The story of Judge Joseph Slagle is entwined with much urban legend, or maybe that's rural myth. Not only was Slagle suspected of killing his four wives, he did in fact kill Benjamin Collins, his brother-in-law; this was the first recorded murder in Livingston County.
By KIRSTEN MOUTON / Contributing Writer
The story of Judge Joseph Slagle is entwined with much urban legend, or maybe that’s rural myth. Not only was Slagle suspected of killing his four wives, he did in fact kill Benjamin Collins, his brother-in-law; this was the first recorded murder in Livingston County. And he got away with it all. In 2012 Gary Don Thomas, along with Danny Batson Knouse, started a history blog for the Constitution-Tribune, Chillicothe, Missouri: As We Remember. (They both were active on a Facebook page Chillicothe Missouri Remember When.) Thomas enjoyed creating “characterizations” of early pioneers in Livingston County for the blog. These blog posts served as a jumping off point for a book that covered the life of Slagle in more detail, and attempted to solve the mysterious “crimes” that haunt the Slagle name to this day. After five blog posts within six months, Thomas was deeply entrenched in the story of the life of this man. As he began to piece things together, he noticed inconsistencies and some glaring errors. Like any good detective, he started trying to get into the mind of Joseph Slagle. In his book, “The Four Consorts of Joseph Slagle, An Unauthorized Biography of Judge Joseph Slagle,” Thomas states that the “notorious Judge Joseph Slagle was feared, reclusive and wealthy. And he was implicated in the first recorded murder in Livingston County, Missouri – his own bother-in-law. Slagle was also known for creating a private burying ground, surrounded by a high brick wall, that is said to be haunted by the spirits of his four brides – seemingly healthy young women who died inexplicably and were buried without ceremony. Yet, now one stepped forward, fearing they, too, might suffer grave consequences.” Thomas said his book exposes the secrets Slagle tried so hard to protect and sheds light on the man who instilled such fear and suspicion among his neighbors. Thomas greatly enjoyed the research and flexing his sleuthing muscles. There were times when he offered his drafts to anyone who wanted to read and review them. He even asked for opinions on book covers and titles via the Facebook page, Chillicothe Missouri Remember When. It was fun for those interested in history to be able to participate. When asked how he wanted this book to be remembered, Thomas said, “This book was my attempt to provide fact-based answers to a 175-year-old murder mystery that was commonly believed impossible to resolve because the data simply was not available from that era.” But, new tools and technologies and databases are coming online at an exponential rate. “No one could imagine [in] the middle of the nineteenth century the capabilities we have today,” Thomas stated. “By the same token, I believe that none can fully visualize what our capabilities will be in 2025. My hope is that my little ‘science project’ may encourage seekers for truth to begin their personal journey to address longstanding family mysteries thought to be impossible to solve.” “The most personally satisfying result for me was that during the development of the Joseph Slagle murder saga were some ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ emerged that I thought were only tangential ‘bit players’; this information could provide new research opportunities for those that wish to follow up.” Gary Thomas was born and raised in Chillicothe, graduating from Chillicothe High School in 1960. He went on to become a software engineer (before the term was used) and retired in 2007 in Texas. He remained active on Facebook, especially the Chillicothe Missouri Remember When page, until his death on May 29, 2018. Thomas dedicated his 126-page book to Miss Virginia Wall for her lifelong dedication to the students of Chillicothe High School. Services for Gary Don Thomas will be in Garland, Texas, on Saturday, June 23. Inurnment will take place at a later date at Lickfork Cemetery in Gallatin, Mo. The book is available for purchase through Amazon ($19.95) https://www.amazon.com/Four-Consorts-Joseph-Slagle-Unauthorized/dp/147879223X