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Raymond GUNN





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Attempted rape - Lynching
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 16, 1930
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: January 11, 1904
Victim profile: Velma Colter, 20 (teacher)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Maryville, Missouri, USA
Status: Killed by a mob on January 12, 1931 (Gunn was taken to the roof of the building where he was tied to a ridge pole. Gunn and the building were doused with gasoline. The leader of the group, only identified as a "man in a red coat", threw a lighted piece of paper into the building. Gunn screamed once and appeared lifeless in 11 minutes)

Raymond Gunn (January 11, 1904-January 12, 1931) was a black man killed by a mob in Maryville, Missouri, United States, after he confessed to killing and attempting to rape a white school teacher there.

The case received massive national publicity because it occurred outside the Southern lynch belt and because of its brazen and planned nature; and because the sheriff did not activate National Guard troops which had been specifically deployed to prevent the lynching.

The case was frequently invoked in the unsuccessful attempt to pass a law called the Wagner-Costigan Act during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. This would have made it a federal crime for law enforcement officials to refuse to take steps to prevent a lynching.

Early life

Gunn was born to a local family in Maryville.

Gunn was convicted of attempted rape in September 1925, of a student at what is now Northwest Missouri State University after he accosted a woman on a rural lane outside of Maryville. Gunn never confessed to the crime, and he was alleged to have been beaten while in custody. He was released on January 28, 1928.

In 1929 he married a local woman and the couple moved to Omaha, Nebraska where she died of pneumonia. He returned to Maryville where he made a living as a hunter.

Murder of Velma Colter

On December 16, 1930, 20-year-old teacher Velma Colter, who was the daughter of a local farm couple, was killed in the one-room Garrett schoolhouse about a mile southwest of Maryville. When she didn't return home as scheduled, her partially clad body was found in a pool of blood in the middle of the school and there was a bloody footprint.

Gunn was immediately suspected. A farmer said that he saw somebody matching Gunn's description near the school. Authorities arrested several black men matching the description before finding Gunn on December 18. Gunn had blood on his shirt (which he claimed was rabbit blood) and his footprint matched the one at the scene. Furthermore, Gunn had a severe bite mark on his thumb (the woman who had accused him of rape in 1925 said he stuck his thumbs in her mouth).

Gunn confessed, saying he had gone to the school with a hedge club after seeing Colter outside with a coal bucket. He said he hit her once after she bit him and then again after she hit him with the coal bucket.

Lynch mob atmosphere

Talk of lynching began immediately after Gunn was taken into custody on December 18, and crowds began to assemble in Maryville. Gunn was transferred to the Buchanan County, Missouri jail 45 miles south in St. Joseph, Missouri. Crowds gathered there as well, which prompted the sheriff to order a truck with a mounted machine gun to be backed to the door. The operator of the gun appeared to aim the weapon at the crowd (although he later said he was just oiling it) causing the crowd to disperse.

Gunn was transferred again, this time 100 miles south of Maryville to Kansas City, Missouri. At 3:30 a.m. on December 26, Gunn returned to Maryville for arraignment and then was taken back to Kansas City.

Colter's mother was quoted as saying she could not bear a trial and would not testify. Her son had been killed in France during World War I.

The lynching

Gunn's court date was set for January 12. The Nodaway County prosecuting attorney said Gunn would get a fair trial and appealed (along with many Maryville business leaders) to Missouri Governor Henry S. Caulfield to deploy the National Guard to prevent an anticipated lynching attempt. Caulfield complied and 60 troops were ordered at 7:30 a.m. to stand by at the National Guard a block north of the courthouse (at what today is the Maryville Public Library). By law, the National Guard could only be deployed at the written request of the sheriff, which was never made. Sheriff Havre English later told the press that he did not call up the guard because he did not want them to get hurt.

A large crowd occupied the Maryville square between the jail block to the northeast and the Nodaway County, Missouri courthouse. The sheriff was transporting Gunn by car, and drove directly into the mob. When he opened the door, a man pulled the sheriff aside and another took Gunn out of the car. Men who were there had said years later that the leader bluntly said to the sheriff "either you move out of the way or die with this man, either way he's going to die today."

Gunn was chained and marched south down Main Street through the Maryville streets (avoiding the National Guardsmen). After an hour and a half, Gunn and the crowd arrived at the Garrett schoolhouse. His ears and nose were bleeding. The contents of the schoolhouse had been removed and placed on the lawn. A crowd estimated at between 2,000 and 4,000 had gathered. He was taken by 12 men inside the schoolhouse, where he is reported to have confessed again, as well as claiming he had an accomplice named "Shike" Smith.

Gunn was taken to the roof of the building where he was tied to a ridge pole. Gunn and the building were doused with gasoline. The leader of the group, only identified as a "man in a red coat", threw a lighted piece of paper into the building. Gunn screamed once and appeared lifeless in 11 minutes.

A reporter for the St. Joseph Gazette gave this description:

He twisted and revealed a huge blister ballooning on his left upper arm. Pieces of his skin blew away to the wind as the blistering heat became more intense and soon his torso was splotched with white patches of exposed flesh. His hair burned like a torch for moment then his head sagged. His body writhed. It took the appearance of a mummy.

The building's roof collapsed within 16 minutes. Remnants of the school were taken away by the crowd as souvenirs.


No charges were ever filed in the case. Attempts to identify the man in the red coat have always been rebuffed with a claim that he was an outsider. However newspapers said all the other leaders were local.

The lynching was universally condemned by newspapers across the United States. The Atlanta Constitution published an editorial cartoon with the caption of "The Torch of Civilization in Missouri."

Residents were concerned that blacks from Kansas City were going to attack the city. Townspeople reportedly set up machine gun nests on Main Street.

Gunn's family home was also burned.

The official 1930 census showed 90 blacks living in the town, with 35 enrolled in the Maryville school in 1930. In 1931, the number had dropped to six and eventually almost all blacks left the town.

Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 campaigned saying he was going to take steps to stop lynching. However, he did not back the Wagner-Costigan Act, although he did create the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department.




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