Murder Most Foul: A Madison County , Arkansas cold case that is almost 104-years old
On November 5, 1916, World War I raged halfway across the world.
In France, the French military was able regain all the ground they lost to the Germans since February 24 in the Battle of Verdun, allowing them to suspend military operations for a month to the soldiers to rest and be reequipped.
Before the battle was complete more 11,000 soldiers on both sides were counted as casualties.
Closer to home, a Madison County man also met his fate on the same date. Robert Matthew "Mat" Phillips was murdered in his own home in Purdy, which is on the extreme eastern side of the Madison/Boone county line.
The motive was thought to be robbery, although after the fact no one could say for sure that any money had been taken from the home and the only suspect led the area right after the murder.
Phillips was a native Arkansan having been born in Madison County in 1857 to Adam and Elizabeth (Fisher) Phillips. His parents had both been born in Tennessee, but were in the state as early as 1847 when the first of their six children was born in Kingston township, a about seven-and-a-half away from Purdy.
The Civil War touched the Phillips family with the oldest son, Thomas Jefferson Phillips, serving in Company C of the 14th Arkansas of the CSA from the age of 17-19. No other family member, including their father, was recorded as being active in the War Between the States.
Most of the family settled in and lived in Madison County, with some eventually moving to Hunstville and to the Alabam community. But Purdy was the homestead and Purdy and "Mat" was a well known blacksmith in the area.
He never married, and according to newspaper accounts of his murder as thought to have amassed a "neat little sum of money which he refused to loan, invest or deposit in banks" by the time he was in his mid-fifties.
An article in the Madison County Democrat, dated November 16, 1916 told the sad tale:
"MURDERED WHILE ASLEEP- MAT PHILLIPS KILLED FOR HIS MONEY
Mat Phillips, a well known citizen of near Purdy, was found dead in bed at his home late Friday afternoon with one side of his head and face almost entirely blown off. A shotgun, the weapon used, was beside him.
The wound showed that the shot entered the top of his head and ranged downward. The fact that the bed covers were drawn over all the body except the head and the top of the shoulders explodes any theory of suicide and proves without a doubt that Phillips was murdered while asleep.
The motive for the foul deed is positively believed to have been robbery, there being signs of a general disarrangement of things in the room made by the murdered in a search for money, but no money was found by the murdered.
Phillips, who was unmarried, lived alone; he was about 55 years old, and it was generally believed that he had accumulated a neat little sum of money which he refused to loan, invest or deposit in banks. Whoever killed him knew this, and without any doubt the theft of the money was the incentive for the killing.
After the dead body of Phillips was discovered his friends made a search for the money he was supposed to have had and found only about $90 hidden behind a picture on the wall. This was probably all the money he had, as the savings of misers are often overestimated.
The murder is supposed to have been committed Sunday night, as Phillips was last seen that afternoon, and the body was in a bad state of decomposition when discovered. The gun left beside Phillips' body belonged to him and had been returned to him Sunday by Charles Redman, a gunsmith, who had it to repair.
Redman is supposed to be the last person who saw Phillips that day, and on these circumstances was arrested for the crime but the coroner's jury exonerated him and he was released. Redman has been running a blacksmith's shop at Alabam."
The story was updated and amended a week later:
Madison County Democrat, Nov 23 1916:
"Chas. Redman, who was arrested on suspicion of having killed Mat Phillips, an account of which murder was published in our last issue, but was exonerated by the coroner's jury that met at the Madison County Courthouse and was released is again being sought by the officers.
Stronger circumstantial evidence that points to him as the one who committed the crime has been obtained but his re arrest has not yet been effected for the reason that he has left the country and his whereabouts are unknown. Redman's family are still at Alabam where he had been working in a blacksmith shop.
According to Charlie Phillips, who's Dad was one of the ones who found Matt Phillips dead, he was shot with a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun which he owned. Charles Redman had been at his house for 2 or 3 days and kept Matt up all of that time.
Matt finally went to bed and Charles Redman shot him in the bed. His body wasn't found until 2-3 days later and he was so decomposed that his body was rolled up in the sheet and buried near the house where he was shot.
The house was on the old Phillips homestead."
No one was ever tired for the murder of Rueben Matthew Phillips. He is buried in a lone gravesite on the old Phillips homestead in Madison County. The grave is on private property but can be viewed from your vehicle.
To reach the site, from Huntsville go east on Highway 412 for about 10 miles to Marble; turn right onto County Road 2405 and go approximately 4.5 miles to the junction of County Road #2405 and #2400. (there will be a large "junkyard" on your right just before this junction).
Stay left on County Road #2405 which goes up a hill. There will be a sharp curve in the road to the right and then a sharp curve to the left...this is like a "S" curve. Just before the second curve, there will be a private driveway which turns to the left.
The 911 address on the mailbox is 3387 Madison 2405. Turn into this driveway and go about 100 feet past the Marble Fire Station. The grave is located off to the right of the driveway just about 20 feet inside the fence.