Originally published in The Rock River Times.
Mary Jonas lived in the Kickapoo, Wisconsin area for years with her family. They owned 160 acres that ran along the Kickapoo River. Her father, John and mother, Elizabeth brought their family to Wisconsin around the late 1850’s.
The family was typical for the settlements in the area of the time. They moved their way across the Midwest, farming and looking for a place to set down their roots. The Jonas’ had three children, two boys and a girl, who helped their parents break the land and build the farm.
William was the oldest boy and by the 1860’s he was married and started his own family. He died of disease while serving in the Wisconsin Volunteers during the Civil War.
The patriarch of the family, John passed away in February of 1890. The remaining son, Daniel decided to move to Missouri leaving Mary and her mother to run the farm all by themselves. When Elizabeth became too crippled for Mary to help, she followed Daniel to Missouri. Mary made the decision to stay in Wisconsin to work the family farm.
Mary struggled with what she felt was her duty to her father’s wishes for the family farm and her loneliness for her family. She rented out the land to neighboring farmers and filled her time with gardening and visiting with the neighboring wives. But her loneliness for her family grew.
All this put Mary in a vulnerable position. That is exactly what one of her neighbors, Samuel Buxton was counting on. Samuel worked for Mary on and off for years and knew that her father left her in a good financial condition.
Samuel also knew that Mary was superstitious and that the whole family had believed in curses and hexes. Mary’s father, John was born in Pennsylvania and would share stories of the power of the witches in the east. He told Mary that whole families had come to ruin when cursed by those who followed the devil. These stories had a great impact on Mary, and she grew fearful that she would come under a witch’s spell.
Samuel Buxton knew all of this and decided that he would use it to his advantage. In 1891, Samuel brough a series of letters to Mary, claiming that he had found on the edges of her property. The letters were filled with horrible graphic descriptions of all kinds of depravity. He told Mary that they had been left by a witch and that he could help protect her from the evil curse that the witch would place upon her.
Mary was so grateful to Samuel that eventually, she fell in love with him. They began an affair that would last for three years. Even though they were lovers, Mary paid Samuel handsomely for his help to keep the evil at bay.
For his part, Samuel made sure that Mary believed that the witch was still around. He did this with more letters, strange relics made from twigs, and by strange knockings and thumping on the side of Mary’s house. After these “attacks”, Mary would summon Samuel who would prefer a ritual that would chase the witch away for a while at least.
Mary would often talk of her love for Samuel and of wishes that they could marry. Samuel grew tired of his mistress and her increasing demands that he leave his wife. So, he decided that he would use the witch one last time to help himself of Mary.
Samuel came to Mary and told her that the witch had offered to help Mary get her heart’s desire. In order to win the heart of her beloved, she needed only to fake a hanging. By hanging herself “just a bit”, she would cause the death of Samuel’s wife and then he would be hers forever.
Mary was overjoyed and agreed to Samuel’s evil plan. They practiced the hanging for several weeks until Mary grew more comfortable with the rope around her neck. Finally in November of 1894, Samuel decided that the day had arrived and went through the now familiar ritual. This time he moved the chair a little further away from Mary so she could barely reach it. As she began to struggle for air, he broke down and put the stool back under her feet, sparing her.
When he returned a few days later he told Mary that when he reached his house, his wife was unconscious on the floor. He emphasized his belief their plan would work. They need only go a little farther into the hanging.
One can only speculate what was going through both of their minds in the time it took to prepare the ritual. Mary must have been so torn between happiness that she would finally have Samuel for herself and having to kill for that to happen. Or maybe she told herself that it was the witch that was committing the killing. While Samuel was obviously looking forward to being done with Mary.
Mary stepped up on the stool and put the noose around her neck. The last thing she saw was Samuel reach over and move the chair completely away from her reach. He stood in the room and watched her struggle. When it seemed to be taking too long, he wrapped his arms around her legs and pulled until she stopped moving.
Neighbors noticed that Mary wasn’t out doing chores for a couple of days. When they went to check on her they found Mary hanging from the rope. Though Samuel spent time setting up the room to look like a suicide, they were a few things that troubled the authorities.
The chair was the main clue that troubled Sheriff Silbaugh, the man in charge of solving the crime. Usually in suicides the chair would be knocked over. This chair was set back a few feet but still upright. There were several items missing from the house including $300.00 and a special watch given to Mary by her father. The way the rope was tied also bothered the man put in charge of solving the mystery. When he testified to the Coroner’s Jury, they came back with a “death at the hands of persons unknown” ruling.
That person wouldn’t stay unknown for long. Mary’s brother, Daniel traveled up from Missouri to make sure the authorities got justice for his sister. He told them every detail that his sister had shared in her letters. When the authorities questioned the surrounding neighbors, they too stated that Buxton had been visiting Mary at all hours of the day and night.
Mary had saved all of the letters from Buxton and the witch, so the authorities had all the proof they needed to arrest him. Mary’s neighbors and friends were outraged and formed a vigilante posse and marched upon the jail at Viroqua where Samuel was being held. The Sheriff had to smuggle Buxton out the back to save him from a lynching. He was kept in Sparta to await his trial.
The trial lasted long enough for the judge to sentence Buxton to life in prison. He was sent to the Wisconsin State Prison in Waupun, Wisconsin. He died there on June 27, 1900 and was buried in an unmarked grave.
This story was reported in papers all over the United States from New York to San Antonio, Texas.
Copyright © 2022 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events