The Murder of Flossie Putman
At the sound of the car horn blowing, young and vivacious Flossie Putnam, who
had been a beauty contest winner at the age of 16, jumped to her feet.
Glancing in the full-length mirror standing in the hall, she checked her
makeup and shapely figure one last time. Her mother, sitting in a chair and
watching, was agitated that her daughter was going out again. It seemed to
her that Flossie was always on her way to another date.
"Going out again tonight?" asked the mother. "Who are you seeing now?"
"My number one boy friend!" replied the daughter gleefully. "The one I really
"Please don’t stay out too late, honey," the mother pleaded.
Flossie kissed her mother lightly on the cheek, and pausing only long enough
to tell her not to wait up, she dashed for the door.
Mrs. Putnam watched as her daughter departed. Her whole life was wrapped up
in Flossie, an only child and her sole support. Mother and daughter lived in
a modest house on O’Shaughnesy Avenue in the village of Dallas, a cotton mill
section at the edge of Huntsville.
As darkness closed over the hills and valleys that night of April 30, 1937,
angry clouds were gathering on the western horizon to swoop down on the
countryside in one of the worst storms ever experienced in the Tennessee
Valley. Within an hour after the daughter’s departure from home, lightning
flashed and thunder cracked with a fearsome fury. This was followed by a gale
of hurricane proportions and then rain came down in torrents. As the storm
increased in violence, Mrs. Mae Putnam, alone in her house, felt almost
psychically worried about her daughter’s safety for the first time in her
Flossie, however, was safe from the elements of the night. She was
comfortably seated in a darkened corner of the White Castle, a popular
roadhouse four miles north of Huntsville. Opposite her sat a companion, and
on the table between them were two glasses filled with whiskey.
The popular tavern was almost empty of patrons on this stormy night. Besides
Flossie and her date, there were only a few others present. No one paid any
attention to the young couple until they began arguing in loud voices. The
man seemed to be doing most of the talking, his voice thickened by the
whiskey he had already consumed. As suddenly as the argument had began, it
ended, with the couple leaving the bar holding hands.
For the next hour the remaining patrons of the tavern continued to drink and
talk as the storm raged outside. Two of the customers were preparing to leave
when suddenly the door flew open and Flossie Putnam, her face and clothes
splattered with blood, stumbled through the entrance.
The patrons anxiously gathered around the young girl offering to take her to
the doctor, only to be met by a curt refusal.
"Leave me alone," Flossie cried angrily. "Please go away."
Just then the door opened and the girl’s escort walked in. He, too, was
splattered with blood and appeared to have been heavily intoxicated. Grabbing
Flossie by her arm, the man angrily ordered her to leave with him. Neither
spoke a word as they left.
Through a window, those in the tavern saw the couple climb into a pickup
truck and drive away.
The following morning, when Mrs. Putnam realized her daughter had not
returned home, she became scared. She began calling her daughter’s friends
only to be told that they had not seen her. One of them did tell her,
however, that the man Flossie had been seeing was named Jim.
Mrs. Putnam next notified H.C. Blakemore. Huntsville’s chief of police.
Anxiously she told the Chief of her daughter dating someone by the name of
Jim, and of her concern.
Recalling the fact that Flossie had joked about getting married, Blakemore
said there was nothing he could do in case of an elopement since Flossie was
of age, but he would do what he could.
Blakemore began searching for the man who had been with Flossie the night she
had disappeared. Finally after much hard work, he was able to narrow the list
of possible suspects down to five whose first names were Jim. Four of the
suspects were able to give alibis for the night Flossie disappeared. The
fifth, James McAnally, lived only a short distance from Blakemore’s home.
McAnally was married and was known as a devoted husband and the father of
With attributes such as these, Blakemore was at first hesitant about even
considering McAnally as a suspect. Despite his personal feelings, the Chief
nevertheless decided to question McAnally.
During the course of the next several weeks, Blakemore visited McAnally’s
residence several times, only to be told each time by Jim’s wife that he was
not home. Finally Blakemore demanded an explanation as to why McAnally was
Obviously worried, the woman said Jim had disappeared. "I know I should have
reported it sooner but I kept thinking that he would come back."
The woman said she had not seen her husband in almost a month.
Upon questioning the woman, Blakemore was able to establish that McAnally had
disappeared the same night as Flossie Putnam. Now the investigator was faced
with two mysterious disappearances instead of one. As rumors begin to spread
across Huntsville, the general feeling was that McAnally had abandoned his
wife and children and ran off with the attractive Flossie Putman.
The whole case had stalemated when Mrs. McAnally appeared at headquarters one
day, three months later, to tell the Chief that she had heard from her
husband. He was working in Texas, had a good job and was about to send for
her and the children.
"Did he say why he left so suddenly without telling anyone?" Blakemore asked.
"He just said that he had an unexpected job offer and he wanted to make sure
it worked out before telling anyone." The look on her face showed that even
she knew it was a flimsy excuse.
Then, as the woman was leaving the office, Blakemore said he would like to
talk to her husband about the disappearance of Flossie Putnam.
Indignantly, the woman replied that Blakemore was mistaken in his assumption
that her husband had anything to do with the Putnam girl. "My husband has
never been unfaithful to me!"
"Mrs. McAnally, I’d like permission to search your place before you leave for
Upset by the thought of police prowling about her home, and certain that her
husband was in no way connected with the disappearance of Flossie Putnam, she
refused. She could not understand the Chief's attitude nor his request as she
stalked out of the office.
The state of Alabama had a peculiar outlook regarding the search of private
property, regardless of the nature or seriousness of the case involved. A
legal search could be made only with the consent of the resident, or with a
warrant sworn out in his name whenever the consent was refused. When a search
was made with proper warrant, should the officer fail to find what he was
looking for the resident had recourse against the officer and superiors in
the courts of the state.
So Chief Blakemore refrained from searching the McAnally home and premises;
he had no proof of his vague suspicions. Jim McAnally had turned up alive and
there was the possibility that the girl whose name had been linked with his
might likewise be located. Until he had proof that the girl had not merely
run away, the police official had no intention of subjecting himself to a
costly damage suit.
There were many conflicting and baffling possibilities in the events
surrounding that stormy evening. Had the Putnam girl dashed into the
roadhouse that night because she was fleeing the man who tried to kill her?
If so, why did the man follow her into the bar where other people were bound
to see him? And why did she leave with him again?
Every promising trail the investigating Chief followed seemed to lead to Jim
McAnally, and then dissipate into thin air. Especially intriguing was his
mysterious departure from home at the time of the girl’s disappearance.
Surely Jim McAnally was not the "number one boy friend" mentioned by Miss
Putnam, nor the one to whom she referred in jesting about an elopement. What
attraction could there be in an insignificant married man of 41 years for the
attractive and popular beauty with countless admirers? Yet, there seemed to
have been numerous clandestine meetings between the two .
After months of diligent work, Chief Blakemore believed the girl might be
dead, the victim of a jealous suitor. But his investigation along those lines
was stalemated until some evidence of the body-- or the murderer could be
located. To hunt for one involved dangerous financial risks and to look for
the other was a colossal undertaking, with the name of Jim and a general
description that might fit hundreds of men the only clue to his identity.
Where to look for either was a mystery as dark as the stormy night into which
the girl and her friend had disappeared.
Months and then years passed. Finally, the summer of 1939 rolled around with
still no trace of the missing Flossie Putnam. In the long span of time the
residents of North Alabama had practically forgotten the former beauty, and
many changes had occurred in the lives of the principal characters in this
Chief Blakemore had resigned his position as head of Huntsville’s law
enforcement body and had been elected sheriff of Madison County. In his new
capacity he had not forgotten the baffling Putman mystery, now more than two
years old. The McAnally home was now occupied by the owner’s father and
mother, who had moved in when McAnally’s wife and eight children left for
Reports from Texas told of McAnally’s success. He had acquired half ownership
in a garage and had purchased a home for his family.
Blakemore never heard from Jim McAnally though he still wanted to question
him in regard to the missing Flossie Putnam. He also still wanted to search
the house in which McAnally had resided while in Huntsville but his repeated
requests had been met with stern refusals from the new occupants. There was
strong resentment of any thought that anything could be wrong. And a search
was still impossible with the meager information available.
On the morning of August 13, 1939, Sheriff Blakemore received in his offices
at the county courthouse a visitor with what appeared to be an important bit
of information. This visitor was a neighbor of the McAnallys in West
"For the past few days," the man said, "my dog has been acting strangely
around the McAnally house. He has been digging under the kitchen in the rear.
I watched him again this morning through the fence. He digs a while, sniffs
the hole he is making, and then digs again. I am sure there is something
buried under that house."
Sheriff Blakemore decided to act immediately, to risk his judgement against a
possible lawsuit. After obtaining a search warrant and accompanied by two
deputies armed with shovels and digging irons, he went to the home which had
previously been McAnally’s residence. There he saw where the dog had been
digging but the opening was too narrow to permit the entry of a human body.
The sheriff and his deputies then entered the kitchen and their attention was
immediately drawn to a section of the flooring which had a different
appearance from the remainder of the boards. The elder McAnally explained
this section had rotted and he had repaired it several days after his son
went to Texas. Sheriff Blakemore ordered his men to remove the boards.
Directly beneath the floor was a mound of earth, large and oblong in shape,
which had partly caved in. The aged occupant of the house, still unaware of
the purpose of the unusual procedure but asking no questions, explained that
his son had started to excavate for a cellar with the intention of installing
a furnace but had abandoned the plan just before he went away. The sheriff
ordered his men to start digging.
Four feet down in the earth, which was loose and easily removed, Deputy Smith
struck something hard with his shovel. Reaching down, he brought to the
surface a small shoe, almost disintegrated, which contained the bones of a
human foot. The officers continued their digging with renewed vigor and soon
uncovered the skeleton of a woman. The shoes and a few fragments of clothing
remained among the bones. These were carefully removed to a mortuary, where
an hour later Mrs. Mae Putnam, torn with grief, identified the bits of cloth
and leather as part of the dress and shoes worn by her daughter the night she
Flossie Putnam’s strange disappearance was finally solved.
A long-distance call to the sheriff’s office in McKillney, Texas requested
the immediate arrest of Jim McAnally. Within an hour, a call came from the
Texas city stating they had arrested one James McAnally.
When McAnally was returned from Texas he was brought before Solicitor Jeff D.
Smith and Sheriff Blakemore for questioning. The man had made no statement
since his arrest and the officials expected a continued denial of the murder.
Sheriff Blakemore addressed McAnally. "Jim," he said, "it looks pretty bad
for you and we want to hear your story of what happened that night."
Calmly and without any outward sign of remorse, McAnally began to tell his
story of what had transpired that night. He admitted to being out that night
with Flossie Putnam, whom he said he had known about a year. He told how they
rode around for hours talking and drinking whiskey.
When the storm was at its peak, he said he parked the pickup truck off the
New Market road. It was here, according to his story, that the girl fell out
of the truck and cut her face.
"The next thing I remember," he continued, "a man was shaking me to wake me
up and get out of his way so he could drive into his home. After moving the
car I tried to arouse Flossie and she didn’t answer. Well, the woman was
"I didn’t know what to do so I went home, took the body out of the truck, and
carried it into the house, placing it in the closet in the downstairs room. I
then fell asleep.
"I was wakened soon after daylight by my wife and children moving about in
the house. I thought of the body, and knew I had to dispose of it. So I told
my wife to take the children and go to the home of my parents.
"I had planned to dig a basement and had actually started it. So after the
family left, I removed the floor in the kitchen and deepened the hole. Then I
placed the body in it and covered it up, nailing down the floor tightly. When
my wife and children returned at 11 o’clock they were none the wiser. I left
the following morning and finally landed in Texas. You know the rest."
Though the story sounded feasible, it was a lie. Medical evidence had already
shown that the girl died from a gunshot wound.
The trial began Nov. 1, 1939. McAnally offered a plea of "not guilty because
of insanity." Solicitor Smith recounted the mass of testimony against the
accused man and demanded the death penalty for a brutal murder.
Three days later a jury deliberated four hours and returned a verdict of
guilty and fixed punishment at life imprisonment. Notice of appeal was filed
at once but this was withdrawn two weeks later and McAnally was taken to
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