The Last Walk Home: The Murder of Ben Coleman – Forgotten True Crime
Vacations are extraordinary, especially if you are in a relationship. If done right, they rejuvenize yourself and keep things fresh between yourself and your spouse. My wife and I go on multiple trips a year, primarily cruises, and it’s something we were able to use to focus on us and our lives together.
But, there are two sides to every coin. Although I have never experienced it, I’m sure that stressful, abusive, hateful relationships get amplified when you are stuck together on vacation with no real escape. This is precisely what we are talking about in this story. Today we are talking about the 1939 Unfortunate Fate of Julia Abby.
Warren Abby was a unique man with big ideas. He lived in Louisiana and grew up working on a farm, so he decided that being a farmer was how he would live his life. But one thing that’s not discussed enough is, being a farmer is hard, and there’s not a lot of money in it. Most of what you earn goes back into the farm, and hopefully, there’s enough left over to help feed your family until the following season.
Warren struggled to survive and make it on his own. As the only person on the farm, things were difficult. So Warren decided that he would do what he could to continue farming his land and get help from those around him who also wanted to make money. So Warren started a cooperative farming plan. He and the other farmers would work together to help farm their crops. Together they would be able to plant more produce than they would when they were working alone. Then, they would then split the profits when the crops were all sold.
This is not really a new idea, but when you live in an area with established farmers who are already doing fine on their own. Then you start running into problems, getting them into the mix of it. Warren pitched his idea to several farmers who were not interested in the concept and some who were open to hearing about it once it’s more ready to get off the ground.
One day in 1935, Warren was reading the newspaper, and he noticed an advert for a matrimonial agency that would put their clients in touch with each other for a price. Warren, who was in his fifties, didn’t plan on having kids, but if he met the right person, perhaps they could work together and help get his idea of the coop farming off the ground.
Warren contacted the agency almost as soon as he read the advert. Within a week, he had a list of women who were all looking for love. Each Woman had a description listed, along with age and occupation. One name stuck out among the rest, Julia Barr. Julia was about 20 years his senior; she was in her later seventies at the time. She was somewhat successful, having run her own drugstore for many years. Warren was attracted to that kind of success. The only hitch was that Julia lived in Arkansas.
So the two started writing to each other. Warren and Julia both had a lot in common, and they seemed to get along just fine. Julia didn’t expect to meet someone much younger than her, but she was pleasantly surprised that they could fall in love. As time went on, they started talking on the phone, and then Julia began making trips to Louisiana to stay with Warren for short periods.
As the months went on, Warren discovered that Julia had some land that she wasn’t using and was just sitting on to sell someday. Warren was struggling to get his coop farming idea off the ground, and he began to think that if he were able to advertise in the paper, he would reach more farmers and perhaps get more to sign onto his idea. So Warren asked Julia for some money to help out. Julia, being supportive, sold some of her lands and gave the proceeds to Warren in hopes it would help him out.
Shortly after this, in January of 1936, Warren proposed to Julia when she had come for another visit. She said yes, and they decided to Marry right away. They went to the courthouse and made it official. Warren asked that they keep it a secret for now. Julia had a son who would probably be alarmed that his mother had run off to another state to get married, and they wanted to do things right at a later date and have a big ceremony in the church then.
But, that big ceremony never happened. For the next three years, the couple stayed living apart and keeping their marriage a secret. This bothered Julia, who was not a young woman by any means, and she decided that if she were going to be married, she would live with her husband. Warren was reluctant to this idea at first. But Julia told him that she was going to sell her store and the land that she owned. After that, she would contribute that money to paying off Warren’s farm and getting him set up better. After hearing this, Warren was all for the idea.
After Warren told Julia that it was ok to move in, there was no going back. Julia began to get ready for the move. The first and most significant step was her selling the drug store. This store had been successful and helped Julia support herself over the years. But when it came time to sell, the only offer she received was not what she quite expected. She was offered fifteen hundred dollars for the store. One thousand would be paid in cash, and the other five hundred would be carried on a note owed to Julia.
Since this was her only offer, Julia accepted the offer. She then used that money to help get moved to Louisiana. As promised, she gave Warren $533 to pay off the mortgage to his farm, and then she bought a car for $260.
Julia moved in, and they quickly got their affairs into order. They both signed last wills in testament that stated that their spouse would inherit their belongings if anything happened to them. Then they decided to take care of the rest of the land that Julia owned. According to what she thought, it was worth quite a bit of money. Julia estimated that it was probably worth around ten thousand dollars due to the zinc on it.
So, they planned a trip across the United States. Their first stop would be in Arkansas, where they would sell the rest of Julia’s land. They would then travel into Oklahoma and head down the Historic Rt. 66 and make their way to California for their vacation.
When they got to Arkansas, they surveyed the land that Julia owned. It was not as lovely as Julia had thought. Their dreams of a $10,000 windfall were quickly dashed. The land was almost worthless.
In hopes of saving their vacation, Julia tried to cash in her $500 note but could not. So with little else to do, they drove into Oklahoma, hoping that they could make it ok, with the money they had at the time. Warren and Julia began bickering at this point. Warren felt like he had lied. Julia presented herself as well off, and he has found her to be penniless.
As they traveled through Oklahoma, they stopped at a tourist camp in a town called Bridgeport. Today this town is considered a ghost town even though about a hundred people still live there. Back in 1939, it was considered quite the town. Resting right on Rt. 66, the town had boomed due to the railroad and the highway coming through the town.
On October 6th, 1939, Warren and Julia got up and ready to get back on the road. The morning temps were about 70 degrees, and they knew it would be a hotter day than usual. As they got back on Route 66, they started their way toward Clinton, Oklahoma. A little over an hour later would pass by, and they would then arrive, but only one of them was still alive.
The Abby’s car flew into the parking lot of a gas station in Clinton, Oklahoma. Warren Abby got out of the car and quickly ran to the attendant. He told him that there was an accident and that his wife needed help real bad. The attendant looked into the car and knew that they needed help quick. He told them where the local hospital was and how to get there. Warren took off right away to get his wife to the hospital.
When Warren arrived with Julia, the emergency staff knew that there was not much they could do at this point. She was dead, and they were too late to be able to help her. Dr. H. R. Cushman asked what happened. Warren was quick to answer. They had got a flat tire, and they pulled on the side of the road to get it changed. Warren was getting the spare out and was working on getting the car jacked up, and he asked Julia to get out of the car so that it wouldn’t fall if she moved. She got out and was standing in the road. A large truck came speeding through, they must not have been watching because they hit Julia, but instead of stopping and helping, the truck driver kept driving.
Now, a hit and run was something they had seen before at the hospital, but there was something different about this case. When Dr. Cushman inspected the wounds on Julia, they were centered around her head. To the Doctor, it looked like she had been beaten over the head with something. The Hospital staff alerted the authorities about Julia’s death, and they relayed their fears about what might have happened.
Officers arrived at the hospital and brought Warren into the station. Warren repeated the story about the truck coming and hitting Julia. He said that the vehicle didn’t stop and knew he had to get her some help. He told the officers where it happened on Route 66, and they immediately went out to see what they could find.
At the spot where Warren stated Julia was hit, Officers found nothing. No blood, broken glass, or tire marks that might suggest someone hitting their breaks hard. Nothing. So they walked down the road, one Officer heading towards town and the other walking away from town. The Officer who was walking away from town spotted something glinting in the sunlight in the distance. He called for his partner to come back when he realized what it was, a pool of dark red blood.
They noted down the evidence, and then they began searching the area for anything else. Just forty feet away from the blood pool in the road, they found a wrench that was also covered in fresh red blood and hair, the same color as Julia’s. Officers gathered the evidence and brought it back to the station. They then went to inspect the Abby’s car before they wanted to confront Warren with the wrench. When they got into the car, they found blood inside. They knew Julia had been transported in the vehicle to the hospital. The blood splatter patterns on the outside of the car looked like the trama happened right outside the vehicle and not on the road. Officers also found a gun in the back seat of the car. It was loaded and tucked under some clothing.
Officers stopped being friendly and kind to Warren Abby. They had put together what had happened, and they were ready to confront him with the evidence that they had.
They first asked him what really happened so they could again hear the statement about his wife being hit by the truck. They noted that down, and then they then revealed that they found the pool of blood and then showed Warren the wrench they found at the scene.
Warren lowered his head and didn’t say anything. The officers continued to press him on the evidence. Doctors believed the wounds were not from a truck but from a blunt object hitting someone over and over. They then talked about the blood splatter on the car. It looked like she had been hit by an object right there and not on the road.
Warren finally broke. He began to sob, and he started telling the officers what happened on Route 66. Warren said they were about 10 miles from town, and they were in an argument about money. This had become typical for them. Warren wanted to turn around and give up on the trip to California. They could not afford it since she had lied to him about how much her land was worth. Julia then accused Warren of loving the idea of his Coop farming business more than he loved her. That he was only using her for the money, he thought she had. That’s when she told Warren she was going to shoot him. By this time, Warren had stopped the car, and they were standing outside on the side of the road. Julia reached to open the vehicle’s back seat, but Warren could fight her back from getting the gun. That’s when he grabbed the wrench, and he hit Julia over the head with it. Warren told officers it was at this time he completely blacked out. He does not remember hitting her any after that first initial blow.
When he came too, Warren freaked out because he realized that he had killed Julia. He threw the wrench off the road, and then he went back to Julia out to see if he could do something to help her. As she lay there, bleeding out, he realized that she was either dead or close to it. There was nothing he could do. That was when Warren said he came up with the story of his wife being hit by a truck. He thought that it was a believable story. Officers immediately arrested Warren Abby for the murder of Julia Abby.
Warren Abby would have several days to think over what he wanted to do in court. He was arrested on October 6th, and his arraignment was October 11th. When he was brought in front of the Judge, Warren was asked what his plea would be. Warren said, “Not Guilty.”
The trial was set for December of the same year. Warren hired attorneys Mitchell & Mitchell to defend him. Now, I had to do a little digging to find more information on Mitchell & Mitchell, and I found a book titled The Chronicles of Oklahoma. I have cited it as a reference because it contains a lot of helpful information on their firm. E. L. Mitchell was a former district judge in the state of Oklahoma. When he stepped down from that position, he opened his own firm with his son, Norris Mitchell. They took on cases where people needed help but couldn’t pay due to the great depression. Instead, they took payment via barter. They also liked to take on issues that seemed very difficult, like the one with Warren Abby.
It was already known from Warren’s statements that he planned to argue that he had gone temporally insane when he beat his wife to death. The first thing the attorneys tried to do was get the venue changed for the trial. Warren’s actions and confessions were all written about in the local paper. It would be hard to find anyone who didn’t already know about the case to be a juror.
That motion was denied by the court. The judge believed that because Warren and Julia Abby were from out of state, no one had anything against them because they didn’t know them. Yes, some jurors might have read the story, but that was not enough to change locations.
On December 12th, 1939, the trial began. The state opened by calling several witnesses to the stand that saw firsthand what had happened to Julia and its aftermath. They set the scene before the murder and had the gas station and campground attendant in Bridgeport, Oklahoma, testified that he saw Warren and Julia leave early that morning. He saw nothing out of the unusual. Then they called the gas station attendant in Clinton, Oklahoma, to tell his story of how Warren Abby quickly flew to his station, asking for directions to the nearest hospital. They called the Doctor who examined Julia and pronounced her dead. He described the wounds on Julia and how he knew that she was not hit by a truck.
They then showed a photo of Julia to the Jury. The defense argued this would create a bias towards Warren, but the judge allowed it. One by one, the jury had a chance to view the photo of Julia Abby and her wounds.
After this, the offi ll their part of the story, what Warren had told them and how it didn’t match up with what they found. They introduced the wrench into evidence and then Warren’s signed confession.
The prosecution then wrapped up with their last witness. Julia Abby’s son, Dr. Austin Barr. Dr. Barr was a successful Physician in Arkansas. He was well-spoken and made an excellent witness to how the relationship really was. The Doctor explained how much stress his mother was put through keeping her marriage a secret. Dr. Barr was worried that she was being taken advantage of when she started selling everything, but he was also happy that they would be living together after all these years. He broke down and started to cry when he spoke about the last time he heard from his mother and the hope that her marriage would finally be something more.
The defense only called two witnesses. Warran Abby. When Warren took the stand, he started from the beginning of the relationship. He explained how they met through the agency and how they quickly fell in love. How they married and kept it a secret. Julia had lied from the beginning of the relationship. She stated that she was worth over $300,000, and she was about to get even more. But after they were married, he found out that she was only worth a fraction of that.
He then explained the road trip and how he wanted to turn around and end their marriage. When he told Julia this, she reached for where the gun was stored and said she would shoot him. Warren explained that he was afraid of his wife and was only defending himself when he struck her over the head. He blacked out after and couldn’t remember hitting her further. Warren began to weep and sob through the rest of his testimony.
Their second witness was Warren Abby’s first wife. She was a character witness in the defense of Warran. She stated that they only divorced due to general differences. He never struck her or threatened her. She did think he cheated on her but later found that to be untrue. She didn’t think it was in Warren’s nature to do something so wrong on purpose.
The jury was handed the case on December 16th, and on the 17th, they had reached a verdict. They found Warren Abby, Guilty of murder. They recommended death as the punishment. The court accepted and set a date of execution for March 15th that next year. But, as always, Warren was given more time for his appeals. One by one, they were all struck down.
Just after the stroke of midnight, on August 29th, 1941. Warren Abby was led into the death chamber, where the electric chair awaited. The crowd that showed up was only his attorney and several reporters. It was reportedly the smallest turnout for an execution. Warren was asked if he had any last words. Warren then spoke to the crowd.
“I just don’t think it’s right for them the execute me. I’m not a criminal at heart. I am being murdered for an act that was forced on me. My conscience is clear.”
Warren was then strapped down, electrodes were put into place. When the switch was flipped, it took one minute and 57 seconds to kill him.
This case was widely forgotten through time. Warren and Julia Abby died in a state they never lived in. They both paid the price for their actions. Sadly, Julia was so willing to go along with Warren and his scheming. She didn’t leave him when he kept their marriage a secret. She didn’t turn on him when he was obviously trying to sell everything she had for a quick buck. But love can make you turn a blind eye to things. Then when reality hits you, you always feel so stupid for putting up with everything for so long. Unfortunately for Julia, she never realized what Warran was capable of.
Just a reminder, in the state of Oklahoma, Divorce is like 50 bucks. It’s always a better option than killing your spouse.
I hope you all enjoyed this show. If you did, make sure you leave me a kind review. Reviews help out the show more than you know. If you haven’t already, make sure you subscribe, so when we have new episodes, you will be the first to know. I will see you all next time. See ya!
Oklahoma Historical Society. Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 92, Number 4, Winter 2014-15, periodical, Winter 2014; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc1725809/m1/89/?q=%22Warren%20Abby%22~1: accessed October 1st, 2021), The Gateway to Oklahoma History, https://gateway.okhistory.org; crediting Oklahoma Historical Society.