“If a Little Good Sense Had Been Used:” President Dearmont Assaulted
Academic Hall is the centerpiece of the Southeast Missouri State University campus. The construction of Academic after the destruction of Old Normal by fire did not happen without one unfortunate bump in the road to completion. President Washington Strother Dearmont was eager to show visitors the new structure—perhaps a little too eager. He invited Thomas M. Williams and Rev. H. E. Furr, who had come from Helena, Arkansas to preach at the Presbyterian Church in Cape Girardeau, to visit the construction site and the new building on the evening of July 29, 1905.
The group went into the building after 6 p.m., when the night watchman was the only person in the building. The contractor for the new Normal building, Edward F. Regenhardt, had instructed the watchman, Logier Lowe, to exclude anyone from the site after hours. The Dearmont party visited several parts of the building before Lowe discovered them.
He informed them it was against the rules for him to allow anyone in the building after 6 p.m. and asked them to leave. When they failed to obey he raised his voice to Dearmont, who ignored him and continued to lead the others through the building. Lowe again insisted they leave, but this time he struck Dearmont in the face. When Dearmont tried to defend himself with his umbrella, Lowe hit him with another blow that broke Dearmont’s jaw. Mr. Williams and Rev. Furr intervened and led Dearmont out of the building.
Thomas M. Williams then swore out a warrant for Lowe’s arrest for assault. Lowe was released on bond posted by E. W. Flentge and Mr. Regenhardt. The charge in the complaint was that Lowe did “willfully, wrongfully, on purpose and of his malice aforethought assault, strike, and beat one W. S. Dearmont, thereby disabling and breaking the lower jaw of said Dearmont, with intent to kill, maim, or disfigure said Dearmont.”
Lowe’s trial was to occur on August 31, but his lawyer failed to prepare and resigned from the case. Lowe’s new lawyer called six character witnesses, who testified to the conscientious nature of Lowe’s service and personality. A faculty member, Professor Shackleford, was to testify that he and President Dearmont wanted to enter the site less than a week earlier, and when Lowe informed them he was told to admit no one, Dearmont responded by ignoring the instructions, taunted Lowe and said, “You will just have to throw me out of here.” Lowe and Shackleford convinced Dearmont not to enter on that occasion. Regenhardt testified that he had indeed given Lowe written instructions to admit no one, citing liability issues, and had admonished Lowe when he allowed a civil engineer to view the site.
The delayed trial went to the jury, but the jury was unable to decide on a verdict. A second trial occurred in February 1906, and once again ended in a hung jury. This time, the Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney dismissed the case. Both juries appear to have been unable to decide whether Lowe was just doing his duty, or whether his action was excessive.
As the reporter for the Jackson Herald newspaper stated in an article about the incident, “The watchman did his duty, but … if a little good sense and reason had been used, the watchman need not have gone so far. He knew that Prof. Dearmont was not an intruder and that he was there with good intentions and would have hurt nothing.”