March 7th, 1939, The Stokes reality company was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Stokes. Stokes reality worked together with their son-in-law, Roger Cunningham, who was an FHA inspector. They would work up and get homes ready for sale, and Roger would go in and inspect the homes to make sure everything was good to go to receive a loan. On this particular day, Roger was helping his in-laws in a different business matter. On one of their most recent properties, one of the workers was injured while on the job. Roger was there at the time. He had been called to testify in front of the industrial commission to what had happened. Afterward, he went and met up with his in-laws to discuss the case. Mr. Stokes asked if he was on his way to take his wife, their daughter, Eudora, home now, and Roger’s face instantly fell. He told the Stokes that Eudora had left home. Roger told her parents that they met after school Monday, ate dinner, dropped her off at the Theater, and went to his office to work. That after the show, he met her and drove home. That when they arrived at home, she went upstairs and was packing her bags and said she had made up her mind that it was too embarrassing to stay there where her parents were for them to have to take her back and forth to school and furnish her with meals, and that she had decided to go to California. That she packed three bags of her clothes, and he took her to the Sante Fe Station and let her out, and that he took her bags out of the car and set them down for her. After that, he drove down to a parking lot in front of the Kingkade Hotel; he sat there a few minutes and then went back to where he had left Eudora, but she was not there. That he looked around on Grand avenue and Reno street and around underpasses and was unable to find her, and that he had gone on home.
Worried that something may have happened to their daughter, Roger reassured them that he had checked with different Taxi Drivers, railroads, and busmen to find her. Roger further explained that Eudora had become obsessed with a radio program in California. He believed that she wanted to go and see that program in person and that he hoped that Eudora would contact them to let everyone know that she was ok.
Over the subsequent days and then week, Roger continued to do what he did best, he inspected homes, including one for the Stokes. While he was out doing his job. Roger would call home and ask whether or not Eudora had contacted anyone yet. Each time, she had not. Roger would be downtrodden each time he learned that his wife had not contacted anyone.
Mrs. Stokes did what any mother of a missing person would do; she worried more and more about her daughter as time went on. She decided that she would be more proactive in learning what happened to her daughter. She went to the bank where Eudora conducted business, and she asked whether or not Eudora had any transactions since she left town. The teller told Mrs. Stokes that the only activity was a fifty-dollar check that had cleared on March 6th, leaving forty dollars in the account. If she were traveling, Mrs. Stokes believed that she would have emptied the account. Banks in California would have a hard time clearing checks from out of state.
Mrs. Stokes then pulled out her family address book. One by one, she contacted anyone and everyone that might entertain Eudora for a short time. It was conceivable that if she were leaving town or her husband altogether, her daughter might stay with a relative until things cool off at home. But when contacted, no one had seen or heard from her.
By this time, the Stokes were beyond worried; they started thinking the worse. Perhaps something happened to Eudora at the train station; maybe someone took her from there before Roger returned. If they waited too long, the perpetrator would get away with it with no problem. So they went to Roger and asked if he had gone to the police about Eudora’s disappearance. He said he had not because she did not disappear. She was in California. They urged Roger to contact the police, but he refused; he didn’t want to bother them and waste their time with something that was a nonissue. Roger convinced the Stokes to wait a little longer to see if Eudora would contact them.
The Stokes agreed to not alert the police just yet, but they also began to not trust their son-in-law. Wanting to see if his story was true, Mr. Stokes checked Rogers’s schedule and knew when he would be out of the house for work. Armed with an extra key, Mrs. Stokes entered the beautiful home of Roger and Eudora Cunningham. Their home, which still exists and is lived in, to this day, was an award-winning, beautiful home and was featured in several local papers when completed. She went to Eudora’s closet and found several articles of clothing to be missing. This matched up with what her son-in-law told her. The other thing he said was that she packed it all up. So, she then went to the attic to see if the luggage was still there or not. When she climbed the latter into the attic, the first thing she noticed was that it was very dusty in the attic. This was probably from a lot of the sawdust from the new construction in the months prior. She then noticed a fresh set of footprints in the attic, they were clearly men’s shoes that made the prints, and they led to where the luggage was stored nearby. Eudora had excellent luggage for herself. They replaced her old luggage a while back because it was dated and hard to move, the old baggage was gone, and the new luggage was still there.
Mrs. Stokes was sure that if Eudora was to leave her life behind, she would not have taken the luggage that she disliked. This was the final straw for Mrs. Stokes, and she decided that there were too many things that didn’t add up. She went to the county attorney’s office about Eudora’s disappearance. The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Stokes and Roger went into the attorney’s office to discuss what was going on. Roger recounted what had happened, word for word. He changed nothing in his story and suggested that it was silly to go looking for his wife because she would probably contact them soon to let them all know that she was ok. The attorney took the report and handed it over to the police to investigate. They would look into the train station and see if any witnesses knew if Eudora had got onto the train to California or not.
After this, Roger became a little more distant from his in-laws. He didn’t want to bother the police with this matter, and they had done just that. He told them repeatedly that it was likely that Eudora would contact them soon, but everyone’s patience was wearing thin at this point.
On March 18th, 1939, Mrs. Stokes received the thing everyone had hoped for, a telegram from California. It read, “Am getting along fine; hope you are too. Tell Roger Love. Endora.” For a moment, this telegram brought a tremendous amount of relief to Mrs. Stokes, but when she reread it, there was one glaring typo, Eudora misspelled her name. On the telegram, it was Endora, and it’s spelled Eudora. This was not a typo a person would make when sending a telegram.
Fearing that they were being lied to, Mr. and Mrs. Stokes took the telegram to the police station. Officers took the telegram and also thought the misspelling of the name was curious. It also lacked any authentic detail that they might expect from someone who had been out of contact for the last few weeks. So Detectives looked into the telegram.
One of the things that they knew right off the bat was where the telegram came from. It went from a sub-station in Los Angeles. Officers in Oklahoma City Contacted the Officers in California who picked up the investigation on their end. They sent detectives into the western union sub-station and asked about the telegram. They kept pretty good records and knew that a local man, a Mr. Monty Dillingham, sent the telegram. The Officers then checked local records and found where Mr. Dillingham lived. They went to his home and interviewed him there. At first, Mr. Dillingham was reserved with the questioning; he didn’t know what was going on and didn’t want to get into trouble. But he told them everything when they told him this was about Eudora missing and needed to know about the telegram.
The day before, Mr. Dillingham received a letter from his old friend Roger Cunningham. It was an urgent letter that came with some instructions. He told them what it said “Spike: Please send this straight, just as fast as you can get to Postal or Western Union Sub-Station, where you are not known.” “Destroy this letter and keep this to yourself. I will explain someday.” “Please, please do this for me.” “Roger.” In the corner, it read, “I sure hope things are looking better for you and that you have a chance to make it out there. You may have to find a spot for me. Do not tell Harry or Stormy. – Rog” Mr. Dillingham told authorities that he believed that Roger was in some kind of trouble, but he didn’t think it had to do with his wife.
On March 20th, 1939, Officers went to the home of Roger Cunningham and brought him into the police station for questioning. Detectives and the City Attorney all confronted Roger with the evidence that they had gathered. No one that they could find around the train station remembers seeing Eudora or Roger at any time. Then they brought up the telegram. At first, Roger denied knowing anything more about it than what was presented. But when they told him that, they knew that it was Mr. Dillingham that sent it. Roger lowered his head and admitted to having it shipped. Roger stated that he knew it looked terrible, but he wanted Eudora’s parents to stop worrying about her because he felt like she was ok.
By this time, officers have become quite suspicious of Roger and his actions. While they interviewed him at the station, they also searched his home for any sign of Eudora. Although they did not find anything, they could confirm the details that Mrs. Stokes relayed to them. They looked at the footprints in the attic and did not see any that looked to belong to Eudora, who suppositive went up to retrieve luggage. Around this time, A.G. Odom, a building contractor, contacted police about something he saw around the time of Eudora’s disappearance. Several times he spotted Roger near a ditch on the 3600 block of NW 11th street. They had just dug a sewage line in that area recently. One of the times he spotted Roger in the area, a woman was with him. But Mr. Odom was not sure who the woman was.
With this new clue, Detectives took Mr. Odom to the ditch in question, and they then began to take long poles and probed the earth to see if anything or anyone was buried beneath. After a few hours of this, they found nothing.
The county attorney was convinced that this is where Eudora was hidden. He would have loved to have found her alive, but he believed there was little chance of this happening. Frustrated, he confronted Roger with this new evidence and their suspicion. Rogers’s reaction was not entirely expected. He looked shocked. Roger was real quiet, and then he started confessing to what he now said was the real story. Thinking quickly, the county attorney made Roger write down his confession. This is what he wrote.
“Monday night, March 6th, 1939, about 7:30PM, I strangled my wife Eudora and buried her in a partially filled sewer ditch in the 3600 west, between 11th street and Park Place. May God have mercy on my soul. After this, I drove to the Post Office Building. and stayed till 11:00, and then I went home and packed three traveling bags with her clothes and took them to the south end of May ave. Bridge and threw them off on the west side of the squatter shacks-then I drove home. I made the above statement of my own free will. No threats have been made against me and no promises made to me.”
Roger then drew a map to exactly where they will find Eudora’s body. It was eight feet down and would have probably been too deep to find by detectives. As detectives dug up Eudora’s remains, other detectives looked for the missing luggage. They found articles of Eudora’s clothing in and around the nearby squatters’ camp just as described. When they found Eudora’s body, the murder weapon, a scarf, was still wrapped tightly around her neck.
Roger was taken to jail, and as the news broke, it became the scandal of the year in Oklahoma. Local residents couldn’t believe that something like this could happen in their own neighborhood. Roger’s attorney quickly let reporters know about Roger’s past and some of the things he had been through. You see, Roger has been in the state mental hospital a few times in the past. Roger contracted syphilis, and according to medical professionals, this could impact someone’s mind. Roger’s attorney was quickly setting up an insanity plea.
Along with that, he allowed Roger to be interviewed while in jail. One reporter from the Daily Oklahoman asked if he had planned on murdering his wife, and Roger quickly answered, “Hell No!” Roger promptly explained that they had got into an argument. This had been happening more and more, and he just kind of snapped. Roger told the reporters that he had been trying to leave his wife for some time now. But each time he brought it up, she would threaten to kill herself. All of it had been building for months, and he lost control.
Roger was able to enter his plea to the court on April 3rd, 1939, less than one month after he murdered his wife; he pleaded not guilty for reasons of insanity. The trial was set for October of the same year.
Roger spends this time in jail, mostly in his cell. He would read any and every book he could get his hands onto. By all reports, he was an average inmate and got along well with others. The County Attorney made it clear that they were going for the death penalty in this case, and just days before the trial started, Roger started to get cold feet. He asked his attorney to see if there was a way for him to plead guilty in exchange for a life term. But this was rejected outright. In the county attorney’s mind, Roger was going to lose this case no matter what. Cutting a deal now would just serve Roger and no one else.
On October 23rd, 1939, The Trial began. The County Attorney, Lewis Morris, opened the trial by calling Mrs. Stokes to the stand. She testified to how they were told about the disappearance of their daughter. Roger was acting as if nothing had happened, and they began to suspect Roger more and more as time went on. At one point, while looking at a home they were building, Roger had driven them right past the spot where he had buried their daughter, and they didn’t have a clue.
Next, Mr. Odom testified to witnessing Roger around the ditch several times around the time of Eudora’s disappearance. After that, they brought in medical professionals who testified that Roger was sane at the time of the murder. They tested him for syphilis, but he was negative on all accounts. They believed it to be true that syphilis can damage the mind over time, but this had not happened to Roger.
The prosecution also introduced the telegram and confession into evidence. This removed any doubt jurors may have had about the murder. At each step, the defense tried to paint Roger as this man who is unstable and capable of doing anything. He is not in control of himself at times, and that there was nothing Roger could have done to stop himself. They were not going to try and convince the Jury that Roger was innocent, but what they wanted was for Roger to have the chance to live out the rest of his life in jail and not receive the death penalty.
The Defence begged the Jury for mercy. There was no reason for Roger to kill his wife. They loved one another, but something snapped in Roger, and he was no longer in control. They then described what it was like to be put to death in the electric chair. How a person would have to be shaved so that the electrodes would make contact with the skin. He described prison life on death row and that they would be condemning a man to an unreasonable fate.
The Jury was given the case, and they quickly came back with a guilty verdict. The punishment would be death.
Roger was immediately taken to Death Row.
Roger’s attorney tried for a retrial and appealed the decision, but the higher court didn’t see any reason to change the verdict.
On November 15th, 1940, Roger Cunningham had been prepared for execution. His hair had been shaved, and he ate the last meal of venison steak, scrambled eggs, and toast, jelly, and coffee. At midnight, Roger was brought into the death chamber. They asked if he had any last words, and he shook his head no. They strapped him down, and just a few minutes later, he was dead.
The outcome of this case was debated for many years. Some medical professionals believed that Roger’s past was enough to show he was mentally unstable and should have served a life sentence. Over time, this case was all but forgotten in Oklahoma History.