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The Adventuress

Murder, Blackmail, and Confidence Games in the Gilded Age

Virginia A. McConnell

Publication Year: 2010

The engaging tale of a nineteenth-century black widow

Intrigue, deception, bribery, poison, murder—all play a central role in the story of Minnie Walkup, a young woman from New Orleans who began her life of crime when she was only sixteen years old.

Born in 1869 to Elizabeth and James Wallace, Minnie was a natural beauty and attended convent school where she learned social graces and how to play the piano. After the divorce of her parents, she was raised in multiple boardinghouses owned by her mother, and at one of them, met her first husband, James Reeves Walkup. At sixteen, she married Walkup, a forty-nine-year-old successful businessman and acting mayor of Emporia, Kansas. One month later, Walkup died from arsenic poisoning and his young wife was accused of murdering him. Her trial became one of the most sensational cases in Kansas history and was covered by reporters across the nation.

The Adventuress details Minnie Walkup’s remarkable life and criminal activities. Using newspaper articles, census and probate records, and descendants’ reports, true crime writer Virginia A. McConnell depicts a captivating story that is full of scandal, gossip, theft, and murder and that includes events taking place across the South and Midwest. McConnell reveals a fascinating cast of characters revolving around Minnie Walkup, including a former Louisiana governor and senator, a prominent Ohio banking family, the partner of a famous railway tycoon, and a sleazy district court judge from New Orleans. The Adventuress offers a Gilded Age soap opera that seems too far-fetched to be what it is—true.

A substantial contribution to crime history, The Adventuress is a welcome addition to any true crime reader’s collection.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Series: True Crime History Series


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. ix-x

Thanks to all those who provided me with information I could not have accessed otherwise: the family members of some of the people involved in this story for information and pictures; Robert Loerzel, author of Alchemy of Bones (on the Luetgert case), for the interview of Dethlef Hansen; and Cook County Archives for the Ketcham and Louderback probate files ...

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pp. xi-xiv

What started out as mild curiosity about a woman put on trial for the murder of her husband, the acting mayor of Emporia, Kansas, soon turned into a four-year obsession as the facts unfolded—the most startling of which was that she was only sixteen at the time. Each aspect of the search, each backgrounding of other characters in the drama revealed new scandals, new layers of venality—on the part not just ...

Dramatis Personae

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pp. xv-xx

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1: A Shootout and a World's Fair

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pp. 3-10

New Orleans may have been a big city in 1884, but people noticed things. They noticed how beautiful Dora Kirby was and they were especially cognizant of her half-sister Minnie Wallace’s breathtaking loveliness. Even at fifteen, young Minnie stood out in a crowd: Taller than most girls at five feet, seven inches, with a husky voice and alabaster skin, she seemed to cast ...

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2. The Visitor from Kansas

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pp. 11-17

At age forty-eight, James Reeves Walkup, a large man with large appetites, had already worn out two wives. He stood six feet, two inches tall, weighed well over two hundred pounds, and was what one might call “rough around the edges.” Walkup ate, drank, smoked, and fornicated to excess, frequently visiting both black and white houses of prostitution and also indulging in ...

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3. The Mayor Takes a Wife

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pp. 21-28

Founded in 1857, the city of Emporia, Kansas, had 12,000 inhabitants in 1885 (today there are 30,000). Located a little over halfway between Wichita and Topeka, and relatively close to Kansas City, it could hardly be considered the Wild West—not like Dodge City or some other Kansas towns. Moreover, it boasted a teachers’ college (today Emporia State University ...

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4. Minnie Goes Downtown

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pp. 29-44

Did Minnie Wallace intend to murder James Walkup when she married him? At her trial, the prosecution would claim that she—in a conspiracy with her mother—had planned to do so from the start, but it is not likely. Why kill the goose that laid the golden egg? In Kansas, the widow’s portion (assuming she could get away with murder) was one-third of her husband’s ...

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5. The Death of a Mayor

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pp. 45-61

Everything might have been up to date in Emporia City in August of 1885, but as far as the rest of the world was concerned, it was the Walkup case that put it on the map. From the very beginning, this case grabbed the nation’s imagination and would not let go. In the state of Kansas, it would remain the number one murder case in its annals until, possibly, the Clutter ...

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6. A Sensation in Emporia

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pp. 62-74

Lyon County authorities were well aware that the Walkup trial would be a big one. Not only would there be newspaper correspondents from all over the country, but the crush of people wanting to attend was liable to be staggering. Sheriff Wilhite’s task was to find room for three hundred seats in the main courtroom area and also to build a witness platform so ...

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7. Defending Minnie Walkup

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pp. 75-88

The first day of the case for the defense saw another attendance figure of seven hundred. One woman fainted. By 1:30 p.m., there was such a crowd in the courtroom, the hallways, and the stairs that the sheriff had to close the doors to the courthouse.1 Defense attorney William Scott’s opening statement lasted an hour and a half. In an age that valued oratory, long speeches were a given, expected ...

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8. Starring Minnie Walkup

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pp. 89-102

As was to be expected, the court was more than filled to its capacity for the anticipated testimony of Minnie and her mother on Thursday, October 29. Spectators had begun showing up as early as 7:00 a.m. for the 9:00 session, and by 8:30 there was no more room—so people lined the hallways and the staircases just to be close to the action and maybe have a remote ...

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9. The Rise and Fall of Minnie Walkup

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pp. 103-115

That Sunday, when a reporter visited Minnie in her cell, she complained of a headache and was miffed that a couple of jurors had fallen asleep every afternoon of the defense’s case. The reporter told her they were probably just closing their eyes because the sun was shining on them, but Minnie said they were snoring.1 The Kansas City Times reported that witness William Anderson ...

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10: Intermission

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pp. 116-124

Minnie’s train had barely arrived in Kansas City when she declared that not only did she intend to get as much of her late husband’s estate as she could, but William Jay was already processing the documents necessary for that. So, even as she was telling Emporians she wouldn’t touch a penny of the Walkup fortune, she was taking steps to make sure she would get it ...

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11. The Levee

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pp. 127-133

By 1893, with her pleasure-seeking lifestyle, Minnie had depleted the estate she received from James Walkup. It was time to find another source of money, and her longtime desire to relocate to Chicago was bolstered by a potentially profitable event: the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. People would be coming from all over to view the architectural wonders ...

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12. The Death of a Club Man

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pp. 134-151

John Berdan Ketcham, born in 1846, was the second of the four children of Valentine Hicks Ketcham and Rachel Berdan, the wealthiest people in Toledo, Ohio. Valentine was the founder and first president of the First National Bank of Toledo, and Rachel’s father had been the first mayor of Toledo. Their three sons eventually became bankers themselves, and their ...

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13. Hansen versus Ketcham

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pp. 152-158

Minnie Wallace Walkup Ketcham and Dethlef Hansen had tried to cheat each other. Now they would see which of them was the more successful scam artist. Their original alliance had come about as a desire to get John Ketcham’s wealth by any means possible.1 Hansen knew Minnie was vulnerable to blackmail because of her past and her somewhat incriminating letters to him and also because ...

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14. Billy, Baby Jo, and the Prince

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pp. 159-177

William Hale Thompson wanted to give a bachelor party for his brother Gale, who was about to get married. Thompson would later be known as “Big Bill,” mayor of Chicago and one of its most corrupt politicians, but in February 1898, he was just the twenty-nine-year-old big brother of the groom. He set up what he thought would be the perfect celebration for ...

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15. The Robber Baron’s Partner

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pp. 181-187

Two interesting news items concerning Minnie Wallace Walkup Ketcham surfaced after John Ketcham’s death. The first was the discovery that a woman who lived in the vicinity of Indiana Avenue was the niece of Minnie’s first husband, James Walkup. Mrs. Titus, the niece, had been fifteen years old at the time of Walkup’s death, but remembered the incident—and ...

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16. Death from Afar

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pp. 188-197

DeLancey Louderback may have left home at an early age, but he kept in close contact with his siblings. When the youngest member of the clan, Sarah Eckert Louderback—eighteen years younger than her half-brother— lost her husband to a stroke, DeLancey had a solution. Sallie (as she was known) had married Chicago attorney Henry App Ritter in 1891, and ...

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17. Where Are They Now?

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pp. 201-216

Elizabeth Wallace had died in Chicago in 1895 while living there with Minnie. Her ex-husband, James, died on Christmas Eve in 1908 at the age of eighty in a New Orleans almshouse. Cause of death was chronic diarrhea and senility.1 Dora’s husband, Edward Findlay, who had been so loyal and dedicated to his sister-in-law, Minnie Walkup, was dead by 1900, as was ...


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pp. 217-233


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pp. 234-235


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pp. 236-243

E-ISBN-13: 9781612775036
E-ISBN-10: 1612775039
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606350348

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: (To view these images, please refer to print version)
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: True Crime History Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women murderers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Walkup, Minnie Wallace, 1869-1957.
  • Murder -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Husbands -- Crimes against.
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