The Dramatic Life of Walter Abernathy

Before I start spilling tea, I should make it clear that I can source everything I’m about to tell you. I cannot attest to the reliability of these sources since much of the action took place more than 100 years ago. Last August, I told you this story about a famous florist and her scandalous relatives. I’ve reached out to so many historians and librarians for documentation that I have a spreadsheet with eight tabs to keep it all straight. This particular rabbit hole involves an Abernathy Furniture Company heir so I hope you Kansas City people are paying attention!

The Kansas City Star, July 31, 1932

The Kansas Historical Society has a brief summary of the company’s history that you can read here. You can see a relatively recent photo of the building in Kansas City here (scroll down to #4.) Although it hasn’t been updated for quite a while, an Abernathy descendant has a Facebook page with furniture photos and bits of information.

The Kansas City Star, September 7, 1912

Walter Logan Abernathy was a son of James Logan Abernathy and Elizabeth (Martin) Abernathy. From what I can tell, he was basically a spoiled brat his *entire* life. Walter married Carrie Singer in October of 1883 and they initially made their home in Leavenworth.

In June of 1892, a Walter Abernathy was placed under a $500 bond for assault with intent to kill a certain C. M. Estenson (sp?) and although I couldn’t find any additional information about this incident, it seemed to be part of a larger pattern.

In November of 1898, Walter crashed his bicycle and a comment from the Clay Center Times read, “Which reminds old settlers of this burg that something was always happening to Walter and worrying his little wife nearly to death.” I feel like the people at this particular newspaper had a deep understanding of Walter and his issues.

Walter’s father, James L Abernathy, died in December of 1902 and over the next six years, his heirs would spend a lot of money fighting over his estate. I mean, Daddy-o left about $1.5 million so it was definitely worth the trouble in 1902 dollars. One of the brothers was declared insane during the proceedings and then appeals were filed, et cetera and so on.

Photographer Unknown

In January of 1903, Walter attempted to board a Kansas City cable car while it was moving and was dragged 30 feet after his clothing caught on a fender. Walter went into shock after his right leg was cut so badly his tibia was exposed. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and his address was listed on Lydia Avenue so this was before he and Carrie moved to 63rd and Prospect. The wound later required a palm-sized skin graft and his wife donated the skin. He was hospitalized for several months after the accident. Mrs. Abernathy was described as a “small, nervous little woman.” A few days before the operation, a woman tried to sell her some skin but Mrs. Abernathy refused. She wanted to make sure the skin that was used was “free from any disease.” Knowing what I know, I don’t think Walter deserved her.

In April of 1912, Walter was arrested for a delinquent motor vehicle license. The due date was January 1 and about 40 people were arrested for what seems like such a trivial matter when you compare it to what happened next.

This next one is just so gross. Like Laura didn’t know her daughter was being visited by an old rich guy from the time she was TWELVE. Come on. This is the same Laura Hayes who had been charged with running a house of prostitution in Salina, Kansas just three years prior.

The Kansas City Times, September 2, 1916

14-year-old Marguerite Hayes and 27-year-old Edward L Kelley were married the very same day, September 2, 1916. Mom of the Year signed the marriage license since her daughter had not reached the age of consent. This marriage had the convenient side effect of the statutory charges against Messrs. Abernathy and Kelley being dismissed. I’m certain no money changed hands. That would be so unlike Laura.

The Kansas City Star, September 2, 1916

I found this almost a year ago and I’m still just so thoroughly disgusted by all of it.

Imagine being the humiliated society wife. Based on what we’ve been over so far, I don’t see her being the type to discuss over cocktails at bridge all the myriad ways she could make Walter’s death appear accidental.

In April of 1925, Walter and Carrie sold their home at 63rd and Prospect and purchased a $36,000 tract of land on which they planned to build a new home at 89th and Holmes.

In June of 1935, Walter shot a man at his home. Carrie was in the hospital and her husband was trying to get another man’s wife to strip for him. You’ll be shocked to learn that alcohol was involved.

The Sedalia Democrat, June 9, 1935

The Kansas City Star definitely won the award for most in-depth coverage of this story!

Walter paid his victim $8,000 in November of 1935 while criminal charges were still pending. Since Mr. Wilkinson’s body was perforated 14 times, his career as a tree trimmer was over. Interestingly, Walter himself had been in a St. Louis hospital from from September to early December of 1935 and for whatever reason then transferred to a Kansas City hospital on December 4, 1935.

The poor, suffering Carrie Singer Abernathy died of pneumonia on January 3, 1936 at the age of 73. She had been in the hospital (again) since December 24, 1935. Lots of “hospitalizations” in this family.

And then, just like magic, the criminal charges against Walter were dismissed when Mr. Wilkinson failed to appear in court. Imagine my shocked face.

The Kansas City Star, April 14, 1936

In March of 1938, 76-year-old Walter married a 20-year-old soda fountain waitress named Mary Helen Rosser in Yuma, Arizona. The new Mrs. Abernathy was granted a divorce in August of the same year after a Los Angeles judge agreed she shouldn’t have to suffer with an abusive jerk wad who drank all day and bragged about his numerous affairs. She was granted a lump sum settlement of $1,350. Walter’s friends back in Kansas City were very surprised about this new development, as they were unaware he had remarried.

It appears he had remarried again by December of 1938 but I just don’t have it in me to go there.

Walter finally died in Los Angeles on August 12, 1951 at the ripe old age of 89. He lived at an Elks Club and was known in the area for passing out $100 bills. To whom, Brother? To whom?

Walter and Carrier never had children together but God only knows what kind of poison that creep dropped in the greater Kansas City gene pool.

Anyway, if there are any Kansas City historians reading and you can tell me more about Laura, Irene, and Marguerite Hayes please reach out…I beg you!

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