The Tragic Death of Uncle Willy

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The Tragic Death of Uncle Willy

His Story Has Always Fascinated Me

William West – known as Uncle Willy – was born on March 28, 1890.  On February 11, 1915, he married my great-aunt, Dollie Jessie Irene Faulkenberry. By 1920, the two were living in Jackson County, Missouri and had two children: Irene, 4, and Walter, 1.

On April 29, 1932, Uncle Willy died when a shotgun blast divided his abdominal aorta.

What happened?

According to the April 28, 1932, Independence Examiner, Uncle Willy went hunting with a 12-gauge shotgun and was found at 1:20 a.m. the next day by a search party of more than 40 citizens. According to the newspaper article, he had been shot directly through the heart and was found lying beside a wire fence “on the Hutt farm, almost three and a half miles southwest of Lone Jack”.

Authorities found his death to be accidental, caused by him pulling his gun through the fence, causing it to accidentally discharge.  At the time of his death, he was survived by Aunt Dollie and seven children. Per the newspaper article, “all of the children are reported to be ill with measles at this time, and the death of the father at this time, will probably leave the family in destitute circumstances”.

[Although the newspaper is dated April 28, the death certificate states April 29 – click the image to enlarge]

Historical Missouri Death Certificate

Was the Death Accidental?

Although I have absolutely no reason to indicate otherwise, the family legend says there was something strange about Uncle Willy’s death. The gossip was that he had actually taken his own life.  I clearly remember one of my aunts, when asked about the event, saying “Uncle Willy didn’t come from very good stock.”  The inference was that there was some mental illness in his family. Of course, I’ll never know the whole story.

As to the family being destitute, that part is true. One of my aunts told me that my grandparents (Dollie’s mom and dad) would drive the 50 or so miles to Lone Jack to bring Aunt Dollie and her family much-needed groceries. Otherwise, the children were going to school with nothing to eat but lard sandwiches.

Uncle Willy and Aunt Dollie are buried in the Lone Jack Cemetery, Jackson Co., Missouri. Whenever my sister and I are in Missouri we go to the cemetery and place flowers.

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