In my book History of Missouri(containing Clark, Knox,Lewis & Scotland counties)this is what is said.
The most exciting tragedy that was ever enacted in Clark County was the murder of the Spencer family, the trial of William Young for the execution of the same-his acquittal and finally his death at the hands of a mob.
William L. Spencer and his daughters, Jane and Alice, aged 18 &20, respectively, constituted all the members of what was known as the Spencer family. They lived in a log cabin on Fox River, about 6 miles north of Luray. About 100 feet Northeast of the house stood the log barn in which Mr. Spencer and his elder son were accustomed to sleep in hot weather. Spencer was the town treasurer of the township (Folker) in which he lived, and it was known that he had a considerable amount of money in his possession. It was the morning of the 3rd of August 1877, when this entire family was murdered. On this occasion Spencer and his son were sleeping in the barn, Jane and her little brother, Charles,were sleeping on a bed in the house "downstairs" while Alice was sleeping "upstairs". Here, then, while each of these helpless and innocent ones "was wrapt in the arms of Morpheus, enjoying nature's sweet restorer," the hands an assassin wielded an ax which crushed their skulls, and sent them, unexpectedly and perhaps unprepared, into eternity. Willis James, a brother-in-law of Spencer, was the first one to give the alarm.He stated that he had been accustomed to help Mr. Spencer in his farm work, and came to the house early that morning for the purpose, and finding everything quiet, and supposing that they had overslept, he entered the house by the front door, and there found the dead bodies of the three who had slept therein, and then went to the barn and found the lifeless forms of Spencer and his boy. On being alarmed the neighbors assembled, and a messenger was at once dispatched to Luray for Drs. Payne and Davis. The former soon arrived at the scene of destruction, and found the victims all beyond the aid of the human skill. The work of the assassins had been completed, and upward of $1,000 was supposed to have been appropriated by them, as a compensation, they undoubtedly considered it, for the dastardly act. It was supposed that the murderers entered the house through the kitchen window which was found open that morning; and underneath this window an ax of heavy pattern was found. "It was covered with blood, and, the helve not passing clear through, it was discovered that int the interstice were brains and a quantity of hair corresponding to the quality and texture of that of the girl Alice, showing conclusively that this was the weapon used in the braining.Upon examination, it appeared that the skull of the boy Willis had been pierced with a pitchfork which was found near by. On Friday afternoon a coroner's inquest was held by Justice Reynolds, acting as coroner, and the verdict of the jury was, "That all came to their death by blows of an ax in the hands of some person or persons unknown." The bodies were buried in the graveyard at the Bethleham Church about 3 miles from the Spencer house. On Monday following the murder the county court met and ordered "that a standing reward be offered as follows:$100 for the arrest of the murderer of Lewis Spencer, $100 for the arrest of the murderer of Alice Spencer,$100 for the arrest of the murderer of Jane Spencer, $100 for the arrest of the murderer of Charles Spencer, $100 for the arrest of the murderer of Willis Spencer, to be paid as the law directs, when conviction is secured." Several parties, against whom no evidence could be produced, were arrested upon suspicion and afterward released. The case was known as "The State of Missouri vs. Willis James." Suspicion rested strongly upon Willis James, a brother of Mrs. Spencer who had died years before, and spots of blood were discovered to be on his clothing, and a bloody handkerchief was found hanging in a tree near by, which James said he placed there few days before, after his nose had been bleeding. These circumstances so increased the suspicion, that on the 6th day of October following the murder, he (James) was arrested and lodged in jail in Kahoka. The grand jury they found an indictment against him for murder in the first degree, but he was not brought to trial until the following April term, six months later. During all of this time he was kept in close confinement. His trial took place before Judge John C. Anderson, and he was prosecuted by Ben E. Turner,of Kahoka, who then held the office of prosecuting attorney, and Daniel F. Miller, of Keokuk. The attorneys for the defense were Matlock & Hiller, of Kahoka, and James Hagerman,of Keokuk. The first witness examined in favor of the State was Dr.P.J.Payne, of Luray, who was called to the scene of the murder on the morning of its discovery. He testified as to the position of the bodies as he found them, and the extent of the wounds thereon,etc. Another witness, Mrs. Israel Willis, the lady with whom James boarded testified in regard to the bloody hankerchief, and the general character of the defendent, and the account given by him on the morning of the discovery of the dead bodies, etc. Her evidence seemed to be more satisfactory to the defense than to the prosecution. Other witnesses on the part of the State were examined, but their evidence, which was mostly circumstantial, elicited nothing conclusive against the defendent. On Friday morning, following the beginning of the trial, and after court had convened, and the jurors had answered to their names, a letter signed by Drs.Carpenter & Angear, the gentlemen to whom portions of the defendent's clothing had been sent for the purpose of having the blood spots thereon examined, was exhibited. The following is a copy of the letter:
April 17,1878 Keokuk
Hon. D.F. Miller,Keokuk,
Dear Sir-Upon conference with Dr. Angear and a critical re-examinination of the specimens which we have subjected to higher powers,we do not find sufficient evidence to justify us in putting in question the life of any human being,and seeing that our visit to Kahoka would be of no service to either side, we have concluded to remain at home. Please show this to Mr.Hagerman and the committee.Very respectfully and Truly, A.M. Carpenter & J.J. Angear.
The prosecuting attorney Hon. Ben E. Turner read this letter to the court and jury, and thereupon dismissed the case, and the defendent Willis James went forth a free man. Mr.Miller, the associate prosecutor, was very much opposed to the dismissal of the case, and expressed himself as confident that the defendent was guilty.The jury however thought otherwise, and justified the action of Judge Turner in dismissing the case, as appears by the following statement.Kahoka, April 19,1878. The undersigned jurors in the case of State vs. Willis James, do in this cause find no evidence on which we would have based a conviction. We fully justify the conduct of the Prosecutting Attorney in dismissing the case.Signed T.M. Glass,foreman and all the other jurors concur. For some months after the murder of the Spencer family it seemed that a band of thieves and robbers was let loose in Clark County.A number of houses in St.Francisville, Alexandria and elsewhere in the county, were entered at night and valuables stolen therefrom. The history of these many instances, however,is beyond the scope of this work.