On Tuesday night of September 22nd, THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL received a letter in a stamped envelope by special delivery. It was stamped at 8:00 PM and delivered 10 minutes later. The letter was signed “Law Abiding Citizen ”.
The text of the letter was as follows:
Memphis, Sept.22nd, 1915
To The Commercial Appeal:
I was a witness of the double murder at Benham Flats Tuesday Morning.
If I should come forward and offer my information to authorities I fear it would cause me to lose my position, as my employers would be injured financially by my testimony
As a citizen, what is my duty in a case like this?
The Commercial responded with:
“If the writer of the letter will be kind enough to call on the editor of the Commercial Appeal the editor will be glad to tell him what to do and will tell him in a very few minutes”.
On Thursday the 23rd another letter from “The Law Abiding Citizen” came to the Commercial Appeal. The writer did not come to the Commercial Appeal Office as asked, but at 4:00 pm on Thursday the second letter appeared. Neatly typed and prepared. It read like this:
Memphis. Sept. 23 1915
My acquaintance with the two murdered people in Benham Flats was only a professional one. I had prepared and sworn to an affidavit concerning this tragedy before writing you.
Before turning same over to the authorities, I submitted the same to my employers. They promptly informed me that if I gave out this testimony, or my evidence was made known, that they would dismiss me at once.
They also informed me that they would go still farther and would see to it that I did not get any employment with any of their companies. This is easily done through their association.
Being a woman and depending upon my daily work for a living, this seemed to me to be very unjust. It will also be very embarrassing to me, a woman, to have to appear in court in a case like this.
My letter to you was for the purpose of having you come out in an editorial condemning such acts of the employers of labor, and in a measure, help to prevent the coercion of labor by such employers and give them some advice.
Is it any wonder that murder is on the increase, and that so many horrible murders go unpunished?
“LAW ABIDING CITIZEN.”
Similar letters were also sent to the EVENING APPEAL. There were no further letters from this person after the second one despite requests from the newspaper editors for contact with anonymity.
Police stated the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company was giving them what assistance they could.
Wednesday the 23rd the investigation continued. Newspapers began to criticize the pace and focus of the investigation just two days into it. Joe Cue, the Mexican dancing partner of Miss Favar on Monday night was brought to Headquarters and questioned. He was later released with investigators convinced he had no knowledge of the murders.
James Crowell’s brothers-in-law came to Memphis on the 23rd and returned Crowell’s automobile to Mississippi without participating in the investigation.
Fred Bradley was assisting with the investigation. He remembered a suitor of Miss Favar who was deeply in love with her and whose obsession might have brought him to Memphis. He spent the day searching for him.
By the 23rd, the newspapers were already questioning the progress of the case. Comments in both papers indicated it appeared the investigation was at a standstill.
In reality, Detectives were working the case as closely as possible. They had to establish a suspect to be able to move forward. So far the initial persons of interest had given solid alibis and left little question about their whereabouts the night of the murders. The high profile nature of the case was bringing it under close scrutiny from many directions.
Each newspaper had its own version of how the crime progressed. Grim descriptions of the crime scene were published in detail by both local papers. Personal information on both James Crowell and Miss Favar was also reported in detail. The basic nature of the double homicide made it a source of fascination to the public.
Here was a well known female Vaudeville performer with hints of promiscuity, sleeping with a married man. They were both murdered in her apartment in the middle of the night by an unknown assailant. It read like a fictional murder mystery and the public followed it closely. Local papers reported every detail. It sold newspapers.
Detectives changed their approach from robbery to that of unrequited love on Thursday the 23rd. They began focusing on the possibility of a past suitor acting in revenge. There were indicators of that in the available evidence.
Joe Cue, the Spanish dancer, was initially released by Police after questioning. They were satisfied he was not involved in the double homicide. During questioning he stated he noticed Miss Favar suddenly appear nervous during their performance at the 19th Century Club on Monday night. She missed several measures, something he had never seen him do before. He stated she was usually graceful and in control. Joe Cue said it appeared someone in the assembled company had caused her to be distracted.
Police were looking for the cook or maid who worked at the apartments for questioning. She usually came at about 8:00 in the morning and left at 10:00. They believed she may have seen men come and go from the apartment.
Fred Bradley remembered a suitor from the days Miss Favar worked at the Bison studio in Los Angeles. He was in love with the little dancer and knew her. He had given her a watch and was very jealous of her. It is unknown if Miss Favar didn’t respond to his interest, or dropped him soon after gaining his attention.
Bradley spent most of the day checking hotel registers for a signature match with the jealous suitor. They also checked locations where Miss Favar did business to find out if she paid any bills by check.
The theory was also pushed forward that the Murderer appeared to be familiar with the murder scene.
W.B. Wilroy spent most of the day in Greenwood looking for someone who might have knowledge of the hammer used in the murder.
Detectives spent time Thursday verifying Joe Cue’s story. So far none of the suspects interviewed gave any information that was useful. For the most part, what they obtained only complicated the investigation and deepened the mystery.
As with all high profile cases, different small bits of information came to the Police through various sources. Police were contacted about a man of powerful build in a light-colored suit getting off a jitney near the Benham Flats early on Tuesday Morning. While the fire was in progress a man fitting the same description asked firefighters one or two questions about the fire then walked hurriedly away. He was never identified.
The body of Miss Favar was still at Thompson Brothers Undertakers. Fred Bradley wanted to put it in a vault until he could arrange for it to be taken to Los Angeles. A lawyer from Los Angeles also telegraphed Thompson Bros regarding the cost of shipment to Los Angeles.
Friday the 24th found detectives evaluating the information and alibis collected so far. None of it had shed any light on who may have possibly been involved. It was decided to have one more question and answer session with Bradley, Joe Cue and Louis Raber. All three were behind bars at Police Headquarters by Friday evening.
Louis Raber was the proprietor of Lyceum Hall. He came to Memphis from New Orleans with Joe Cue. He had several failed business dealings and was broke. He approached Miss Favar about lending him some money with a diamond stick pin as collateral. He knew Miss Favar through her involvement in local entertainment ventures. Miss Favar decided not to make the loan and Raber pawned the pin.
Prior to questioning, Raber’s apartment at 197 Adams was thoroughly searched by Detectives. Nothing was found that would tie him to the murders.
Bradley was the source of most of the information up to this point. Though much of his information was not pointed where the investigation was concerned, his knowledge of Miss Favar’s background was important. It provided detectives with a better understanding of the victim and her lifestyle.
One of the maids who worked at Benham Flats for a few months during the summer was located. She said she remembered seeing only two men in the apartment, one of them was Crowell.
The unlocked rear door came up during questioning. Bradley said he stayed at the apartment for 5 or 6 days just before the August 19 play at East End Park. During that time he had a key to the apartment but gave it back to Miss Favar before he returned to Greenwood. The number of keys to the apartment available and their location was an important factor.
On Friday the 24th of September work crews began repairs on apartment G at Benham Flats. The entire apartment was to be re-papered and all wood and other fire damaged areas completely rebuilt. The apartment was cleaned and any trace of the murders removed. When repairs were completed the apartment looked totally transformed from its appearance at the time of the murders and ready for a new occupant.
Benham Flats was owned by Gustavus Benham. He was the owner of several pieces of rental property in Memphis in addition to operating a Furniture Company at 254-256 Poplar. Benham Flats was an upscale apartment building and Mr. Benham and his daughter Carrie lived in the building.
During the investigation, information about Bradley and Miss Favar’s relationship came out. He was said to be very protective of her and whenever she was talking to people he was close by. It is difficult to define his motive due to their complicated relationship.
Given the number of men who paid Miss Favar attention, it may have been necessary for him to look out for her at times. His admission that he was in love with her should not have been a surprise to anyone. He was certainly protective of her and maybe a bit jealous of the attention paid to her by other men.
Bradley was released Saturday the 25th after intense questioning from Chief of detectives Roper, Detective Klinck and Detective Sim Barrinds of the O’Haver Detective agency. Joe Cue and Louis Raber were also questioned Friday in the same intense manner. After Bradley was released Raber and Cue were also released. Police were satisfied none of the three were involved.
At this point, detectives were without a suspect.
Information was received that a former employee of the Buckeye Cotton Oil Company, who was terminated by James Crowell, made threats toward Crowell after. Crowell told friends in Greenwood that he took the threat seriously. The name of the man involved was not released by Police. Investigators were looking into the facts regarding the threat assisted by Greenwood MS. Police.
On Monday the 27th, a decision was made to obtain a search warrant for Miss Favar’s apartment signed by Fred Bradley. The apartment was open and a large number of people had gone in and out of it since the murders. Most of those who entered were curious who had no reason to be there. Some of Miss Favar’s clothing and other items were thought to be missing. It was impossible to determine what was taken after the crime and what might be in the possession of the suspect.
News of the search warrant leaked out and was printed by local newspapers. With the element of surprise removed, Police decided to cancel the search warrant.
The Coroner’s inquest was postponed from Monday the 27th for one week until Monday October 4th. The witnesses and the jurors had already viewed Miss Favar’s body at Thompson Bros mortuary. The hearing would take place in the office of Attorney General, Z.N. Estes.
Information had been previously obtained by Police regarding a third man seen in the apartment with Miss Favar from about the end of August up to Saturday Night the 18th. Crowell left the apartment earlier that day to avoid running into Bradley who was to be there on Sunday the 19th. The unidentified man was described as heavyset and tall. Police were seeking his identity as a suspect.
New evidence was established on the 27th that the lock on the front door of the apartment was damaged and could be opened with any key or a knife blade.
A large kitchen knife, described as a carving knife, was missing from the apartment. The knife was made by Bradley in the machine shop at the Buckeye Oil Mill in Greenwood. This knife was believed to be the one used to cut Crowell’s throat and was probably taken by the murderer on the night of the double homicide. It was one of three Bradley made for Miss Favar and was very sharp.
The hammer found in the apartment by Sergeant Kehoe is established as the one used in the murders and identified as the property of James Crowell. The 3-5 pound hammer was forged in the shop at the Greenwood Buckeye Oil Mill. The handle was not a machined handle, but was made of wood and crudely formed. It was the crude wooden handle that made it easy to identify. The hammer was normally kept in a tool box in Crowell’s car. Questions remain about how the hammer came to be in the apartment.
George Ross, a young neighbor living next door to Benham Flats, told Police he saw Porter using the hammer to work on Crowell’s Car. Porter worked on the car in the parking lot at Benham Flats on the 17th of September. Ross stated he saw Porter using the hammer and described it to Police in detail.
When Ross was shown the hammer he immediately identified it. Porter maintained that he had never seen the hammer or used it. Porter said the hammer was not in the tool box in Crowell’s car the entire time he worked as chauffeur for Miss Favar.
The theory of the murderer being familiar with the apartment was still believed to be true by Police. The person seemed to know about the hammer in Crowell’s car and knew about the carving knife in the kitchen. They knew where the front and rear doors of the apartment were located and that the locks on the doors could be easily defeated.
The suspect, who would have been covered in blood as he left the murder scene, must have arranged for transport to and from the scene. He possibly went to another apartment in the Benham Flats after the crime was committed or to a nearby residence. No witnesses to any person coming or going from the apartment that morning could be located. These theories were the basics of the case put together so far.
On October 4, 1915, the Coroner’s Inquest was held. Miss Carrie Benham was the first witness.
Miss Benham stated that she was an acquaintance of Miss Favar and knew her in a “musical way.” She testified that she had knowledge that Miss Favar always slept with her rings on. Miss Benham stated that on the night of the event at the 19th Century club, she rode there in Crowell’s car with Miss Favar, Crowell and dancer Joe Cue with the chauffeur driving.
Miss Benham was asked several questions by Abe Cohen representing the Benham Family. She was asked if she heard noises and she stated she did but she lived in the front of the building and noises were common. She stated that she was surprised that Crowell dismissed the chauffeur that night and that Porter had called the apartment the next morning asking for some money that was due him. Asked about the rings and money Miss Benham said Miss Favar was wearing the rings that night and that she never saw her with any money. She also testified that each apartment had its own key.
Miss Benham went on to say that she knew Crowell as Mr. Tompkins. After the event, she told jurors that Crowell decided he would drive the car and he dismissed the chauffeur when they left the 19th Century Club. She testified that they drove straight to the Apartment arriving between 12 midnight and 12:30. She and Miss Favar entered the building by the front door. Crowell drove the car to the rear of the building to park. Once she and Miss Favar were inside the apartment, Crowell was heard coming up the rear stairs. Miss Favar asked Miss Benham to let him in. Before she reached the door Crowell opened it and came in. Miss Favar was heard to remark “I am sure I locked that door before we left ”. Miss Benham stated Crowell never came up the front stairs, he always came through the rear. Mr. Cohen then asked Miss Benham if she had seen any other man pay attention to Miss Favar. Miss Benham answered no.
Miss Benham gave the same information at the inquest she gave in her statement to police
The next witness called was Mrs. Jennie Buford who lived in the apartment below Miss Favar. Mrs. Buford stated she heard noise from the upstairs apartment between 6 am and 6:30 am. She stated she was annoyed but paid no attention to the noise. She also stated she was “used to bumping going on up there”. She said she got up at about 25 to 7 and began moving around the apartment getting ready to bathe.
Mrs. Buford said she heard a noise that sounded like they were “playing football with a wooden ball”. When asked if she heard any sounds of heavy footsteps, she replied, “ No, I don’t think they had any shoes on”. She stated the noise was all over the apartment and some of it was in the dining room that was directly over her bed.
She told jurors she did not hear anybody going up or down the steps, but could have if she had listened. She admitted she might have been mixed up about the time but not by more than 10 minutes either way.
Mrs. Buford said she heard the fire department outside and knew the roomers were there because they had just been moving around.
Fred Bradley testified next. He testified to the same information he gave police in his statement to them. Nothing new was added.
The jury returned with a finding that both parties were struck and killed by a blunt object in the hands of persons unknown. The same being murder. No new information was found in the testimony of witnesses at the Inquest.
Following the result of the Coroner’s Inquest, On October 4, 1915, Mrs. J.C. Crowell was awarded Mr. Crowell’s accident insurance settlement of $7500. The Coroner’s jury found Crowell died from repeated blows to the head from a “blunt instrument in the hands of a party or parties unknown, the same being murder”. In today’s dollars it would be the equivalent of about $70,000.
Thomas Porter, chauffeur for Miss Favar, told Police he had no knowledge of the hammer used in the killings. He said he did maintenance on the car using his own tools and never saw the hammer in the tool box in Crowell’s car.
A young resident of a house on the east side of the apartments said he saw Porter using the hammer while working on Crowell’s vehicle in the parking lot of the Apartments. He described the hammer in detail and quickly identified it when Detectives showed it to him. Porter said he never saw the hammer at any time during the week and a half he drove Miss Favar around the city. The conflicting nature of these statements left Porter in the spotlight as a suspect.
All these questions had to be answered before a solid case could be made. The first problem was finding a suspect they could build the case around. So far that part eluded detectives.
Benham Flats janitor Guy Farmer, who lived in the basement where Crowell’s hat was found, was released also. He noticed the smoke in the apartment the morning of the murders and notified the fire department.
On Sept 25th Tennessee Governor Thomas Rye authorized a 350 dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the murders.
On September 28th, the Commercial Appeal printed an editorial severely critical of the investigators, Police in general, and other officials regarding the handling of the Favar-Crowell Homicide. Phrases like “stupid work and indifference”, were used to describe the investigation. Criticism of how the crime scene was handled, the “lack of definitive action”, and approaching the investigation as though no trained person was involved, echoed through the editorial.
The editorial went on to recount their version of how the events of the homicide progressed and the lack of effort the officers took to collect and use the information available to them. The Editor offered his view of who the suspects might be and other details of the crime and stated Chief Hays “Ought to assign two intelligent officers to the case”. The editorial ended with a phrase indicating, “There has been enough stalling and stupidity in the case”.
The press of the day depended on the grace of the police department to provide them with facts to print. The old Adams Street Police station had a press room for the media. It had desks, typewriters and telephones for them to use. They had complete access to the building.
They wandered up and down the halls of police headquarters eavesdropping on conversations. They kept an eye on the desk sergeant and the emergency officers and what was happening in the City Court. If they saw the emergency officers or detectives headed out they would follow closely. When the city bought the touring car they would jump in with the officers or would ride the running boards if there was not enough room in the car.
As long as they stayed within the integrity of the unwritten rules, the officers worked with them. Once they violated the integrity of that relationship and lost the trust of officers. They might as well look for employment elsewhere. The officers would no longer speak to them as individuals. Any inside information given the reporters in confidence that was betrayed, would end any relationship they had with the police.
Truth be known, in spite of what the press reported, the investigators were probably doing as much as they could with what they had to work with. They released the original three suspects after intense questioning. Nothing came out of the interrogations that would indicate any of them were involved.
When a high profile case like this is in the process of being investigated, all types of information will come in. Intense press coverage and public interest often cause people to contact Police with information that they would normally not pay attention to. Some of it is legitimate, some is laced with imagination and some is pure fantasy. Detectives have to sort through the information and decide what they will peruse and what they will file away.
Two pieces of information received by officers early on would soon come into focus as their best leads to date. Seemingly unrelated reports of suspicious activity from two different sources would tie in together with an arrest of two men in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Both of the men arrested had Memphis connections. They were being held on charges of passing bad checks and were under investigation in several other cities, including Memphis, for the same type offense.
Memphis Detective Jack Klinck was sent to the Jackson County Missouri jail, where the two suspects were being held. The Chief of Police contacted Memphis Police regarding items in the possession of one of the suspects. One item was a mileage book believed at one point to be owned by James Crowell.
Several days after the double homicide, a Black man named Sam Harris, who owned a pressing and cleaning service at 746-1/2 Beale Street near Walnut, told another man that two men had come to his cleaners on September 23rd with a suit with what looked like blood stains.
Police were working previously trying to identify the two men who brought in the blood stained suits. Once the information came in regarding the arrest of the two in Missouri, Mr. Harris was shown photographs of the two by detectives and he identified both men as the customers who brought in the blood stained clothing.
Sam Harris, in the company of Detective Al Hurst, was sent to the Jackson County Jail in Missouri to make a positive identification of the two suspects.
The two men were identified as Waddell Fields and Larkin J. Flannigan. Both had wives living in Memphis. Waddell Fields’ wife, Anna, lived in the Benham Flats apartments, Flannigan’s wife lived at 194 Poplar. Both men were identified as being in Memphis on the 23rd, two days after the murders at Benham Flats. Neither of the two men were living with their wives at the time of their arrest.
Mr. Harris stated that the day the two men came to his place of business, Flannigan remained outside while the Fields brought in two suits of clothing, both of which had what appeared to be blood stains on them.
Fields told Mr. Harris that his shop was recommended to them as doing good work and that work done for them at the Chisca Hotel laundry had been unsatisfactory.
Sam Harris’ shop was at 746-1/2 Beale Street near Walnut, in the rear of a Barber shop. Police were suspicious of the two men taking the clothing to such an obscure location to be cleaned.
Flannigan remained outside the entire time while Fields made arrangements to have the work done. Harris said the two men returned later in the afternoon to pick up the clothes and paid him more than he charged them.
The second piece of information fell into place at the same time. Chief Roper spoke with a man named S.H. Kliem regarding a suspicious male Mr. Kliem encountered while at work. Mr. Kliem was employed at Therry’s Confectionery, 130 South Main Street.
Kleim stated that on Thursday or Friday the week before the murders, a man he was able to identify from a photo printed in the newspapers as Larkin J. Flannigan, came into the confectionery. Mr. Kliem waited on him and Flannigan asked quietly if Marguret Favar was a patron of the place. Kleim stated he knew Miss Favar was an actress but he had never seen her.
Kleim told the man he did not know her by sight and gave a description of a female who had been in earlier. The man replied that if Kleim did not know what she looked like it made no difference.
Kleim stated the man returned to the confectionary on Saturday. He was positive in his identification. Kleim asked the man if he had located Miss Favar. The man replied sharply “No I haven’t and I don’t want you to say a damn word about it either.” Kleim said he saw the man two or three days after that going into the Chisca Hotel. He found a Police Officer and they went into the hotel looking for the man but failed to find him.
Kleim told Chief Roper he remembered the man and had a feeling he might be involved in the double homicide. He told Chief Roper he was positive about his identification of the man as Larkin J. Flannigan, but could only be sure if he saw the man in person.
Waddell Fields was acquainted with Crowell and had known him for several years. The photo police were showing witnesses, for identification purposes, was of a group of men in an automobile from a few years before with Crowell and Fields in the photo.
Flannigan had been arrested for writing bad checks in the past and served time for forgery in Chattanooga, TN. He also served a short term for another forgery in Boston, Massachusetts. Flannigan’s record went back as far as 1911. He worked in the banking industry and understood how it functioned. He was under indictment for several forgeries in Memphis also. Flannigan was very intelligent. He was cool and calm under interrogation and would not break.
Fields was under arrest for the first time and had no convictions. Both men denied any involvement in the Benham Flats murders and said they could provide an alibi. It was up to Memphis Detectives to place them in Memphis at the time of the murders and to provide evidence they had motive and opportunity.
Detective Sim L. Barrinds of the O’Haver detective agency said they trailed Flannigan all over the Country. Fields first began passing bad checks a few months ago, all of them in Memphis.
Memphis detectives questioned the two for several days and neither of them were close to breaking.
Once Sam Harris arrived at the Jackson County Jail in Missouri, he was placed in a room where he could observe the two men without them seeing him. Fields and Flannigan were brought in with four other men all of them dressed in coveralls. Harris quickly picked out Fields and Flannigan.
Harris was then taken to a pile of clothing belonging to the men in the lineup. He looked through and within a few minutes he picked out the clothing he had cleaned for Fields and Flannigan.
According to Harris, the suit belonging to Fields as the largest blood stain, the one belonging to Flannigan had only a few drops.
Fields and Flannigan both denied ever having any clothing cleaned at Sam Harris’s shop. Flannigan said he never had a suit cleaned in his life. According to Harris, the suit owned by Fields had blood stains on the sleeve and Flannigan’s suit only had a few drops. It was necessary to closely examine the spot on Fields’ suit as it was very thoroughly cleaned.
Flannigan’s wife worked at a millinery shop on Main Street near West Court (probably H. I. Summerfields). She told investigators she had not seen her husband for several months. In spite of this, she wrote to him saying she would stick by him.
Flannigan was from a well to do family in Osceola, Arkansas. His father was president of a local bank in Osceola and Flannigan had once worked at the bank.
Fields’ wife had threatened to sue for divorce according to letters in his possession, but decided to stick by him after his arrest. She told investigators she had not seen him for several months. The most recent letter spoke of the murders and fire at Benham flats.
Evidence was building in the case against Fields and Flannigan. They were looking more and more to Detectives like they were involved in the double murder. Most of the evidence was circumstantial at this point, but the case against them seemed to be coming together. In order to charge the two men, detectives needed to place them in Memphis on the day of the murders.
Read the exciting conclusion in the final installment next!