Archive for Monday, November 28, 2005

A crime for all time

KU student who killed family one of state’s last executions

November 28, 2005


He was known as a mild-mannered, sophomore zoology major who played the bassoon in the Kansas University band.

But in 1958, while he was home for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, 18-year-old Lowell Lee Andrews shot and killed his parents and his older sister.

He was one of the last to be executed in Kansas.

"Why, he was the nicest boy in Wolcott," a stunned neighbor told a newspaper reporter at the time, referring to the northwestern Wyandotte County town where the Andrews family lived.

Even today, nearly 50 years later, the mystery surrounding what set off the normally quiet Andrews remains.

Gordon Dale Chappell Jr. remembers what his father's impressions were of Andrews. Gordon Dale Chappell Sr. was the Douglas County Sheriff at the time Andrews killed his family. The senior Chappell assisted Wyandotte County with the investigation and supervised a search of the Kansas River in Lawrence for a rifle and a pistol Andrews used in the shootings.

Lowell Lee Andrews, center, stands as officers and divers search the Kansas River for parts of guns Andrews used to kill his parents and sister on Nov. 27, 1958. Andrews, then a mild-mannered, 18-year-old Kansas University sophomore, was one of the last criminals to be executed in Kansas.

Lowell Lee Andrews, center, stands as officers and divers search the Kansas River for parts of guns Andrews used to kill his parents and sister on Nov. 27, 1958. Andrews, then a mild-mannered, 18-year-old Kansas University sophomore, was one of the last criminals to be executed in Kansas.

"He said Andrews was always very polite," said Chappell Jr., a Lawrence resident who was 13 at the time of the murders. "But Andrews showed no remorse, I do know that."

Indeed. In the Lansing Correctional Facility moments before Andrews was hanged at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1962, there was no sign of repentance, according to an Associated Press story in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World. Andrews declined to offer any last words and even was smiling slightly, AP reported.

Death Row

"I really liked Andy. He was a nut - not a real nut, like they keep hollering; but, you know, just goofy. He was always talking about breaking out of here and making his living as a hired gun. He liked to imagine himself roaming around Chicago or Los Angeles with a machine gun in a violin case. Cooling guys. Said he'd charge a thousand bucks per stiff."

-Richard Hickock, from the Truman Capote book, "In Cold Blood."

Andrews was already in a cell on Death Row at Lansing when he was joined by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the murderers of the Clutter family in the small western Kansas town of Holcomb, a case made infamous because of Capote's book and a 1960s movie of the same name.

Andrews in 1958 after his arrest

Andrews in 1958 after his arrest

Near the end of Capote's 1965 book there are several pages quoting Hickock and Smith about their Death Row conversations with Andrews. In the movie there is a scene where the guards come to get Andrews and take him to the gallows to be hanged. Scott Wilson, the actor who played Hickock, calls Andrews "the nicest boy in Kansas."

In the recently released movie, "Capote," there also is a brief scene in which the guards take Andrews, played by C. Ernst Harth, to his execution.

'I'm not sorry'

Andrews, who stood more than 6 feet tall and weighed 260 pounds, confessed to the murders after he was arrested. Initially, he tried to make the crime scene look like a burglary turned into a multiple murder.

"I'm not sorry and I'm not glad I did it; I just don't know why I did it," Andrews was quoted as telling a reporter in a Journal-World story.

Andrews killed his parents and sister on Nov. 28, 1958, the Friday evening following Thanksgiving. He used a .22 caliber rifle and a German Luger to shoot his father, William L. Andrews, 50, 17 times; his mother Opal, 41, four times; and his sister, Jennie Marie, 20, three times.

Then he drove to Lawrence to his boarding house at 1305 Tennessee. He told a fellow roomer that he was picking up his typewriter so he could work on a theme for an English class.

Next he went to the Granada theater and watched a movie, "Mardi Gras." After the movie he drove back to his home in Wolcott. On his way out of Lawrence he stopped to dismantle the guns and toss the parts off the Massachusetts bridge into the Kansas River.

Once he was home, Andrews called the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office to report the shootings. The first deputies to arrive said they found Andrews outside playing with his dog. He later told investigators he killed his family because he wanted to inherit the family farm and obtain $1,800 in his father's savings account.

Memorable search

Gordon Chappell Jr. watched the search for the weapons at the river a few days later. Andrews also was there watching with the officers.

"I can remember they were dragging down there with big magnets and they had divers," Chappell said.

Only some of the parts of the guns were found, according to news accounts.

Chappell Sr., who died in 1999, served as sheriff from 1957 until 1961. He then worked as a deputy U.S. marshal. There were times when he was assigned to escort Andrews, Smith and Hickock to federal court during their execution appeals, his son said. Andrews always remained quiet and polite. Smith and Hickock always were a little boisterous.

"He said those two (Hickock and Smith) would sit in the courtroom and joke and look out the window at the pretty girls and act like they didn't have a care in the world," Chappell Jr. said.

There have been rumors that when Andrews was hanged he broke the rope because of his large size. Chappell Jr. said he had heard the rumors. They could not be verified, however. In fact, one news story at the time of the hanging reported that Andrews had slimmed down to 180 pounds while he was in prison.

Chappell Sr. was invited by the state to watch Andrews hang.

"He didn't go," his son said. "He said he just didn't want to witness any execution."

- Staff writer Mike Belt can be reached at 832-7165.


Heartlander 12 years, 2 months ago

Marion, if you're reading this, send me an e-mail. It's me, Kathy (formerly) Andrews. You know, I knew you from those years in KCK. I'm in Palm Desert now. Lots of ground to cover, particularly about your memories of Lowell Lee.

You referred to me in the first post above and I need to talk to you about Lowell Lee.

Or, if anyone reading this actually knows Marion, tell him to send a note to me at

It's important that I get in touch with him. KH

feeble 12 years, 5 months ago


Andrews was, technically, a mass murderer and not a serial killer.

The following are brief definitions of these three types:

A serial killer is someone who commits three or more murders over an extended period of time with cooling-off periods in between. In between their crimes, they appear to be quite normal, a state which Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare call the "mask of sanity." There is frequently-but not always-a sexual element to the murders.

A mass murderer, on the other hand, is an individual who kills three or more people in a single event and in one location. The perpetrators sometimes commit suicide, meaning knowledge of their state of mind and what triggers their actions is often left to more speculation than fact. Mass murderers who are caught sometimes claim they cannot clearly remember the event.

feeble 12 years, 5 months ago

the third type of killer I neglected to include was the "spree killer."

hurlehey 12 years, 5 months ago

This is what happens when you get your kid a bassoon!

Steve Jacob 12 years, 5 months ago

Why is this news? A murder in 1958 will no real tie-in to today? Interesting yes, but headline news?

badger 12 years, 5 months ago

srj, I think it's been 50 years today, in addition to OMB's GRIM MILESTONE.

Plus, there's a Capote tie-in, and they've been rather conveniently finding all sorts of new things to discuss about that particular case since the announcement that two movies will soon come out to draw national attention to Kansas for something besides intelligent design.

badger 12 years, 5 months ago

Oops, got my numbers wrong!

Sorry, misread the date and my brain converted an 8 to a 5.

But we all know 47 years is just as significant as 50 when there's a movie to hype, right?

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 12 years, 5 months ago

Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out. Thank you, Lynn

Rick Aldrich 12 years, 5 months ago

i was'nt born yet when this crime was comitted, but i do believe in the death penalty 100%, you kill, you pay with your life, and not 20 years later, asap. and hanging should be reinstated, killing and being put asleep 10 or 20 years later. where's the fear there.

zasco 12 years, 5 months ago

I first heard of the case when I was 20. I acquired a copy of Truman Capote's book and was absolutely horrified when I read about Andrews. It was such a waste of life. Such a terrible, horrible tragedy.

I have always been curious as to the following things:

Are there any pictures of his family? Are there any pictures of the house? **Are there any pictures of the neighborhood, and the town in general, circa the late 1950's?

I once knew a lady that was running the old Armour Amusement facility down in the 600 block of Massachusetts in the late seventies that actually knew one of the family members very well. She too was flabbergasted when she had heard the news.

I don't believe that I had ever even heard of the town until I read the book...I'd never been there, I had seen roads leading in the general area of Wolcott but had never seen the town itself...

I also had read somewhere that the father was a very hard worker, in addition to the farm, he also was employed at a car dealership over across the river in Missouri.

I'd also like to know:

Where did he and his sister go to school, prior to the tragedies? What elementary and junior high schools did they attend?

And this is to Marion: Someone actually was living in the house afterwards? And was the address as shown in the Capote book, on Wolcott Drive?

I had noticed on an old Kansas City area map, and members, please correct me if I'm wrong--but there used to be an "Andrews Lane" up in that area, I suppose named for the family--but it's no longer there.

Anyway, I would like to read more on this, if at all possible. Thank you.

bobleathers 11 years, 11 months ago

TO marion lynn, Where did you live in Wolcott. I lived there from 1941 on and never heard of you

TO Zasco both andrews kids went to Wolcott grade school it was a one room school.I went to school with both of them they went to washington high at Bethel KS. and no there never was or is a andrews lane what is now Wolcott drive was old 5 highway that ran from wadsworth KS. to K.C.KS.

bobleathers 11 years, 11 months ago

To Narion Lynn After thinking it over and rereading you post, I would like to add a few words. the Reverend Davis you knew so well was name Marshall Davis and he was the paster of the Wolcott Baptist church in Wolcott not the prison chaplain. the house that was burned by vandals was torn down by a friend of mine after someone stoled the stairway out of it and the barn that you said had rotted down was made out of concrete blocks ( how long will it take for concrete to rot) you do know Kathy I think but the rest of your post is eather hear say or make belive. as for the frightened suburban neighbourhoods, we had no neighbourhoods and no one was frightened as Wolcott was a very small town with maby 150 people in it and every house had 2 or 3 guns as the hunting around Wolcott was very good and we did'nt frighten easyly. and the cafe murder you talk about happen a few years after the Andrews one if your talking about the cafe out on hutton rd. WE HAD A SAYING, WOLCOTT TAKES CARE OF IT'S OWN, and we did

zasco 11 years, 10 months ago

Thank you, bobleathers, for the information.

I have recently looked up the Wolcott townsite on a website called "Windows Live Local" and seen the area for the first time...there's not much there anymore, other than the Lakeside Speedway and a few scattered businesses, I guess most of the community is gone today. Yes, I'd heard about Wolcott Drive being K-5 highway currently...and according to the website, I take it that the family must have lived either northwest or southeast of the community itself, I also have an old map that a one-time supervisor gave me years ago on Wyandotte County, it shows Wolcott as having several streets (this was before the construction of the Speedway) and I did see a school on the outskirts of town, this must have been the grade school you mention. I guess that I've never heard of Washington High School in the Bethel area of Kansas City, KS., but I have definitely heard of Bethel...

Once again, thank you for the information...Zasco.

zlover 11 years, 6 months ago

Well I'm glad that I have found something on this story because I grew up in the K.C.K. area and have been to Wolcott many times to try and see the house where this happened. As far as the old streets, I have driven on many of them after the houses where torn down and have seen alot of other things during the night out in some of the north fields that I can't comment on. Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't most of the houses get torn down after the flood of 93? I even remember when Lakeside Speedway was behind the old drive in about where the Woodlands race track is now. I guess that the house I thought was the one is not since it has been torn down, I know where one house is left standing kind of up a slight hill with a metal gate at the bottom of the driveway. I would also like to know where the house was if anyone cares to tell?

zasco 11 years, 6 months ago


According to Truman Capote's book, the house would have been located at 6040 Wolcott Drive. There is a website called Windows Live Local that I discovered while online a few months ago, and there's a "bird's-eye" feature that currently is shown on extreme eastern Leavenworth County and all of Wyandotte County...and I saw the remains of a dairy barn of which I had been told was part of the land that the Andrews family owned...this would have been just to the northwest of the community.

As for the homes, yes, I was told that because of the flood of 1993, most of the homes and businesses were either moved away or torn down...the Windows website has shown a lot of recent building on Hutton Road, west of what was once Wolcott. I learned that there's a go-cart track named Thunderlake Speedway which is practically on what was the main street of the town...and Lakeside Speedway comprises most of the old townsite. However, there are a few streets that remain...there's still a portion of Elm Street, a 95th Street, and there's part of Main Street that now ends at the railroad tracks. About the only other businesses that are in "Wolcott", in addition to the two Speedways, is some kind of cement-manufacturing plant and another facility across the Drive from this cement plant. Other than that, most of the old town is gone today.

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