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Gay History – January 7, 1949: 4 Men Plead Guilty To “Homosexual Offenses” After Gay Witch Hunt at University of Missouri

January 7, 1949: 4 Men Plead Guilty To "Homosexual Offenses" After Gay Witch Hunt

Via the Associated Press:

Columbia, Mo., Jan 7. (AP). Four men pleaded guilty yesterday to statutory charges and were placed on probation four years. They were Warren W. Heathman, itinerant agriculture instruction for the Veterans Administration at Rolla; Harry J. Sohn Jr., of Hannibal, former University of Missouri student; Willie D. Coots of Columbia, former clerk in a novelty shop, and Joe Byers, local grocer.

E.K. Johnston, former journalism professor at the university pleaded guilty Nov. 17 to a similar charge and was placed on four-year probation. Yesterday’s action closed the cases resulting from an investigation last spring of homosexual activities at the university and elsewhere.

In the late 1940s, Missouri law classified homosexual acts as felony crimes against nature. The university first began ousting homosexuals during this period, Anderson says, after Columbia developed a reputation as a “safe haven” for gay men. Under orders from the state legislature, MU developed policies to halt the influx of homosexuals, and university officials set up a committee to investigate suspects, Anderson says. The university identified homosexuals based on the testimonies of students and faculty who were offered immunity from discipline in return for testifying against one another.

The prior spring, newspapers reported on a “homosexual ring” with “mad homosexual parties” taking place near the University of Missouri campus. According to Boone County court documents and articles from The Kansas City Star, Johnston was arrested in May 1948 and charged with sodomy in connection with a “homosexual ring” in Salem, Mo. On May 28, 1948.  Reports also indicate that “at least of score” of other students and residents were “implicated in the ring.” 

MU issued a formal statement explaining Johnston’s dismissal “in view of the nature and gravity of the charges.” Johnston moved to Kansas City, where he lived until his death in 1990.



Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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