March 12, 2014

James T. Coffey - Suicide in Marshall, Saline Co., MO



James Coffey, a Farmer, Hangs Himself While
Confined in the City Jail. Insanity
the Cause.

Fatalities have become most frequent happenings about Marshall in the past few weeks.  Suicide and other manner of death follow so fast upon the tread of each other that they occasion little talk and less excitement. The last sensational happening of this nature, occurred Tuesday morning, an inmate of the city jail ending his life by hanging himself.

James Coffey was the suicide. He was formerly a farmer living about 4 1/2 miles northeast of Marshall, one-half mile west of Capt. Elliott's farm.  Since his family moved to Missouri from Tennessee, he had been regarded as an honest, sober and hard working man, though rather peculiar in his ways.  During the night of Wednesday, May 31st, he left his home, and was found on the Miami road near Fairville, wandering about next day, his mind seriously affected. Mr. Matt Hall, who happened along, observed his condition and brought him to Marshall, where he was turned over to the custody of the sheriff. 

Coffey seemed to return to his reason some what, and his trial before the Probate court led to the opinion that he would soon regain his mind completely. He was therefore ordered held in charge for a few days, when if recovery followed he was to be released and allowed to return home.  As the county had no suitable place for his confinement, the city officers took him to the jail quarters of the city hall, where in the day time he was allowed the freedom of the corridor. 

The prisoner, who in his ravings, imagined himself pursued by a threatening mob, was visited on Monday afternoon by his wife, who brought him a pie wrapped in a tea towel.  Monday night and Tuesday morning his actions evidenced a more violent insanity. At 9:30 Tuesday morning, keeper of the jail, Brice, when accompanying a lady visitor to his cell, discovered Coffey hanging from the upper birth of his cell, his body suspended by means of the tea-towel tied around his neck and attached to the lattice work of the birth. 

Assistance was at once called, little Charley Herndon cutting the cloth by which he hung, but the insane man was lifeless. The upper birth is only about five feet from the floor, and Coffey, in order to accomplish his death, had thrown his feet from under him allowing the weight of his body to produce a choking death. 

The coroner was notified and summoned a jury at once which returned a verdict that the deceased came to his death by "hanging himself with a towel," signed by Jno. Cunningham, foreman; J. R. Plynu, W. D. Black, A. J. Graves, M. T.  Campbell and N. F. Randolph.

His body was removed to the undertaking rooms and thence to his home on the farm, the burial taking place Wednesday at Shiloh. He was a heavy, rather tall, well built man, aged about forty-five years, with sandy hair, beard and mustache. He leaves a wife and four children who mourn deeply the loss of a father not responsible for this act of suicide in his demented condition.

Note: This was James T. Coffey who was born c1852 in Tennessee. His wife was Sarah E. Moore Coffey, born c1861 in Missouri. They appeared in the 1900 Marshall Twp., Saline Co., MO census. Their children then (all born in MO) were Grover C., born c1885; Hattie, born c1887; Joseph, born c1889; James Q., born c1875 in KY and a lodger, John Davison, age 29, born in MO. James was enumerated as James P., age 48, born in TN. Sarah was enumerated as head of household, likely meaning that James was already known to be incapacitated to some degree.

Who were the parents of James?


United States Census, 1900," index and images,  FamilySearch  ( : accessed 10 Mar 2014), James P Coffee in household of Sarah E Coffey, Marshall Township (excl. Marshall city, incl. Missouri Valley College), Saline, Missouri, United States; citing sheet , family 290, NARA microfilm publication T623, FHL microfilm 1240902

Library of Congress (

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