By: L.R. Zimmerman
Ladies and gentleman, I regret to inform you that the story I am about to tell is very unpleasant. This unsolved mystery involves foul play, tampered evidence and the unlawful murder of Gwendolyn Creekmore.
I will begin the story with a brief history of The Creekmore family and possible motive as to why someone would kill “Joplin’s Poor Little Rich Girl.”
The Creekmores were a well-to-do family living in a “fashionable” eight-room home in Snob Hill. They were able to live so comfortably because of Gwendolyn’s adoptive father, William J. Creekmore, and his fortune. Mr. Creekmore was a savvy businessman who gambled with illegal liquor sales during the Prohibition Era. He owned cattle ranches and real estate across the Midwest and bought out Joplin’s Milwaukee Beer Company, a large wholesale liquor distributor. Creekmore capitalized on his liquor business in Joplin by selling spirits illegally across the Oklahoma state line.
Gwendolyn became very ill shortly after Mr. Creekmore married Gwendolyn’s mother and adopted Gwen as his own. This illness left her physically impaired with an inability to speak. Although she suffered this disability, she was loved by her parents and lived a lavish lifestyle. Mr. Creekmore was very protective of his daughter. Some say he wouldn’t allow Gwendolyn to date while he was alive. His reasoning might have been because, as a man, he had a better understanding of a male’s intention with his disabled daughter and her soon-to-be inherited riches.
Mr. Creekmore’s unwary success as a bootleg kingpin came with a hefty price. The federal government had Creekmore on their radar as he was suspected of financially backing the region’s illicit liquor industry. Creekmore spent most of the early 1900s in and out of jail and two years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for jury tampering. Diabetes took his life in 1934, leaving his estate, estimated around $5 million, to his wife and Gwendolyn.
Shortly after her father’s death, Gwendolyn married a man by the name C.B. Farnahan. This relationship did not last long. Farnahan allegedly stole the family’s vehicle and left town, never to be seen again. She received divorce papers in 1936 and took her chances at marriage again with a local boy, Cliff Polston. Her marriage with Polston only lasted a year before the couple divorced. In her last attempt to find love, Gwendolyn began seeing Joplin resident Lee Moxley. Again, this relationship was short lived.
On the evening of May 28, 1950, Joplin police received a distressed phone call from Doris Bulger, a friend of Gwendolyn Creekmore. Miss Bulger informed the local police that she had planned an engagement with Gwendolyn that day and when Gwendolyn failed to show or telephone, she became worried about Gwendolyn’s whereabouts and asked the police to accompany her to Gwendolyn’s home.
Upon entering The Creekmore’s unlocked home, Miss Bulger and the patrolman discovered Gwendolyn Creekmore’s body lying dead in the living room. She had been bludgeoned in the head and most of her clothing had been burned off. Some of the clothing was still smoldering and burns covered her torched body. A bloodied meat clever was found in the basement. The police believed Ms. Creekmore had fled to the basement in attempt to escape the murderer and was killed there.
A press release stated: “They [the police] theorized the killer had dragged her body upstairs to the living room and attempted to burn his victim.” (Sounds like a suspicious pronoun for an unsolved case if you ask me.)
At the time of the murder, Gwendolyn’s mother, Hallie, was sick in the hospital. It was reported that Gwendolyn went to visit her in the hospital in a cab and possibly took a cab ride home. Soon after discovering Gwendolyn’s body, the police brought in Lee Moxley for questioning. Moxley’s alibi stated that he had attended a family reunion that evening. Gwendolyn’s mother rebutted his inquiry by telling police that Moxley was supposed to pick up her daughter from the hospital after their visit that evening. Moxley denied her statement.
Even though Hallie believed Moxley took her home, the cops were heavily suede of Moxley’s “family function” abili. The cab driver said that she asked to stop by the pharmacy to purchase poison but he refused. Maybe she did want to poison herself. Maybe she wanted it for protection. Perhaps we’ll never know.
The detectives investigating the crime scene were no Sherlock Holmes. They did a horrendous job in closing off the scene of the murder. Any forensic evidence that might have been useful in solving the case was tampered with by the multiple people that were allowed in and out of the house. They failed to take fingerprints and didn’t prevent trespassers from entering the Creekmore residence. Even suspect Lee Moxley was allowed back into the house during questioning. He supposedly showed no emotion touring the crime scene. Is this not a big red flag? (I’m no detective but of all of the cases I have researched, the suspect stays in custody until they are no longer being questioned, right?)
Those investigating the murder were left perplexed being that they had never dealt with a case so bizarre. The local authorities could not explain the loaded revolver belonging to the Creekmore family found next to Gwendolyn’s body in the living room, the lamp cord that was discovered in the middle of her bed, or why the families’ expensive diamond jewelry was left untouched.
After the autopsy, Dr. Hurst, the Jasper County coroner, admitted that he could not positively say what Gwendolyn Creekmore’s cause of death was. Dr. Hurst confirmed that she had been struck in the head with the meat maul found in the basement but believed the blunt force trauma did not kill her. Nor did she die from the burns. The coroner believed Ms. Creekmore died from being poisoned after finding copious amounts of mercurochrome in her mouth, stomach, and kidneys. He did however state that Creekmore had been brutally murdered; that it was impossible she could have committed suicide.
I have a different theory. Mercurochrome is a chemical used to form top hats. During the process of hat forming, the hatter would accidentally be exposed to the mercury, therefore poisoning themselves. This coined the phrase “The Mad Hatter” because hatters, I guess, really were sick and crazy.
There was a local hatter and bar owner named Joe Mertz during Mr. Creekmore’s liquor boom and during the time of Gwendolyn’s murder. Joe owned The Dutchman’s Top Hat Lounge, a swanky cocktail bar located on west 7th street, in the building that is now Lotus Garden Chinese Restaurant. I went to The Lotus Garden to do some detective work myself and began to realize how twisted and deep the roots of this story go. The owner of the restaurant was kind enough to talk with me and confirmed that the building had previously been a glamorous hangout with a rotating carousel bar. From what I know of Mr. Creekmore’s prohibited sales, I speculate he was hustling his hooch across state lines, using 7th street as a segue into Kansas and Oklahoma, possibly making business stops at Dutchman’s along the way.
The old lounge had a hat shop attached to the building and a small upstairs apartment. He also told me about a fire that had destroyed the apartment shortly after the murder. Coincidence? I think not. I believe this was a cover up to destroy a paper trail linking liquor distribution between Joe Mertz and William Creekmore or evidence supporting the relations between Moxley and Mertz.
I also found more odd information regarding the Creekmore house in library archives. The house was reconstructed a few years after the murder. The house sits on a corner lot and the alteration changed the location of the front of the house to face the other street. The house’s address also changed after the remodel.
After a month of investigating the murder, the police failed to uncover any further leads, leaving authorities to decide whether or not it was a murder or a bizarre suicide, and the mysterious death turned into a cold case. Two things are certain. Mr. Creekmore had a vulnerable daughter to leave his assets to and he had a lot of money, seems like a plausible motive to me.
Who do you think was the killer or do you believe it was suicide?
The case remains unsolved.