It was 1864 in Jackson County, Missouri. Two men, Dick Merrick and Jeb Sharp had murdered a horse trader by the name of John Bascum. The two men were arrested and put on trial. The jury found them guilty. The judge sentenced them to be hanged from the gallows. And, he said it must be done within twenty-four hours…There wasn’t much of an appeals process in the Old West.
So, on September 6, the townspeople frantically started building a gallows. Just before the twenty-four hour deadline was up, the two men were grabbed, sacks were put over their heads, and they were led to the gallows. Ropes were placed around their necks. The trap door sprung. Before the deadline, their lifeless bodies were hanging from the end of ropes. The townspeople congratulated themselves on a job well done.
Sheriff Clifford Stewart went back to his office to take care of the final paperwork. But, when he stepped inside his office, Sheriff Stewart had the surprise of his life. There in the cell were the murders Dick Merrick and Jeb Sharp. At first, he thought it surely was a mirage. But it wasn’t.
Within a matter of hours, the situation had been sorted out. It seems that the night before two men had been arrested for drunkenness, and the anxious citizens had grabbed them by mistake. The men were still to drunk to protest, and Merrick and Sharp sure weren’t going to tell anybody they had the wrong men.
But that’s not the end of the story. Since the judge had required the sentence be carried out within twenty-four hours, and it wasn’t, the two killers were set free.