Seven Feet Deep – Part Two – Forgotten True Crime
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 Christmas Tree Murder Case,” has a lot of exciting stuff for you to dig into. Make sure you go there and check it out.
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.
Hello everyone, and welcome to what I am calling “The 12 days of Murder.” From now and until the new year, I will be debuting several new episodes that are Christmas-themed. Many of these cases are ones you probably never heard of before, so make sure you subscribe to the show. That way, when we have new episodes, you will be the first to know.
This first story takes place in Hornell, New York, on December 21st, 1925.
Christmas time makes us do silly and strange things sometimes. We get out and decorate our houses with light and inflatable snowmen. We tend to spend a lot on family and loved ones, just to make their day a little brighter. This is not a bad thing; really, we could do with a little more of this in our world. In 1925, things were not really different. They still put out the decorations and gave each other presents. But sometimes, when we are all ready for everything to go just right, we don’t think before we act, and that’s precisely what this story is all about.
21-year-old Floyd Dennis and his wife, 18-year-old Minnie, were about to celebrate their first Christmas with their new baby boy, Keith Dennis. The newfound parents wanted everything to be just perfect for their bundle of joy.
Minnie desperately wanted a Christmas Tree, there were several Tree farms that they could go to, but Floyd was used to just going out to a field somewhere and chopping one down. It would save them some money, and all they had to do was take a cart down with them, and they could easily take it back home.
So that’s what they did, Floyd, Minnie, and little Keith walked a cart down to the outskirts of town. Keith was having fun riding in the cart. Once they found the perfect tree that would look great in their home, Floyd walked over to it and began to saw it down. The tree fell, and Minnie was so excited that they found their tree with ease.
Floyd loaded the tree into the cart, and Minnie took and heald Keith for their walk back into town. They turned the cart back around and started on their trip back into town.
Within a few minutes, they saw a man in a horse-drawn buggy approaching them. As they drew nearer, they realized that the man who was driving the buggy didn’t look too happy to see them.
They both stopped, and the man got out of the buggy and approached the Dennis Family.
“Where did you get that tree?” The man asked.
Floyd pointed up the road. “We got it up the line.”
“That is a lie!” The man yelled as he drew nearer to Floyd.
Floyd then asked the man if he was drawing firewood and the man stated that was none of their business. Floyd then pointed out that it was none of the man’s business what they were doing.
The man believed that Floyd had entered his property, which was a working farm, and that Floyd had chopped down and stole one of his trees. The man finally got so mad he told Floyd that he would break up the tree and show them what right he had.
The man then tried to get past Floyd. Floyd yelled out, “Don’t you touch that tree, or you’ll be sorry.” He then pulled a small revolver from his pocket.
The man looked at the gun, and didn’t believe it was real, and said, “That dosnt scare me.” So Floyd cocked back the hammer to show it was real, but when he let go, the gun fired.
The man clutched his stomach and fell to the ground. The bullet went right through him and stuck his wagon behind him. Amazingly, the man got back up, staggered, and then fell into a ditch. He was helped back into the buggy by two boys who were passing by at the time, and they quickly left the scene and took the injured man to the hospital.
Floyd and his family quickly made their way back into town. They made it back home, telling their family what had happened out on the road. Floyd was devastated and told his parents that he didn’t mean for the gun to go off.
They called the Police and told them what had happened. As it turned out, they already knew of the shooting but didn’t know who was all involved. The man who was shot was Lynn Taft, a local farmer, and milk delivery man. He was in the hospital, alive, but they didn’t know if he would survive the wound or not.
Police came in and interviewed the family. Floyd gave his statement of what took place, how Taft approached him, threatening to chop up their tree, and he thought he would do him harm as well. So he pulled out the pistol, and he accidentally fired it. Since they now had his statement on what had happened. They arrested Floyd. Right now, it was an assault-type case. But things would get much more severe.
On Christmas day, Lynn Taft was losing his battle in the hospital. He died in the early morning. This did away with any assault charges and changed them to murder.
One of the things a prosecutor has to figure out is to what degree they charge someone. In this case, where Floyd insisted that the gun went off by accident, you might think that he would be charged with second-degree murder. But the state felt that they had enough to try Floyd for first-degree murder.
The very nature of first-degree murder is that it was premeditated. The state would have to prove that Floyd not only was set on chopping down a Christmas tree, but he fully intended to kill anyone who tried to stop him. A tricky thing to prove in this era. Even trickier than that was that the Dennis family hired one of the top attorneys to represent Floyd, Attorney John W. Hollis.
On January 12th, 1926, Floyd Dennis entered a not guilty plea to the court. With the help of his attorney, they were planning on a unique strategy to help Floyd. You see, Floyd was a strange man, and by today’s standards, he would have probably been considered mentally ill. Floyd had weird bouts of paranoia and thought that others were out to get him. His family had found him with a gun several times and had taken it from him and hid it from him. But on this day, he had found the weapon.
Floyd was set on getting a Christmas Tree for his two-month-old baby. It was something that he fixated on. The defense was preparing to show that Floyd was not in his right mind at the time of the murder.
The trial began on March 24th, 1926. The state first called the two boys who had witnessed the murder to the stand. They both told the same story on how they came upon Floyd and Lynn yelling at each other. They described Floyd warning Lynn that he would shoot him if he tried to take the tree, and that’s precisely what happened. But, one thing that they testified to was that Floyd took the tree and quickly left as if nothing significant had just happened. He simply went on his way.
The state also called the police officer who arrested Floyd. He recounted the story that Floyd had told him. How he just minded his own business when he was threatened by Lynn. He told the officer that he had shot the weapon on accident but that he did feel like Lynn was going to attack him.
The defense intended to show that Floyd was unstable. They called him a doctor to the stand and told of how Floyd was of a fragile mind. Floyd believed in fairies and saw things around him that no one else could. It was his opinion that at the time of the murder, Floyd was insane, and at this current time, nothing had changed. He was still insane.
Floyd took the stand and told his story once again. He didn’t change any details and described it calmly. He didn’t show much emotion, but that only supported his case in a way.
Then several character witnesses took the stand. Floyd’s parents took the stand, along with his brother. They all described how odd he was as a child and an adult. His mother read the letters he wrote from prison, wishing that Lynn would get better and how sorry he was for the shooting. In the letters, he described how shocking it was for the gun to go off and that he didn’t want to shoot or kill anyone.
The defense rested, and the case was sent to the jury. They only deliberated for a few hours and came back with a verdict. They pronounced that Floyd Dennis was guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 6 to 12 years in prison.
Both sides of the aisle were disappointed. Floyd’s family wanted him to serve no time for the shooting, and Lynn’s family didn’t feel they got the justice they deserved. Floyd would spend the next 4 years in prison. In 1930 he was let out on parole. He stayed out of trouble, and Floyd and his wife Minnie spent the rest of their lives together. Floyd was a steelworker and a member of the Magicians Association of Buffalo. Floyd died in 1971, and Minnie died in 1995.
This case is hard to settle on how I feel one way or the other. If truly mentally ill, I think it was the right decision to give Floyd a charge of second-degree murder. But then I also ask, if he was truly insane, how does locking him up help in any way? But in 1926, the view of the mentally ill was utterly different than it is now. We now have programs, medicines, and doctors who spend their lives dedicated to helping those with mental illnesses. Back then, there wasn’t much good in mental health science.