Raymond Gunn was born January 11, 1904 in Maryville, Missouri. The oldest of eight children of Michael and Maymie Gunn. The Gunn’s was described as mulatto farmers in the 1920 census.
Gunn was married, but became a widow just a few years after getting married.
After losing his first wife it was said that Gunn was never the same.
On September of 1925, Gunn was convicted of the attempted rape of a student at Northwest Missouri Teacher’s College (now called Northwest Missouri State University). The student told the sheriff that Gunn struck his thumb into her mouth to keep her form screaming. When Gunn was arrested he never admitted to the crime, but said he have been beaten while in custody.
On January 28, 1928 Gunn was release from jail. About an year after his release Gunn remarried and moved with his wife to Omaha, Nebraska, but tragedy struck the Gunn’s home again when his 2nd wife passed away of pneumonia. After his 2nd wife was buried Gunn returned home to Maryville, Missouri and starting making a living as a hunter.
Velma Colter Murder
On Tuesday December 16, 1930 Velma Colter an 20 year old school teacher was found murdered in an one-room Garrett schoolhouse where she taught at. Colter parents began to worry because it was not like Colter to not return home at a certain time, so they decided to travel to where Colter work. When the Colter’s entered the schoolhouse where they found the dead body of their partly undress body daughter laying in a pool of blood. Beside Colter body was an bloody footprint left by her killer.
An white farmer claimed to have seen a black man near the school. Gunn was immediately suspected because of his earlier conviction, along with several other African American. When the sheriff went to Gunn home to question his, he notice blood stains and Gunn’s shirt and that Gunn’s had an severe bite mark on his thumb. The sheriff started recalling the student description in the 1925 attempted rape case. When the sheriff questioned Gunn about the blood on his shirt, Gunn told the sheriff it was rabbit blood and when questioned about the bite on his thumb Gunn said the same rabbit had bitten him.
Gunn became the one suspect and the others was release.
The sheriff took Gunn to the police Station for further questioning and after being tortured the sheriff and his deputies claimed that Gunn had finally confess to the murder. Gunn’s confess that he entered the school with a hedge club after seeing Colter outside the school with an coal bucket. The deputies also claimed that Gunn said Colter tried to resist his assault biting thumb when he put his hand on her mouth to keep her quiet and Colter then hit his with the coal bucket and Gunn hit her again and again killing and for some reason Gunn then stabbed Colter after she was already dead.
Gunn had to be transferred to several different jails because of the lynch mob. On December 26 around 3.30 a.m. Gunn had to appear back in Maryville, Missouri for an arrangement. Word got back to the locals about the arrangement and the lynch mob was outside waiting. The sheriff ordered a truck that was mounted with a machine gun. The gunner appeared to aim the weapon at the crowd which caused the crowd to disperse, through the gunner said he was just oiling it.
Gunn’s court case was set for January 12, 1931 at the Nodaway County Court. An case like this back then would only take 1-4 days to start, but the court waited to give the governor of Missouri time to call in the National Guard to protect Gunn. Nodaway Court wanted to show that they could give Gunn a fair trial.
60 gunmen was suppose to be ordered to stand guard at the court house, however, by law the National Guard can only be deployed at the written request of the sheriff, which was never made. Later the sheriff claimed his reason for not making that request to the National Guard because he did not want them to get injured.
The Lynching of Raymond Gunn
On January 12 the sheriff was transporting Gunn to the court house by car. The sheriff drove directly into the crowd. When the sheriff opened the car door he was pushed aside by the mob and Gunn was dragged out of the car. A newspaper later reported that the mob leader told the sheriff, “Either get out of the way or die with this Nigger, either way he’s going to die today.”
The mob estimated to have grown to between 2,000 to 4,000.
Gunn was beat and then dragged through the Maryville streets, After about an hour the mob with Gunn had reached the Garrett school-house. Gunn was bleeding from his head, ear, and mouth, but was still alive.
The mob had removed the furniture form the school-house onto the lawn. The mob moved Gunn onto the roof of the school where it was reported that he confessed his guilt again and claiming that he had an accomplice named “Shike” Smith.
Gunn was tied down to a flag pole, the mob then doused Gunn with gasoline and then they doused the school with gasoline. The leader who was only identified as the “man in the red coat” threw a lighted piece of paper into the school house.
Gunn only let out one loud scream and was reported died after 11 minutes. The school-house roof collapsed within 16 minutes.
An reporter for the “St. Joseph Gazette” gave the following gruesome description:
“He twisted and revealed a huge blister ballooning on his left upper arm. Pieces of his skin blew away to the wind as the blistering heat became more intense and soon his torso was splotched with white patches of exposed flesh. His hair burned like a torch for moment then his head sagged. His body writhed. It took the appearance of a mummy.”
Burnt fragments of the school-house were taken by the crowd as souvenirs. The mob also burnt down the Gunn’s family home. After the lynching incident, Maryville residents heard rumors that African Americans form Kansas City were coming to attack the city in retaliation, so the locals townsmen reportedly set up machine guns on main street.
The 1930 census showed 90 African Americans living in Maryville, Missouri, but by 1931 the number of African American had drooped down to six. They fled due to fear and threats made on their lives.
No charges were ever filed on the lynch mob, nor the man in the red coat. They was attempt to find out the parties that was involved in this lynching.
Raymond Gunn was lynched one day after his 27th birthday.