Mystery of Notorious Arkansas Murder Explored in New Book

The brutal murder of a young girl in the Arkansas Ozarks triggered shock and the threat of mob violence, followed by decades of mystery: now author Nita Gould unveils the remarkable story in her book Remembering Ella: A 1912 Murder and Mystery in the Arkansas Ozarks, just released by Butler Center Books.

Gould makes her debut in this thoroughly researched exploration of the gruesome 1912 murder of one of the author’s own relatives in Boone County, Arkansas.

When 18-year-old Ella Barham was raped, murdered, and dismembered in broad daylight, the crime sent waves of shock through surrounding counties, the Ozarks, and even the national press. Authorities charged a neighbor, Odus Davidson, with the crime, as mob violence loomed. Controversy erupted over Davidson’s guilt or innocence, and whether he had acted alone.

Author Nita Gould first heard this disturbing story as a young woman, after discovering Ella’s headstone on a trip through an overgrown family graveyard. Murdered Ella Barham was the author’s long-dead cousin. The story haunted Gould for years, especially after she inherited a small tin box filled with Ella’s personal belongings. Gould was driven to unearth answers long-buried under decades of gossip and folklore.

Gould’s book draws on reliable sources to recreate the last day of Ella Barham’s life, her disappearance, the discovery of her remains, and a heated courtroom trial with over 35 witnesses and a seething mob outside the courthouse. The legal aftermath of the horrific event led all the way to the Supreme Court and a hanging. But some citizens still believed the wrong man had gone to the gallows.

Gould explains that her goal was to create a complete account of the crime and its consequences. “The entire story has never been told, so I wanted to pull it all together and allow readers to develop their own fully informed opinions. I relied extensively on primary, legal, and academic sources such as court case files, original newspaper articles, history and law books, and Barham family documents.”

This examination of the murder of Ella Barham and the trial of her alleged killer explores the meaning of community and due process during a time when politicians and judges sought to professionalize justice. Remembering Ella reveals the truth behind an atrocity that has been a staple of local folklore for more than a century and still intrigues true crime sleuths and historians across America.

Nita Gould is an avid student of Ozarks history and a preservation enthusiast. She successfully nominated several Boone County, Arkansas, properties to the National Register of Historic Places, including her own Barham ancestral home. She works in the field of information technology in Tulsa, where she lives with her husband and two cats—but her passion is wandering the hills of the Arkansas Ozarks. For author interviews, please inquire at author@rememberingella.com.

Remembering Ella is available at bookstores including the Central Arkansas Library System’s Bookstore and Galleries at Library Square. The book is also available from online retailers and through the University of Arkansas Press (via University of Chicago Press) at (800) 621-2736. Butler Center Books is the publishing division of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System. To see a complete list of Butler Center Books, visit www.butlercenter.org/publication.