Though David Curtiss Stephenson lived for only a brief span in Noblesville, Indiana he became quite a prominent, if infamous, figure in Noblesville history. He was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in the state of Indiana, as well as in 22 other northern United States. Under his leadership, Klan membership grew to ever more dangerous proportions, reaching almost a quarter million in the early 1920′s, which represented approximately one-third of all the white males in Indiana. Stephenson was so successful in his chosen cause, in fact, that he formed his own Ku Klux Klan in competition with the national group.
In the end, however, the very event that ruined D. C. Stephenson also brought the downfall of the Indiana KKK’s so-called “second wave,” proving that there are always two sides to a coin if one looks hard enough. He was sent to prison in the Noblesville jail, now the Hamilton County Museum of History, not for his misdeeds with the Klan, but for kidnapping and raping a woman, attacks that shortly lead to her death by suicide.
The woman, Madge Oberholtzer, was a prominent figure in a state anti-illiteracy program. Held against her will by Stephenson for days, she attempted escape through the only means possible: suicide. She did not succeed right away, however, and was brutally assaulted and raped many times by Stephenson. The most heinous chapter of the event, which achieved high notoriety in the press, was Stephenson’s virtual cannibalization of her body, and his infliction of bites so severe that parts of her were ripped off.
On the good side of the coin, the well publicized details of his assault on Madge Oberholtzer were so gruesome that the incident triggered a huge decline in KKK membership. Just before the incident, Klan membership was up to a whopping 178,000; afterwards it dropped to about 4,000 as most of its members turned against an organization represented by such a monster.
In 1950, D. C. Stephenson was released from prison on parole, which he immediately violated; he was captured and sentenced to another ten years in prison. Five years later, he was paroled and thrown out of the state of Indiana, only to be re-arrested for sexually assaulting a minor.
Stephenson will forever remain a black hole in the annals of famous Noblesville residents.
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