5 of 52 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.
The Legs Murder Scandal may not be getting much attention elsewhere, but here in Mississippi, and in Jones County in particular, it’s a huge sensation. This book is by a local person and about a local murder case from the 1930s. It seems everyone in Jones County grew up hearing about the legs murder, and everyone in Jones County knows someone personally connected somehow to the case. At least that’s what it seems like to me after hearing one person after another talk about the book.
In the 1930s, a woman named Ouida Keeton was accused of murdering her mother. W.M. Carter, a much older married man who formed a romantic attachment to Ouida, was also accused. Hunter Cole tells their story, or at least the story of their trials and the aftermaths of those trials, in the book.
I’m giving the book 4 stars for the sheer fact that I couldn’t put it down. It’s overwritten in many places, and often the narration intrudes a bit too much into the facts with speculations on the part of the author. I think Hunter Cole is fair to both Ouida Keeton and W.M. Carter, though, and the story in and of itself is so sensational that it held me spellbound.
Plus, all of this happened not far from where I live and work. I recognize the places mentioned in the book. I’ve been in Mr. Carter’s house, thanks to a friend and colleague who lives there now. I’m practically haunted by my desire to know what really happened.
One thing you’ll learn from reading this book, however, is that we aren’t ever going to really know.
Did Ouida kill her mother? It seems likely she did, though only circumstantial evidence points to her guilt.
Did Mr. Carter kill Ouida’s mother or help Ouida dispose of the body in some way?
By the way, this might be a good time to mention that the reason this case is called “the legs murder” is because they only ever found the legs. We can only guess what might have happened to the rest of the body.
And as to the question of Carter’s guilt, I have no idea. There was basically no evidence to connect him to the murder other than Ouida’s confession in which she claims he was the murderer. This was one of several different versions of a confession from her, though, and she ended up spending the rest of her life in the state mental hospital at Whitfield. She was not a reliable witness. His trial was an absolute farce.
Carter was convicted but then had the conviction overturned. The rest of his life was ruined, though. His health was ruined. His place in society was ruined. He was punished for the rest of his life for something there was no real proof he had done.
What he had done, and what was unforgivable in Mississippi in the 1930s, was to admit to romantic attachments to women other than his wife. For that, he was convicted of murder. Well…that and the fact that is seems very difficult to believe that a young woman of unstable mental of physical health could have done the job alone. Mrs. Keeton was murdered and chopped up into pieces with most of her body disposed of in a way no one ever figured out.
That’s the great mystery. It seems incredible that to this day no one has ever uncovered the rest of her bones. Even if she were burned in someone’s basement furnace, the bones would have still been there. You can’t get a normal furnace fire hot enough to obliterate bones.
And so we have this local sensation of a cold case that nearly 70 years later is largely unsolved. Every small town needs its ghost stories, and this one is ours. I’ve spent hours debating what might have happened with friends who have also read this book. I expect I’ll spend hours more. And hours and hours more after that.
I’d say that makes Hunter Cole’s rendition of the legs scandal a success.