1934: Estranged couple dance their last dance at Rose Garden
Steve Chou generously shared this photo from his extensive collection. It shows the Rialto Theatre building prior to the refacing. Photo was taken during an American Legion parade in 1939. A few years earlier, the Rose Garden was located on the second floor. Rena Marie Holmes Ransdell was shot to death in the Rose Garden on Saturday night, April 14, 1934.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The Rose Garden provided a venue for inexpensive entertainment during the otherwise bleak economic days during the Great Depression. Located at 605 ½ Broadway in Hannibal, Mo., for a decade or more the dance hall offered live music to dance to, and an atmosphere to enjoy the companionship of contemporaries, many of whom worked side by side in the town’s shoe factories.
Rena Marie Holmes and Harold Lester Ransdell each played a role in shoe assembly, and ultimately married during the early 1930s.
And while their marriage wasn’t in a state of bliss on Saturday night, April 14, 1934, they each separately attended the regularly scheduled dance at the Rose Garden.
Rena, who had left her husband three or four months prior, attended the dance with her brother and sister-in-law, , and a friend, Tom Tinker from Chaney, Texas.
Late in the evening, Harold Ransdell approached his wife and requested a dance, which she granted.
But as the next song began, she walked to the dance floor with Tom Tinker.
According to news reports of the day, Harold pulled out a gun. The Palmyra Spectator reported in its April 18, 1934 edition: “He backed away a few feet, pulled his gun and fired two shots, the first killing his wife and the second hitting Tinker” near the elbow.
Rena, shot in the eye, fell to the floor without uttering a word. Her death was ruled instantaneous. She was 23.
Ransdell backed away into the chaos of the shooting’s aftermath and disappeared, but in the early hours of the next morning, he turned himself in to Hannibal police.
Ransdell’s preliminary hearing was described as attracting the largest crowd ever to attend such a hearing in Hannibal’s courthouse.
Walter Stillwell, Marion County prosecutor, filed a formal charge of first-degree murder, and Harold Ransdell was held without bond.
Thus began a long and painful healing process for two Hannibal families.
Rena Holmes Ransdell was the oldest child of Frank and Jessie Holmes, who in 1935 lived at 1120 Woodrow Ave., in Hannibal. Frank was a carpenter. Rena had a younger brother, Claude Holmes, and a younger sister, Doloris Holmes. In 1930, 19-year-old Rena was working as a saleslady for a confectionery shop in Hannibal. Later, Jessie, Claude and Rena all went to work for Hannibal’s shoe factories.
Harold Ransdell was one of two sons of Clarence C. and Ressie Ransdell, who rented a house in the 1300 block of Vermont Street. During the late 1920s – until the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression, Clarence was an engineer for the CB&Q Railroad. In 1930, he was employed as a weighmaster for the cement plant south of Hannibal. Their son, Harold, went to work for one of Hannibal’s shoe factories.
Harold was a standout during his youth, growing up near Monroe City. He name was mentioned in several newspaper editions for being a high-achieving student. In April 1925, he is believed to have participated on a track relay team on behalf of Monroe City High School at the Northeast Missouri High School meet. The 1940 census notes that he completed 12 years of education.
Judge E.L. Alford of the Hannibal Court of Common Pleas officiated at the trial in October 1934 at the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal. Jurors, as named in the Oct. 10, 1934 edition of the Marion County Standard at Palmyra, were Edmund O’Hearn, Hugh Koch, Louis L. Taylor, I.J. Heinze, W.H Donelson, James Fisher, Carl Jones, H.G. Wilson, Bud Dillingham, A.L. Link, W.R. Resa and E. McClain. Ransdell’s attorneys were Elgin T. Fuller of Hannibal and Roy Merriwether of Monroe City. The first-degree murder charge carried with it a possible death sentence.
The jury found Ransdell guilty of second-degree murder, and sentenced him to 25 years in the state penitentiary.
At the end of March 1936, there were 4,775 inmates – an all-time peak - housed at the state penitentiary, and there was special concern because of two reported cases of spinal meningitis inside the prison. The members of the penal board voted to institute a quarantine at the prison in order to prevent further spread of the dread disease.
Two weeks later, the quarantine was lifted. One of the prisoners, Guy Hutchings, 25, died at the prison hospital on April 1, 1936.
Harold Ransdell voluntarily worked in the prison hospital during the epidemic. For his work, the State Penal Commission recommended that he receive a two-year reduction in his sentence.
Fight for freedom
Attorneys for Harold Ransdell continued to fight for his release from prison. In December 1940, the attorneys argued that Ransdell should be released, partially on the grounds that the jurors were selected from Hannibal, rather than Marion County as a whole.
Instead, then-Gov. Lloyd C. Stark issued a full pardon on Ransdell’s behalf. Ransdell had served sufficient time to qualify him for parole.
Ezra Fuller, father of attorney Elgin T. Fuller, was quoted in the Marion County Standard at Palmyra on Dec. 25, 1940.
“Ransdell had a perfect behavior record in the penitentiary and had rendered outstanding service as a nurse in the prison hospital, having been promoted to assistant nurse on surgical cases.”
Ransdell was released in time to register for the WWII draft. On Dec. 18, 1940, he was living at Stoutsville, Mo., with his mother, Ressie. He weighed 115 pounds, stood 5-foot-6, had a light complexion, gray eyes and brown hair.
Clarence Cleveland Ransdell died April 30, 1954, at the Davis Rest Home, 324 Mark Twain Avenue. He was divorced from Ressie. Informant was Harold’s brother, C. Tilden Ransdell, who was living at Briscoe, Mo. Clarence is buried at Riverside Cemetery. Cause of death was listed as chronic alcoholism.
Harold and his mother moved to Boise, Idaho, where Ressie died on Aug. 14, 1954. Her remains were brought back to Monroe County, where she was buried with her parents at Florida Cemetery.
Harold Ransdell died April 3, 1991, at the age of 81. He is buried at Morris Hill Cemetery, Boise, Idaho.
After Harold Ransdell was released from prison, the Holmes family moved to San Diego, Calif., where Frank James Holmes (age 47) worked at the Naval Training Station. The family settled at 1320 Missouri St., San Diego. Living at that address in 1942 were Frank and his wife Jessie; Dolores B. Holmes, daughter; and Claude and Thelma Holmes, son and daughter-in-law.
Frank Holmes was born in July 1884 in Lincoln County, Mo., and died Sept. 1, 1947. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego. Jessie B. Holmes died Jan. 26, 1974. She rests beside her husband. Claude Holmes died Jan. 17, 1988, and Doloris died Sept. 5, 2012, in La Jolla, San Diego.
Rena Holmes Ransdell, who died on April 14, 1934, is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal.
The Rose Garden
The popular dance hall remained in business after the shooting, until at least 1937, when it was operated by G. Walter Alexander.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com
Rena M. Holmes rests at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. She was murdered on April 14, 1934. She was married to Harold Ransdell, who was convicted of second degree murder. Mary Lou Montgomery photo