By 1910, the Pettis County Home, once a disgrace to the county, had been moved to a two-story brick home north of Sedalia situated on a fertile plot of land. The home, or poor farm, as it was known, was managed by a skilled matron, Mrs. H.C. Hatton, assisted by both male and female attendants. The home was described by the Sedalia Democrat as “one of the finer institutions of the kind in interior Missouri.”
In January, 21 people lived at the home, including Mrs. Hatton and her employees. Some of the inmates were developmentally disabled, others were elderly, and others simply lacked any means of support.
A series of fires, one on Tuesday and another on Wednesday, were discovered and extinguished by Mrs. Hatton and her employees. The County Commissioners, learning of the fires, asked Sheriff M.T. Henderson to investigate.
The sheriff and Deputy Sheriff James Card and Deputy Constable Edward Kahrs went to the home. After investigating, talking to various inmates, and extinguishing another small fire, they arrested Henry Plumber, a 60-year-old developmentally disabled man. He confessed, telling the authorities that he set the fires because he was angry because Mrs. Hatton would not let him go to visit his family in Garnett, Kansas. Plumber was taken to the Pettis County Jail.
The sheriff also arrested another man, “General Gentry,” for involvement in the crime. Gentry, who was not related to the other Gentrys in Pettis County, adopting the military title of one of the more well-known Gentrys. He, like Plumber, was developmentally disabled.
Not satisfied with the results of the investigation, Sheriff Henderson continued to look into the situation at the County Home. On July 27, 1910, the Sedalia Democrat announced yet another arrest. Mrs. Alice Moore, a “plain-appearing” 30- year-old woman, was charged with arson. Mrs. Moore was the widow of William Moore, a farm hand from Green Ridge who had died following an infection and the amputation of a badly lacerated hand. Mrs. Moore had applied to be a resident of the County Home, and had been accepted. On Jan. 6, Mrs. Hatton and Mrs. Moore went to St. Louis, where they placed the three Moore children, Henry, 8, Samuel, 6, and a baby girl, 11 months, at an orphanage managed by the Christian Church.
Mrs. Moore was angry the children were sent to an orphanage, and threatened to burn down the county home. Her threats were ignored, as they seemed to be simply the idle ravings of an angry woman.
Moore made a full confession. She told the sheriff she was angry because Mrs. Hatton had sent her children to the orphanage. Mrs. Moore also confessed to involving Gentry and Plumber in the fires. She knew the men were unhappy and asked them to help her burn the home. She arranged piles of kindling and told the men to set them afire.
After Moore’s arrest, she was taken to jail. After being questioned by Prosecutor H.D. Dow, the county court judged all three to be insane. In February, they were taken to the asylum in Nevada, Missouri.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.