A long story involving four violent deaths: Romance man honored at Law Enforcement Memorial ceremony

Law enforcement officers stand beside wreaths that were part of a ceremony at the Missouri Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Saturday that added nine names to the Wall of Honor – four who died in 2018, and five others who died between 1895 and 1971. One of the “historical” names added to the Wall of Honor was Joseph “Joday” Wilson of Romance.

Barren Fork Township Constable Joseph “Joday” Wilson was murdered in 1905 following a Christmas Eve incident in a Romance store when he shot and killed another Ozark County resident who started a gunfight. Wilson is buried in the Franklin Grove Cemetery north of Gainesville.

In weekend ceremonies, the name of an Ozark County constable who was murdered in 1905 was added to the Wall of Honor at the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol grounds in Jefferson City. The Saturday ceremony marked the addition to the Wall of Honor the names of four Missouri law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in 2018 and five other Missouri officers who died in the past.

Barren Fork Township Constable Joseph “Joday” Wilson, 37, was “seated around his table reading with his family” in his home at Romance on March 1, 1905, when he was shot in the head by an unknown assassin, according to the March 10, 1905, edition of the Ozark County Times, which also said Wilson had a wife and seven children.

The March 13 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, on its front page, that “one bullet struck Wilson in the head and the other penetrated his left breast. He died almost instantly.”

The Post-Dispatch reported that Wilson “was one of the best known residents of Ozark County and a near relative of the wife of State Senator [George] Curry,” who apparently came to Ozark County in response to the tragedy. The newspaper reported that Romance had a population of about 100, and said the incident caused “great excitement.”

According to other newspaper reports from that time, the county’s deputy sheriff and prosecuting attorney rushed to the scene. They found two sets of footprints leading away from the window where the shooting occurred, but after tracking the bootprints for 2 miles, the searchers lost the trail in a rocky outcropping.

Although Wilson’s murder occurred at his home, it was believed to have been linked to an earlier incident in which Wilson was carrying out his law enforcement duties. It happened when Wilson shot and killed another Ozark County man, Everett Gilliland, 23, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 1904, at the Wyatt & Son store at Romance, where “quite a crowd of farmers and and their families had congregated ... to buy Christmas goods. Several of them had been imbibing too freely of corn whiskey made in the hills of Ozark County, and they became boisterous,” according to the Dec. 29, 1904, edition of the Howell County Gazette.

A store clerk asked Wilson “to put Everett Gilliland out of the store, as he had become insulting. It is said that the officer went up to Gilliland and told him to consider himself under arrest,” according to the Gazette.

In response, Gilliland shot at Wilson with a revolver, but instead the shot hit and killed an innocent bystander, Robert Lance. 

“Wilson then drew his revolver and began shooting at Gilliland while the latter kept on firing at the officer,” the Gazette reported. Wilson wasn’t hit in the shootout, but Gilliland was killed.

The Gazette, which said its information came “in a telephone message ... from Gainesville,” reported that “a bad feeling” had existed between the Gilliland and Wilson families for several years because Everett Gilliland had “become enamored of a sister of Joday Wilson. Both families opposed the union.” The strained relations had continued for several years, the newspaper said.

Two Ozark County grand juries investigated Wilson’s murder but returned no indictments. Then, in May 1908, more than three years after Wilson was killed, a third grand jury charged Everett Gilliland’s brothers, Palmer and William Gilliland, with Wilson’s murder. 

It was agreed that Palmer’s trial would be held first. Moved to Christian County on a change of venue, it was held in Ozark in December 1908, with the prosecuting attorneys from Ozark, Douglas and Christian counties representing the state, and a team of five attorneys representing the defendant. 

The West Plains Journal-Gazette reported that the evidence was mostly circumstantial, and witnesses testified that Palmer Gilliland was at home on the night of Wilson’s murder. 

“The jury promptly acquitted the accused, and then the case against Will Gilliland was dismissed by the prosecution,” the Journal-Gazette reported. So Wilson’s murder went unavenged.

However, 29 years later, the St. Louis Star and Times described Palmer Gilliland, one of Wilson’s accused-but-acquitted killers, as “a 53-year-old wealthy stockman” when his body was discovered beneath a brush pile near Noble in May 1937. His head had been crushed, apparently by blows from a crowbar found nearby. 

Two brothers, Ralph and Floyd “Buoy” Taylor, were charged with the murder, which they supposedly committed in a plot to steal Palmer Gilliland’s livestock and other property. The Taylors’ first two murder trials ended in hung juries. At the third trial, in January 1940, Buoy Taylor was convicted and given a life sentence. His older brother was acquitted, according to the West Plains Journal-Gazette.

Later that January, Buoy was taken to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City by Ozark County Sheriff Lyman Stephens and his chief deputy, Frank Mahan. Buoy Taylor died in prison in 1942.

Asked about the weekend ceremony in Jefferson City honoring the 1905 lawman from Romance, Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed said he had been unaware that an Ozark Countian was being added to the Wall of Honor until he saw an internet post after the ceremony. 

Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O’Connell said, in an email to the Times, that “volunteers comb through old documents and publications and find the historical cases.” Then the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial Board of Directors decides which names are to be added to the Wall of Honor.

The annual ceremony included a Friday night candlelight vigil at the memorial “in tribute to all Missouri law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty,” a DPS news release said, adding that Gov. Mike Parson ordered that the state Capitol be illuminated in blue throughout this week “to honor fallen law enforcement officers.”

Joseph “Joday” Wilson is buried in the Franklin Grove Cemetery.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423