December 5th 1937, In Pryor Oklahoma. News travels fast though the little towns in Oklahoma. Pryor was no exception, especially when it came to helping your neighbor. That day many of the residents in Pryor were gathering at the Hubbard farm, to search and see if they could find Ralph.
You see, earlier that day, Della Hubbard, Ralph’s wife, had gone to a neighbors house looking for help. Ralph had gone out that morning to chop firewood. It was needed because it was especially cold and they were running low. But Della didn’t expect for Ralph to be gone for very long. When he didn’t return, she went out to look for him and found no sign of him at all.
So to help, each neighbor called the next and they gathered a search party to find Ralph. Many people were willing to help. Ralph had done a lot for his community. He was apart of the local school board and was devoted to helping his community by shaping the education of the children who were their future. Some of the things that they noted was that he had gone out on foot, his card was still at home and it wasn’t like he left the property on purpose. So the searchers went out onto the property and searched into the night. Once it was too dark to see well, they stopped the search and resumed the search again at first light.
The next day, the searchers were joined by even more people who had heard of the missing man and wanted to help, this included the local authorities as well. You see, there had been a few rumors going around town that not everything was as it seemed in the Hubbard home and the Sheriff thought it was best to be involved.
On the east side of the property, searchers came upon a creek. Laying on the ground was the cap that Ralph was wearing the morning he was missing. Then, just a few yards away, they found Ralph. He was found in this small creek lying face down with his head turned slightly to the right. He was lying on his face and on his stomach with his hands and arms outstretched. The ice was frozen around his body.
The searchers quickly found the Sheriff who was already on the property helping with the search. When he approached the body he noted several things that were quite evident to someone with his experience. First of all, he noted that Ralph’s boots were clean. One would imagine that if you walked out to chop wood and ended up in a creek, you might get a little dirty doing so, but that was not the case here. He also noted that around the creek was tall dry grass, but leading up to where Ralph had laid, the grass laid over, as if something had been dragged over it, something like Ralph himself.
When the county doctor arrived he began to examine the body. He pointed out that there were several bruises on Ralph’s head, they looked to be the types that were from a blow that might knock someone out. Also, the bruises were on top of Ralph’s head, if he were to have fallen, it was unlikely that he would have his head in such a place. There were several abrasions on his body and also bruises. There was also a discoloration on his left eye and back of his ear, and an abrasion on his chin and a scratch or two on his face. His face was partly buried in the water of the creek and the evidence of the doctor was that he had in their opinion died from drowning after being struck with some instrument and rendered unconscious. There was also mud on the back of his jumper, in the middle of the mud was a handprint.
To the Sheriff, this was very important. Since finding the body, no one had touched him except for the Doctor. The handprint was clear evidence that someone who was not Ralph, had touched his back after he fell and before they had found him.
When the authorities went to move Ralph’s body, something fell to the ground, when examined it was determined to be a blue button. This was curious but at this time, they had nothing to connect that to.
Now, the Sheriff was not the type of person who believed fully into the Rumors that he heard. But he also knew that sometimes, those rumors had a kernel of truth to them and he needed to figure out if what he had heard before had something to do with Ralph’s death.
One of the men that was apart of the search team that found Ralph’s body was their neighbor, Roy Kinion. The rumor that had been going around town was that Della and Roy had been seeing each other in secret for awhile now.
So, to get this ruled in or out, the Sheriff brought in Della Hubbard. While she waited, authorities searched her house and found a few clues that supported the rumors at the time.
The first person they decided to question was Della. When they gathered the evidence they found they decided to see how she would react when confronted with it.
The County Attorney, H. Kehn (Keen) ask Della line of questioning to see her reactions to the evidence. First he asked simple questions, her name, how long they were married and when did she last see Ralph. Then he asked about her movements when she became nervous about Ralph’s disappearance. She stated that she went to the Kinion property to ask if they had seen her husband.
They then asked if Ralph had become angry with her because he believe that she had become intimate with another person. She said no.
They asked about Roy Kinion, if she knew him and she said yes. Then they asked if he had ever written to her and she said yes. They asked if it was by mail or some other means and then they laid out several letters that they found in Della’s home.
She stated that they were left at a rock post between their two properties. Roy would leave a letter under a rock and she would retrieve it and then write back the same way. Each one of the letters were love letters. She told the authorities that they would use this mailing system to schedule times that they could be together so that their spouses would not know.
There was an old straw pile nearby that they would rendezvous in that was out of sight and they would not likely be found. She said their relationship had ended months ago when Roy’s wife caught on to what was going on. She went to Dell’s home and started yelling at her and she agreed to break things off with Roy. Roy wanted to keep at it though. He changed the spot where they were leaving letters, but Della stated that she was serious about stopping the relationship and did not meet up with him even if he asked.
After the interview, they let Della return home to plan the funeral. Ralph was well known in the community and it was expected that many people were going to attend. The mystery surrounding his death also sparked a lot of interest. Authorities believed that Roy was somehow connected with the murder, but love letters and an affair was far from proof of murder.
On December 9th 1937, Ralph’s funeral was to take place. Before the funeral was a viewing, anyone who wanted to say goodbye to Ralph could come and see the body before the funeral. The Sheriff went in with Della to the viewing of her late husband. This was just minutes before the funeral was supposed to start. While looking at his body, Della was overcome with grief. The Sheriff told her it was a shame what happened to Ralph and the one responsible for his death should answer for his crimes.
Della looked to the Sheriff and stated that she wanted to confess what she knew. They brought her into the crying room where she slowly told her story.
“We got home from town Sat. evening about 4 o’clock. He went and got the cows as soon as we got home, then we milked, then ate supper about 6:30 o’clock. We went in the front room and sat down to read the newspapers. We read until about 8 o’clock, then we went to bed. Someone come up about 11:30. I didn’t see the person but I heard the voice-called ‘Hub’-came up to the porch and told him to come out. He got up and dressed and put his coat and wraps and went around the southeast corner of the house was about 15 minutes after they left before I heard him holler. He, Roy, went on away and I thought he was mad at me too. I never went down there just then, but after he left I went down there and looked at the body of my husband but I was afraid to do anything.”
After the statement, the Sheriff interrupted the funeral that was already in progress to arrest Roy Kinion.
Now, Roy had been taken into the station to be arrested and questioned about the killing. Della was also taken in. When the questioning began, Roy denied all involvement in the murder. After they showed him the letters that they found, he ended up admitting to having a former relationship with Della but nothing else.
Roy’s wife spoke to the press the day after Roy was arrested. She was quoted as saying “Roy is innocent, I know he is, I will prove it when the time comes”. She had told the police that on the day of the murder, Roy was with her all day. He didn’t leave the house and there was no way he committed the murder. The Deputy Sheriff B. F. Wilson was getting worried about that alibi because no one had come forward that could say something else. They asked neighbors and other people that might have been in the area, but no one saw Roy Kinion away from his home that day.
As the days go on, Roy is moved from the small jail to the state prison. They are worried that the unrest in the town may cause a mob to form. Della stays in Jail but has stopped eating all together and starts to become ill. At the time, the police believed that she was doing this because she had no appetite due to a guilty conscience.
On December 19th the state decided to exhume Ralph’s body to do a full autopsy. There were several doctors there for both sides of the court. The state Doctors believed that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Ralph was hit and then dragged to the creek to drown. Other doctors, including the one that first proclaimed that theory, changed their minds after seeing that the bruises on Ralph’s head were surface bruises and not deep ones. They didn’t believe that he was hit hard enough to cause that kind of damage. They didn’t believe that the bruise was from someone hitting Ralph, rather, he might have bumped his head somehow. The state doctors believed that it was murder and the other doctors believe that he probably died of a heart attack or stroke and fell into the creek.
After these disagreements were made public knowledge, Della then came forward and told the Authorities that she and Roy had nothing to do with the murder. She had only confessed because she thought that there was a chance that Roy had killed her husband, but she never really believed it. This statement fell on def ears and just a few days later, the preliminary hearing would take place.
At the preliminary hearing both Della and Roy plead not guilty to the murder. The State called to the stand, the undertaker who took Ralph’s body after it was discovered. He testified that Ralph had water in his lungs which indicated that he was still alive when he fell in the water.
They also called witnesses who found the body and how it was positioned in the creek. They called the states Doctor who testified that the autopsy showed that Ralph suffered from a brain hemorrhage when he was hit over the head and that the presence of water in the lungs showed that he drowned after being struck.
Then Detective Walters testified about finding the love letters in the Hubbard home.
After hearing all of this evidence, the Judge finds that there is sufficient evidence to hold both Della and Roy in jail with no bond. This caused some legal minds in the legal state to do a double take. In all of that evidence, what tied the two suspects to the crime? The love letters never contained a subject like killing Ralph, there were no witnesses to the crime.
These were all things that Della’s Attorney brought up when he appealed the judges decision. Even her confession was one that pointed to Roy as the killer and her as a victim. She never implicated herself as the killer, there was no evidence that she had killed anyone or really anything suggesting that she might have. After hearing this, the judge reversed the decision and let Della out on bail.
It took over a year for the actual trial to begin. Both Della and Roy were to stand trial but they were not going to be tried together. On March 24th 1939, Della’s trial was to begin. At the beginning of the trial, the Assistant Attorney General read the confession that Della had written word for word. This was to undermine her attempt to state that she didn’t knew about the murder before Ralphs body was found in the creek.
The State then called two state physicians who examined Ralph’s body. They both testified that Ralph was hit over the heads and then his body was dragged to the creek. They state that the bruise on his head is key evidence to that theory.
The state pointed out that a button was found on the ground when they moved Ralph’s body and that they found a garment of Della’s that was missing the button.
The Defense called their own doctors. They were not state employees and were only involved because they too examined Ralph’s body. They stated that the bruise on Ralph’s head was a surface bruise. There was no damage to the skull or brain. They believed that he suffered a stroke or a heart attack and probably walked until he collapsed into the creek.
Then is a surprise move, Della took the stand herself. She stated that the only reason she had confessed to anything was because she was held for hours in the police station and was told over and over that she was going to the electric chair if she didn’t confess to something. So she gave in and told them what they wanted to hear.
The Jury received the case and it didn’t take them long to find a verdict. They found Della guilty and gave her a live sentence. Della nearly collapsed when hearing the verdict.
Just a few days later, it was Roy’s turn in the hot seat.
One of the problems that the state had with Roy’s trial was they needed Jurors who hadn’t already formed an opinion in the case. It took days to finally put together a fair jury.
The state began the trial as a carbon copy of the last. But the defense switched things up. Roy’s wife took the stand and stated that there was no way Roy had done the killing. After she found out that he had been involved with Della, Roy was never out of her sight. She remembered what they did on the day that Ralph died, and Roy was never once out of her sight.
The state had no witnesses to state that this was not true, Roy had a pretty solid alibi.
Roy also took the stand and stated that he was with his wife who he loves and what happened between him and Della was a fling. He didn’t love Della and knew that it was a mistake to deceive his wife.
The Jury deliberated overnight and the next day they came back with a verdict of Not Guilty. Roy was acquitted of all charges.
It doesn’t sit right that the person who stated that she witnessed the murder, was then convicted for that murder, with absolutely no evidence to tie her to the murder.
On June 1st 1939 Della’s attorney hoped to argue just that to the appeals court. He reminded the court that Della was not on trial for cheating on her husband. He disproved the states evidence with the button when a family friend testified that Della and Ralph were talking to him when Della’s button fell off her coat. Ralph picked it up and slipped it into his pocket, this was just a day before he died and it was not unreasonable to think it was still there and it fell out of his pocket.
Seeing that there was nothing to really tie Stella to the murder, the court found that there was not a sufficient amount of evidence to warrant a punishment life life in prison. They let Della out on bond and told the state that they can retry her if they find the evidence they need to truly convict.
Della was never retried for Ralph’s death.
So what do you think? Did someone get away with murder in this case or did Ralph suffer a heart attack and die in the creek? Personally, I think that the state jumped to conclusions in this case. Della didn’t seem like the strongest willed person and they probably broke her trying to get a confession. She said what they wanted to hear and it drove them forward.