Joplin City Marshal Explains Suicides in Joplin

McManamy

In 1904, Joplin City Marshal John A. McManamy gave an interview regarding suicide cases in Joplin. In it, one can observe strains of gender, class, race, and economics that provides insight into the suicidal trends of the city.

McManamy claimed that the majority of would-be suicides in Joplin were women, often “women who have fallen from the highest plane of moral standing. As a rule they are not successful.  But as a rule also, this class of women, if they fail the first time, they try it again.” Very few African-Americans in Joplin attempted suicide, McManamy claimed, as “it is the rarest sort of thing that a negro ever wishes to end his own life and it is more rare still that they ever attempt to end it. Negro men are not the least prone to commit suicide and negro women seldom bother us in this manner.

According to the marshal, most suicide cases involved the use of carbolic acid, which caused an individual to “suffer the greatest of agonies before they finally shuffle. In the event they do not take enough of the poison to produce death, the suffering they undergo while recovering is fearful.”

Others chose to use morphine and cocaine. If the police found a morphine user before death claimed them, the officers would treat them for morphine poisoning by “pounding the party with wet towels, by rapping him hard knocks on the body, by rubbing the legs until they almost blister and in fact indulge in almost every kind of heroic treatment that will keep the would-be suicide awake, until the antidotes have time to neutralize the morphine.” McManamy noted that cocaine and arsenic suicide attempts also required “heroic treatment” as the would-be victim would often go into spasms while yelling, groaning, or crying. He disapproved of what he called “gun play,” but unhelpfully pointed out that cutting one’s wrists was the most effective way to end one’s life.

When asked what caused many of the would-be suicides in Joplin, McManamy declared, “Suicides usually follow debauches, or financial reverses. Debauches with the women and financial reverses with the men. These debauches may be brought about by many causes, disappointments in love being the most frequent.”

For the benefit of the paper’s readers, the marshal sternly pointed out “An attempt at suicide is poor business. Not over ten per cent of the attempts that are made are successful. The agonies, the sufferings, the tortures of the period following the attempt, with those who are not successful, make the game not worth the candle. Life may not hold out any hope to the would-be suicide, but there is seldom a life so devoid of hope, or so without light, that it is not better than the life of one who is frustrated in an effort to end all with one fell swoop.”

Source: Joplin News Herald

If you ever find yourself in need of help or in a time of crisis and need someone to talk to:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
http://www.save.org/
http://www.afsp.org/

Death of a Soiled Dove

Joplin’s North End was riddled with “immoral resorts” filled with young women.  Mamie Johnson was one of many who walked the streets of Joplin.  Her life tragically came to an end at the age of thirty-three after she abandoned her husband of four years and two children and took up the profession of a scarlet woman.  But her life as a lady of the night must have worn her down, for in the end Mamie’s life was cut short by her own hand.

Mamie, whose real name was allegedly Minerva Rickey, was the daughter of a “well-to-do” farmer from the Kansas City.  At a young age she eloped with John Gordon, a young farmer, and settled down.  After four years and two children, however, Mamie left her family and strolled into Joplin and a life of vice.  Shortly before her death, she had confided to an aunt who lived in Joplin that her husband had mistreated her.  The two had reportedly divorced.

One day life was too much for Mamie to bear and she overdosed on ten cent dose of morphine.  She was discovered in her room by Frank Wilsey, a laundryman for the Empire Steam Laundry, when he dropped off a bundle of clothes at her room.  Word quickly spread throughout Joplin’s tenderloin district and “many touching scenes were witnessed as the unfortunate creatures crowded about and gazed upon the face of their dead sister.” A letter was found in her room addressed to Bessie Blair.

The text of the letter read,

Joplin, Mo.  July, 27, 1898.

Dear Friend Bessie:

I will write this for you and leave it for you.  I may not get to talk to you or see you anymore.  But my bedroom suit you can have for that fine, but give my clothes to my aunt.  That is all I want, but would like for you to come as I want to send word home.  I would like for you to see them as soon as possible, for my clothes, my trunk, and things is all I ask of you to let them have.  Well, I am satisfied and hope you will be.  Tell them to go down to the wash woman’s and give up three dollars for clothes there.  I would like to have my aunt come as soon as you get this note.

Do not think nothing as you know what caused it.  You will not be out nothing as my folks will take care of me.  I suppose you will be satisfied when you see, anyway.  You have been a friend to me and not a friend.  And I hope when the girls see this they will take warning by me.  Bessie, it is hard to do, but I cannot help it.  I hope you will be satisfied with Minnie [Mamie's roommate] as she is a good girl, and will treat you right.  I send my love and best regards and hope you will not take a foolish idea like I have took.  Kiss them all for me.  Tell Pearl she is all right.  Time is drawing near and will have to close.

Good bye.
from your Mamie Gordon to my dear friend Bess, 1,000 kisses to all you I will go to hell tonight.

Interestingly, the letter was dictated by Mamie to her lover, Ernest Boruff, who testified at the coroner’s inquest that the two had quarreled a few weeks earlier after some of his clothes went missing.  They quarreled again after he wrote the letter for her and he subsequently left.  He claimed that he did not suspect Mamie had suicidal intent and swore that she “was not in the habit of using morphine.” Bessie Blair also testified at the coroner’s inquest and stated that Mamie had threatened suicide several times during the past month.

After Mamie Gordon’s funeral, the coroner’s jury issued the following verdict:

“We, the jury, find that Mamie Gordon came to her death form an overdose of drugs, taken by herself presumably with suicidal intent.”

W.M.  Whiteley, Coroner
Dave K.  Weir
Samuel Cox
A.C.  James
J.M.  Graham
Ed Trimble
A.  Malang

Life as a prostitute was not a happy one, and more likely than not, one that women simply fell into due to misfortune and bad circumstance.  At least some had addictions to cocaine or morphine, and as Mamie Gordon’s letter warned, one that could easily end in the death of a soiled dove.

Source:  Joplin Globe