Tuesday, July 26, 2016

-Forgive Us-

"Forgive us." Two simple words so easily said, but often so hard to give. As I pondered Tucker's final request, I wondered how quickly those who loved Tucker were able to forgive and move on? Could Nena's parents ever forgive them for the pain they had brought them and could Nena's children ever forgive Tucker for the mother that he took from them?

Although I began with the ending as I shared this story (see part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE), my initial discovery of Tucker and Nena Frances' tragic deaths actually started with the discovery of their death certificates. I knew that some of my Gurganus folks had gone to Texas, so one day I went through the Texas Death Certificates, looking for members of my Gurganus family. I was excited to see that there were several Gurganus folks listed.

First, I came across Nena Frances Gurganus' death certificate.

Nena Frances Mitchell, Tucker Royal Gurganus, Weatherford Texas, genealogy, family history, ancestry, death

When I read "Gun shot wounds," I literally felt my stomach drop.  I also noticed that the informant was her sister from Oklahoma, although her parents were both living close by. Initially confused, I wondered if maybe there had been some sort of a hunting accident? But then I came to the next death certificate, which just happened to be her husband's.

Husband and wife had died on the exact same day, one of a gunshot wound and the other by suicide. Although I had no additional details at this point, I certainly had my suspicions. Hoping that I could learn more, I turned to newspapers.

The details of the story were consistently reported in various papers. As I shared in the previous post, the camp operator found the couple lying on the bed and both had been shot to death.

San Antonio Light,  4 Oct 1937
Although most articles reported essentially the same details, several  newspapers offered a few additional facts, helping me understand some of the preceding events.
Fort Worth, Oct 4, (AP) --The bodies of a man and woman, found shot to death in Weatherford, Texas, tourist cabin, today had been identified as Mr. and Mrs. T. R. Gurganus, missing since the husband was released here on $2,500 bond September 18. 
Gurganus was released by Justice of the Peace Marvin Beaty after making bond after filing of a fugitive warrant. He was wanted in Lake Charles, La. on forgery charges."  

An article in The Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, Texas, published on 5 October 1937 provided the following information:

Weatherford, Tex.--Coroner W. R. Hawkins Monday returned a verdict of murder and suicide in the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. T. R. Gurganus found shot Sunday in a tourist camp here. 
Gurganus was under a charge of forgery at Lake Charles, La., and faced trial under the habitual criminal act. The couple, which had been at the camp since last Thursday had been previously residing in Fort Worth. The bodies were buried at Athens, Tex., Monday where relatives of Gurganus live. 

While some descendants indicate that family lore says Tucker went to the tourist camp alone and that Nena went to visit him, most newspapers imply that the couple had gone there together.

What happened between Thursday when they arrived at the camp and Sunday when Tucker shot Nena and then took his own life? Had ending their lives been part of the original plan when they checked into the camp or did something happen between Thursday and Sunday that fueled the desperation?

There was one additional haunting detail reported in many of the newspaper accounts. A note written in pencil was left in on the table beside the couple. It said simply:
"Forgive us. Bury us together." 
Were these really the final words expressed by both Tucker and Nena? Do they reflect remorse for their final act or remorse for their previous choices that led them to that point? Or are they the words of a desperate husband, unable to face his future as a  "habitual criminal," or even possibly the words of a husband unwilling to allow his wife to leave him?

We will never know what was in their minds and hearts in those final minutes, but we do know their request was delivered to heavy hearts. Whether they were forgiven by those who loved them or not, the request was honored and they were both buried in Bethel Cemetery in Parker County, Texas.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved

Friday, July 22, 2016

Foto Friday--Gene Barr

Although this picture is not a mystery, I still wanted to share it because it is a picture of one of my favorite people in the whole world. Gene Barr. He had a special ability to make others feel good and loved.

One of the first things I did every summer after we arrived at Grandma Ganus' house in Sanford, Colorado was to run down the road to Barr's grocery store to let Gene Barr know that we had arrived. In my mind, he was just as eager for us to get there as we were and I just had to let him know that we had arrived. Oh how I loved him!

He never disappointed and always acted like he was just thrilled to see me and had been eagerly waiting for me to get there. Then he would always tell me to grab myself a bottle of pop. It was a small ole timey country store and it had a small cooler by the counter that held bottles of pop. I would open up the top of the cooler, reach down inside and pick out my favorite......Nehi Grape. I would pop off the lid on the side of the cooler and drink in the cold grape deliciousness. I was in Colorado and among those I loved so dearly. Life was good.

Gene Barr, Sanford, Colorado, summer vacation, genealogy, ancestry, familly

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Serving Time

Huntsville State Prison
By Nick DiFonzo from Houston, Texas (Texas death house)
 [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Those who knew Nena and Tucker knew there had been trouble brewing for some time. But even in such cases, murder and suicide is seldom the expected outcome.(See part one of this story here.)  As I began to research the couple, I realized that both had had difficult lives long before meeting each other.

Interestingly enough, Tucker Royal Gurganus was not the first ex-con who had caught Nena's eye. Her first husband, Emmett Pettiette had also been in and out of prison. The Texas Convict and Conduct Registers for the years 1875-1945 show that Emmett spent time in the Texas prisons Huntsville, Ramsey and Imperial in 1925 for forgery, but the records also indicate that he received a full pardon from the Governor by telegram the following year. But soon he was back at it and on January 27, 1933, The Tyler Journal newspaper identified Emmett Pettiette the "ex-con" as an accomplice in the robbery of the First State Bank of Eustace.

Life had been a bumpy road for Tucker from the time he was little. When he was three years old, his father, James Taylor Gurganus died. His mother Malinda (Thacker) Gurganus, then had her hands full caring for the children still at home. She also did what she could to keep their small farm running in order to feed and clothe the family. But twelve years later, when Tucker was 15, his mother died and he and his brother Lloyd were left to find their own way. Sometime after Nena and Emmett divorced, Tucker married Nena. Unfortunately, life didn't get any easier for either of them.

By the time Tucker was 25, he had spent time in the Texas criminal system. Like Emmett Pettiette, Tucker too served in Ramsey in 1926 and I wondered if the two men knew each other. However, Tucker's record on the Texas Convict and Conduct register is considerably more extensive and reveals a man who refused to conform and who fought against authority.

In 1926 he escaped from Ramsey and was recaptured the same day. A few days later Tucker once again escaped.The records are somewhat confusing at this point but mention that in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary he had also escaped and was gone for over a year before he was caught and taken to the Huntsville Prison.

In April of 1929, he escaped from solitary confinement in Ferguson State Farm but was recaptured a day later. He then spent 238 hours in solitary confinement for fighting. A month later he was once again sent to solitary. His time was split between Ramsey, Huntsville, and Ferguson before he was finally discharged in 1931.

The prison records offer a physical description of Tucker. He had brown eyes and brown hair and stood at five foot eight 1/2 inches. According to the record, despite being orphaned, he somehow managed to complete high school. As I scrolled through the record, his education made him stand out among many of the other prison inmates, many of whom were considerably less educated. The record indicated that he had been able to work as a bookkeeper for a time. (1)

Truly this paints the picture of a man who was not afraid to take chances and who was willing to risk it all in an attempt to regain his freedom. What happens when such a man feels trapped and without options? Newspaper reports following his suicide provided more details of the events in the days leading up to his and Nena's deaths and I will share those in the upcoming post.

(1) Ancestry.com; Texas, Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945 for T. R. Gurgonus, Convict Ledgers, Huntsville, B-52021-057100.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2016, All rights reserved