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Dr. Bennett Clark HYDE





Classification: Murderer?
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 0 - 3 +
Date of murders: September-December 1909
Date of birth: 1872
Victims profile: James Moss Hunton / Thomas Hunton Swope / Chrisman Swope (the father and relatives of his wife))
Method of murder: Poisoning (cyanide and strychnine)
Location: Kansas City/Independence, Missouri, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on May 16, 1910. Overturned. There were three attempts at retrial, but in 1917, the charges were dismissed. Died on August 8, 1934
photo gallery

Poison mind of Dr. Hyde

Tuesday, March 25th 2008

Miss Frances Swope would not listen to her mother, uncle, sisters, brothers, or, it seemed, to reason.

Her mother, Mrs. Logan Swope, insisted the man Frances loved, Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde, was no good. Everyone in the Swope clan, one of the most prominent families in the state of Kansas, agreed he was not to be trusted.

Their low opinion of the fiancé was based partly upon a previous scrape with the law, in which Dr.Hyde had been arrested as the head of a gang of grave robbers, and partly upon his reputation for cruelty to women.

Frances would hear none of it. In 1905, she secretly married the doctor.

A good wife, Frances stood by her husband, even when another woman sued him for breach of promise within days of the wedding.

She stood by him, even when all her relatives, including her moneybags uncle, Col. Thomas Hunton Swope, shunned the newlyweds.

Frances would continue to stand by her husband, even as he stood before a court four years later, accused of trying to wipe out her entire family with cocktails of typhoid, cyanide and strychnine.

Kin fell ill

It was a gradual process. By 1909, Frances and her husband had wormed their way back into her family's favor, so much so that it seemed reasonable that Hyde would be called when her kin fell ill.

First came James Moss Hunton, Col. Swope's cousin. Dr. Hyde was called to tend to Hunton, who had a stomach problem, in late September 1909. The doctor decided the best treatment would be to extract the bad blood. Two pints and some pills later, Hunton was dead.

Dr. Hyde listed the cause of death as apoplexy.

A few days later, Dr. Hyde was called to the bedside of another family member - no less than the clan chieftain himself, Col. Swope.

Swope was one of the state's wealthiest and most influential citizens. He had come to Kansas in 1857, and promptly started to buy land; by the end of the 19th century he owned big chunks of the state.

A bachelor, Swope made sure that his relatives were well provided for. His will promised generous gifts to siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces, including Frances Hyde. His will also left a good deal of cash to charity, and donated thousands of acres of parkland to Kansas City.

On Oct. 1, 1909, the 82-year-old millionaire needed something to soothe his stomach, so he called on his niece's husband.

Dr. Hyde's "digestion pills" didn't make Swope feel one bit better.

Pearl Keller, the nurse attending him on the day of his death, said that Col. Swope had been reading the newspaper when she gave him his capsule. Within 20 minutes, his limbs began to stiffen, he started groan, then fell into violent convulsions.

His last words, Nurse Keller said, were: "I wish I had not taken that medicine. I wish I were dead."

His wish came true minutes later.

The death certificate, signed by Dr. Hyde, listed the cause as "apoplexy."

In December, more misfortune struck the Swope family. Eight nieces, nephews and cousins - all named in the will - came down with typhoid.

Chrisman Swope died on Dec. 6, three days after he started to show symptoms that bore a disturbing resemblance to those suffered by his late uncle.

It was all too much for Frances' mother. Never a fan of her son-in-law, she was now certain that he harbored murderous intentions.

The motive was money, she told police. Dr. Hyde had seen Col. Swope's will, and was bumping off anyone who stood between him and the old man's fortune.

The bodies of Col. Swope and his nephew were exhumed and examined for traces of poison. Investigators found strychnine, but the concentrations were not high enough to prove that Dr. Hyde had knowingly poisoned his patients.

But then one of Dr. Hyde's colleagues - Dr. Edward Stewart - told police he had given Hyde a test tube filled with typhoid culture on Nov. 10. Hyde told Stewart he was planning to use the cultures for an experiment.

And a druggist came forth, saying that he had sold Hyde large quantities of cyanide and strychnine, which the doctor said he needed to kill rats.

Police arrested Hyde in late December. Frances declared to the press that her husband was wrongly accused.

Motive to kill

There were fireworks at the trial, which started on April 11, 1910, as Frances and her mother, brother and sisters clashed on the witness stand.

"Mother-in-Law tries to hang Son-in-Law," reported one newspaper after Mrs. Swope's testimony that Hyde had knowledge of Swope's will, and thus a motive to kill.

Frances' younger sisters gave damning testimony about Hyde's bedside manner. "Dr. Hyde came into my room and looked over my medicines," said Margaret Swope. A short time later, a nurse gave her a capsule. "My convulsions followed." Another sister said that Hyde had come into her room in the middle of the night and jabbed her arm with a needle. The arm quickly became infected.

Hyde's defense said that Col. Swope had died of old age, and the illnesses among the other relatives were all a result of bad drinking water at the Swope mansion in Independence, where most of the family lived.

The jury, however, could not understand why Dr. Hyde needed all that cyanide and strychnine to kill off a few rats. They found him guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Frances had one terse statement for the press.

"Clark is innocent and he shall be freed," she said.

She hired the best lawyers she could find. In September, they filed an appeal, citing 255 errors in the case and attacking the competence of the poison experts who testified for the prosecution.

'Walls and eyes around me'

Hyde won a new trial, which started in October 1911, and, after eight long weeks, came to an abrupt and bizarre halt. Around midnight on Dec. 11, juror Harry Waldron pried open a nailed transom, crawled through the space, slipped down a fire escape, and bolted from the jurors' hotel.

Earlier that day, he had become agitated when he spotted his children and wife in the courtroom. He missed them so much, he said, it was driving him mad.

Police caught up with the runaway a few days later, but he was in no shape for the jury box. "I had been driven almost to distraction," a wild-eyed and trembling Waldron told the judge. "I couldn't stand being cooped up. There seemed to be nothing but walls and eyes around me."

Hyde's second hearing ended in a mistrial. And while Waldron's lunacy seemed genuine, there were some who suggested that it was all an act, paid for by Hyde's devoted wife.

A third trial in 1913 ended when the jury could not agree. Prosecutors talked about a fourth trial, but in 1917, the charges were dismissed.

Three years later, after bearing him a son and a daughter, Frances Hyde finally saw what her mother had seen in 1905.

In October 1920, charging "repeated and constant acts of cruelty and violence," she filed for divorce.

His family gone, Hyde moved to a small community, Lexington, about 40 miles from Kansas City. He set up a modest country practice, and lived quietly and alone until Aug. 8, 1934.

That day, as was his habit, he had gone to visit the local newspaper office to get a sneak peek at the news. A few seconds after he entered the office, he fell down and was dead when he hit the ground.

The cause of death was listed as apoplexy.


Medicine: Murders in Missouri

Monday, Aug. 20, 1934

At Lexington, 40 miles down the Missouri River from Kansas City, the staff of the Lexington Advertiser-News sluggishly prepared last week's mid-week edition. Toward midnight, old Dr. Hyde walked into the office. He was always welcome there, a learned, well-informed "man with a past," who lived alone above his. downtown office, who every morning before breakfast chinned himself 25 times, took a fast walk of several miles. The Advertiser-News staff heard him say that he wanted to see the Missouri primary returns. He walked around the office barrier toward the newspaper files and soundlessly fell dead from apoplexy.

Twenty-five years ago the name of Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde was in the headlines of every U. S. newspaper as a cold-blooded murderer. A young practitioner, he had married the niece of rich old Thomas H. Swope of Kansas City, who lived in a large country place near Independence.

In October 1909 Dr. Hyde was called to Independence to care for another of his wife's uncles, old James Moss Hunton who was down with apoplexy. Dr. Hyde took two quarts of blood out of Uncle Moss and the patient promptly died. Two days later Uncle Tom complained of a stomach ache. Dr. Hyde gave him a capsule and he, too, promptly died. On Thanksgiving Day, Dr. Hyde was in Independence for a family reunion. Within two weeks the entire Swope family was in bed with typhoid fever. Dr. Hyde returned to his in-laws, gave Mrs. Hyde's brother another capsule, watched him die in convulsions.

For these three deaths Dr. Hyde was put on trial in Kansas City. An autopsy showed that the capsule given Uncle Tom contained strychnine. The State charged that Dr. Hyde had murdered to reduce the size of the Swope family, increase his wife's share in the $3,500,000 Swope estate. (She got $118,000.) Dr. Hyde's defense was that all three had died in the course of ethical medical practice.

The jury found Dr. Hyde guilty of murder and the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment. An appeal brought a new trial which broke up when a juror went mad. The third Hyde trial ended with a jury disagreement in 1913. For four years more the Swopes egged the prosecutors on, then weary of the expensive procedure they agreed to let the indictment against Dr. Hyde be dropped. Dr. Hyde took a job loading sand trucks in Kansas City, later moved to rural Lexington where he had a small practice.

Mrs. Hyde loyally sided with her husband. In 1915 she bore him a son, in 1917 a daughter. In 1920 she divorced him for "cruelty and violence." Last week when Dr. Hyde dropped dead. Mrs. Hyde and her grown children were en route to Seattle for a vacation.


Dr. Hyde Trial: 1910 - Hyde Escapes Justice

Defendant: Dr. Bennett Clarke Hyde
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: R.R. Brewster, M. Cleary, and Frank Walsh
Chief Prosecutors: M. Atkinson, Virgil Conkling, Elliott W. Major, and James A. Reed
Judge: Ralph S. Latshaw
Place: Kansas City, Missouri
Dates of Trial: April 16-May 16, 1910
Verdict: None. There were three attempts at retrial after a conviction in the first trial was overturned, but no verdict was ever sustained against Dr. Hyde.


The Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde trial was a monument to the power of money in the criminal justice system. Hyde's wealthy wife hired the best attorneys available to defend him, and despite the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, he was never convicted.

Bennett Clarke Hyde was born in 1872 in Cowper, Missouri, the son of a Baptist minister, and grew up in Lexington, Missouri. He went to medical school in Kansas City, and stayed in that city to practice medicine after graduation.

From the very start, Hyde's medical career was tainted with scandal. When Hyde was working for his alma mater as an anatomy instructor, two men were arrested for grave robbing, and they confessed that they had been working for Hyde. Charges were filed against Hyde, but were dropped in March 1899. In 1905, Hyde became the Kansas City police surgeon, but he was fired in 1907 for alleged mistreatment of a patient.

On June 21, 1905, Hyde married Frances Swope in a secret marriage that connected him with the richest family in Missouri. Hyde's wife was the niece of Thomas Hunton Swope, who was born in 1829 in Kentucky and moved to Kansas City in 1860. Swope made a fortune in Kansas City real estate, and was now known as Colonel Swope. By 1909 Colonel Swope was 80 years old, and although he was a lifelong bachelor with no children of his own, he was devoted to his many nephews and nieces, several of whom lived with him in his Kansas City mansion.

In September 1909, Colonel Swope suffered a minor injury, and Hyde came to the Swope mansion to take care of him. On October 2, Hyde gave Colonel Swope a pill, which made him violently ill, and he died on October 3. Hyde said that the cause of death was "apoplexy," but the nurse was suspicious. Hyde stayed in the Swope mansion, supposedly to look after the other residents, but a mysterious epidemic of illnesses suddenly swept through the estate over the next few months. Nine people came down with typhoid fever, and Chrisman Swope died after being treated by Hyde. By now there were five nurses in the Swope mansion, and they became afraid that Hyde was trying to kill off the entire Swope clan to collect the family fortune. The nurses went to the authorities. After autopsies on the bodies of Colonel Swope and Chrisman Swope revealed traces of strychnine and cyanide poison, Hyde was indicted for murder on February 15, 1910.


Dr. Hyde and Mr. Swope

The Kansas City Public Library

May 16, 1910: Doctor Bennett Clark Hyde is found guilty of murder after philanthropist Thomas H. Swope and several of his family members die following Hyde’s purchase of cyanide capsules and test tubes of typhoid cultures.

In one of the most notorious trials in Kansas City's history, a jury found Doctor Bennett Clark Hyde guilty of murdering Kansas City real estate developer and philanthropist "Colonel" Thomas H. Swope on May 16, 1910.  Despite strong evidence linking Hyde to the crime, this verdict would be overturned by a higher court in a few months time, leaving the city to ponder whether Hyde had committed the murder.

Born in Kentucky in 1827, the Yale-educated Thomas Swope speculated in mining and real estate in New York and St. Louis before moving to Kansas City at the age of 30.  Once there, Swope entered into the real estate business and eventually owned more land than anyone else in the city.  One of his most notable real estate ventures, known as "Swope's Addition," was located at 10th Street and Grand Avenue. 

Swope is best remembered today not for his real estate activities, but for his gift of Swope Park to Kansas City.  The park's expansive 1,334 acres, located adjacent to the Blue River, provided a space where eventually the city's residents could enjoy picnics, a night at Starlight Theater, trips to the Swope Park Zoo (now the Kansas City Zoo), and golfing.  When the park opened in 1896, nearly 18,000 people arrived to celebrate. 

Nearly a hundred years ago, however, mention of the name "Swope" would instantly summon conversations about a string of mysterious deaths in the Swope family.  On October 3, 1909, just two days after the unexpected death of the executor of Swope's will, Thomas Swope himself died of an apparent "cerebral hemorrhage."  Two months later, typhoid fever took the life of Swope's nephew. 

Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde, the Swope family's physician, came under suspicion for the mysterious deaths.  Dr. Hyde was the respected, but widely resented, president of the Jackson County Medical Society.  He also had married Thomas Swope's niece some time before the deaths.  As a confirmed bachelor, Swope had no children of his own, a fact which placed Dr. Hyde in line for a share of the inheritance of Swope's fortune of $3.5 million.  Prosecuting attorney James A. Reed therefore had little trouble establishing a motive. 

Evidence against Dr. Hyde also seemed abundant.  Investigators revealed that Hyde had purchased cyanide capsules just days before Swope's death.  Surviving witnesses in the family likewise testified that Hyde had given Swope a pill just before his sudden death.  Hyde had also purchased typhoid samples shortly before the outbreak of that disease in the Swope mansion.  Consistent with the growing conspiracy theory, the Hyde family had avoided infection even though most of the Swope family fell ill.  A jury accordingly convicted Dr. Hyde for murder on May 16, 1910. 

As in modern times, however, a legal defense team supported by extensive financial resources could hold a great deal of sway in court.  Dr. Hyde's wife, Francis Hyde, paid for an appeals process that resulted in the overturning of the first trial's verdict by the Missouri Supreme Court.  A mistrial ensued, and the jury failed to convict Hyde in a third trial.  The evidence against Hyde seemed conclusive on the surface, but ultimately the courts ruled that it was merely circumstantial evidence that did not prove his guilt. 

After seven years of court battles, Bennett Clark Hyde was legally cleared of suspicion in the murders.  Public suspicion proved harder to subdue.  The trials had ruined Hyde's career, and he eventually divorced Francis Hyde.  In 1934, Dr. Hyde died without ever confessing to the crimes, leaving the people of Kansas City to wonder what really happened in the Swope mansion in 1909.


Thomas Hunton Swope (1827–1909) was a real estate magnate and philanthropist in Kansas City, Missouri.

Born in Kentucky on October 21, 1827, Thomas Swope was a Yale graduate with money to invest when he came west in 1855 as the Kansas Territory opened. By age 30, Colonel Swope was a wealthy man, due largely to his early downtown real estate investments. In 1896, the seventy year old Swope gave Kansas City one of the largest municipal parks in America. Swope Park, 1,350 acres (5.5 km2) rolling wooded lying four miles (6 km) southeast of town, made his name famous.

But Swope’s name is perhaps more famous for the mysterious circumstances surrounding his sudden illness and demise than for his incredible gift to Kansas City. Swope was known to be mild-mannered and self-conscious, and was a lifelong bachelor. He lived alone until later in life when he moved into the turreted red brick mansion of his late brother in Independence, Missouri. From his sister-in-law’s house, home to seven nieces and nephews, the frugal millionaire commuted daily by streetcar to his downtown Kansas City office in the New England Life building until the month before his death.

Swope’s last days were preoccupied with how best to bestow his wealth. His real estate alone was worth three and a half million dollars. Usually given to self-doctoring, in his last days Swope allowed himself to be treated by Dr. Bennett Clark Hyde, who had married one of his young nieces. On October 3, 1909, just 18 days short of his 82nd birthday, Col. Swope died suddenly in his sister-in-law’s home with Dr. Hyde in attendance, the aftermath of a perplexing, brief and violent illness. Swope's body lay in state at the Public Library where thousands of mourners paid their respects. Until a tomb could be prepared in Swope Park where he had requested burial, he lay in a holding vault.

Three months after Swope's death, Dr. Hyde came under suspicion and was charged with murder by strychnine poisoning in “a plot for money.” Swope’s body was exhumed and an autopsy performed. Three trials, seven years and a quarter of a million dollars later, Hyde was freed, his suspected guilt never proven.

Eight and a half years after his death, Col. Thomas Swope was laid to rest in Swope Park. On April 8, 1918 he was buried high on a hill amid a forest of trees, overlooking his gift to Kansas City. There he lies beneath a Greek temple of white granite, guarded by a pair of stone lions.



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