Who wants to buy a cheap ranch with a murder house?
August 26, 2013
“Oh, Jimmy, cut it out!” Mandi squealed. She scooted over in the passenger’s seat of the pick-up until she was plastered up against the passenger’s side door. Still, a hand with wiggling fingers came at her from the driver’s side. “You’re creeping me out! Stop it!”
“And then….and then…. and then the fiend came after her, needing a thirteenth victim!” Jimmy chanted in ominous tones.
Both occupants of the pick-up cab squealed, giggled, moaned and groaned until their silliness was spent, dissipated. They returned to sipping the straws of over-sized drinks from a Dairy Queen that was disappearing into invisibleness in the rear-view window. It was unbelievably warm for late November and the windows of the pick-up were rolled all the way down. The dust blew in the windows, encircled the young couple and blew back out again. Mandi was content to let her shoulder-length auburn hair fly all about like a dust mop being shaken.
“I love the smell of cow shit in the morning!” Jimmy boomed. “Read me that magazine ad again, my little sweetie.”
Mandy fumbled through the dog-eared copy of Farm and Ranch to the back and then began to read: “Reduced for quick sale. Near Bartlesville. Largest parcel of original 130,000 acre ranch with four ranch houses, one large, three small, seven barns, ten sheds with equipment for horse-shoeing, branding, tack, and veterinary medicine. All fencing in good repair. Only $300,000. You provide the cattle, the horses and the TLC.”
She paused, then asked: “Can we even afford this, Jimmy?”
“It won’t be too long ‘til Grandpa dies, they say—you saw him—he’s barely hanging on. Ryder is getting his ranch in Palo Pinto County, but they say Grandpa is leaving us two younger kids enough to get ranches of our own. Oklahoma is not that far from Texas. If we fall in love with the place, maybe they will take a down payment, to hold it.”
“The price is awfully low for all this stuff.” Mandi voiced her suspicions.
“Quick sale! They want to have a quick sale, that’s all. People haven’t been buying much property lately, if you noticed. The cattle business is also hurting.” Jimmy retorted.
The young couple was too much in love to change any plans or alter any dreams for the day. The pick-up zoomed through the large arched metal gate. A burlap bag with a drawstring closure was fastened around the fancy brand insignia at the apex of the arch. Bumpata, bumpata, bump went the sound of the tires rolling over the cattle guard. As the truck eased up to the largest ranch home, Jimmy and Mandi spied a cowboy hammering away on some exterior trim. He wheeled around, dropped his hammer and strode over to meet them.
“You’d be Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright.” They nodded. “Mr. James Cartwright, you come from a long line of Texas ranchers and cattlemen? You were active in FFA? You have some rodeo championships to your name? This just might be the place for you! I am Jeb Willis, not the owner you contacted, but I am authorized to show you around. I think I’ll just give you the keys and let you explore to your hearts’ content. Here is a map.” He handed them a Photostat of the acreage and buildings. “I will keep on working here and you save up questions. When you come back I will be glad to answer them for you.” Jeb ambled over to pick up his hammer once again.
Jimmy and Mandi eyed each other with glee as they headed up the stone path to the front door of the large ranch house. The main barn would be their next stop and it was quite a walking distance away.
“Ha ha! You can’t get me!” Mandi called down a half an hour later, from the hayloft, still packed with a few bales of hay.
Jimmy stopped examining the walls for evidence of rot and rapidly climbed the fixed ladder. “I’m coming to get you!” He cried out in an evil- sounding voice. He tackled a squealing Mandi and they rolled, and tossed and turned around in the golden cloud of soft sticks. Jimmy kissed her with the ardor of a man too long marooned on a desert island. She interrupted the moment of bliss.
“Is this gonna be our barn some day?”
“I think it might be, my darling wife. Hey! What’s this?” He had spotted an old folded newspaper and got up to retrieve it. He moved over by the hook so that he could use the window light to read. Mandi peered around his arm to read the following account from days gone by:
Bartlesville: A short time after E. C. Mullendore took out a seventeen million dollar life insurance policy on himself—the largest life insurance policy ever recorded for the time—he was found sitting on his sofa, beaten to a pulp and shot. His marriage had been falling apart, his ranch was eleven million dollars in debt, and Mullendore had turned to the bottle, some say.
Mullendore had worked hard to build up the cattle ranch from the already large ranch his grandfather, then his father, the two previous E. C. Mullendores before him, had started. They had all been successful and wealthy as a result of their labors. The September, 1970, crime goes unsolved. A ranch hand, Chub Anderson said he was getting ready to take a bath upstairs when he heard a commotion downstairs. He went down the steps quietly to investigate and as he was examining the body of Mullendore on the sofa, he was shot in the shoulder, himself. He drew is own gun and shot at two unknown intruders as they rushed out the glass patio doors and got away for good.
Jimmy and Mandi looked up from their reading and stared at each other.
Jimmy was the first to speak. “The Cross-Bell Ranch! The Mullendore murders! I read an old book about that, by a guy named Kwitny, but I had forgotten all about it.”
“Jimmy! We were just in that house—the murder house. Our dream is tainted!” Mandi blurted out with alarm.
“Spooky. No wonder it’s reduced. We drove all this way for nothin’!”
As they came upon Jeb, once again, Jeb asked, “Questions?”
“Just one,” replied Jimmy. “Is this the Mullendore Ranch?”
“The Cross Bell Ranch?” Mandi added with a little tilt to her head.
At the same time Jimmy and Mandy were rumbling with great haste down the driveway, with the covered-up Cross Bell brand over the metal gate, dirt balls were tumbling into the grave of Damon “Chub” Anderson to cover him up for the last time. He never would tell any more of the story of what happened when millionaire Mullendore was killed, and he, himself, was shot. Chub was known for having a ferocious temper. Some thought he had done the murder, himself. There was never enough evidence to charge him—just rumor and innuendo. Was it staged by Mullendore himself, to save the ranch with the insurance money? Had he paid in advance for the deed? Were the intruders other ranch hands greedy for money, and Chub knew their identities? Some said it was a mob hit.
After being pestered about it one too many times, he told Osage County Sheriff George Wayman that he would just take any further comments to the grave. And he did. He died of natural causes on November 24, 2010 near Coffeyville, Kansas, leaving a sensational murder of over forty years prior, unsolved.