Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


The ravine in Keosauqua north of the courthouse is known as "Hangmanís Hollow." On May 13, 1845 a large crowd gathered to watch Sheriff Josiah Bonney pull the lever on the gallows and drop William McCully to his death. McCully had shot and killed Don Coffman in a cornfield over in Washington County after catching him in an adulterous situation with his wife. This became the most famous verdict delivered by the court of Van Buren County.

Over the past 150 years, there have been several murder trials, and many interesting court cases. For example, The Keosauqua Rock Island Lines depot agent was cleared of charges of embezzlement and gambling on railroad property. Once a local lady was charged with running a house of ill-repute, but the proceedings were dropped because too many subpoenas had been issued to well known gentlemen. In a dispute over a dinner bell, the court heard the case of Locke vs. Vine. This was the longest running trial. Lasting more than a week, it included a Saturday session with a long parade of witnesses each day, and the jury spent fifteen hours reaching a decision.

But the most unusual trial took place in the fall of 1956, and was known as "The Court vs. Maxine Lowe." On November 15 and 16, a cast of 23 juniors from Keosauqua High School presented this play, directed by English teacher Mary Pettit, marking the first and only time that a high school class performed in Van Burenís court room.

Jerry Taylor played the part of judge, and Andy Reddick was court clerk. John Lanman was Stateís Attorney and Jim McIntosh was the Defense Attorney, with Myra Loeffler acting as Assistant Stateís Attorney.

Maxine Lowe, played by June Gaskell, was charged with murder. A parade of witnesses included a saucy, sex-siren model played by Cynthia McDonald, who (of course) flirted with the court clerk and judge, and failed to offer the defendant credibility.

During both sessions, many stood along the back wall of the crowded court room, in the vestibule, and some overflowed onto the top steps of the stairs, hoping to get glimpses of the awesome performance. Each night a jury of twelve were selected from the audience and given the best seats in the house, except for a brief period when they were ushered into their chambers to "reach their verdict."

However, June Gaskellís sudden, tear-jerking outburst of surprise testimony left no doubt in any observerís mind as to the outcome of this exciting, well-performed trial.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick