The John R. Kizer Story
He parlayed a hog needle and a few capsules into
a large fortune, murdered eleven, collected on nine.
John Kizer grew up among animals and, with a single and emphatic exception, he liked them. He hated dogs. This may have been merely reflecting the opinion of several local farmers who objected to dogs harrowing the livestock. It may have been because he had been bitten by one when he was a child. The fact remained that before he was 15 he thought nothing of sitting up all night with an ailing sow. But he would kick, viciously and with all his strength, any canine that crossed his path. By the time he was 25, he had decided to become a veterinarian. In those days nothing more than a personal decision was needed. Not until 1915, did the state of Arkansas pass a law, which required certain educational qualifications for veterinarians. Even then the law stated that anyone who had practiced for two years prior to the passage of the statute would receive a license without examination.
In spite of his lack of formal schooling, Kizer proved an excellent vet. He possessed a knack of getting along with animals. He handled them skillfully. He prepared medicines and serums of his own which seemed to work miraculously on ailing hogs and cows.
In 1917 Kizer was 45 years old. By the financial standards of that day and that area, he had something more than an adequate income. He was well known throughout the state. He was extremely well read in his own field. He knew a great deal about modern veterinarian and agricultural practices. He was highly respected by both farmers and various county officials.
However, in certain quarters, John Kizer wasnt too well liked. First, he was penurious to a high degree. He spent money with marked reluctance. He invariably found some excuse which prevented him from contributing to any local charity. Second, he was a dog poisoner.
His hatred of dogs had not abated during the years. Now when a dog annoyed him, he would snatch his hog needle, the hypodermic with which he inoculated sick pigs, load it with some special preparation of his own, and shoot it into the luckless animals veins. This alienated many of his clients. Those who wanted his help for an ailing cow or hog locked up their watchdogs before they would send for Kizer.
One baffled farmer of Randolph County once said, I just dont get it. John Kizer stood by my sick calf for 18 hours. He didnt spare himself to save its life. Then, on the way home from the farm, he ran into my old dog. He poisoned her. I just dont get it.
Several other farmers didnt get it either. There were some who tolerated the vet and kept their dogs out of the way. Others, who were dog lovers, wouldnt permit Kizer on their on their property. Because of his genuine ability, the latter group was a small minority.
Until 1917 John Kizer had been a bachelor with no fixed abode. In that year he met Mrs. Birdie Brooks. Mrs. Brooks was a widow with three grown children and an inheritance. The inheritance was no fortune but it enabled her to live comfortably. The childrens names were John, Essie and Lorene. John Kizer seemed smitten with Birdie Brooks. He courted her and proposed. There is no reason at all to believe that, at that time, her money had anything to do with Kizers marriage.
After the wedding, the Kizers and the three Brooks children settled down in the town of Pocahontas, the county seat of Randolph County. Shortly afterwards they were both appointed county agents. The job entailed traveling about the county, instructing farmers and their wives in such matters as husbandry and agriculture. His wife taught the farmers women folk new methods of canning and preparing food. They were the best pair of agents that Randolph County had ever seen or had.
It wasnt until 1925, when John Kizer had been married for 8 years, that he underwent the incredible metamorphosis which was to stay with him until the day he died. Perhaps, the inordinate love of money which he had always felt became overwhelming. In any event, he decided that Birdie should take out a life insurance policy.
Docilely, unsuspectingly, she did so. A few weeks after delivery of the policy, she took to her bed. In those days, they did not diagnose any inesplicable fever as a virus. But they had another equally general word. It was malaria. Birdie Kizer had a temperature, chills and a touch of ague. Obviously, it was malaria.
The children suggested that a doctor be sent for. But their stepfather overruled them. We dont need a doctor, he said. No sense in paying fees. I can cure hogs of pig cholera. I should be able to cure your mother of a touch of malaria.
Kizer proceeded to treat his wife, much as he would have treated a prized sow. He inoculated her, using his hog needle, with some secret preparation of his own. He sat by her bedside through the long hours of the night. His devotion seemed touching, even to the children. However, the medication didnt appear to be working. Birdie Kizer got worse instead of better.
One afternoon, when Kizer was out of town looking after a colicky horse, Birdie lay moaning and suffering in her bed. Her son John looked at his mother and noticed that her right arm was swollen to tremendous size. He sent for an ambulance.
In the hospital, the doctors examined the arm carefully, shook their heads, consulted and decided that the only thing, which might conceivably save Birdies life, was immediate amputation. They amputated the arm and three weeks later she was dead.
Birdie Kizer had been a popular woman in Randolph County. She was mourned widely. There was some gossip regarding her death. No one, however, even whispered that John Kizer had deliberately killed his wife. Of course, it was known that he had treated her. He was criticized for not calling a doctor, for using the methods of a veterinarian on a human being.
Lorene Brooks criticized him most severely of all. She declared that she held her stepfather responsible for her mothers death. She moved out of the house, vowing that she never again would even speak to John Kizer.
But when a month had passed, the gossip had died down. John distressed Birdies death. He bought a huge and expensive stained glass window, which he installed in the Pocahontas Methodist Church. On one side it bore the name of Birdie Kizer. On the other, the names of John Kizer and his three stepchildren.
It quickly became known that the children had not contributed to the window. John Kizer had paid for it all by himself. This fact disarmed the criticism. It was well known that Kizer held money in tremendous regard. If he had reached deep in his wallet to buy a memorial for Birdie, it was obvious that he felt deeply about her sudden death. Even though his treatment of her may have worsened her malaria, the county now agreed that it had been only a most unfortunate accident. Within three months John Kizer was far more pitied than censored.
About this time, John and Essie Brooks left their stepfathers home to marry. John Kizer was left alone. His friends in town suggested that he remarry. Kizer agreed that this was an excellent idea. He was now 53 years old and the prospect of reverting permanently to bachelorhood didnt appeal to him.
He looked around the country with eyes perhaps more opportunistic than amorous. His gaze finally settled on Martha Anderson. Martha owned a prosperous cattle ranch some 30 miles north of Pocahontas. She was an attractive woman in her 40s. She was charming, well liked and an excellent cook. She would have made a perfect wife for John Kizer. But, unfortunately, she was married.
There were, from Kizers viewpoint, two ways to remedy this condition. One was the divorce court, which, considering that the Andersons were both respectable and happily married, was out of the question. The other was the sudden obliteration of Elmer Anderson. This didnt seem too difficult.
On a miserable autumn night in 1926, Mary Anderson came to Pocahontas to do some shopping. The rain had pelted down all day. The roads were muddy and almost impassable. Mrs. Anderson decided not to drive home. She telephoned her husband that she would stay in Pocahontas with some friends.
Before dusk, this fact had come to the ears of John Kizer. He found it most interesting. He loaded certain tools of his veterinary trade into his black bag, cranked up his Model T Ford and drove out of town, over muddy roads toward the Anderson Ranch.
At 7 oclock of the following morning, the local undertaker received a shocked telephone call from John Kizer. Im in the Anderson house, he announced. I happened to be in the neighborhood last night. I was buying some cattle out here. I stayed with Anderson last night. When I got up this morning, I found him dead - a heart attack, Id guess. Youd better come out and pick him up. I want the best coffin you have, Ill pay for it.
The undertaker murmured his condolences and mentioned something about a death certificate. There was no trouble about that. Kizer summoned the Anderson family doctor who signed the death certificate, agreeing with Kizer that the sudden demise was a result of heart failure. Kizer remained at the Anderson home until the widow returned. He sat about consoling her. Shortly afterwards he proposed marriage.
Mrs. Anderson declined the honor on what was probably the luckiest day of her life. She had loved her former husband, she said, and she would never think of marrying again. Kizer persisted. He had gone to some trouble in the matter and it didnt seem fair that he should go unrewarded.
But Martha Anderson was adamant. She had a high regard for Kizer, she said, but she would never marry again. And with this Kizer had to be content. He went back to his house in Pocahontas and looked around for other prospects.
It took him a year to find one. One day his niece, Mrs. Robert Riggs, who lived on a farm a few miles from Pocahontas, became ill. When Kizer heard of this he loaded his car with flowers, eggs and various other delicacies. He sat out for the Riggs farm. He also took his black bag and his professional instruments.
He was welcomed. His presents were accepted and he was warmly thanked for his consideration. Dont even mention it, he said. Im all alone in the world. It doesnt matter where I live. Im going to stay right here until my niece gets well. You have the farm to look after, Bob. Youll be busy. I can stay right here and look after your wife.
This, the Riggs thought, was a most Christian thing to do. Uncle John was given the spare room and the run of the house. He spent most of his time at Mrs. Riggs bedside He even offered his treatment. Doctors are hopelessly old fashioned, he said. Ive got some stuff in my bag which will cure you in no time. Youve only got a touch of malaria.
He produced his hog needle, filled it with some esoteric liquid and administered it to his niece. She didnt improve. As a matter of fact, within a month she was dead.
This circumstance rather baffled her doctor, who had not been told of Kizers treatments. But he signed a death certificate which, as a matter of course, stated tat Mrs. Riggs had died of natural causes.
The death of Mrs. Riggs brought Kizer and Robert Riggs even closer together than they had been before. Kizer stayed on at the Riggs farm, conducting his veterinary business from there.
One night, as they sat at supper, Kizer announced abruptly that he intended to make Robert Riggs his heir. I have no children of my own, he said ... You are my nieces husband and your one of my best friends. I shall see my lawyer in the morning. You shall inherit all my property.
Riggs was impressed and grateful. Whether or not Kizer actually did consult his attorney the next day is not known. He probably didnt. It wasnt necessary because Kizer knew something, which ordinarily is known only to providence. He was quite sure that Robert Riggs would die long before the Kizer will was ever probated.
For a week after that, Kizer hinted that perhaps, since he had willed all his earthly possessions to Riggs, it might be a nice friendly thing if Riggs reciprocated the gesture, Riggs, who had no children, agreed.
He made out a will, leaving his farm and the $10,000 in cash he had collected from the insurance company upon the death of his wife to John Kizer. Then, not too surprisingly, he became ill.
Kizer stayed close to his sick friend. He refused to make his professional calls. He cooked for Riggs, attended him. In addition, he treated him. No sense in wasting dough on doctors, he said. Any good vet knows as much as the average M.D.
Whether Kizer knew as much as the average doctor was open to argument. Within a month, Robert Riggs had joined his wife in the family burial plot. Again there was some gossip in the county, but only among those who didnt count socially. Most people still considered John Kizer one of the props of the community. It seemed reasonable that he had inherited Riggs money. After all, he had been Roberts closest friend.
Those who regarded Kizer with suspicion commented on the fact that whenever there was a death of someone close to him, he seemed to have been prominently mentioned in the will. Moreover, he always made the funeral arrangements. He invariably insisted upon swift burial.
However, his high standing in the area remained untainted as was proved by his next business enterprise. He had a distant relative, Aunt Lizzie Robinson. Aunt Lizzie, almost 70 years old, owned a few acres of rich farmland and had a few thousand dollars in the bank. Aunt Lizzie called on Kizer one day and made what he considered a most interesting proposal.
John, she said, Im an old woman. I have a friend, Mrs. Willa Brown, a widow, whos also old. We need someone to take care of us.
On the face of things, this didnt appear to be an attractive deal. Kizer had no desire to become a nursemaid for a couple of old ladies. But as Aunt Lizzie talked he became more interested.
Mrs. Brown and I have a little money, she said. And a little property. We thought wed deed everything over to you if youd promise to take care of us for the rest of our lives. We do need someone to look after us.
As Kizer looked thoughtful, Aunt Lizzie pressed her point. You see, John, youll be taking a sort of a gamble, like an insurance company. If we live a long time you actually may lose a little money on the deal. On the other hand, if we die within a few years, youll keep what weve given you.
On those terms, John Kizer snapped at the proposition. He was positive that Aunt Lizzie and Mrs. Brown wouldnt live long enough to cost him any money. Kizer rented a small cottage near his house in Pocahontas and installed the two old ladies in it. His manner toward them was kind and thoughtful. He didnt bother to tell the townspeople that he was being paid for his services. They believed he was motivated only by his own Christian heart.
Aunt Lizzie died first. She came down with what Kizer diagnosed as malaria. Apparently, it was the only disease he recognized. He treated her himself. He still wasnt wasting cash on doctors. He gave her several injections with his hog needle.
On the day of her death, he gave her a shot from the hypodermic, then went to a political meeting. An hour before she died, Aunt Lizzie spoke to Mrs. Brown. I was feeling a lot better, she said, until John came over here this morning and gave me that shot. Somehow, the medicine has made me feel worse. Youd better go to the meeting and fetch him. I feel real bad.
Mrs. Brown hobbled out of the house. It took her the better part of an hour to find Kizer and bring him back to the cottage. When they arrived, Aunt Lizzie was dead. John Kizer shed discreet tears, then rushed down to McNabb, the undertaker, and ordered immediate embalming.
No sooner had Aunt Lizzie been laid to rest, than Mrs. Brown came down with a slight case of malaria. She took to her bed and Kizer attended her. A week later he again saw McNabb, arranging a funeral to be billed, of course, to him.
In January, 1929, Kizer was called to the farm of Mrs. Grace Adams. Mrs. Adams was a widow whose problem, at the moment, was a sick boar. Kizers hog needle was eminently more successful on sick boars than it was on sick people. He treated the animal and cured it. Mrs. Adams was grateful.
Under ordinary circumstances, it was dangerous for a landed widow to be grateful to John Kizer. It started his avaricious brain cells functioning. After his first visit, Kizer stopped off at the Adams farm for coffee and doughnuts and impressed the widow with his courtesy and kindness.
What John Kizer might have had in his mind concerning Mrs. Adams future will never be known. Their friendship broke off abruptly. One afternoon, when Kizer was leaving the Adams house, a spotted hound ran across the road in front of his car. Kizer braked the car and called the dog. He opened his bag, took out his hog needle and filled the dogs veins with poison. He drove away, a happy smile upon his lips.
The next time he called on Mrs. Adams, he was met by an angry woman with flashing, indignant eyes. She stood on the threshold, barring his entry into the house. She said, You are not welcome here any more.
Kizer appeared surprised, But why not?
You are a murderer.
For an instant Kizers pulse picked up a beat. He said, in a shaken voice, Why do you say that?
You killed my dog. I saw you from the window. You gave it some sort of injection. He was dead an hour later.
Kizer drew a deep breath of relief. Oh, that, he said, Thats not murder. Dogs are a nuisance in this county. They bother cattle.
Mrs. Adams didnt accept his theory. I love dogs, she said, and I loved that dog particularly. I consider you a murderer. Please get off my property and dont come back.
This was a lucky day for Mrs. Adams. It was probably a day which insured the fact that she would outlive John Kizer. With Kizer removed from her list of friends, it was highly doubtful that she would come down with a touch of malaria.
As a matter of fact, she never did. She lived long enough to call John Kizer a murderer for a second time. And on that occasion it had nothing to do with poisoned dogs.
Two months later, John Kizer met Mrs. Rozena Bonner Arnold. She, too, was a widow. She had one child, a son, named Bonner, who was, then, 8 years old. Rozena Arnold was the richest woman Kizer had yet dealt with. Her husband had left her several blocks of real estate, some farmland and other valuable property. John Kizer promptly forgot about Grace Adams to devote his time, talents and charm to the courting of Rozena Arnold.
It was a successful courtship. Not only did he win Rozenas affection, but her son, Bonner, liked him very much. And so did Rozenas parents. The Bonner family owned a luxurious home on the Maynard Road, a few miles north of Pocahontas. They owned property in the town itself and held several acres of first rate farmland in the northeastern section of the state.
When the time came for the wedding, John Kizer realized that this was the greatest financial opportunity of his career. He overcame his penury to such an extent that Pocahontas was stunned at the lavishness of the wedding. He bought and furnished a new home for his bride. He bought the first electric refrigerator that the town had ever seen.
Everyone who was anyone at all attended the wedding reception, with the exception of Grace Adams. She regarded the marriage with a suspicious eye. She was related to the Arnolds, whose son was had been Rozenas first husband. She was fond of Rozena and she could not find it in her heart to trust a man who poisoned dogs.
But Kizers behavior to his new family seemed to belie Mrs. Adams suspicions. He apparently doted on his wife. His in-laws were constant visitors to the house. He took young Bonner hunting and taught him about animals. He and all the Bonners got along beautifully.
There was, from Kizers point of view, a single fly in the ointment. He discovered it after he had been married a month. It was then that he spoke to Rozena about insurance. I think, he said, you should take out a policy. Ill take one out, too, in your favor.
Why, asked Rozena disconcertingly. I dont need it. If you should pass on, I have enough to take care of myself and Bonner. I understand you have money too. If I should die first, you wouldnt need anything.
Thats an economically unsound idea, said Kizer. Everyone carried life insurance, even millionaires, who certainly dont actually need the money. Ask you father and mother about it.
You ask them, said Rozena.
When Kizer did so, he learned that it was from them that his wife had picked up her ideas about insurance. The Bonners were dead set against it. Why its like selling your dead, said Mrs. Bonner.
Its a form of speculation, said her husband. Im dead set against speculation.
The way John Kizer was playing it, there was no speculation involved at all; it was a dead certainty. But obviously he could not tell Bonner this. He went home to Rozena and resumed his argument.
An insurance policy, he said, will guarantee a good education for Bonner when he grows up.
Ill pay for that, she said.
The Lord giveth, said Kizer sonorously, and the Lord taketh away. No one knows when his time will come.
If my time comes before your, said Rozena tartly, youll pay for his education. You can afford it.
Kizer blinked and lamely fell back on his argument that Rozenas ideas were not economically sound. He kept his argument up for some time. Finally, he won a partial victory. Rozena agreed to take out some life insurance, but only for the amount of $500.
Kizer obtained her signature on the application, then, unknown to his wife, raised the $500 figure to $25,000. As it turned out this proved economically sound - with Kizers help.
In September, 1932, Kizer journeyed to Hardy, Arkansas to buy some goats. This was in the heart of a scenic resort area so he asked Little Mother, as he called Rozena, to accompany him. She appeared well enough when she left. When Kizer brought her home, two days later, she was suffering from agonizing convulsions.
Later, he said, Before we took the trip, I had noticed that her color was bad and that she had several symptoms of malaria. I told her that she could come with me only if she took some quinine capsules first. I, personally, made up the capsules.
She took them but said they made her feel sick. On the way to Hardy, she got to feeling quite bad. I drove down by the bank of Spring River and fixed the car cushion on the ground while I bathed her face. Then she got to cramping so badly that I went to a drugstore to get something to ease her. When I came back, I could see that she was lots worse but the anti-pain medicine from the drugstore relieved her. I put her in the car and drove right home. We got home late and I put her to bed.
On the following day, when John Kizer did something, normal enough for anyone else, but most unusual for him. He summoned a doctor to examine his wife. The doctor agreed with Kizer that the case was hopeless. He also agreed that Rozena was dying of convulsions caused by malaria.
This did not necessarily mean that Kizers diagnosis was right or that the physician was incompetent. But it may suggest that he was greedy and unethical. A later examination of the physicians books showed that he had been paid $400 by the frugal John Kizer for that single visit to Rozenas bedside.
But no one knew this until much later. Kizer raced down to Undertaker McNabb to arrange for immediate embalming and a modest funeral. Young Bonner, Rozenas son, and Mr. and Mrs. Bonner were, of course, stricken by Rozenas death. Kizer was a pillar of strength in their sorrow. He made all the necessary arrangements. He mourned his wife and wept for her.
Rozena was buried and Kizer produced his $25,000 insurance policy. He also produced a second policy in the amount of $10,000, which he had somehow taken out without his deceased wifes knowledge. In addition to this he inherited her considerable real estate property.
Once again the whispered gossip arose to something approaching a high wind. John Kizers relatives seemed to die like flies, or perhaps like the dogs he poisoned. And inevitably, after McNabb had taken the corpses to the graveyard, it was disclosed that John Kizer had become enriched as a direct result of the deaths.
Heretofore, the gossip had been restricted to a few residents of Pocahontas. No one of position or influence had risen to challenge Kizer or to voice any serious suspicions of him. But this time, Grace Adams spoke up. She wrote a letter to the sheriff, suggesting that the body of Rozena be exhumed.
However, when questioned, she could only repeat what she had said many times before. She simply could not trust a man who poisoned innocent dogs who had done him no harm. As a matter of routine, the sheriff spoke to the Bonners.
They were shocked and indignant. John Kizer was a wonderful son-in-law. He had treated their daughter with overwhelming kindness. He was their good friend and any suggestion that Rozena had died from other than natural causes was egregious. Moreover, a doctor had been in attendance at the time of death and had signed the death certificate.
This stilled the rumors. John Kizer went about his business, which by this time was a very flourishing one, indeed. He was a substantial man in the county, a man of property and repute. He also was a first rate veterinarian and his services were in constant demand among the farmers. But Kizer was not yet content. There were still too many dogs in the world, to his way of thinking. There were a few people, too, whose deaths might further enrich him.
At this point in his career, the Bonners played into his unscrupulous hands. Not only did the elderly couple like Kizer but they doted on their grandson. They suggested that Kizer and young Bonner move from the house in Pocahontas and come live with them in the house on the Maynard Road. They were lonely, they said, after the death of their daughter. They would feel less so if Kizer and their grandson lived with them.
To this request John Kizer agreed. Whatever grisly plans he had for the future were not yet completely formulated. But they certainly concerned the Bonners. It could do no harm to keep them under his eye until he had come to a decision.
By December, Kizer had made up his mind. By any standards the Bonners were rich, far richer than their son-in-law. This was obviously an inequitable situation. Something should be done about it. Kizer spoke to his in-laws. He said, I think we should all move in to town. Its nearer to Bonners school. Its much more convenient for my practice and my various business interests. On the other hand, Im so fond of you two - I regard you as I did my own father and mother - I want you to come live with me.
The Bonners were demurred. Theirs was the finest house in the area, expensively furnished, and professionally decorated. They didnt want to leave it.
John Kizer exerted all his considerable charm. The Bonner house impressed him only because of its cash value. He didnt care about its charm or elegance. He became solicitous. I dont think you two should stay out here alone all winter, he said. Youre not as young as you were and you may become ill. Come to town with Bonner and me. Just for the winter. Well all move back here in the spring.
That seemed reasonable enough. The Bonners agreed. By Christmas, the old folks, Bonner and John Kizer were installed in the house in Pocahontas.
Two nights after the move had been made, shortly after midnight on a bitterly cold night, a motorist phoned the sheriffs office that there was a terrific fire out on Maynard Road.
The sheriff summoned the volunteer firemen. With sirens howling they sped off to the north. The motorist had spoken truly. It was, indeed, the biggest fire ever seen in Randolph County. The Bonner house was burning like an inferno. The firemen and a host of other volunteers fought gallantly until dawn. But the water kept freezing and a high wind fanned the flames. By daylight, the beautiful Bonner home was a charred wreck, a complete loss.
Father and Mother Bonner, as Kizer always called them, were saddened by the fire. First we lost Rozena. Now we have lost our home. Its lucky John insisted we come here. We might have been burned to death in our beds.
Her husband shook his head sadly. Johns always been good to us, he said, Hes usually been right in a business way too. Now Im sorry Ive always been so dead set against insurance. The house and furnishings are a total loss. Well get nothing.
Oh yes, we will, said John Kizer. Then he hastily corrected himself. "I mean, you will."
How come? asked Bonner. We had no insurance.
Yes, you had, said Kizer. I took out a $15,000 policy for you a few days ago.
But why? You didnt tell us, Bonner said, frowning.
No. I wasnt sure youd approve. I know what a low opinion you have of insurance. But I figured that, since the house would be vacant all winter, no one there to look after things, it was better to play it safe. The house is gone, but now you have enough money to build another one, if you want to.
There were certain people in the country - and Grace Adams empathetically was one of them - to whom the sudden fire and the unannounced purchase of the insurance looked as fishy as anything ever caught in nearby Spring River. But Father and Mother Bonner did not possess the same cynical outlook, as did Mrs. Adams.
To them the fire was most unfortunate, but had it not been for their devoted son-in-law they may have all been burned in their beds; had it not been for his acumen in purchasing the insurance, the house would be a total loss. Their opinion of Kizer was, at this moment, higher than it had been.
The view of the insurance company was rather similar to that of Mrs. Adams. It was difficult to believe that a totally destructive fire, occurring before the ink on the policy was dry, was entirely coincidental. At first the company balked at paying their insurance. But after Kizer threatened to sue, not only for the money but for defamation of character as well, the company capitulated.
Kizers next move was legally to adopt young Bonner. After all the papers were signed, he evidenced tremendous interest in his new sons financial well-being. He bought stocks and bonds in the boys name. He issued cash on local mortgages, making out the mortgages in Bonners name. This impressed the Bonners. It even impressed some of the townspeople, who had suspected Kizer of foul play.
At this time, Kizer suggested to Father Bonner that he exchange some 600 acres of fine farmland in the northeastern part of the state for some town lots, which Kizer owned. Father Bonner didnt think much of the deal.
Thats the best farmland in the state, son, he said. I wouldnt want to exchange it for town property.
This was no news to Kizer. He knew quite well that it was the best land in that section of Arkansas. Naturally, he wanted it.
But Father Bonner was adamant on this point. He was going to hang on to that farmland. After Mother and I die, he said, itll go to young Bonner. Im looking out for his interests.
In 1934, Father Bonner was collapsed while walking in a field. The first man to reach his side was John Kizer. Kizer carried the old man and put him to bed. For once in his life, he did not diagnose an illness as malaria.
Youve had a stroke, he said. But dont worry about it. I have something which will bring you out of it in no time.
Docilely, Bonner swallowed the capsules Kizer gave him. He lay in bed for two weeks, during which time, be became steadily worse. When he finally insisted on seeing a doctor, it was too late.
Kizer sent for the same physician to whom he had paid $400 at the time of his wifes death. It is not a matter of record how much the doctor was paid on this occasion. Anyway, the doctor agreed that Bonner had indeed suffered a fatal stroke. The next morning, he signed the death certificate.
Among those at Father Bonners funeral service was Grace Adams. A relative of Rozenas first husband, she had, until the advent of John Kizer, always been friendly with the old Mr. Bonner. Duty dictated that she pay her respects.
Mrs. Adams and Kizer avoided each other. But at last Kizer said in a loud voice, Im glad that Father Bonner had his first attack in a field away from the house and that a doctor was present when he died.
Mrs. Bonner seemed surprised at this remark. Why do you say that? she asked.
Kizer glared at Mrs. Adams. He was quite aware that she had agitated for the exhumation of Rozenas body. Because, he said, it may silence those who gossip about me. It may stop them from whispering that I did away with my father.
Grace Adams met his gaze coolly. Time will prove all things, she said calmly.
Kizer flushed and began to curse but Mrs. Bonner reproved him. Remember, she admonished, We are in the presence of the dead.
Kizer immediately recovered, apologized and the incident was forgotten, though not by Mrs. Adams.
After a decent interval, during which Bonners will was probated and his property transferred to his wife, Kizer brought up the matter of swapping some of his city lots for the Bonners rich farmland. She deeded him 326 acres of land and two blocks in Pocahontas for some valueless lots of his. He assumed a small mortgage on another 160-acre tract. On June 15th, 1936, she gave him 585 acres of fertile farmland and three more city blocks.
Immediately after that, the old lady became ill. She had been in poor health for some time, a condition that seemed to have developed without any aid from Kizer or his capsules or needle. But in July she was forced to take to her bed.
Certainly Mrs. Bonner never thought her son-in-law anything less than a ministering angel. She refused to have a doctor in the house. When friends or relatives called, she ordered them away. John will provide anything I need. I dont need visits from anyone else.
Mrs. Bonner died during the final week of a blistering hot July. McNabb buried her. It wasnt until three weeks later that Kizer registered the final deed, which awarded him the huge tract of farmland.
Again gossip swept over the town. Three of the Bonner family was dead. Only the boy remained and the fact of Kizers registering the real estate deed after Mrs. Bonners death was regarded as suspicious by many - especially by Mrs. Adams.
But as usual, John Kizer held himself aloof and ignored the talk. His solo problem now was young Bonner. The youth was almost 16. He was well off. Kizer had several interests in the boys name. He had inherited from his mother and his grandparents. Until his majority all his property was held in trust for him by Kizer, who was now his legal father.
In 1936, young Bonner came to Kizer and announced he wanted to quit high school. John Kizer was not a man who had any exalted ideas regarding education. He believed it was better for a young man to be out in the world where he could pick up a dollar in one way or another. Well all right, Bonner, he said. If you really want to. What will you do? Work on one of the farms?
Bonner shook his head. He had a far better, more adventurous idea than that. He was going to join the Navy.
The Navy? echoed Kizer and there was a note of alarm in his voice.
Bonner was valuable to him. Bonner possessed too much money to be permitted to sever his relationship with Kizer. If the boy enlisted in the navy, he might well remain there until he attained his majority. He would be far away from Kizer, far beyond the reach of the veterinarians malarial germs. Quitting school was one thing; joining the Navy was another.
Kizer demurred. He pointed out that the Navy was a hard way of life for a young boy. He reversed himself and on second thought came to the conclusion that, after all, education was a fine thing.
But you said it didnt matter, said Bonner. I want to be a sailor, I want it more than anything else. I want to make a career out of the Navy.
A career? That meant Bonner might never return home, that his wealth would forever be beyond the reach of John Kizer. Kizer essayed a compromise. Bonner, he said, Ill make a deal with you. Finish high school first. If, after you are graduated, you still want to go to sea, Ill back you up. Youll have my permission.
So Bonner Kizer - his name had been legally changed at the time of the adoption - entered his junior year in the Pocahontas High School. This was in Sept., 1936. He was a handsome, athletic boy, popular with his classmates and a right guard on the football team. He was resigned to wait two years before he entered the Navy. He had come around to his fathers point of view.
On October 9th, Bonner played a game against Pocahontas traditional rival, Corning High School. Bonner played strenuously and during the third period he was forced to leave the game because of an injured shoulder.
During the next week, Bonner visited Dr. H. H. Price, a Pocahontas chiropractor, for treatment. As the doctor adjusted the bad shoulder, he observed an ugly red swelling below the left elbow. Dr. Price asked about it.
It began, said Bonner, when father started treating me for malaria. Hes been giving me injections in the arm.
The doctor frowned and made a more detailed examination. As he finished, John Kizer came into the office to pick up Bonner. The doctor drew him aside.
Mr. Kizer, he said your sons shoulder injury is trivial. But theres something else wrong with him. Theres an accumulation of poison in his system. Its my opinion that hes in a most serious condition. I suggest you take him to your family doctor.
Kizer nodded gravely. The boy has some ruptured blood vessels and a bad heart, which Im afraid may become paralyzed. He paused, then said something, which Dr. Price had good reason to remember. If it does, therell be one less player on the football team.
Bonner did not attend his classes during the week of October 19th and for an excellent reason. On Monday and Tuesday he lay convulsively in his bed. On Wednesday, he was dead.
John Kizer communicated with the undertaker, McNabb, who was also the coroner of Randolph County. As usual, Kizer instructed the undertaker to embalm Bonners body as soon as possible. He wanted a quiet, inexpensive funeral.
News of the youths death swept through the town, through the county. Following it came not the usual breeze of gossip but a roar of rage. Groups gathered on the streets of Pocahontas. Stores were deserted as the citizens discussed the sudden and swift death of young Bonner. Some began to make a count. They figured that 10 people close to John Kizer had died during the past decade. And in that period of time, Kizer had become a very rich man.
The angry wave of talk grew violent. There was talk of a lynch mob, talk of dragging Kizer from his house and demanding that he confess to murder. It was then that Mrs. Adams approached McNabb, the coroner and undertaker. Mr. McNabb, she said, I demand an investigation of this boys death. You must not embalm him until there has been an inquest. I insist on this.
McNabb looked dubious. Well, he said, I can hold off until you speak to the sheriff and the county attorney. Theyll have to issue an order for an inquest.
Mrs. Adams went to the office of Sheriff John Thompson. She told him of her suspicions and she told him something more. She said that, a few weeks before, she had been eating in a Pocahontas restaurant when two insurance salesmen, known to her, took a nearby table. They discussed a $15,000 life insurance policy, which Kizer had asked them to issue on his stepsons life.
Mrs. Adams at once arose and went to their table, she said. She made an impassioned speech against the granting of the policy. If you issue it, she said, you will be signing Bonners death warrant. She told the insurance men of all the peculiar deaths of those close to John Kizer. The men had heeded her. The policy had not been issued.
Sheriff Thompson consulted with Deputy Prosecuting Attorney George Steimel. Steimel was aware of the spirit of mob violence that was stalking the town. He said, Ill order an inquest. Wed better arrest Kizer, for his own safety. We can sneak him out of town into the jail at Paragould.
Thompson nodded, Ill tell McNabb about the inquest. Then Ill pick up Kizer.
John Kizer was the most indignant man in Randolph County when the sheriff informed him he was under arrest. For what? he demanded.
For your own sake, said the sheriff, To save you from a mob. If you want to be technical, call it suspicion of murder. Well hold you until after the inquest on young Bonner. He was whisked away to Paragould, in the next county.
In the meantime, in inquest proceeded. Dr. Price told of treating the dead boys shoulder and of his findings. He repeated what Bonner had said to him and what he had said to John Kizer. He mentioned Kizers peculiar phrase: If his heart becomes paralyzed, therell be one less player on the football team.
Mrs. Adams took the stand, she told of her suspicions, of her talk to the insurance men. Four local doctors made a thorough examination of Bonners body and agreed that it showed every indication of his having been poisoned.
This was enough for the coroners jury. It ordered John Kizer held on a first-degree murder warrant. It ordered Bonners body sent to the University of Arkansas Medical School for a complete autopsy.
Three days later, the report from Little Rock confirmed the opinion of the Randolph County doctors. Bonner Kizer, it stated flatly, had died of poison. It said: We have isolated strychnine in the liver in sufficient quantities to cause death.
Bonner Kizers funeral was held in the Methodist Church, whose handsome stained glass window had been donated by John Kizer, several years before, in the memory of his first wife. Almost everyone in town attended the ceremony and marched behind the youths coffin to the cemetery.
Mrs. Adams and other relatives of Arnold, Bonners real father, were not idle. They retained Pocahontas Attorney George Booth to press for a court order permitting the exhumation of Rozena. This came to the ears of John Kizer, who was still in the Paragould prison. He picked up a pen and wrote indignantly:
Dear Brother Booth,
I have heard that you have been employed by the Arnolds and Mrs. Adams to have my wife Rozena dug up so that they can steal the $350 diamond ring from her finger, the $500 pearl necklace from her neck and the $100 breastpin.
I cannot imagine you, a Christian gentleman, stooping so low as to do such an awful deed. If you do, Gods wrath will be upon you and great sorrow will come to your family. Better line up with me and all the other lawyers in Pocahontas for an honest defense. I am an honest man - victim of circumstances.
John R. Kizer.
Booth ignored the letter. He obtained permission to open not only Rozenas grave, but also that of her mother, Mrs. M. E. Bonner. Both the bodies were exhumed and sent to the University of Little Rock for examination by the pathologists. Arsenic was found in one of the bodies, strychnine in another. Diamonds and pearls were not found at all.
Mrs. Grace Adams was triumphant. Her long fight to bring John Kizer to book had at last been successful. Ill bet he really killed a dozen people, she declared. They died like dogs all of them; like dogs he used to poison for no reason at all.
At least John Kizer had a stronger motive for killing people than he had for poisoning dogs. Every death, save that of Anderson, had netted him either cash or real estate property. Since 1925, when his first wife died, he had become one of the really wealthy men of the community.
The talk of mob violence in Pocahontas had by no means died down. When word was received that Rozena and her mother also had died of poisoning, feelings mounted in the town. Perhaps Kizers neighbors were actuated by a feeling of guilt that they had permitted him to get away with murder literally under their noses. His money, his charm, his high standing in the community had blinded them to the fact that Kizer had been connected with almost a dozen mysterious and sudden deaths.
John Kizer remained in his Paragould cell, arranging his defense. He retained three of the best lawyers in the county. He offered them property as a fee, saying that he had no money. This astonished one of the attorneys.
But John, he said, dont forget, I handled the Bonner wills, also that of your wife. You got a great deal of cash from them - including, of course, the money from Rozenas insurance.
Kizer shook his head. I dont have it now, he said. I am a kind man. I am a generous man. I help people. I have very little left. I will have to deed you some property as your fee. There is no other way in which I can pay you.
From a financial viewpoint, the lawyers had no objections to this, since Kizers property was valuable. However, they could not understand what had become of his cash. He did not live lavishly and in spite were certain he had not shared his inheritance with the poor and deserving.
From his cell, Kizer wrote a bitter letter to the Pocahontas school board, condemning it for permitting football to be played. He indicted the board for the death of Bonner.
My son would be alive today, wrote Kizer, if you men were aware of your duty, which is to protect the young. Football killed Bonner Kizer and I am accused of doing so. I am an honorable man - a victim of circumstances.
The preliminary hearing for John Kizer was set for November 19th, in Pocahontas. Sheriff Thompson and Assistant Prosecutor Steimel drove to Paragould to pick up their prisoner. They found Kizer in a strange, depressed mood.
As they took him from the jail and put him in the sheriffs car, Kizer asked, How are things in town? I mean Pocahontas.
Quiet, said the sheriff, Why?
Ive been reading the newspapers. Theyve been running stories of mobs - lynch mobs.
Dont worry, said the sheriff. Well protect you. No one will harm you.
Its not that which frightens me, said Kizer sadly. Its the fact that my friends have turned against me. Not so long ago, I was respected in Pocahontas. I was a big man in town. How can the people turn against me so quickly?
If you really want an answer, said Steimel, its because they consider you a mass murderer.
Kizer held himself erect. You know that is absurd, he exclaimed. You and the sheriff have known me for years. Did you ever think I was a murderer?
If I had, I would have arrested you. Youve been very clever, John, but the games up now.
Kizer looked at his escort reproachfully. You, too, believe I am guilty. I just dont understand how all my old friends can let me down. I am as innocent as a lamb.
Youll have your day in court, John, said Steimel. If youre innocent, you have nothing to be afraid of.
What about the mobs?
Well handle them, said the sheriff.
John Kizer shook his head. I dont like it, he said. I dont want to go back to Pocahontas as a prisoner. As a matter of fact, I dont think I will.
You havent much choice, said Thompson.
Kizer relapsed into silence but there was an odd expression on face. Shortly afterwards, Kizer said, I didnt know you were coming for me today. I look like a bum. I want to get a shave before we get to Pocahontas.
He continued to insist on this. At last, the sheriff and Steimel agreed to stop the car at a town called Walnut Ridge, some 14 miles from Pocahontas. They accompanied their prisoner to a barbershop there.
Kizer seemed amazingly calm as he sat in the chair being shaved. When the operation was over, he announced that he was thirsty. He sent the shoeshine boy to a drugstore, instructing him to bring back three soft drinks. When the boy did so, Kizer offered a glass to the sheriff and one to Steimel. Politely, perhaps cautiously, they declined.
Then John Kizer asked and received permission to go to the mens room. He took his glass along with him. When he came back, a few minutes later, the glass was empty. The trio climbed back into the county car and continued on their way.
When they reached the Randolph County courthouse, Captain C. T. Atkinson of the Arkansas State Rangers, and two of his men were standing outside, awaiting them. Thompson halted the car at the curb and climbed out. Steimel joined him on the sidewalk. John Kizer remained in the car.
Come on, John, said the Sheriff. The prosecutor wants to see you before the arraignment.
John Kizer didnt answer. He sat rigidly in the rear seat. His face was distorted in a grimace of pain. Captain Atkinson leaned into the car to help him. With a tremendous effort, John Kizer managed to get out of the car. Then he collapsed into Atkinsons arms.
The captain and the sheriff carried Kizer into the nearby office of Dr. S. Baltz. In spite of the doctor ministrations, Kizer died in convulsions an hour later.
Id call it strychnine poisoning, said the doctor. He probably took it half an hour or so ago.
The sheriff and Steimel recalled the drink and the trip to the mens room in Walnut Ridge. Doubtless Kizer had taken the poison then. But how had he got it?
That question was never fully answered. A small bottle of poison was found secreted in his cell at Paragould. But precisely how Kizer had smuggled it into the jail was one of the many secrets he took to the grave with him.
Prosecutor Shelby Ferguson went carefully through all the dead mans effects. There were several letters that stated Kizer was leaving his not inconsiderable property to his brothers and sisters, whom he had not seen for many years. There was another letter expressing his wish to be interred with the Bonner family. This was not done. John Kizer was eventually buried on his familys farm, where he was born.
Though most of the people of Randolph County were, by now, thoroughly convinced that John Kizer was a murderer ten times over, there were still those who accepted his own appraisal of himself. There were still some who believed he was a maligned and misunderstood man who would never have been convicted in a courtroom.
Several lawyers also held the opinion that it would have been most difficult to bring enough direct evidence into court to convict Kizer. And even if a jury had done so, the attorneys were convinced that a higher court would have reversed the verdict ... Kizer had covered up too well.
During his lifetime, John Kizer doubtlessly killed more dogs than any one man in the history of Arkansas did. This might have satisfied any natural lust he had for murder. However, there isnt any money in dead dogs.
John Kizer made a great deal of money out of murder. He ran a cheap hog needle and a few capsules into a small fortune. All in all, he murdered 11 people. He collected on 9 of them. Because of Mrs. Andersons refusal to marry him he made not a penny on the death of her husband. But in all other cases, save one, he did quite well.
The other exception was John Kizers 11th murder and the victim on that occasion was himself. And that was the one death about which there was no doubt as to the cause. It was poison. No one for a moment suspected that John Kizer had died of malaria.