Love Usurped

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James Leasure was a big man, robust, good looking, with a flowing gunfighter’s moustache.  He had been a carpenter, West Terre Haute’s Town Marshal, and had settled into his own business.  He owned a garage on South 67h Street.  He had married Jennie in 1919.

Perhaps it was because he had married so late in life, after years of living with his mother.  Maybe it was because he had married a girl, over thirty years younger than himself.  Maybe he just did not understand women at all.  Maybe she was just a harlot at heart.  But it had come to this.  It was August 6, 1923, early evening when he set out.

Dr. R.J. Danner was a small man, prim looking, tidy.  He and his wife Dott had lived in West Terre Haute for over a decade.  On the surface they had a good life.  They were part of the elite social circle in town.  They had two sons.  He had resumed his practice after the war, even though he was on disability due to a heart condition and TB. 

He sat in his office on Paris Avenue with something on his mind.

James Leasure crossed National Avenue, heat of the day still lingering.  Anyone seeing him might shy from talking to the usually affable man.  He had that look in his eye.

His stride was slow but purposeful.  He had much on his mind too.  The whole town was gossiping and giggling about them.  He knew that.  He saw the looks.  He heard the snatches of conversation about Jenny and that little cock of the walk Danner.  The little hoity-toity doctor.  He deserved better from Jennie.  He had offered her a life.  A good clean life.

He walked up 7th Street, passed Danner’s house.  He didn’t seem to be home.  No matter, he would find him.

Frank Miller left his drug store, carrying a peach.  He decided to stop by Danner’s office a few blocks up Paris Avenue.  The office and files were dusty, unkempt, as if Danner had few patients, or no one to clean up after him.   Miller noticed a gun setting on a pile of papers on Danner’s rolltop desk.  “Wanna trade that gun for this peach.” He joked.  Danner did not laugh.  Danner started to tell him about Jim Leasure threatening to kill him, but Miller was called back to his store.

Jim Leasure continued up 7th Street, across Miller, then Johnson, til he was only a block from Paris Avenue.  And after all that, the bitch had sued him for divorce in June.  She wanted $500.00 in alimony and part of the property he had worked so hard for.  And she was the one who had taken up with Danner.  Earlier in the day Leasure had visited with an old acquaintance, Pearl Conover.  Pearl was the Chief of Detectives in Terre Haute.  He wanted the Terre Haute detectives to trail Jennie, help him get hard evidence of his wife’s betrayal to use against her in the divorce.  Conover told him they could not do that.  Leasure said he would have to hire a private detective, he guessed. 

Leasure turned east on Paris Avenue.  He saw a figure up ahead.

 Dr. Danner left his office at 513 Paris Avenue, walking east passing Miller’s Drug Store and the Post Office.  He stopped in front of Robinson’s Cut-Rate Grocery.  Behind him he heard a voice growl, “I’ve got you where I want you and I am going to kill you.”

Leasure’s fury and angered were perfectly focused now.  The purveyor of his personal woes was in his sights.  He pulled a leather-covered metal sap from his pocket.  Using his height to full advantage he bludgeoned slammed the weapon downward on Danner’s, bludgeoning him a half dozen times or more.  During one of the blows the leather cover split open revealing to solid metal underneath.

Danner, staggered, try to get away and retreated back west toward his office.  Leasure pursued him, determined not to let his prey get away.  Breathing heavily, he caught Danner once again in front of Miller’s drugs.  Slamming him again, his blows finally drove the doctor to the ground.  He kicked him as he lay there.

Those stunned to see a death battle taking place on their main street finally reacted.  Louis Robinson and his clerk ran out of the store and just managed to pull the still raging Leasure off of Danner.

Stunned, wiping his own blood from his face, Danner managed to inch his way onto his feet, legs limp, so much pain that even as a doctor he could not localize it to one spot.  He retreated the two block to his office.  Pushing past the pain, animated by a vengeful strength, he reached over the partly eaten peach for the 6.35 Mauser he had brought back from the war.  Leaning over the rolltop desk he fought hard for breathe, willing his eyes to clear, even if just for a few moments.  He stumbled back on to Paris Avenue, his sole goal two blocks east.

When Danner had escaped tohis office, Harry Ensminger who had been holding Leasure relaxed his grip.  Danner appeared and fired his first shot.  Leasure quickly took cover behind a parked car.  Danner chased after him.

Hoping to overpower the smaller man, inflictor of his pain, Leasure leaped at him and tried to wrestle away the gun.  Danner fired twice.  Then three times more.  The once bull-strong Leasure staggered and dropped to the ground in front of the post office.  Danner, claiming his revenge, bent over him and clubbed Leasure with his gun.

Bystanders pulled the now spent Danner away.  Others brought water and attempted to cleanse some of Leasure’s wounds.  J.S Hunt, who had doctored West Terre Haute for decades, came from his home a few blocks away.  He tried his best to give first aid, but his practiced eye told him there was little to be done until Leasure made it to a hospital.  If he made it.

A Ryan ambulance dispatched from Terre Haute arrived.  It took several men to load Leasure’s big body into its back.  Meanwhile, Joe Cruse, who had pulled Danner away from Leasure, loaded the little doctor into his own car and drove him to Union Hospital in Terre Haute.

Leasure was taken to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Terre Haute.  He was still alive, barely.  He regained consciousness in the middle of the night, at least long enough to make a deathbed change in his will.  Everything was to go to his mother.  He died soon afterwards.

Danner survived to see the dawn light that Leasure did not.

Aftermath

After being released from the hospital, Danner was charged with first-degree murder.  The grand jury eventually decided that it was in self-defense, even though Danner had left the scene only to return.  The crucial point in the case was that Leasure had tried to grab Danner again after the first shot.

After stories appeared that Danner would give up his practice in West Terre Haute, he returned for a while.  But the notoriety was such that re moved his practice to Terre Haute.

Jennie Leasure filed several suits against the James Leasure’s estate, claiming she had been coerced into signing an early quit deed for their property.  She also sought to have the deathbed will overturned.  After several postponements and appeals she appears to have lost.

Dott Danner filed for divorce in 1924, noting that her husband continually associated with lowlifes, lewd persons and whores.  She continued to live in West Terre Haute with her sons, sometimes taking in boarders to make ends meet.

Dr. Danner denied any involvement with Jennie Leasure other than that of doctor-patient.

The Duel on Paris led to yet another divorce in 1924.  Jennie had been staying with her sister Beatrice Shuster in Terre Haute..  Norman Shuster sued Beatrice for divorce, among other reasons saying she had brought scandal into their house by allowing Dr. Danner to visit with Jennie in their home.

R.J. Danner and Jennie Leasure married soon after.

In 1928 Dr. R.J. Danner was charged with taking stolen goods from a “bandit gang” in exchange for agreeing to treat gang members should they be wounded during robberies.  There is no indication he was convicted.

Danner died in August, 1939.

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