Deaths on Pleasant Street

The mystery surrounding the 1909 deaths of Colonel Thomas Swope, millionaire benefactor of Swope Park, his cousin and young nephew.

Kansas City , Mo. –

Host Steve Kraske talks with Giles Fowler of the University of Iowa about his new book Deaths on Pleasant Street: The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Dr. Hyde.

From the Jackson County Historical Society:

Beloved Colonel Moss Hunton died dramatically on Friday, October 1, 1909, in the Swope Mansion in Independence. The next day, funeral arrangements were made. But why were two coffins ordered from undertaker, R. B. Mitchell? On the following evening of Sunday, October 3, the wealthy businessman and benefactor of Kansas City's Swope Park, Colonel Thomas Swope, died in a similar manner in the same house.

The twist of events that transpired over the next couple of months would add up to what looked suspiciously like murder, and Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde, husband of a potential heir to a massive fortune, was the controversial suspect.

The 1909 murder case surrounding the wealthy Swope family of Independence, Missouri, gripped newspaper readers throughout the nation, much like the O.J. Simpson case pervaded news media in 1994-95. Fowler gathers the facts behind the suspicious fates of three Swope family members: the eccentric Colonel Swope, his affable cousin Moss Hunton, and a young nephew and heir.

The mystery pits the Swope matriarch against her disfavored son-in-law, Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde. Charged with poisoning the Colonel and suspected of multiple other attempted murders, Dr. Hyde endures national media attention for this crime of the century. The series of trials and appeals that followed explores the question: Was he a diabolical villain bent on inheriting Swope's millions or the unfortunate victim of a family grudge?

This account of gothic-era America follows streetcar tracks from the courtrooms of Kansas City to the typhoid-plagued Swope mansion in nearby Independence. Fowler delivers an engaging and accurate retelling of these 100-year-old events in the literary journalism tradition by analyzing court transcripts, newspaper coverage, and personal memoirs.


About the author

Born in Kansas City in 1934, Giles Fowler joined the city's prominent newspaper, the Kansas City Star, following his graduation from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. During his 24 years at the Star, Fowler worked as a reporter, film and theater critic, and editor of the paper's Sunday magazine. He transferred this considerable background in journalism to teaching in 1980 and held positions at Kansas State University and Iowa State University's Greenlee School of Journalism, from which he retired in 2002. Fowler currently resides in Ames, Iowa, and has contributed academic articles to Journalism Educator and Journalism Quarterly as well as short fiction to the Sewanee Review.