Edward Capehart O'Kelley

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Edward Capehart O'Kelley

Also Known As: "Red"
Birthdate: (46)
Birthplace: Harrisonville, Cass County, Missouri, United States
Death: January 13, 1904 (46)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States (shot)
Immediate Family:

Biological son of Margaret Ann Capehart
Adopted son of Dr. Thomas Katlett O'Kelley
Half brother of Frank M. O'Kelley

Occupation: He shot Bob Ford, who shot Jesse James
Managed by: Nancy Marie Wilfong
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Edward Capehart O'Kelley

The story of Ed O'Kelly's life was published in a book Ed O'Kelly: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James' Murderer by Judith Ries. The proceeds from the book went to erect a memorial tombstone at Post Oak Church in Patton, MO. Ed O'Kelley is not buried here, but in Oklahoma City, Ok. An interesting story.


Edward Capehart O'Kelley (October 1, 1857[2] – January 13, 1904) was the man who murdered Robert Ford, who had killed the famous outlaw Jesse James to receive a bounty. He was the subject of a 1994 book, Ed O'Kelley: The Man Who Killed Jesse James' Murderer, by Judith Ries, O'Kelley's great-great-niece.

Over the years, historians and contemporary newspapers variously spelled O'Kelley's surname as "Kelly" or "O'Kelly", sometimes mistakenly using the letter "O" as his middle initial.

Early years

Little is known of O'Kelley's youth, although his birthplace is reported as Harrisonville, Missouri. His mother was Margaret Ann Capehart (6 July 1836 – 27 July 1903), but at the time of her 14 July 1857 marriage to Dr. Thomas Katlett O'Kelley (20 October 1833 – 9 October 1923), she was already pregnant with Edward. It is believed that Thomas was not Edward's father. Edward was a child during the American Civil War. In Thomas' Civil War Veteran Pension File, where Thomas was required to list all his children and their dates of birth, Edward is not included on the list.

The murder of Robert Ford

Robert Ford befriended outlaw Jesse James in 1882, when he and his brother Charley joined his gang. They lived with James and his family for a time. Ford shot James in the back of the head to collect a state bounty of $5,000. By 1892, he operated a tent saloon in the silver mining camp of Creede, Colorado.

On June 8, 1892, while Ford was preparing to open his saloon, O'Kelley walked into the tent with a shotgun. Ford was turned away from the front entrance. O'Kelley called out, "Hello Bob." As Ford turned around to see who spoke, O'Kelley fired his shotgun, hitting Ford in the neck and killing him instantly.[citation needed]

O'Kelley never explained why he had shot Ford. It has been alleged that Soapy Smith, the infamous Colorado con man, had convinced O'Kelley he would be a hero for killing the unpopular Ford. Another theory involves the accusation that O'Kelley had stolen Ford's diamond ring, and the dispute escalated. For the crime, he was given a life sentence which was reduced to 18 years, but he only served about 8 years at Colorado State Penitentiary.

After incarceration

After his release, O'Kelley moved to Oklahoma City. Shortly after his arrival in town, he was recognized by Otto Ewing of the Southern Club, a local gambling house. It is claimed[by whom?] that Ewing had been connected with Ford's saloon in Creede, and may even have been there when O'Kelley killed Ford. Ewing told people that O'Kelley was a dangerous man and best avoided.[citation needed]

In December 1903, police officer Joe Burnett arrested O'Kelley as a "suspicious character". O'Kelley was staying at the Lewis Hotel. When he had returned there after his release, he openly made threats that he was gunning for a man. Everyone knew he meant Officer Burnett.[citation needed] O'Kelley frequented the saloons on West 4th and 2nd Streets, which were known[by whom?] as the hangouts of criminals in the early years of the city.

Personal life

Nicknamed "Red", O'Kelley married a relative of the Younger brothers.


On 13 January 1904, O'Kelley was arrested by a police officer named Bunker. O'Kelley was released and went to his hotel, where he commented to others that the police had better not try to arrest him again.[citation needed] That evening, Officer Joe Burnett was walking his beat on the south side of First Street, in front of the McCord & Collins building. Burnett encountered O'Kelley and greeted him politely. In reply, O'Kelley struck at the lawman and drew a revolver. O'Kelley told Burnett, "You come with me. I'll arrest you, you son of a bitch!"[this quote needs a citation] As O'Kelley struck at the officer again, Burnett grabbed the gun with his left hand.

The two men began to wrestle in a life-and-death struggle. O'Kelley fired his pistol several times, trying to shoot the policeman. At the same time, O'Kelley repeatedly called Burnett foul names, saying he was going to kill him. Burnett called out for help repeatedly. O'Kelley did not hit Burnett with his gunfire, but Burnett did receive powder burns on one ear. Once out of ammunition, O'Kelley used his teeth to bite chunks out of both of the policeman's ears.

A friend of O'Kelley came to his aid and fired one shot at the policeman, but then lost his nerve and ran away. O'Kelley called out to him to come back, allegedly saying, "We will murder this fellow."

R. E. Chapin witnessed the fight from the rear of the building on West Main Street and telephoned police headquarters. Chapin heard officer Burnett call out to several men passing by, "I am a police officer, help me!" One of the men replied, "We don't know whether you are a police officer or not."

Finally, A. G. Paul, a railroad baggage man, came running from the depot. He grabbed O'Kelley's hand, thus freeing Burnett's gun hand. The policeman immediately fired two shots and killed O'Kelley.

There were two bullet holes in the back of Burnett's overcoat, and the left hip pocket was torn by a bullet. By the time friends reached his side, Burnett's gloves were burned and his clothing was on fire. They called an ambulance to take O'Kelley's body to the morgue at Street and Harpers furniture store. His body had a bullet wound in his left leg just above the knee. The fatal shot entered his head just behind the left temple and exited behind the right ear.

O'Kelley's body remained at the morgue for about two weeks. A number of people, including Otto Ewing, identified the dead man as the killer of Robert Ford. The warden of the Colorado State Penitentiary, where O'Kelley had been imprisoned, sent city authorities a description and photograph of O'Kelley, leaving no doubt of his identification.[citation needed]

On 28 January 1904, O'Kelley was interred at Fairlawn Cemetery in north Oklahoma City. The county provided the casket and service, at a cost to the taxpayers of $12.50.[citation needed] Edward OKelley Gravestone

Burnett continued with the Oklahoma City Police Department, serving as a Captain and later as assistant Chief of Police. He died on 20 July 1917 of paralysis after a stroke, at St. Anthony's Hospital. Burnett was buried in a marked grave in the same cemetery as the man he killed.[citation needed]


A memorial for Edward O'Kelley stands in the Patton United Methodist Church cemetery, on Country Road 878, in Patton, Missouri. The monument is engraved on both sides.

The front of the monument reads:

Edward Capehart O'Kelley1858 - January 13, 1904

Shot and killed Robert N. Ford, the murderer of Jesse James, in the Silver mining camp at Creede, Colorado.

O'Kelley died in the streets of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in a gunfight with the law.

The back of the memorial contains engraved scenes from 1890s Creede Colorado, where O'Kelley fatally shot Ford. The monument was erected through the efforts of Judith Ries, O'Kelley's great-great niece.

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Edward Capehart O'Kelley's Timeline

October 1, 1857
Harrisonville, Cass County, Missouri, United States
January 13, 1904
Age 46
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States