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Jim Kershner’s this day in history

From our archives, 100 years ago

A tragic story unfolded at the Charles E. Gates farm on Orchard Prairie. 

Gates was awakened by Dorothy, his 14-year-old daughter, who said her mother was having spasms and “acting queer” while making breakfast.

Gates went downstairs and discovered his wife convulsing. He asked his daughter to call the nearest neighbors for help, and while she was on the phone, he discovered an empty bottle of strychnine.

“Your mother must have taken poison – here is the empty bottle,” he exclaimed.

She turned from the phone and replied, “Why, papa, if that is poison, then I took some, too. Mama gave me some from the same bottle and said it was Epsom salts.”

Her words were “scarcely spoken when the child was seized with the first convulsion and fell to the floor.”

Before help could arrive, both mother and daughter were dead.

The mother left a note, which was full of paranoid ravings. She said she feared her daughter would be sold into white slavery, “a life worse than death.” So she intended to take both of their lives.

The mother had suffered from a spell of mental illness a year or so earlier, but had appeared to recover. However, a week prior to the deadly incident, she had asked her husband what he would do if she were to die. He tried to dispel her melancholy, apparently to no avail.