Murder Mystery

They say it takes all kinds, and in the Genealogy Room we get all kinds—all kinds of questions about families, that is. A question we receive on a depressingly frequent basis involves the violent death of a relative—often times during war, but sometimes during the commission of a crime.

We can usually help people with these questions. It is generally a relatively simple matter to find information about a U.S. military casualty. Those records are fairly well organized, and fairly easy to search. It can be more difficult to find information about a victim of violent crime.

Missouri Death Certificate for Homer Fansler (1950)
Missouri Death Certificate for Homer Fansler (1950)


There are things we can try, however. A subscription website named Newspapers.com <https://www.newspapers.com/> allows people to do searches for free. Newspapers included cover all states (various time periods). Search results show a snippet of the article retrieved, but do offer a citation so that the article can be copied from our microfilm if we own that newspaper.

If that doesn’t work, we can see if death certificates are available online for the state in question for the time period in question. Missouri death certificates, for example, are available online for 1910-1965. A death certificate will reveal date and cause of death, and can reveal other important information like next of kin, undertaker and place of burial, and if an autopsy was performed or a coroner’s inquest conducted.

If a death certificate is not available, we can see if a record of burial is available online. A good site for finding this type of information is Find a Grave. Listings in Find a Grave can be very basic (name, date of death, and place of burial), or can include a photo of the person and the grave, a list of family members, and even the transcription of an obituary.

If none of these search techniques bears fruit, it’s still sometimes possible to find information with a simple Google Search. For instance, I recently was asked this question:

“I’m looking for information about a multiple murder that occurred in or near Eminence, Missouri, in either 1949 or 1950. I don’t know the name of the murderer or the names of any of his victims.”

Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? The only way this question could have posed more difficulty is if he had said that the murders occurred “in southern Missouri—not sure where exactly.”

However, if you do these searches in Google:

murders eminence missouri 1949
murders eminence missouri 1950


The second search turns up this result:

Old Newspaper Articles August 1950 - Message Boards
boards.ancestry.com/thread.aspx?mv=flat&m=1526&p=localities...missouri...


Sedalia, Missouri Friday, August 11, 1950 747 k ... been a fourth victim of.....were wounded in the shooting affray at the FANSLER home near Eminence, Mo. ... In addition to killing FANSLER, Harris fatally wounded his son.

We now know that a man named Harris killed or wounded four persons in the Fansler home near Eminence in August 1950. With that information, we can then conduct additional searches in Newspapers.com, Missouri Death Certificates, and Find a Grave.

Hopefully you won’t need to look for this sort of information very often, but if you do, now you have some idea how to go about it. Or, you could just ask us to do it for you…

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