by Mike Simmons
She had plenty of it and she flaunted it. Everyone in the rural community knew it…because she told them. Nancy Chancey had a lot of money. She was divorced and lived alone in northern Holmes County, Florida. She lived on a farm near the crossroads of Graceville Road and Bonifay Road.
The year was 1914, and the community closest to her – Esto – was only about four years old. It was around 1910 that a couple of railroad men came to the neighborhood and gathered all the folks together that lived there. They told them that the railroad was going to establish the area as a community and they were seeking names. When nothing suitable was suggested, the men decided to name it themselves. Esto was a word that translated from Spanish to “This is it.” It stuck.
Whether Nancy was going to visit friends in nearby Esto, four miles to Graceville, or even fifteen miles from Bonifay, she dressed up and was sure to carry her money with her – $2000 worth. In 2023, that number is $60,000! And she had more at home. How did everyone know? The 62-year-old woman bragged to everyone about it.
On the morning of January 28, 1914, a neighbor of Nancy’s went to her house for a visit but got no answer from the knock. Even after multiple tries, no one came to the door. When Sheriff Mayo was notified, he searched the house. It had been entered and ransacked – probably in an attempt to find Nancey’s hidden money, which she also talked about often. A search of the premises turned up no clues to Nancey’s whereabouts, but $1000 ($30,000 in 2023) was located between the mattresses in her bedroom.
Later that morning, a group of passersby reported to the sheriff that they had come across Nancey Chancey’s dead body near the road that ran in front of the house. When Sheriff Mayo arrived, he witnessed a terrible scene. According to the February 9, 1914 edition of the Pensacola News Journal, Nancy had been butchered and placed near the road.
But…why? She was a nice lady and a pillar of the community. Of course, everyone knew the reason, and they were correct. Nancy always had $2000 in her possession, but the dead body had $0 on it.
This couldn’t have been an ordinary robbery and murder. Who would rob and kill a rich woman? Obviously, a bad person or persons. In the area lived two women that the Pensacola News Journal described as “women of ill-repute.” The newspaper didn’t describe what their profession was, but it was obviously an ill-reputed one. Could they have been bad enough? Could they have committed the murder? Sure, they could. So, they were arrested. For good measure, Nancey’s ex-husband, Franklin Chancey, was locked up also.
It sounded good. The girls made good suspects – they were just the type of social outcasts that could be accused without anyone defending them. There was only one problem…there was no evidence against the girls. Quite simply – they didn’t do it, or, if they did, it couldn’t be proven. They had to let them go.
The authorities began looking around and soon found some more suspects that were probably good enough bad guys. There were two tenants of Nancey that would do as suspects. Their names were Sapp and Herman. So, they put them in jail. Sounded good. They would fit the bill as someone who had the opportunity to rob a defenseless rich woman. After all, it had to be someone exciting. They would do. But…there was no evidence against them either. They let them go also.
After some thorough investigating, they finally came up with the real suspect – the husband, Franklin Chancey. Actually, he had been in jail the entire time. The facts were against Franklin. Apparently, after they divorced, he knew she kept a lot of money on her and kept more in her house, so he killed her for it. He never found the money between the mattresses, though.
On March 13, 1914, the small courthouse was full. Never had a case come up that garnered so much attention. The excited buzz of citizens, other lawyers, and the media made for a beehive-like atmosphere. Once the trial got started, it went all out. For four days, lawyers for both sides dueled as if they had their own swords. Actually, the case was somewhat of a letdown. Who wants such an exciting murder case to turn into a boring domestic situation? Finally, on March 16, 1914, the jury read the verdict – Franklin Chancey was guilty of manslaughter. The judge immediately sentenced Frank to 15 years in state prison.
Frank did his time, got out early for good behavior, and moved back to his wife’s old farm, where he lived out his life. By the way, the rest of Nancey’s money was never found…at least not by anyone other than Frank.