Welcome to Interesting If True, a weekly comedy podcast that will hold your interest, if not water… I’m your host this week, Steve, and with me are our panel, Shea & Aaron.
I’m Shea, and this week I learned how much my wife truly loves me. I woke up last night with her pushing a pillow against my face to keep COVID-19 at bay. I’m #blessed
I’m Aaron, and this week I learned that being invisible would also make you blind because light would pass through your retina… I’ve been watching a lot of quarantine-anime…
I’ve also been boning up on true crime, so…
Wouldn’t Say I’ve Been Missing Him…
Diving into this story, first, I need to set the stage.
The year is 1929—which started on a Tuesday, that’s a true—it was the end of the Roaring Twenties. Soon Wall Street would kerplunk ushering in the Great Depression, Hooverville, and of course the Dalek occupation of the Empire State Building. Followed shortly thereafter by the invention of the color TV by H. E. Ives at Bell Telephone Laboratories, which totally wasn’t playing with recovered alien technology.
Meanwhile, the American south was… sweaty and smelled of Elder berries and gin stills. Also bigotry. It smelled like bigotry.
Amid the hustle and bustle of the southland [cough], there was a man. A myth. A Legend. Ok, a legend of a ghostly man who might be a myth, but that’s close to the same thing.
Connie Franklin was his name and splitting lumber was his game. Apparently.
Born in 1895—which started on a Wednesday, just FYI—he would grow up in obscurity. The first real mention of Connie was January of 1929 when the now #SourthernMath 22-year-old (by his own account) set out toward the town of St. James in Stone County, R-Kansas.
Now, the interesting thing about Connie Franklin is that he either played the harp or was brutally murdered.
Setting into town Connie found employment as a hired hand splitting wood and doing manual labor. As was his way. He soon met 16-year-old Tiller Ruminer…-ish.
There’s some disagreement on her name. It could have been Tillar, Tiller, Tiler, or Tillie. Stories vary. I’m going to use Tiller because that’s how she’s called in the March 11 edition of the 1942 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one of the nearest-to-contemporary sources I could find.
Connie quickly fell for Tiller. She was sixteen, had great—milk-free—legs, and was polio-free. What more could you want? The two quickly fell in love and for a while life was as less-terrible as it could be in 1929.
On the 9th of March, they eloped. Or tried to, anyway. They’d gone to see the local magistrate… or umm… lord, high hibildy-piboly maybe. He who had the most teeth and therefore wed people. But alas, he was out woo-ing Jenn’s Great-Gran mother with that very same pearly white. Singular.
Just kidding Jenn, we miss you!
Anyway, Connie and Tiller, having never made it to the altar began the long, and I assume swampy, journey home.
But he would never arrive!
Local Sharif Sam Johnson investigated but found nothing. Most folks just assumed Connie got cold feet and fled Arkansas.
We need to take a moment out of this entirely reality based rom-com and introduce a woman actually named Bertha. Bertha Burns. She fancied herself a detective and, not having any of that cold-footed malarky, set out to find some of that ee-loo-seev ev-e-donce.
Fast forward a few months and she found a bloodied hat on her land. Her near-the-trail-to-the-justice-of-the-peace land even! Using the hat and the impassioned pleas of some lady who claimed to be Connie’s sister she dragged the Sheriff away from whatever fried-sadness passed as a doughnut back then and presented him with a small patch of scorched earth and a heaping helping of charred bones.
Tiller was called to the Sharif’s yurt or whatever and after much prodding and promises of protection, she told him the terrible story of their way home. The two were set upon by four “knight riders”. Hubert Hester and Herman Greenway assaulted Tiller in the woods while Joe White and Bill Younger beat, murdered, and set fire to Connie.
After assaulting Tiller the four kidnapped her for two weeks and intimidated her into months of silence. I say “intimidated” and they “threatened to kill her” sure, but they also showed up at her family’s house and “whipped her father and mother, [and] carried away her brother as a hostage”. So not ideal.
With a clear, and yellow-media-titrating, picture of what happened to Connie the grand jury issued arrest warrants for the four men, Hester, Greenway, White, and Younger.
Shortly thereafter began the trial of the five men, Hester, Greenway, White, Younger, and Fulks, in December of 1929.
Hubert Hester, Herman Greenway, Joe White, and Bill Younger… and also some rando named Alex Fulks.
While the four “night riders” were identified by Tiller as rapey-murders, the fifth man, Alex, was arrested because Bertha hated him so screw him. A few months ago Alex had successfully mob-style beaten the hell out of Mr. Bertha but had only been fined the sum of $40 for the frontier justice, avenging whatever Mr. Bertha did.
As the trail began the defendants were adamant that they hadn’t killed anyone. A little violent sexual assault, sure, but murder? No sir, they all swore that “Connie ain’t dead”.
The court’s first witness was Tiller herself, she described the events of the night in horrific detail, much to the delight of the hoard of reporters packed into the court house. Due to the horrific details of the case and the apparent Hatfield vs. McCoy-style feud between the Tillers, Bertha’s clan, and the family of the accused, the four of whom were related—again, Fulks was just tossed in for good measure.
The defendants described the events differently. They’d accosted Connie on the road to run him out of town beaten, but very much alive. Seeing themselves as self-deputized avengers of sorts they’d broken into Tiller’s home and beaten her family in recompense for slights to their name and long-owed money, taking Tiller’s brother not as a hostage to, in her words “keep her from “squawking” but to work their fields to pay off the families debt.
With the nation, and the townsfolk, divided on the truth there was only one witness they could call who could possibly clear the mess up: Connie Franklin.
Remember that reward the defendant’s families put out? Well it got some results.
Elmer Wingo lived down the way some in Morrilton, which I’m sure is 100% aptly named even to this day, and said he’d let Connie spend the night at his farmhouse some four days after he was supposedly murdered. Others in the area had overheard the mystery name being called Connie or Mr. Franklin and put 2 and 2 together. After some pleading—and fighting about which of the locals would get the reward—they convinced Connie to come to the trial and testify that he was not and hadn’t been murdered and on fire.
Upon entering the court house the mystery man was immediately recognized by, and greeted by name, all the locals. To prove his identity the Sheriff set up a lineup of women, including Tiller, and asked Mystery-McGee to identify her. He immediately approached and “matter-of-factly said ‘Hello, Tiller'”. He also gave details about private moments Connie and Tiller had shared, the idea being only they would know. However, Tiller, while visibly shaken, insisted that he was not Connie.
Who was the mystery man? Was it Connie? Or a fake? Or a ringer hired to exculpate the defendants and/or avail their friends of the rewards? What of the evidence? Or their swampy, swampy romance?
Confused, you won’t be after this episode of who the fuck is this guy!
While most folks and the media were trying to figure out who Mystery Man really was, the evidence had come back on the burnt bones from Bertha’s land. Despite Bertha’s adamance that the bones where human—and remember, her insistence was the kind that got you arraigned by a grand jury despite not having anything to do with the crime at hand—the state Health Officer Dr. Garrison and the local dentist, did not swear they were from a person. According to most of the research “witness[es] testified that while little physical evidence there had ever been—the bones from the ash heap—turned out to be the bones and teeth of a dog, or a sheep. The dentist was not exactly sure, but they were definitely not human bones” (Blevins, Brooks, 269) so there ya go.
With so much evidence falling flat and so many mutually exclusive stories, never mind the victim testifying, Hugo Williamson, the understandably irritated prosecuting attorney announced ominously that if this man indeed turned out to be Franklin, “somebody had lied and somebody was going to jail” (strange company).
Looking into Connie’s past reporters and of course, the people covering the trial found out that Connie wasn’t even really Connie, never-mind this mystery man. Connie Franklin was actually Marion Franklin Rogers, 33, not 22. Perhaps the 11 missing years could be explained by his involuntary stay at the state mental hospital in 1926… Well no, no it can’t because that’s not how time works and also he escaped just three months after being committed.
The Connie Tiller knew was likely Marion following a psychotic break and on the run from the men in white coats. Maybe.
The murder trial continued, albeit somewhat distracted by no one being sure if a murder had even been committed. Tiller, along with Burns and Harrell (the deaf-mute boy), continued to assert that Rogers was not the man they had known in St. James. Coleman Foster, who had been one of Franklin’s few friends in St. James, also said Rogers was a complete stranger.
And so, there was nothing left to do but let the Mystery Man, perhaps Connie himself, testify in his own murder trial.
Maybe-Connie testified that he knew three of the five men accused of murdering him. They’d run into each other while he and Tiller were walking back from the magistrate. After talking some Maybe-Connie said he and the three men went off into the woods to drink moonshine until the 1920s were less awful. Thoroughly shit-faced, Maybe-Connie said he did what every right-minded souther drunk does, he tried to ride a random donkey. Unfortunately, he’d fallen off the mule and hit his head, thereby leaving the bloodied hat behind. Apparently, the following day Tiller told him that the marriage was to be postponed until fall, which he didn’t care for, so he just got up and left.
While a dick move, it was not one that Connie, actually Marion, maybe Maybe-Connie, was new to as it took very little time for investigators and reporters to find the wife and family Marion had abandoned just before he turned up in St. James. Who, it seems, was also somewhat befuddled about the authenticity of Maybe-Connie.
After a few days of back and forth in the courtroom and in the pages of yellow, the jury announced that they were super hung. They couldn’t be sure if Maybe-Connie was Connie, let alone if he’d been murdered.
Unimpressed the judge announced that they had best come to some kind of decision or else. Faced with an undefined threat from a southern judge the jury quickly found the men innocent of murder but guilty of weeks of violent sexual assault, for which the judge held only Hester and Greenway for some reason under a $2500 bail.
That was that. Was Maybe-Connie Marion? Was Marion Connie? If he was, why did he come back and testify after fleeing? Why flee? Why was Fulks involved in any of this? These are questions we’ll likely never know the answers to.
Shortly after the trial Tiller would marry someone else and have a bunch of puppies. Maybe-Connie Marion would do a few radio interviews about testifying at his own murder but his fame was short-lived as he was again the subject of a murder. Except this time, in 1932, they had a body that was most both assuredly dead and Maybe-Connie-Marion. Of the second murder, apparently no one bothered because at this point, who needs all this bother.
While I found a handful of well-researched podcasts, books, and scholarly articles none come to a satisfactory conclusion. Likely in part to the Judge ordering all the materials from the trial burnt so that no one could ever look back on the mess and embarrass the county.
- https://southernmysteries.com/2019/01/21/conniefranklin/ (Podcast, episode 37: Connie Franklin Ghost of the Ozarks, give it a listen for a far more reverent reporting of Connie’s story)
- Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South by Brooks Blevins: https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Ozarks-Murder-Memory-Upland-ebook/dp/B00BCQZC4K
- Blevins, Brooks. “The Arkansas Ghost Trial: The Connie Franklin Case and the Ozarks in the National Media.” The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 3, 2009, pp. 245–271. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40543237. Accessed 12 May 2020.
- Hatfield, Sharon. Journal of Appalachian Studies, vol. 19, no. 1/2, 2013, pp. 218–220. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42635935. Accessed 12 May 2020.
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Sometime between Christmas Eve 1974 and Feb. 5, 1975, Alice Holtz was 35 and living in Cheyenne with her third husband, Vietnam vet, and generally troubled man, Ronald Holtz, and her 19-month-old daughter. Holtz had been discharged from the Army in 1970 with numerous psychiatric problems including threats of suicide. According to Alice, he came home from work from driving a taxi one evening and when he tried to take a nap, Alice’s daughter began to cry which incensed Ronald, sending him into a rage, charging at the toddler shouting, “I’m going to kill her.”
Alice said, “I tried to stop him and he knocked me down and ran into her bedroom. I was by the mop closet and I had a gun in there and I grabbed it and followed right behind him and shot him in the back of the head.” Then he fell over the crib railing and slid to the floor. She said she took her daughter to Holtz’s parents in Commerce City and returned to dispose of the body by placing it into a cardboard barrel that had held christmas decorations, muscling it into the trunk of her car, and dumping it into an abandoned gold mine shaft between Cheyenne and Laramie.
Now let’s move on to Gerald Uden of Pavillion, WY. He had married his wife Virginia in 1974 at the age of 32, and at her request had adopted her two sons, Reagan and Richard. About six weeks following the adoption going through, Virginia filed for divorce and Gerald subsequently met another woman and began a relationship. Virginia wasn’t happy about this and made problems for him and his new girlfriend.
In September of 1980, he met Virginia and the boys at a corner near his home in Pavillion to go bird hunting, and Virginia had brought a .22 rifle along for that purpose. They drove a few miles north and got out near an irrigation canal.
“The boys wanted to shoot the rifle,” Uden said. “I said I wanted to test it. I tested it; it worked just fine.”
Gerald said he walked up behind Virginia and shot her in the back of the head, then shot Richard, then 12, behind the ear. Reagan, 10, saw what was happening and ran, tripping and fell in a ditch where Gerald then shot him behind the ear. Uden said he disposed of the bodies in an old mine, but went back a few months later and put Virginia’s body in a 55-gallon steel drum and the boys in a 30-gallon drum sealed them both and dumped the weighted barrels in Fremont Lake in western Wyoming.
Okay, so now we’ve got the stories of two Wyoming murders which took place about 6 years apart in different parts of the state. Why are we talking about these two seemingly unrelated events? Well, in 2013, Virginia Holtz was arrested for the murder of her ex-husband Ronald in Missouri where she’d been living for nearly 40 years with her fourth husband Gerald who was also arrested for the murder of his ex-wife Virginia and her two sons. The couple had been living a quiet of normal folks for over 30 years, going to church on Sundays, and raising children.
The cases had gone cold many years before, but investigators had never completely stopped working on them. In September of 1989, police interviewed a witness who said that Alice Uden had said that she’d shot Ronald in the back of the head while he was sleeping and then wrapped him in blankets and put him in a barrel which she dumped in an old mine shaft. No other evidence, no more progress. Then in 2005, DCI agents interviewed Alice Uden in Missouri where she talked about all of her marriages and children but didn’t mention Ronald at all. The next day they interviewed her again asking about her neglecting to mention her marriage to Ronald where she said: “My kids told you.” She said she hadn’t mentioned Holtz because since the marriage lasted only five months, she didn’t count it as real. Then in 2007, a witness met with another agent at the Remount Ranch, which is only about a half hour east of us here in Laramie, and identified the abandoned gold mine where he believed Alice had put the body. In August of 2013, the shaft was excavated and human remains were found with a .22 bullet in its head, about 40 feet down and later identified as Ronald Holtz. In September of 2013, Virginia was arrested for his murder.
November 1, 2013, Gerald Uden (then 71) was sentenced to life in prison after confessing to three counts of first-degree murder. August 25, 2014, Alice Uden (then 75) was sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder following a trial where the jury couldn’t agree on first-degree murder and felt it was greater than manslaughter. Ultimately, it didn’t matter as the already frail murderer died June 12, 2019. Following her death, Gerald now has recanted his confession and blamed it all on Alice, but it’s unlikely he’ll get a hearing since his appeal window has closed. He too will likely die in custody.
I’m Steve, Thanks to all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts: Aaron & Shea. We’d like to extend an extra thank you to this week’s newest patron, Charles! Find out more about the show, social links, and contact information at InterestingIfTrue.com.
Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
The opinions, views, and nonsense expressed in this show are those of the hosts only and do not represent any other people, organizations, or lifeforms. All rights reserved, Interesting If True 2020.