It is an unassuming grave in an Highlands County Florida cemetery. The simple stone is tucked amongst beloved parents and grandparents and rests under a robust shade tree. Could it be the final resting place of one of Greensburg's most notorious murderers?
It was Oct. 17, 1910 when a vibrant local girl named Lela Glenn Kinsall died a sudden and mysterious death. In a sorrowful obituary, published in the Greensburg Republican newspaper (later purchased by the Kiowa County Signal) a few days later, the 23-year-old's death was called "sudden" and that "friends had not anticipated so sudden and fatal a result."
"Cruel diseases make way for death," it continued. "The eternal door is open and our loved ones pass out of sight."
When she was buried the following day, without embalming and without inspection, the family began to suspect she had been murdered by her husband of only 10 months, a local doctor named George H. Buck.
Buck had come from Kentucky, narrowly escaping Carter County officials after his first wife Ms. Bogard took ill for three days and died suddenly. An angry Mr. Bogard of Louisville, Ky, father of the murdered woman, wrote a letter to the Signal after reading about the death in Greensburg.
"Everybody in Oliver Hill, Kentucky, thinks that Dr. Buck was the cause of her death," he wrote. "I had a daughter die in the same way and she was the wife of Dr. G.H. Buck. She was the same age of yours when she died."
The man also wrote that Buck had taken out a $5,000 life insurance policy on her just a few weeks prior to her death.
Buck, likely seeking asylum from law enforcement on the East Coast, traveled to Kiowa County and opened an office in a medical building on Main Street.
He advertised regularly in local newspapers and made a close acquaintance of the local pharmacist J.L. Mathis. He moved into a modest house and, on appearances, seemed to be an upstanding and reputable member of the professional community.
Buck was arrested for Lela's murder on Halloween night 1910 aboard a Hutchinson bound train by Kiowa County Sheriff Milton Moorhead and the ensuing trial sent waves of fear across Kansas.
Dr. Trimble of the University of Kansas exhumed Lela's body and performed an autopsy in the back room of Fleener's Mortuary. Results of the autopsy were inconclusive, but toxicology tests showed that she had died from cyanide poisoning.
Lela mother testified that on the Sunday before her death Buck gave his wife a "dark liquid" that made her throw up. In the following days he gave her multiple shots and administered the dark liquid a number of times. Lela's condition worsened as the treatments continued, until she convulsed and died.
Page 2 of 2 - The most damming evidence came from local druggist J.L. Mathis, who testified that he had sold Buck hydrocyanic acid just prior to Lela's death. According to witnesses Buck brought his ill wife a spoon full of dark liquid on the day she died and said to her "Take it, it won't hurt you."
In May 1911 a local jury, which included notable county residents Henry Sweet of Breham, farmer J.H. Liggett, Wellsford farmer S.J. Brooks, the Haviland clerk E. Mills and Haviland merchant C.A. Bradley, convicted Buck of the murder of his wife by cyanide poisoning.
A Supreme Court ruling in 1912 affirmed the conviction but a group of influential Kansas doctors got Buck paroled in 1917 by then-Gov. Arthur Capper, believing his plea that he had been wrongly convicted on the basis of "professional jealousy."
A mass protest was held on the courthouse steps, but Buck was set free.
Buck was later reported to have spent time in Texas and Oklahoma, but surfaced again in 1931 in Oregon when he was charged with "performing an illegal operation" on a young woman that resulted in the death of both the woman and her unborn child.
It took another 14 years before Buck had his medical license revoked in the state of Oregon, and it is unknown how many additional young tender souls were harmed by his callous hands.
The latter part of Buck's life is still a mystery, but his calculated execution of the young Lela Kinsall will forever be one of the most heinous crimes committed inside the boundaries of Kiowa County.
In order to save our county historians from injury due to excessive finger wagging I wanted to issue this brief disclaimer.
Readers should not take the stories in this week’s “Kiowa County’s Spookiest” special section as definitive truths. Many of the stories have been embellished and exaggerated to create a more macabre and entertaining read. They are historical fiction stories that mix actual facts, rumors and legends with a pinch of seasonal hyperbole.
As a writer I work extremely hard to limit weekly news items to reputable facts and quotation, but these types of stories let me flex my fiction muscles and have some fun.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.