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Minnie Wallace: Murder, Money, and Mystery

Minnie Williams stands accusing of killing two husbands and possibly a guy who was in something like “the friend zone.” But did she really?

At 16, Minnie left New Orleans to marry 49 year old J.R. Walkup, the mayor of Emporia, Kansas. A month after the wedding, he was dead of arsenic poisoning. Minnie had purchased arsenic and strychnine at local drug stores, saying the arsenic was for her complexion. While this sounds a LOT like a murder story, and she was quickly indicted, it came out during the trial that Walkup was addicted to arsenic pills – smaller doses that wouldn’t get him sick, but that would, he believed, give him sexual vitality and protect him from STDS. Doctors testified that they’d told him to stop; Minnie testified that he’d sent her to buy it and instructed her to say it was for her skin. After a long and sensational trial, she was acquitted.

An Emporia newspaper on the day that witnesses testified as to Walkup’s love of brothels and arsenic.

Though it’s common to just assume everyone accused of murder was guilty, the case for Minnie’s innocence was pretty clear. She inherited his money, and a few years later moved to Chicago, living for a time at the Grand Pacific Hotel, and then in a couple of houses on Indiana Avenue (both of which are now gone).

In 1897, she was accused of murdering Jack Ketcham, her second husband. They had been married in secret after he finalized his divorce against Nettie Poe (a second cousin of Edgar A.). When he died a month later, his family was shocked when Minnie (who had gone back to calling herself Minnie Wallace) appeared with a marriage certificate.

There were theories that the wedding was fake, and, again, traces of poison in the body. But the coroner ruled that the death was due to alcoholism – which had been a big topic in his divorce proceedings. Minnie was not indicted, and claimed the inheritance.

Her lawyer later sued her for non-payment of some funds, and stories he later told make her sound more guilty to me here – she was very eager to find out how much Ketcham was worth after the wedding, and to make sure that he updated his will.

A decade later, a third would-be suitor, De Lancey Louderback, gave her a lot of money (three million by one account) and built her a large house, said to be rigged up with ways for him to keep tabs on her. She never moved in; around the time she was supposed to, she sent him a message saying she’d moved to England and gotten married to someone else. Louderback died of cyanide poisoning a month later – Minnie had been written into his will to get a fourth of the estate.

Her husband died in World War I, and after that Minnie vanishes from the record. A few sources say that she died under the name Estelle Minnie Keating in San Diego in 1957, and is buried in an unmarked grave there.

Thanks to Kyle Northrop, who happened to be in Toledo the day I talked about wishing I could go see the grave of her second husband, who was buried in the family plot there!

The Ketcham Family Plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo

“Jack” Ketcham’s marker. Minnie wanted to bury him at Forest Home in suburban Chicago, but the family (who were none too happy about him giving her all his money) prevailed on her to let them bury him in his family plot.

Ketcham’s first wife, Nettie Poe, is also at Woodlawn.