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KKK Kidnapping, Assault and Murder - Ku Klux Klan Implodes Indiana Politics
Indiana's Political Landscape Changed Due to Heinous Act
At 33, D.C. Stephenson was enjoying the spoils of his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan -- a fleet of cars, impressive homes, even a yacht. And, from his beautiful home in Indianapolis, he visualized his ascension to the highest office in the world -- President of the United States. Some historians believe it was within his reach. But, D.C. was a simple man of intense contradictions. Because of his depravity, historians would record another ending to his story.
Birth of the Klan
The Klan was originally formed in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee. Klan supporters depict this organization as a social group, similar to the Masons, whose main mission was to serve and protect. Others paint the Klan as a group whose actions quickly evolved from benevolence to violence with primary goals of crippling reconstruction, keeping blacks in their place, and chasing Northern white carpetbaggers back home.
This early group was disbanded in 1869, only to reform in the 1900s, spurred, in part, by the pro-Southern film Birth of A Nation which depicted a country run amok -- tormented by mobs of blacks (played by white actors in blackface) led by Northern white carpetbaggers.
According to The Center for History, a December 7, 1915 advertisement for the KKK called for southern white men to join a "High Class of Order for Men of Intelligence and Character." Thus, Phase II of the Klan begins.
Indiana Joins the Movement
The Indiana chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, started in 1920 by Joe Huffington, had an operating base in Evansville, Indiana. Huffington soon recruited a brass, young, bonds salesman to the cause -- David (D. C.) Stephenson. Stephenson was charismatic and excelled at recruiting new members.
In fact, he possessed impressive oratory skills despite his rather limited eight grade education. He effectively pushed his platform of white supremacy, religious intolerance, censorship, sexual purity and prohibition. He become grand dragon of the KKK in 1922, and under his watch, Indiana Klan membership reportedly grew to 250,000.
Stephenson's fiscal growth mirrored that of the Klan organization. At 33, he was a multi-millionaire with real estate and personal property which included a private jet and yacht. He recognized the importance of media control and purchased a newspaper to ensure his message of intolerance would spread.
Clip from the film Birth of A Nation supplied by YouTube
And, as Stephenson's wealth grew, so did his influence. If anyone doubted the extent of the Klan's influence, they need only look to the 1924 Indiana elections in which many Klan endorsed candidates were elected. Those candidates included the Indianapolis mayor and sheriff, lieutenant governor and Secretary of State. Even, Governor Ed Jackson, was the Klan candidate of choice.
As Stephenson's popularity continued to spike, his backers encouraged him to run for President in the upcoming 1928 election. Stephenson's supporters felt he was unbeatable despite several incidents which foreshadowed a lack of moral compass and control. (He was accused of several crimes against women in Ohio, Indiana and Georgia including attempting to seduce a young Indiana woman.) Supposedly, he maintained his freedom through bribes and payoffs. "I am the law in Indiana," he would often boast.
A Date with The Devil
Madge Oberholtzer was introduced to the charming D.C. Stephenson when both were dinner guests at the Governor's mansion. She worked for the Indiana Department of Education, in a state program for literacy. Stephenson was attracted to the 28-year-old teacher from Clay City, Indiana. She agreed to a few dates, but apparently lost interest in the eligible bachelor after she learned of his involvement with the Klan.
Unfortunately, she did not break off all contact. On March 25, 1925, Stephenson convinced Marge to meet him at his mansion to discuss an urgent manner. Shortly after arrival, according to her account, she was coerced into consuming several alcoholic drinks and became ill. Stephenson's bodyguard and driver carried her to his car and later onto a train bound for Chicago.
While on the train, Stephenson sexually assaulted and brutalized his terrified captive, biting her repeatedly until she bled and passed out. Once they arrived in Chicago, Oberholtzer, convinced him to let her make purchases at a store while accompanied by the body guard. There she managed to purchase and hide mercuric chloride tablets.
Once they returned to the train, Madge swallowed six of the tablets and after becoming violently ill, devulged her suicide plan. Accounts differ on how Stephenson reacted to this emergency. Some state he made an offer of marriage which she refused; others that he immediately rushed her home. Nevertheless, he did not provide medical assistance, Instead, he had his driver drop her off at her parent's home. Almost 24 hours had expired since she had taken the poison.
Madge would die approximately two weeks later, but not before providing her mother with signed details of the attack. Stephenson was charged with kidnapping, rape and second-degree murder. During his trial, Oberholtzer's doctor testified that the injuries she sustained in the rape were adequate to kill her. In addition, he testified that Stephenson's delay in seeking treatment for her, had led directly to her death.
Klan Membership Begins to Slide
Stephenson's broad public support dissolved as details of the crime were disclosed. His behavior directly conflicted with the Klan's message of sexual discretion, temperance and respect of women. The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the man, who "was the law" in Indiana ,was sentenced to life imprisonment. But, Stephenson was confident he would serve little time in jail; in fact, he felt certain he would receive a pardon from his political buddy, the Governor. However, Stephenson would discover that his days of political influence were over as the governor abstained.
Stephenson Gets His Revenge
Stephenson was enraged and decided to play his trump card. If he was going to suffer, so would his former political bedfellows. He had maintained evidence of the political corruption that had stained Indiana politics, and he disclosed documentation of political malfeasance including payoffs and bribes.
Indictments were filed against the governor, the Marion County Republican chairman, George Coffin, and attorney Robert Marsh. Mayor John Duvall received a 30 day prison sentence. The subsequent scandal was the death blow to the political incumbents and the Klan in Indiana. In 1956, Stephenson was released from prison after serving 31 years -- including a release and reimprisonment for parole violation. In 1961, he was accused of the sexual assault of a 16 year-old in Missouri, but apparently was cleared due to lack of evidence and/or bribery. He died in Jonesboro, Tennessee at 75.
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