(Aug. 21, 1891-June 28, 1966). Born in Houston, Texas, Stephenson moved with his family to Maysville, Oklahoma, in 1901. He was active in the Socialist Party in Oklahoma and served briefly in the U.S. Army during World War I. After moving to Evansville, Indiana, in 1920, he became involved in Democratic politics. He also joined the Ku Klux Klan, which had begun to seek northern members, and he soon became one of the Klan’s most successful recruiters.

D. C. Stephenson was held in the Indiana State Prison (shown in the 1930s) in Michigan City.
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

Stephenson ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in Evansville in 1922, then moved to Indianapolis. In November 1922, he helped Hiram Evans unseat the Klan’s imperial wizard, William Simmons. Evans became the new imperial wizard and named Stephenson grand dragon of Indiana and 22 other northern states. Under Stephenson’s leadership, the Klan grew to about 250,000 members in Indiana. He became extremely wealthy as a result of commissions on new memberships and the sale of Klan regalia, purchasing a large home in Irvington.

Stephenson broke with Evans and the national Klan in September 1923 and named himself grand dragon of a rival Klan group. During the Election of 1925, he supported several political candidates, including former secretary of state Ed Jackson, a Republican, who successfully ran for governor.

In November 1925, Stephenson received a life sentence for his role in the death of Madge Oberholtzer, whom he had brutally raped. He served 31 years in the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City before his release in 1956.

While in prison, Stephenson leaked damaging information to the newspapers about his involvement in state politics. His charges ended the political careers of Governor Ed Jackson, Indianapolis Mayor John Duvall, and several other politicians and contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the Klan by The Indianapolis Times in 1928.

After a series of paroles and further arrests, Stephenson disappeared from Indiana in 1962. He spent the last four years of his life in Jonesboro, Tennessee.

Revised February 2021
 

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