Murder of Claude Buckley

The remains of Claude Buckley laid out at the Morris County courthouse.

The building at 300 W Main in Council Grove was built in 1895 by Alex Cunningham.  Originally built for a dry goods store, it has housed a number of businesses over the years.  The second floor was used for school rooms; a feed store by 1908, an ice cream parlor for a short time in the 30s, also having apartments upstairs, and from the 50s to present is occupied by the gas company.   It also hides a dark secret that may never be fully revealed.

April 4th 1941, termite inspectors from Abilene uncovered something everyone hopes never to find. A human skeleton in the basement of the Gas Company at 300 W Main.  The remains were taken to the courthouse and reconstructed on a tarp where they were identified as those of 36 year old Claude Buckley.  Friends of Buckley confirmed the identity by the shoes, teeth and clothing.  The skeleton was clothed in blue denim overalls and jacket.  Upon search of the pockets a rusty key, pocket knife, gas bill and letters addressed to Claude Buckley and a small hand book were discovered.  The hand book was very much deteriorated but the pages that could be clearly read all had the same entry of $1.50.  No money was found.

The Buckley murder has had many versions told.  I will attempt to present you with the facts, and where facts cannot be obtained local lore will have to suffice.  The common story that has come down through the years is that a regular poker game was held in the back room of 300 W Main.  Many of our present citizens will confirm this by telling of a near relative they know that once attended these card games. It has been said that one of our town’s lawmen was known to play poker in said building.   Buckley was thought to have played the game as well, and perhaps a gambling debt was the motive behind his murder.  All of this however, is hearsay and speculation.

Buckley went missing in mid April of 1937. After his car was seen on Main Street for several days people started looking for him. His family put an ad in the paper asking for information as to his whereabouts.  His house in Wilsey was searched. A few months before Buckley went missing his house burned down. He rebuilt a small one room house over the remaining basement.  All that was found in it was a bed frame, box spring and mattress. His geese and chickens had also vanished about the same time he did.  It was not known if he had sold them or if they were stolen.

300 West Main served as an ice cream parlor prior to Buckley’s disappearance.  The parlor was operated by Lucy Braun (pronounced Brown).  The building was vacant at the time Buckley was murdered.  The murderer was likely aware of this and found security in hiding the body there. Sheriff Jim Parker who was working on the case said the victim “knew his murderer.”  The fashion in which Buckley was killed seemed to prove this.  The police report said that the skull had two large holes in it, evidence that Buckley was struck in the head with something. The feet and hands were tied with wire and there was wire tightly twisted around his throat.

Lawrence Strouts was thirteen years old when his father took him in to Council Grove to see the skeletal remains of who he knew as ‘Arkie.’  Strouts assumed that Buckley must have been from Arkansas and that’s why he was called Arkie.  According to a newspaper clipping Buckley was also known as ‘Slim.’  Strouts does not know if his father went out of curiosity or if he was there to identify the remains, but the image was very vivid for young Strouts and he never forgot it.

Who killed Claude Buckley and why? Some of the locals of that time had their ideas as to who it was. Russell Gilmore, a nephew of Buckley’s, often said that if his uncle were found dead he was certain that he knew the identity of the murderer. He refused to discuss the matter, even with his wife. If he did know something which would help in bringing the criminal to justice, it would never be revealed. Gilmore died in January of 1938, before his uncle had been found.

Was he killed because of a gambling debt? Is that what the $1.50 entries in the hand book meant? Were the police involved, is that why the murderer was never found? Did Buckley burn his own house down to collect insurance to pay someone off? Did someone just have a vendetta against Buckley and take everything he had, even his chickens? All that remain are questions, and the ghost of Claude Buckley.

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