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.
|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.