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Prominent physician’s son charged, but never tried, for murder in the second degree

This Herring photo from Steve Chou’s collection is dated Jan. 19, 1934, and was taken after the demolition of the house which was located in between these two buildings, at 211 North Sixth Street. The Charles Lamb house was torn down to make way for an addition to Hannibal’s Federal Building. In the mid 1880s, Hannibal physician and surgeon, Dr. Charles Lamb, lived in middle of this block with his wife and three children. His oldest son, Charley Lamb, was charged with murder in the second degree in connection with a Hannibal death in 1882, but he was released from custody a year later after witnesses failed to come forward to testify.


Charles and Mary Dennison Caverly Lamb were early settlers to Ralls County, Mo., living close enough to the Foreman farm near Rensselaer to be able to hear their roosters crowing in the morning.

On that farm they raised their two sons, Charles L. and Alfred William Lamb. In addition, the Lambs took the orphaned daughter of their farm hand into their home in 1845, caring for and educating young Mary Bridwell until she married a local railroad man, Joseph Snyder, in 1856. All were considered to be upstanding citizens, and the two sons did exceptionally well:

Charles, a surgeon during the Civil War, later had a prosperous medical practice in Hannibal. He married Louisa Jackson, daughter of Missouri Gov. Claiborne Jackson.

Alfred, an attorney of note, whose home at 521 Bird St., Hannibal, is now operated as the Belvedere Inn by Bob and Pat Yapp.

But as often happens with successful parents, the namesake of Charles – known about town as Charley - failed to live up to the accomplishments of his father. Charley, who was born in 1860 during the aggression leading up to the Civil War, later got mixed up with the spirits.

The Sedalia Weekly Bazoo, in reporting on an 1882 incident involving Charley Lamb, noted in its Tuesday, Dec. 19, 1882 edition: “Whiskey has been the ruin of Charley Lamb.” The story was based upon testimony given at a coroner’s inquest, following the gunshot death of Mrs. Ann Hull. The information was reprinted from the Hannibal Courier.

Whiskey and a revolver

Charley Lamb, 22, was believed to have been inebriated on the night of Friday, Dec. 8, 1882, when he visited the Soap Hollow home of a 39-year-old woman with whom he was enamored. According to the Quincy Daily Herald of Dec. 12, 1882, witnesses to the crime were the woman’s husband of six months, Tate Hull, 62, a recently widowed Pike County, Ill., farmer, and William G. Boswell, a co-inhabitant in the Hull home, and co-owner of a cigar box factory located over 202 N. Main Street in Hannibal.

Mr. Hull and Mr. Boswell reported that Ann Hull had been previously married to a Wallace F. Bullis, a Civil War veteran, who was working as a sewing machine agent in Hannibal. She obtained a divorce, the Quincy Daily Herald reported on Dec. 10, 1882, noting: “Mrs. Hull’s reputation was we have no means of knowing, but we learn that during her grass-widow-hood she as more or less talked about.”

It was during this time that Charley Lamb became infatuated with her, and wished to marry her. But instead, she married Mr. Hull, which infuriated her 22-year-old paramour.

The ground was blanketed with snow on that fateful night in December 1882 when Charley Lamb showed up at the Tates’ doorstep – the last house up in Soap Hollow, about 300 yards from (to the west) the pump house of the Hannibal water company, at 9 p.m. Both Mr. Hull and Mr. Boswell had retired for the night in the two-bedroom house, and a newspaper reported that Mrs. Hull was awake, playing solitaire. When she heard a pounding at the door, she woke the two men. Charley Lamb entered the house, and the men tried to reason with and calm him, but Lamb pulled a revolver from his pant’s pocket. After a struggle, he left the home, but not before striking Mrs. Hull in the face with his fist, a newspaper reported. Once outside, he fired a single shot through a curtained window, striking Mrs. Hull in the back, and killing her almost instantly.

He fled

News of the tragic incident involving the son of one of Hannibal’s most prominent families traveled through town like a wind-driven wildfire.

The Quincy Daily Whig reported that Lamb had been spotted on Main Street an hour and a half after the shooting, “and he was still drunk enough to stagger.” Deputy Sheriff Kelly and Officer Palmer gave pursuit, but in the darkness, Lamb eluded capture.

The Quincy Daily Herald of Dec. 12, 1882, reported that Lamb made his escape by climbing aboard the Wabash “Cannon Ball” train, which was just about to move out of Union depot in Hannibal. “He climbed up on top of the baggage car and lay there until the train pulled out, crossed the bridge into Illinois and left Hannibal far behind. At the very time that he was on top of the car, officers were going through the train looking for him, and at one time officer Campbell stood on the car platform not two feet from Charley’s head. After riding some distance on top of the car Lamb climbed down the platform, and as he did so met a brakeman whom he knew. He threw himself on the mercy of the brakeman, saying that he was wanted in Hannibal on a charge of having shot a woman.”

Conductor Whalen sent a telegram ahead to Chapin Station, requesting that officers be at the train depot to arrest Lamb. He was brought back to Hannibal by authorities, where a large crowd had gathered to see this son of Hannibal in disgrace. He was lodged in the Marion County jail at Palmyra and charged with murder in the second degree.

The passage of a year

George Mahan, noted Hannibal attorney, represented Charley Lamb during the proceedings. On the 29th of December 1883, the Marion County Herald at Palmyra carried the news that Mahan had requested – and the court had granted - Lamb’s release from custody.

The two eye witnesses to the crime, Mr. Hull and Mr. Boswell, had failed to come forward as trial witnesses. “Mr. Mahan informed the court that there was no prospect of the missing witnesses ever appearing to testify and there was, therefore, no legal excuse for detaining the prisoner longer.

“There is no law to compel the presence of these witnesses. The law gives Lamb his freedom.”

The Palmyra Spectator on the following Jan. 18, in 1884, made a note of the fact that Charley Lamb had left Hannibal for Texas, to engage in the cattle business.

His death notice, posted on Find A Grave, states that he spent many years in Arizona and Texas, where he was employed by the Southern Pacific Railway. He moved to California in 1907, living at Oceanside, in San Diego County, for the last four years of his life. He died June 8, 1914, at the age of 54. Survivors included his widow, a brother and a sister, and his mother.

At the time of her death in 1918, Mrs. Lamb was living in Venice, Calif., where her surviving son and daughter, Claiborne Fox Jackson Lamb and Luda Lamb Johnson, were also believed to have made their homes. Her body was returned to Hannibal for burial beside her husband, Dr. Lamb, who predeceased her in 1894. They are buried at Riverside Cemetery in Hannibal.

Archie Hayden of Hannibal, a railroad historian, adds: Chapin was a point on the Wabash where there was a north south railroad that intersected with the Wabash, making a connection with trains bound for St Louis. Chapin being a major junction, there were probably railroad detectives on duty, or the local law was on the watch also.

Note: The elder Lambs, Mary Bridwell Snyder and George Mahan are key players in the true story of Dorcas Hampton, “The Notorious Madam Shaw,” by Mary Lou Montgomery.

This photo, taken in 2017, shows the expansion of the old federal building following the demolition of the Dr. Charles Lamb house, which was located at 211 North Sixth Street, Hannibal, in 1934. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

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