about the letter of July 25th, about a month later. Witness went to ask, because she heard Mrs. Armstrong suspected her of throwing letters. Mrs. Armstrong told her the letter was thrown in the yard a few minutes after 10 P. M.

Cross-examination: Mrs. A. did not say anything about some girls being on the street about 10 o'clock. Witness said she did not go to see Mrs. A. to be able to say anything about this matter. Mrs. A. told her all about it.

Ethel Dague: Talked to Mrs. Armstrong the afternoon of the day after the 25th. Mrs. A. said the letter was thrown at half-past ten.

Cross examination: Not sure Mrs. Armstrong said half-past 9 or 10, but know she said 10 in some way. She asked whether witness saw Mollie Lewis and what she wore. Did not speak of seeing any other parties on the street but Mollie Lewis and sister. Witness' mother, sister and herself were present during the talk.

Mrs. Mollie Lewis, the defendant, called: Husband's name is Charles A. Lewis. Been separated from him two years in April. Worked in at shoe store sometimes a few days at at time is all she has done to earn a living. Heard of letters being thrown and found by parties. First heard of it about two years ago. Mr. Williams showed her one referring to herself. Has seen others since she was indicted. First heard herself accused of throwing letters in July. Two or three days after July 25th went to Mrs. Armstrong's, taking her cousin, Miss Paul, to talk about it. Mrs. A. told her she knew she threw it the 25th.

On July 25th defendant went calling in the afternoon. Went to Clell Collier's for tea, returning home at eight. Went immediately up town. Found a crowd hearing a man sing at the southeast corner of the square. Talked to persons, staid a few minutes, and then went to Hall & Rice's, then back to the southeast corner of the Square, then soon after 9 went home, going west to Jamison's house then south home. Staid all evening with her mother and sisters. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Sanford came in a few minutes and staid till 12 o'clock. Was out in the yard, etc., with these people all evening. Did not leave them. Never that or any other evening threw a letter in Armstrong's yard. Wore light wool dress that evening. Wore no shirt wasit. Dress all of time same material. Did not wear a linen collar. Sanford and Edwards staid till the clock struck 12. Her mother spoke of the lateness of the hour. Retired half an hour latter. Did not leave the house after 9 P. M. Her cousin slept with her.

Had conversation with Mrs. Wick while she was clerk at Goldsmith's. Mrs. Wick asked witness why she did not apply for a position at the corner store. ( Lewis'.) Witness replied "0, they wouldn't want me." Mrs. Wick asked "What was the matter with the other one?" Witness said she did not know. Mrs. W. said that Blanche would make a good clerk. Witness answered "Yes, Blanche was a perfect lady." Meant by this that Miss P. would never stay, in the store and make trouble between husband and wife. Witness had objected to Mrs. Peake clerking there. Nothing was said in the talk with Mrs. Wick about letters.

Had a talk with Mrs. Boylan. Mrs. B. called her in. Mrs. B. asked how she was getting along and told her not to worry, for Mrs. Peake was doing these things to worry her. Said Mrs. P. was not worth wiping her feet on. Witness did not call Mrs. Peake vile names or say she had had a bad disease.

Heard of a letter being found in front of A. B. Lewis', soon after. Had a talk about Vi Fouche. Mrs. Barnhill said if she was Vi she would never have left Osceola now. People were talking that she had to go, etc., and Mrs. Barnhill said she didn't see how she could leave the doctor now.

Never dropped a letter anywhere. "Would not soil my hands or my soul with such things."

Cross-examination: (Repeated the testimony about talks with Mrs. Wick, Boylan and Barnhill.) Did not herself say anything about Mrs. Peake. Does not feel "as she ought" about Mrs. Peake. Did not speak against her to any of these ladies. Did not say she never heard of herself being written up in these letters till after she was indicted. Frank Edwards and Sam Sanford were at the house. Were there from 9 to 12. Mother, two sisters, cousin, herself, and these two gentlemen were out in the yard visiting from 9 to 12. She did not leave in all that time. Wore same dress as in calling and to tea. Told how she was dressed for two or three days previous.

Redirect: Attention was called to the accusation against her so soon after and how she was dressed, makes her remember the dress and so on so well. Saw the first letter she was written up in about a year and a half ago.

Cross-examination: Was written up in two or three letters after her indictment. Saw them at Jamison's office.

Miss Etta Paul of Cherokee, Kansas: Was at A. C. Forney's July 25th visiting the father of the defendant. On the evening of July 25th same testimony as to being with Mrs. Lewis on that evening calling, to tea, and up town as given by the defendant. Corroborated defendant's testimony as to guests arriving, the talk in the yard, etc. Knows defendant did not leave the, company. Retired about half-past12. Dressed for bed at once after going in. Was with Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Forney and the two girls. Went after undressing into the dining room, ate and chatted there. Slept with Mollie Lewis. Heard of the accusation next week. Went with the defendant to see Mrs. Armstrong. Asked Mrs. A. when the letter was dropped. Mrs. A. responded "Madam, none of your business." Does not remember hearing her tell the defendant what time the letter was dropped.

Cross-examination: Mrs. Forney was sitting on the porch that evening. Part of the company were on the porch and
part in the yard. Mrs. F. retired a few minutes before the boys left. When they went in Mrs. F. told them they should have made the boys go sooner, as it was late. Witness and Mrs. Lewis were together all the time.

Frank Edwards: Called at the defendant's home on July 25th on Miss Paul and Mrs. Lewis. Went about 9:30 with Mr. Sanford. On the porch and in the yard with the company. Left there between half-past 11 and 12. Would put time at quarter to 12 most nearly. Left Mrs. Lewis there.

Remembers Mrs. Lewis and Miss Paul going together to get a drink and brought them some. Was gone two or three minutes.

Cross-examination: Was on the way home, stopped at Forney's. Mr Sanford or witness looked at the time as they came up town. Won't say positively as to the time. Does not remember telling Dr. Armstrong a short time time ago that they left between eleven and half-past. Remember talking to him about the time.

Sam Sanford: Called at Mr. Forney's that evening, July 25th. Same testimony as to the company there. Thinks they left there about a quarter of 12. Does not remember himself about her going for the water.

Cross examination: Does not remember time positively, but think about 11:45.

Grace Forney: Corroborated all former testimony as to persons and events of the evening of July 25, after her return home a little after 9. Young gentlemen left about 12. Defendant did not leave company at any time that evening.

Cross-examination: Witness looked at the clock when her mother spoke of the time and saw it was about 12.

Mrs. A. C. Forney Remembers visit of Edwards and Sanford July 25th. Same as others told about this. Thinks she went to bed, leaving them at half-past 11. Does not know of defendant leaving premises. Struck 12 about time they came in.

Cross-examination: From 11:30 to 12 was in the house. Defendant was not away but a moment or two to get a drink, if at all.

Redirect: Mrs. Lewis could not have left the premises prior to the time witness went in the house without her knowing it.

Maude Forney: Same matters about Edwards' and Sanford's visit and what occurred and times concerned. Defendant did not leave premises during the evening.

F. N. Kyte: Prepared plat of the Armstrong premises. Twenty-one feet from Dr. Armstrong's house to the fence. About 23 feet to the walk. Woodshed is 12 feet and four inches long. Woodhouse is 11 feet south of the walk from the door. Woodhouse is 9 feet and 8 inches wide. Distance from northeast corner of the woodhouse to the west door is 11 feet.

Capt. McKeever: Had examined the Armstrong premises. Examined the plat. Had measured premises with tape line. Person standing 3 feet east of the northeast corner could not see a person 50 feet south on the walk. Line drawn front said point would strike the walk at 60 feet. House interferes with the light from the northeast are striking the woodhouse. Light strikes about 60 feet from the northeast corner for about 3 or 4 feet on the walk. Trees cut off the arc light front the south are so he thinks they would obscure.

Trees obscure the light at the northeast corner of the shed. Clothes line is angling, so on the west is north of the walk. Would be on the south of one standing 3 feet from the walk.

Cross-examination: Was not there at night. Examined premises this morning. House and barn obscure the north arc light. Is open space between the buildings. Arc light is north and east of Armstrong's. If there was no obstruction the light would shine between the buildings. Trees stand on the east side of the walk south of Armstrong's. Would cut off the light from any one standing in position indicated by Mrs. Armstrong. Are trimmed higher than any one's head, perhaps two or three feet. Stand south of open space. Barn obstructs the north light. Is a distance of three or four feet on that walk running south that a person could be seen, from three feet east of woodhouse.

(Defense offered calendar showing date of moon rise and setting, July 25, 1898)

Sam Sanford recalled by the prosecution on cross-examination. Armstrong asked him if the boys left Forney's before 11:30. Told him he believed it was later. Armstrong asked him if it was as early as ten.

Edwards recalled by the prosecution: Don't remember telling Mrs. Fiero in the post office in September, '98, that we did not leave there later than 11:30.

Mrs. Barnhill recalled by the prosecution: Denied ever telling Mrs. Lewis she did not see how Miss Fouche could leave the doctor and go south. Said nothing derogatory. Has had no trouble with Miss Fouche about this case. Has been written up in letters.

Mrs. Boylen recalled by prosecution: Denied telling Mrs. Lewis anything derogatory to Mrs. Peake.

Dr. Armstrong recalled by prosecution: Asked Edwards about three months ago when they left Forney's. Edwards said he didn't know the exact time, but thought about 11 or might have been a few minutes later. Same day spoke to Sanford. Had same kind of answer as to time.

Mrs. A. A. Fiero: Talked to Edwards about the time. He said it was about 11 P. M.

Cross-examination: Has taken interest in the ease. Has not helped raise funds to assist Mrs. Peake. Business men have done so. Has been written up in letters.

Case rested here to allow the jury to view the premises of Dr. Armstrong, in charge of the sheriff.

It is a praiseworthy fact, that during the giving of the whole testimony above, not any sensational or indecent matter was brought forward as might so easily have been done had not the attorneys on both sides carefully refrained front permitting it. They labored only to prove facts relating to the dropping of these obscene letters, without bringing out their contents.

The case was submitted to the jury Tuesday evening about five o'clock, and in four or five hours a verdict of not guilty was returned and the defendant discharged and bond exonerated.

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