The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 12, 2012

Questions about who is buried in Missouri grave

Jesse James gang member a source of mystery

KEARNEY, Mo. — In life, Clell Miller was a gun-toting Confederate bushwacker raised in Clay County. He was later an outlaw with Jesse James and was gunned down during a botched hold-up in 1876 in Northfield, Minn.

In death, Miller has become a source of mystery and intrigue.

For years, Miller’s family believed the body buried at Muddy Fork Cemetery in Kearney was Clell Miller. But a medical student who gunned down Miller on Sept. 7, 1876, claimed that he kept the outlaw’s skeleton.

Now Miller’s relatives and a group of forensic researchers would like to know for sure who lies buried in Kearney.

In April, they approached Mary H. Dudley, the medical examiner for Jackson and Clay counties, to petition Clay County authorities to exhume Miller’s body.

“For some people it is important to know that he is there,” said Ruth Fitzgerald, whose great-grandfather was Miller’s cousin. “I guess it would settle some people down and stop some of the rumors.”

Miller, whose full first name has been rendered Clelland or McClelland, was buried in Minnesota shortly after he was shot and killed. His remains and those of a fellow James gang member were later exhumed and given to Henry Wheeler, a local medical student who killed Miller during the famous shootout between the gang and town residents.

Months after the shooting, a body presumed to be Miller was claimed by family members and brought back to Missouri, where it was buried in the Muddy Fork Cemetery.

Dudley has the authority to investigate suspicious deaths, but it is up to Clay County Prosecutor Daniel White to seek an order from the circuit court for exhumation.

In correspondence obtained by The Star through a Missouri Open Records request, Dudley told White, “given the cause of death resulted from violent circumstances and the positive identification has not been established, I support the exhumation and forensic examination.”

Exhuming outlaws is nothing new for Clay County. In 1995, researchers dug up remains from a Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kearney to substantiate that they belonged to Jesse James. It was determined that they did, though not everyone was convinced.

White said he is skeptical about the Clell Miller effort, and he needs more information before seeking a court order to have the remains examined.

“There is a mechanism which this office used during the exhumation of Jesse James in the 1990s,” he said. “Since the exhumation of 19th century outlaws is something that doesn’t happen very often, we will need to review the statutes to ensure they haven’t changed.”

In 1965, Fitzgerald was a senior at the University of Missouri in Columbia when she started researching the life of Clell Miller. While relatives occasionally spoke about Miller, his life and how he died was not a source of family pride, said Fitzgerald, who is a 68-year-old widow living in Virginia.

“They were embarrassed by him,” she said. “I don’t go around announcing to people that I am related to him. It wasn’t something you brought up very much.”

Fitzgerald said Miller was raised in Kearney and was a teenager when he joined “Bloody” Bill Anderson’s guerillas for a short period during the Civil War. On Oct. 26, 1864, Miller was captured by Union soldiers during a skirmish in which Anderson was killed. Miller was sent to a prison in St. Louis. He was released in April 1865.

Years later, Miller joined the Jesse James-Cole Younger gang.

In 1876, Miller and fellow gang member William Caldwell were shot to death during the attempted bank robbery in Northfield.

The men were buried in the local cemetery. But subsequently Henry Wheeler dug up the bodies and had them shipped to Michigan, where he attended medical school. The remains were used in an anatomy class, Fitzgerald and another researcher said.

Family members learned of what happened and retrieved what was thought to be Miller’s body and brought it back to Missouri, where it was buried in Kearney, Fitzgerald said.

A few years later, Wheeler established a medical practice in Grand Forks, N.D.. He maintained that he kept Clell Miller’s skeleton. Wheeler donated the skeleton to the Odd Fellows Lodge when he retired in 1923.

About 20 years ago, the skeleton was discovered inside the lodge when the building was sold. A lodge member said the skeleton had belonged to Wheeler.

Fitzgerald said in her letter to Dudley that it is uncertain if the remains buried in Kearney belong to Miller or Caldwell.

James Bailey, a retired Minnesota State University-Mankato law enforcement professor, has researched various aspects of the 1876 bank robbery since 2007. Bailey approached Fitzgerald about exhuming Miller’s remains.

Bailey declined to comment. But in emails to Dudley obtained by The Star, Bailey said that he would use a DNA sample from the remains and compare it to a sample he recently received from a Miller relative.

Fitzgerald said she looked forward to finally putting the matter to rest.

“If it is him, well isn’t that nice. It proves that he is there,” she said. “If it is someone else, I would like to put up a little plaque there that says, ‘Clell isn’t here.”

But White said exhuming the remains may not be worth the trouble.

“Clell Miller was a criminal who died at the hands of angry armed citizens. He literally got what he deserved,” White said. “I really don’t want to waste any of the county’s resources in bringing additional notoriety to outlaws.”


Text Only
Local News
  • r072814dogbike.jpg Cross-country trip promotes animal adoption

    Where’s Bixby? Not the town in Oklahoma, but the dog on the back of a bicycle ridden by Mike Minnick. On Monday, the two were in Joplin, one stop on a cross-country bike trip to promote the adoption of dogs and cats from local shelters.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • 4.3 magnitude quake reported in northern Oklahoma

    The U.S. Geological Survey says an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 4.3 struck northern Oklahoma on Monday night.

    July 29, 2014

  • Update: 4 workers injured in SE Kansas oil refinery fire

    A Texas company says four workers at a southeast Kansas oil refinery were burned in an early morning fire.

    July 29, 2014

  • Seneca man draws concurrent term in sexual abuse case

    A 39-year-old man who sexually abused a girl over a four-year period in both Joplin and Seneca received a 15-year sentence Monday in Newton County that will run concurrently with a term he received earlier this year in Jasper County.

    July 28, 2014

  • Judge lifts seal on records in Parsons quadruple slaying

    A judge has rescinded his order sealing court records in the case of David Bennett Jr., who is accused of killing a Parsons woman and her three children.

    July 28, 2014

  • Defendant who pulled knife on ER doctor sent for treatment

    A man accused of pulling a knife on a Freeman Hospital West emergency room doctor pleaded guilty to a reduced charge Monday and was sentenced to the state prison system’s Institutional Treatment Center.

    July 28, 2014

  • Wal-Mart to build second local Neighborhood Market

    A second Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market store is planned for Joplin. The company has filed an application with the city to rezone nearly six acres of land on the west side of town in the tornado zone to build a new Neighborhood Market and gas station.

    July 28, 2014

  • r072814mailcar.jpg VIDEO: Train mail car trailered on Joplin's Main Street to Redings Mill

    With a police escort leading the way Monday, postal car No. 34 breezed through downtown Joplin en route to its new home in Redings Mill, where it was greeted by a welcome party of local residents and railroad enthusiasts.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • Anti-landfill group seeks grand jury probe

    As more than 200 people filed into Riverton High School on Sunday to attend an anti-landfill group meeting, many stopped to sign a petition asking the Cherokee County District Court to summon a grand jury to investigate how land was acquired by the city of Galena for a proposed landfill.

    July 27, 2014

  • 072814_jd anderson.jpg VIDEO: Noel strongman advances on talent show

    The past week has been busier than normal for Noel resident J.D. Anderson. Members of the production crew for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” told him they have shot more footage of him than of other contestants for the next episode. “They said I have the busiest schedule of anyone this week,” Anderson told the Globe in a phone interview Friday. “There’s so many fun things you can do with B-roll as a strongman.”

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

Must Read


Given that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that electronic devices and communications are protected from searches and seizure without a warrant, do you think Missouri needs Amendment 9 added to its constitution?

A. Yes.
B. No.
     View Results
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter