Following the arson fire on Nov. 29, 1877, that destroyed Eliza Nurse’s cabin and killed two of her three children, some neighbors gathered to offer comfort and prayers. Others were intent on finding the “Voodoo Doctor” Eddy, who had mounted a campaign to gain ownership of the cabin he was believed to have torched.
These neighbors did not find Dr. Eddy, but did they find the 17-year-old young man who had lived with him. They brought the “half frightened to death” young man back to the scene of the fire.
Some in the crowd wanted to torture the young man to learn of the doctor’s whereabouts. One man even assaulted him, striking him on the back of the head. The young man maintained his innocence, begged for his life, and finally agreed to tell what he knew about the fire.
Other bystanders separated him from the angry crowd and questioned him. He continued to protest his innocence and begged not to be killed, but said he knew nothing about Doctor Eddy’s role in the arson. He did, however, acknowledge he had heard the doctor threatened Ms. Nurse.
The spokesman for the questioners ordered the young man to be taken to the police station and held there for protection from the mob. Others went off to search for Doctor Eddy.
A Democrat reporter questioned John Nurse, the 10-year-old who survived the fire, asking whether or not the kerosene lamp had exploded. Johnny replied the lamp was not burning and had not fallen. The reporter then asked whether the children had been playing with fire. John denied this.
The coroner arrived, examined the bodies of the two burned children, and ordered an inquest for the next day. The inquest determined the children had died as a result of the fire.
Meantime, the search for Doctor Eddy continued. On Dec. 4, the Democrat reported Sedalia’s African American community was still outraged about Eddy’s presumed role in the fire, and were ready to take him “to some secluded dell and make short work of him.” In other words, they would lynch him.
In a more legal response, the Black community had collected money to pay the expenses of an officer who would find him and bring him to Sedalia to stand trial.
On Nov. 30, Eddy was thought to be in a small town near Boonville. On Dec. 1, Sedalia Marshal Kelly received a telegram from Constable Jonathan Maddox of Pilot Grove saying Eddy was in custody there. Maddox asked if Kelly wanted Eddy to be returned to Sedalia.
Marshall gave the telegram to Sheriff Murray, who for some inexplicable reason, did not respond to Maddox’s request until Dec. 3, when he telegrammed Maddox that he did indeed want Eddy. By this time, however, it was too late.
Not hearing promptly from Murray, Maddox had released Eddy, who then took off for Boonville. The Democrat was confident he would be returned for trial.
Eddy was apprehended and brought to Sedalia for trial. He was represented by Cam Sneed at his hearing before Justice of the Peace Clark in a courtroom full of African American spectators. He was acquitted of all charges and released.
The Democrat, sensing the mood of the spectators and the community, suggested he “better make tracks as soon as possible from this section.”