The Marion County Jail

According to the 1883 History of Marion, the combined jail and Sheriff’s residence was erected in 1878 and cost about $28,000. There were eighteen cells total, sixteen for men and two for women. This photo, dated 1910, is from Mike Crane’s excellent collection of old Marion photos and postcards.
By the time the paper went to press, a mere two hours after the murder, a lynch mob was already forming outside the jail.

Unlike the old Marion City Jail, the Marion County Jail, which stood on North State Street from 1878 until 1968, doesn’t have any supernatural stories associated with it. However, it played a role in a violent series of events that took place in Marion in October of 1881.

On the afternoon of October 4th, 1881, Frank Foster, a well-known and well-liked livery man, stepped into Tim Kelley’s grocery store to buy some tobacco. As he was paying, a man named Orrin DePue walked up behind him and, without saying a word, shot him 4 times with a .32 caliber revolver. Foster died almost immediately.

Some men who had been chatting at the back of the grocery store were able to disarm DePue, and police quickly arrived to arrest him. DePue was initially taken to the city jail but was later transferred to the more secure county jail. A secure building was necessary to protect DePue from an angry mob that was rapidly forming in Marion. Indeed, The Marion Daily Star reported that, “Many threats are [being] made that the murderer will not remain long where he is, but it is hoped that mob law will not be resorted to in our law-abiding town.”

Shortly before the jail was demolished, an article appearing in The Marion Star stated, “Commissioners plan to preserve the key which, long eyed by antique dealers, is said to be a fine representation of 19th Century iron work.” According to Randy Winland’s book on Marion postcards, the turnkey is currently on display at the Marion County Historical Society.

DePue’s motive was shooting Foster was never clear. Initially, DePue initially told police that Foster deserved to be shot because he had mistreated DePue’s younger brother the previous fall. However, when a reporter from The Marion Daily Star interviewed DePue a day after the murder, he said that he was drunk at the time and didn’t know why he had murdered Foster. (The reporter eventually gave up trying to sort out DePue’s motive and noted, “Orrie talked very queer, and nothing definite could be learned from him.”)

The following night, on October 5th, DePue hanged himself in his jail cell using a bed sheet. The Marion Daily Star suggested that DePue had  probably saved the county a great expense and that most everyone was satisfied with this outcome.

In 1968, a new county jail was completed north of town, and the old county jail, which was already falling apart, was demolished. Today a small, unremarkable office building is located at the former site of the once imposing jail.

– Josh Simpkins

The Marion Daily Star, October 4th, 1881
The Marion Daily Star, October 7th, 1881
The Marion StarAugust 28, 1968
The Marion Star, October 10, 1968


One thought on “The Marion County Jail

  1. When I was a kid and we were driving downtown, my mother would always tell me, “Look for the key!” Too bad that beautiful building was razed.

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