A former Oklahoma City attorney and award-winning author visited Ardmore to discuss one of the city’s most notorious murder trials.
Kent Frates, who served in the Oklahoma Legislature from 1970 to 1978, arrived at the Greater Southwest Historical Museum Tuesday. Frates authored Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases Vol. I and II, as well as Oklahoma Courthouse Legends and many other publications.
His writing career began when a photographer approached him, Frates said. The Oklahoma county clerk at the time wished to create a book containing a photo of every court house in the state and Frates was asked to write the text for the book.
“One of the counties, of course, was Carter County,” Frates said. “When we finished the book, his picture inside of the Carter County court house was so good that the editor of the book said, ‘That’s the picture that we ought to put on the cover’.”
The book was Oklahoma Courthouse Legends. However, Frates said he wanted to write a book that was more detailed and contained more history about certain cases.
His first volume of Oklahoma’s Most Notorious Cases contained six cases, including the Oklahoma City Bombing — but Frates said he enjoyed writing the second volume more.
“I got to put in a lot of the cases that I liked, some of them a lot better, and I thought were more interesting — one of which was this (the Hamon) case,” Frates said.
The 1920 murder trial of Clara Smith Hamon in Ardmore received international attention, Frates said. The victim, Jake Hamon, is speculated to have been one of the richest men in Oklahoma— and with his wealth came several scandals involving bribery, Frates said.
“The reason he lived in Ardmore was he’d been run out of Lawton,” Frates said.
Hamon was anticipating being named Secretary of the Interior when he was shot by his mistress, Clara Smith Hamon, at Ardmore’s Randol Hotel, which was formerly located at 209 W Main St., Frates said.
Although Clara Smith Hamon appears to have been guilty, Frates said she easily gained public favor and pled self-defense.
“The jury was made up entirely of white males and it took them 45 minuets to find her not guilty,” Frates said.
During the research process for his book Frates said he pulled much of his information from original sources, including long sections of testimony published in newspapers and court documents.
“When you get into history it’s sometimes hard to separate legend from fact,” Frates said. “Sometimes you really don’t want to because the stories are so good you want to tell them anyway, but when you write a book like this you’ve got to be careful that you don’t do that.”
Before concluding his talk, Frates also discussed two more cases that took place near Carter County and that he considers interesting, the Geronimo Bank Murders and the trial of Machine Gun Kelly. Afterwards, Frates signed copies of his books for guests.