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Gladys Gibson Case


On this date in 1935, a 12-man jury decided the fate of Gladys Gibson, a Dickinson woman on trial for murdering her husband a year and a half earlier.

The case would have delighted today’s tabloid writers. Nathaniel Gibson’s job as a mail carrier brought home $200 a month; with this he supported his wife, Gladys, two teenaged daughters, Glady’s brother, the brother’s friend, and a housekeeper. Gladys said Nathaniel had become despondent in the months before his death, and he spent a lot of time reading religious literature that stated people who died prior to Jesus’ second coming would automatically go to Heaven.

On the evening of December 4, 1933, Nathaniel went to a National Guard meeting. Gladys said she heard him outside at about 1 in the morning and found him drunk; she needed her brother’s help to get him inside. They got Nathaniel out of his vomit-covered clothes, and Gladys said they went to bed. She got up whenever he threw up, and overcome by the odor, she went upstairs to the bathroom at about 4 a.m. Then, she looked in on her girls, and as she started down the stairs she heard a gunshot. Moments later, she found Nathaniel dying from a bullet to his left temple.

The doctor arrived shortly after and found the room quite neat. The other side of the bed hadn’t been slept in, and Nathaniel’s left arm was extended down his side, with his hand clutching a pistol. The doctor said he smelled liquor on Nathaniel’s breath but no smell of vomit.

The coroner’s inquest called it suicide. But, State’s Attorney Theodore Kellogg and his assistant, H.A. Mackoff, weren’t convinced. They hired a detective, Jim Harris, who rented a room from Gladys. Harris posed as a Chicago gangster and slowly befriended Gladys.

Months later, Gladys and the detective went on a date, ending up in a cabin near Jamestown. The cabin was outfitted with a hidden dictaphone and a stenographer who took down their conversation. It was here that Gladys admitted she killed Nathaniel, saying he had gotten out of bed and told her he wanted to have sex with his daughter and the housekeeper; so she killed him.

It was nearly a year after Nathaniel’s death when Gladys was arrested. The news caused a sensation in Dickinson, and the trial was moved to Bismarck, with Kellogg and Mackoff as prosecutors. Kellogg surprised everyone with the news that Gladys had confessed to him, also – during a meeting in Washburn. Gladys swore the detective had forced her to confess at gunpoint, and Kellogg had hypnotized her into confessing by the way he “rolled his eyes.”

Witnesses had said they’d heard Gladys run down the stairs to the main floor after the gunshot. Glady’s daughter, however, said she saw her mother walk past her door and go downstairs before the gun went off – a story she later changed in favor of her mother’s alibi.

Also damaging was the testimony of the housekeeper, whose 26-year-old brother, Joe, turned out to be Glady’s lover. Nathaniel had thrown Joe out and told him to never come back, but the housekeeper said Gladys would signal Nathaniel with a light in the window when the coast was clear for him to visit. It didn’t help that Joe moved in with Gladys just a few days after Nathaniel died.

The last bit of incriminating evidence was Nathaniel’s $8,000 life insurance policy. Kellogg finished his closing arguments by saying, “She killed him because she wanted his money and didn’t want to live with him.”

After deliberating for nearly 45 hours, the jury agreed. Gladys was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. She made several appeals, but they all failed.


Bismarck Tribune. June 26, 1935: p. 1 & 6

Dickinson Press and Dickinson Recorder-Post. July 4, 1935: p. 1

Mackoff Kellogg Law Firm, http://www.mackoff.com/about/History.asp.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm