There is something about a bad boy and Grace Stillwell was truly drawn to one, 41 year old William Sutherlin was the one she was to marry at the age of 19 There was a 22 year age gap between them.
Grace was born to Daniel and Mary Stillwell, 3 September 1884 in White County Indiana. She was one of six children. Her father Daniel was a hard working man which you can see in the census records. One year working at a saw mill and then other years as a teamster.
By the time Sutherlin was released into the world from prison the Stillwell family was living in Warsaw, Kosciusko Co. Indiana, William’s old stomping grounds. So a starry eyed young teenage girl met a dark bad man. I bet the parents were so proud of their child.
William was forever more known as “the man that buried his partner under a skinned mule”. It was that way for the rest of his life and Grace just married into that on 4 March 1904 in Warsaw Indiana. Not long after that they moved down to Cass County Indiana to start a family and farm life, probably hoping to start over, free from the skinned mule and murder.
Even though they had tried to create a new family life, five months later, 11 August, 1904, William (probably drunk at the time) heard his ex-wife Edith was in Warsaw visiting with her father Lewis Ralston. William armed himself with a pistol and expressed to a friend he was going to “Kill her if she didn’t return his property”.
When he arrived at the Warsaw home Bill did not find Edith there. The police were called and disarmed Sutherlin before any harm was done. The officer ordered Sutherlin to leave Warsaw, which he quickly did. At the end of the article there was again mention of the murder and the skinned mule.
Their first child, Hazel, was born in 1907 followed by Willis in 1908. Both were born in Adamsboro, Cass county Indiana but soon after Willis was born they moved to nearby White county, Indiana. I can only wonder if they were told to leave.
Then came 18 November 1909 where he lay dying in a St. Joseph county hospital of a stab wound to the intestines after a drunken fight with Charles Caley. All of which occurred in a local wagon yard in White County Indiana.
Sutherlin demanded to know what Caley had said to his wife, Edith, and shortly the fight commenced. Bill grabbed Caley by the throat with both hands and they both fell over the tongue of a buggy as Caley was striking Sutherlin about the head so Sutherlin would release him. Two men there at the yards pulled Caley away and forced him into the office of the feed yards.
According to the witnesses Sutherlin then got up and walked to the office, taking a knife from his coat, telling Caley to come out of the office so Bill could cut him to ribbons. He walked back into the back of the barn where he was arrested and found to be suffering from a wound to the stomach then taken to St. Joseph Hospital. They never figured out how he was stabbed or what it was that was used since Caley did not have a knife.
At the hospital he fought even further before allowing the doctor chloroform him for surgery. The doctor said to him “Now Bill take good deep breaths and you will soon be on the road to Wellville”. Sutherlin survived the operation and returned home a few weeks later.
What started the argument? It seems that the Sutherlins and Caley family had an ongoing for quite awhile. One rumor Grace may have help spread was a daughter of Caley buried a baby in Calley’s orchard. Soon after a rotting smell hung over the area. After digging up a spot in the orchard they found a rotting corpse of a skinned horse, no one beneath this time.
After returning home Sutherlin was arrested and tried for the fight. During the trial in early 1910 the prosecutor mentioned a shooting of William Crooks in Adamsboro Indiana. If this did happen there doesn’t seem to have need a death or anything serious since there is no mention of it in any newspapers and he wasn’t returnd to his prison cell.
It was about this time that their third child Willard was born in 1910 then Bertha in 1912, both probably in Cass County. The last child born to Wlliam and Edith would be stillborn in Plymouth, Marshall county Indiana in 23 March 1920. This is the same year Grace became mentally unbalanced for the remainder of her marriage to her husband Bill.
I know nothing about the early years of their marriage but you can see by the photo above it looks difficult. After the actions of Bill’s violence towards in White and Cass county they were probably escorted to the county line and promptly shoved to the other side.
In the 1920 census he was a “general teamer” meaning he owned a team of horses and a wagon and hauled things when he could get a job. The children were constantly truant from school and after awhile the law just ignored them. What could they do?
March 10, 1920 “Willard Sutherlin was sent to the Indiana Reformatory for not less than one nor more than five due to the sale of some articles belonging to Wayne Booker, a second hand store in Plymouth owned by Thomas Moslander”. A couple years later Willard was released to his grandparents, Dan and Mary Stillwell and was attending school.
Then Oct. of 1920 took two of her children, and with another mother of six, without informing their husbands, ran away from husbands and homes to Grace’s father’s home in Warsaw, Indiana. That night the father of the six children asked the police to locate his family. They were found and sent home like any dutiful wife.
Willis got in trouble with the law in November of 1920 for grand larceny and he was sent to Indiana Boy’s School and would be in and out of the Indiana boy’s School for about six years on and of. Occasionally being allowed to return home for a few days. The description of little Willis is sad. He had accident at some time and his foot was crippled. He was “fair mentally”.
“The parents own their own home and have money in the bank. They are industrious and uneducated. They are careless in the care and training of their children. They seem to be very attached to them however”.
It was about this time on 25 November of 1920 Grace Sutherlin was taken to jail “to be cared for during a temporary fit of insanity”. Bill was away and the newspaper stated she was staying with her son at his house. I think the “son” may be Bill’s eldest son, Joseph Earl, by Julie Ann Nine Sutherlin since all other children were too young to have his their own homes.
During this moment of insanity the family called Dr. Conroy Elvey to see what should be done for her. Mrs. Sutherlin had a butcher knife and tried to stab Dr. Eley in the back, so it is reported, but did not succeed in her attempt. The family not wishing to have her at their home over night called the sheriff, who took her to the jail and cared for her during the night. the next morning her husband took her from the jail to her home. He says she is subject to these temporary fits of insanity, but they are not serious”. This is the only time I see she is having her “temporary fits”. Bill’s love of his wife is shown in this small action.
Oct. 19, 1922 Grace filed for divorce from Bill. For some strange reason he was telling his wife they were not married and he was still married to Edith. Grace stated that Bill was always intoxicated and would curse at her and it had come unbearable for her. At this time both of their sons were still away from home.
Strangely on that same day of October 19, 1922 William L Sutherlin wrote his son Willis in the Boy’s School.
Wilis I want to know how your foot is is it so you can come home and go to school if so i want you home, tha (they) dont nead keap you down thair to screan (?) old Stevens (school super) for he has got his foot in it hear now let me no at wonce Il (I’ll) tend to the rest if you (?) home at wonce from your papa Wm L Sutherlin
The above letter is a bit difficult to understand but when you do read it you can hear how Sutherlin spoke. Also it is confusing whey Grace filed for divorce (which never went through) on the same day.
In July of 1924 a letter of the Boys’ School to Talitha Gerlach, the Social Service Department head from the Superintendent about Willis who was at home at that time. Ms Garlach had requested that Willis be returned to the school so he could be taken to the hospital for his damaged foot and observation. The man sent “ran into a veritable tigress in the person of this boy’s mother”.
The man went to the sheriff for help in “taking possession of the boy. When he returned with the officer the boy and his mother had disappeared. The attitude of this family is deplorable.” Grace was a protective mother as you could see.
In January of 1925 a letter between J.M. Stelle and Frank S. Johnston (possible officials of Plymouth and the Boys school?) about the Sutherlin home. It seems Willis is back home for a bit. He is living at home with his parents but the home “invironmant is bad. His attendance at school is very poor. His attendance at school is very poor but for some cause the authorities do not do anything. Guess they have become disgusted with the whole bunch. He does nothing so very bad himself and I think the fault can be laid to his parents”
TO BE CONTINUED…..