Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tauy Creek Digest #45: Edna Dinsmore


On the morning of Tuesday, April 25, 1916, a little girl in a blue gingham dress was found in a burning abandoned house along 5th Street in Topeka, Kansas. Firefighters were called to the house for the fire and discovered the body of the little girl in the basement, bound, gagged, and dead. Earl Dinsmore identified the body as his daughter's, 9-year-old Edna.

Edna Dinsmore was a student at Lincoln School at 5th and Madison. She resided with her mother and was with her mother, Bessie, that morning at a bakery, where she worked. Earl and Bessie had been divorced and Bessie refused to speak to Earl after his identification of Edna. Edna then left, headed east toward her school. Numerous witnesses said they saw Edna with a man heading west but no one was able to positively identify the man. Several suspects were brought in, questioned, and released with the stipulation to not go far. It was discovered later that day that Fred Bissell, who was brought in and questioned but ultimately let go, knew far more about the murder than he was letting on and a search for him with initiated with two Topeka State Journal reporters being the first to find him. While Bissell explained that he was at the bakery all morning and several people could vouch for him, his statements were quickly revealed as lies.

Fred Bissell, 27-years-old, the son of the proprieter of the bakery that Bessie and Edna had visited that morning, had been getting closer to Edna over the last few months--getting friendlier, buying her sweets, and petting her. Bissell had a history of "moral perversion" starting when he was a boy and spent two years in the Boy's Industrial School. He was released then returned then, as a teenager, attempted an assault on a 7-year-old girl and sent to a reformatory in Hutchinson. He then ended up in the state hospital for assaulting two boys and then the state penitentiary. He was then paroled where he soon assaulted and murdered Edna Dinsmore. Bissell's reasoning for the murder was revenge against Bessie who did not return or appreciate Bissell's advances on her. Bissell was able to lure Edna away from school and into the house on the promise of new books that her mother wouldn't buy her.

Bissell was arrested and, upon hearing about the threat on his life from enraged Topekans, was driven to Lawrence for safety. He was then taken to Lansing to the state penitentiary where he confessed to the crime and, in his confession, revealed that he had suffered a kick to the head when he was a boy and that caused his perversion. He also requested that his brain be operated on. Later, though, Bissell recanted his confession and a trial was held with his family claiming he was innocent due to his injury. Bissell was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison where he died, in 1950.

On Friday, April 28, hundreds of Topekans turned out for Edna's funeral at the Second United Brethren Church. Church choirs provided the music, and four young girls in white who attended Sunday School with Edna were the pallbearers. The funeral was paid for by local women's clubs and donations from the people of Topeka. Edna was laid to rest in a plot donated by the Bloss family. In 1887, Emma Bloss died of typhoid fever. Disease laws of the time stated her body could not leave the state of Kansas so her body was buried in Topeka Cemetery instead of her home state of Indiana. Her husband, John McKnight Bloss, remarried and returned to Indiana. He died in 1905. The plots around the Emma Bloss were donated to Bessie Dinsmore for a stillborn child who died in 1906, Edna, and Bessie.

Bessie, who never really got over the loss of her little girl, passed away in 1941 and is buried next to her daughter under her maiden name of Woods. On the top of Edna's gravestone reads her epitaph:
Sweet as the early morn's breath
And then (  ) (  ) death
With none to help or save
Oh, ye who wander here
Love her (  ) (  )
Above the lowly grave

The graves of Emma Bloss (back), Edna Dinsmore (middle), and Bessie Woods (front).

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