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The notorious Ira W. Porter by Hank Nuwer
Notorious Randolph County (IN) resident Ira W. Porter was born in 1844, the son of James and Hannah
Porter. Ira served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Around 1870, he married Mary A. Porter,
and by 1880, fathered Nancy (called Nannie), 4, and Rudolph, 1.
Mary and Ira W. endured fierce spats over his philandering with female hired help. A Richmond
newspaper labeled him “a degenerate.”
A onetime Salvation Army minister in New Lisbon, Porter was fined $500 and served six months in
jail in 1889 for assault, betrayal, and seduction.
He later preached in Randolph and Jay counties on
the evils of tobacco use.
The U.S. Census of 1900 listed Ira and Mary living on a Salamonia farm with son Cephas (born
1888), daughter Elsie (born 1886), and Rudolph and daughter-in-law May Porter.
In 1904, Elsie and Nannie moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Elsie worked as a musician at the St. Louis
World’s Fair.
According to a Muncie Star Press account, Ira was supposed to meet the daughters in
November for the Fair’s final three days. Supposedly, they were to accompany him from Missouri to
Randolph County for a visit.
Ira told the Muncie Star Press he never met them. Instead, he claimed attending a neighbor’s
funeral.
Ira claimed he last heard from Elsie and Nannie by mail around Dec. 2, 1904. That communication
included a photo of the daughters. A note said: “Papa, we will be there (Randolph County) just as
soon as we can get there. It was quite a compliment the way you met us.”
The Muncie paper’s reporter failed to explain why the postcard said Ira “met” them, while he claimed
not to have gone to St. Louis.
Mary A. Porter survived a terrible accident in 1905. After an automobile spooked her horse, the
animal dragged her. She was hospitalized with fearful cuts and bruises to her head and torso.
On January 16, 1908, Porter hovered over the bloody corpse of wife Mary Porter in their New
Pittsburg farmhouse kitchen.
His alibi was that his wife accidentally shot herself in the head while bringing him a shotgun to kill a
chicken hawk. He claimed to be out in his yard at the fatal moment.
Coroner J. J. Evans did not believe Ira’s explanation. He also observed broken bits of dishes in the
kitchen.
Randolph County prosecutor Fred S. Caldwell filed murder charges. A sheriff arrested Porter at his
wife’s grave in a New Lisbon cemetery.
Son Rudolph, living in Ohio, stood staunchly in Ira’s corner during a sensational trial held in Jay
County.
Mary’s younger son Cephas testified that his mother planned to leave Ira and move to his farm in
Union City, Ohio. He testified that Ira boasted of romantic trysts with hired females. A friend of Mrs.
Porter testified Ira said he’d kill Mary if she left him.
In June of 1908, a jury found Porter guilty of second-degree murder based on circumstantial
evidence. Judge LaFollette imposed a life sentence. Ira served two years in the Michigan City
prison and amused himself writing songs. Upon appeal, the Indiana Supreme Court opined that
LaFollette had made errors allowing certain evidence.
A 1910 retrial resulted in Porter’s acquittal.
A free man but dead broke with his farm sold for legal fees, Porter took out a Salvation Army War
Cry ad in 1910, stating that he was searching for missing Elsie and Nannie. Porter told a Muncie
reporter he believed his daughters had been kidnapped. (This writer found nothing to confirm or
deny a kidnapping).
Cephas Porter died Feb. 3, 1971, in a Winchester nursing home at 81. The retired farmer was
survived by wife Maude, son Stanley Porter and son-in-law Dr. Jefferson Klepfer of Lynn, a
distinguished Richmond State Hospital medical superintendent. Pauline Porter Klepfer died in 1961.
Convinced his father murdered his beloved mother, Cephas never publicly forgave Ira.
The last newspaper clips on Ira in 1910 and 1911 said Ira pondered living with relatives in Illinois or a
friend in Oklahoma.
An anonymous letter writer from Ridgeville warned Ira he’d be a dead man if he
remained in Randolph County.
Did Ira W. Porter slay his bride and/or have anything to do with the disappearance of his daughters? Only he and the Lord ever knew the truth.