11 August 2022

Murder in the Chapel - 1935

First of all, many thanks to John Benting, Associate Director of Emergency MGMT/Security Audit Control, at the South Dakota State Penitentiary for his notes on this case.  Mr. Benting is working on a history of the South Dakota State Penitentiary, and I hope he gets it published soon.  All the factual material & material in quotes is from his notes, and all the rest is my own experience and fervid imagination.  

On September 17, 1935, Florence Turner (aged 32), inmate #7164, was killed on the chapel stage by her partner in crime and love, Glenn Murray (aged 33), inmate #7163. Both were doing time for burglary: Glenn got 20 years, Florence 10. They'd robbed a gas station in Rapid City and for some reason kidnapped two people. They took the two out to the country and tied them up with barbed wire. Proving that  Houdini lives when there's enough desperation, the two victims got out of that barbed wire and notified the police of the crimes. After that, it wasn't long before Glenn and Florence were captured north of Belle Fourche (which is only 55 miles away).  They arrived at the penitentiary on July 7, 1933. 

So why did he kill her, two years later? And how?

Well, the "how" is easy:  

"The day after the murder Murray was interviewed by Warden Reilley and State's Attorney Crill. Murray said that the female inmates (there weren't that many of them back then, and they lived in "the cottage") passed notes over the wall."  

My note:  The cottage was a small pipestone building added on to the east side of the main prison. It's still there, it's just been repurposed. 

"The previous Thursday Murray had another male inmate working out on a roof of one of the Hill buildings throw a note over to a female inmate who gave it to Florence. During that Sunday's church service Florence signaled Glenn that she'd received the message. Glenn said the message he had sent to her was that they were going to commit to a suicide pact and that she would show up to sick call on that Tuesday the 17th to carry out the deed."  

So, on Tuesday, Florence went to the prison hospital, which back in those days was reached through the chapel. Murray was waiting there - some say on what's now the stage - with a half pair of scissors he had stolen from the grain house, and stabbed her in the heart. Then he pulled out the blade, dropped it, and walked away.  NOTE:  Murray never, ever attempted to kill himself.  

Glenn's file for Sept. 17, 1935 states: "Stabbing Florence Turner with a dagger M.Sol. 9:15am."  Florence's file page for Sept. 18, 1935:  "Died September 17, 1935. Was stabbed in the heart by inmate Glenn Murray (sweetheart) when going to hospital for treatment. Died instantly."  

Fourteen days later, on October 1st, Glenn's file says "Released from Sol. Confinement 10:30am. Murdering his so called wife by stabbing her in heart." 

Fourteen days: Not that long for killing another inmate, is it?  

Glenn was convicted of murder and given a life sentence, but back then, life wasn't always without parole in South Dakota as it is now. He got out in October 1960, but came back on a violation in 1962. He died two years later in prison of a heart attack in December 1964.   

I'm still puzzled as to why Florence agreed to a suicide pact.  True, she and Glenn were childhood/high school sweethearts (hard to say which), who were going to get married back when she was 17.  Somehow her parents blocked it. Some time later, she married William T. Turner, 20 years her elder, and had five children with him.  After Donna, the fifth, was born, she left Turner and went back home to her parents in Brownsville, Iowa.  When Glenn got out of an Iowa prison in February, 1933, he found Florence, and convinced her to run off with him. She did, taking Donna with her.  They only had one month together, because they were arrested in March. (One month. I hope it was a good one.)

Anyway, at the time of her death, Florence was still married to William T. Turner (then 55). He was living in Waterloo, Iowa, raising the other four children. (NOTE:  Donna was adopted by an unnamed couple in Rapid City a couple of months after Florence's arrest.)  William Turner stated that he exchanged letters with his wife about every two weeks: she would write a letter to him and include a letter for the kids. He also stated that a year before the murder he'd tried to get her out on parole so she could come home and help raise the kids, but the request was denied.  

From the I Am An Evil Person Files:  What leaped to my mind was, "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille" - and that maybe this was why Florence agreed to the suicide pact. Anything but going home to Mr. Turner. 

Then again, I'm not convinced that there was any note about a suicide pact - maybe it was a note about an escape attempt.  I don't know that anyone ever found the note. And if Florence thought that they were going to escape, and he killed her, well, that would explain a lot of what comes next:

Florence haunts the Hill chapel and the offices, hallway, etc., around the chapel.

John Benting:  "For years people have talked about a ghostly presence in the chapel area. Those who have had encounters have considered it to be a female presence, which is odd for a male dominated prison. More importantly these people who have considered this "ghost" a female presence had no knowledge of Florence's murder. I didn't uncover this story of Florence Turner until around 2015. It had been a story that had been lost in time for many decades as I have spoken to many people who have worked here as far back as the 1970's who didn't know the story of Florence's murder. There are still a handful of stories from a couple different people that come out every year on happenings in the chapel area. I have never personally had an experience here, but I know I have been hearing these stories of the female ghost going back 15 years before we rediscovered Florence's story."

I know a few stories myself. For one thing, there's a cold column of air on the stage of the chapel that isn't a draft: you can shut all the windows, close all the doors, and that column of air is still there. I've experienced that.  

Occasionally things move - not while you're watching, but when you look back up it's not where it was. I've experienced that, too.  

Other people (including a couple of staff I know) have seen a face or more behind a door, or reflected in the glass on a door.  

And, unlike the Loch Ness monster, Florence can show up on videotape:  There's a door in another room that leads out to a small catwalk. That door is ALWAYS kept locked, because that room has been repurposed. Well, there's video cameras everywhere in prison.  So there is a tape, very late one night, when all the inmates were locked down in the cells, and no one was even in the chapel area, that shows that door opening, all by itself, and then closing, all by itself.

I wonder what she was looking for…


  1. Whooooo000000oooo. Will you have a Halloween update?

    I became friendly with a local man and my girlfriend knew his wife, pillars of society types, multiple homes, their main one on a golf course. One day the wife was found murdered and a week later his body was found floating in river. The police theory was a murder-suicide pact that went wrong… supposedly it took a week to work up his part of the bargain.

    I'd had very personal conversations with the man and didn't believe it. I don't know what the two older children thought, but the younger son and I found it difficult to accept the police theory. I wondered if detectives settled upon murder-suicide pact by default because they couldn't make anything else fit.

  2. A fascinating case- every suggested solution raises more questions!

  3. Thanks Leigh & Janice. Yeah, I don't think Glenn ever was serious about killing himself - I think he just wanted to make sure Florence wouldn't get out and go back to her husband.

    Meanwhile, the chapel - especially back stage - is a very spooky place. Lots of "sightings", by inmates, chaplains, staff...

  4. Great story and well told. I've been through their waiting room, the kitchen, the yard and a few rooms I used for interviews, but never made it to the chapel. Sorry I missed that one.

  5. Nice job. It reminds me a little of Murder in the library. I love it. I know what you mean about the ghostly image on the stage. I noticed it when I volunteered at the pen for 10 years. I agree with you about Glenn. I don't think he was serious about killing himself. He just wanted to prevent Florence from getting back with her old man. I worked!

  6. R.T., I've done weekend workshops in the chapel - and, as I said, it's a spooky place. Florence is definitely there.

  7. Westurner20@gmail.com21 April, 2023 22:56

    Florence was my great grandmother.


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