Earl Wiseman, 25, and George Shanks, 44, were serving prison terms at the Missouri State Penitentiary. They were convicted of killing Arthur Robinson in 1934. The only thing left of Arthur was a small pile of human bones and teeth found in the ashes of a huge log fire on the banks of Mingo Ditch, about eight miles southwest of Puxico, just outside his cabin.
Arthur, 30, and a bachelor had been missing ten days. The neighbors were the ones that found what they believed were the still smoking remains of Arthur and the police was called. A pair of bloody overalls were found behind the stove in the cabin, a shredded underwear also splattered with blood pointed to foul play. A bloody club was also found. An inquest ended with a verdict of death by unknown parties.
Sheriff Barham soon made an arrest. Earl Wiseman who lived across the river in Butler County was detaned when William Smith, Robinson's brother-in-law pointed out that he was wearing clothes that belonged to the dead man. The sheriff also found other items that belonged to Arthur Robinson inside the man's house. One of these was a 12-gauge single barrel shotgun. WIseman said he bought everything from Robinson, and the clothes were bought at a store in Poplar Bluff.
The arrest of George Shanks soon followed since police suspected he was implicated in the crime. When the police arrested Shanks he was told the charge involved deserting his wife. With an oath he told the sheriff he had not deserted her, it was the other way around, and that she left him to go live with Arthur Robinson. Once he was told his arrest was due to Robinson's murder, he just denied knowing the man altogether.
Arthur Robinson built his log cabin a year before along the St. Francis River. He made money by farming a little, hunting and cutting timber. His nearest neighbor lived almost a mile away. He was known to wander around and frequently visit with his neighbors despite the distance.
They reported the last time they spoke to him was several days before, when he was trying to rent his property. When he was not seen or heard from the neighbors went searching for him.
After the arrest of Shanks and Wiseman, the police were looking for Shank's wife. Once they caught Flodie she told Sheriff Barham that her husband had threatened Robinson's life.
By then the police theorized that Robinson had been beat with the club, then dismembered with an axe, and finally thrown into the fire to get rid of the evidence. The motive being Robinson's relationship with Flodie Shanks.
The state was confronted with a problem when trying to prove their case. The only facts were that someone was murdered in Arthur Robinson's one-room shack, and that an attempt was made to hide the crime by destroying the body with fire. The bones and teeth found in the fire could not be proved to belong to Arthur Robinson.
However circumstantial evidence mounted against the two men arrested, especially after Robinson's wallet was found in Wiseman's possession. Inside there was a photograph of Robinson's niece. However one of Robinson's neighbor gave a statement that Wiseman once approached Robinson about buying the wallet from him.
Several neighbors gave statements as to the movement of Arthur Robinson and the accused men. Some pointed to the men's innocence in the crime, others cemented Shanks' motive since he denounced Robinson and made threats against him. It still did not prove that Arthur Robinson was dead.
This became a moot point when on February 9, Earl Wiseman made a confession in the killing and burning of Robinson's body.
Accounts told to police described Robinson as "a bad actor" who'd kept Shanks' wife and sister at his home when Shanks was away. Robinson swore to get the other man's wife.
In his confession, Wiseman said that one night in January 1934, he was on his way to see his girlfriend. Shanks stopped him and they walked down the railroad track. He told him Robinson had threatened him. He lent Shanks a .38 pistol that he carried on him, and accompanied the other man to Robinson's home. The role Wiseman played was lookout, and he stood outside as Shanks entered the home. After five minutes a shot rang out. Shanks came out and said, "I got him". Wiseman agreed to come back the next day to move the stuff and burn the house. Shanks said he would do the rest.
Wiseman said he never saw the body, but found ashes on the floor covering up blood when he returned to the house the following Monday. He didn't see Shanks again until they were put in jail together.
The February 9, headlines described how three persons were being charged with the murder of Arthur Robinson, "the tie hacker whose dismembered and charred body was found Friday in the ashes of a brush fire close to his cabin".
Eventually four persons were arrested. They were Mr. and Mrs. Shanks, Earl Wiseman and Lura Spencer.
According to Sheriff George Barham, the burned body was identified by fillings in the teeth. The ax which the body was allegedly dismembered with was found hidden four miles from the victim's cabin.
Despite Wiseman's confession, Shanks denied the entire version he gave.
The state dropped charges against Mrs. Shanks and her sister Lura Spencer but placed them under appearance bonds as witnesses for the state.
At the hearing for the men, scheduled for February 15, 1934, 125 friends and relatives showed up. Forty-three witnesses appeared consisting mostly of people who lived where the crime was committed. Two defense witnesses, Sanford Grider and Willis Whiffen who appeared at the trial were placed under arrest, evidence having been discovered indicating that they were in some way implicated in the murder of Arthur Robinson.
What this evidence was, or if this was a maneuver to silence defense witnesses will never be explained.
The case was being carried forward on a strong chain of circumstantial evidence linked by the prosecuting attorney Henry Phillips and Sheriff George Barham. Without a body, Wiseman's confession allowed the state to proceed with the charges.
Another clue, never voiced in court, was that authorities found in their investigation that Art Robinson seemed to have been a backwoods Romeo. If a woman was married or engaged didn’t stop him, and this fact, more than robbery made them suspect the “supposed” bachelor had earned the enmity of the men in the area.
In the end, George Shanks and Earl Wiseman got 20 and 10 years respectively for the murder of Arthur Robinson to be served at Missouri State Penitentiary.
However on March 8, 1935, an article ran in a local Missouri newspaper describing how Arthur Robinson's ghost was seen.
It all started when Sheriff Lester Massingham received a letter from Joe Hume in Croker, Arkansas. It turned out that Arthur Robinson was not a bachelor after all, and Mr. Hume had married his widow. Her half-brother, Belmont Ham, 14, claimed to have seen and talked with Arthur Robinson in Little Rock at the Pacific Missouri railroad yards. One has to wonder if Joe Hume questioned the validity of his marriage or if his wife had committed bigamy after this encounter.
The sheriffs from Stoddard county and Butler county, interviewed the boy right away.
Belmont said, "Yes sir, I saw him, I met him several weeks ago in the railroad yards at Little Rock. I walked up to him and asked, 'Ain’t you Arthur Robinson?' and he said, 'Yes, but how do you know?' You're supposed to be dead, and Earl Wiseman and George Shanks are doing some days for the murder in the state pen.”
The "dead man" replied, "They ought to be doing life." The boy was distantly related to Robinson and according to him, knew him well.
Belmont told authorities, "We slept together that night in a refrigerator car and he tried to get me to go with him to Nevada, Missouri."
Sheriff Massingham learned that Tom Foster another neighbor, talked with Robinson on the streets of Poplar Bluff. There's no mention of law enforcement's efforts to corroborate this encounter.
On March 7, Sheriff Massingham said he would make no further attempt to find Arthur Robinson, stating, "If Robinson is alive he will show up."
Needless to say, Robinson never showed up alive, which would make sense if he staged his demise.
According to the authorities they knew they had the right men, because otherwise why would anyone confess to a murder they didn't commit.
And that’s exactly what happened, no further investigation was made whether it was true if Arthur Robinson was alive or not, and if perhaps the charred body belonged to someone else. Was it so strange to believe a man crafted a plan to leave an unwanted wife behind, stage his own murder and perhaps kill another to take his place in a pyre? Why it was easier to believe that Robinson was a victim, instead of a cunning, but charming seducer of other men’s women could only be answered by those who long ago lie in their graves as well.
In 1953, Fred Dickenson wrote an article detailing the entire affair for the local newspaper. Again the gist of the story, is that Arthur Robinson was killed because of his dalliance with different women in the area.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer