© Kathy Duncan, 2011
The “Old Home Place” is my mother’s birthplace and her childhood home, the place of her most cherished memories. It is located, in Red River County, Texas, on the first piece of land that my grandparents ever owned. Its previous owner was the notorious Jack Pope.
When I was a child, we always took a drive out to see the house every time we visited my grandparents. In those days, the old house still had its windows and doors. My grandfather stored hay in it, stacked from floor to ceiling. It was a rare treat to be there when it was empty, and we could go inside. Visiting The Old Home Place is a family tradition that continued through my own children’s childhood. In recent years, however, vandals have broken out the windows and stolen the screen door. In its declining years, the house looks more and more haunted. Certainly, the old house has a grisly history, but haunted….
On one trip to visit The Old Home Place, my son unexpectedly began channeling the voices of my mother’s childhood friends, who loved to ask, “Are Jack Pope’s bloody handprints really on your fireplace?”
“..And there are bloody handprints above the fireplace from the killer’s hands…” My son was just beginning to get started. He had his little sister squealing in delighted terror as we pulled into the yard of the old house. I have no idea where his sudden inspiration came from. We had always been careful not to reveal the old house’s history around the kids. My mother and I shot a look over their heads; the same thought on both our minds: How did he know? She shook her head slightly at me in warning. I was no fool. Now was not the time to tell the kids the truth about the old house. My daughter was far too young. The immediate problem was to shut my son up…he was continuing to spin a story that was remarkably close to the truth.
The truth began long before Jack Pope murdered his family. His first wife had been home alone, raking and burning leaves in the yard. The hem of her dress caught fire. She was also wearing a new flannel slip. She had used a safety pin to fasten her clothes and could not get them off. She must have resembled a human torch out there in the yard. Did she run? Certainly, she did not think to drop and roll because her burns were too severe. Somehow, she managed to get back to the house, removed her shoes, left them on the step, and crawled into bed.
A passerby spotted her still smoking, burned shoes on the steps and investigated.
Help was sent for and arrived in the form of my grandmother, Bertha Chapman, who frequently helped to nurse the sick in the area. Mrs. Pope lingered for three agonizing days. She was literally roasted. Nothing could save her or ease her pain.
Jack Pope had a life insurance policy on his first wife and received a small sum of money as a result of Mrs. Pope’s sudden and unexpected death. The money, however, was a considerable amount to an East Texas dirt farmer. Collecting more insurance money was Jack Pope’s motivation for the murder of his second wife, Lydia.
When Lydia B. Pope left Jack, she took their baby Hubert with her to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. T.H. Hansell near Haworth, Oklahoma. Whether on her own or with the encouragement of her family, she filed for divorce from Jack. A week before the murder, Aaron “Red” Harvey, Jack’s partner-in-crime killed the Hansells’ dogs. Jack promised to pay him $500 dollar for helping with the murders. Later, Red Harvey claimed that he had only agreed to kill the dogs.
On the night of April 26, 1923, Jack Pope and Red Harvey burst through the doors of the Hansell home, guns blazing. They fired, point blank, at the sleeping family. Killed instantly were Mr. and Mrs. Tom H. Hansell, their four-year-old son Aubrey, Lydia Pope and baby Hubert. The only survivor was a younger brother of Lydia’s. He rolled, wounded, between the bed and wall, Lydia’s body shielding him from the view of the killers. During the murders, son John Pope stayed with the horses outside and claimed later that he knew nothing of his father’s intentions.
The two killers and their accomplice crossed back over the Red River into Texas. John Pope returned to the Old Home Place, where he was later arrested. Jack Pope Sr. was arrested in Clarksville. Harvey was also arrested, and the three of them were taken to Paris, Texas to await their return to Oklahoma to stand trial for the murders. Figuratively speaking, Pope had the blood of his victims on his hands, but he left no bloody handprints on his fireplace at The Old Home Place.
Jack Pope admitted killing his wife for $2,000 in insurance money. According to him, the others were murdered to conceal his identity. He led the authorities to a place near the Hansells’ home, where he had hidden the three guns used in the murders. When the murder trial began, spectators were searched for weapons before they were allowed to enter the courthouse. Mob violence against Jack Pope had been a concern since his arrest.
Jack Pope and Aaron “Red” Harvey were sentenced to death. John Pope received a life sentence in prison. Jack Pope and Red Harvey were electrocuted in McAlester, OK in January 1924. Pope went calmly to his death. Red Harvey, however, sobbed hysterically underneath his hood. They are both buried in the Department of Corrections Cemetery at McAlester, Oklahoma. Ironically, on find-a-grave.com, they each have a floral tribute while the graves of their victims are not even listed.
March 22, 2015 Update:
The situation at Findagrave has changed. There are now memorials for the Hansells and Lydia Pope, who were buried in a mass grave without a marker. Below is the only funeral notice that I've found for them:
The old home place, circa 1930s - 1940s, viewed from the back of the house:
January 19, 2019 Update:
Findagrave now shows a modern tombstone marking the mass grave of the Popes and Hansells. It also erroneously reports that the Old Home Place was the location of the murders. I have contacted the Findagrave contributor, asking that the photograph of the house that was taken from my blog either be removed or correctly captioned.
January 20, 2019 Update:
Newspaper clipping regarding the first Mrs. Pope's death added.
January 21, 2019 Update: