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"The Axtel Ridge Murders"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Financial gain
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: November 17, 1926 / February 1927
Date of arrest: March 1927
Date of birth: 1902
Victims profile: Sarah Stout, 60 / William Stout, 65
Method of murder: Strangulation / Beating with a blunt instrument
Location: Vinton County, Ohio, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to life in prison on April 21, 1927

Double murder in Vinton County

By Dave Tabler -

The last time she saw William Stout, the man missing, he was mending fences here at his Axtel Ridge place, Inez Palmer told the sheriff. She’d heard her boyfriend’s father had headed out west, and was acting strangely before he left Vinton County.

Maude “Sheriff Maude” Collins and her deputy Ray Cox followed the trail of patched fences. Two and a half miles from the house they found a lunch pail under a tree. The pail contained a handwritten will, in which William Stout cut off his other two sons, Noah and Burn, and named Palmer’s boyfriend Arthur as the sole heir. The document was not signed by any witnesses.

Sheriff Maude examined the footprints leading to and from the dinner bucket. She returned to William Stout’s farmhouse and retrieved a pair of his shoes. The shoes fit exactly to the footprints, but Sheriff Maude noticed that the footprints were not as deep in the soil as those of Deputy Cox, a man about the same stature as Stout.

The sheriff dropped the Stout shoes to the ground and slipped them on. She walked up and down beside the original set of footprints. Her own fresh footprints were about the same depth. Sheriff Maude concluded that a person much closer to her weight made the prints, not William Stout.

The two law officers proceeded to the missing man’s home and examined the contents of the house. It was obvious that William Stout never took any of his belongings. They went back into McArthur and presented the will to the cashier at Vinton County National Bank, where Mr. Stout maintained his account. Sheriff Maude compared the handwriting of the will to that of his canceled checks. No match.

Sheriff Maude and Deputy Cox returned to Axtel Ridge the next morning to search the Stout’s farm for any trace of William Stout’s body. Once there, they conversed with the missing man’s two young grandsons.

Arthur’s sons Artie and William innocently provided the missing clue that solved the case. In the course of questioning, they informed the two law officers that Inez Palmer had told them the water behind the Stout house was not fit for consumption and they’d best just stay clear of the well.

Sheriff Maude and deputy Cox promptly arrested Inez Palmer, who’d been living at the house, as a suspect, so they could search the premises without interference.

Sure enough, they discovered William Stout’s body in the well behind the house. Stout had suffered severe head trauma caused by a blunt instrument.

Why was Inez Palmer staying at the house? And where was Arthur, the boyfriend, during all this? Did William have a wife at the farm? There’s more, far more, to this Ohio murder story. Stay tuned!

On November 11, 1926, young neighbor Manville Perry noticed the living room door of William and Sarah Stout’s farmhouse open, and was shocked by the sight he saw. He ran to a nearby coal mine and called for several miners to accompany him back to the farm.

Mrs. Stout’s body lay in front of the living room stove. Her face, neck and portions of her body were burnt and charred beyond recognition. One arm was extended on the floor in front of her and was not burnt, suggesting that she had not tried to extinguish the flames of the fire. All her hair was burned off except where her head came in contact with the floor.

It was obvious to the gathered group that the body had been placed in front of the stove. Local Prosecuting Attorney Blake was called in, and he and Dr. O. S. Cox and Dr. A. E. James studied the scene. Their post mortem concluded that Mrs. Stout died of strangulation, not burns. The body was then covered with kerosene and set fire, they declared.

Sarah Stout was last seen alive in McArthur, two days prior, when she had sworn out a warrant against Arthur Stout, her stepson. The adultery charge cited his illicit relationship with one Inez Palmer, who had been co-habiting with him for three years on his family farm about three miles east of Sarah & William’s farm. It was rumored that Inez and Arthur had had a child since they had been living together.

The young Stout had been bailed out of jail by his father. Mrs. Stout feared that Arthur would kill her on account of her actions, Stout neighbor Mrs. Lucy Gibbs later testified.

Sarah, age 60, and her husband, age 65, were recently wed and were respected, well-to-do farmers in the county. We don’t know Sarah’s exact motive for turning in her stepson, especially if she realized it would be a life-threatening move.

One view is that for her to allow the situation to fester would undoubtedly have tarnished her and her new husband’s reputations and thereby threatened her future security. Another view is that she was a gold digger, looking to eliminate any competition for the old boy’s money. We just don’t know.

William Stout immediately called for the arrest of his son. “I shall demand his punishment,” he said. “It was an awful thing to do, to murder the woman who had raised him even if she was only his step-mother.” Interestingly, before his own death William Stout hired the law firm of Woolley and Rowland to defend his son.

Bloodhounds followed the trail of the murdered woman’s stepson from a wagon he had unhitched in the yard to the room in which Sarah Stout was slain, which in turn led to Arthur Stout’s arrest. In early February 1927 a Grand Jury indicted him for first degree murder.

When Stout was taken to jail, Palmer became a housekeeper for the elder Stout. So apparently William didn’t suspect her of any wrongdoing. Or maybe he did and wanted to keep close tabs on her!

Here’s where the Athens Messenger account becomes confusing: “Coming from Bellaire several years ago, Inez Palmer first took care of Mrs. Arthur [sic] Stout. Mrs. Stout had been ill for some time. There she met Arthur Stout.” So far so good. “Mrs. Stout died and William Stout remarried.” Now wait a minute! We’re not told why the death of his daughter-in-law coincided with William Stout remarrying. But the red flag here is that the elder Stout said he was angered that his son murdered the woman who RAISED him. The newspaper accounts shed no light on this inconsistency.

So to recap, at the time of her own arrest in mid-March 1927, Inez Palmer was in the Stout farmhouse with Artie and William Stout, Arthur Stout’s sons, who’d been living with their grandfather for some time, while Arthur was behind bars.

Inez Palmer didn’t say anything about Sarah Stout’s death when she was first arrested. She did confess that she killed William Stout because he made advances toward her. She explained that she attempted to cover up the crime by putting on a pair of her victim’s shoes and had made footprints near the repaired fences. And yes, she said that she’d forgest the will placed it in the dinner pail under a tree.

When Arthur Stout learned of Palmer’s confession, he confirmed her story, and furthermore declared that she had killed Sarah Stout. Palmer had instructed him to burn the body, he said.

Arthur Stout and Inez Palmer were tried for the murders. On the stand, Arthur Stout, Jr. informed the prosecutor that his father was the person who proposed the idea of murdering Sarah Stout, because she’d had him arrested for living with Inez Palmer without the benefit of marriage.

Arthur Stout was found guilty of second degree murder and Inez Palmer with first degree murder in April of 1927. They both were sentenced to life terms.


Ohio’s First Female Sheriff Solves A Thriller In 1927

It had all the makings of a modern thriller about a double murder – a missing man, a suspicious will, a greedy son, the son’s shifty girlfriend, a woman’s body that was burnt beyond recognition and a young mother who became sheriff after her husband was gunned down.

In today’s post, rather than discussing leadership directly, we’d like to take a look at a trailblazer from the Appalachian region of Ohio. Ohio’s (and possibly the nation’s) first female sheriff, Maude Collins, was married to Vinton County Sheriff Fletcher Collins. She was a young mother of five when her husband was shot and killed by a man he’d pulled over on a speeding violation. It would be easy for someone to dismiss her as a figurehead who was appointed to finish her husband’s term and then elected due only to the high estimation her husband was held in by the locals. However, this would definitely not be the truth. “Sheriff Maude”, as she was known by the locals, was a formidable sheriff and achieved national fame when a case she’d solved was reported in Master Detective magazine.

Shortly after her election, Sheriff Maude investigated the murder of a local woman, Sarah Stout, whose body was found partially burned in her own home. It was determined that, despite the severe burning of the face, neck and other parts of the body, the cause of death was strangulation. One of her sons, Arthur, was arrested for her murder. If the case had ended there, perhaps, no one other than those living at the time and her family would have remembered Sheriff Maude. However, she was then challenged with the task of investigating the disappearance of the murdered woman’s husband.

In early 1927 (the history is a little unclear as to exactly when and to whom), Arthur’s girlfriend, Inez Palmer, reported that Arthur’s father, William Stout, had “traveled west never to return”.  When Sheriff Maude questioned Inez, Inez said that the last time she saw William he was mending fences. Sheriff Maude and her deputy found the patched fences along with a lunch pail left under a tree with an interesting paper inside and footprints leading to and from the lunch pail. The paper turned out to be a handwritten will in which William had made Arthur his sole heir despite having other children and grandchildren. Later, Sheriff Maude returned to the Stout home and found a pair of William’s shoes that fit exactly into footprints around the lunch pail, but that’s about the only thing that did fit. Slipping the shoes on, Sheriff Maude realized that the resulting indentation in the soil was the same as the depth of the existing tracks. The footprints weren’t deep enough to be made by a person the size of William. They had to be made by a smaller person.

At this point, Sheriff Maude searched the Stout home and found that the things William would have taken with him if he’d truly left for good were still in the house. She then went to the bank where William was a customer to compare the handwriting on the new will to that on William’s cancelled checks. They didn’t match.

With a bit more investigating, Sheriff Maude found William’s body in a well behind the house. It was determined that he died due to severe head trauma caused by a blunt instrument. Faced with the evidence, Inez Palmer confessed to the murder and the staging of the footprints and fake will. Informed of her confession, Arthur confirmed her story adding that  she was also responsible for the murder of Sarah Stout. Arthur had been her accomplice by attempting to burn the body to get rid of it.

Due to Sheriff Maude, Arthur was found guilty of second degree murder and Inez Palmer of first degree murder. They both received life sentences.

As for Sheriff Maude, she finished her elected term as sheriff before being elected Clerk of Courts and then working as a matron at the Columbus State School until she retired. She passed away in 1972 at the age of 78.


Inez Palmer Guilty in Stout Murder

Athens Messenger

April 22, 1927

Inez Palmer Pleads Guilty on First Degree Murder; Gets Life Term -- With No Hope of Pardon -- At Marysville.

Arthur Stout, Her Lover, Also Serving Life Term in Ohio Pen for Implication in Another Murder -- Has Chance of Pardon

McArthur, April 22 -- A sordid tragedy of unlawful love and of murder was brought to a close in Vinton county court late yesterday when Inez Palmer pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder indictment and was sentenced to life imprisonment in the women's reformatory at Marysville. Her trial was to have started next Monday.

Mrs. Palmer, an attractive woman of 24, was indicted for the slaying of William Stout, 65, well-to-do farmer and father of Arthur Stout, with who Mrs. Palmer lived "without benefit of clergy" for nearly a year in a little shack in the hills.

Found in Well

The body of William Stout a farmer, was found in a well on his farm eight miles from here, and Mrs. [sic] Palmer, who came here from West Virginia, confessed the crime, it is alleged.

Arthur Stout, 33, now is serving a life term in Ohio penitentiary for implication in the murder of his stepmother, Sarah Stout, second wife of William.

Alleged Slayer

Arthur Stout is alleged to have slain his aged stepmother because she chided him for his relations with the Palmer woman. It was alleged at the time that he killed the woman and then attempted to burn the body.

Judge Darby prefaced his sentence with a statement that mercy should be extended the woman that she might escape the electric chair. She will have, however, no hope of pardon or parole.

Arthur Stout was convicted on a second degree indictment and although his term also is life, he has hope of parole or pardon.

Transcribed by:
Connie Cotterill Schumake


Ohio’s (and possibly the nation’s) first female sheriff, Maude Collins.



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