In March 1970 a quarrel between a wife and husband outside the Submarine Tavern on the west side of the Gallatin business square ended in the street with the wife shot twice in the head and the husband facing the charge of murder. Dead was Betty Whiteaker, 43, of Cameron, MO. Her husband, Cletus Whiteaker, 51, was arrested and arraigned before Judge Charles D. Brandom.
According to accounts pieced together by Sheriff Harold Appley, Corporal L.D. Jefferson, and other investigating lawmen, Mrs. Whiteaker had accompanied Mrs. Marjorie Taylor of Winston to Gallatin to meet Mrs. Taylor’s husband, Joe, when he got off work from a highway project. The two women were in the tavern when Whiteaker, also employed by the Clarkson Construction Company, came in. An argument soon developed and the three left the tavern with the two women getting into the Taylor car parked outside.
Whiteaker attempted to remove his wife. In the process he shot out the front car window on the right side. He finally succeeded in dragging his wife from the care and sometime during the scuffle the first shot to her head was fired. She fell to the pavement several feet west of the car. Then her husband allegedly bent down and fired the second shot at close range into her head. There were heavy powder burn on the side of her face and death was almost instantaneous.
Another construction worker, Curtis Kohler of Climax Springs, MO, heard the shots and arrived to see the woman crumpled on the pavement and Whiteaker running to a car parked nearby. Kohler, who said he was only an acquaintance to those involved, approached Whiteaker who pulled the .38 caliber pistol and fired a shot almost pointblank toward Kohler. But Whiteaker missed. Kohler then wrestled the gun away from Whiteaker and held him until the sheriff arrived momentarily.
Daviess County Coroner Virgil Stroup pronounced the woman dead. An inquest was held the next day.
This was the first street shooting in Gallatin in many years, causing great excitement in the community. The crime attracted television news coverage from St. Joseph.
— Gallatin North Missourian published March 26, 1970
Cletus “Bill” Whiteaker was found guilty of murder in the second degree in legal proceedings held at Chillicothe, MO, in the slaying of his wife, Betty Jean Whiteaker. Judge Kenneth B. Lewis read the verdict to the court and fixed his penalty at 10 years in the state penitentiary.
Attorney for the defendant, Ted Kranitz of St. Joseph, immediately announced an intent to appeal. Whiteaker had entered a plea of innocent. Special Prosecutor John Leopard of Unionville, MO, formerly of Gallatin, had first filed first degree murder charges against the defendant and in his closing summary to the jury stated he felt the state’s evidence proved guilt. In recounting the fatal struggle, Leopard pointed out that the defendant said, “If I can’t have you…” and a shot was fired. There was an eye-witness to the crime and the slug removed from the slain woman’s head was identified as one fired from the pistol held by the defendant.
Kranitz offered an alternative scenario whereby Mrs. Whiteaker might possibly have carried the gun in her purse. He also noted that Mr. Whiteaker was apparently in a good mood on the day of the shooting, was sober, and nothing indicated he was carrying a gun. He had seen his wife in Cameron earlier in the day and had ample opportunity to kill her then; “why did he not do it then?”
— Gallatin North Missourian published March 11, 1971