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Oberst Family Murders




Actual rifle retrieved from crime scene

Actual rifle retrieved from crime scene

Image Courtesy of Butler County Historical Society

In 1860 my GGG Uncle, Jesse Chainey (b1809), made the decision to take his wife Catherine and family from their rural farm in Staplehurst, Kent to a new and better life in Tremont Township, Illinois County, USA.  On 12 February 1862 he became a naturalised US citizen. If Jesse could have predicted the future he may not have made such a journey.

As this branch of my family was now overseas I hadn’t devoted much time on researching further, but I did trace the marriage on 11 February 1878 of Jesse’s daughter Mary Ann Chainey (1950-1909) to Lewis Roberts of New York (1845-1922).

Lewis and Mary Ann settled in Clifford Township, Butler County, Kansas and had 2 children; Alfred (1878-1894) and Elsie May (1886-1928).  Elsie May married William Oberst, a farmer of Illinois (1883-1928).

Elsie and William Oberst remained in Clifford, living and working with Lewis Roberts on his 240-acre farm just 20 miles northwest of El Dorado, where they raised a family of four boys and two girls.

Whilst looking for the death of Jesse’s granddaughter Elsie (Roberts) Oberst and her husband William I discovered that they and 5 of their 6 children all died on the same day - 20 April 1928.


Oberst family memorial stone

Oberst family memorial stone, Ebenezer Methodist Cemetery

 Image Courtesy of Ardath Lawson, Butler County Historical Society


My initial thoughts were that they might have all died from an infectious disease or maybe a terrible accident, but the question remained: why was their 17-year-old son Owen the only survivor?  I felt compelled to research further.

What I discovered was a chilling and barely credible set of events, which resonated across Kansas and beyond, and continues to be reported upon, more than 86 years later.

The shocking truth was that Jesse Chainey’s great-grandson, Owen Oberst, reportedly shot his parents with a .22 calibre rifle and bludgeoned his five siblings; then piled their bodies on top of each other in the family’s kitchen and set fire to the farmhouse in an attempt to cover up the crime.  

He then drove the family car to the nearby town of Florence and watched a movie with two friends before returning home to the burned ruins of the family home.

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