The last time she saw William Stout, the man missing, he was mending fences here at his Axtel Ridge place, Inez Palmer told the sheriff. She’d heard her boyfriend’s father had headed out west, and was acting strangely before he left Vinton County.
Maude “Sheriff Maude” Collins and her deputy Ray Cox followed the trail of patched fences. Two and a half miles from the house they found a lunch pail under a tree. The pail contained a handwritten will, in which William Stout cut off his other two sons, Noah and Burn, and named Palmer’s boyfriend Arthur as the sole heir. The document was not signed by any witnesses.
Sheriff Maude examined the footprints leading to and from the dinner bucket. She returned to William Stout’s farmhouse and retrieved a pair of his shoes. The shoes fit exactly to the footprints, but Sheriff Maude noticed that the footprints were not as deep in the soil as those of Deputy Cox, a man about the same stature as Stout.
The sheriff dropped the Stout shoes to the ground and slipped them on. She walked up and down beside the original set of footprints. Her own fresh footprints were about the same depth. Sheriff Maude concluded that a person much closer to her weight made the prints, not William Stout.
The two law officers proceeded to the missing man’s home and examined the contents of the house. It was obvious that William Stout never took any of his belongings. They went back into McArthur and presented the will to the cashier at Vinton County National Bank, where Mr. Stout maintained his account. Sheriff Maude compared the handwriting of the will to that of his canceled checks. No match.
Sheriff Maude and Deputy Cox returned to Axtel Ridge the next morning to search the Stout’s farm for any trace of William Stout’s body. Once there, they conversed with the missing man’s two young grandsons.
Arthur’s sons Artie and William innocently provided the missing clue that solved the case. In the course of questioning, they informed the two law officers that Inez Palmer had told them the water behind the Stout house was not fit for consumption and they’d best just stay clear of the well.
Sheriff Maude and deputy Cox promptly arrested Inez Palmer, who’d been living at the house, as a suspect, so they could search the premises without interference.
Sure enough, they discovered William Stout’s body in the well behind the house. Stout had suffered severe head trauma caused by a blunt instrument.
Why was Inez Palmer staying at the house? And where was Arthur, the boyfriend, during all this? Did William have a wife at the farm? There’s more, far more, to this Ohio murder story. Stay tuned!
Part two tomorrow…
Sources: Athens [OH] Messenger, 11/18/26, 11/19/26, 3/14/27, 3/18/27, 5/1/27 issues
Profiles of Ohio Women, 1803-2003, by Jacqueline Jones Royster, Ohio University Press, 2003
Vinton County, Oh, by Family Heritage (Firm), Turner Publishing Company, 1996