DEAD WOMAN'S CROSSING
This story was sent to me by an Oklahoma website visitor named "Rex", who recounts a popular tale from the Weatherford area about a haunted location. This story here is presented in his own words.
This is a ghost story based on an event that actually happened. I'll try and give a brief telling of the story, as printed in my Campus newspaper, and then tell what I know about it. This is the story of Dead Woman's Crossing.
I first heard about this place in a class I was taking at school. They called it "dead woman's bridge", and said that a lady had fallen and broken her neck at this bridge, and you could still hear wagon wheels if you went there at night. This was a rather uninformed account of the story.
The real story is that on July 7, 1905 a lady named Katy DeWitt James, 29, and her baby, 14 months. She was a member of the Custer County community, and was well known and liked. She got on a train this day, to go visit a cousin in Payne county. She had filed for divorce from her husband the day before on grounds of cruelty. Her father Henry saw them off from the train station, and that was that.
Usually Henry received letters from his daughter frequently, but when he hadn't received one for weeks, he hired a detective named Sam Bartell to find out what was up. He searched through Clinton, a town close to Weatherford, but turned up nothing. When he came to Weatherford, to continue the search, he found that a woman who matched Katie's description had stayed with a woman she met on the train. The woman's name was Fannie Norton, a prostitute known to the Weatherford people as Mrs. Ham, from Clinton.
They stayed with Norton's Brother in Law William Moore, and Katie was introduced to Mrs. Moore as "Mrs. Smith". The next morning, July 8th, the two women and the baby left in a buggy, saying they would be back in 3 hours. Norton returned 2 hours and fifteen minutes later, leaving the buggy at the barn she got it from, and returned to Clinton. Henry, the detective, later found that Norton told Katie she was going to Hydro, another close town, and convinced her to go with her. Witnesses said that a buggy with two women and a child had disappeared into a field near Deer Creek for 45 minutes.
Norton came out of the field alone in the buggy, with the child. She drove the buggy to a nearby farm and left the baby with a small boy, telling him to give the baby to his mother to care for till she returned. 100 yards from the farm, she tossed out a bundle of baby clothes. The baby's dress was covered in blood, there was blood on the wheels of the buggy. Norton fled across the state to Guthrie, enrolled her kids in a private school, then went on to Shawnee. She mentioned to a friend that she didn't want anyone to know where she was.
Henry Bartell, the detective, followed her trail to Shawnee, where local police found her at the local butcher's home. She was very nervous when found. She told a rambling far-fetched tale of Katie meeting a man on the buggy ride, and leaving with him. Bartell was not convinced. Norton vehemently denied murdering Katie, and wept bitterly. Later that night, when Bartell was out in the hall talking to a reporter, Norton began to vomit.
It was determined that she had taken some sort of poison, and she would die soon. She died shortly after, the death was ruled a suicide, her body was unclaimed and she was buried in the Shawnee city cemetery. Various rewards were posted by Katie's father, Henry, and by the territorial governor, Gov. Ferguson. On August 31, a Weatherford resident, G. W. Cornell, claimed he and his sons had found the body while fishing, and wanted the reward. Only the skeleton remained. However, the clothing was still worn and recognizable. A $5 gold ring was on the skeleton's hand. The skull was not attached to the body, two feet away and upright. The hat and hair were beside it, but separate.
There was a bullet hole in the back of the right ear, and a .38 caliber revolver was also found near the skull. Norton's lawyer positively identified it as belonging to Norton. Norton had shot Katie while she was in the buggy, and Katie had fallen out onto the ground. The body was identified as hers by the clothes and accessories. Katie's Husband, Martin Luther James was called in as a witness for the coroner's jury. He was suspected by Weatherford populace, because of his lack of sorrow or concern, but he had alibis for his whereabouts at the time of the murder. Norton however was found guilty of murder, the motive being robbery.
Mr. James became administrator of Katie's Estate, as the divorce never went through. He petitioned for the custody of his daughter, and was granted it. The estate was split up between himself and his daughter. He sold the farm, and then disappeared. There are many little mysteries left over from this case. From this person's perspective, I would warrant that Mr. James hired Norton to kill Katie, to keep the divorce from happening, and to attain her estate. He probably paid Norton fairly well, and she then fled from the Weatherford area. These links were never brought up, but so many facts are flimsy, after all, why would Norton rob Katie, and yet not take the $5 gold ring on her finger? All in all, it doesn't add up. However, on to the ghost story.
Supposedly (and I know this sounds so cliché) but at midnight, one can hear a woman calling for her baby. Undoubtedly Katie calling for her 14 month old daughter. Also, it is said that one can stand on or under the bridge and hear wagon wheels rolling across, probably the sounds of Norton's buggy. It is a rather spooky place, and the bridge that once was there has been replaced by a huge concrete structure, and subsequently has been covered by much graffiti. It is a popular hang out for partying students from the campus.
I myself went out there at about 3 in the morning with 3 friends, and we experienced nothing whatsoever paranormal. There were several noisy cows that scared the bejesus out of us though. It is spooky, but from what I have been able to ascertain so far, not haunted. I have been there several times in the daylight, before I realized what is was in local history, and I can say that in the daytime, it still is a bit eerie. But all in all, not a bad place to visit. That is just a little bit of haunted Oklahoma I wanted to drop on you!
Note: As it turns out, this story was originally uncovered and researched by a student at the University in Weatherford, Oklahoma named Susan Woolf Brenner. She wrote an article on "Dead Woman's Crossing" (as well as some speculation on the killer of Katy James) that appeared in the Chronicles of Oklahoma: Volume LX (Fall 1982) and was called "Dead Woman's Crossing: The Legacy of a Territorial Murder". She began her research after finding a file on the case and going to the location - only to actually encounter the ghost! Try and track down this article if you can, I think you'll enjoy it!
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Copyright 2000 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.