This story comes from Alley and takes us to her home state of Oklahoma for a historical true crime story and haunting that leaves one with more questions than answers.
Weatherford, Oklahoma is one of the many small towns along the historic Route 66. The town boasts a population of approximately 10,000 and has largely left its historic charm intact– stepping onto the main street is like stepping back in time. Unlike many towns that cropped up during the 17 years that the Oklahoma Territory existed, Weatherford has held on and is the home of Southwestern Oklahoma State University and the Stafford Air and Space Museum.
However, Weatherford is known for another landmark: Dead Woman’s Crossing. If you go looking for Dead Woman’s Crossing, you’ll be taken to a concrete bridge that crosses over a portion of Deer Creek. This unassuming bridge replaced an older one that had been torn down years ago because it was unsafe for travelers. However, even with the original bridge gone, the site has kept its ominous name due to the story locals have passed on for generations.
You see, Dead Woman’s Crossing is the location of a tragic and perplexing murder and a haunting that many say is still happening to this day.
In 1905 the state of Oklahoma did not exist. What we know as Oklahoma today was divided into two territories: Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory. Weatherford and the other small towns around it were part of Oklahoma Territory, and recently built railroad lines made travel much easier for the homesteaders who populated this area.
It was at the railroad station in Custer City on July 7th that Henry DeWitt dropped off his daughter, Katie DeWitt James, and his 14-month-old Granddaughter, Lulu Belle. Katie was on her way to Ripley to visit one of her cousins. The day before, Katie had filed for divorce from her husband of four years, Martin Luther James, citing “cruelty” as her reason for the divorce. Katie was a school teacher before her daughter was born and had homesteaded her piece of the territory before her marriage. Katie was looking to get a fresh start without the abuse of her husband.
Henry DeWitt waited for word that Katie had made it safely to their family’s farmhouse, but weeks went by without a letter. This was highly unusual, and soon Henry realized that Katie had never reached her destination. With a sinking feeling, he went to Oklahoma City to request help finding out what happened to his daughter and granddaughter. The sheriff recommended Sam Bartell, a detective for hire, and around July 28th, the two men started to trace Katie’s steps.
After checking other stops along the railroad trip that Katie would have taken, the two men ended up in Weatherford, Oklahoma. At the time, Weatherford was a small, rough town with 18 saloons and 17 gambling houses. Many folks passed through the town due to the railroad; however, Bartell found troubling reports of a woman that matched Katie’s description and that of another woman they had never heard of before: Fanny Norton.
Fanny Norton was a resident of Clinton, Oklahoma and from many accounts, she was a successful sex worker in the area. She was a mother of four children and had some run-ins with the law in her past. She had been charged with murdering a barkeeper after she shot him in the back with a .38 revolver. However, she had been acquitted of that charge. Fanny had continued living her life, and it was on the same day that Katie was journeying to Ripley that Fanny boarded the train in Clinton as it passed through. Katie and Fanny became acquainted, a chance meeting that would end up leading to disaster.
We have no idea why, but Katie went with Fanny when they stopped for the night in Weatherford to stay at the house of Fanny’s Brother-in-Law. The next morning, Fanny rented a buggy, and perplexingly Katie went with her for the morning rather than catching the train to continue onto Ripley. Fanny drove the buggy towards Deer Creek and was seen taking the buggy into a field near the creek. 15 minutes later, the buggy came speeding from the field again bearing only Fanny– Katie was nowhere to be found.
A little up the road, Fanny pulled onto a farm and handed small Lulu Belle to a boy in the farmhouse’s yard, telling him to take the baby to his mother. As she sped off again, she threw a blanket with clothing out of the buggy. The blanket, as well as Lulu’s dress, were covered in blood. When Fanny brought the buggy back, it was noted that the wheel had blood on it, but she soon disappeared, and nothing more was done until Henry DeWitt and Sam Bartell came to town nearly a month later.
Lulu was safely retrieved, and Bartell began investigating further to find both missing women. It was soon found out that Fanny had returned to Clinton and picked up her four children before leaving for Guthrie. She enrolled her children in a private school and left again, hiding in Shawnee. DeWitt and Bartell went to Shawnee and enlisted the help of the local police to locate and arrest Fanny. With Fanny in custody, the men began questioning her. She spun an outlandish tale. Fanny claimed that the morning they left in the buggy they had met a man on the road in a covered wagon. Katie exclaimed, “There they come now” before jumping for the buggy and joining the man in the wagon. Needless to say, Bartell did not buy Fanny’s story.
Sadly, that would be all they would get from Fanny. While in custody she asked to use the restroom and consumed a toxic amount of drugs and/or poison. Within an hour she was declared dead. With the primary suspect dead, the only thing left to do was offer rewards and conduct searches of Deer Creek in hopes of finding Katie’s body.
Two very well-organized searches were conducted in the Deer Creek area where the women were seen entering the field, but both searches yielded no results. Bartell also suspected Katie’s husband, as he was known to be abusive and would have lost his right to the homestead if Katie divorced him. Additionally, James had seemed apathetic about his wife and daughter’s disappearance and never helped with any of the searches. However, he had an alibi they could not disprove, so nothing came from exploring that avenue either.
Many people claimed to have seen Katie all over the place; others tried to accuse certain people in an attempt to claim the reward money. It wasn’t until August 31st that they finally got the news they both hoped for and dreaded: Katie’s body had been found.
A gentleman had taken his two sons to Deer Creek for a fishing trip, and when he stepped out of the buggy, he looked down and saw a skull resting near his foot. Three feet away the rest of Katie’s decomposing body was found. There was a bullet hole in the skull behind the right ear. A bullet was found within the head cavity and near the feet rested the .38 revolver that was used with one empty and one loaded cartridge.
The coroner called a jury to help discuss the facts of the case and confirm the body’s identity. At the proceedings, Henry DeWitt confirmed that the clothing and gold ring that had been found on the body was that of Katie’s. Martin Luther James was brought in for questioning as well, and while many still suspected him due to his lack of concern for the murder of his wife, James was not charged with anything as several friends stepped forward to provide him with an alibi. The lawyer that defended Fanny during the trial for the murder of the bartender was able to positively identify the .38 revolver as belonging to Fanny.
The coroner’s jury concluded that Fanny killed Katie during the commission of a robbery. At the time, there were claims that Fanny had seen Katie open her pocketbook where she had $23 stowed. However, no reports of whether or not that pocketbook was found or if the money was missing were ever confirmed. There were some in Weatherford who pointed out that Katie still had her gold ring; why didn’t Fanny take it? And why did Fanny want the money? By all accounts, Fanny’s occupation as a sex worker was lucrative; after all, she was able to enroll all four of her children into private school at the drop of a hat. Regardless of these questions, the case was closed, and Katie was buried in Weatherford under her maiden name.
Life moved on, but questions still lingered about this story, and local folklore emerged quickly about this confusing case. Many still feel that James was somehow involved. Others wonder if Fanny ended her life to protect an accomplice. This theory is supported by the question of why Katie’s body was not found during the two official searches. Her body was not found tucked away but right off the main crossroad near the creek. Officials reported that wagon ruts were near the body and it appeared that she was shot while in the buggy and fell out of it as a result.
The fact that Katie’s head was separate from her body was not addressed by any sources, but one can assume it was due to scavengers. But why was her body not seen sooner? Did someone move her body? Even though it was scavenged, it didn’t appear it was carried far off from where she was killed. Yet it wasn’t found by any of the searchers. And what made Katie trust Fanny and follow her to her death? What was Fanny’s motive? Was there a mystery man, as Fanny claimed? This case may have been closed, but did they get it right?
Perhaps the fact that these questions haven’t been answered is why some say Katie still haunts Dead Woman’s Crossing.
For decades travelers have reported seeing a woman around the bridge, sometimes with a baby and sometimes without. When they stop to see if she needs help, she disappears. Cries are heard often, both of Katie calling for her daughter and the screams of her final moments. The sound of a buggy rattling along has also been reported. An eerie blue light has been spotted near the bridge that seems to have no source. Most of these stories come from locals, but paranormal investigators have gone out there as well.
The story of Katie DeWitt lives on, even if the facts of her death are lost. The original wagon crossing was replaced in the 1980s by a concrete bridge, but the name stuck and has become a landmark that even Google Maps will lead you to. If you happen through that part of Oklahoma, take a detour and check it out– perhaps you’ll come face to face with Katie herself.
- Atlas Obscura – “Dead Woman’s Crossing”
- Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 60, Number 3, Fall 1982 Page: 280 – “Dead Woman’s Crossing: The Legacy of a Territory Murder”
- The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – “Oklahoma Territory”
- The Encylopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – “Weatherford”
- Factschology – “Dead Woman’s Crossing at Weatherford, Oklahoma
- Muskogee Pheonix – “Remember the Ladies: Dead Woman’s Crossing”