Family of five brutally murdered in Clark County in 1877

Courtesy: Ragan Clark County History

Area true-crime fans need to look no further than their own backyards when it comes to discovering unsolved murders.

A family of five was brutally murdered in Clark County, Missouri in 1877.

More than 134 years later, the crime has never been solved.

KHQA's Rajah Maples visited Clark County where she learned that long before there was Lizzy Borden, "In Cold Blood" and O.J. Simpson, there was the Spencer family murders.

Forty-seven year-old Lewis Spencer and his four children, two girls and two boys, were brutally murdered with an ax in August 1877. Spencer's brother-in-law found the grisly killings on the morning of August 3rd.

Clark County historian Joanne Ragan said, "He came upon the house, which was open and he walked in and found two of them dead inside the home, so he got to thinking about it a little bit and went upstairs in the loft of the home and found another daughter dead. He got to thinking it was August, so he decided he would go out to the barn, and that's where Mr. Spencer and the son usually rested in the evening, because it was cooler in August time. He took two steps up the ladder to the loft and found Mr. Spencer and his other son."

Ragan said, "He was the tax collector for the Folker Township here in Clark County and most generally, he had around $800 to $1000 in his possession in the home. It was for the use of their schools, and it was the taxes paid to him. So he kind of had to protect that but yet knowingly, it's like someone wins a lottery."

That money was stolen and never found. Two men were put on trial for the murders but were acquitted. Another man, who was from Keokuk, was hanged by a mob for the killings, even though it was never proved that he did it.

Ragan said, "There were about a half dozen who was very suspiciously looked at. You didn't have DNA and all that stuff back then."

Mr. Spencer was a deacon at the Bethlehem Baptist Church near Luray, Missouri, which is where he and his family were laid to rest. His wife and two children proceeded them in death and are buried alongside the victims.

KHQA asked Ragan if she thought this murder would've been solved if it would've happened today.

Ragan answered, "Yes, definitely."

The murders sparked widespread media coverage in its day, including an article in the New York Times. Click here to read that article.