Monday, July 12, 2021

Michigan proves fatal to Wayne County man

I started out calling this the "bonus" murder because reports of it turned up while I was looking into the fate of the Mercer brothers, subjects of yesterday's post ("Murder and Retribution in the South of Iowa"). But that seemed insensitive.

The report used here was published in The Chariton Patriot of Dec. 21, 1881. As it turned out the victim, William J. Phillips, had been murdered in Michigan by a business associate on Nov. 25, 10 days after the Mercer brothers gunned down Deputy Marshal John D. Enloe on the streets of Davis City in neighboring Ringgold County, but his remains had not been discovered several states away until two weeks later.

Widely published reports identified Phillips as a resident of Allerton and it certainly is possible that he had moved there with his wife, Mary, and their seven children (the youngest an infant) after 1880 --- but they were enumerated as residents of Lineville in the 1880 census and his remains were returned to Lineville's Evergreen Cemetery for burial. Here's the report:


A dispatch from Detroit states that on last Saturday afternoon a party of hunters found the dead body of a man, which proved to be that of Mr. Phillips, the wealthy stock buyer of Allerton, Wayne county, this state. It lay in a pine thicket, and it is believed to have been there at least a fortnight. The skull was crushed, the teeth were knocked out, and the throat was cut from ear to ear. Those who saw it say the spectacle was indescribably ghastly. An inquest was held in Lexington, Michigan, when the remains were identified.

The last time Phillips is known to have been seen alive was a little over two weeks ago in the village of Amadore, Sanilac county, about two miles from the place where the mutilated body was found. He was known to have been in the  habit of carrying considerable cash on his person, and the people in and about Lexington and Amadore freely express the opinion that he was murdered for his money, which opinion is strengthened by the fact that only a small sum was found in his pocket.

At the inquest, among other witnesses, was a man named J.W. Dixon, of Ridgeway, Mich., who identified the body as that of Phillips. Dixon was in the employ of the murdered man. He has displayed large amounts of money lately, on account of which he has attracted more or less attention during the last two weeks. This fact, taken in consideration with other strongly suspicious circumstances, led to a warrant being issued for the arrest of Dixon, and he was lodged in jail last Saturday night.

Sunday morning it was found that he had taken a dose of poison, which was concealed in his boots when he was arrested. He now lies in a stupor, and refuses to take an emetic.

The murdered man was about 45 years old, and leaves a wife and several children. They have been notified by telegraph of the fate of the husband and father.

Later: Dixon died on Tuesday morning, from the effects of the poison taken by him. There is no doubt as to his being the murderer of Phillips.


The suspect in the case, James W. Dixon, had been employed by Phillips for about two years as a buyer of livestock that then was shipped to southern Iowa. Phillips had left Wayne County, bound for Michigan, on Nov. 22 or 23 with $1,500 in cash and was met by Dixon who apparently killed him, took the cash and then hired a horse and buggy to haul his remains into the country and conceal them.

The widowed Mary Phillips continued to live in Wayne County's Grand River Township, raising her children alone, until her own death 46 years later, during 1927.

No comments: