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Louise Butler

Convicted in 1928 of the murder of 14-year-old Mary Cecil “Topsy” Warren in Lowndes County, Alabama, Louise Butler and George Yelder were exonerated two months later when their supposed victim turned up alive.
 
The prosecution alleged that, after returning from a trip to Montgomery in the first week of April 1928, Butler began to suspect Yelder, with whom she lived, of having a romantic relationship with Warren, her niece, who subsequently vanished.
 
During questioning, three children—Butler’s young son and daughter and Warren’s 9-year-old sister—purportedly claimed that Butler and Yelder together had murdered Topsy. The story the sheriff attributed to the children was exceedingly gruesome: Butler supposedly struck the Warren child with an axe, with which Butler dismembered the corpse. The remains allegedly were put into a sack, which Butler and Yelder threw into the Alabama River.
 
Based on the children’s accounts, Butler—but, inexplicably, not Yelder—was arrested. After a few days in jail, Butler orally confessed. Her confession, which she soon recanted, matched what the children had said, according to the sheriff. On April 17, 1928, less than two weeks after Topsy disappeared, Butler and Yelder were indicted by a grand jury.
 
Only a week later, they were tried separately before Judge A.E. Gamble. Each trial lasted less than a day, Butler’s on April 24 and Yelder’s on April 25. Judge Gamble suppressed Butler’s confession, based on her recantation, but the children repeated the hair-raising tale they had told the sheriff. The defendants testified at their respective trials, denying knowledge of Warren’s disappearance. The juries, which then by law were all white in Alabama, promptly returned verdicts of guilty against the black defendants. On April 25, Judge Gamble sentenced both to life in prison.
 
A few days later, Warren was discovered alive, residing less than 20 miles away. On July 15, 1928, Alabama Governor Bibb Graves pardoned Butler and Yelder. The children then admitted that they had fabricated the story, at the behest of a man who had a grievance against Yelder. It was never explained why they also had implicated Butler, or why she had confessed.
 
- Rob Warden
State:AL
County:Lowndes
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1928
Convicted:1928
Exonerated:1928
Sentence:Life
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation