Our Arklahoma Heritage: Murder Most Foul - Reuben "Mat" Phillips - November 5, 1916
On November 5, 1916, World War I raged halfway across the world.
The Battle of Verdun
In France, the French military was able regain all the ground they lost to the Germans since February 24 in the Battle of Verdun, allowing them to suspend military operations for a month to the soldiers to rest and be reequipped. Before the battle was complete more 11.000 soldiers on both sides were counted as casualties.
Reuben Matthew "Mat" Phillips
Closer to home, a Madison County man also met his fate on the same date. Robert Matthew "Mat" Phillips was murdered in his own home in Purdy, which is on the extreme eastern side of the Madison/Boone county line.
The motive was thought to be robbery, although after the fact no one could say for sure that any money had been taken from the home and the only suspect led the area right after the murder.
Phillips was a native Arkansan having been born in Madison County in 1857 to Adam and Elizabeth (Fisher) Phillips. His parents had both been born in Tennessee, but were in the state as early as 1847 when the first of their six children was born in Kingston township, a about seven-and-a-half away from Purdy.
The Civil War touched the Phillips family with the oldest son, Thomas Jefferson Phillips, serving in Company C of the 14th Arkansas of the CSA from the age of 17-19. No other family member, including their father, was recorded as being active in the War Between the States.
Most of the family settled in and lived in Madison County, with some eventually moving to Hunstville and to the Alabam community. But Purdy was the homestead and Purdy and "Mat" was a well known blacksmith in the area. He never married, and according to newspaper accounts of his murder as thought to have amassed a "neat little sum of money which he refused to loan, invest or deposit in banks" by the time he was in his mid-fifties.
An article in the Madison County Democrat, dated November 16, 1916 told the sad tale:
"MURDERED WHILE ASLEEP- MAT PHILLIPS KILLED FOR HIS MONEY
Mat Phillips, a well known citizen of near Purdy, was found dead in bed at his home late Friday afternoon with one side of his head and face almost entirely blown off. A shotgun, the weapon used, was beside him.
The wound showed that the shot entered the top of his head and ranged downward. The fact that the bed covers were drawn over all the body except the head and the top of the shoulders explodes any theory of suicide and proves without a doubt that Phillips was murdered while asleep.
The motive for the foul deed is positively believed to have been robbery, there being signs of a general disarrangement of things in the room made by the murdered in a search for money, but no money was found by the murdered.
Phillips, who was unmarried, lived alone; he was about 55 years old, and it was generally believed that he had accumulated a neat little sum of money which he refused to loan, invest or deposit in banks. Whoever killed him knew this, and without any doubt the theft of the money was the incentive for the killing.
Old Home, Purdy Township