Who Killed Cleason Guist?

Follow The Evidence

Cleason B. Guist

A wealthy retired farmer was found dead under a culvert near Burrton, Kansas on Tuesday, June 29, 1909. Cleason B. Guist owned a farm south of Burrton but had moved to Wichita several years earlier.

His body was found by a boy named Giest, who is not a relative according to the Associated Press.  He had died from gunshot wounds, a portion of his neck being blown away.  He was shot in the back of the head with a load of shot from a shot gun. No motive for the murder was immediately known.  Guist’s pocketbook was undisturbed which seemed to rule out robbery as a motive.

The citizens of Burrton and vicinity were thrown into a state of frantic excitement over the murder committed there Monday night or Tuesday morning. Mr. Guist was known by most of the people of the community.

WHY WAS CLEASON IN BURRTON? The Sheriff learned rather quickly that on Monday evening Mr. Guist arrived in Burrton on a Frisco train for the purpose of visiting his farm southeast of town. He started to walk out to the farm about 8:30 Monday night. This is the last seen of him alive.

Newspapers reported that Tuesday morning his nephew, knowing that his uncle was coming up from Wichita, and feeling somewhat uneasy over his non-arrival at the farm, started to Burrton to see if any trace could be found of his relative. When reaching a point about four and a half miles from town he discovered the body of his uncle in a slough, partially concealed beneath a small culvert. Later investigation proved that his nephew, C.M. Guist, had not found the body but had been found by the grandson of the deceased man.

Once the body was found, word was sent to the county seat of Newton, Kansas and Sheriff Ainsworth and Coroner Abbey immediately went to the scene of the crime in an automobile. County Attorney Vander Holden joined them on train No. 1 and a jury was impaneled. The inquisitional body remained in session until 1:00 o’clock Wednesday morning, when an adjournment was taken until 3:00 o’clock. The case was taken up again at that hour.

WAS CLEASON MURDERED BY SOMEONE HE KNEW OR BY A STRANGER? Thursday morning the news about town was that the murderer had been discovered, and would probably be taken into custody as soon as the coroner’s jury concluded its labors. Soon additional details began to emerge.

“The said jurors upon their oaths do say that C. B. Guist came to his death from a shotgun wound inflicted in the back of the head and neck, with felonious intent, said crime being committed in Lake Township, Harvey County, Kansas, exact point unknown, on or about the 29th day of June, 1909. Judging solely from circumstantial evidence, this jury is of the opinion that the deceased met his death at the hands of C. M. Guist, nephew and the present tenant on the farm of the deceased, and recommend that he be held for preliminary hearing before a justice of the peace.”

It was almost 7:00 o’clock p.m. Wednesday when the coroner’s jury brought in the above verdict. The jury had been in session, with the exception of a few hours, continuously since Tuesday evening. A few minutes after the verdict was rendered the accused man was placed under arrest and brought to Newton where he was lodged in the county jail.

The evidence against the accused is wholly circumstantial, although there are not many men who would care to have his chances staring them in the face. At this time there are few, if any, who see how he is going to untangle himself from the mass of evidence that has already accumulated to say nothing of the possibility of unearthing additional incriminating facts as the case is delved into by the officials.

C. B. Guist was seventy-one years of age and uncle of the accused man. He was one of the oldest settlers in Harvey County, he having taken up a homestead in Lake township in 1871 and resided there continuously until 1907. Although he then moved to Wichita, he made frequent visits to his farm, which has been occupied for the past two years by the nephew, C. B. Guist. The nephew stated that he knew nothing about his uncle coming from Wichita on that particular date, although he stated that his uncle had told him he would be up “before or about harvest.” The dead man was seen to leave Burrton about 7:30 in the evening with the avowed intention of walking out to the farm. He stopped at the Koehn home, about a mile and half north of his destination, in the neighborhood of 8:00 o’clock, where he got a drink of water. Some joking remarks were passed here about his being a “tramp” and he finally said that he “must hit the road” and started. So far as is known he was not seen alive thereafter.

Tuesday morning Robert Guist, the ten-year-old son of C. M. Guist, had been to the home of a neighbor on an errand as directed by his father. When returning home, as he was passing over the bridge that spans Kishawa creek, in the neighborhood of three-quarters of a mile from his home, he noticed a straw hat lying in the water about six feet east of the bridge and near the south edge of the pond. He thought some boys were fishing there and called to attract their attention. Being unsuccessful, he stopped the team and ran around to where the hat was, and as he did so he saw the feet of the body sticking from under the bridge. He ran to Charles Marak, who was cutting wheat nearby. At first he thought the boy was fooling, but finally went with him and found his story to be true. Charles sent his brother to telephone the Burrton marshal.

P. H. Riggs, a deputy constable, guarded the body until Coroner Abbey and Sheriff Ainsworth arrived on the scene. In the meantime the undertaker at Burrton had been notified and as soon as the coroner and sheriff had examined the body, its location, and made the necessary notes, it was taken by the undertaker to Burrton.

The bridge under which the body was found is a concrete structure the regulation width and perhaps twenty feet long. In the center of the bridge was found a quantity of grass chaff, its position indicating that it had been scraped out of a wagon bed when something had been pulled out. On some of this chaff was found what, under microscopic examination, proved to be human blood. There were also blood stains on the west side of the bridge as though a body or the source from whence the spots came, had been slid over the side into the water.

In the pockets of the dead man the coroner found one twist of Honey Dip chewing tobacco, a purse containing sixty dollars, and other articles, such as paper and books.

The officers then turned their attention to the home of the nephew, Cleason M. Guist. They learned that he had been married at one time, but his wife deserted him and he has been living on the farm since with no other companion than his ten year old son.  They found the house in a very filthy condition.  A close examination was made of the premises.  There are two bed rooms on the east side of the house and in the northeast room the old gentleman slept when visiting at the house.  In this room was found the old man’s black coat.  Testimony adduced at the inquest showed that he was carrying this coat under his arm when he left Burrton to walk to the farm.  In one pocket of this coat was found, in a sack, five packages of Honey Dip chewing tobacco.  B. F. Grover, a groceryman of Burrton, testified at the inquest that he sold the old man six of these twists Monday evening and received therefore twenty five cents, this being the regulation price.  The five found in the coat added to the one found on the dead man, make a total of six, the number he purchased.

A wagon was found in the yard with blood spots on the box.  There was also a large spot on the front axle which, under microscopic examination, proved to be human blood.  Chaff, greatly resembling that found on the bridge, was in the wagon box.

In the southeast bed room, the one occupied by C. M. Guist and son, was found a double barreled shot gun.  It was not loaded.  A home-made belt for carrying shells was also found there, and in the kitchen a box of empty shells was discovered.  No full shells were found on the place.  One barrel of the gun showed indications of having been fired recently, but how recent could not be told.

The boy testified that there was a shell in the belt on the day prior to the evening on which the old man is supposed to have been killed.  The father claimed that he shot the last one at a hawk three weeks earlier and that the boy was away from home at the time, consequently knew nothing about the transaction. A pair of overalls with blood spots on them and identified as belonging to the accused, was found.

An examination of the dead body showed that the shot had been fired from behind.  About sixty shot had entered the back of the neck and head.  The shot found are what is known as No. 1.

In spite of the incriminating evidence against him, the nephew maintained his innocence, and some parts of his testimony were corroborated by his son.  The old gentleman was last seen alive, so far as is known, about 8:00 o’clock, and ordinarily would have reached his destination about 9:00.  The accused man and his son had been away harvesting and the testimony showed that they had reached home about the time the old gentleman was supposed to.

The boy claims to have gone to bed right away and that he had not yet gone to sleep when his father came to bed.  At this time, so the testimony ran, nothing had been seen of the uncle.  One neighbor made an affidavit that his wife and himself were sitting on the porch between 9:30 and 10:00 o’clock and heard a shot from the direction of the Guist home.  Notwithstanding the statements as to the time they retired, there were those who believe that this was the shot that snuffed out the life of C. B. Guist.

In conversation with a Kansan newspaper reporter, the accused man was asked how he accounted for the presence of this coat, the property of his uncle, in the bed room.  To this he replied that the coat must have been left there from a visit made in May, although he admitted that he had never noticed the coat hanging there during all these weeks, if his version is correct, and he knew nothing of its existence until it was produced at the inquest.

Asked if his uncle had ever had any trouble with anyone while a resident of Lake township, who might adopt such a horrible method of “getting even,” he cited two cases wherein lawsuits had been indulged in with the neighbors.  However, he seemed to have no unusual amount of trouble of this nature and generally got along harmoniously with his associates. “Somebody wanted to get rid of him and put me into trouble,” the nephew said.

In many cases of this kind the motive back of the murder is to profit from the dead man’s estate, but there seemed to be nothing of this kind in his case.  Deceased left two daughters who would, in the natural order of things, fall heir to his property.  The dead man left no will and so his nephew stood a slim chance of getting anything out of the estate.  The nephew admitted that his uncle held his note for $240.00, but this note is also secured by a mortgage.  The presumption was that the latter was properly recorded, so that even if the motive for the murder had been to get possession of this note it is not plain how this would have accrued to the benefit of the nephew as long as the mortgage remained a matter of record.

The daughters referred to have lived with nearby neighbors for several years.  One made her home with Ed Irons, and upon his death some time ago inherited his property, valued at about $12,000.  She then went to live with the M. C. Hanson family, where her sister resided.  The latter will be well taken care of from the Hanson estate, so it seems that they are both well provided for. The property left by C. B. Guist was worth approximately $10,500, the farm being valued at $8,000 and property in Wichita at $2,500.

The accused man was about thirty-eight years of age and impressed the reporters as being below the ordinary in intelligence.  He was attired in an old work shirt, overalls, wore a pair of heavy shoes and a slouch straw hat that might have served as a sun protector for several summers, judging from its looks.  The newspaper wrote, “In fact, he is such a man as one might reasonably expect to run across in the backwoods district of “Arkansaw.” The ten-year-old son is a bright little fellow and was in the third grade at school last term.  While he shows the effects of a lack of motherly training, yet he is no worse than a lot of boys who have mothers to guide them.  He seems not to realize the awful charge that has been brought against his father.”

“Wonder what daddy is going to Newton for?” the boy said, as he sat eating his supper with a couple of newspaper men, the youngster evidently not realizing the wall of what now appears to be incontrovertible evidence that his father is facing.  In talking about the case with the boy while eating supper, he was asked if he knew what would happen to him if he didn’t tell the truth about this case.  “You bet I do, and I’ve told the truth all the way through,” was his prompt reply.

The following day it was reported that new facts had been discovered which went to forge another link in the chain of evidence surrounding the accused man.  A rural route carrier brought word to Burrton that a neighbor of Guist had discovered near the house of the latter, in the yard, a place that looked as though the ground had been disturbed.  That morning County Attorney Vonder Heiden and Under Sheriff Blanpied went to this place and made a thorough investigation.  They found that the earth had been disturbed, as represented, and a closer scrutiny showed blood mixed with the earth.

In the head of the dead man had been found a couple of pieces of what appeared to be ordinary window screen wire.  At the investigation of the premises the screen in the south window was examined and it was full of perforations as if shot or something of that nature had gone through it.  The place where the ground had been disturbed was about fifteen feet from and directly south of the window.  The supposition then was that Guist, or whoever fired the fatal shot, stood inside the house and fired through this window, the shot carrying portions of the wire screen into the skull of the victim.

A hoe was also found with blood stains on the handle and blade.  The boy had testified that they had loaned their shovel to a neighbor some weeks ago, so the supposition is that after the elder Guist was killed his murderer took this hoe and endeavored to conceal the blood on the ground.

DID CLEASON M. GUIST KILL HIS UNCLE? The Crime Described by The Guilty Man. Those who were familiar with the net of circumstantial evidence that was being woven around Cleason M. Guist did not see how he could hold out much longer and plead innocent of the murder of his uncle.  Bit by bit a net was woven around him that it seemed impossible for the accused man to break down, and on Friday, after a severe sweating at the hands of the officers, he made a complete confession, as follows:

“The reason why I wish to make this confession is to stop this looking around and so that not to convict anyone that is innocent and I want to make a full statement.

“When I came home from Hansen’s about ten o’clock, Monday, June 28th, the little boy went to the house and went right to bed and I put the little mare away and I came out ad saw him, my uncle, between the house and the barn and he had his coat on his arm.  As near as I can recollect he just said ‘hello,’ and I answered back ‘hello,’ and I said, ‘you have got here have you?’ and the man said ‘yes, finally got here,’ and then I went up to the house and he followed up.  When we got into the house he asked if I was cutting wheat and I said ‘yes, I am cutting wheat,’ and he said ‘where are you cutting?’ and I said ‘down to Hansen’s, because it is too wet, I can’t cut here,’ and he said, ‘O, —-, I know better,’ and then said, ‘I know a —- sight better, I mired down in my own field walking,’ and he said ‘by —-, I don’t see why you want to cut wheat for that ___  __  __  ____,’ and I spoke up and said:  (Here follows a description of the quarrel, during which both men used much profanity.)    Then I said ‘you are a  ___  __  __  ____ and I will kill you for calling me that.’  Then he said ‘you can’t do it.’  We were in the kitchen and we both started for my bed room door.  I beat him to the door of the bed room and I stepped to the door and fired through the screen door.  I did not stop to think what might happen.  I was mad.  I just tripped the gun and threw the shell out on the floor.  I set the gun back in the corner where it always set and then I went out where he was laying on his face, his hands by his side and he was dead.  I put my hands on him and seen he was dead, and I went straight to the pasture and got my horses, harnessed them and hitched them onto the wagon and drove to the house and took off the sideboards and took out the endgate and then I drove up to where he was and then I got a plank from that bunch of weeds southwest of the house to slide him up on into the wagon, because I seen what I had done and I wanted to get rid of him.  Then I took the plank and threw it back where it was, and then I went down the lane to the road and took him up to the bridge where you seen him there and stopped the wagon where that chaff was and I took a hold of him and dragged him out of the back end of the wagon and dumped him over where those blood spots were found on the west side of the bridge.  Then I drove north to the cross roads and turned around there and drove back home the same way I had come.  Then I put the end gate back on and the sideboards back on and drove the wagon under the trees where it was, unhitched and put the harness in the barn at the right place and turned the horses into the pasture.  Then I went into the house and washed my hands, went to the trunk and got my tablet and wrote this letter to uncle for a blind.  Then I took off my shoes and then I took my overalls off and hung them up back where they were in the north bed room, and I looked at them and saw no spots on them.  I had a small lamp, kerosene No. 1.  Then when I got those overalls off, I took the rest of my clothes off and went to bed.  I laid there and went to sleep and slept awhile and the little boy woke me up.  He got up and unlatched the screen door and went out and when he came back he could not latch the screen door and I told him to let it go and he came back to bed and he slept there till morning and I fell back into a sleep for a little while.  I got up in the morning when it was coming day light and took the hoe and went out there and scratched those weeds and threw them away just east of the chicken coop and then I went and set the hoe back of the door in the bedroom, and then I went to the barn and called them horses up and fed them, harnessed them, hitched onto the wagon and took them up to the house and off the sideboards again and put on the seat for the boy to go to town.  Just after I got the team harnessed ready to hitch up, I went and woke him up and he got ready while I was hitching up the wagon.  I started him off for Mr. Merrick’s and I went and hitched up the little mare right away and got hitched up and started for Hansen’s.  I met him half way between the mail box and the orchard, and he had the double trees.

“When I dropped the body I just dropped the hat right over, it was not on his head.”  (Signed) Mr. Cleasson M. Guist.  Witnesses:  A.R. Ainsworth, C.L. Hand, J.S. Blanpied, W.H. von der Heiden

The letter he refers to in this confession was one he wrote his uncle Tuesday morning, advising him that the wheat was about ready to cut and asking for certain instructions about the harvest.  This, of course, was merely a ruse adopted with a view of directing suspicion from himself.  The letter was posted in the rural mail box near the house, but by the time it got to Burrton the news of the tragedy had reached there and the letter was intercepted. “Guist showed no particular feeling of emotion during the time the confession was being made and written down, or afterwards”  The Evening Kansan-Republican, Newton, Kansas.  Saturday, July 3, 1909.  Page 1.

FOUND A HOME. The Burrton newspaper reported in July that, “George Guist, the ten year-old son of C. M. Guist, is now assured of an excellent home, as Mr. and Mrs. George Harner of Route 4 have taken the lad and have signified their intention of raising him. He is certainly fortunate in securing a home with such worth people.:  The Burrton Grit, Burrton, Kansas.  July 15, 1909.  Page 1.


GUIST SENTENCED. Cleason M. Guist, self-confessed murderer of his uncle, C. B. Guist, was sentenced by Judge Branine to serve a sentence of fifteen years in the penitentiary. Before the judge commenced reading, County Attorney von der Heiden stated to the court that there were some mitigating circumstances in connection with the case, or at least some bits of circumstantial evidence which it might be well to consider before passing sentence.  “It may be that after working all day in the hot field,” said the county attorney, “coming home and unexpectedly meeting his uncle and quarreling with him, he was not responsible to the same extent that he otherwise would have been.  The prisoner is a man who had no means.  He has been a hard worker.  I also understand his uncle was a man who was not anything but an ill-tempered man and very likely was the direct cause of the quarrel which finally resulted in the killing.”

C. M. Guist Is Digging Coal

“But he Will Soon Be Given an Easier Job on the Prison Farm. Cleason M. Guist, who was taken by Sheriff Ainsworth to Lansing last week to begin serving his sentence of fifteen years for the murder of his uncle, is working in the coal mine.  However, the warden stated that he would keep him there only a week or two and would then give him an easier job on the prison farm. Guist seems disposed to make the best of a bad situation and promised to be a model prisoner in order that he might get out as soon as possible. The warden seemed surprised at first that the sheriff would bring a murderer to Lansing without handcuffing him, but there seemed to be no occasion for taking this precaution.  Guist was perfectly harmless and said if the sheriff would provide him with the necessary documents he would make the trip alone and enter the penitentiary voluntarily.  Many believe that he would have kept his word and that he would have made no attempt to escape, but it would hardly have been a wise precedent to establish.”  The Evening Kansan-Republican, Newton, Kansas.  Monday, August 2, 1909.  Page 1.


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