Galena’s “Murder Bordello” being resurrected

Renovations have progressed rapidly on the former Staffleback bordello in Galena, Kan., since it started in January. (Photo courtesy of Russ Keeler)

A long-abandoned former bordello on Route 66 in Galena, Kan., owned by a serial-killer madam is being restored and will reopen next month as a site for guided tours.

Russ Keeler, who operates After Midnight Paranormal Investigations, or AMPI, in Siloam Springs, Ark., persuaded the home’s co-owners in January to spend thousands of dollars to restore the circa-1890 structure and install period furniture and landscaping.

Keeler plans to hold regular guided tours of gothic-looking house for $10 a head, starting with a special grand opening of what he calls Galena’s Murder Bordello on March 16-17 that includes a dinner and tours of other ghostly sites in the region.

In addition to being a house of prostitution, it was where its madam, Ma Staffleback, and three accomplices killed and robbed perhaps dozens of clients during the 1890s. Staffleback died in a Kansas prison in 1909.

The house’s burst of new life occurs just months after the City of Galena condemned it. However, after a public outcry and the mayor expressing a desire to preserve it, the home at Main and Front streets was spared from the wrecking ball.

Keeler thinks he can take advantage of Route 66 tourists who stop across the street at 4 Women on the Route. But first, the bordello must be shored up. After talking to locals, Keeler estimates the home was abandoned since the 1970s. Only its stout construction kept it from collapsing years ago, he said.

“The whole interior is made of rough-cut 2-by-4 oak wood, or else it’d be on the ground.”

The former Staffleback bordello in Galena, Kan., before renovation work began.

Workers recently put on a new roof, and are making replicas of the 3-inch siding and windows. A stained-glass window will be installed in the second-floor front archway.

Contractors already are putting in 12-hour days, and Keeler says a night crew will be hired to make sure it’s in tour-worthy condition by March 16.

Keeler declined to name the home’s current owners. He said they prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

City records of the home’s origins are sketchy or nonexistent, so it remains unknown who designed or built the structure. However, Keeler said date stamps on the pocket doors show the home was built in 1890. Contractors also found letters from the family that imported the home’s ornate wooden staircase from Germany.

Keeler also said he’s “in talks” to use the home’s backyard as a site for weddings.

Keeler, who makes his living in the overhead door business in Siloam Springs, said he began AMPI as a hobby and doesn’t charge for checking a site’s paranormal activity. He’s reluctant to call a place “haunted”; he instead calls it “active.” Because of the home’s reputation for paranormal activity, Keeler thinks tours will attract such fans as well as Route 66 enthusiasts and history buffs.

Years ago, 4 Women on the Route talked of buying the home and turning it into a bed-and-breakfast. Keeler says it’s an enticing idea, but not possible for now.

“It would take a lot more maintenance, work, and permits to make it habitable, than just opening it for tours,” he said.

Ma Staffleback was the longtime owner of the bordello and became known as “Galena’s Bloody Madam.” She, two sons, and her husband were charged in 1897 with murdering Frank Galbraith, a miner and bordello client, and dumping his body into a mine shaft. All were convicted of various charges stemming from the killing.

Staffleback and her cohorts reputedly ran a rob-and-murder scheme that involved up to 50 victims, although the number was never verified. Finding a mark, Staffleback would drug them or get them drunk, and an accomplice would kill the victim with a blow to the head with an ax. After removing the valuables from the body, they dumped it down one of the town’s many lead-mine shafts.

Some of the details can be read with this scan of a Chicago Tribune article.

CLARIFICATION: In a Facebook message, Keeler said tickets for daytime house tours can be purchased from 4 Women on the Route. He also said Renee Charles of 4 Women on the Route  was instrumental in introducing him to the owners and getting the ball rolling on the home’s renovation.

6 thoughts on “Galena’s “Murder Bordello” being resurrected

  1. Glad to see an old home like this restored. The history just adds spice to it
    We were down in a small town near Tenaha ,Texas. The house was all boarded up and had evicition/condemend notice on it
    It looked similar to this and we thought what a shame for such a one time beautiful home that is to be destroyed if someone does not take it over

  2. Re: Galenas Murder Bordello”…. Is pure “lie’s…and made-up fiction by “Russ Keeler”……The Stafflebacks “never” lived in that house….He made up the story in June of 2010… He called “Kansas Legends’ and they came to Galena and picked up the story and the picture and put it on their site.. I have the proof… I have done “extensive: research…I have over 30 drawings of the Stafflebacks…I have 77 pages of 1897 news articles that I got from Columbus, Kansas Historical Society..I have copies from the Register of Deeds in Columbus….”TOWN DECEIVED” may be the name for my book on Russ Keeler…and the Staffleback family… This man, a stranger, comes to our town, makes up all of this “FICTION” and “no one” checks what he is saying…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.