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213 North Main, Hannibal, Mo.: Sidewalk in front of Central Hotel was scene of 1910 fatal stabbing

The building at 213 N. Main Street, Hannibal, once served as the site for the Central Hotel. Hannibal city directories accessed through the Hannibal Free Public Library, list the hotel at this location from 1885 through 1912. A murder took place on the sidewalk in front of the hotel in November 1910. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Jacob Belts’ life story is one of tragedy and sorrow. Born in Adams County, Ill., in the mid 1860s, the oldest child of Daniel and Eliza Renecker Belts ultimately wasn’t able to overcome the large stack of obstacles life thrust in his path.

Around 1875, when Jakey (as the family called him) was a lad of just 10, his mother died. Without his mother’s influence to guide him to manhood, Jacob was left to his own devises in order to learn to fend for himself.

As a tribute to his mother, and as a tool for his survival, he claimed his mother’s small knife as his own, and carried it with him in his pocket wherever he went.

As he approached manhood, he grew tall, strong, lean and was athletic. One special aunt – his late mother’s sister – tried to watch out for her nephew, but ultimately couldn’t intermediate in Jacob’s frequent disputes. “He was ready ever for a fight,” said Mrs. John M. Brown, a matronly lady who in November 1910 lived at 237 State Street in Quincy, Ill.

His temper easily flared, she said, but she never knew him to use a knife in his defense. Rather, he fought with his fists. “It is a record of which he is proud that he was never whipped,” she told the newspaper reporters who came to her home for an interview. To compound Belts’ temper, he suffered with epilepsy, which resulted in convulsions every few weeks during his adulthood.

Mrs. Brown contacted reporters from the Quincy Daily Herald in mid November 1910, after reading about a ghastly murder on Main Street in Hannibal. Jacob Belts was the key suspect, she learned, and the first that she heard of the incident was when she read the newspaper report.

She wanted to tell Jacob’s side of the story.

Fatal stabbing

John “Blackie” Woods and his coworker, William “Hello Bill” Stewart were living in Hannibal temporarily, working on a riverfront project for the Burlington railroad. They were boarders at the Central Hotel, located at 213 North Main St.

The proprietor of the hotel was a young divorced woman by the name of Mrs. Clara Giles. She and her two young sons lived at the hotel along with the hotel’s boarders.

The Quincy Daily Herald’s front page carried a report on the murder, which took place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, 1910, on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.

Witnesses told police that Mrs. Giles’ 5-year-old son, Charles, was running about the lobby, occasionally bumping into customers.

“Belts had been playing with a small boy in the office of the hotel and accidentally, as he claims, hurt the child causing it to cry and Woods and Stewart took him to task for his roughness. They were promptly challenged to a fight and went outside where, in the presence of twenty persons, Belts stabbed Woods several times in the neck.”

Stewart went to Woods’ defense, and was also stabbed.

When the affray ended, the two railroad workers went into the hotel. Blood was spurting from Woods’ neck. Inside the wash room, he slipped and fell to the floor, where he died.

An ambulance was summoned, and carried Stewart to Levering Hospital, where he was treated for his injuries.

In the meantime, Belts ran from the scene, north on Main Street and toward the bridge near Soap Hollow. Officer Tom Mulhern speed north in the police wagon, catching up with Belts before he had a chance to cross the river bridge.

In Belts’ pocket when he was captured were two knives, one presumably the knife he inherited from his mother.

Failed marriage

In 1888, Jacob Belts married Letty May Smith, the daughter of John M. Smith and his wife, Mary Wheeler of Macoupin County, Ill. The Belts’ marriage produced five children, but ultimately ended in divorce. Mrs. Brown blamed the demise of the marriage on her nephew’s inability to control his temper.

She went so far as to say she believed her nephew was mentally irresponsible for the crime of murder, and that he “ought to have been deprived of his liberty before the inevitable crime and he had killed a man.”

Mrs. Brown told the story that her nephew was respected for his agriculture abilities. “He could have employment on any farm in the section of the country in which he lived, harvesting corn at which he is an expert.”

His struggle with epilepsy began in adulthood. “Shortly after his marriage, one warm day in September, he determined to break his record in cutting corn and cut down fifty shocks,” she said. “The exertion was too great and he was then overcome by the heat. Since then he has been subject to fits and has been erratic and the least excitement has thrown him off his mental balance.”

Prisoner statement

Following his arrest, Belts made a statement to the local press:

“I am 45 years of age and live with my brother, six miles north of Barry, Ill. I went into the Central hotel last evening and engaged a bed and breakfast. This was just about supper time, and while I was sitting there a little chap came in and ran through the room. As he passed me he struck me in the face and when he came back he struck me again. I knew he was just playing, as little fellows do, and I caught him and began romping with him by laying him down on the floor and rolling him around. He began crying and his mother said something to me and then two or three others put in and among them was this man Woods. I told him that I would settle with him if he would step outside, and he did. I had no intention of using anything on him but my fists and was fighting that way when two other fellows jumped on me and then I got out my knife. I am a farm hand and have been in Hannibal since last Wednesday. I was waiting to see if I could not get a job on the railroad. I expected to leave tomorrow for the country. I had no intention of fighting in any way but with my fists until those other fellows pitched into me.”

Guilty verdict

The following year, a Hannibal jury found Belts guilty of second degree murder, and he was sentenced to 10 years in the penitentiary. The jury considered his epilepsy when deciding his fate.

The 1930 census shows that Jacob Belts was a patient at State Hospital No. 1 in Fulton, Callaway County, Mo.

He died March 27, 1936 at the hospital, where he had been a resident for 18 years. The cause of death was listed as chronic myocarditis with myocardial insufficiency, with epilepsy as a contributing factor.

NOTE: Several facts attributed to Mrs. Brown in the Quincy Daily Herald article in 1910 appear to be inaccuracies. The writer of this article independently verified the facts printed in this story by using census reports and Findagrave records. Name spellings also vary among historic records and newspaper articles.

Hotel residents,1905, source, Hannibal City Directory

Miss Emma Kornder lived at 213 N. Main

John Kornder, florist for W.T. League, lived at 213 N. Main

Central Hotel, Mrs. Helen Murphy, propr 213 N. Main, res. same

Edward Krueger, painter, resident 213 N. MAIN

Jesse Langfort, works Cement, res 213 N. Main

N.M. Lenker, works Cement, r 213 N. Main

Earl Madison, works Cement, r 213 N. Main

S.W. Martin, works Powder Wks, res 213 N. Main

George O’Banman, watchman depot, res 213 N. Main

William Schmeitzer, mach Cement, wife Anna, res. 213 N. Main

Barney Thornton, works Cement, res. 213 N. Main

Residents of Central Hotel: 1910 census

Clara Giles, 213 N. Main, divorced, age 26

Clayton Giles, 8

Charles Giles, 5

Floyd Crim brother 19

Ethel Crim sister in law 20

Elmer Crim, nephews, baby

Adolphus Crim, brother 31 (1878-1966)

Lyda Crim niece, 7

David Sullivan, cook 34

Annie Martin, Helper, 30

Jack McCarty boarder 35, machinist at cement plant

John Watkins 50, teamster for cold storage

George Myres 45, laborer in stove foundry

Jake Dubois 29, laborer in stove foundry

Edward Gilespie 51, labor in nursery

James Hadley 55

Jesse Rutherford 27, bridge operator on railroad

Perry Rutherford 30, bridge carpenter for railway co.

Wasle Travis 30, bridge carpenter for railway company

John Perry 31, bridge carpenter for railway company

Jesse Myres 22, bridge carpenter for railway company

William Miller 18, carpenter, house

Frank Conway 53, blacksmith in machine shop

R. McCannahan 22, painter for U.S. government

John Wallet 50, cement walk layer in city

James Curtwright 30, painter house

George House 27, shoe worker in factory

Charles Irvin 25, laborer

The upper stories of the building at 213 N. Main are currently undergoing renovation. Kimberly Strode Linderman found evidence of a fire in the building after plaster was removed from the ceiling. There was a fire on the third-floor of the building in October 1904. The Quincy Daily Herald reported: Just as supper was being served at the Central hotel, on North Main street, at 6 o’clock last evening, fire was discovered in a room on the third floor and an alarm was immediately turned in. The department soon had three streams of water pouring on the burning building, but it was some time before the fire was gotten under control. PHOTO/KIMBERLY STRODE LINDERMAN

Steve Chou has this postcard from the Central Hotel in his vast artifact collection. Andrew P. Dukes was the hotel proprietor in 1885. Other proprietors included Richard W. Pratt in 1888; Mrs. Emma Hoy in 1894; Mrs. Drusilla Young, 1895; John D. Walker, 1901; Theodore Hayden, 1902; Mrs. Helen Murphy, 1905; and Mrs. Clara Giles, 1910.

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