He robbed a bank.  He robbed his guardian.  He was the get away driver during an armed bank robbery.  He murdered someone.

That’s the list of crimes that Willie’s siblings have said their brother might have done to deserve being in prison.  They don’t know what he did.  Or at least the younger ones don’t.  Perhaps Bernita, who was 2 years younger and lived near Willie knew but it seems she didn’t share the details with the others.  Apparently, the siblings didn’t talk of Willie as is evidenced by the fact that most of the nieces and nephews didn’t learn they ever had an uncle Willie until they themselves were grown, which was after he died.  All the nieces and nephews understand that Willie was in Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma where he contracted tuberculosis and was released to die at Bernita’s house.

Who was he?

Jacob and Eva Lineberry’s first born child was William Seibert Lineberry who went by Willie and he was born May 12, 1902 in Hobart, Indian Territory.  That was only 4 months after Jacob and Eva married.  Jacob had wanted a family, he talked about it in his letters to his brother.  Over the years as Jacob continued to write to his brother he mentioned only his first three children and Willie was mentioned the most.  That actually seems odd to me because sometimes his letters were written within days of when a child was due or had just been born.  Here’s what Jacob says:

Hobart, Oklahoma
February 2, 1903

Alex was asking about my wife and baby. Tell him that her name was Keithley Eva of Carterville, Mo and our baby is a fine boy nine months old tomorrow he has been sitting alone since he was four months old and could crawl at six and has been so he could climb up by chairs for along time will send send you picture some time in the future. I suppose that some of your children is old enough to go to school.

July 5, 1903
Dear Bother and Family

I will try and answer your kind letter Rec’d to day. was glad to hear from you but sorry to hear of the death of your little boy. I realize it to be a Sad affair to loose one of our loved ones. I was always fond of children but never knew the real love and sympathy for a child as I now do. Our little boy taken very sick last night and has been sick all day but seems to be some better now. though I have been very uneasy about him. I think it is his teeth and hope he will be well in afew days, the only thing that we can do is to be in Peace with the Father that we may meet where we will.

July 8, ’06
Dear Brother

Well Leander I am getting very anxious to come back home and see you all once more I will try and come this fall if I possibly can as I am not fixed to come now as I was afew yrs ago. but I kept neglecting and putting off and now I have a wife and babys to leave. If I come I will bring our boy with me did I tell you we had another boy he’s about 4 months old and a fine big boy.

…Well it hardly seems that is has been 13 yrs since I left Va but it has and I suppose things has changed wonderful since I left. All our sisters and Brothers grown since I left. I expect I would be surprised to come back I know there has been quite a difference with me. our oldest boy is 4 yrs and has been going school this summer he thinks it is a big trick.

Oklahoma City Okla, 9/5 1914

Mr. Leander Lineberry
Monarat Virginia

Dear Brother, I will try and write you afew lines as I have not heard from any of you for some time, I wrote you and sister Linia but have not heard from either of you, but nevertheless I hope this will find you all well as it leaves us. just now, our eldest boy has been sick for some time with Typhoid Fever but is well now, or at least I hope so as he had two back sets that kept him down for weeks, which caused me to loose about two months work I had just traded for a stock of goods when he took sick and had to dispose of them as the stock was at another Town, this is the first sickness that we have ever had in our family but we will have to bear our burdens as they come.

When I saw a photo of the young man I asked my grandmother Virginia who he was and she said matter of factly, “Willie, my oldest brother”.  She didn’t seem particularly sad or embarrassed rather there was an absence of connection, which was undoubtedly because she only knew him for the first 7 years of her life.  She did meet him again when she was 16 and visited him in prison and again when she was 17 when was dying of TB at their sister’s home.  Many years later when Virginia was about 86 years old she began writing in long hand some of her recollections, which included Willie:

Willie was never at home. I remember Mama getting him out of jail once. I also remember one time he came down the street riding on a horse. He had on a beautiful blue shirt. It was silk and blowing in the wind. He waved at me. I thought he was beautiful.

Editorial note: After their mother died the younger children were sent from Oklahoma to live with different family members in Virginia.

…Anyway I don’t remember anything about our trip to Virginia until we were in Pulaski, and our trip through the snow to Uncle Jake’s house, Feb. 14, 1922.  I remember Willie took us to Uncle Tommie’s they were a big family.  Then we went to Uncle Alex’s, then Uncle Lee’s, then to Uncle Ab’s.  Then to Uncle Dave’s. They wanted me so I could be with Ethel. Then Willie and the boys left me.  I only know that Joe and George went to Uncle Harve Bryant’s and Aunt Viola. I didn’t see any of them for a long time.

We went to McAlester to see Willie after we moved to the City (ca 1930). He was very sick with TB so Bernita talked to the warden (Mr. Phillips, he and all his family were friends of hers) and he let Willie come home. He only lived a few months. He had so many plans, because he wanted to live and teach Junior to play the sax.  We were very happy that we had him for a little while.

Editorial note: Virginia indicated that Willie learned to play the saxophone in the prison and played in the prison band.  She remembers a photo of him with the band but to date we have not found it.

Our Research

Willie’s youngest sister, Virginia, was my grandmother.  Since she was 12 years younger than Willie she was only 7 years old when their mother died and the family was split up.  When Virginia moved back to Oklahoma in 1929 the family visited Willie in prison.  Willie and my grandmother could not have known one another very well and she was just a child at the time he committed his crime.   However, she does have a few recollections of what her siblings told her happened.  Willie and a friend Ben Blue (Blew, Ballou, or sounds like that) probably committed their crime near Oilton, Creek County, Oklahoma in or soon after 1922, which was where Willie was living.  He may have robbed a bank or robbed a guardian or possibly was the driver of the get away vehicle in a bank robbery.  Grammy says that he was sentenced to 25 years at McAlester State Prison in Oklahoma.  He was released to either his sister, Bernita Curtess, or his brother Johnnie Lineberry, both in Oklahoma City, because he had tuberculosis.

Willie’s half-sister’s descendants have been told that he was imprisoned for murder.  The half-siblings share the same mother but after her death the half-siblings were raised by their father, Mr. Fox.  There may have been enough emotional distance that the truth was more freely shared with them.  Or, since there seems to have been some marital problems  just prior to their mother’s death, Mr. Fox may have been inclined to embellish the truth.

According to Willie’s death certificate he died at 202 SE 23rd St in Oklahoma City, which was his sister Bernita’s home.  Dr. Harper Wright was the attending physician who cared for Willie only from March 22, 1931 until March 26, 1931.  He said he last saw him alive on March 25 and that Willie died at 2:00 am on March 26, 1931 after a battle with tubercle tuberculosis for 18 months.  The undertaker was Watts & McAtee located at 1301 N. Robinson and Willie was buried in Fairlawn Cemetery on March 28, 1931, which is the same cemetery where his father was buried and later his brother, George.

In 1997 my mother, her cousin and I began writing & visiting various places to learn more about Willie.  Here’s a list of what we’ve done.

  1. My mother and I went to the Oklahoma Historical Society Library and read through the Oilton newspapers for any mention of Willie and his crime but there was nothing.  My mother, her cousin and I went to the court houses of the contiguous counties to Creek county looking through the records they suggested and found no leads.
  2. Received in March 1997 a letter from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections saying they have no record of Willie based on the information I provided.
  3. Received in August 1997 a letter from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in response to our Freedom of Information Privacy Acts (FOIPA) request on Willie.  The letter said they have no records that indicate Willie had “ever been of investigatory interest to the FBI”.
  4. Received in October 1997 a letter indicating that “a search revealed one possible record, although the information in the files is slightly different from that provided in your letter”.  They provided me with the address of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to write to again.  The letter indicated that the OSBI was not created as a state agency until 1925 so it was not surprising to them to not find a record.  They also suggested that the offense may have resulted in an investigation by the FBI.
  5. Received in November 1997 a letter from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections saying they searched their files again for me and again found no record.  They also suggested that the crime may have been under the jurisdiction of the federal government and suggested contacting the FBI.

In January 2009 Billy, one of the Lineberry cousins, told me via email “As far as I know, Willie got mixed up with a group of reckless individuals and somehow, someone in this group was murdered.  And justice being what it was back in those days everyone was sent to prison.  My Dad told me that Willie just happened to be there …. in the wrong place at the wrong time.  While he was in prison, he developed TB and in his last days was released from prison.  He stayed with Aunt Bernita until his death in 1931.”

This past September 2009 several of the cousins got together and one of the topics was Willie.  Through the conversation, which I’ve transcribed below, it’s clear how little the family knows of Willie.

ST: Do you boys know what Willie was in prison for?
WL: Murder
RL: I heard it was armed robbery
WL: He was an accessory or something like that.
MW: He was in the get away car; he was supposed to have been the driver of the get away car.
DB: That’s what mother (Virginia) said (referring to what MW said).
RL: Did they plan an armed robbery and somebody got killed?
WL: Apparently so.
RL: Was it in Oklahoma City?
WL: I don’t know.
MW: I don’t know where.
RL: Well, he was in McAlester.
ST: Well we have, a few years ago DB, KB and I took a journey to Oilton and some various places in between to court house, court records, something. And looked through old newspaper clippings cause you would have thought it would have made the news somewhere. Creek County is where Oilton is. We never saw anything that was in the newspapers.
DB: We also looked through all of the booking sheets.
KB: We also contacted the
DB: Prison system
KB: Yes. State and Federal and (shakes her head no)
ST: I had written to Corrections or something some years ago about William Seibert Lineberry asking for. We knew he was in McAlester, we knew that. Well, they couldn’t find any history, any record of it but there was a fire or something and they wrote back and said probably the record was destroyed in that.
RL: When did he commit the crime?
ST: Well, we don’t know.
RL: And then when did he die?
ST: He died March 26, 1931 at Grandma’s house (Bernita), at my Grandma’s house.
RL: Well, I can remember when I was old enough to understand that there was a Willie
ST: I didn’t know for years, I thought Grandma was the oldest.
RL: Yep. I remember my Dad (Johnnie). Getting information out of my Dad was like talking to a totem pole sometimes. He was very, very quiet you know. How are you doing? Fine. What’s going on? (motions like he’s knocking to see if anyone is there). He was just quiet, didn’t talk much. So, he never had much to say about Willie other than, the main things that I remember was that he just never fit in the family. Was just always on his own. Was just like he lived in another family all his life. He was never there, he didn’t want to come home. And that was about all my dad ever said.
ST: Well, you know, I asked Uncle Joe one time over at their house when we still had questions about Willie and cause I asked him if he remembered anything and he said no. But he also said something that was very significant he said “We didn’t have to know anything Sis (Bernita) always knew it. Grandma. (Everyone nodded in understanding). He said we didn’t have to know anything Sis always knew it.
KB: I’m sure she did (everyone nodded in affirmation). I have no doubt she was the keeper.
DB: Yeah (others also said yeah) in charge of that.
KB: But whether she ever wrote it down or it just remained
ST: I think it did because like I said I never knew. I thought Grandma was the oldest till for many years
RL: I think I did too until I was old enough…
DB: Yeah, I did not know about it either.
ST: So, it wasn’t discussed (other shake heads indicating no).
RL: It was not discussed.
ST: It was never discussed.
DB: I mentioned yesterday that I thought, based on Mother’s conversations, that it must have been the family secret (others indicate yes) and you just didn’t talk about it.
RL: The family scandal or whatever.
ST: I mean, CN, did you about Willie until…?
CN: No, Mother told me. Daddy. You know I was going to nominate RL or WL to talk for me because Daddy never would say a word and he would go like this (she was off screen so I don’t know) if you even started it. If your mother (looked at DB she was referring to Virginia) tried to bring up something. You just didn’t talk about it. So, I really know nothing other than what tiny bit Mother may have known.
RL: And he died of tuberculosis.
All: Right (and nodding in affirmation).
ST: On the couch, I understand. I don’t know maybe this was something. I don’t know why that sticks in my mind there. Oh no, maybe
DB: I think there was a bed in a small room.
ST: A bed, you know I’m thinking of something else that my Daddy had said that he can just remember him laying on the couch there at that particular house. Yeah, that must have been it.
TH: Well, who was Willie?
All: Laughs in recognition that Willie remains unknown family.
DB: Good question, TH.
RL: Nobody knows.
KB: He was Uncle Joe’s brother.
TH: Okay.
CN and DB: The oldest
CN: He was the oldest boy. Like they said none of us really even knew about him.
TH: That’s what I was thinking it was. But
ST: He was born in 1902, April the 12th. My Grandma was born May 5, 1904. Like I said, if you guys certainly didn’t hear of Willie as a child or teenager, I never did. Did you WL?
WL: Dad probably talked about him in the 50s, I’d say. That’s when Dad was getting heavily into genealogy and I’ve got some of his notes talking about Willie.
KB: Oh really?
WL: Yes, it’s on your CD. (Note: WL scanned all of Leonard’s genealogy research and gave KB a CD of them)
DB: Does he talk about it in the stuff you scanned? I read about 18 pages last night.
KB: And that’s where you’re remembering that he was involved in a murder, there was a murder that took place?
WL: Yeah
DB: Huh? (as in that’s interesting)
RL: That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that.
KB: Grandma just said something…
DB: Mother seemed to think it was an armed robbery.
KB: And she didn’t know, she would just say I don’t know.
DB: She would said, yeah, that he was. Mother seemed to think he was driving a get away car for a robbery.
WL: Yeah.
KB: I always got the impression she was trying to think the best of him so she was saying that he was the get away driver. That’s the way I perceived it.
JKB: Sounds better than trigger man (everyone laughs).
RL: Or, mastermind.
ST: Did your Dad have more details than that?
WL: Not that I can remember. No further than that.
KB: You know, speaking of Uncle Leonard he was a story teller.
All: Oh, definitely.
KB: You know
WL: He made up for Joe and Johnnie (everyone laughs)
RL: He delegated it all to Leonard

I find Willie’s legacy so sad.  My hope in sharing this information is two-fold:

  1. to show that he was loved by his parents and siblings
  2. learn from others what additional steps that I might take to learn what crime Willie committed.  Can you help?
This is my contribution to Black Sheep Sunday where geneabloggers discuss their black sheep ancestors. The International Black Sheep Society of Genealogists (IBSSG) is an Association of Genealogists who have found “blacksheep ancestors” in their direct family lines, or under the “One Degree Rule” of the Society.

Further Readings