Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter, Part 3

On Friday, December 15, four days after the fire that killed 23-year-old Geneva Orr Lammers and her children—Laura Mae, age 3; Melba Jean, age 2; LaVerne Francis, age 11 months, and an unborn baby—newspapers were still pondering the mystery surrounding the cause of the fire. Parts of the bodies had been sent to Washington, D. C. for analysis in FBI labs. No arrests nor warrants had been issued.[1]

Nonetheless, Sheriff Carter and his officers thought they knew who did it, but they wanted a confession. They insisted Lammers take them on the route he had traveled when he left Troy the previous Monday morning supposedly in search of work. He first took them to Independence, Missouri, then to Kansas City where he tried to provide an alibi by showing a receipt for gasoline purchased on December 12, but the actual date, December 13, was smudged and over it was written the number 12. Then he took them to Topeka, Kansas, where he had spent the night in a hotel and mailed a post card home to Geneva.[2]

            “Dec. 14, 1950
            Dear Gen:

            I made it do(wn) here O.K. . . . I didn’t get my work. I am goting to Topeka see if I can             get work there. I’e seeing you sune.
            I am goting now to Topeka.


Addressed to “Miss James Lammers, Tory, Kansas,” this card had arrived in Troy on Friday, December 15, 1950.[3] Spelling errors belong to Lammers.

He said he had overheard people in Topeka talking about a terrible trailer fire in Troy, so he hurried home. The group returned to Troy late Friday, and at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, the sheriff woke Lammers to announce that he was serving a first degree murder warrant on him.[4] “Does it have to be as bad as that?” Lammers said.[5]

Photo of James and Geneva Lammers found in ruins of trailer.

On Saturday, the story in The Hiawatha Daily World announced that Lammers had confessed! Showing no remorse, he admitted that he had returned to Troy after midnight on December 12 and set the blaze outside the trailer. Evidence had already convinced the fire marshal of this, and he had used his knowledge to pressure Lammers into confessing. Lammers claimed to have poured kerosene under the trailer while his family slept. He said he had walked to his truck and watched until he was sure the fire was blazing and then he drove to Missouri. Although tests showed that Geneva’s body had been drenched in kerosene, he denied entering the trailer. [6]

After his confession, Lammers was moved to an undisclosed location for his safety.[7] Anger in the community must have been raging.

A few days later, The Hiawatha Daily World reported that Lammers had changed his story. He claimed to have choked his wife to death and poured kerosene on her body before setting the fire. This new confession contradicted the coroner’s report that all the victims had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.[8] It also changed the charges against him to two counts of murder: one for killing his wife by choking and the other for killing his children by fire.

Meanwhile, Geneva's brother, James Orr, sadly took the responsibility of accompanying the bodies of his sister and her children home to Hartington, Nebraska, where their heartbroken mother, my dad's Aunt Mandy, waited. They were buried together in a single grave at St. John the Baptist Cemetery, Fordyce, Cedar County, Nebraska.

What possible reason could James Lammers have had for such a terrible deed? He claimed that his children drove him crazy, and he was dreading the arrival of a 4th child.[9] He had taken his wife to St. Joseph, Missouri to a doctor where they thought she could get an abortion, but the doctor had refused.[10] Yet another motive would surface during his trial.

[1] “Husband Returned to the Fire’s Scene As Probe Goes On,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 15 December 1950, p. 1, col. 3.
[2] “Lammers Confesses!” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 16 December 1950, p. 1, col. 3. “Confesses to Trailer House Murder,” The [Troy] Kansas Chief, 21 December 1950, p. 1, col. 1-3. Note: The Chief was a weekly, so its story was a summary of the week’s findings.
[3] “Confesses to Trailer House Murder.”
[4] Ibid. “Troy Killer Shows No Regret Over a Slaughter of Five,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 18 December 1950, p. 1, col. 2.
[5] “Troy Killer Shows No Regret Over a Slaughter of Five.”
[6] Ibid.
[7] “Lammers Confesses!” “Confesses to Trailer House Murder.” “Troy Killer Shows No Regret.”
[8] “Lammers Makes a New Confession In Troy Murder Case,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 28 December 1950, p. 1, col. 3.
[9] Raymond Harley, “Flames For Four,” Real Detective, April 1951, p. 31.
[10] “Confesses to Trailer House Murder.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter, Part 2

Reading through the news reports about the murder of Aunt Mandy’s daughter, Geneva Orr Lammers and her children, I felt as though I were watching the events unfold. The Hiawatha (Kansas) Daily World headlines on Wednesday, December 13, 1950, read, “Four Die In a Trailer Blaze on Troy Night.” The mystery was the husband’s whereabouts.[1]

The [Troy] Kansas Chief, reported that “Troy was visited early Tuesday morning with one of its worst catastrophes when a mother and three small children . . . burned to death in a trailer house fire, the lot back of the Fred Worman home in west Troy.” A neighbor woman had been awakened by a “bright light shining through her window,” and peering out her window, she saw fire in the Lammers’ trailer. Trying to rescue Geneva and the children, the neighbor’s husband burned his hands and face when he opened the trailer door. Other neighbors were waking, too, and several called the police and fire department.[2]

By the time the blaze was extinguished, not much remained of the Lammers’ home. Authorities found Geneva’s charred body lying on her back on the floor near the rear door; the little girls, Lora Mae, age 3, and Melba, age 2, lying on their stomachs in their beds; the baby boy, LaVern, age 11 months, in his crib wrapped in blankets. According to reports, the Lammers family had moved to Troy from Manhattan, Kansas, in July. The husband, James Lammers, 26, “had gone in search of work sometime Monday.” He had been employed by Clarkson Construction Company as a bulldozer operator, but he had been laid off two weeks prior to the fire.[3]

A coroner’s jury was convened, and Coroner E. L. Karr reported that all four victims showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, indicating they were “alive when the fire started,” and that Mrs. Lammers was “an expectant mother.” The bodies were so badly burned, he said, that further tests were necessary.[4]

The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World reported similar events in the case on Thursday. In addition, this newspaper noted that a Dr. Lattimer from Topeka had come to Troy to make “exhaustive examinations of the bodies of the four victims.” He confirmed reports that the mother’s body was so badly burned that all that was left was the torso. The state fire marshall, Charles Reed, speculated that the cause of the fire may have been two butane tanks or a small oil stove in the trailer, and “it is obvious that the presence of this inflammable material contributed to the fierceness of the blaze.”[5]

Karr had telephoned the Lammers and Orr families in Fordyce and Hartington, Nebraska, respectively, and several family members had arrived in Troy: Geneva’s brother James Orr, James Lammers’ brother Frances [sic], and a Lammers cousin, Gene Wieseler.[6]

Police had broadcast a call for James on the radio, and state police were alerted to look for “a Ford 1947 pickup truck, color black with yellow trimming . . . with Kansas license T 58-66.”[7] About 12:30 p.m. Thursday, James arrived in Troy claiming someone in Topeka, Kansas, had recognized his truck and informed him about the fire, so he raced home. He was being questioned at press time.[8]

[1] “Four Die in a Trailer Blaze on Troy Night,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 12 December 1950, p. 1, col. 1.
[2] “Trailer House Tragedy Kills 4,” The [Troy] Kansas Chief, 13 December 1950, p. 1, col. 1-2.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “No Trace Found as Yet of Husband of Victim of Tragedy,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World,  14 December 1950, p. 1, col. 6.
[6] “Trailer House Tragedy Kills 4,” p. 1, col. 1-2.
[7] Ibid. “No Trace Found as Yet of Husband of Victim of Tragedy,” p. 1, col. 6.
[8] “Trailer House Tragedy Kills 4,” p. 1, col. 1-2.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter

When I was a girl my dad had one of those crime magazines popular in the 1950s that mostly told sordid murder stories. Real Detective, this one was called: “10 Stories 10c.” Dad didn’t regularly fill his mind with these stories, but he bought this one because one of those 10 stories told the tale of the murder of his cousin, Geneva Orr Lammers, daughter of Amanda Waggoner Orr, my grandmother’s sister, and her husband Dallas Orr.

Geneva and James Lammers in happier days, photo in Real Detective, April 1951, p. 19.
I was only four years old when Geneva was murdered, and I don't remember hearing people talking about it. I don’t suppose my parents discussed such a horrible thing in the presence of their youngest children. Geneva had been murdered by her husband, James “Jim” Lammers. Jim had killed Geneva, seven months pregnant, and burned their trailer with her and their three children inside. Mostly, I remember the magazine article. Dad showed it to us a few years later. I was awed that the story about a family member was featured in the magazine. Maybe the horror of it was too much for my young mind.

Years later, my mother told me more. Geneva and her three children had stayed at our home in Stanton, Nebraska, for about two weeks while Jim went to Kansas to find work and a place for them to live. “Geneva seemed to like me,” Mom said, “probably because I as closer to her age than her cousins.” Geneva was 23, Mom was 28, and Geneva's youngest female cousin was 34 in 1950. My younger sister and I were close in age to Geneva’s children, so I’m sure we played together.

When my mother passed away in 2008, and we were going through her papers, I found the magazine Dad had saved. As an adult reading the article, I began to realize the enormity of the tragedy and its impact on the family. As I read, I was puzzled that Geneva’s name had been changed to Mae and her name had been applied to a neighbor. I wondered what else was different from reality.

Pages 16 and 17 in Real Detective, April 1951 showing photo of Jim standing in the ruins of his trailer.
 The photo of Jim standing in the midst of the ashes and rubble of the burned out trailer struck me. What was he thinking? What was he feeling? How could he stand there and fake shock and grief? How could he pretend not to know what happened? According to the article, Jim’s neighbors had seen him leave the morning before the fire and not return, but the singed hair on his hand was the evidence that implicated him in the crime.[1]

Pages 18 and 19 showing photo of singed hair on Jim's hand and the young couple in happier days.
 The next time my husband, Myron, and I drove from Indiana to a family reunion in Nebraska we went to Blue Springs, Missouri, first to see my sister. As we headed north on I-29 toward Nebraska, I talked him into detouring through Troy, Kansas, to see what we could learn about the murder of Geneva Orr Lammers. Troy is located in Doniphan County, the farthest northeast county of the state, bordering Nebraska on the north and Missouri on the east. Troy’s population is barely 1000, which hasn’t changed much since 1950. Driving down the wide main street, we spotted a small library, so we parked the car and went in. I asked a fresh faced librarian if she had newspapers from 1950, and I told her what I was seeking.

“As a matter of fact,” she said, “I was looking through old newspapers, recently, and I found that story. I was so fascinated that I took the papers home to read them.” She promptly hurried home, retrieved them, and brought them back to make copies for me.

After leaving the library, we walked down the street and around the corner to the lot where the Lammers’ trailer had stood. We figured out which house was the one where the neighbor lived who had reported the fire. We speculated on the approximate place where James had parked his truck that night. We even drove to the next county and visited the jail where James had been held. I started reading the newspaper articles to Myron as we drove on to Nebraska.

[1] Raymond Harley, “Flames for Four,” Real Detective, April 1951, p. 18.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Grandma Mary's siblings: Affable Amanda

What I remember most about my dad’s Aunt Mandy is that she was—well, fat. That’s the word we used in the 1950s. Today, that word seems to be out. The word obese is in. It’s somehow more polite.

But Mandy wasn’t always obese. The eighth child of Eli and Rachel Waggoner was born in Smyth County Virginia on March 20, 1895, and named Amanda.[1] At age 5 in 1900, Mandy, a happy little girl, we hope, was living with her family at Broadford, Virginia. When the family moved to Mexico, Missouri, in 1909, she was included in that grand adventure. She had attended school there in 1910[2] most likely her first year of high school, which was the extent of her formal education.[3]

The picture below was taken in Missouri when Mandy was about 16 or 17. The family lived there from 1909 until sometime during 1912 when, according to her mother’s obituary, they moved to Nebraska. The two children with her in the picture are her nephew and niece, James Gordon Troutman, born in 1911 and named for his mother’s favorite brother, and Neville America Troutman, born in 1910 and named America for her paternal grandmother. They were the two oldest children of Mary and Clint Troutman, my grandparents. The  first three of the Troutman children were born in Missouri. The third, Carl Justin, was not included in this photo, so he was either not yet born or very young.

James Troutman, age 1, Amanda Waggoner, age 17, Neville Troutman, age 2.

In 1920, Mandy was living with her parents and her brother Jake on a farm in Brenna precinct, Wayne County, Nebraska.[4]

Mandy is on the right with two unidentified friends. Comparing to the picture below, I'd say the man could be Dallas Orr, Mandy's future husband.
This was probably taken in Nebraska in about 1920.

 About 1922, Mandy married Moses Dallas Orr (1883-1946), son of Moses and Mahala Love (Cline) Orr.[5] This family had also migrated from Smyth County, Virginia, to Nebraska sometime during the first decade of the 20th Century. In the 1900 census, Dallas, as he was commonly called, was enumerated twice, once with his family at Broadford, Virginia, the same town where the Waggoner family lived at that time, where his occupation was recorded as “Office boy,”[6] and once living on his own in Rich Valley, where his occupation was recorded as “Salesman, General Store.”[7] By the 1910 census, the Moses Orr family was living in Dodge County, Nebraska; however, Dallas was not with them,[8] and I haven’t found him in the 1910 census. When he registered for the World War 1 draft in 1918, he was living in Thurston County, Nebraska.[9]

By 1930, Dallas and Mandy were living on a rented farm near Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska. They had four children: May, age 7; Reba L., age 6; James, age 5; and Geneva, age 2.[10] In 1940, they were still living on the same rented farm, and they had a fifth child, Charles, age 3.[11]

Dallas and Mandy Orr about 1940 with four of their children:
l. to r. Geneva, James, and Reba, with little Charles in front.
Mandy’s life surely took a difficult turn when Dallas died in 1946, at age 62, leaving her with young Charles, age 9, still at home. What did widowed women do who had never been employed outside the home, never owned land, and had little education? Many of them relied on older children for their support. Or perhaps there was a pension of some sort. One can only guess how Mandy supported herself and her son during the ensuing years. By this time, Mandy’s older children were out of the home and married, even her youngest daughter, Geneva, who married at about age 18.

The loss of Dallas was not the worst blow to Mandy, however. In 1950, Geneva’s husband murdered her and their three children. Next week’s story. 

Click to find Dallas Orr’s memorial and Amanda Orr’s memorial on

[1] Bland County, Virginia, Record of Births, 1861-96: 333, database, ( : accessed 25 June 2013), entry for Amanda Waggoner, 20 March 1895.
[2] 1910 U. S. census, Salt River, Audrain County, Missouri, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 11, p. 7-B, dwelling 140, family 140, Manda Creelman [Waggoner]; digital image ( : accessed 5 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 767.
[3] 1940 U. S. census, Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district 82-17, sheet 16-A, visit no. 278, Amanda Orr; digital image ( ; accessed 15 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T-627, roll 2082.
[4] 1920 U. S. census, Brenna Precinct, Wayne County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 218, p. 5-A, dwelling 87, Amanda Waggoner; digital image ( : accessed 15 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1003.
[5] Smyth County Virginia Births, 1879-1884, database, ( : accessed 03 November 2013), entry for Moses Orr, 21 May 1883.
[6] 1900 U. S. census, Broadford, Smyth County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 84, sheet no. 3-B, dwelling 45, family 45, Dallas Orr; digital image ( : accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1728.
[7] 1900 U. S. census, Rich Valley, Smyth County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 85, sheet no. 2-B, dwelling 28, family 28, Dallas M. Orr; digital image ( : accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1728.
[8] 1910 U. S. census, Ridgely township, Dodge County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 109, p. 2-B, dwelling 32, family 32, Moses Orr family; digital image ( : accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 842.
[9] “U. S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” images (http://www., accessed 13 August 2013), card for Moses Dallas Orr, serial number (blank), Local Draft Board, Pender, Thurston County, Nebraska.
[10] 1930 U. S. census, Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 87-17, p. 4-B, dwelling 83, family 83, Amanda Orr; digital image ( : accessed 15 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1294.
[11] 1940 U. S. census, Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska,  population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 82-17, sheet 16-A, visit no. 278, Dallas Orr family; digital image ( ; accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T-627, roll 2267.