Lost in Despair: The 1935 Ax Murders of Mary and Alonzo Singer

  Charles Clark stood by himself at his daughter’s home in Kokomo, Indiana. There were things that weighed heavily on him, and he had come to a serious conclusion, perhaps the most serious that he would ever come to.

   He looked down at the bottle in his hand, and knew what he had to do. As he prepared himself, his mind wandered, and the events of his life began to play though his brain.  

 —

   Born in Indiana in 1867, Charles had married Clara Belle Crull when he was in his early twenties. For over forty years, they had faced life’s trials together.

   Charles had been a teamster for a good portion of his life, and he may not have been wealthy, but he made ends meet. Their children had been happy and healthy, and they eventually grew up, married, and had families of their own.

   Then, in late 1933, Clara got sick. In her sixties, she had probably been sick plenty of times in her life, but things were different this time. Her illness lingered, and grew worse. She had contracted pneumonia, and on September 30, Clara Belle Clark died.

  Charles had been married for over forty years, and the loss must have been devastating. It hurt, but the living have to keep living, and Charles had. He had even moved away for a little while.

   But now, in early March 1935, Charles had returned to his daughter Mabel’s home in Kokomo.

in_kokomo02
Kokomo, Indiana. Courtesy of epodunk.com.

   When he had arrived, however, he was extremely distraught.  Charles had knelt in front of a photograph of his beloved Clara and prayed. Mabel must have been concerned and asked him why he was so upset, but her father wouldn’t explain any more than something awful had happened.

   Finally, Charles called his family together. He had been living in nearby Rochester, Indiana, and had brought all of his belongings back with him. In Mabel’s home, Charles began to distribute them to his family.

   When he handed his deceased wife’s rings over to his daughters, Charles informed them that he would be with her again soon, and wouldn’t need them anymore. The women probably didn’t like hearing that, but Charles had threatened suicide before. They were apprehensive, but let the comments go. After all, nothing had happened last time he spoke like this.

   Finished with handing out his possessions, Charles stood up and walked into the bathroom.

   —

   In the privacy of the bathroom, Charles knew what he wanted. His decision made, he reached down to open the bottle of carbolic acid that he had brought with him.

   Try as he might however, it would not open. Secreting the bottle again, he walked back out.

   Approaching Mabel, he asked her if she had a pin. She did, and gave one to him. Charles took it and returned to the bathroom.

   With the door firmly shut behind him, Charles once again took out the bottle. With the help of the pin, he was able to open it. He looked at it, and knew that it was time.

    He was ready to die. He knew that he had done wrong, and it was tearing him apart inside. But Charles couldn’t bring himself to tell Mabel and the rest of the family what had happened. He just wanted the pain to end – needed it – to end.  

   With one final act of will, Charles lifted the poison to his lips and began to pour the burning liquid down his throat.

   —

   Mabel and her family were worried. Charles was acting peculiar, and they certainly didn’t like the suicide talk and how he had handed out his belongings. As they sat, they noted that it was taking a while for him come out of the bathroom.

   Their apprehension increased the longer they waited. Finally, they had enough, and went in to check on him.

   There, on the floor, was Charles, dying. Quickly, a doctor was summoned, but it was too late. Charles Clark had finally made good on his threat of suicide.  

    The police arrived later. In Charles’ things, they discovered a postcard that had been sent from Rochester, Indiana. The family told police that Charles had been living there. While no one knew who lived at the address, the police decided to have them notified about Charles’ death.

   Kokomo Police contacted the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department in Rochester and asked if they would drive out to the rural address and make the notifications. They agreed, and a deputy was sent.  

   Located about four miles outside of Rochester, the house was a small, one room building. When the deputy knocked on the only door, no one answered. Assuming that no one was home, they drove to the closest neighbor and told them about Charles Clark’s suicide. They asked the neighbors to tell the residents, a woman named Mary Singer and her son, to call them in Rochester so that they could talk to them.  

   Later in the day, the dutiful neighbors went over to deliver the message. Once again, no one came to the door when they knocked. Walking around the house, they peered into the windows to see if anyone was there.

   Inside, one of them noticed that there were the bodies of two people lying on a bed. The neighbors immediately left and called the sheriff.

   Shortly after, Sheriff Boyd Peterson arrived. He stepped up to the door and broke it down, and wearily he stepped across the threshold.  

   On the bed were two bodies, a man and a woman. Blood covered the wall above the bed, and had splattered the floor covering and furniture. An axe, coated in gore, lay by the side of the bed.

    During the subsequent investigation, the bodies were identified as the farm owner, Mary Singer, and her son, Alonzo. They were dressed in their night clothes and were in an advanced state of rigor mortis, indicating that they had died several days before.

   Investigators determined that Alonzo had been killed while sleeping on his left side when the murderer swung the ax into his head above his right ear, killing him instantly. Mary had been struck several times in the head while sitting near the bed, and had fallen to the floor during the attack.  

   The murderer had then picked up her corpse, placed it into the bed with her son, and then covered both bodies with several comforters in order to conceal the crime.

   The obvious suspect was Charles Clark. Now that he was dead, they couldn’t ask him directly, so they began to question friends, family, and neighbors. Soon, a bizarre story began to emerge.

   Mary Singer was a widow in her late forties. Although she had lived in the area for several years, she had just bought the farm and built the home a few years before her death.  Her son, Alonzo, lived with her.

   Somehow, Mary met Charles and they decided to move in together. Some reports claimed that the two had been married, and some papers even referred to her as “Mrs. Clark.”

   During the investigation, however, officials could find no documentation that the marriage had ever occurred, leading Sheriff Peterson to believe that they never were. Ultimately, whether their arrangement was intimate or platonic mattered little; only that he lived with them in the small home.

   When Clark moved in, he brought a small dog with him. The older man loved the dog, and it was his treasured companion. Two weeks before the murder, Clark’s dog disappeared.

   He was distraught, and diligently searched for the dog. As time passed, he grew increasingly more and more agitated, finally accusing Alonzo of killing it. The two began to argue, growing increasingly intense until Clark ended it by threatening Alonzo.  

   No one was ever sure if Clark actually found the dog’s body, or grew so convinced of Alonzo’s guilt that his sanity snapped out of grief. Either way, the police were confident that Clark was the guilty one.

   After the murder, Clark continued to live in the one-room home for the next few days. Although there had seemingly been some attempt to clean up the room, it was still disheveled and covered in blood, the murdered mother and son never more than a few strides away.

   Eventually, he hitchhiked back to Kokomo, bought a bottle of poison, and then went to his daughter’s home to finish out the last moments of his life.

charles clark grave
The grave of Charles and Clara Clark. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave. 

   After an autopsy was performed, Charles was buried next to his wife, Clara. Although the coroner never listed him as the killer in his official report, law enforcement let it be known that they believed that Clark had murdered Mary and Alonzo Singer. With no other viable suspects and the evidence matching all parts of their hypothesis, the case was closed.

 —

   Grief is a powerful emotion that leaves a hole in the heart.

   While the wound often heals over time, it almost always leaves a scar, remnants of an old wound that still aches when the weather is just right.

   Grief can cripple, making life a struggle to get through from day to day. And sometimes, when stimulated by anger and despair, grief can kill.

 

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Sources

Dies of Pneumonia. The Kokomo Tribune, 10/2/1933

Two Brutal Murders and Suicide Shock Fulton County Area. Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 3/6/1935.

Local Citizen Kills Two and Ends Own Life. The Kokomo Tribune, 3/6/1935

Woman and Son Slain With Ax in Rural Home. Alexandria Times-Tribune, 3/6/1935

Mother and Son Found Murdered Near Rochester. The Richmond Item, 3/6/1935

3 Dead After Spat Over Dog. The Republic. 3/6/1935

Mother, Son Slain With Ax. The Star Press, 3/6/1935

Bodies of Woman Son and Husband. The Daily Reporter, 3/6/1935

3 Bodies in Rochester Mystery. The Times, 3/7/1935

Cebula, Larry. Of Carbolic Acid, Suicide, and Key Words. Northwest History Blog, 7/5/2016

Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1935; Roll: 03

Ancestry.com. Indiana, Marriages, 1810-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

  

  

 

 

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