The case had arson, dastardly gambling men, hero lawmen and a dramatic trial.


The case had arson, dastardly gambling men, hero lawmen and a dramatic trial.
It was touted as the foulest crime in the annals of Kansas — at least in 1893 Newton.
The story, once almost lost to history, was the case of the burning of records in the register of deeds office on March 23, 1893.
Bob Myers, city attorney, spent hours researching the case through records and local newspaper accounts after he found a single newspaper clipping discussing the events in the files of the Harvey County Historical Museum. Myers gave a lecture on the historical case on Sunday at the museum.
Although some civility had come to Newton by 1893, it was only 20 years removed from its “bloody Newton” days of Old West lawlessness, Myers said.
On the night of March 23 or early hours of March 24, 1893, someone broke into the Bretch Brothers Building, which was across the street from where the Harvey County Courthouse is now, and created a hole in the vault at the Register of Deeds office.
The suspect or suspects removed 18 volumes of deeds records from the vault, poured five gallons of stolen coal oil on them and set them on fire.
The densely bound books burned for perhaps hours before they were discovered by the building’s janitor, and the fire was extinguished.
Although some of the records were saved, others, the only copies the county had, were destroyed.
This potentially could throw into dispute the ownership of countless tracts of land in the county.
The Harvey County Commission issued a $2,000 reward for the capture of the perpetrators of the crime.
The county also brought in Pinkerton detectives from Chicago to assist Sheriff E.E. Pollard in the investigation.
Shortly after the announcement the records had been burned, a local businessmen, abstractor saloon owner and reported gambler, George Washington Rogers, announced he had the only complete record of deeds for the county.
The county tried to buy the rights to use Rogers’ records to restore the destroyed county records. The county offered Rogers $500 to use the records, but Rogers demanded $20,000, so negotiations ceased.
In the meantime, Rogers was charging property owners $10 per transfer to gain access to his records.
On July 31,1893, Rogers and associate George Shirley were arrested by Wichita police chief Rufus Kone, who was trying to collect on the county commission’s $2,000 reward.
Rogers and Shirley were released on $5,000 bond each, pending trial.
However, Shirley skipped town and was rumored to be hiding out in South America.
Two teams of attorneys were assembled to argue the case against Rogers, which included a future U.S. attorney, governor and Kansas Supreme Court justice.
The prosecution called Edward Harris AKA Mickey Slade, who testified George Shirley hired him to destroy the county records.
Rogers was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the Lansing state prison.
However, Rogers appealed and was granted a new trial by the Kansas Supreme Court due to lack of direct evidence Rogers was involved in the crime.
The Kansas Legislature passed a special provision to allow the county to use its restored deeds. On April 3,1894, the records were officially restored.
Rogers was granted a change of venue for the second trail, which was set in Hutchinson.
As the trial was set to begin, Rogers was reportedly struck with apoplexy. The judge ordered physicians to examine Rogers and determine if he was fit for trial.
The physicians determined Rogers’ presence at trial would not be a threat to his life, so he was brought into the courtroom on a cot.
A reporter from the era said he conducted a silent interview with Rogers during which he observed Rogers’ wife giving him water and Rogers moving as if in a calm sleep.
Mickey Slade, who testified in the first trial, was waiting in a nearby jail, but was scheduled to return to Iowa, where he was supposed to sentenced in a separate case.
The officer charged with transporting Slade to Iowa came to an agreement with the Harvey County officials they would forfeit Slade’s bond in Iowa on the contingent they would receive the funds back once Slade was delivered back to Iowa.
Thus Slade was available to testify despite what might be seen as delay tactics by Rogers.
In a break in the case, Shirley’s wife testified she overheard a conversation between Rogers and Shirley about how they might “make a million” by using the abstract records in the case the county records were destroyed.
Mrs. Shirley additionally produced a bill of sale showing Shirley held a half interest in the abstract records.
As the trial closed, defense and prosecuting attorneys delivered eight hours of closing arguments during two days.
Rogers was found guilty and again sentenced to five years in state prison.
Myers was able to find records that showed Rogers served time in the state prison. He further found records in later years of a George Rogers, a peanut salesman, living in Newton.
However, it was not known if this Rogers was the same G.W. Rogers who was convicted of burning the records.