“The central figure in the Hastings poisoning sensation is Miss Viola Horlocker, a popular young woman of that town, who has made many visits to this city and is well known here,” said the Kearney Daily Hub on April 14, 1899. The Hub noted that Horlocker, who enjoyed a local reputation as an amateur singer, had been employed as a stenographer for the last two years in the office of a Hastings law firm. She was accused of sending the wife of her immediate supervisor and sweetheart, Charles F. Morey, a plate of homemade candy laced with arsenic.
The candy, sent anonymously, arrived at the Morey residence on April 10, 1899. Mrs. Morey, and a friend who also sampled it, became seriously ill but survived. The Hub said on April 14 that “the circumstances implicate Miss Horlocker sufficiently to justify the prosecuting attorney in authorizing a warrant for her arrest.” On April 13 she was charged with the poisoning in Adams County District Court. John M. Ragan, a former Nebraska Supreme Court justice, was hired to head her defense team.
The sensational story of a star-crossed love affair and attempted murder was soon picked up by newspapers across Nebraska and received national attention. The New York Times on March 22, 1900, under the headline “Candy Poisoner on Trial,” noted: “The defense created somewhat of a sensation by stating that Miss Horlocker was driven to insanity by the treatment of Mrs. Morey’s husband, by whom she was employed, and was not responsible for her acts.”
The Hub on March 24 reported the courtroom testimony of Eva Stewart, who “detailed a succession of startling admissions made to her, . . . in which Miss Horlocker set forth her blind passion for Morey, and gave the story of his attentions to her, which had resulted in taking her affections out of her own keeping.” Viola Horlocker also took the stand in her own defense. The Hub reported on March 27 that she “was very much agitated and wrung her hands continually, momentarily varying it by nervously rubbing her palms with her handkerchief. She described how Lawyer Morey invited her to his house in the absence of his wife and many love passages between them. . . . Her tears flowed freely during the recital.”
After only an hour’s deliberation, the all-male jury came back with a verdict of not guilty. The Hub on March 30 said: “The verdict was generally expected and will be satisfactory to a majority of the people here, for reasons that are not necessary now to put in print.” The Courier (Lincoln) on April 7 noted that Morey’s conduct had “incensed and disgusted” the jury, which “not being able to punish him let Miss Horlocker escape the more readily.”
Putting the sensational trial behind her, Viola Horlocker reportedly left Hastings after her acquittal and settled in New York, where she later married. Charles Morey remained in Hastings, where he died in 1920, having regained the respect of many there. The Hastings Daily Tribune on May 5, 1920, reported that his funeral was attended by numerous friends, including members of the Adams County Bar Association.
Adams County Courthouse. NSHS RG2923.PH2-22
From the Kearney Daily Hub, April 14, 1899.