Judy Bell Burse
Died Jan. 24, 1924
Aged 27 Years
An unassuming, concrete grave marker people might wander by, thinking surely not much of a story could lie here. They would be wrong.
The first clue that this is no regular grave is in its location: the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. This cemetery is located about a mile southeast from the Walls Prison Unit and contains over 2,000 graves of inmates who either died in Texas prisons or were executed Graves of inmates whose bodies weren’t claimed by family or friends.
The male graves far outnumber the female sites, which makes them especially intriguing.
Though her marker states her age as only 27, she was actually 34 years old (born in 1895)…still so young to die.
When she was just a teenager, Judy Bell Tally married Jessie Burse. The couple lived on a farm in Gilmer, in Upshur County, Texas and had a daughter named Estelle in 1913.
It was not a happy marriage though. Jessie had a terrible temper was abusive to Judy, even whipping her.
Judy sought consolation in another man’s arms. Her lover, George Anderson, was enraged by the whippings and stated to friends that he was going to “get his meanness on” and kill Jessie.
After spending the day at the home of Judy’s father, Will Tally, George and Judy left around midnight to walk to her home. They had no idea they were being followed.
The couple stopped in a plum thicket to make love (three times, according to court records), and afterward were sitting together talking when her husband Jessie came up the path. Judy cried “There’s someone with a gun,” and Jessie, brandishing a stick in one hand and a gun in the other, yelled “I’ve ****** got you!” He raised his gun to take aim but George shot first, killing Jessie immediately.
According to trial records, George explained, “when he done that of course, I, just like any other man would do to protect myself, I shot. She insisted on me taking the gun to kill her father a rabbit, that’s why I taken the gun.”
He and Judy Bell then picked up Jessie’s buckshot ridden body and carried it to a thicket about four hundred yards away. It was a dark night, and no one else was in the area.
The body was soon found by accident, and by April the couple was being tried for murder.
George Anderson pled not guilty, but was sentence to 99 years. Upon arrival at the Darrington Prison Unit in Huntsville he was assigned inmate number 49518.
Judy Bell Burse also pled not guilty. She was convicted on August 12, 1922 and sentenced to 40 years. She was incarcerated at the Goree Prison Unit in Huntsville, which was a women’s prison at the time. Her inmate number was #48471.
Judy was considered an ideal inmate and was soon named a trustee, being given special responsibilities in the prison. Unfortunately, she died of pancreatic cancer in January of 1929, never seeing freedom again. She must have “fibbed” about her age, as her marker lists it as being 27. She was 34.
On the other hand, George was constantly getting in trouble for his temper, imprudence and “laziness.” The harsh punishments of the day didn’t deter him, and probably fueled his rage. His second escape attempt, on June 26, 1924, was successful and he was never recaptured. The last word in his prison log is “Gone”.
I wonder if he knew or cared that Judy died five years later.
And there is no trace of what became of Judy’s daughter Estelle. She was perhaps the most poignant and certainly the most blameless victim of the crime.
There’s always so much more to the stories behind the stones than an inscription can reveal.
Having escaped from an abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband, Elizabeth Percival started a new life with her two step-daughters Florence and Jessie. She opened a restaurant named The English Kitchen, serving the English dishes from her childhood with a boarding house on the floors above it. In the following months she and the girls gained a loyal following of customers and friends.
In March of 1881, Elizabeth and her daughters invited their friends to join them at their restaurant, which was right on Galveston’s Mardi Gras parade route, for a night of fun and fellowship.
They had no way of knowing the night of revelry would end in tragedy.
Elizabeth’s ex-husband hid among the floats and marchers in the parade. As he passed the restaurant, he took aim and shot Elizabeth in front of all who loved her. Her step-daughters, who she had rescued from their natural father, were grief-stricken, and erected a beautiful marker over her grave.
I stopped by Trinity Episcopal Cemetery to leave beads for Elizabeth. While the island of Galveston is in the middle of Mardi Gras season, I didn’t want her to be forgotten.
I hope you’ll enjoy more of Elizabeth’s story, along with other amazing stories behind the gravestones of Galveston in my book, “Galveston’s Broadway Cemeteries,” from Arcadia Publishing. Available on Amazon.com.
A 1904 ad for a different kind of “Christmas spirit.” Henry Toujouse ran the bar in the basement of the Tremont Opera House (where the National Artist Lofts are now).
His beautiful mahogany bar now resides at the Tremont House. It’s seen a lot of spirits in it’s day and is still reportedly tended by Toujouse, who committed suicide in 1918.
I simply can’t thank everyone enough for your kind support of and enthusiasm about my “Ghosts of Galveston” book.
I just received word that after being released less than a month ago, GOG has been sent to press for a second printing.
I’m obviously very excited about being able to share stories about Galveston with you, and grateful for the response!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Among the most famous and tantalizing stories to come from the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” franchise is one that begins with a death at the Tremont House Hotel in Galveston.
The curious tale began when a young actor named Charles Francis Coghlan visited a gypsy fortuneteller. The mystical soothsayer told Coghlan that he would die at the height of his fame in a southern U. S. city – but that he would have no rest until he returned home.
The prediction tormented Coghlan, disturbing him so much that he repeated it to friends and co-workers numberous times in the course of his life.
Over the next thirty years, Coghlan became one of the most famous actors of his day, appearing on stages across the U.S. and Europe. During the rare weeks that he did not appear on the stage, he and his wife retreated to their beloved home on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
On October 30, 1899, Coghlan arrived in Galveston with his performing troupe, ready to present one of his own works, titled “The Royal Box.”
He never had the chance to appear on stage on the island, however. He became seriously ill with what doctors at the time diagnosed as acute gastritis. His understudy, Mr. Robinson, received wonderful reviews often mistakenly credited to Coghlan in print.
The actor’s wife remained with him, transcribing the first four acts of a new play, which he dictated while resting for four weeks. But, after an abrupt relapse of pain, he died in bed at the Tremont Hotel on November 27, with his distraught wife by his side. He was 57 years old and at the peak of his career.
His body was taken to the Levy Brothers Funeral Home, while his wife attempted to make arrangements in a strange city far from family and friends.
The grieving widow knew that her husband, upon his death, had wanted to be cremated and buried in New York. Galveston did not have a crematorium at the time, so she arranged for her husband’s body to be sh
ipped to the nearest facility in St. Louis.
By the time those preparations were made, a flood of demands from family and admirers insisted he be taken immediately to New York. It is no wonder that confusion exists about the final arrangements for the disposition of the actor’s body. Unfortunately, the funeral home records from this time were destroyed in 1979.
Her funds and energy exhausted, Coughlan’s widow had his remains placed in a temporary receiving vault at the Lakeview Cemetery until she could manage to have him sent to New York the following year.
In September of the following year, the infamous 1900 Storm hit Galveston, killing thousands and sweeping coffins out of mausoleums and vaults. Though the vault where Coghlan’s body was constructed of heavy granite blocks, it was washed away like so many other structures on the island.
Those coffins that were recovered were reinterred in the cemetery, but many were never found. Coughlan’s casket, which was among the missing, had been caught in the swift-running current and believed to have been swept into the Gulf of Mexico. The New York Actor’s Club offered a sizable reward, but the casket was never located.
Because his widow had purchased an elaborate cast iron casket for her beloved, it is highly unlikely it could do anything but sink in a body of water.
In 1929, an edition of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” published a rumor that had developed in the years after the storm.
The original Ripley feature said: “Charles Coughlan comes home! He died in 1899, and he was buried in Galveston. When the tragic flood came his coffin was washed out to sea and the Gulf Stream carried his around Florida and up the coast to Prince Edward Island – 2,000 miles distant – where he had lived.”
Ripley mentioned in October of 1908, fishermen spied a large box floating the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Snagging it with their nets, they pulled the badly damaged object to shore. A silver plate was revealed after cleaning off a few barnacles, which identified it as the casket of Charles Coughlan.
The legend tells that the actor was taken to his home church on Prince Edward Island and buried near the church where he was baptized in 1841. His wandering spirit was finally home.
Truth or Urban Myth?
Numerous books and articles have been written about the incident over the years, with slight to outrageous changes in the details. A brief internet search yields several versions of the story.
Local cemetery records of the small church on Prince Edward are considered to be complete and accurate. They show no sign of Charles Coughlan’s burial, and no gravestone exists.
It was reported that his daughter, actress Gertrude Coughlan Pitou visited Prince Edward in the 1980s and stated that her father’s remains had not been recovered or reinterred in Galveston. This report is seemingly eerie enough, since Gertrude herself died in 1952!
His sister, actress Rose Coughlan, was highly offended by the stories about her brother and she asked Robert Ripley for a retraction. Ripley, ever the savvy businessman, declined. He credited Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson, a Shakespearean actor and friend of Coughlan, for sharing the story with the publication.
The question remains: If Charles Coughlan is not at home at rest, and not in Lakeview Cemetery…where is he?
An article I wrote about the history of Magnolia Grove Cemetery (established 1871) will appear in the September issue of Galveston Monthly Magazine. Now, lost this once elegant, Victorian Era cemetery was the most beautiful burial ground on the island.
Not all of the bodies were moved, but the grounds of the cemetery now lie beneath the runways of Scholes Airport and the back nine fairways of the Moody Gardens Golf Course.
My investigation led me to many of the usual resources for history in Galveston, such as the Galveston & Texas History Center (always wonderful), but led me on new research paths as well. No single source seemed to have all of the pieces of information, and many whom I contacted had no knowledge of the lost cemetery at all.
There unfortunately simply wasn’t room to include all of the fascinating information that I found about the lost cemetery, so I will list some of the details here for those who are interested or researching their families.
Magnolia Grove was comprised of 100 acres, divided into 25 sections. They were identified as Sections A through X, and City Circle, otherwise known as Rest of Honor. This circle was reserved for the interment of people of distinguished merit or achievement. The first two burials in this section were the first and last presidents of Texas, David Burnet and Aaron Jones, who were moved from previous burial sites.
Sections 6 and 7 (also known as F & G), which were located on the waterfront, were consecrated by the Catholic Church and reserved for exclusive use of members of that faith.
A portion of Section 2 (B) was purchased by the Masonic lodges and used for burials of Masons and their families. The Tucker family, headed by the president of the Magnolia Grove Cemetery Association, was also located in this section.
Many of the larger lots in the cemetery were purchased by wealthy families and organizations.
Less expensive public lots for white “clients” were located in Section 4, and for “colored” loved ones in Section 5 of the Eastern Division of Magnolia Grove.
The Spanish Benevolent mausoleum still stood after 1900 in Section D on lots 31 and 32, which was part of the southern half of lot 258. Although heavily damaged by weather and vandalized, the mausoleum still stood in the 1920s.
Galveston’s Fireman’s Relief Association purchased a portion of Section B for their members in August 1878.
Plots in Section J were purchased by Joseph W. Rice and David Guthrie; Section M included family plots for Adriance and Trueheart; Section N for August Kleinecke; and Section P plots belonged to the Sealy, Ball and Hutchings families.
General Wigfall’s plot was in Section Q, and J.P. Davie purchased four lots in Section R.
Section S was home to the The French Benevolent Society lot, as well as the Nahor Biggs Yard and Grover families.
Adolph Flake chose his plot in Section T, but now rests in the Historic Broadway Cemetery District.
John Sidney Thrasher, who married the widow of Galveston’s founder Michel Menard, was buried in the City Circle in 1879.
Of the many illustrious citizens in Galveston who were interred in Magnolia, some remain on the grounds, some were moved to other cemeteries, and some were lost to weather events.
Among the well-known Masons interred at Magnolia Grove who remain there are Henry S. Pearce, First Master of Hope Lodge in another part of the state; Adolph Cycoski, a Civil War veteran and teacher of French in Galveston, also a prominent Mason; and Dr. Benjamin Ball, a prominent businessman who was buried with Masonic ceremonies Feb. 13, 1880.
French native Achilles Mingell; Captain John Price, who formerly owned part of this property, and a residence in the early days; and Isaac McGary, veteran of Texas Revolution,; Mexican American War: and the Battle of San Jacinto are just two of the illustrious people whose graves wer never relocated and are now lost.
David Burnet (pictured at left) , the first president of Texas, was moved from Magnolia Grove and now rests in the Sherman plot at Lakeview.
William Tennant Austin of early Texas revolutionary fame, was moved from Magnolia to Lakeview Cemetery.
Anson Jones (pictured at right), the last president of Texas, was originally buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, moved to Magnolia Grove Cemetery five miles away in 1871 as part of the opening ceremonies. His remains were moved to Glenwood after 1892.
After the article runs in Galveston Monthly, I will share more information about this fascinating, and sad, loss of history.
I’m excited to announce that “Ghosts of Galveston” will be releasing on September 12th, and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.com!
One of the oldest cities in Texas, Galveston has witnessed more than its share of tragedies. Devastating hurricanes, yellow fever epidemics, fires, a major Civil War battle and more cast a dark shroud on the city’s legacy.
Ghostly tales creep throughout the history of famous tourist attractions and historical homes.
The altruistic spirit of a schoolteacher who heroically pulled victims from the floodwaters during the great hurricane of 1900 roams the Strand.
The ghosts of Civil War soldiers march up and down the stairs at night and pace in front of the antebellum Rogers Building.
The spirit of an unlucky man decapitated by an oncoming train haunts the railroad museum, moving objects and crying in the night.
Explore these and other haunted tales from the Oleander City.
Concrete ships? Believe it or not, during World Wr I they became a reality, and Galveston is home to one of the few remnants of the era.
Please allow a few minutes for the pages to download – large files. Or you can read the article online in Galveston Monthly’s June issue at galvestonmonthly.com.
*One correction has come to my attention since this article was published. Raymond Dalehite has kindly let me know that it was his grandfather, Captain Henry Dalehite, who sold the ship and not his father as is stated in the article. I sincerely apologize for this mistake.