Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Human Wolves of Konawa: The Lothorios and Katherine Cross

Konawa, Oklahoma had two claims to fame: In 1930 Pretty Boyd Floyd robbed the First National Bank and Katherine Cross was murdered by "Human Wolves."

Katherine was the oldest of the children born to John Taylor Cross and his wife, Mary Katherine Diehl Cross and teetering between being a child and being an adult. Katherine's siblings were (in order of birth) Ursie Mar, Esther, Ella, Claud, Clyde, Marvin, and Raphen. Leaving their home in Arkansas, the family moved to the new state of Oklahoma in search of greener pastures and farmland. In Konawa Katherine found herself in trouble. Big trouble. Katherine was pregnant out of wedlock. While it may be common today, this condition did not bode well for a girl at that time in history. To add injury to insult, things were about to go from bad to worse.

Konawa, which got its name from the Seminole language, means String of Pearls, and was a trade center in the early days. Boasting steady growth for the better part of the early 20th Century. it was an up-and-coming community growing to around 1,000 folks around the time the Cross family started calling the area home. Sporting a post office, blacksmith, lumberyard, bank, drug stores, hardware stores, and its own newspaper, the town was a nice place to call home. In 1903 the Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma Railroad bypassed a neighboring town and more folks moved to Konawa. Like any other town, Konawa also had a school system and a doctors to meet the medical needs of the community. 

Abraham H. Yates was one of these doctors. A respected doctor in the community, Dr. Yates was one patient's could easily trust and approach with even their most intimate of problems. On August 15 1917, another citizen of Konawa, Elise Stone, went to Dr. Yates with a very serious, and shameful, problem. Elise, like Katherine was only 18, pregnant, and unmarried. To compound the problem, Elise was a school teacher. This would be highly unacceptable at that period of time and most likely lead to her dismissal from her place of employment. Further complicating the issue, the rumored father of the baby was none other than school principal, Fred O'Neil, a very married man. 

The procedure was performed on Elise, who was quite far along in her pregnancy, and complications arose. Elise languished for four days in Dr. Yates office before she was returned to her own home where she would subsequently die. Elise's death was listed as "Congestive Chill," translated into today's terms as Malaria with Diarrhea. A common cause of death at that time, her cause of death was declared by none other than Dr. Yates. Elise's family mourned their loss and buried her like so many others in the local cemetery. Did her family know the real cause of her death you may ask? The answer to that has been lost to history. However, Katherine Cross would die next and shed light on the true cause of Elise's untimely passing. Elise would not rest in peace for long.

On October 10, 1917, Katherine Ann Cross went to see Dr. Yates for the very same reason as Elise. Katherine was also familiar with Mr. O'Neal, but it is unclear if he was the alleged father of her unborn child too. Mr. O'Neal none-the-less helped arrange the "criminal operation" that would claim her life that day. Dr. Yates convinced Katherine's parents of the necessity of the operation by stating Katherine was suicidal. Unlike Elise, Katherine's parents were aware of her condition and consented to the operation with the prompting, prodding, and encouragement of Dr. Yates. 

Katherine's death was a red flag to the good people of Konawa. They wanted answers as to why two beautiful young women died while in the care of Dr. Yates. County Attorney A.G. Nichols ordered Elise exhumed and examined. Elise Stone's body was disinterred and an autopsy performed right at her graveside. It was quickly determined she didn't die of "Congestive Chill," but of an abortion gone terribly wrong. Katherine's parents then came forward and reported to authorities about Dr. Yates and gave information about Katherine's procedure. 

Dr. Yates was arrested and the headline of the Seminole County News reported the whole sorted affair, albeit with much more politically correct language than we use today. The newspaper told of the arrest of Dr. Yates and Fred O'Neil. Dr. Yates was arrested for performing the abortion while Mr. O'Neil was arrested for arranging it. Gossip spread about both men who were married and held positions dictating adherence to a strong moral code.

Likewise, the Shawnee Daily News-Herald plastered the headline, "Under Bond, Dr. Yates to Face Murder Charge; Konawa Physician Arrested Following Death of Katherine Cross; Charge Death Result Criminal Operation; Doctor is Brought to This County for Safe Keeping." This headline must have been devastating to the Cross family since it came just one day after poor Katherine's funeral. Dr. Yates had been arrested, ironically, while singing at a church revival.

Both men were being held with charges of Murder, however unclear legal technicalities dropped the original charge down to manslaughter. Friends of Elise Stone testified to the relationship between her and Mr. O'Neal while both worked at Vamoosa School. Surprisingly on February 23, 1918 the jury acquitted the two with a vote of 11 - 1 with regards to Elise Stone's death.  Newspaper after newspaper delivered the dramatic news, "Jury Liberates Konawa Doctor."

It should be noted several articles ended with, "Another charge of the same nature is pending against Yates, but will not be tried in this term at court." However, for whatever reason, which I have not successfully discovered, those pending charges were never addressed in a court of law.

Katherine's parents had enough of the grief and publicity, choosing to move away from Konawa to an area just outside Waurika, OK about 100 miles away to the south. Before they left, they were sure to set a mark in honor of their daughter that would never allow the town of Konawa to forget what happened that horrible October day. Purchasing the headstone for their daughter identical in shape and size of the one marking the site of Katherine's grandmother who was already at rest beside her, Mr. and Mrs. Cross had it inscribed with the following, 

If you look closely you would see the inscription read: 

The parents of Katherine Cross were not to be allowed to let their grief fade and move on so easily because in 1928 political rivals of County Sheriff Fred Bowles decided it was time to ouster him from office. The rivals asked Mr. and Mrs. Cross to sign an affidavit stating Sheriff Bowles was aware and actually complicit in the "criminal operation." Fred Bowles challenged the rivals in court, accusing them of libel and slander, for which they were found guilty. Each got a year in jail and had to pay a fine of $1,000, a very large sum of money in that time.

It has been debated since Katherine's death exactly what Mr. and Mrs. Cross meant by adding "Murdered by Human Wolves." Legend quickly grew werewolves existed in Konawa. Chatter on the internet has people claiming Katherine was ripped apart by mythical creatures supposedly roaming the open plains and thick forest of the Konawa area. Ghost sightings and mysterious lights are reported to be seen in the cemetery after sunset.

However, the inscription is most likely a literary reference lost on the less educated or unfamiliar. The idea of Human Wolves can be tied back to works of literature referring to "Lothario." A Lothario (synonym Wolf), according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, is a man whose chief interest is in seducing women. Elise, Katherine, and even Katherine's parents were seduced, albeit in different ways, but seduced none-the-less. Elise and Katherine had relations out of marriage resulting in pregnancy and the Cross' were convinced (seduced, if you will, by the good Doctor) abortion was the only answer.

Thus the meaning of the "Murdered by Human Wolves" on the grave stone of Katherine Cross is a firm nod and finger pointed squarely at Dr. Yates and Mr. O'Neil whose character, charm, and position seduced and destroyed so many lives.

Interesting, eh? However, this story does not end here.

I couldn't resist. I had to go check out the grave site for myself. I had to see if the grave stone existed. I had to see if the legend was true and visit this piece of Oklahoma history and folklore. I dragged along my friend, Destiny, and we set out to find the site where Katherine has rested for almost 100 years.

Here is what we found:

The headstone is missing! To say we were disappointed is an understatement. Who the heck would steal a gravestone? We are still perplexed. Poking around on the internet for an explanation, I was disappointed to find only one reference to the stone missing and that was dated 2007. What happened to the grave stone of Katherine Cross?

And here is another creepy fact: Dr. Yates is buried close by Katherine! That's right, the man who killed Elise and Katherine is buried a mere 50 feet away. They were connected in life and now spend eternity close by one another. Unlike Elise and Katherine, Dr. Yates lived until the ripe old age of  65. If you stand where Katherine's headstone once stood, you can see Dr. Yates' resting spot.

So there you have a little information on the Human Wolves of Konawa, Oklahoma. I can't wait to see what other legends I can go explore.

Oh, and PS: Remember Duran Duran's hit song, Hungry Like the Wolf? That song is all about a Lathario. Bet you never listen to that again without thinking of Katherine Cross and the Human Wolves of Konawa.