The Tragic Life of Rosanna Hamilton White

Written by Gene Barron

The sufferings of Rosanna Hamilton White bring feelings of sympathy even today. In 1890 she married Willis White and by 1912 she had given birth to ten children. Her sorrow began on a wash day on the family farm in 1900. Her infant daughter was scalded to death before her own eyes. This was more than the young mother could endure and some say she lost her mind. For years after that neighbors living a mile away could hear her wailing, especially late at night. Roseanna began to shy away from people. If she was met walking on the road, she’d take to the woods and hide until she was passed before returning to the road and continuing her journey.

On August 13, 1931 Rosanna’s brother, Scott, died. Scott had become successful in the mercantile business in Dubach and had amassed a considerable fortune which was dispersed among his siblings, including Rosanna. This was a windfall for the White family, who until then had barely scratched out a living on the farm.

The next tragedy in her life occurred in June of 1932. Rumor has it that youngest son, twenty year old Woodrow, asked his father to borrow the family car. When his father denied him the use of their recently purchased car, Woodrow’s temper got the best of him. While his father and his 21 year-old brother Jesse were plowing in the field, Woodrow approached and shot them both. When at the close of day the mule they were plowing came to the barn lot dragging the plow, Rosanna went looking for her husband and son and found them dead lying in the field.

The deputy sheriffs found and made plaster casts of fresh boot tracks of the perpetrator and began comparing them for a match. Woodrow’s brother, Ollie, who knew his brother had done the deed advised Woodrow not to try to run for it would only be worse for him when they caught him and might even kill him. Woodrow was caught and at his arraignment, on the advice of his attorney, Harvey G. Fields, Woodrow pleaded guilty without capital punishment. The district attorney agreed to accept this plea. In the end, Woodrow was eventually convicted and sentenced to the state penitentiary for life at hard labor.

On January 22, 1933 Rosanna suddenly died. On the following Monday as she was about to be buried in Mt. Tabor Cemetery, Sheriff Pat Murphy, along with Union Parish coroner, Dr. George A. Ramsey, showed up and prevented the burial until an autopsy could be performed. The body was carried to Kilpatrick’s Funeral Home in Farmerville where the autopsy was performed and the contents of the stomach were sent to Shreveport for analysis. On Friday the report was received and the chemist advised that strychnine was found in the contents. On Saturday morning District Attorney McBride arrived in Farmerville from Ruston and swore out a warrant for Monroe’s arrest.

While Monroe was being held in the parish jail awaiting action by the grand jury, he explained to officers that he had purchased the strychnine along with some borax to use to kill salamanders on the farm. Monroe went on the say that on that faithful Sunday morning he and his mother arose had breakfast and he had gone to a neighbor’s house to borrow a shovel. On the way back home he met two boys who had just come from his home after returning a borrowed gun. They had asked if his mother were ill and he had replied that he didn’t think so. They commented that she sure seemed puny to them for she was groaning and suffering something awful. Monroe continued saying that when he got home he found his mother suffering and he summoned a doctor, but his mother died before the doctor got there.

Monroe said that when he got home from the funeral, he thought about the strychnine which he had left in a bottle on his dresser. He went to see about the bottle and found it half empty and some spilled on the floor. It was said that Mrs. White became violently ill before finishing breakfast, and could be heard by neighbors calling for help before Monroe returned home.

At his trial in the April session of court, Monroe’s attorney, Harvey G. Fields, did his best for his client, but he had been fighting an uphill battle. He filed a petition on Monroe’s behalf listing fifteen additional witnesses other than the twelve allowed by law. All was for naught, for Monroe was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to hard labor for the rest of his natural life. The trial was said to have been one of the hardest fought legal cases in years. During the May 15, 1933 court session, Judge Walker denied a petition filed by Mr. Fields on behalf of his client for a new trial. Mr. Fields then moved for and received orders of appeal to the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

After all appeals were denied, on Monday, November 20, 1933, Deputy Sheriff George Miller Edwards conveyed Monroe to the state penitentiary at Baton Rouge to begin serving his sentence.

Some family members stood by Monroe and claimed that he was totally innocent of the charges brought against him. Others, however, were convinced that Monroe had done the deed in order to gain control of the money that his mother had inherited from her brother.

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Gene BarronGene Barron is a native of Spearsville, Union Parish, Louisiana. He has a genealogy database of 182,000 names, who are all connected to his family.

Gene has also written two historical books on Union Parish. I highly recommend both.

The Family of Spearsville

Images of Union Parish

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