The Matthew Kimes Gang and the 1927 Murder of Police Chief McAnnally in Beggs, Oklahoma

January 10, 2021


May 18th 1927, Beggs Oklahoma. A small town nestled near Okmulgee and Tulsa Oklahoma.  They were on the paved highway that led through Tulsa.  This doesn’t sound like a big deal now, but back then, there were not many paved highways in that area.  This meant that more people could come through town with ease and at a better traveling speed.  This meant that all kinds of people would be able to visit the little town, even the ones that intended on doing harm.  

Beggs had three banks in town, a Farmers National Bank, The First National Bank and The American Bank.  

 The staff in the Farmers National Bank were expecting a regular day.  Just like the other banks in town, the Farmers National Bank helped with keeping money and providing services like loans.  They helped out local farmers buy what they needed on credit, be it seeds, tractors, land or livestock.  Many people in Beggs Oklahoma were either farmers or closely related to farmers so they all had a real kinship to one another.  

Mrs. Campbell was headed into town with her children.  She was going to go shopping and get a few items they needed at their house.  She parked across the street of the Farmers National bank and she stepped out of her vehicle and put her baby in her arms and then she saw the most curious thing.  There was a person standing at the door to the bank, eyeing everything going on just down the street.  She then saw, as plain as day through the windows, men with guns drawn, talking to the tellers.  

Bank robberies were not unheard of in Beggs.  They were isolated and that made them vulnerable.  Bandits at the time liked these small town banks because getting in and out was typically easy and if done right, can be a pretty good score.  

Mrs. Campbell told her children to wait in the car and with her baby in hand, she walked without haste as to not to raise suspicion, and walked over to the pool hall to let someone know what was going on.  She walked inside and inside she found Marshal McAnnally having a conversation with the owner.  

It was by luck that she was to run into the Marshal there, he was about to leave for the day.  It was his and his wife’s thirty-seventh year anniversary.  

When she spotted the Marshal she yelled “Someone is robbing the bank!”

Quickly, the Marshal and the Owner of the pool hall jumped into action.  The Marshal stepped outside and faced the bank just as the bandits were loading up into their vehicle.  The Marshal wasn’t going to give them a chance to get away.  He took aim and opened fire on them, they responded with a hail of gunfire back.  

Scared for her children, Mrs. Campbell dashed from the pool hall and ran back towards her vehicle.  The Bandits targeted her and she was shot in the neck.  With her baby in her arms, she fell to the ground.  

The Owner of the Pool hall had only went out to witness what was going on, he was fired at as well.  Quickly, he retreated back into his place of business as he did not have a weapon himself.  

As the vehicle sped away, he stepped out from cover to continue to fire at the fleeing vehicle.  As he stepped out into the street he didn’t notice that, from behind another car was speeding towards him.  A man leaned out of the side of the car and aimed a sawed off shotgun at the officer and fired.  Marshal McAnnally died instantly.   

Three cars in all sped away from the little town.  As they did so, they fired wildly into the sides of buildings, breaking windows and causing chaos in their wake.  The townspeople were not going to take this lightly. Quickly responding to the shots, they formed a posse, gathered weapons and found a car to pursue them.  They drove off into the direction that the bandits went but the only thing that they found was one of their cars, empty.  It seemed that they had suffered a flat tire.  Either from driving too fast down the bumpy road or one of McAnnally’s shots had done the job.  There was also blood in the back of the vehicle.  It seemed that they didn’t all get out unscathed.  

The News quickly spread that two of the three banks had been robbed at precisely the same time.  Both the Farmers National Bank and the First National Bank.  There was a third bank, the American National Bank that was not robbed.  It was further down the road but, one of the three vehicles that sped away, came from that area as if it too were supposed to be robbed.  

Mrs Campbell was rushed to the hospital.  She was not expected to live but she was made of stronger stuff and survived the attack. 

There was a large multi face clock on a corner and it was theorized that this was how they synchronized the robberies.  On one side the two sets of bandits were able to stay synchronized.  The other side of the clock ran a few minutes behind.  So it was believed that the bandits that were supposed to hit the American National Bank at the same time as the others, but were not synchronized with the others.  

A few of the witnesses recognized a man who had been in the Oklahoma and National News almost daily for the past year, Matthew Kimes.  Matt was a well known fugitive.  Robbing banks, killing whoever got into his way and when he was caught, his men had broken him out of jail.  He was one of the hardest outlaws to catch, always seeming to be one step ahead of the marshals.  By this time it was almost a joke.  If someone lost their keys they would say “I bet the Kimes gang had something to do with this.”  or “Was Matt Kimes in town?” 

Part of his success was that it seemed like he was always traveling, never staying in one place for too long.  There were reported sightings of him all over the place so it seemed like he was everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.  

Some of the stories seemed too fantastic to have actually always been Kimes behind the act, but there was a reason that the bankers in Beggs would know who Kimes was.  A year before this robbery, Matt Kimes robbed the same Farmers National Bank.

The Manhunt was on but the police had little to go on.  Kimes and his gang were masters at hiding and they had little to no leads on where they were heading.  

Days would go by without a break in the case.  The Oklahoma Bankers Association decided to protect their employees at any cost.  They placed a bounty on the gang’s head.  This notice was sent to every bank in the state and began with a five hundred dollar bounty.  Each bank donated to that bounty and within a couple of days it had swelled to a fifty thousand dollar bounty on the capture of the gang, dead or alive.   Some bankers in the state crossed out the word alive believing that if caught alive, he would just escape again. 

On May 31st 1927, Officers were able to arrest 6 men connected with the Kimes Gang.  Three of which were believe to have been present at the robberies and subsequent murder in Beggs.   Two of the men Blackie Wilson and Owen Edwards were arrested after an impressive shootout with officers in Borger Texas.  The three known members of the gand that was present in the Beggs robbery were charged with Murder, the other were charged as accomplices.  

On June 15th, In Drumright Oklahoma. Mr. and Mrs. Orville Noble had just stopped by a friends house for a quick visit.  No sooner than they had walked inside the door, they heard a car engine come to life.  When the Noble’s looked back, they saw their car driving away.  Mrs. Noble was frantic.  Their 2 year old son was asleep in the back seat.  

The unknowing kidnapper soon realized that the sleeping child was in the back seat.  He pulled the car over into a vacant lot and pulled the still sleeping child out of the car.  He was wrapped in a coat and gently placed him on the ground where he would be found.  Soon after, a few boys that were playing in the neighborhood found the young boy asleep and brought him to authorities.  

The thief was on his own at this time and was keen to get out of town.  He was speeding to get out of Drumright, when he saw a roadblock up ahead.  Officers were already on to him and were covering all major roads that lead out of town.  This Roadblock however, only had one officer watching it.  He rolled up slowly and when the officer approached his car,  he pulled out his sawed off shotgun and aimed it at the officer.  The thief then took the officer down the road and then tied him to a tree.  

The Officer said that he thought it was Kimes and he asked.  The man admitted his identity and proved it by showing him some photos of himself.  What a strange sight it would be to see an officer tied to a tree looking at photos with a known killer.  The man then sped off in his stolen Buick roadster.  

Another Posse was formed but they were about as lucky as the last.  All they found was the stolen vehicle, abandoned in Oilton, Oklahoma just west of Tulsa.  

Sensing that things were getting a little too hot in Oklahoma.  Matt Kimes quickly plotted his escape from the sooner state.  Little did he know, this would be his undoing. 

9 days after his flight from capture in Drumright, Kimes was spotted by Forest Rangers at the Grand Canyon National Park.  Kimes signed in at the station as Henry Watkins from Oklahoma.  The Rangers phoned ahead to local law enforcement and the hotel where he was headed to who was really coming.  Kimes parked his car at the Hotel and took a short walk to the rim of the Grand Canyon.  Below him was a slope that dropped hundreds of feet.  

Local Sheriff J. O. Parsons and Chief Forest Ranger J.P. Brooks arrived and quickly found Kimes who was enjoying the view.  The Sheriff approached with his gun drawn.  Kimes turned around and saw what was happening.  He started to reach for his own gun but quickly realized that he would lose this fight.  Quickly and without any warning, Kimes leaped over the rim of the canyon to land in thick brush on a ledge just below the rim of the canyon.  If he had missed his target, he would have fallen to his death. 

Kimes tried to make a run for it but on foot and in a place that he was not familiar with, he was quickly surrounded.  He exchanged fire with the officers and then when he decided that all hope was lost, he willingly gave up.  

Sheriff John Russell and two of his deputies drove out to Arizona and retrieved Kimes.  They drove him back to the Okmulgee county jail.  Almost as soon as he was back in Jail, he was giving interviews about what he states really happened.  He would deny all involvement in the killing in Beggs. “It was badly done,” He said. “It was totally unnecessary to kill McAnally.  I had nothing to do with it.”  

One thing smaller jails had to contend with at the time was when angry mobs would form and then they would break into the jail and drag the prisoner out.  Typically, to kill them.  But in this case, thousands of people from all around gathered around the jail because they just wanted to get a glimpse of the outlaw.  You see.  Kimes had become somewhat of a celebrity.  His name was mentioned in papers from all over the united states for one thing or another almost every single day.  

So, with Kimes approval. They Paraded him around the courthouse square.  Kimes was given time to bathe, shave and change his clothes before going out.  It was said that he was somewhat taken aback from the response that he received.  He spent most of his time on the run and didn’t realize that he had become this celebrity. As he walked around it was reported that he was followed by his wife who showed no emotion and several other women who were all crying.   After the first go around, they decided to let him go out again later in the day to be paraded around again.  

At the Trial, Kimes pleaded not guilty and the whole show was on its way.  Matthew Kimes had a self proclaimed “Cowboy” Lawyer named Sid White.  He was a very outspoken and animated character.  

First off the prosecution brought forth Sheriff Russell who would go on to testify that they knew that Kimes had a long range pump gun.  They found one in his possession in Arizona and Kimes had admitted to the Sheriff that it was his.  The gun was presented to the court.  Attorney Sid White picked up the gun and looked at it as if he didn’t believe a word they said about it.  He fumbled with the gun for a minute and then put it back down.

Kimes gang member Roy “Blackie” Wilson had turned state’s evidence against his fellow gang members for a lighter sentence.  He named the members in the group that were involved in the murder and robberies that took place in Beggs.  He named Kimes as the leader of the group. 

The Prosecution brought in several witnesses who were either in the bank or on the street and saw Matthew Kimes.  A woman who was in the bank testified that Kimes spoke to her directly when he saw how frightened she was.  He told her “Don’t worry, we are not gonna hurt you.” 

The defense brought a Texas doctor to trial who was attending to Kimes’s mother who was very ill and on her deathbed.  He stated that on the day of the killing he knew that Kimes was with his mother. 

Others testified that they witnessed the crimes happen in Beggs but didn’t see Kimes at all.  

It was all handed over to the Jury.  This case was unique.  Typically a jury has the choice to let someone go by finding them not guilty, or sentence them to jail time or death.  But in this case, Kimes was already convinced of a separate crime and had escaped from jail.  So they could either find him not guilty to let him serve his life sentence or they could sentence him to death.  

It took the jury over 24 hours to reach their decision. In this case, the jury chose death.  

When read aloud to the court Kimes seemed unphased.  When he was led out of the courthouse the guard said “Well, Matt, you can’t beat me in a game of pitch tonight.”  and Matt responded “The hell I can’t.  I haven’t anything else to think about now.”

Now, there was apparently some errors that the state made in the first trial that ended up forcing the state to give Kimes another trial.  The death penalty was removed from ever being sentence on Kimes.  He was retried in September of 1928.  Kimes made an agreement with the Prosecution and pleaded guilty to the Murder of Marshal McAnally.  

From 1928 to 1945 Kimes would remain behind bars.  He was considered a model prisoner.  He was popular and somewhat of a celebrity.  When the prison would put on baseball games or shows, it would not be uncommon for Kimes to be a feature of it.  

In a strange but not all that unexpected turn of events.  Kimes was up for parole in 1945.  The Judge thought it was a good idea to let Kimes out on a three day pass to present his bid for freedom to the Governor.  He was awarded a 6 month leave from his sentence.  Not too long after he received his new found freedom, a bank in Morton Texas was robbed.  The FBI believed that Kimes was up to his old tricks once again.  Kimes died in an automobile accident in Arkansas soon after.  Inside the car, police found over a thousand dollars in cash and a pistol.  

The Oklahoma parole board was heavily criticized for letting Kimes go.  

Chester Barrett – The Strychnine Solution

September 23, 2020


For this story we are going way back to May 3rd 1934.  It’s right around 8:30PM.  We are in a little town called Sapulpa, Oklahoma. 

A man is doubled over in pain.  He is quickly approaching the front door to a house.  When he reaches it, he pounds on the door.  The owner of the home quickly opens up the door. The man was Chester Barrett and he had just arrived at his neighbors house.  Chester who was in obvious pain screams “My children are dying!” “Please Hurry, call a doctor – any doctor.  I think it’s Ptomaine Poisoning.”  (This is the old term for food poisoning).  Quickly, the neighbor called Doctor P.K. Lewis who was a local physician and surgeon.  

Now, After getting some of the details, Dr. Lewis decided to call in some help with other Doctors in town.  He contacted Doctor McCallum and Dr. Schwabb and told them to hurry to the Barrett home. 

It was at the home that the three Doctors found themselves in a literal horror show.  Every member of the family was either dead or dyeing.  The doctors did what they could, they recognized the symptoms of poisoning but initially could not find any in the home.  They then asked Chester about the night’s activities, Chester told them that he believed that it was food poisoning, perhaps something they ate.  He then told the doctors that a few of the children were not feeling well and he gave them all a dose of Quinine in their milk to ward off Malaria. When pressed Chester admitted that he had two bottles of the medicine, one old and one new and mixed them together that night.  

Now, this puzzled doctors. Quinine was developed to fight Malaria, but if taken properly, was pretty safe.  Actually, you can find Quinine in Tonic Water.  If you are a fan of mixed drinks, then you have probably had the watered down version of Quinine.  But according to what I found online.  You would have to drink gallons of the stuff to reach the dosage of one quinine in pill form… and if you are drinking that many mixed drinks… you have bigger problems on your hands. 

It was after he thought about it some, Chester then remembered that he had a bottle of poison in the home that he had previously purchased.  They looked for the bottle and found it, it was empty.  The label on the bottle read “Strychnine”.  

Now the doctors knew what they were up against.  Strychnine is one of the most dramatic and painful toxic reactions a person can experience and its been given to almost everyone in the family.  

The doctors decided the best course of action would be to pump the stomachs of the family to remove the poison from doing further damage.  Before they could get started, Betty Barrett, 6, drew her head back in agony and collapsed on the floor, dead.  

Mary Barrett age 3 died while the doctors attempted to pump her stomach.  

Dr. McCallum decided to rush Wanda Barrett, age 2,  to the hospital two blocks away.   She died while in transit to the hospital.  

By the end of the night, the family of 10 were now down to 7.  

Now, the next day the Police questioned Charles Barrett about what happened and why he had the poison in the home.  It may be hard to believe, but back then, Strychnine was used as a medicine for heart conditions and this is what Charles told police that he had.  He stated that two years ago he had been prescribed the medical Strychnine to treat his condition but never used the entire bottle.  

The Police let the media know that they were bringing Charles into the station for questioning but wanted to make it clear that he was not under arrest, they just wanted to clear up the situation to see what needed to happen next.  

But those of you who are true crime fans will know that the police were going to go hard at Chester in order to figure out what really happened and see if this was an accident or not.  At first, Chester stood by his story of mistaking the poison for medicine.  But as the police began to question harder and harder, Charles began to break down, cry and began to hint that not everything was how he first presented the story.  After 2 hours of intense interrogation, Chester broke and confessed to what actually happened.  As he told the story, the police had a transcriptionist take down his statement. 

“My name is Chester L. Barrett; I am 35 years old; knew I did not have to make a statement, that anything I said might be used against me”; I make this statement voluntarily; My Wife’s name is Cora Lucile; I had been married since November 1, 1920; had lived in Sapulpa for a year, working at odd jobs.” 

“Last Monday night I thought if we could all go to sleep and not wake up God would forgive me; I began to wonder what to do and to find some easy way for us all to go out easy; I did not talk this matter over with my wife; she did not know my plans. On Monday I went to the creamery and got two gallon of sweet milk, about four or five o’clock in the evening I put a hand full of arsenate of lead in it; I bought the arsenate of lead at Wills-May last year for potato bugs; when I put the arsenate of lead in the milk my wife was in the front room attending to the baby; when supper time came my wife cooked some cornbread; my wife poured us all a glass of milk I drank two or three glasses I wanted to die at that time; my idea was I wanted to kill all of my children, my wife and myself; no one died from the effects of that poison.”

“At the time I put the arsenate of lead in the milk I did not know I still had the strychnine capsules at the house; I had not thought of them; I was looking through to see what would take us right quick and found this strychnine in a cupboard, Wednesday; it had been bought about a year and seven or eight months ago to kill rats with; I had no idea of poisoning my family when I bought it; when I found the strychnine I went down and bought some quinine at the Plymouth Drug Store. The reason I did not carry out my plans on May 2nd was I loved my children so much I could not bear it, they were all playing around me after supper and I could not get up the heart to do it.

“On the 3d day of May I decided to carry out my plans; we did not have any money to buy groceries and I did not know what we were going to do; after supper, when I decided to fix the capsules, it was about 7 or 7:30, a little bit before dark; there were eight capsules, I fixed them so there would be enough for all of us; I mixed the poison with a case knife, and fixed eight little capsules and two big ones; they all had bad colds and my wife was going to give them castor oil, and I said to give them some quinine to clear their heads, I did not think they would be there in the morning to take the castor oil; I told them it was quinine I was giving them; no one saw me when I mixed the capsules; no one knew what it was except me, my idea was to kill myself, my wife and our children, the entire family. It was five or six minutes after the capsules were taken before Betty Joy got sick; she was the first one that died; she died in ten or twelve minutes; Mary Katherine was the next one to die; I was holding Dorothy’s head and it struck me in the stomach, spine and head; I went to a neighbor’s house and called the doctor, they were suffering so.”

After the confession the police charged Chester with first degree murder charges for the deaths of his three children.  Chester then begged Sheriff Willis Strange to take his handcuffs off so that he might make a run for it and they could kill him in his escape attempt.  He wanted to die.  

The Cushing Daily Citizen reported on May 6th 1934

“He told a sad story of how the shadow of poverty starvation and hard luck had trailed him for five years Barrett said his misfortunes began with deaths in succession of his mother and brother Then his house burned and he lost his Job He pulled out his left pants pocket it was empty and had a hole He pulled out his right and held five coppers In the palm of his hand the only money he had possessed in weeks “I thought it was the best way out for all of us and it has turned out to something that will haunt me as long as I live I couldn’t atone for it in a million years” he said.”

Chester had been out of work for two years.  When police searched the home they reported that there was little furniture and food.  There were only two blankets in the home for all ten family members to share.  

His original story of using the poison to treat a heart condition was a lie.  He actually bought it months ago to allegedly kill rats with it.  

Even with a confession, the police still suspected that Chester was holding back some key detail.  So they started digging into his life, more and more.  It was then they found out about 19 year old Hannah Johnson.  

Three years before the brutal poisoning.  Chester Barrett began dating then16 year old Hannah Johnson.  After the poisoning, Hannah believed that they would still be together.  You see, for years Chester had been telling her that after he was to get a divorce, he would take up with young Hannah.  Soon after dating, Hannah became pregnant and had a child with Chester.  

Before the trial started, Hannah told reporters that she intended to marry Chester when this was all over.  She still loved him and that they would be together soon enough.  

The Detectives also found out that just months before the murders, Chester took out a blanket life insurance policy on his family.  He stood to gain a thousand dollars for every family member that died in his home.  Remember, back then for someone as poor as he was, that was a lot of money.  A 1934 Ford Deluxe cost about 575.00 at its base back then.  

During the trial, Hannah seemed to smarten up some because she then testified for the state, against her once lover.  She presented evidence in the form of love letters that were written by Chester that suggested that he would be free from his family and responsibilities soon.  

The state sought the death penalty.  

Chester took the stand and argued that the confession was not true, that he did not mean to kill his family and that it was all a tragic accident.  He denied that he did it for his love for Hannah Johnson and argued that he would not also take the poison if he were trying to be with her.  He loved his wife and family.

It was all left up to the Jury.  They quickly deliberated for an hour and 25 minutes and announced that they had a verdict.  They pronounced Chester guilty and gave him the sentence of death.  

Reportedly, Chester received the news with no emotion.  When stood up to be taken out of the courtroom he slumped over and began to cry.  When taken out of the courtroom he collapsed and a doctor was able to revive him so that he could speak to a reporter.  Chester stated “It was as I expected. My side of the story has not been told. I only started running around on my wife after she had driven me to it.” 

Chester’s attorney tried to request a new trial, but was denied.  Chester’s appeals were also struck down.  In a last ditch effort, Chester tried to sway the Governor in a stay of execution.  Chester’s sister was able to get radio ads to play over local radio stations that hinted at new evidence in his case.  Letters were written to the governor but they all went unanswered.  

Chester’s Wife, who he had poisoned, also wrote a letter to the Governor.   She asked that there be no interference in her Husband’s Death.  She stated that he was guilty without a shadow of a doubt.  

The night of his execution, Chester had pork chops and Coffee as a last meal.  When entering the death chamber, he shook the warden’s hand and handed him a letter.  He then stated to those who were watching that he hoped that God would forgive those who prosecuted him and that he would provide for his small children.  

Chester was strapped to the electric chair at 12:07AM and was pronounced dead 45 seconds later.  

The letter Chester handed to the warden had his last requests in it.  He wanted to be buried with a photo of his wife in his front pocket over his heart.