The "Horrible Butchery" at Lyne's Bluff

[The following story was the August 2008 installment of "Lake Stories With Michael Gillespie" in the Lake of the Ozarks Business Journal.],

On the east side of the Lake, between mile markers 27 and 28, there stands a rather magnificent stone bluff that towers some 240 feet above the water. That bluff has had many names over the years. Early explorers called it La Belle Roche, meaning The Beautiful Rock. It has also been called Shoup's Bluff, The Palisades, and Lyons Bluff.

That last name is the way it is officially recorded on government maps. But the name is incorrect - it is a corruption of the intended word. Instead of Lyons, it should be Lyne's Bluff, for that is the name of the family that once owned the bottom land at the base of the cliff. Somewhere down there under today's Lake was the home of David Lyne. And that home was the site of a gruesome murder back in 1885.

Fifty-four year old David Lyne was born in Virginia and raised in Ohio. Mr. Lyne was well known along the Muskingum Valley, having at various times been engaged in the coal, mercantile, and steamboat business. He had a large mercantile establishment and owned a river steamer. Meeting with reverses, he moved to Missouri in 1871, along with his wife and five children, and his brother, Dr. Martin Lemuel Lyne. David Lyne was described in a local newspaper as being "a quiet citizen and industrious member of society. Although poor, his friends were nearly as numerous as his acquaintances."

One of those friendly acquaintances was Jack Webster, a man with a very different reputation. Jack Webster was said to be insane, and a source of constant trouble to the authorities. He lived near Gunter Springs - an area later known as Ha Ha Tonka. Why, or how, he had befriended David Lyne is a matter of conjecture. Perhaps because Lyne had gone from wealth to poverty, he was sympathetic towards others that fate had dealt with harshly.

In any case, Jack Webster was once again in trouble with the law. On Wednesday, December 3, 1885, Webster had been arrested on a complaint filed by Dr. Leonard Kirtz. The complaint alleged that Webster had assaulted the minor son of Doctor Kirtz. On Thursday, Webster's case was heard before the local justice of the peace. Webster was acquitted. Perhaps the Kirtz boy had exaggerated the incident; perhaps the boy had teased and taunted Webster into action. Webster was, after all, a sick man - everyone agreed to that - and anything might send him into a rage.

On the evening after his hearing, Webster showed up at the Lyne home. It is unclear whether or not he was invited by the benevolent David Lyne, who believed that Webster posed no real threat to anyone. Or it may be that the troubled Webster came on his own. The historical record is silent on the matter. But one disturbing element comes to light. Another guest at the Lyne house that night was Mary Kirtz, a daughter of the doctor who preferred charges against Webster and sister to the alleged victim of Webster's attack.

Nearly all the Lyne household awoke early the next morning, Friday, December 5, though the sun had not yet risen. It was cold and there was breakfast to prepare. Mrs. Lyne sent her son, Frank, out to chop firewood. Webster went out with him. After gathering an armload of wood for the fireplace, Frank asked Webster to cut up a rail for the stove. Webster agreed to do so as Frank re-entered the house. Several minutes passed. The family was now all up save for David Lyne. As Mrs. Lyne and her daughter, Alice, lighted some kindling in the stove and busied themselves in preparation for breakfast, Frank looked out the kitchen door to see whether Webster had cut the wood. About the same time Webster entered through another door with an ax in his hand.

Quicker than the story can be told, Webster lunged toward Mary Kirtz, who was sitting by the hearth. He struck her on the head with the ax and she fell quivering onto the floor, unable to cry for mercy. Twice more he struck her before Alice chanced to turn upon the awful spectacle and screamed in horror.

Mrs. Lyne and her two children ran out of the house in panic, calling upon David Lyne to rise and save himself. He must have been awakened for the family members outside heard shouts and scuffling from within. As the women fled from the scene, Frank ran for help to the home of George Vinson, about a quarter of a mile away. But Vinson was too afraid to investigate by himself, so Frank then proceeded farther to the home of his uncle, Dr. Lemuel Lyne.

Dr. Lyne ran to his brother's house to find David lying dead in the yard. "I sprang to the side of my dead and mangled brother," said the doctor. "The noise of my approach aroused the vagabond, who came running from the other side of the house, where he had dragged the unconscious girl. It was a matter of life and death between us, and the ax with which his horrible deeds had been committed was six feet nearer to him than to me." Lemuel Lyne had a gun in his hand, though he hadn't finished loading it. He made a feint toward the ax, which momentarily checked the wild-eyed Webster.

"I did it. Don't shoot!" cried Webster. No sooner had he said it than he bolted for the ax. At that moment George Vinson, the timid neighbor, came upon the scene with a loaded weapon.

"I told him to kill Webster," said Dr. Lyne. "He fired, but partially missed his aim, turned the monster around, and gave me a chance to finish loading. By this time he stopped as though drawing a weapon." Lyne now got off his shot, the bullet taking effect in the crown of Webster's head, and bringing him to his knees. "I lost no time in reloading," Lyne later testified, "and in the excitement of the moment drew to fire again, but Vinson caught my arm, and told me Webster was dead."

The Linn Creek newspaper took up the story in lurid Victorian style: "The ghastly corpse of David Lyne was lying on the front door which had been torn from its hinges. His head had been crushed by blows on either side, while horrible gashes in the right side, hip, and arm served to further mutilate the body. Just outside another door lay the apparently lifeless form of Miss Kirtz. While near by was the corpse of her assailant. Inside the house were traces of the crimes that had been committed, and evidences of an apparent struggle between Mr. Lyne and his murderer."

Incredibly, Mary Kirtz was still alive, but succumbed to her injuries the following morning. An inquest was made into the incident and the verdict resulted in no arrests. Webster's body was taken away by his brothers and buried in an undisclosed location. One can only wonder what must have been going on in his twisted mind that fateful morning. Surely he meant to exact a horrible revenge on the Kirtz family. But why did he also turn on a friend?

David Lyne was buried in Rockdale Cemetery, along today's F Road. His brother, Dr. Lemuel Lyne is also interned there, but that wasn't always the case. Having died in 1888, just three years after his brother's murder, Dr. Lyne was originally buried in a cemetery on the Lyne farm. That Lyne family cemetery was one of several that fell below the projected shoreline of the Lake. In 1931, Dr. Lyne's grave and the others there had to be moved to new locations.

If you're ever boating along the inside of Linn Creek Bend, opposite Racetrack Hollow at mile marker 28, you'll be right on top of the old Lyne homestead. We know the bend as a scenic turn of the Lake. But it was once regarded as the site of Camden County's most horrendous murder of the nineteenth century.

© 2008 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.