My last column ended with the promise by Aurora Police Chief Frank Michels that an eyewitness would come forth to testify at the Morris-Dumas murder trial. So, to learn who this was, I spent several days at the Aurora Public Library, reading through page after page of old newspapers. None of them revealed what the Chief promised. I’m sorry to disappoint you, and myself as well! Perhaps he had a lead that didn’t pan out. He didn’t explain.
His hint that the witness was a female, and close enough to touch, created a lot of speculation about another woman being at the scene. It would have been a very different story.
Of the three women who testified at the trial, none was present at the time of the murder. Grace Allen “intimate friend of Mrs. Dumas;” and Frieda Liden who owned the boarding house on North Clark Street in Chicago (where the couple stayed from Tuesday to Thursday prior to the murder) told about the week leading up to the murder.
The third witness was Helen Hart proprietor of a “resort” on the southeast side of Aurora where Mrs. Dumas was listed as “inmate.” This “resort” was well known as a house of prostitution, and operated outside the city limits where it was not subject to the city’s jurisdiction. These witnesses painted a vivid picture of the relationship between the couple. Mrs. Dumas was as worldly as Henry Morris was naïve when they met.
The whole mess began sometime in September 1910, as Henry Morris testified. He revealed himself as a simple guy, although far from innocent, who stumbled into Helen Hart’s place after a night of drinking with a buddy from Plano. As he would tell it, the two sat and drank with Mrs. Dumas and a porter in the living room until his companion became so drunk and noisy that he was ordered to leave. The friend went outside and fell asleep in Morris’ car.
Over more drinks, Mrs. Dumas told him the story of her life and how she was being cheated out of her property by a judge in Pontiac who had helped her out of a jam in Rockford. Morris eventually agreed to help her get her property back. He was hooked, and the next three months, he returned again and again to see Mrs. Dumas. They were frequently together up until the day of the murder.
Mrs. Dumas was described as a wealthy heiress in an early newspaper story about her previous arrest. That arrest took place in Rockford when she was charged with indecent conduct in September of 1907. She was charged along with two Aurora men, Dudley and Sam Summerfield, who were taking indecent pictures of her in a room at a local hotel.
A judge from Pontiac went to the jail to arrange for her release. He was said to be her guardian who handled her finances because she was irresponsible and addicted to drugs. Upon her release, she sent a Thank You note to the jailer for courteous treatment and for arranging for special food to be brought to her in jail. News reporters called her a woman of the underworld, and added that she had given money to the Summerfield brothers in the past.
Henry Morris was well known in Little Rock Township. He was 39 years old, a carpenter, and secretary of the Woodmen camp and an officer the Mystic Workers lodge. He was charged with embezzling funds from both groups. These funds were used to repay his overdrawn bank account. In addition to this he had once been arrested for assaulting his aged father. All in all, Henry Morris was not a very nice guy when he met Mrs. Dumas. But it doesn’t appear that he was a match for Mrs. Dumas, whose past was more than a little shady.
According to his wife, he mortgaged his house for $30,000. He also inherited $7,000 from his father. There is no question that Mrs. Dumas was aware that he had this money and enjoyed helping him spend it. After her death a check for $150 from Morris was found in her pocket. To get an idea of the value of $150 in 1910, the purchasing power today would be $3,3600. $1 in 1910 would be worth $18.10 in today’s money. It was never revealed what happened to the inheritance or the house money.
After the shooting of Mrs. Dumas, Henry Morris fled the scene, leaving a bloody trail, and slowly made his way to Plano. According to his testimony, he failed at his suicide attempt when he cut his throat, because the knife was too dull to complete the job. He had a head wound that he claimed was inflicted by Mrs. Dumas before he wrestled the gun from her and shot her in the chest.
While Morris was on the run, a terrible blizzard swept the area, at first leading some people to believe he had frozen to death. More than 500 men were out with rifles combing the countryside for days. The riverbank was also searched in case he escaped that way.
After being on the run for 6 days, he was finally spotted by a farmer coming out of a thicket near Blackberry Creek in Plano. He got away and fled to his former home in Plano. Soon his wife discovered him and called the Sheriff.
He was in terrible condition when he was picked up. He had not eaten but a few raw eggs and a little milk during his flight. While being transported to the hospital from the Aurora jail, crowds of up to 500 people were waiting outside threatening to lynch him. Morris took a tablet thought to be poison. He was given an antidote, treated for his head wound, and sent on to Geneva to the County Jail to await trial.
While awaiting trial, it was learned from her friend, Helen Hunt, that Mrs. Dumas had altered her will to include Henry Morris. The will was in a bank vault in Chicago. The newspaper headlines shouted that her money might help with her killer’s defense.
In a surprising twist to the case, Mrs. Morris dropped her petition for divorce, reconciled with her husband and promised to finance his defense. She also brought the children to Geneva to visit her accused husband and assured him that she is doing all in her power to aid him, and would spend all of her money to free him. Could it be that this presumed inheritance influenced her?
The final episode of this story on Nov. 15, will detail the testimony of the witnesses, the defense attorney’s statement, and the decision of the jury. It will be interesting to know if you agree with them, or if you believe a jury today would render a different verdict. Stay tuned to learn what the witnesses had to say.