Marion County man served as witness to shocking scene
The Marion County Courthouse in Palmyra, Mo., as illustrated in the 1875 Marion County Atlas. Just after the beginning of the 20th Century, the building was replaced with the structure that serves the county today.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Palmyra, Missouri, has been the site of two Marion County courthouses. The first, on the same lot as the current courthouse, was where Michael Conlon worked for a dozen years, as deputy county clerk, from roughly 1879 until 1891. Conlon served in the office of James W. Proctor, who was county clerk during those same years.
It was in that courthouse, specifically the circuit court room, where Conlon made a startling discovery early in the morning hours of Friday, March 2, 1888. A lifeless body was dangling from a rope tied to the chandelier, and a chair was overturned beneath.
Conlon quickly fled to summon J.W. Proctor, returning moments later with his boss, who in turn helped cut the rope.
The body still warm to the touch, recitation was attempted, but to no avail.
The hanging victim was none other than Palmyra’s postmaster, Enoch McLeod, a fact that stirred excitement both within the courthouse and throughout the town. Two days before, a postal inspector had arrived from St. Louis to audit the books. When a discrepancy of nearly $700 was discovered, the inspector was bold and public with his accusations against McLeod, according to newspaper reports of the day. In the day following, McLeod unsuccessfully tried to raise the funds to repay the debt, but the damage to his reputation was already done.
The son of a former Marion County sheriff, a deputy himself, and an appointee to the prestigious post of postmaster, was publicly disgraced. That embarrassment was apparently too much for McLeod to bear.
The Marion County Herald reported that on Friday, March 2, 1888, McLeod went to the Post Office to deliver the mail sacks which had arrived during the night, and then purchased 15 feet of three-eights inch rope from Menefee & Taylor’s grocery store.
Arriving at the courthouse, he enquired in the clerk’s office regarding the whereabouts of Mr. Proctor. He spoke to Mike Conlon, who explained the temporary absence of his boss.
Mr. Conlon later told a reporter that Mr. McLeod then went up the stairs. A few minutes later, Conlon’s suspicion was aroused when he realized that there was no court in session.
Mr. Conlon retraced Mr. McLeod’s footsteps, only to find the shocking scene as previously described.
“The chandelier, the rope and an overturned chair indicated the exact manner in which the deed was consummated,” a Palmyra newspaper reported.
The sympathy of the Palmyra Spectator went to the postmaster.
“The unnecessary and humiliating language (the inspector) used in addressing Mr. McLeod savored more of a city tough than a government official, and denotes that there is very little of the gentleman in his composition. We do not censure him for making his investigation but for the manner in which he conducted it. He should have made his report to headquarters and let the proper authorities pass upon the case,” the Palmyra Spectator reported on March 9, 1888.
The newspaper continued: “The news of the discrepancy becoming public through the coarse and boisterous language of the inspector, Mr. McLeod preferred death to dishonor.”
Though no doubt shaken by the scene he witnessed in March 1888, Conlon remained with the circuit clerk’s office.
In September 1888, he joined together with others to form a Democratic club. Officers elected were: Col. Edward McCabe, president; John H. Englehardt Jr., vice president; Michael Conlon, secretary; and R.A. Spencer, treasurer.
In 1889 he and Thad Hatcher were named honorary members of the Palmyra Brass Band. Performers were: Henry Baker, Arthur Burgdorf, W.B. Markell, John M. Sosey, Sam Dudley, Tobe South, W.J Stephens, Ed Mitchell, Jake Berghofer, Harry Lee, Harry Burgdorf, John Metcalf, John McCabe, Tom Rogers, Charlie Rettie and August Everly.
In February 1891, the Palmyra Spectator named some of the town’s popular bachelors: George Thompson, John McLeod, Ed. Yeager, Dick Spencer, Clay Heather, Mike Conlon, Bob Deherty, Sims O’Connor, Joe Wine, John Dowling and Tom Hagan.
Conlon, a lifelong bachelor, was born in Pennsylvania circa 1849, and moved to Hannibal with his parents before the onset of the Civil War. He is believed to be the youngest child of Thomas and Bridget Conlon; the other children in the family being Patrick, born circa 1830; Catherine, born 1836; and Bridget, 1838. The 1850 census listed the family in Manayunk Lower Ward, Philadelphia, Pa., and the 1860 census shows Thomas, his wife Bridget, and son Michael in Hannibal.
All Hannibal references found for Thomas Conlon refer to him as a laborer. For most of the family’s years in Hannibal, Thomas, his wife Bridget, and son Michael lived on the north side of Palmyra Road, across from where Fourth Street once intersected.
Mike Conlon’s father, Thomas, died at the age of 89, in December 1890 at Hannibal.
In January 1891, W.E. Sites assumed the post of county clerk. The Palmyra Spectator complimented both Proctor and Conlon:
“Mr. Proctor has faithfully served the people of Marion County in this capacity for twelve years and retires with a good record. During his term of service Mr. Proctor has received valuable assistance from his efficient deputy, Michael Conlon, whose strict attention to business deserves much praise. Mike Conlon is a model clerk.”
Back to Hannibal
Conlon returned to his hometown of Hannibal.
First, he went to work as a prescription clerk for Charles H. Northam’s drug store, 230 Market.
The following November, he went to work as a clerk for William B. Humrich, retail druggist, at 211 Broadway.
In August 1900, Henry Long of Paris, Mo., purchased the shop from Humrich. Mike Conlon continued to act as prescription clerk for the new owner. He made his home just across the street, at the Hotel Conklin.
Mike Conlon died in November 1901, at the age of 52.
Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) 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