Who was Walter Barton?

In 1991, Walter Barton was living in a trailer at the Riverview Mobile Home Park in Ozark, Missouri. The mobile home park was operated by 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler. According to court documents, Gladys was a busy person at the park. Family, friends, tenants and business partners would visit often.

On October 9, 1991, Barton was one of those visitors.  According to testimony in four of Barton’s trials, Kuehler had visits from Carol Horton, one tenant of the park, who often helped Gladys with errands and chores because she was limited to moving around with a cane.  Also visiting that day were Bill and Dorothy Pickering, the owners of the trailer park, who came by to pick up rent receipts. Walter Barton was also in and out of Kuehler’s trailer that day, stopping by to ask to borrow money.

Around noon, Barton visited Horton’s trailer and stayed there for several hours. He left for a moment to borrow $20 from Kuehler around 2:00 p.m. and returned to Horton’s shortly after.

Kuehler was last seen at about 2:45 p.m. by Ted and Sharon Bartlett, former residents of the trailer park who stopped by to visit.

Around 3:00 p.m., Barton told Horton he was going to visit Kuehler again.

According to court records, at approximately 3:15 p.m., Bill Pickering called Kuehler’s trailer. A man answered the telephone and stated that Kuehler was in the bathroom and could not come to the phone.

Around 4:00 p.m., about an hour after he left Horton’s trailer, Barton returned and asked to use her restroom, which she permitted. After a while, Horton noticed that he had been in there for a long time, and she had never heard the toilet flush, so she went to check on him and saw him at the sink. He said he had been working on a car and was washing his hands.

Several friends and family members tried unsuccessfully to reach Kuehler for the next few hours.

About 7:30 p.m., Kuehler’s granddaughter, Debra Selvidge and Horton flagged down an Ozark police officer, who called a locksmith to open the door to Kuehler’s trailer. The officer left temporarily to take a call.

Court records said when the locksmith opened the door, Selvidge and Horton went inside, followed by Barton. Selvidge screamed when she found Kuehler’s body in the bedroom.  Kuehler’s partially nude body lay on the floor between the bed and the wall. She had been attacked with a knife.  Her throat was slit, she had been stabbed more than 50 times, including 23 times in the back, and there were also two X-shaped slash wounds to her abdomen.

Barton looked over Horton’s shoulder in the bedroom, but remained calm, showing no emotion according to court records. He never got close to the body or the blood in the bedroom.

The officer interrogated Barton, asking when he last saw Kuehler. Barton told the officer he saw her between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., but would later tell a Highway Patrol investigator he was the one who picked up the phone in Kuehler’s trailer at 3:15 p.m.

The officer noticed Barton had small bloodstains on his clothes. Barton argued it must have gotten on his clothes when they discovered the body. Neither Selvidge or Horton had blood on them and Kuehler’s blood on the floor had dried.

Barton was to be evicted for not paying rent days before Kuehler’s death.

What has Happened Since 1991?

Here is a recap of the last 27 years of Barton’s case:

  • Several changes of venue
  • Two mistrials
  • Trial and convention, followed by a reversal and remand by the Missouri Supreme Court
  • A second trial ended in a conviction that the Supreme Court upheld but was later thrown out by a lower court
  • A fifth trial where the jury also found him guilty and recommended the death penalty
  • Barton appealed the fifth trial, and the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the conviction and Barton was sentenced again
  • Barton submitted a final Supreme Court appeal claiming incompetence, but that was denied.

The autopsy revealed that not only was Kuehler stabbed, there was also at least one blunt force injury to her head, and evidence that she was sexually assaulted.

The blood found on Barton was confirmed to be Kuehler’s. He was connected to the crime scene by witness testimony, DNA from blood spatter and comments he made to others while he was in jail. Prosecutors requested the death penalty, citing Barton’s earlier convictions for assault.

Barton’s first two trials, in 1992 and 1993, ended in mistrials—once because the state did not properly certify witnesses and once because the jury could not reach a verdict. The third began in April 1994 and ended with Barton being found guilty of first-degree murder and sentened to death. He appealed and received a new trial in 1998.

On July 7, 2006, a jury in Cass County again found Barton guilty of first-degree murder for killing Kuehler and again sentenced him to death. 

Below is a timeline of his court appearances.

Barton’s execution

Barton was executed in a prison in Bonne Terre, south of St. Louis. He was to die by lethal injection on May 19, 2020. According to the Associated Press, several people were there to support Barton and no witnesses for the victim attended.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 13, 2020, set a May 19, execution date for Barton (Missouri Department of Corrections via AP, File)

Barton was among the inmates who had been on Missouri’s death row the longest.

According to the Associated Press, Walter Barton’s execution was the first in the U.S. since the pandemic and was scheduled despite concerns about the coronavirus that prompted other states to postpone lethal injections.

Crime Traveler interviewed former KOLR10 anchor Joe Daues about Walter Barton and his experience being a state witness to a death row execution. Click here to listen to the Crime Traveler Podcast.

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