In November 1912, popular and pretty eighteen-year-old Ella Barham was raped, murdered, and dismembered in broad daylight near her home in rural Boone County, Arkansas. The brutal crime sent shockwaves through the Ozarks and made national news. Authorities swiftly charged a neighbor, Odus Davidson, with the crime. Locals were determined that he be convicted, and threats of mob violence ran so high that he had to be jailed in another county to ensure his safety. But was there enough evidence to prove his guilt? If so, had he acted alone? What was his motive?
This examination of the murder of Ella Barham and the trial of her alleged killer opens a window into the meaning of community and due process during a time when politicians and judges sought to professionalize justice, moving from local hangings to state-run executions. Davidson’s appeal has been cited as a precedent in numerous court cases and his brief was reviewed by the lawyers in Georgia who prepared Leo Frank’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915.
Author Nita Gould is a descendant of the Barhams of Boone County and Ella Barham’s cousin. Her tenacious pursuit to create an authoritative account of the community, the crime, and the subsequent legal battle spanned nearly fifteen years. Gould weaves local history and short biographies into her narrative and also draws on the official case files, hundreds of newspaper accounts, and personal Barham family documents. Remembering Ella reveals the truth behind an event that has been a staple of local folklore for more than a century and still intrigues people from around the country.