Hello everyone, and welcome to Forgotten True Crime by Okie Investigations, the True Crime Podcast where we tell the stories of crimes that happened long ago. If you are a true crime fan, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. That way, when we have new episodes, you will be the first to know. Also, check us out on our Facebook page Okie Investigations and visit our blog TrueCrime.Blog where we post a lot of the cool things we found for each episode. This episode, “The Murder of Lottie Yates,” has a lot of exciting stuff for you to dig into. We have the original news reports to read through, and some really cool history about the case passed down through the years.
Parts of this story may contain opinions and speculations and should be taken as such. These stories depict violent crimes of all types and may be a trigger for some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.
Those of you who are long-time listeners will not be surprised that I unusually came upon this case while doing some research. It caught my attention, and I thought it was a pretty compelling story to tell. When I first read the case, I didn’t find a whole lot on it. But it wasn’t until I noticed that the library of congress had a folk song about the case, I decided to do some more digging. What I found was a sad story of violence, jealousy, and a miscarriage of justice.
This story first takes place in the year 1891 in a little town called Greenup, Kentucky. To give you a town visual, it was built up against the Ohio River.
Charlotte “Lottie” Yates was 17 years old when she decided to leave her husband, who soon after they married became violent towards her. He began to drink, and that only made things worse. She had a baby and had more than just herself to think about, and not wanting to raise a child in such a home, she got help from her family to force him to leave their home, and then she divorced him.
Lottie’s husband was Austin Porter. He was known as a jealous and possessive man. He was enraged that he had been removed from his own home and that Lottie would not take him back. He spent the better part of a year trying to get them back, but she refused.
Lottie had been working on a plan on getting out and away from Austin once and for good. She was going to go and stay with her father, but she had to get everything in order before she make the move. Lottie’s little sister came to visit with her to help with the move and help with the new baby.
On May 26th, 1892, Almost one year after Lottie left Austin, Austin returned to his former home at 3AM. He went to each door, trying to gain entry into the house but found that they were all locked. He then decided to stack some large rocks outside the bedroom window so that he could look in and see if it was unlocked. Looking through the window, Austin could see Lottie, her sister, and the baby sleeping on the bed. When he tried the open the window, he found it unlocked.
Now, Austin didn’t return home to try and convince his wife to let him come back. He intended on ending things once and for all. He brought a large knife with him. As he crept to the bed, he drew the knife out and swiftly stabbed Lottie. Lottie’s scream woke up her sister and the baby, who immediately began crying. Austin was startled by the commotion. It was suspected that he had been drinking and was probably drunk at the time. He then fled the home almost as quickly as he had come. He dropped the knife in front of the house as he ran.
Lottie’s stab wound was profound because it had severed an artery. Within a minute, she was dead. Lottie’s sister ran for help, and the authorities were notified. But before they could put together a search for Austin, an angry mob of local townspeople formed, and they too wanted to find him.
You see, back in these times, there was another possibility of what was considered “Justice,” and that was lynching. This was now going to be a race to see who could find Austin first, the Police or the angry mob.
Both parties believed that Austin had fled into the mountains, and that’s where the searches began. Austin knew this area well, and it would be hard to find him in his element. When interviewed just after the murder. Members of the mob stated that they wanted to see Austin burn for his crimes. They planned on burning him alive.
Austin was able to evade capture for just over a week. On the 8th day, he was found, and several locals were able to capture him, and they delivered him to authorities. For Austin, this was a best-case scenario. If the wrong people found him, he would have been lynched.
Austin was returned to Greenup, where he was charged, and he was placed in the county jail in Grayson, a town further south in Kentucky. When questioned about the crime. Austin flat out refused to confess that he killed his wife, and he was able to hire an attorney to represent him in the matter.
Knowing that a trail was going to take place and things were already heated. The County Attorney called in Lottie’s family to have a talk with them. You see, when Austin was caught, a mob had formed from a nearby town of Willard. This is where the victim’s family is from. When these mobs get out of control, it’s impossible for little towns like Grayson to be able to stop them from doing what they want. So the county attorney made a deal with the victim’s family. If Austin was kept in Jail in Greenup and the trial was speedy, they would not attempt to lynch him. The family agreed, and they addressed the rising mob and told them of the deal. Things were looking up for Austin in this regard because the crowd soon dispersed, and many of them went back home.
Although this sounded like a great deal for everyone involved. It was going to run the risk that the trial would be unfair. You see, the jury would be formed from locals, who all at this point would have developed some kind of opinion on the matter. So Austins and his Attorney talked about secretly trying to get the trial moved to another county. One where cooler heads might be in the jury.
These secret talks somehow got out. Either they were overheard, or someone said something to the wrong person. Either way, their plan was known and was spreading across town. Like any rumor, it quickly fell to the ears of those it affected the most, the victim’s family and the angry mob.
The mob that was estimated to be around 150 people formed. They were armed with rifles and were out for vengeance. They wanted to do this quickly before anyone had the chance to move Austin to a safer place where he would be out of reach.
The mob first went to the train station at midnight. They forced the engineer of the Eastern Kentucky Railroad to take them to the town of Grayson. The angry mob filled the train, and they told the conductor that if he blew the loud steam whistle, he would be killed.
When they were just a half-mile out of town, they stopped the train. This was just before 2AM. The mob walked into town, and any locals who came out to see what was going on was told to go back to bed, that this didn’t concern them. They marched to the last house on a row of houses. They surrounded it, and then someone went up and knocked on the front door.
A woman answered, and she looked pretty confused. The man representing the crowd asked to talk to her husband, and she said that he was upstairs. Three men then entered the home, and they brought out the husband, who was known as the Jailer for the county jail.
The crowd demanded the keys to the jail. The Jailer told them that he did not have them. He didn’t take them home. But no one believed him. They threatened the Jailer with his life, and at the request of his wife, who was frightened that the mob would kill her husband, he finally told them where the keys were in his home. The men entered and then left with the keys in hand.
The mob stayed at the Jailer’s house. They did not want him going to authorities and possibly stopping them from getting Austin. So they sent three men to the jail with the keys. Before they all left, the Jailer’s one request was that they not let out any other prisoners.
When the three men arrived at the jail, Austin knew that this would not end well for him. As they pulled him from his cell, he muttered to himself, “I am gone.” They then returned to the Jailer’s house. Auston asked the Jailer if he could pass on this one request, that he be buried next to his wife or if he was not allowed, he wanted to be buried next to his sister.
The mob bound Austin’s hands with a very thin rope. It was thinner than clothesline. They also used it to make a noose, and they placed it over his head. Austin started praying at this point.
They walked him a half-mile out of town onto a railroad bridge. They told Austin that this is where he was going to die if he did not confess to killing his wife. If he did, they would take him back to Willard, near the scene of the crime, and they would do the deed there. Austin was sobbing at this point, and he told the crowd what had happened. “I did it, but I did not know what I was doing,” he cried.
True to their word, the crowd then took Auston to the town of Willard, to a bridge over a creek. They fastened the rope around Austin’s neck and then to one of the railroad ties. They pushed Auston off the side of the bridge. When the rope came taught, it broke, and Austin fell into the creek. They pulled him out of the stream. Austin was still alive, and so they tried again. This time the rope heald and Austin hung until he was dead.
His body was left on display. As news traveled about the lynching, people from all around, young and old, came to see the sight. Later on that day, the Coroner arrived, and they cut him down.
The court case was ended. The jury issued a verdict on the case, and this was readout. “We, the jury, find, according to the evidence produced in teh case is Austin Porter, that he came to his death by strangulation of a rope, placed thereon for that purpose by whome we don’t know.”
This made national news but little happened afterward. Lynchings occurred in these areas, and it would not be until more reformed practices were put into place that they would stop.
Either way, I believe that Austin Porter was denied a fair trial. No, I don’t think he was innocent at all, but it’s not up to an angry mob to decide what should or should not happen in these matters. This is not a political statement. It’s just the truth. We built these laws around making sure that the accused has a fair trial and has the opportunity to appeal the decision against them.
But tell me what you think! You can follow me on Facebook. The links are in the description. You can also join us over at TrueCrime.Blog, where this story is posted along with a lot of other information.
I will see you all next time. See ya!
Below is information on the song “The Murder of Lottie Yates” by Virgil L Strugill