A Shot to the Heart – The Murder of School Teacher Jewel Stephens

March 26, 2021


When you work in a hospital, you are always preparing for the unknowable. There is always something going on, a crisis can break out at any moment.  This is one thing that has always stayed constant for the last 100 years.  This was no different in Claremore Oklahoma on December 18th 1937.  

A man entered the hospital, carrying a woman who was covered in blood.  The doctors and nurses took the woman and began doing what they could for her.  She had been shot in the chest and was bleeding out fast.  

According to the man they had an argument, she grabbed his gun out of his overcoat and shot herself.  He tried to stop her but it was too late. 

The staff knew that there was little they could do for this woman, even if they were able to get to her right away, it would be a difficult procedure.  

As the woman died on the operating table, the doctor looked at the woman’s face.  She had a fresh swollen black eye and a broken nose.  When he pointed this out to the nurse they discussed the man’s story and how things don’t seem to quite add up and so they decided to discuss her death with the police.  They would have done this anyways, but they wanted to pass on their suspicion.

They called the police station and spoke to Sheriff Tom Dean.  The Sheriff agreed that there was something suspicious about the man’s story.  He went to the hospital and got the official statement from the woman’s husband.  His name was William Stephens.  He was 26 years old and employed at the McAlester Prison as a guard.  He had gone to go pick up his wife at her sister’s house and they got into an argument.  She was very upset about something that was going on and he decided to borrow a car from a friend, George Manifee, to get her quickly.  On their way home, they got into an argument.  He stated that he pulled over and got out of the car to cool off.  He had left his overcoat in the car, when he returned to the car he saw his 22 year old wife, Jewel Stephens, pointing a gun to her chest.  He reached through the car window and grabbed the gun, they struggled and the gun went off, she had shot herself. He then quickly drove her to the hospital.  

The Sheriff asked William what he and his wife were fighting over and he wouldn’t say. 

It was just after midnight, the Sheriff decided that there were too many things not adding up in this case so he arrested William Stephens on the suspicion of murder and booked him into the jail.  

The next day. The Sheriff and the County Attorney D. M. Battenfield, decided to meet up and start investigating this case.  Now at this time, when someone died and it could have been murder, the County Attorney would like a Corner’s Jury to take place so that they could know for sure what the cause of death was.  

If you don’t know, a coroner’s jury is a practice where medical professionals are gathered to do an autopsy.   They would each come out their own conclusion and they would then cast their votes on the cause of death.  This is a practice that actually dates back to medieval England.  It is not done very often anymore but I think that there is some room for bringing it back, especially in high profile cases where someone may have a bias that may affect their findings. 

But in this case, there was no need for it.  It didn’t take a medical professional to state that the cause of death here was the gunshot wound to the chest.  

The Sheriff spoke to Jewel’s parents.  She had spent part of the day with them before she decided to walk over to her sisters house.  Both of her parents state that her face was fine at the time.  She didn’t have a black eye or broken nose.  

They then interviewed Jewel’s sister.  She stated that Jewel left when William came to pick her up.  When she left her house, she was fine, no blackeye or broken nose.  

It was shortly after she left her sister’s house, she apparently suffered bruises and broken nose and then shot.  

Both the Sheriff and the County Attorney were very careful about this case.  William Stephens was a guard at the state prison and case form a family of lawmen.  They knew this looked like murder and they wanted to make sure there was no doubt about it when they went to trial.  

But when they got back to the station they discovered that William was going to make this as difficult as possible.  He refused to talk to authorities so they couldn’t get more details out of him or be able to see if he changed his story over time.  

So they did just about the only other thing that they could do, they got him set up for a preliminary hearing where he would make a plea and they could present their evidence.  

The hearing was set a few weeks later.  With little news coming out about the case, the towns people became afraid that the county was going to do a favor for William and let him walk.  So they started a petition and when they gathered a substantial amount of signatures, they sent it to Governor Maryland.  

The Governor decided that he was going to step in, the day before the hearing, he appointed a special assistant attorney to take 10 days and take a look at the case.  If he sees no red flags, they will reschedule the hearing with the county attorney. 

During this time the special attorney took a look at the case.  He saw that there was nothing fishy going on and that everyone was treating this like any other case so he turned it back over to the original attorney.

While all of this was going on, the attorney for the defense was trying his best to get the case out of the county.  He felt that there was no way to receive a fair trial that was covered so negatively in the local press.  But the judge denied the request.  

The trial started on March 16th 1938.  William plead not guilty to the charges of murder and everything was set to begin.  The first thing that the defense did was they brought in the staff at the hospital to set what happened and how Jewel arrived and in what kind of condition.  

They also brought in the death car so that they Jury can one by one look it over and see a bullet hole in the passenger seat.  This was very impactful to the jury and the defense knew it.  The defense filed for a mistrial, stating that the  introduction of the car and the inspection of it was going to sway the jury unfairly, the request was denied.  

Jewel’s sister then testified that when Jewel left her house, she did not have any bruises or a broken nose.  

The defense could see the writing on the wall.  There was a lot going against William and the only way they were going to stand a chance was if William himself testified in his defense.  It’s his story that he went to pick up his wife from her sister’s house.  She wanted to leave her house because she was uncomfortable because her sister was with a bootlegger friend.  He stated that they borrowed the car from George Manifee.  On their way out of town they got into a fight.  He stopped the car and got out for a few minutes.   He said when he returned to the car, his wife had found his gun in his overcoat and was pointing at her chest.  He tried to wrestle it from her, but she was able to fire it into her chest.  He then stated that he then quickly drove to the hospital and she was still in the sitting position, her head fell forward and hit the dash of the car a couple of times while he was driving.   That’s how she got the black eye and broken nose.  

After his testimony, the case was handed over to the jury.  They had the case over night and came back with a verdict the next day.  Guilty.  The recommended sentence was Life in prison.  It was reported that William was relieved he didn’t end up with the death penalty.  The judge asked William if he had anything to say.  The only thing he asked was he not be placed in McAlester Prison.  He worked there and the inmates would kill him. 

Four days later the judge sentenced William to life in McAlester Prison.  His face went pale when the prison was announced.  

William went to prison.  Although I could not find any information on him past this time, and believe me I searched, I bet William didn’t have too good of a time in Prison.  

So what do you think?  Did William kill Jewel? Let us know in the comments below and I will see you all next time.  

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