Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Winnie Ola Freeman (Winona Green), “The Cat Woman”: Arkansas Serial Killer - 1954


Murder victims:

Aug. 17, 1924 –  J. R. Green – father-in-law, shot to death, Little Rock, Arkansas
1924 – Mrs. Lena Green, mother-in-law, shot to death near Fisher, Ok.
1924 – "plotted" to murder husband, Leroy P. Green
Aug. 27, 1946 – Robert Sheldon Wilkinson, 33, Grand Lake, near Miami, Oklahoma.
Nov. 25, 1953 – Harold Jonassen, 78, California

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FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 14): Bixby, Okla., Oct. 14. – The townspeople are talking today of the peculiar mentality of Winona Sprague [sic], the girl who used to “jerk” sodas and sell cigarets at the corner drug store six years ago.

Winona is now Mrs. Leroy Green and is in jail at Little Rock, Ark., where she has confessed to two of the southwest’s most gruesome crimes – the murders of her husband’s parents – plotted to slay her mate.

Much of Winona’s past life is told by William E. Pinion, city marshal of Bixby, who has served the law enforcement department of this little town many years.

~ Worked in Store ~

Winona lived with her father, a carpenter, according to Pinion. The father did odd jobs while the girl worked, first in the drug store, then in the office of Jessie Spurgeon, a teaming contractor. She was acquainted with virtually everybody in town and, Pinion says, she was a narcotics user.

She married a Tulsa newspaper man named Moore. Moore met her when he was sent to Bixby by his paper and later took her to Commerce, near Miami, the marshal said. Still later, the two were accused of taking a car that did not belong to them and driving it to Utah. They were brought back to Oklahoma but not prosecuted, Pinion said.

Winona was known as a girl who would take desperate chances. Pinion said, but no one thought she would go so far as to murder any one. But she has confessed she did and had plotted to kill another.

[“Bixby Folks Are Puzzled By Winona’s Murder Case – She Was Known to Be Desperate But They Didn’t Think She Would Slay,” Muskogee Daily Democrat (Ok.), Oct. 16, 1924, p. 8]

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FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 14): Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 1. – Mrs. Winona Spriggs Green, 23-year-old confessed slayer of her parents-in-law, laughs at the electric chair.

She is certain she will escape jail – because she is a woman.

“Who ever heard of a woman being electrocuted or hanged in Arkansas?” she demands whenever the death penalty is mentioned to her.

Furthermore she is not remorseful.

“I’m not sorry for my deeds, she repeats again and again.

“I planned both murders, thinking them all out thoroughly in advance. Now that I have admitted everything, I am willing to meet whatever fate awaits me.”

~ Hoots at Insanity Plea. ~

Her attorneys are building up an insanity defense. Their alienists have examined Winona.

They report she is suffering from “paresis of the brain in active form.” They explain this makes the victim irresponsible, though there may be no outward appearance of insanity.

But Winona hoots at the idea.

Her husband, LeRoy H. Green, a railroad man, who up until her confession stood jointly accused with her, has turned against her.

He has notified his lawyers to bring divorce action.

~ Husband Pities Her. ~

“No, I don’t hate her,” the husband says. “I pity her.” She is crazy.

“But I am through with her. I don’t see how she ever could have killed my father and my mother. They always were good to us.”

Winona says she does feel sorry for her husband.

J. R. Green, Winona’s father-in-law, a railroad switchman, was shot and killed on the night of Aug. 16 while returning home from work.

~ Quarreled Over Money. ~

Winona, who had just come in from Pueblo, Colo., assisted the widow in the funeral arrangements and in settling up Green’s affairs.

Then she and the elder Mrs. Green left for Oklahoma. En route the mother-in-law was slain.

Winona and her husband were arrested here. After hours of questioning Winona broke down. The murder charge against her husband was dismissed.

Mrs. Green contends her mother-in-law owed her money. She decided first to murder the father-in-law, believing his wife would pay her back once he was gone.

Then after quarreling with the widow, Winona shot her, too.

[“Girl Who Killed Two Thinks Her Sex Will Save Her From Death,” syndicated (NEA), Nov. 1, 1924, p. 1]


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FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 14): Like some terrible tale by Poe or a blood-drenched page from medieval history, the case of lovely little Mrs. Winona Green, self-confessed double murderess, has fascinated almost every alienist in America.

Why did Mrs. Green, formerly a calm, angelic-faced choir-girl, lie in wait for her father-in-law and fire upon him, leaving him to writhe out his life upon the ground?

Why did she simulate grief-stricken surprise when told by her mother-in-law of the strange tragedy, only to kill the elder woman herself, later, with supreme cunning?

Was it some hidden impulse of revenge, jealousy, cupidity or irrational fury which prompted her to turn assassin twice, or did the slight strain of savage, outlaw, Indian blood in her veins, curiously pulsating up into frenzy, actuate her admitted and dreadful deeds?

One of the weirdest commentaries on young Mrs. Green’s own attitude, toward herself is found in her poise, which is tinged with sheer indifference. Although facing trial on the charge of first degree murder of the wealthy Little Rock, Ark., property owner and his wife, their daughter-in-law seems chiefly concerned with the ravages that cell life may inflict upon her striking prettiness.


She summed up this astonishing feeling in the crisp words, “I wonder when I’ll see the inside of a beauty parlor again. Perhaps never. Thank goodness, my hair is naturally curly. That helps some. No, I never bobbed it. I was afraid it wouldn’t by my style. And Roy was so fond of my long curls?”

The “Roy” in question is Mrs. Green’s young and respected husband, Le Roy Green, who has been on the brink of a brain collapse ever since the chameleon-like Winona showed her true colors after the two slayings.

It was solely to exonerate him, Mrs. Green asserted, that she made a clean breast of the crimes of which she was accused. For Roy had been arrested and, tormented with the thought that harm might come to him, his wife, with cool candor, preferred to submit to her ordeal rather than chance one for him.

Psychologists agree that never in their experience of emotional “throwbacks” to primitive instincts has so amazing a “complex” been brought to light. As to Mrs. Green’s status, there is a variety of opinions. Some, including her heart-broken husband, attribute to her “brain waves.”

It will be on this plea that his own attorney (Green is still loyal to her) will attempt to save her. But others think differently of the matter. The police advance the theory that she is “stone-cold sane.” She admits that, although when a child she used to dash dishes on tile floor in fits of temper, she is perfectly normal.

But there remain still other theories which might account for Mrs. Green’s almost insoluble character. She does not deny that her racial background includes a dash of Indian – a tribe that many years ago was abused, hounded and annoyed. Can it be that this trace of the naturally rebellious outlaw motivated her violence against persons for whom she had conceived a grievance? Only a trained expert, after minute scrutiny of the evidence, can say.

The details of the two deaths almost surpass any novel of mystery and horror ever written. Here, in brief, is what occurred, according to the “chameleon choir-girl’s” first confession:

She lent Mrs. Lena Green, one of the victims, $4,000 at Christmas 1923, and on several occasions asked her to return the loan. The elder woman put her off. Meanwhile Winona and her husband had left Little Rock, for Pueblo, Col., where he got a job as a switchman.

The young wife later went back to Little Rock, after telling LeRoy that she was going to Kansas City for a brief visit. Arrived at her real destination, she picked her way to a short cut to his home, which J. R. Green, her father-in-law, was in the habit of taking.

Very soon he appeared and was accosted by the girl, who demanded $1,000, after explaining that his wife owed her a larger sum. Green refused to accede, with the curt remark, “I don’t believe a word of it,” and, turning on his heel, was about to walk away when a bullet struck him in the side. He fell to the ground.

Several other shots were fired into his head. The pistol was hidden in a nearby sewer, where it was found subsequently, by detectives. The magazine was empty, with one shell in the chamber.

The confession states that Little Mrs. Green returned to the railroad station and waited until the Sunshine Special pulled in. Next she telephoned her mother-in-law and announced that she had just arrived.


Incoherent with sorrow, Mrs. Green stammered out the news of her husband’s death. Mrs. Winona Green hastened to the home, where she tried to “console” the grieving woman.

Two days later Le Roy Green arrived post-haste and, with his wife, attended the funeral. From that time to the day of his mother’s disappearance the couple made their home with the widow.

Certain highlights of what ensued, as revealed in the confession, make unparalleled reading. Winona claims that she and Lena Green one day visited a bank, where each cashed draughts. She claims that her “in-law” had bought two railroad tickets to Kansas City and that she persuaded Winona to accompany her on the trip.

Once aboard the train, Lena Green changed her plans and woke the girl near Claremore, Okla., telling her to dress and get off at that town with her. after a plate of waffles, the two left for Tulsa. Arriving there, Lena raised the issue of the $4,000, complaining because she was so often reminded of it.

Becoming frightened, Winona managed to secretly buy a pawnshop pistol and cartridges. The women then rented a small motor car and started for a country ride. “Mother” Green wanted to shoot her son’s wife a house she owned. Out of Tulsa, through Red Fork and onto a dim mountain road, the pair shot in the hired auto.

The pivotal figure at this juncture of events proved to be Major James Pitcock, head of the Little Rock detective force. It was he who wrung the extraordinary confession from Winona Green and he who had found Lena Green’s body propped up against a stone in the wooded tract where she had been slain.

An ominously circling buzzard led the searching party to the spot – in itself an incident which no drama can match for suspense and utter horror. Identification, at that time, proved to be impossible.

But with the arrest of Winona Green and her admission of the two slayings, a flood of light was cast on the situation. What might have constituted merely a technical, legal puzzle was turned into a psychological one of the most intense difficulty.

The beautiful girl, with the faint tinge of outlaw blood and the unshaken mask of composure on her face, has proved an enigma which it will take a great mind to solve.

Cheerful, animated, yet with a paradoxical dignity, she has laughed and chatted with reporters through the bars of her cell. For more worried over her looks than her soul, she vows she is “ready for any punishment.”

With a visage as bright as that of a child, the pretty Winona consented to be interviewed shortly after her incarceration. Her voice was cool and flute-like; her bearing that of a young matron “receiving” at an afternoon tea.

“No, I have no actual regrets over the killing of ‘Mother Green,” she said. “I consider it self-defense, no matter what others may think of it. I do feel quite sorry, however, that I was goaded into taking Dad’s life. Was I crazy at the time? I guess I must have been. Otherwise I don’t think I’d have done it.

“But, then, I have a terrible temper. No, indeed, I am not troubled with bad dreams or nightmares, which are just exaggerated versions of bad dreams. I sleep as soundly as could be every night, and my appetite? It is just splendid!

“The food here is fine, contrasted with what ‘Mother’ Green used to give us, I assure you. One reason why I hated her so was because she was so stingy. She would walk two miles to save one cent on a pound of sugar. She saved and pinched whenever possible.

“Then she hated me on account of Roy. He was her only child, and she was jealous of his love for me.”

“But,” she adds with a winning smile, “please don’t look at my fingernails. They must be a sight, it’s so long since I had a manicure.” The lock of one who has been deprived of beauty parlors comes wistfully into her eyes, and while the alienists shake their heads, their “subject” thinks only of the refreshing joys of a shampoo, leaving “the dead past to bury its dead.”

[“‘Outlaw Blood Made This Choir-Girl A Demon! - Alienists See in Her Self- Confessed Slaying of Two Relatives a ‘Throwback’ to Weird ‘ Indian Tribal Vengeance,” syndicated, Springfield Republican (Mo.), Dec. 28, 1924, p. ?]

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FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 14): Little Rock, Ark ., Jan 19. – Mrs. Winona Green, convicted here today of the murder of her father-in-law, J. R. Green will be the first woman in the history of the state to face electrocution if a recommendation for mercy accompanying verdict is not heeded.

[“Woman Sentenced To Be Electrocuted,” The Bee (Danville, Va.), Jan. 20, 1925, p. 11]

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FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 14): Little Rock, Ark., Jan. 28. – Mrs. Winona Green today was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of J. R. Green, her father-in-law, after Judge Wade had overruled a motion for new trial filed in her behalf. The defense was granted sixty days in which to file its transcript of appeal to the state supreme court.

[“Woman Gets Life Term, Killed Father-In-Law.” The Chillicothe Constitution (Mo.), Jan. 28, 1925, p. 3]

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FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 14): Memphis, Tenn., April 13. – Mrs. Winona Green, under life sentence for the killing of her husband’s parents, who escaped from the county jail at Little Rock, Ark., Saturday night, was captured Sunday walking along the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks near the Union station here.

Little Rock officers arrived late Sunday and started back to the Arkansas capital by automobile with their prisoner. Confirmation of the report of Mrs. Green’s capture here was withheld until the arrival of the Arkansas officers.

Mrs. Green’s re-arrest was due to over-cautiousness on her part. She alighted from a Missouri Pacific train in the Union station here Sunday morning, but fearing that she would be arrested if she went out through the main entrance of the station she strolled back into the yards.

Patrolman N. A. English saw her and approached to ask her why she was walking on the tracks. Believing he knew who she was, the woman disclosed her identity to him.

Mrs. Green, who confessed the slaying of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Green, her husband’s parents, and who pleaded insanity, sawed through three iron shutters at the county jail in Little Rock Saturday night and dropped twenty feet to the ground.

She declared that she rode  in a taxicab from Little Rock to Kensett, Ark., and later boarded a train for Memphis.

[“Woman Slayer Is Recaptured – Mrs. Winona Green Taken  After Prison Escape – Killed Two.” Syndicated (AP), The Lincoln Star (Ne.), Apr. 13, 1925, p. 3]

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1926 – FULL TEXT (Article 7 of 14): Little Rock, June 16. – Beyond discovery of footprints indicating someone had passed through a field near the prison, no trace had been found today of Mrs. Winona Green, convicted murderess, and two companions who escaped from the State farm near Norman at Jacksonville, Ark., last night.

Mrs. Green was serving a life term for the murder of her father-in-law, J. R. Green, here in 1924. On her return to Little Rock she also told of murdering her mother-in-law near Picher, Ok., and the body of the elder Mrs. Green was found in a wooded section according to directions given by her. She was sentenced to life imprisonment on the first charge.

She escaped from the Puluski county jail early in 1925 but was recaptured in Memphis. She was then transferred to the State farm in Jacksonville.

[“Arkansas Woman Convicted Murder Escapes From Farm – Convicted of Murdering Father-in-Law; Confesses Another Murder,” Corsicana Daily Sun (Tx.), Jun. 16, 1926, p. 1; “pessed” in orig. corr. To “passed”]

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1931 – FULL TEXT (Article 8 of 14): Little Rock – Because of objections of the board of trustees to her admission to the Booneville Tuberculosis sanitorium. Winona Green, under life sentence for the murder of her father-in-law and charged with the murder of her mother-in-law, who was given an indefinite furlough by Governor Parnell, recently, has entered a sanitorium in California it was learned Thursday.

The Booneville institution board, it was reported, objected to admitting prison inmates.

She was convicted in Pulaski county eight years ago.

[“Winona Green is Sent to California – Convicted Woman Slayer Is Given Furlough By Governor.” Hope Star (Ar.), Jun. 25, 1931, p. 1]

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1935 – FULL TEXT (Article 9 of 14): Acting Governor Lee Cazort revoked Tuesday an indefinite furlough granted about five hours ago to Mrs. H. F. Jones, the former Winona Green, and ordered her returned to prison where she faces a life sentence for the 1925 slaying of Robert Green, her father-in-law.

Cazort’s action followed her arrest here Monday night for investigation in connection with an alleged attempt to cash a forged check.

[“Winona Green Is Returned to Pen – Murder Furlough Revoked Following Her Arrest for Forged Check,” Hope Star (Ar.), Nov. 19, 1935, p. 1]

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1940 – FULL TEXT (Article 10 of 14):  Little Rock, Ark., April 8. – Governor Bailey’s office announced today that Winona Green, under life sentence for murder, had been given a 12-months extension of a furlough granted April 26, 1939.

Last year’s furlough was granted on certification of prison officials that she was ill and required treatment not available in the penitentiary. She was released to go to the home of a sister in Oklahoma.

Mrs. Green was convicted here in the 1924 slaying of her father-in-law, Robert Green.

[“Winona Green Gets Furlough Extension,” Northwest Arkansas Times (Lafayetteville, Ar.), Apr. 8, 1940, p. 4]

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1948 – FULL TEXT (Article 11 of 14): Little Rock, Jan. 13 – One of Arkansas’ most notorious women criminals, Winona Green Sprigg, will be returned to the state women’s prison to complete serving a life term for murder.

Winona has been on continuous furlough since 1939 because of her poor health. State Parole Officer W. P. Ball said she had been ordered back to prison because of her arrest at Muskogee, Okla., on multiple charges of issuing and cashing “fictitious checks.”

As Winona Green, she was sentenced to life in 1925 on conviction of first degree murder in the fatal shooting of her father-in-law, Robert Green, retired North Little Rock railroad employe.

[“Former Winona Green To Return To Prison,” Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville, Ar.), Jan. 13, 1948, p. 1]

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1954 – FULL TEXT (Article 12 of 14): Salinas, Calif., March 15 – Gene Freeman, arrested Saturday on an Oklahoma murder charge, took the stand today as the first defense witness in the murder trial of his wife, accused of killing rancher Harold Jonassen.

Freeman testified he knew nothing about the shooting until he read about it in the paper December 5. Jonassen, a 78-year-old wealthy and retired rancher, was shot November 25.

Mrs. Winnie Ola Freeman, known as the “cat woman” because she kept 25 pets, said Jonassen was shot accidentally while they were rabbit hunting.

The Freemans were accused in Miami, Okla., last Saturday of killing Robert S. Wilkinson in 1946. Police Chief Arch C. Masterson said the accusation was based on circumstantial evidence.

[“Hubby Testifies For ‘Cat Woman,’” The Spokesman-Review (Wa.), Mar. 16, 1954, p. 1]

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FULL TEXT (Article 13 of  14): Salinas, Calif., March 17. – The prosecutor asked the death penalty in the murder trial of Mrs. Willie Ola Freeman, but defense attorneys insisted she shot an elderly rancher accidentally and hid his body only because she feared being sent back to an Arkansas prison.

The case of the 53-year-old so-called “cat woman” – a parolee from a 1925 life murder sentence in Arkansas – was expected to go to the jury of eight women and four men about noon tomorrow.

In closing arguments today, District Attorney Burr Scott termed the shooting of Harold Jonassen, 78, last November 25 “willful, deliberate, premeditated murder.” He asked the death penalty, charging Mrs. Freeman forged checks totaling $734 in Jonassen’s name and “was out to take the old man for all she could get.”

Defense lawyers Burt Talcott and Paul Hamm, however, insisted Mrs. Freeman’s story of shooting Jonassen accidentally while they were target shooting with a .22 rifle was true. The woman, they said, was afraid no one would believe her and in fear of being returned to prison, hid the old man’s body, and told no one.

Jonassen’s body, concealed in a clump of brush, wasn’t found until Mrs. Freeman, who had been picked up on check charges, led officers to the scene nine days after the shooting.

[“Death Is Sought For ‘Cat Woman’ – But Defense Insists She Shot Rancher Accidentally,” syndicated (AP),  March 18, 1954, p. 18]

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FULL TEXT (Article 14 of 14): Mrs. Winnie Ola Freeman, the 53-year-old “cat woman” who lived in a shack with 25 cats, was sentenced Tuesday to life imprisonment for her second slaying.

Mrs. Freeman, on parole from Arkansas for killing her father-in-law, was convicted last week of killing Harold Jonassen, 78.

[“’Cat Woman’ Gets Life in Prison,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Ut.), Mar. 24, 1954, p. 8A]

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Details:

Oct. 21, 1900 – born; Winona Green was born Winnie Ola Spriggs in Blue Mountain, Ark.
Aug. 17, 1924 –  J. R. Green – father-in-law, shot to death, Little Rock, Arkansas.
1924 – Mrs. Lena Green, mother-in-law, shot to death near Fisher, Ok.
1924 – "plotted" to murder husband, Leroy P. Green.
Oct. 1924 – arrested, Pueblo, Colorado.
Dec.? 1924 – confessed to two murders.
Jan. 19, 1925 – convicted of murdering father-in-law.
Jan. 27, 1925 – sentenced to life in prison for murder of father-in-law; Little Rock, Ark. (reported as “28” elsewhere).
Apr. 12, 1925 – escape, recaptured next day [previous escape alluded to in one newspaper]
Jun. 15, 1926 – escapes from “farm.”
Jun. 25, 1931 – Ark. Gov. furlough in California sanitarium; she soon went back to the penitentiary for check forgery.
Nov. 18, 1935 – arrested for check forgery.
Aug. 27, 1946 – Robert Sheldon Wilkinson, 33, Grand Lake, near Miami, Oklahoma, dies.
Jan. 1948 – furlough rescinded after arrest for forged checks in Muskogee, Ok.; returned to prison.
Nov. 25, 1953 – Harold Jonassen, 78, California, murdered.
Mar. 1954 – convicted of murder of Jonassen.
Oct. 30, 1974 – Winnie Ola Freeman, dies; the Arkansas Gazette reported that Winnie had passed away in a nursing home.

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Other sources:

[Janie Jones, “Murder Mystery: If Justice is a Lady,” AY (About You) Magazine, Mar. 2012]

See Chapter 7, “The Cat Woman Strikes Again” in Lisa Eisemann, Murder, Salinas Style: Book One; True Stories of Murderers and their Crimes, Trafford Publishing (December 1, 2006)

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1 comment:

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