"Graveyard Tryst Led To Shooting" (1919)

On June 6, 1919, The Washington Times ran an article with an intriguing headline. I’ve posted articles about people unable to resist the romantic allure of the graveyard before, but I somehow overlooked James Frank Kiser‘s murder at the hands of his jilted second wife, Alice. This chapter in Mr. Kiser’s story both begins and ends in the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in Taneytown, Maryland where his first wife, Annie, was buried. It was during a visit to Annie’s grave that Mr. Kiser struck up a dialogue with Mrs. Ida Reever (possibly “Reaver“) who was also visiting a grave. The Kisers and Reevers lived near each other in Harney so they probably already knew each other. The two left the graveyard together that day, based on the testimony of Dr. Benner, a physician who’d treated both Mr. and Mrs. Kiser on separate occasions. Mr. Kiser confided in the doctor that he felt as if “heads were popping up behind every tombstone watching them” and by the time he got home, Alice knew about her husband’s new friendship via telephone gossip.

The extent and duration of J. Frank and Ida’s relationship is unclear, but Alice lamented to Dr. Benner that on the advice of a neighbor she freed her husband’s horse in order to follow it to catch him in the (alleged) adulterous act. The horse took her directly to the pair in a schoolhouse. This article says that J. Frank and Ida were “together” when she found them, but it doesn’t specify what was going on. Alice, who was in her sixties, had been treated for gallstones, liver cancer, and hardening of the arteries and told the doctor that she was also suffering from emotional distress caused by her husband spending time with another woman. During a separate appointment with Dr. Benner, Alice said she feared that her husband was giving Ida money and that he would also give her all of his property. Dr. Benner noted several changes in Alice’s mental state after she learned of the affair. Her memory suffered, she was often so flustered that she was unable to carry out routine tasks, such as counting eggs at the market, and she also wept frequently. Mr. Kiser was warned of the ill effects of his behavior on his wife’s condition and claimed that he would “cease his affections” towards Ida. (Remember, this was when divorce wasn’t as common as it is now. Perhaps if J. Frank had divorced Alice, he would’ve lived beyond the year 1919 and spared his wife some of her distress.)

According to The Frederick Post, a few months before J. Frank’s murder Alice  fired a pistol at him at close range, but the bullet bounced off of a button on his collar.  Alice allegedly told J. Frank that “the Lord had been kind to him that time, but might not be so good next time.

Some of the details about the events of February 12, 1919 vary, but all reports arrive at the same ending. In The Washington Post, a neighborhood boy named Henry Mort testified that Mr. Kiser exited his home, made a motion with a hitching strap in the air, and proceeded down the road on foot, followed by Mrs. Reever shortly afterwards.

When Mr. Kiser came home Alice was waiting for him, armed. She shot him in the head, a wound which would cause his death the next day in a Frederick hospital. Immediately after the shooting Alice helped J. Frank to the living room and took off his shoes before summoning her neighbors for assistance.

In June, Alice’s lawyers used an insanity defense instead of  “unwritten law” to back up her not guilty plea to the manslaughter charge. Ida, said to be “well preserved for her age” attended most of the trial but was never called as a witness. Various doctors testified that Alice’s physical conditions combined with the emotional strain of her husband’s actions caused her insanity on the night she shot him. Dr. Adolf Meyer said that while she was currently sane, she could become insane again “by any undue excitement.” The doctor who spoke for the prosecution dissented from other experts, believing that she was of sound mind on February 12.

After two hours of deliberation on June 6 the jury had reached a verdict. Alice showed very little emotion as she heard that she was “not guilty of murder” and “sane at the present time.” Ida wasn’t in the courtroom for the verdict but most of the spectators agreed with the jury’s decision although no one approached Alice to congratulate her. She left the courthouse in a buggy with her son, Estee, and returned home as a free woman.

The Washington Post, 7 June 1919
The Frederick Post 5 June 1919