Sunday, March 30, 2014

52 Ancestors #13: How Much Tragedy Can a Woman Endure?

Ancestor Name: Lefa Marie (Amsberry) Connett Zeller Hall

Lefa Marie Amsberry was born on 19 April 1895 in Cass County, Kansas. At the age of 18 she married Vernon Andrew Connett, who was only 20 at the time of their marriage. Ten months later their son, Archie Vernon Connett was born. Lefa apparently suffered from what we now know as postpartum depression after Archie's birth. Her doctor suggested the young family take a trip so she could spend time in fresh air.

Lefa Marie Amsberry and her siblings; courtesy of member cfm1151

Vernon, Lefa, and baby Archie left Kansas to visit relatives in Nebraska in an horse-drawn wagon. When they stopped in North Platte, they met Roy Roberts. The men stuck up a friendship and decided to look for work in North Platte and Vernon took Lefa and Archie to the train station to continue on to their relatives. He would join her later after making some extra money. Lefa never saw Vernon again. At 19 she was a widow, only she didn't know it right away. Roy Roberts, Vernon's new "friend" killed him so he could steal the team of horses and wagon. Eventually, Roy Roberts was brought to trial and convicted of murder.

As published in the Beatrice Daily Sun 6 Febuary 1917

Vernon Connett's body was eventually found along the banks of the South Platte River. Vernon's father and brother traveled to Nebraska to claim the body and take it back to Kansas for burial at the Sheridan Cemetery in Auburn. By that time Lefa had married again to John Victor Zeller. She had a daughter, Clara Mavis Zeller, in 1923 and by 1937 the family had moved to Denver, Colorado while her son Archie completed his post-graduate work.

Clara married early -- very early at the age of 14 -- to Ernest Clifton Manchester. By 1948 Clara and Ernest had three children and were living in Tekoa, Washington. In the early morning hours of 2 March 1948, their house became engulfed in flames. The house was destroyed and the parents burned trying to save their children. Unfortunately, only one, the infant was saved. Their sons, 8-year-old Jerry Ivan Manchester and 6-year-old Lyle Ernest Manchester, died in the fire. Lefa, their grandmother, had just lost two beloved grandchildren at the same time. But more tragedy was to follow four years later.

As published in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin on 2 March 1948

By 1952, her son, Archie, had married Wynona Gottlieb and had three children. He and his wife separated and he had threatened violence several times. On 23 December 1952, he became enraged and slashed his estranged wife's throat. She was able to escape. Archie then turned his rage on his children and held them by their feet and bashed their heads against the wall, killing 4-year-old Michael Stephen Connett, 2-year-old Theresa Anne Connett, and 4-month-old Carl Paul Connett. They were buried the day after Christmas at Mission City Memorial Park, Santa Clara, California. Their Gottlieb grandparents made the arrangements and attended the funeral as their mother, Wynona, was still hospitalized in serious condition. She was only told of their deaths on Christmas Day.

As published in the Oakland Tribune on 24 December 1952

Lefa attended every day of Archie's month-long trial and testified on his behalf. He was convicted of three counts of second degree murder and one count of attempted murder and served 15 years. He was released in 1968.  During the trial it was revealed that Archie and his step-father John Victor Zeller, had a very rocky relationship; their fights sometimes ending in fisticuffs. Lefa eventually divorced Zeller and married for the third time to Jack Huntington Hall. She died on 11 May 1969.

I hope she was eventually able to find happiness.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Lefa Marie Amsberry was born on 19 April 1895 at Cass County, Kansas, to Floyd Murton and Rosa Ella (Comer) Amsberry. Lefa was my fourth cousin twice removed. She married Vernon Andrew Connett on 20 May 1913 at St Francis, Kansas. She next married John Victor Zeller on 16 Jun 1917 at Bayard, Nebraska. They likely divorced sometime before 1940, although I am not sure. She then married John Huntington Hall sometime before 1953. She died on 11 May 1969 at Fresno, California. During her lifetime her first husband was murdered, two grandchildren died in a fire, and her son murdered three of her grandchildren and served 15 years in California prisons. He was released the year before her death.

NOTE: I told the story of Vernon Andrew Connett's murder in more detail in Week #11 of 52 Ancestors.

I blogged about Archie Vernon Connett several times and wrote an article about his committing infanticide for Your Family Tree magazine. If you are interesting in learning more about this terrible tragedy, links are provided below:


  1. So much tragedy for one person/family. My heart goes out to Lefa and her family. Oh, my heart was in my throat the entire time. I do hope she was able to find peace. You told this very sad and tragic story very well. Thank you for sharing Lefa's and her family's story.

    1. Bernita, thank you. I remember when I first found out her son, killed his three young children and attempted to kill his ex-wife, I realized I might have finally found a black sheep I didn't relish (usually they are my favorite ancestors). Then I was fortunate to purchase a book he wrote after he was released from prison. I felt he laid the reason for committing the crime at his mother's feet and she became one of my favorite ancestors as a result. He was her favorite child and he used the way she raised him as his excuse for the inexcusable. Bah!

  2. Sometimes you wonder how someone can go on after such tragedy. Lefa is one of those women who has tremendous spirit and serves as a model for all.

    1. Ann, thanks for taking the time to read about Lefa. I found the post to be one of the most difficult ones to write so far in my short blogging "career." She certainly had to live with a lot of tragedy -- more than I think I could have done.