TEXT: There may have been more wicked families in Sodom and Gomorrah of old
than the Shaffleback family of Galena, Kan., three of whose members have
recently been found guilty of murder; but it may be doubted if a more loathsome
set of people ever before existed on this continent, either in a state of
civilization or savagery, than the moral monsters, the Stafflebacks, who have
trafficked in every crime and vice from thievery to butchery, and two of whom,
at least, will spend the remainder of their lives in prison. George and Ed
Staffleback have been found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced
to the penitentiary for life, while the mother, hoary in crime as in years –
she is now 65 – has been found guilty of murder in the second degree and will
no doubt end her years in prison, having received a twenty-five-year sentence.
Staffleback has led a most remarkable career of crime and has trained her progeny
to follow in her footsteps. Of her thirteen children not one has led an upright
life, and not one has a trait of character to redeem, even in part, the general
coarseness and criminality of their natures. She was born in Allegan County,
New York. Her maiden name was Chase and her early years were spent in
Wisconsin. Through her mother she inherited a strain of Wyandotte Indian blood,
and perhaps this may have had something to do with the natural of her
character. When a young girl she met a Swiss, Michael Shaffleback, in Dubuque,
Iowa. After some changes they moved to Lawrence County, Missouri, where they
settled on a farm. Here they quarreled. The husband was charged by his wife and
some of his children with unmentionable crimes, and the husband accused the
wife of crimes equally revolting to both moral and natural laws. The result was
that the husband left the neighborhood and has not since been heard from. The
airing of their family differences in court had the effect of making Lawrence
County too hot for Nancy and her brood, and they moved to a place known as
Swindle Hill, in the town of Joplin, Jasper County. It was a fit abode for such
congregated the degraded of both sexes, women who had forgotten the meaning of
decency and men who were practiced in every crime. A man’s life was not safe in
the place after dark and policemen never ventured into it singly. Here the
Stafflebacks lived several years, the sons practicing thievery and other
crimes, for which some of them received sentences In jail, and the girls
consorting with the degraded of both sexes.
committed one murder, at least, here, but the story of this will come later.
Ultimately the vile den of the Stafflebacks was raided and two of the sons were
sent to the penitentiary.
a Hotbed of Crime. ~
years ago the family moved to “Picker’s Point,” an unsavory place on the
outskirts of Galena. They took up their abode in a long desert shanty, within a
few rods of which were a number of deserted shafts, where some time or other
men had prospected for lead or zinc. The place is a hotbed of crime. Scattered
around are miserable hovels, the homes of depraved women and men. Here vice
reaches a depth that decency dare not attempt to describe. Rough miners, many
of them foreigners, frequent the hovels and gamble and drink and swear. Ribald
revelry is often interrupted by a fight that ends in murder. Then the shafts,
the silent, yawning pits of the ground, are charged with another victim, which
they receive into their dark depths never to yield again. If these shafts were
to-day made to give up their ghastly tenants fully fifty undiscovered murders
would be revealed.
such congenial surroundings the Staffleback family resumed their career of
crime. At this time the family consisted of Mother Nance, Ed. George, Mike,
Cora, Louisa and Emma. All these were children of the old woman except Cora,
who was married to George.
latter and Ed had a short time before been released from the penitentiary and
had joined the family at Picker’s Point.”
now another man, Charles Wilson, who passed as a husband of Nancy, drifted into
the gang. Two girls, Rosa Bayne and Anna McComb, also took up their abode with
the Staffleback family. In their different ways these people led their criminal
lives, with Mother Nance acting as the evil genius of the gang. Time and again
the den in which they lived was raided and one or more was arrested for some
petty offense. But the gang took this as a matter of course.
June, however, occurred an event that brought the Stafflebacks to grief. This
was the murder of a miner, Frank Galbraith. He had gone to the Staffleback
house on invitation from Emma, but the old woman had refused him admittance. He
returned and then a row began. This is the story of it as given by Anna McComb,
who witnessed the affair:
heard the row begin and stepped outside and around the corner of the log hut.
The old woman grabbed her corn knife and ran Galbraith out of the house. Then
Wilson and Ed got their guns and began shooting at Galbraith, who started to
run down the road. Wilson fired first, but missed. Then Ed fired, and I could
tell that he hit him, for Frank put his hand to his hip and fell. But he got
right up again and ran on. He couldn’t run very fast, and Ed ran alongside of
him, put his gun to his head and fired. Frank threw his hand up to his head and
fell by the side of the road. Ed took the knife the old woman and started to
finish Frank by cutting his throat. All this time me and Cora had been running
along after them. I grabbed Ed by the arm and begged him not to do it. “Let me
alone, or I’ll slit your throat,” he said. Then he turned and cut Galbraith’s
throat. The blood spurted out. The old
woman took the knife and wiped it on her apron.
felt sick and me and Cora lay down in the weeds so that we could see them and
they couldn’t see us. They thought we had gone to the house. I was afraid to
look until Cora whispered “They’re pulling his clothes off.” Then I looked. I
saw Ed take him by the shoulders, and George took one leg and Wilson the other.
They carried him to the old shaft and threw him in.
month later the body of Galbraith was seen floating at the bottom of the shaft,
and an investigation into the crime was Ed, George and Staffleback were arrested,
tried and convicted of the murder, and an effort was made to apprehend Wilson,
who was also implicated in the killing. Wilson, however, had fled and the
authorities are now searching for him.
arrest of the Stafflebacks led to other horrible disclosures. Released from the
fear in which they had of the Stafflebacks, Cora Staffleback (George’s wife)
and Rosa Bayne tell stories of murders committed by this family. Two years ago
two girls took up their abode in the Staffleback house. One night in a fit of
passion Mike Staffleback beat one of them into insensibility and finally death,
and lest the other girl should tell of the affair she was beaten to death by Ed
Staffleback. The brothers then wrapped the bodies in sheets and threw them down
an abandoned shaft.
short time afterward the brothers, Mike, Ed and George, attacked and killed a
peddler who was stopping over night at the house divided his money.
murder of which member of the Staffleback family are guilty was that of an old
soldier named Rodabaugh. Ed, Mike and a man named Billy Martin, a brother of
Mike’s wife made away with him while the Stafflebacks were living in Joplin. He
was killed for $35 in pension money which he was known to have on his person.
murder the Stafflebacks are believed to have committed while In Joplin is that
of a man named Moorhouse. Moorhouse mysteriously disappeared while there, and
from conversations held between the Stafflebacks. Cora Staffleback is of the
opinion that the man was murdered.
Staffleback is now serving a term in the penitentiary. When he is free he will
be arrested for some of the murders in which he took part.
Their Trade. - From Petty Thievery To Horrible Murders. - The Infamous
Staffleback Family Ran the Gamut - Two of Them Are Under a Life Sentence, While
the Mother Is Given Twenty Years. - Moral Monsters.” The Argus (Holbrook, Az.),
Nov. 13, 1897, p. 2]
FULL TEXT: Galena (Kan.), September 27. – The names of Nancy
Staffleback and her sons and daughters will be long remembered in the annals of
crime. She is sixty-six years of age, and is now under sentence of twenty-one
years’ imprisonment in the State penitentiary of Kansas for complicity in many
murders committed by her sons. She weeps hypocritically over her position,
protests she is a good Christian, and professes that she will feel acutely the
shame and sorrow when her sons, who committed these murders, shall be hanged.
Mother Nance’s whole life has been one of crime. She has
Indian blood in her veins, and it is claimed it is this dash, of red blood,
which makes her so cruel and so cold-blooded. She married a native of
Switzerland, but the married life was a series of broils, and after fearful
charges on each side and countercharges the ill-assorted pair were divorced.
When the father left, Mother Nance and her brood of six,
three boys and three girls, gave themselves up to a life of uncontrolled vice.
There was no sin which they did not commit, and they reveled in an atmosphere
of the grossest sensuality. Their conduct was so notorious that no one would
have anything to do with them; so they sought new fields. Mother Nance and her
criminal children moved into Jasper County, Missouri, and settled in a place
called Joplin. Their home was an old board shanty situated in the lowest part
of the town. It is a mining district, and the girls had to earn the family
food. The miners frequented the house
and it is well known that at least two murders were here committed by the
Two of the boys were finally arrested and sent to the
penitentiary, for a short term. The police raided the shanty, and much stolen
property was recovered. Mother Nance did not wait to receive further attentions
from the hands of the police, but slipped off quietly to Galena.
Here began an unparalleled course of crime. This miserable
woman made her home in a wretched hovel at Picker’s point. It Is in the center
of a mining district. The place is perfectly barren, Nothing, saves it from the
chill blasts of winter, nor from the sun’s fierce rays in summer. The house is
on the top of a hill, and so vile are the people which gather around it that no
policeman ever ventures there singly.
Mother Nance was soon joined by her two boys, who had served
out their terms. The police frequently raided her den and arrested its inmates
on some charge of petty crime. But these were trifling occurrences. Mother
Nance was used to arrest.
This vile brood now received an addition in the person of
Charles Wilson, who passed as the husband of Mother Nance, and on whose trail
are the officers of the law for the murder of Frank Galbraith, a miner, killed
on Saturday, June 19, 1897.
The men are paid in the Galena mines on Saturday and Emma,
one of the daughters, sent to Frank Galbraith a note telling him to come and
see her. Galbraith went about 10 p. m., and was much under the influence of
liquor, Mother Nance opened the door, and was told by Galbraith he wanted to
see Emma. She refused him admittance. Galbraith appeared again about 2 a. m.
and asked for Emma, saying she had sent for him, and he seemed determined to
get inside the room.
Mother Nance again refused Galbraith admittance, and to
enforce her commands snatched up her corn knife and ran Galbraith out of the house.
Then Wilson and Ed got their guns and began shooting at Galbraith, who was
trying to get away. Wilson fired first, but missed. The next shot was from Edward’s
gun and hit Galbraith on the hip, for he fell, but rose and still fled. The
brutal Edward caught up with his victim and, putting his gun to Galbraith’s
head, shot him. The poor-fellow fell dead by the roadside, and Edward, not
content with shooting, took his mother’s knife and cut the dead man’s throat.
He handed the knife back to his mother, who calmly wiped off the blood on her
The murder was seen by a woman called Anna McComb and Cora
Staffleback, the wife of George. It was on the testimony of these two women
that the Stafflebacks were convicted. According to the women’s story they each
caught Ed’s arm and begged him not to kill Galbraith, but his reply was: “Let
me alone or I’ll slit your throats.”
Anna McComb, in speaking of this awful tragedy, said:
“When I saw Ed murder poor Frank grew sick and faint all
over, and when he spoke to us so roughly I and Cora went and hid among the weeds.
They thought we had gone to the house. I was afraid even to look up; but did so
when Cora said to me:
“They are pulling his clothes off I saw Ed take him by the shoulders,
while George took one leg and Wilson the other. They carried him to the old
shaft and threw him in. I heard the splash of the water.
When, asked why she had not informed the police she replied,
she did not dare to do so through fear of the Stafflebacks, who would have
killed her. Ed was a tamale man, and after the murder he came into the house,
asked for clean clothes, and, producing some tamales, he, with Rosie, Emma,
Louisa and the old woman, gathered around the table and ate.
A month later a stranger passing along the Point looked down
the shaft and, seeing the body of Galbraith, notified the police. By some tax
receipts the body was identified as being that of Frank Galbraith. By working
with the utmost secrecy the officers were enabled in ten days to secure enough evidence
to convict the Stafflebacks. At 10 o’clock at night the old woman, Ed and
George were arrested. They all protested innocence, and found in jail their brother
Mike, who was under sentence for burglary. The slip in the execution was the
arrest of Charles Wilson. Wilson was trying to defraud a farmer in a hay deal
and the farmer, finding there was no chance to get his money, had applied for a
warrant. This had come to Wilson’s ears and he disappeared.
The day after her mother’s death Louisa Staffleback died in
the house known as the Staffleback house. Her mother said the cause of her
death was tuberculosis, but it is well known this was not the cause. This has
left two of the Staffleback to go to jail for life and two to the gallows. They
were brought to trial shortly after their arrest and pleaded poverty and the
Judge appointed lawyers to defend them.
The old woman denied all knowledge of the crime, wept and
declared she was a good Christian. The men were, however, badly frightened and
several, times contradicted themselves. The jury was out a short while and
returned the verdict of murder in the first degree for George and murder in the
second degree for Mrs. Staffleback. Ed Staffleback was tried separately and the
Jury also returned a verdict of murder in the first degree.
Realizing that there was no hope from the State, Cora Staffleback
determined to give complete evidence against her mother and brothers. She was
aided by a woman called Bayne, who was much with these women. Cora told of
three murders to which she was an eye-witness and another about which her
circumstantial knowledge was convincing. Her grewsome tale has won for her much
notoriety and she, Anna McComb and Rosa Bayne rented a shanty together to meet
Cora is nineteen years old. She has a turned-up nose, large
gray eyes and regular teeth, much stained from her habit jot chewing tobacco. Her
only weaknesses, she says, are tobacco and whisky. Since twelve years of age
she has led a disreputable life, but1 that in her eyes seems but natural. When
asked about the various crimes she was not loth to speak, but’ conversation could
only be procured by liberal allowances of whisky and tobacco. She commenced her
story of these crimes, by telling of the murder of two girls.
“Mike and Ed,” she said. “found two girls living in a tent
over to the north of our town. I can’t remember their names. One, however, was
called Alice. We also had another girl staying with us whose name was Lily
Langston. On the night of the murder some men came in and we were talking with
them. When Mike and Ed came in they started to create a row, and the men left. Alice
was lying on the bed. Mike told her to get up, but as she did not move fast
enough to please him, he beat her about the head with the butt of his pistol.
The other girl commenced to scream and Mike told Ed to choke her, so that there
should be no row. Ed choked her to death. They then wrapped the girls in sheets
and carried them outside. Mike laid down the one he was carrying and helped Ed
to throw the body down the shaft. Both were thus thrown in. Next day Ed told
his mother the bodies had better be fished out, as they might be seen. My
brother George and I watched this performance and I was particularly warned not
to say anything about it.
“A little while after this a peddler came to the shanty. He
bad a pack with him, and came to see Trixie, a girl who was living with us. He
gave the girl some pieces of Jewelry, and while opening his pocket-book my
brother noticed that he had some money.
“’You have a heap of money,’ said Mike.
“’Oh, about $15,’ replied the man.
“We all slept in one room, and as we went to bed we saw the
peddler put his pocket-book and coat under his head. Mike kept watching me to
see if I was awake, so I pretended sleep. Mike tried to pull the coat from
under the man’s head, but he jumped up and drew a pistol. Mike knocked it from him,
and the peddler ran out of the house. Mike, Ed and George gave chase. There was
a shot and then my brothers came back, stood around the table and divided the
“There was another murder I won’t forget,” said Cora, which
took place at Joplin. Old Dad Rodabaugh used to visit mother,’ and one day he
told her he had $35. She tried to get lit from him, but he was too cunning.
Mike and Ed and Billy, that was the brother of Mike’s wife, followed old Dad
when he left the house, and next morning they divided $31.50 between them. I
pretended to be asleep when they got back; but I heard Mike tell Billy that
they would kill him if he poached.
“Mother asked Mike, “Have you seen Dad?”
“‘No,’ was the answer, “I’ll not see him unless I look down
Rosie Bayne tells of a one-eyed soldier who came to see Wilson
and who had considerable money. Ed invited him to go strawberry picking, and he
was never heard of afterward. Mother Nance confessed to the tact that he had
been killed at Sarcoxie.
Mother Nance is the only interesting personage in this family.
She is crafty and keen. She simulates a kind, soft voice, and pretends to be
very religious. It was with great difficulty she could be persuaded to have her
picture taken, but when in the gallery she grew very particular, insisted upon
the pose, and saw that her dress was properly placed.
When asked how she felt over the position of her boys who
would die on the scaffold and she go to jail tor the rest of her life, she
“If it is God’s will I am resigned,” and the tears began to
trickle down her cheeks. “I have always been a Christian, and thank God I have
been true to my raising. I used to teach Sunday-school in the Spring River
church. If the boys have turned out badly it is against my teaching. If they
have done wrong let them suffer for their crimes, but before God I am innocent of
course if they are hanged I will be sorry for them but I will pray for the
salvation of their souls. God’s will be done.” And Mrs. Staffleback wiped away
tears of motherly grief.
On the way from the photographer’s she purchased soma tins,
for the purpose, she said, of crimping her hair, but the Jailer, took them from
her with the remark:
“They will make excellent saws,” and the vicious gleam in
Mother Nance’s eyes showed that she too had appreciated the use to which they
could be put.
Mike alone of the brothers seems to be possessed of bis
mother’s courage. The other brothers, George and Ed, have been goaded into
crime. The whole family was completely under the dominating influence of the
mother. It may be said justly that it is owing to her teachings and her orders
that these boys will have to suffer the penalty of death; and these crimes have
not brought them $100 all told.
[“Mother Nance and Her Murderous Brood: Bad As the Bender
Family,” San Francisco Examiner, Weekly Humorist Section, Oct. 3, 1897, p. 7]
girlfriend, about 18-years-old, living with the family
girl, about 18-years-old, living with the family
Rodabaugh, retired soldier
FULL TEXT: Mrs. Nancy Wilson, known as Mrs. Staffleback, and
one of the famous female prisoners of the Kansas penitentiary, died of
pneumonia at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon. She was taken ill with pneumonia
Monday morning and she was in such condition yesterday morning that the prison
physician declared that she would not last throughout the day. Mrs. Staffleback
was 79 years old and was in feeble health the last two years.
The death of Mrs. Staffleback was intensely pathetic and
caused much commotion in the female ward of the penitentiary. It is seldom that
a woman dies in the female ward and when it was announced this morning that she
could not live, the other thirty-three female prisoners acted as though they
were about to sustain the Ioss of a near relative. The younger women had kindly
waited on her of late, years and they were attached to her.
Mrs. Staffleback recognized this morning, that her condition
was serious and she asked that her son, George Staffleback, serving a life
sentence, and Charles Wilson, her second husband, serving a twenty-Jive year
term, be brought to her. The son was overcome when he noticed his mother's
critical condition and he asked if arrangements could be made so that she might
die outside the penitentiary. Mrs. Staffleback begged that something be done so
that she could die outside for the sake of her children. The officers told them
that they had no power to do anything and the doctor advised them that it would
not be safe to move her, but told the two men they could remain in the cell at
her bedside until she died.
Chaplain McBrain spent the last hours with her. She told the
chaplain an hour before her death that the state had punished an innocent
woman, and her last words before dropping into unconsciousness was that she had
never murdered or aided in killing anyone.
Mrs. Staffleback has a daughter living at Joplin, Mo., who
was notified Tuesday morning that her mother was sinking and to come on if she
"wanted to see her alive. The daughter telephoned back that she could not
come and asked that messages of love be delivered to her mother. When the
messages from the daughter were told her Mrs. Staffleback brightened up and
expressed a wish that she could die outside with her.
When she died the son, George, was beside himself with
grief. The officers will keep a watch on him to see that he does not attempt to
The body of Mrs. Staffleback will be turned over to
relatives for burial if they want it. The body will be sent to Joplin, where it
will be taken in charge by Mrs. Mary Kenyon, Mrs. Staffleback's daughter.
Mrs. Staffleback was brought to the Kansas penitentiary in
May, 1897, when she was 67 years old. She was under a sentence of twenty-one
years for conviction for an accessory to murder. Two of her sons were brought
in at the same time under sentence of life, and a third son, under a sentence
of seven years. Charles Wilson, the second husband, was brought in under a
sentence of twenty-five years.
Wilson was only married to Mrs. Staffleback three months
before the conviction and he frequently appeared before the parole board and
stated that he was innocent and was convicted on prejudice because he was Mrs.
Staffleback's husband. The old man was before the February, meeting of the
prison board and told a pitiful story of how he was y traveling through Kansas
when he stopped at the Staffleback's and married the. old lady after a brief
courtship, and that he did nothing wrong. First and second degree murder prisoners
are not eligible for parole and the board could do nothing for him.
One of Mrs. Staffleback's sons, serving a life sentence,
died four years ago. The one brought in under a seven-year sentence was
released six years ago, and it is said that he is now serving another
penitentiary term at Jefferson City, Mo. LJeorge Staffleback is now the only
one left in this penitentiary. The Stafflebacks lived near Galena, Kan., and
kept hotel, or rather a boarding house. It was reported that they murdered
travelers and when an-investigation was made the bodies of several people were
found in an old abandoned well. The Stafflebacks had a criminal reputation
second only to that of the Bender family and were accused of operating much on
the same line. When the bodies were found on the Staffleback premises there was
talk of mobbing the whole family. This was prevented and r they were brought to
trial and convicted.
Mrs. Staffleback was a woman of strong will power. She had a
penetrating eye and was not a person to be trifled with. Her sons -possessed
physi cal courage, which they inherited from her. The sons were always kept
under close watch by the prison officials.
[“Mrs. Staffleback Dies In Prison – The Mistress of the
Famous Murder Farm At Galena Succumbs To Pneumonia – In Agony At Her Disgrace –
Her Husband And Son, Both In Convict Garb, At Bedside When Death Came – She Was
Convicted of a Series of Murders Reminiscent of the Benders and Mrs. Gunness –
Abandoned Well Was Full of Corpses.” The Leavenworth Times (Ks.), Mar 11, 1909,
3 Serial Killer Clans in 19th
For similar cases,
see Murder-Coaching Moms