Editor’s Note: This is the final of four stories in a series about some of the forgotten murder mysteries in Kansas history.
Although Bert Dudley was arguably Olathe’s first serial killer, more controversy surrounds his death than that of his victims
Dudley was convicted of brutally murdering a well-liked couple on their farm near Stilwell on Sept. 19, 1916. For his crimes he received a life sentence and was awaiting transport to a state prison in the early morning hours of Sept. 21, 1916. The state didn’t have a death penalty law on the books, but for a mob that gathered on that day, a life sentence wasn’t good enough. The people wanted blood.
As Dudley waited in the Olathe jail on Cherry Street, a mob of approximately 65 men formed.
The fire department attempted to hold back the seething mob with streams of water, but the firemen were overpowered.
The mob took custody of Dudley themselves.
The mob formed a line of cars and drove Dudley southeast out of town to the Frisco area, which at that time had yet to be developed. They took Dudley to what is now Ridgeview Road, though ironically at the existing laws.”
No one was ever charged with killing Dudley, and the community seemed to accept the incident as justice served. the time it was known as Dudley Street.
On the corner of what is now Lakeview Avenue and Ridgeview Road, the angry mob placed a rope around Dudley’s neck. The opposite end of the rope was thrown over a telephone pole. The group hoisted Dudley until he was hanging high off the ground.
When authorities discovered Dudley’s body the next day, it was riddled with 15 bullet holes.
News of the incident spread across the country.
The New York Times printed the following in late September of 1916: “The town of Olathe, Kan., was invaded by a mob in automobiles yesterday. The mob overpowered the Sheriff, who had refused to surrender a prisoner charged with a double murder, took the prisoner out, and hanged him. The lynchers, masked, are said to have come from the district where the murder was committed. They committed another for the sake of speedy punishment or ‘vengeance.’ There is no more virtuous or moral community than Kansas, none more persistently devoted to improving and regulating human conduct. Kansas can no longer look with indignant superiority on States where tumultuary killing is practiced. But the mob spirit, in one form or another, seems to be latent in every American commonwealth. New York City is now seeing it actively working. It is the mournful fact, to be confessed and not disguised, that Americans as a class are always pleading for new and superfluous laws, and lamentably remiss in enforcing the existing laws.”
No one was ever charged with killing Dudley, and the community seemed to accept the incident as justice served.