On November 11, 1926, young neighbor Manville Perry noticed the living room door of William and Sarah Stout’s farmhouse open, and was shocked by the sight he saw. He ran to a nearby coal mine and called for several miners to accompany him back to the farm.
Mrs. Stout’s body lay in front of the living room stove. Her face, neck and portions of her body were burnt and charred beyond recognition. One arm was extended on the floor in front of her and was not burnt, suggesting that she had not tried to extinguish the flames of the fire. All her hair was burned off except where her head came in contact with the floor.
It was obvious to the gathered group that the body had been placed in front of the stove. Local Prosecuting Attorney Blake was called in, and he and Dr. O. S. Cox and Dr. A. E. James studied the scene. Their post mortem concluded that Mrs. Stout died of strangulation, not burns. The body was then covered with kerosene and set fire, they declared.
Sarah Stout was last seen alive in McArthur, two days prior, when she had sworn out a warrant against Arthur Stout, her stepson. The adultery charge cited his illicit relationship with one Inez Palmer, who had been co-habiting with him for three years on his family farm about three miles east of Sarah & William’s farm. It was rumored that Inez and Arthur had had a child since they had been living together.
The young Stout had been bailed out of jail by his father. Mrs. Stout feared that Arthur would kill her on account of her actions, Stout neighbor Mrs. Lucy Gibbs later testified.
Sarah, age 60, and her husband, age 65, were recently wed and were respected, well-to-do farmers in the county. We don’t know Sarah’s exact motive for turning in her stepson, especially if she realized it would be a life-threatening move.
One view is that for her to allow the situation to fester would undoubtedly have tarnished her and her new husband’s reputations and thereby threatened her future security. Another view is that she was a gold digger, looking to eliminate any competition for the old boy’s money. We just don’t know.
William Stout immediately called for the arrest of his son. “I shall demand his punishment,” he said. “It was an awful thing to do, to murder the woman who had raised him even if she was only his step-mother.” Interestingly, before his own death William Stout hired the law firm of Woolley and Rowland to defend his son.
Bloodhounds followed the trail of the murdered woman’s stepson from a wagon he had unhitched in the yard to the room in which Sarah Stout was slain, which in turn led to Arthur Stout’s arrest. In early February 1927 a Grand Jury indicted him for first degree murder.
When Stout was taken to jail, Palmer became a housekeeper for the elder Stout. So apparently William didn’t suspect her of any wrongdoing. Or maybe he did and wanted to keep close tabs on her!
Here’s where the Athens Messenger account becomes confusing: “Coming from Bellaire several years ago, Inez Palmer first took care of Mrs. Arthur [sic] Stout. Mrs. Stout had been ill for some time. There she met Arthur Stout.” So far so good. “Mrs. Stout died and William Stout remarried.” Now wait a minute! We’re not told why the death of his daughter-in-law coincided with William Stout remarrying. But the red flag here is that the elder Stout said he was angered that his son murdered the woman who RAISED him. The newspaper accounts shed no light on this inconsistency.
So to recap, at the time of her own arrest in mid-March 1927, Inez Palmer was in the Stout farmhouse with Artie and William Stout, Arthur Stout’s sons, who’d been living with their grandfather for some time, while Arthur was behind bars.
Inez Palmer didn’t say anything about Sarah Stout’s death when she was first arrested. She did confess that she killed William Stout because he made advances toward her. She explained that she attempted to cover up the crime by putting on a pair of her victim’s shoes and had made footprints near the repaired fences. And yes, she said that she’d forgest the will placed it in the dinner pail under a tree.
When Arthur Stout learned of Palmer’s confession, he confirmed her story, and furthermore declared that she had killed Sarah Stout. Palmer had instructed him to burn the body, he said.
Arthur Stout and Inez Palmer were tried for the murders. On the stand, Arthur Stout, Jr. informed the prosecutor that his father was the person who proposed the idea of murdering Sarah Stout, because she’d had him arrested for living with Inez Palmer without the benefit of marriage.
Arthur Stout was found guilty of second degree murder and Inez Palmer with first degree murder in April of 1927. They both were sentenced to life terms.
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