Judicial history exhibit at Supreme Court focuses on notorious figures in Missouri history

7 May 2002

Judicial history exhibit at Supreme Court focuses on notorious figures in Missouri history

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Visitors to the Supreme Court of Missouri can learn about some of the state's most notorious figures through an exhibit on display through June 1. The six panels are part of "The Verdict of History" exhibit and are on loan to the Court from the Missouri State Archives.

Part of the exhibit is devoted to State v. Frank James, the last case brought against Frank James. Following the Civil War, Frank and Jesse James took up the lost Southern cause by robbing banks and shooting people. For 16 years, they evaded the law, but after Jesse James was killed in his home in St. Joseph, Frank James surrendered to Gov. Thomas Crittendon. Frank was tried in 1883 in Daviess County for murder and in Jackson County for train robbery, and his only plea was to the sympathy of the juries by recalling the Civil War in Missouri and the lost Southern cause. He was acquitted of both charges.

"To some, the James brothers were Robin Hoods who sought to avenge the South's defeat," Supreme Court Archivist Joe Benson said. "Others viewed them as bloodthirsty hooligans and law breakers of the Old Wild West. After Frank's acquittal of murder and train robbery, he hung up his guns and tried to live a peaceful life, although his notoriety followed him until he died of a stroke in 1915."

Another part of the exhibit explains the downfall of "Boss" Tom Pendergast, who controlled Kansas City and Missouri politics for more than three decades. In the 1930s, Pendergast helped devise a plan that gave him handsome illegal kickbacks while helping the insurance companies fight the state's reduction of fire insurance rates. In 1939, he was convicted of tax evasion, sentenced to prison, and fined $10,000. Seven years later, in State ex inf. Taylor v. American Insurance Company, the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled that Pendergast, the supervisor of insurance and 122 fire insurance companies had conspired to raise insurance rates illegally. The Court fined the insurance companies between $10,000 and $132,000 each. This marked the end of Pendergast's reign of power.

The exhibit also focuses on the state's most famous slander case and the loyalty oath imposed on Missourians after the Civil War. To schedule a guided tour of the exhibit and the 95-year-old Supreme Court Building, visitors should call 573-751-4144. More than 19,000 visitors toured the Court during the last year.