Emma Simpson Elmer and Jean

It’s 1919, Woodrow Wilson is president, World War I has just ended, Spanish Flu is in it’s third wave, the 18th amendment authorizing Prohibition goes into effect, the 19th Amendment Suffrage for Women is passed by the US Congress and sent to the states for ratification, riots sprout off all over the country, Steel riots, Mining riots, most importantly the Red Summer Race Riots.  It was also the year that Emma Simpson, in a court room, shot her husband of 16 years, Elmer Simpson.

Emma Simpson was born to Charles Taunton Spackman and Eliza Spackman on March 31, 1875 in Belvidere, Illinois.  She had eleven siblings, five brothers and six sisters.  Charles Spackman was a Justice of the Peace and known as “Squire”. He tried many cases from Bank Robbery to trespassing chickens that ate another farmer’s corn.  He also performed numerous marriages.   March 26, 1917, Squire Spackman was found mentally unsound and sent to the Elgin Insane Asylum where he died September 18, 1917. Her mother Eliza was a committee woman for several woman’s groups in and around Belvidere. 

Emma grew up in Belvidere and had a happy childhood.  She won the most votes as the most popular young lady at the G.A.R. Fair in 1891 and won a sewing machine.  She also was the understudy for the leading lady in the play “True Blue” in 1892, she played the role of Nellie Grover and received rave reviews for her clear enunciation and earnest acting. 

Emma moved to Chicago to work as a stenographer for her uncle J.M. Roach who was the president of Chicago Union Traction Company, later the Chicago Railways Company the largest mass transit company at the time in Chicago with 3,100 trolleys.  There in Chicago, she met Elmer Simpson, a telegrapher that was 17 years older than she was.  Emma and Elmer were married on March 12, 1903.

After nine years of marriage, May 18, 1915, Emma learns that there is another woman, Elmer’s brother, Arthur’s sister-in-law, Jean Webster.  Emma calls Jean Webster’s husband and the police and they raid the hotel room that Elmer and Jean are using.  Elmer and Jean are arrested as adultery was illegal at that time in Chicago. 

In March 1917, Elmer obtains divorce by default from Judge Barasa without telling Emma.  Emma finds out and gets the divorce vacated the following day by Judge Thomson.  Emma represented herself with a bill for separate maintenance.  Jean Webster was listed as co-respondent.  Judge David Brothers offered her a divorce, her reply was, “I don’t want a divorce, I don’t want my husband free to marry her.”  Elmer replied that Emma was employed as a private secretary to her uncle JM Roach and made sufficient to support herself.  Emma was awarded $7.50 per week.  Arthur Simpson, Elmer’s brother, denied that his wife’s sister, Jean had anything to do with breaking up the marriage although her husband had divorced her.

April 25, 1919 Elmer Simpson, telegraph operator was shot 4 times by Emma.  The motive was jealousy of Elmer’s sister-in-law Mrs. Jean Webster. 

Emma took Elmer to court asking for an increase in her temporary alimony, which was given to her in February, $7.50 per week and named Jean as co-respondent.  The Judge agreed with Emma after Elmer argued “Why — this woman makes $200 a month as Secretary to J.M. Roach”, and gave her $9.00 a week, which today is about $140 a week. 

Judge David Brothers then left the bench and into his chambers.  The Simpsons were sitting on opposite sides of the table when Elmer said “Emma — lets go back and be happy again” and asked why she refused to divorce him. 

She replied “I’ll give you a divorce when you get something on me, then you can marry Mrs. Webster… “

Which he interrupted with “Say right now that you are living with…”

When Emma pulled a 38-caliber pistol from the folds of her dress.  The first two chambers were empty, but Emma continued shooting the remaining 4 bullets into Elmer.  After the last shot Emma dropped the gun and calmly said “Now I am vindicated!” 

“You’ve Killed Him!!!” shrieked Bertha Fischer the 18-year-old court reporter.

 “I hope so!  He tortured me every minute of the last four years and he deserves it!” retorted Emma. 

First aid treatment was administered to Elmer by Dr. W.O. McNally and he was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital.  Judge Brothers returned to the court room and ordered Emma to be held without bail pending the Grand Jury. 

By then the press had arrived and a reporter from the Chicago Tribune interviewed Emma on the walk to jail.  “That man has lived by my permission since July 12, 1915. On that date I found him in a hotel with Mrs. Jean Webster. Her husband was with me and we had them arrested.” 

“Since that time, he has repeatedly called on that woman.  He has loved her.  My life has been besmirched with dirt.  I have always loved and worked for Elmer, and he has repaid me with unfaithfulness.

“Of course, I took a gun to court with me, but I didn’t expect to shoot. He said something to me – something nasty, indicative of his whole nature.  It made me boil – I could not stand it any longer. 

“When I go to court for this, I will defend myself.  I will need no attorney – the new unwritten law, which does not permit a married man to love another woman, will be my defense.  It will save me. I am perfectly confident of that.”

Elmer seemed to be healing well and told his doctor, James Hall, “I guess I nagged her too much.  You know, doctor, a woman can’t stand as much nagging as a man and I guess I was a little too severe with her.”

Elmer Simpson died because of infection from the gunshot wounds.  The wounds were healing nicely then infection struck.  “Simpson did not die directly as a result of the shooting.  An infection which set in where the four bullets entered his body caused his death,” said Dr. Hall and Dr. L.L. MacArthur.

 

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