“Frances will know what to do”
Bennett Clarke Hyde was born in 1872 in Cowper, Missouri, the son of a Baptist minister. He graduated in medicine at Kansas City, Missouri. and opened a practice there. In 1905 Hyde was appointed surgeon to the Kansas City Police Department but was sacked two years later for supposedly maltreating a patient. The same year he married Frances Swope in a secret ceremony on 21 June. She had a very rich uncle Colonel Thomas Hunton Swope, a childless bachelor who doted on his many nieces and nephews, some of whom lived with him in his mansion.
In September 1909 the colonel fell ill and Hyde arrived to take care of him. On 2 October he prescribed a pill for the old man who was by then 80 years old. The next day he died of “apoplexy”, according to Hyde. A nurse who normally looked after Colonel Swope was suspicious but Hyde insisted on moving into Colonel Swope’s mansion. Several family members also became sick and one, Chrisman Swope, died. Nine further people were treated by Hyde and died of typhoid fever. To cope with the sickness there were five nurses working in the mansion and they were afraid that Hyde’s plan was to kill all the Swopes and keep the family money for himself.
They reported Hyde to the police who authorized autopsies on Colonel and Chrisman Swope. When both were found to have died of strychnine and cyanide poisoning, Hyde was taken into custody. On 15 February 1910 he was charged with murder. Mrs Hyde believed in her husband and used her own money to hire the best lawyers money could buy. His trial opened at Kansas City on 16 April 1910 before Judge Ralph S. Latshaw. The evidence against Hyde appeared compelling and convincing and on 16 May 1910 he was found guilty of murder. Two months later, on 5 July, Judge Latshaw passed a life sentence. But Hyde was undeterred. He said, “This case is not closed. My wife Frances will not forsake me. Yes, Frances will know what to do.”
Mrs Hyde hired new lawyers to fight her husband’s side and on 11 April 1911 the Supreme Court of Missouri overturned the conviction. A second attempt at justice ended in a mistrial when a juror fell ill. A third trial also ended without a verdict. In January 1917 the state attempted for a fourth time to successfully prosecute Hyde for murder. The case was dismissed when his lawyers pointed out that no one could be tried more than three times for the same offence under Missouri law.
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Sunday 3 October 1909
Hyde never practised medicine again. He lived off his wife’s money.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Although publicly she supported her husband, in 1927 Frances left Hyde after she fell ill and he offered to care for her.