A murder of a Black Man! The Murder of a White Doctor & Conway County, Arkansas' first hanging of a White Man.
|Alexander Brinkley - Innocently Hanged|
Editor's Note: The following is reprinted from the March 1 edition of "ArkaTech", the student newspaper at Arkansas Tech at Russellville. By: Sandy Jones
Around 1896 Marshell Baker, a black, moved to Center Ridge, Arkansas, from Chicago. With money he had from a life insurance policy, he bought a house and some land and opened a saloon. The townspeople at that time didn't like a Negro owning land in their community, so two of the citizens decided to do something to remedy the situation. Alex Brinkley and Dr. Gilbert C. Chamness shot him one night, put his body in the house, and set the house on fire. His charred body was found the next day. One leg was missing where a dog had ripped it off to gnaw on.
No one explored the murder in any detail, it was leftunsolved.
On June 1, 1897, Sam Kennimer and Alex Brinkley were indicted for grand larceny for stealing 100 pounds of meat valued at$12 from Will Gooden.
They were each sentenced to five months in the county jail and fined $100.
Mary Chamness, Dr. Chamness' wife, was afraid of her husband and Dr. Virgil Cross needed money.
Together they hatched a plot to kill Dr. Chamness. Both would benefit from his death.
On a sultry June 16, 1897, Mrs. Chamness and Dr. Cross placed a saturated cloth of ether over the sleeping face of Dr. Chamness. After making sure the doctor was completely out, they placed the body in a rocking chair on the front porch. When this was accomplished, Dr.Cross backed away to a hidden location, took aim, and shot Dr. Chamnessin the head.
The next day, June 17, an article of the murder appeared in the Arkansas Gazette that "Dr. Gilbert Chamness had been most foully murdered by unknown parties. The doctor was sleeping on the front porch when the cowardly villain slipped up within gunshot distance and sent a Winchester ball crashing through his head, killing him instantly. The ball went in the top part of his head and ranged downward, making a ghastly wound from which the brains oozed out.
Officers went out from here at once on receipt of the news and will use their best efforts to capture the murderers".
That day Alex Brinkley was arrested for the murder of Dr. Chamness.
Several stories were circulated as to the motive. Some said it was over another woman. Others said Brinkley and Chamness were quarreling over the splitting of Marshell Baker's money. When he was arrested, Brinkley's personal possessions on him included a gold pocket watch the initials M. B. on the back. A picture of Marshell Baker and his wife was on the inside. Brinkley was indicted by the grand jury, of which Mrs. Chamness and Sam Kinnimer were members, for murder in the first degree,
Oct. 12, 1897. He was tried March 14, 1898. Dr. Cross testified that earlier on the day of the murder he had heard Brinkley say, "I'm gonna get me a fat man tonight" On March 17 a motion was made for a new trial. He was sentenced in May to hang in July.
When asked if he wanted to say something before being hanged, he asked to
speak to the young folks. "I did enough to be hung for, but I didn't kill Dr. Chamness". He denied the murder even from the scaffold.
The legend of Alex Brinkley, my great great grandfather has existed in the back of my head for some time. Before researching the story, all I knew was that he was hanged for a murder he didn't commit. Fortunately, my mother knew of an elderly woman who had grown up at Center Ridge and might know something about the story. Mrs. Minnie Harwood knew a lot about the story. Her father was a deputy sheriff during that time. She was 13 when the murder took place and remembers it vividly.
Mrs. Fannie Lockhart, a friend of Mrs. Harwood's knew quite a bit about the story, also. Brinkley's body was brought to her house after the hanging because her father was a close friend of Brinkley's. Both women said that no one believed that Brinkley was guilty. The town was surprised when he was convicted. Because of a fire at the Morrilton Courthouse, the only records Millard Richardson, Circuit Clerk, could find were the judge's dockets and the indictments.
Richardson, who grew up around Morrilton, had heard part of the story. He was told that someone confessed to the crime just before he died. The Morrilton paper had no records of the murder. The papers dating back that far were destroyed in a flood. I could find nothing else in the Arkansas Gazette than the article already cited.
On November 11, 1898, under "Court Proceedings" in the "Atkins Chronicle", it was stated that "Sam Kennimer accused of killing Dr. G.C. Chamness at Center Ridge, June 17, 1897".
At this writing I have nothing else pertaining to the murder. Every family has their "blacksheep"; I am especially curious about this one. No one will ever know the real story behind the mystery.
NOTES for Gilbert and Mary Jane Chamness Dr. Gilbert G. C.. Chamness is buried in the Center Ridge Cemetery in Center Ridge, Arkansas Conway County. b.7-9-1854 d.6-16-1897. Mary Jane Chamness is also buried there. b.5-21-1856 d. 9-26-1899.
Headstone in Grandview Cemetery reads: Innocently Hanged 1898.