The image here is from page 14 of the St. Louis Post Dispatch from October 23, 1953. While it is easy to see in this screenshot of the article's title, unless you knew what you were looking for, you'd probably miss it.
My grandmother's murder, like so many of the things that happened in my father's life before he met my mother, is one of those stories that I'll never know the truth about.
The picture above shows the article in context. Buried on page 14 and surrounded by large advertisements is the story of how my grandmother Viola Purcell was murdered. I spent a good bit of time searching Newspapers.com for any other mentions of her, of Ernie Earl Morris, but only found their obituaries, which were obviously written from a template.
Even from just the headline at the top of the post, it's pretty clear these two were not "dear" to one another. My father's last name is also misspelled.
After the murder, my dad, who was 19 at the time and in the Army, went to authorities to try to get something done he was told that he didn't have the resources needed to fight for justice for his mother.
What was the truck driver's name? How, when she was under surveillance, did Morris manage to get in and kill her and himself with his own pocket knife before folding it up and putting it in his pocket as he bled out?
The story my dad got about what happened adds more bizarre and implausible details: He was told Ernie killed Viola first, then partially slit his own throat before heading into the kitchen to drink a beer. He then finished the job--not in the kitchen, but in another room--folded the knife, put it away, and then died.
Parts of that theory were published on page 3 of The St. Louis Globe Democrat on October 24, 1953. I found it after doing a search for "Sophie Russell" as it didn't show up with the search for Viola.
I don't want Viola to be just another woman not listened to, defined by her tragic ending that was seen as a consequence of her mistakes at choosing partners. Too often women are erased, reduced to the tragedy of their death and their lives and efforts ignored.
While she certainly didn't pick good ones, Viola did try to get help when things went sour. Before she tried to get justice for her daughter's molestation, she divorced my grandfather, and according to family lore there was quite the custody battle over my dad. My paternal grandfather wasn't worth the dirt he tenant farmed from what I gather, but ultimately I am left to largely imagine the whole story. I hang on to the little snippets my dad matter-of-factly shared with us and the memories my mother has from what he told her.
Viola's grand-daughters haven't always made the best choices when it comes to partners, either. But ours are invisible scars, and we're alive.
Perhaps my hunger for those stories is what leads me to write and to pester my mother to write her memories down. I knew none of my grandparents, and I grieve the loss of their stories.
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