Murdering Wives – Robert Laurent Barksdale – Man of Mystery

(This is research for a law school paper – not my family line)

In my last blog post about this family, I wrote about Robert Toombs BARKSDALE.  Robert Laurent BARKSDALE was his son, and the father of Clarice Barksdale COVERT – one of the “Murdering Wives.”

He was apparently known as Laurent BARKSDALE.  I have found him referred to as Robert L. and as Laurent.  He was born 9 Oct 1890 in Augusta, Georgia.  He is found living with Robert Toombs BARKSDALE, Annie BARKSDALE (Annie Wallis O’HANLON – his mother), and Ethel Clarice BARKSDALE (sister), in the 1900 US Federal Census.  Annie’s mother, Kathlene O’HANLON was living with the family in 1900 too.  There is also a boarder in the household in the census records, Horace TEAGUE, a 25-year-old railroad conductor.

Laurent’s father, Robert Toombs BARKSDALE, died in 1905.  This is where his life becomes a little mysterious.  I will mention in the next paragraph that Laurent lived in Cuba from 1905 – 1906.  Why would a 14-year-old boy go to Cuba after his father’s death? His future wife (I will talk about that in a later post) had Cuban ties, but the BARKSDALEs did not that I can find.  Passports were not required at that time.  The government required passports of citizens only during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and during and shortly after World War I (1914–1918). The Travel Control Act of May 22, 1918 permitted the president, when the United States was at war, to proclaim a passport requirement, and a proclamation was issued on August 18, 1918. Though World War I ended on November 11, 1918, the passport requirement lingered until March 3, 1921.

Robert Laurent BARKSDALE’s first passport application was issued 28 Apr 1919.  On this application, he reports that he last left the US July 1917, arriving in Tampico, Mexico Aug 1917 for the purpose of working as an accountant for The Island Oil and Transportation Company.  He also lists the following places of residence outside of the US; Cuba 1905-1906, Mexico 1906-1907, Panama 1909-1911, Honduras 1912-1915, and Mexico 1915-present.  He states that he is employed in the oil industry.  He is requesting the passport for Tampico, Mexico and for visiting Cuba.  A part of the Passport Application is an Affidavit to Explain Protracted Foreign Residence and to Overcome Presumption of Expatriation.  On this affidavit, he states he “ceased to reside in the United States on or about 15 Feb 1912 and have since temporarily resided in Ceiba, Honduras and Tampico, Mexico.”  He further states, “I arrived in Tampico, Mexico 1st day of September, 1917, my reason for such residence being as follows: in charge of Telephone Dept., Aguila Oil Co. (British) Sept. 1917 – Sept. 1918; Accountant Island Oil & Transport Co. (American Firm) Sept. 1918 to date.  From 1912-1915 I was in Honduras, operating picture-shows on my own account, most of the time.”

He lived in Clinton, Arizona for a time as evidenced by his WWI Draft Registration card. The registration was done in Clifton, Greenlee County, Arizona – the card is dated 5 June 1917.  On his draft registration card he states that he is a resident of Clifton and is employed as a stenographer for the Shannon Copper Co.  He gives his hair and eye color as brown and states, “I lost one eye.” He uses the exact date of birth and gives his place of birth as Augusta, Georgia on the draft registration card.  It also states on his passport application that he presented his draft registration card from Clifton, Greenlee, AZ as ID.

His amended passport was issued 3 Dec 1920.  He uses only the name Laurent BARKSDALE on this application.  He lists his legal domicile as “in Tampico, Mexico, my permanent residence being at Almeda No. 7, and I last left the United States on Sept. 23, 1920,  arriving at Tampico on Sept. 26, 1920, where I am now residing for the purpose of business, on behalf of Jacobs & Barksdale, Apardato No. 783, Tampico, American, that I have resided outside the United States at the following locations for the following periods, Spanish Honduras 1913 – 1920, Mexico 1915 – 1920.”  He leaves his return date to the US open – saying “When I return there.”  He is requesting the passport for the purposes of visiting Mexico, Cuba, and Colombia, all for business reasons.  One interesting thing on this passport application is that the person vouching for him is Lottie L. Simmons, his mother-in-law.

Robert Laurent Barksdale married May Cossi Simmons of Key West, Florida in the summer of 1919 in New York according to a news item in The Augusta Chronicle 19 Aug 1919.  The couple was visiting Augusta after their marriage.  The article says “Mr. Barksdale has been in Tampico, Mexico for some years and his lovely bride formerly resided in Augusta and has many friends here.”  I have found NO evidence that May ever lived in Augusta, except for a brief time after her marriage to Laurent.  They must have remained in Augusta while awaiting the arrival of their passports.

May Simmons BARKSDALE was issued a passport 23 Aug 1919 to visit Cuba for pleasure and to go on to Tampico, Mexico to be with her husband.  It was requested that the passport be sent to 349 Greene Street, Augusta, GA.  Laurent and May must have been staying with his mother and sister at that time.  Robert Laurent wrote a letter prior to his application that one had been requested for his wife, May, as well and requested that both be mailed to the Augusta address.  The date of that letter was 6 June 1919, so they must have been married before that date.

Clarice COVERT stated in court records that she was born in Augusta, GA, but it seems more likely that she was born in Tampico, Mexico.  The only other travel I can find for the couple is a border crossing from Mexico to Laredo, Texas 10 Sep 1920.  Laurent visited Miami 25 July 1921, according to a news item in the Miami Herald Record on that date. There is no mention in the article that May or Clarice accompanied him.

Clarice was born, if my research is correct, 20 Dec 1920, probably in Tampico, Mexico. Evidence that Clarice was born in Mexico is the fact that May BARKSDALE’s mother, Lottie Lee SIMMONS was issued a passport 10 Sep 1920 to go to Tampico, Mexico via Cuba “to be with my daughter.”  Apparently Lottie Lee wanted to be with May for the birth of her grandchild.  It is interesting that the passport was issued the same date as the BARKSDALE’s border crossing into Texas from Mexico.  Equally as interesting is that May Cossi BARKSDALE gives a sworn affidavit for her mother 1 Sep 1920 in Key West, Florida. That is a lot of traveling for a pregnant woman.

Robert Laurent BARKSDALE, wife May, and daughter Clarice are found in the 1930 United States Federal Census living in Jacksonville, Duvall County, Florida.  His occupation is given as manager of a typewriter company.  In the 1935 Florida State Census, both May and Clarice are found living in Tampa, Hillsborough County, Florida with Lottie Lee Simmons.  Laurent is no where to be found.  Clarice reported in court records that her father left the family when she was young.

Robert Laurent is not mentioned in his mother’s (Annie O’Hanlon BARKSDALE) obituary in 1937.  His sister, Clarice Barksdale ANDERSON died in 1952 and again, he is not mentioned as a surviving family member her obituary.  Clarice is mentioned as a surviving family member in both of these obituaries.  Did he die or was he estranged from his family for leaving his wife and child?

I found a record in the Social Security Death Index for a Robert Barksdale, same birthdate as the R.L. Barksdale we have been talking about.  This man had his social security number issued in Texas between 1951-1952 and died Jan 1981 in  Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona.  This COULD be Robert Laurent BARKSDALE, or it may not be.  It is possible that our Robert Laurent BARKSDALE never had a Social Security number.  There is evidence, that I will talk about in a later post, that Clarice COVERT’s children went to school in Phoenix, AZ for a time.  Clarice also said in court records that she left Eddie at one point in 1948 and went with her young son to stay with her mother in Arizona.  Maybe further research will reveal that May and Laurent reconciled for at least a time and lived in Arizona. None of that is proven however.

Robert Laurent BARKSDALE is indeed a many of mystery.










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