Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Forgiveness and Remembrance

Can you even begin to imagine how you would feel if your son shot five innocent little girls and injured permanently five others, then shot himself? Recently, I read a newspaper article about the mother of the man who tied up ten little girls inside an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania several years ago, shot to death five of them, and wounded five others. This woman goes once a week to the home of one of those girls to bathe her, feed her through a tube, sing to her, and read to her. Despite the agony, she has found a way to forgive her son. Along with members of the Amish community, she has moved beyond the horror and grief to a place of peace and forgiveness. Her other son is making a documentary film about her “journey from heartbroken mother in inspirational speaker.” He wants to make sure the subject does not become “one of those dark family secrets that nobody talks about.”[1]

Reading this story evoked thoughts of Aunt Mandy's daughter, Geneva, and her killer, James Lammers. What if I were James Lammers’ mother? Could I forgive him for murdering my grandchildren and my daughter-in-law? For hurting me so deeply? My hunch is that if his family forgave him, it didn’t happen very soon. One of the newspaper articles noted that the last time his parents and his brother visited him in prison was in May 1951, eight months before he was executed. Did his deed become a “dark family secret” that no one mentioned?

If I were Geneva’s mother, her siblings, her aunts, uncles, and cousins, could I forgive him? When it happened, I was too young to remember, and in later years, I never took the time to talk to my father or my aunts and uncles about it. My father showed me the magazine that told the story, but I don’t recall any malice from him toward James Lammers, only sadness.

When I began to investigate this story, my aim was to learn more about Geneva and her children and to memorialize them, but I didn’t know the names of the children. I created a memorial to Geneva on Find A Grave web site. Then a volunteer added a photo of Geneva’s tombstone, which did not name the children. What were their names? Fortunately, the newspaper articles named them, so I created memorials for them, too. Later while searching the Internet, I found the story of James Lammers’ execution. It included the name of the cemetery where James was buried, so I created a memorial for him, too, linked in my previous blog. Another volunteer added a photo of his tombstone showing bright red flowers on his grave. Who had placed the flowers?

Unfortunately, when someone is murdered, the killer gets all the media attention for months, even years afterward. His name becomes notorious while the names of the victims are nearly forgotten. Geneva, Laura, Melva, LaVerne and a little one unborn must be cherished in the family’s memory. Hopefully, forgiveness can be offered their killer.

[1] Michael Rubinkam, “Amish School Shooter’s Family Seeks Healing,” The [Anderson, Indiana] Herald Bulletin, 10 December 2013, p. C2, col. 1-6.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter, Part 4

The trial of James Lammers, accused of murdering his wife Geneva Orr Lammers and their three children, commenced on Monday, February 26, 1951, in Doniphan County, Kansas, district court. In a detailed account of the jury selection, one newspaper named not only the defendant, the judge, John C. Gernon, the prosecutor, Robert A. Reeder, and the defense attorney, A. O. Delaney, Jr., but also all the reporters and the newspapers they represented, along with every single person interviewed for jury duty, and whether they were seated or excused—mostly because they had “already formed an opinion.” At 11:30 a.m., the regular panel was exhausted and another 100 men—yes, all men—were called in. The interviews continued throughout the  afternoon, until twelve men were finally selected.[1] It must have been a grueling day.
The [Troy] Kansas Chief included the entire charge to the jury and a thorough paraphrase of the prosecutor's case, brought by the State of Kansas, against Lammers.[2]
The reporter noted that there was standing room only in the courtroom from the start. James Lammers’ parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred W. Lammers, and his brother Francis, had come from Fordyce, Nebraska. On Tuesday, Geneva’s brother James and her mother Amanda Orr also came, along with James Orr’s father-in-law.  Several others from Nebraska were named.[3] My mother told me that she and my dad took Aunt Mandy to the trial, but in a letter to me several years ago, James Orr's wife corrected that James took her. Maybe Mom’s memory was faulty, or maybe they took Mandy another time. I don’t know. If my parents went that day, The Chief reporter did not include their names.
Thursday’s newspapers reported that the trial “came to a dramatic climax . . . when Miss Zada Spencer, 25 years old, of Manhattan, Kansas came to the stand and testified that the defendant was the father of a son born to her . . . on February 5, 1951.” She went on to testify that she had been seeing James Lammers off and on for about a year, whenever he was in Kansas working on construction. He never told her he was married, she said. After learning she was pregnant, he had told her that a friend of his, who had lost his wife, had offered him his trailer home if he would care for the man’s three children. Lammers asked Miss Spencer if she would marry him on those conditions, and she declined. Another witness, a friend of Miss Spencer with whom she had been living, corroborated her story.[4]
What an absurd story! Makes one wonder about Lammers’ mentality. Apparently, that’s exactly the case the defense tried to make. They brought five witnesses who tesified that James Lammers’ mental capacity was limited to a range from 9 to 15 years old.[5] The prosecutor then requested Lammers be examined by a team of doctors to determine “whether he is an insane person and unable to comprehend his position and make his defense.”[6] The doctors found Lammers competent and sane.[7]
On the final day of the trial, March 7, 1951, 275 people were in the courtroom. The state presented its rebuttal against the defense’s arguments that Lammers “did not fully realize the enormity of his act” and requested the death penalty.[8]  After deliberating for 1 hour and 47 minutes, the jury returned a guilty verdict on two murder counts and approved the death penalty.  When the judge asked Lammers if there was any “legal reason that sentence should not be pronounced,” Lammers said, “I don’t know what you mean.”[9]
The execution date was set for May 18. The defense attorney moved for a new trial;[10] a stay of execution was granted;[11] and an appeal from a death sentence was made[12] and refused by the Kansas supreme court.[13] On January 5, 1952, James Lammers was hanged by the State of Kansas. His parents declined to claim his body, and he was buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas, a sad ending for a tragic tale. 
This link will take you to his memorial on

[1] “Selection of the Lammers Jury,” newspaper unknown (probably The [Troy] Kansas Chief], date unknown, p. 2, col. 1-6.
[2] “Lammers Murder Trial at Dramatic Climax in the Court,” The [Troy] Kansas Chief, 1 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1-3.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.  “Woman to Light in Troy Trial,” Atchison Daily Globe, 1 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1; digital archives of the Atchison Daily Globe ( : accessed 4 December 2013).
[5] “Check on Lammers Mentality,” Atchison [Kansas] Daily Globe, 2 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1 and p. 3, col. 1; digital archives.
[6] “Lammers Murder Trial at Dramatic Climax.”
[7] “Rules Lammers Not Insane,” Atchison Daily Globe, 4 March 1951, p. 1, col. 2; digital archives.
[8] “Make Final Pleas in Troy Trial,” Atchison Daily Globe, 7 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1; digital archives.
[9] “Lammers to Hang for Killings,” Atchison Daily Globe, 8 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1, digital archives.
[10] “In Move For New Trial,” Atchison Daily Globe, 9 March 1951, p. 1, col. 2, digital archives.
[11] “Stay of Execution Granted Lammers,” Atchison Daily Globe, 19 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1.
[12] “Hear Plea in Troy Slaying,” Atchison Daily Globe, 2 October 1951, p. 1, col. 2; digital archives.
[13] “Lammers Loses Appeal to Escape Execution,” Atchison Daily Globe, 11 November 1951, p. 1, col. 2-3, digital archives.