A little murder, a dash of haunting—we’re headed to Weatherford, Oklahoma to dicktect the unsolved homicide of Katie DeWitt James.
In July 1905, Katie took her daughter, Lulu Belle, and left her husband to stay with family members in nearby Ripley. After saying goodbye to her father at the train station, she was never seen alive again.
What really happened?
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The disappearance of Katie DeWitt James
Katie DeWitt James was a 25-year-old school teacher in Weatherford, Oklahoma (though, admittedly we did also see that she might have been from Lenore) married to Martin James. The couple had a 14-month-old daughter named Lulu Belle. Martin was not a great dude and allegedly physically abused his wife which is possibly why, at the time of our story, they had recently decided to divorce.
Katie and Lulu Belle were going to move in with family—either a cousin or an aunt and uncle in Ripley, Oklahoma. In early July 1905—sources report the 5th, 6th or 7th—Katie and Lulu Belle arrived at a train station in Cluster City. We know they arrived at the station because Katie’s father, Henry DeWitt, met them there to see them off. As he was saying goodbye to his daughter and granddaughter, he asked them to let him know when they arrived in Ripley. She agreed, and the pair got on the train.
A few days went by and Henry had not heard from his daughter, and when he inquired with the family member they were going to stay with it turned out that they had never arrived. Concerned, Henry went to the local Sheriff to report Katie and Lulu Belle missing. The sheriff wasn’t particularly concerned about Katie and her missing daughter. Since she had recently left her husband, he figured it was simply a case of someone who went somewhere else. But he told Henry that if he was concerned, he could hire a private detective named Sam Bartrell to track them down.
Henry was concerned and offered a reward for information on his missing daughter and took the sheriff’s advice and hired Sam. Sam, a former US Deputy Marshall and Oklahoma Constable and Deputy Sherrif, was working for the Oklahoma Detective Agency at the time. It didn’t take him long to discover that Katie had befriended a “prostitute” named Fanny Norton on the train. Fanny had invited her and Lulu Belle to stay overnight at a home she shared with her brother-in-law William Moore in Clinton, Oklahoma. It would appear that Katie had agreed because witnesses saw Fanny and Katie with a baby leaving the house in a buggy that was riding towards a field near Deer Creek. Fanny later returned home alone in the buggy. It had blood on its wheels.
After hearing this, Sam hired a buggy and scoured the town for Katie and her daughter. Some reports he heard claimed that Fanny had stopped at the farm of Peter Bierschied and left the baby there. A “farm boy” described a woman throwing a bundle of baby clothes wrapped in a blanket out at the farm and leaving the baby “covered in blood” with him for “safekeeping.” Sam was able to retrieve an unharmed Lulu Belle from the farm boy and was convinced that something nefarious happened to Katie.
Sam managed to track Fanny down but she denied knowing Katie or having anything to do with her disappearance. When he went back on July 28, 1905, to arrest her, he had found out that she had drunk poison and died by suicide. Records indicate that Fanny was around 33 years old when she died. She is buried in an unmarked grave in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
The murder of Katie DeWitt
On August 31, 1905, the body of Katie DeWitt was found either by local hunters and fishermen. It’s reported that she was either only skeletal remains or possibly a decomposing body. In either case, her head was described as “some distance from [her] body” and she was still wearing the hat she had on when she disappeared. She had been shot in the head from behind the right ear, and her body was found six miles northeast of Weatherford and one mile north of the Morton schoolhouse along Deer Creek.
It’s important to note that Katie had only been missing for two months so “skeletal” might be an inaccurate description, especially if she was still wearing a hat. However, she was left exposed, out in the open, so it’s possible that animal activity could explain some finding of bones and skeletal remains.
Katie’s body was identified by her father. The coroner said the motive was robbery, but she was found with a gold ring still on her finger—it’d be unlikely that murderous robbers would miss that little gem. A revolver was found near the remains.
But our story doesn’t end there—some investigators suspected that Fanny was in cahoots with Katie’s ex-husband Martin who seemed “barely impacted” by the murder of his wife. Then one bizzare article labelled both Katie and her killer, Fanny, as “Jezebels”, because they had allegedly tried to kill James earlier. Then, somehow, James and Fanny teamed up and he hired her to murder his wife. This theory was backed by the fact that James “claimed to be an invalid” who couldn’t have possibly killed his wife, and Fanny’s former husband, Mr. Ham, took Martin’s side backing up his “they tried to kill me” story.
The coronor ultimately ruled Katie’s death a murder but because her murderer, Fanny, was dead the case was never actually solved, it was simply closed. Martin went on to raise Lulu Belle on his own and eventually married again. It’s suspected that he stayed in the Weatherford area for the rest of his life. While Katie’s murder remained unsolved but closed.
Years later a man who was a boy at the time came forward to police to say that he’d seen the buggy with two women followed by two men on horseback the day that Katie was killed. Allegedly, at gunpoint, the boy was forced to take part in the murder. He said they killed Katie for the $25 she was carrying, and he was tasked with chopping her head off. It’s still weird about the gold ring though…
The haunting at Dead Woman’s Crossing
Legend says that Katie’s “restless spirit” still roams the streets and banks near Deer Creek. Those who have experienced her ghost say that she is still searching and calling for Lulu Belle. Others say that if you stand under the bridge and listen closely you can still hear the rattle of the wagon wheels above you.
If you lurk around the bridge, you might get a chance to see or hear Katie’s ghost.
Visiting Dead Woman’s Crossing
To be completely honest, Dead Woman’s Crossing is probably not on your bucket list and it’s not necessarily a place you’d go out of your way to visit because it’s literally just a bridge. That said, you can visit it.
There used to be a wooden bridge at the site where Katie’s body was found. However, 80 years after the murder in around 1985, the wooden bridge was replaced with a concrete one.
To get to the bridge at Dead Woman’s Crossing, you’ll want to take the I-49, drive north 42 miles to the stop sign, then drive a quarter of a mile east before turning north on Blacktop. You’ll find the bridge a few miles up the road.
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The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for Dead Woman’s Crossing: The Unsolved Murder of Katie DeWitt James themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:
- Scary Ghost Stories, Country Living.
- Haunted Road Oklahoma, Only in Your State
- Dead Woman’s Crossing, Atlas Obscura
- The Unsolved Murder of Katie DeWitt James, Vocal
- Search for Truth: Katie DeWitt James, Mystorical.blogspot.com
The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “Dead Woman’s Crossing: The Unsolved Murder of Katie DeWitt James” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.
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