Bigamy and Bloodshed
The Scandal of Emma Molloy and the Murder of Sarah Graham
The Kent State University Press
Emma Molloy—temperance revivalist, prohibitionist, and accessory to murder
In the summer of 1885, ex-convict George Graham bigamously married Cora Lee, foster daughter of nationally known temperance revivalist Emma Molloy, and the three took up residence together on the Molloy farm near Springfield, Missouri. When the body of Graham’s first wife, Sarah, was found at the bottom of an abandoned well on the Molloy farm early the next year, Graham was charged with murder, and Cora and Emma were implicated as accessories. As Larry E. Wood notes, this sensational story made headlines across the country and threatened Mrs. Molloy’s career as a prominent evangelist and temperance revivalist.
Although Graham confessed, taking sole blame for the murder, he inflamed the scandal surrounding Emma Molloy when he claimed that he’d carried on a passionate affair with her while simultaneously courting her foster daughter. When Graham was lynched by a mob before he could come to trial, critics of Mrs. Molloy even suggested that she and her friends in the temperance movement had instigated the hanging to silence him. Although Cora Lee was eventually acquitted of being an accomplice in Sarah Graham’s murder and the charges against Emma Molloy were subsequently dropped, many of Mrs. Molloy’s detractors remained convinced that she was, at the least, a very indiscreet woman. Her reputation was irreparably tarnished, and she never fully recovered her status as one of the country’s most noted female orators.