One of Franklin County’s best-known landmarks is expected to become part of a historical documentary this weekend.
A filmmaker from Olathe requested permission to shoot a portion of a 20-part documentary series Sunday at the Franklin County Courthouse, 315 S. Main St., Ottawa. The portion of the documentary, called the “Olathe the City Beautiful,” will include scenes in the building’s courtroom and on the courthouse steps.
Why shoot in Ottawa?
The Franklin County Courthouse was designed by Ottawa architect George P. Washburn, who also designed the Johnson County Courthouse in Olathe. Both buildings shared a similar look, but the Olathe structure, built in 1891 two years before the courthouse in Ottawa, was demolished in 1952 and replaced. With no historically accurate locations in Olathe to film the documentary’s courtroom scenes, the filmmakers’ Sunday shoot will put Washburn’s design and the era it represents on display.
Despite what its name might suggest, the documentary aims to tell an unhappy story linked to the city 40 minutes north of Ottawa — the tale of Bert Dudley, Olathe’s first recorded serial killer.
In 1916, Dudley confessed and was convicted of murdering a farmer, Henry Muller, and his wife, Gertrude, according to The Olathe News. He also confessed to four other murders in 1910. The killer was sentenced to spend the rest of his days in Lansing prison. Dudley, however, didn’t make it to prison.
The night after his sentencing, a vigilante mob broke into the jail on Cherry Street in Olathe. The mob took Dudley by force and drove him to a remote location where they hanged him Sept. 21, 1916. When authorities found him, his body reportedly contained 15 bullet holes. No one was ever charged with Dudley’s murder.
The filmmakers plan to shoot a scene featuring the verdict being read and the judge sentencing Dudley in the courtroom, Greg Sheffer, one of the filmmakers, said in a letter to Lisa Johnson, Franklin County administrator and counselor.
“We would then like to film a group of actors (the vigilante mob) running into the courthouse and up the staircase,” Sheffer said. “This will be the mob coming to try and get Dudley out of the jail.”
Filming is expected to take place from about 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and include 20 people and some lights in the courtroom, moving the lights from the stairwell and outside on the courthouse after dark.
The courthouse’s unique and historical nature has drawn other filmmakers to its steps before, Johnson told the Franklin County Board of Commissioners at its Wednesday meeting. Because the courthouse is county property, the request to film there was taken to the board. Johnson proposed the filmmakers pay a reserve officer, or other county employee, to be present during the filming to ensure nothing in the courthouse was compromised.
The board voted 4-0 in favor of allowing the Olathe-based group access to the courthouse for filming purposes.
“Olathe the City Beautiful” is a project of the Olathe Historical Society. Five films in the 20-part series have been completed, and are on DVD and in circulation in the Olathe schools, Johnson County libraries and the community. The films also have been played on the regional PBS affiliate, and won three Emmy awards in 2011.