Monday, September 13, 2010

Press Release: Velma Patterson – Mommie Dearest or Mother Superior? (or murder?). Here is an article that I am particularly proud of. So I decided to share it with you. It was published in The East Texan last semester (Spring 2010). The title of this piece is what I originally suggested, but the editor changed it to something more simple. I obtained all of these sources when I was conducting research to find information about paranormal activity on the Texas A&M University - Commerce campus and the surrounding area. That is a whole different story in itself...Ha!

Velma Patterson – Mommie Dearest or Mother Superior?
By: Chance A. Crane

In 1936, Velma Patterson brought a national scandal to Commerce, Texas when she faced trial for the suspicious deaths of her two young daughters.

Patterson, age 34 at the time, was accused of murder when both of her daughters from another marriage, Billie Fae and Dorothy Leon McCasland, ages 11 and 12 respectively, had enough traces of arsenic in their bodies to kill an adult.

“Billie was the first one to die,” Texas A&M University - Commerce Archivist Dr. James Conrad said. “No one suspected anything out of the usual because she had supposedly been suffering from the intestinal flu. It wasn’t until Dorothy died forty days later that the sheriff became suspicious.”

In order to find out if the two girls deaths involved more than just the flu, their bodies were dug up from their graves. They were then sent to Dr. Landon C. Moore of Dallas for inspection. Later that week, Moore reported to the Hunt County grand jury that he found poison in both of their internal organs.

“Velma was then arrested,” Conrad said. “Her trial took place in Greenville with twelve farmers serving on the jury.”

Patterson had been in trouble once before for bootlegging and had quite a reputation. In Conrad’s book “Blacklands: Historical Sketches of Hunt County, Texas,” he describes that Patterson was known to frequent a bar known for its “shady pleasures.” She, having previously been married three times, now had a romantic interest in a “cowboy Romeo.”

“Many people suspected that Velma poisoned her two daughters so she could marry her cattleman lover from Lone Oak,” Conrad said.

An article from The Spartanburg Herald-Journal from South Carolina provided court testimony from Alice Cooper, Patterson’s former maid, that revealed that Patterson was seeing another man.

According to Cooper, Patterson was “deeply in love” with the cattleman and wanted to marry him “if it wasn’t for the children.” Cooper claimed that Patterson warned her after Dorothy’s death to “keep your little mouth shut about me buying the poison.” Cooper also said that Patterson told the druggist that she wanted the poison “to kill rats.”

A total of 200 witnesses were called to the stand to testify for or against Patterson. One of those testifying against her was ex-husband W.W. (Dester) McCasland. He and Patterson both gave medicine to their child Dorothy, but McCasland knew that something was wrong.

According to information gathered by The Dallas Morning News:

“[Dorothy] begged not to be given any more of her mother’s ‘rest medicine,’” McCasland said. “Dorothy begged for a doctor and I asked Mrs. Patterson if we had better call one, but she said ‘no—wait until morning.’”

McCasland remembers the last few words his daughter said to him before her death.

“I know I am going to die and I don’t care,” she had said. “Little Billie Fae is gone.”

After their second daughter’s death, McCasland testified that Patterson would ask him to take her to the cemetery.

“She would walk up to the grave and say: ‘Well, they haven’t dug her up yet,’” he said. “She would ask if I thingh [sic] she would collect the insurance. She said she was broke.”

However, other reports indicated that McCasland had spoken with L.W. Williams, Patterson’s father, and confessed that he had been the one that bought the rat poison and believed his ex-wife was not guilty. As the trial continued, Patterson never went to the stand to testify for herself and the death penalty was being sought by the State.

But in the end, the District Court jury acquitted an emotional Patterson. She was so joyful that she gave a shout and “she ran to the jury box and shook hands with the jurors.”

Her acquittal still did not exonerate Patterson in the public’s eye.

“Everyone thought Velma was guilty,” Conrad said.

Patterson denied in court that she had anything to do with her children’s deaths.

“I loved my babies,” she said. “Why should I kill them? I sent them to Sunday school, gave one of them music lessons and the other expression instruction. Now they say I killed them. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”

1 comment:

  1. FYI. There's a new historical novel based on this case, "A Listing Wind" by Susan A. Hyde (my mother).