The Little Chicago Chronicles

Hamilton's Dark History

True Crime Short Stories in Text and Audio

introduction        Origin of 'Little Chicago'

Start talking about Prohibition with any native Hamiltonian and they will invariably say, "They call us Little Chicago." Truth be told, however, "they" is us. I've done a fair bit of traveling and I've never met anyone who isn't from here call Hamilton "Little Chicago." It's also a nickname that many other cities (including Cleveland and Canton in Ohio and Johnson City, Tennessee) have embraced and used in their marketing. Nevertheless, it's a nickname most Hamiltonians have embraced, but through the  years, some of Hamilton's gangster history has become glamourized and mythologized.

Being a Little Chicago historian and myth-buster has not been popular in some circles, but I think the truth is quite interesting enough that we needn't dwell on the folklore when there is a documented history involving characters like Turkey Joe Jacobs, Crane Neck Nugent, and Fat Wrassman.

Some people will swear that Hamilton was pretty much a second home for the likes of John Dillinger and Al Capone. I've had people fly into a rage when I have to tell them, "Dude, your grandpa could not have possibly shined Dillinger's shoes." Once, in a social media discussion, a defender of the folklore said to me, "Please don't take our history away."

I'm not taking anything away. I'm trying to clarify

The historical record says Dillinger was in Hamilton for one afternoon after the fatal delivery from the Lima jail, and there's no evidence that he ever came back. There's more information on that in another essay on this site. Also, there's no evidence that Al Capone ever even heard of Hamilton, but I've told that had a safe house there. Some say it was in Lindenwald, others on Market Street. 

The late Hamilton historian Jim Blount, who knew more about Hamilton history than anyone else I ever met, was also a stickler on this point, both of us having come to the same conclusions independently. I will challenge you to find any book or researched document that mentions Capone or Dillinger being in Hamilton with the exception of October 12, 1933 after the fatal delivery from the Lima jail. 

That's why I focus on what's historically documented. I assure you that every detail in this collection of essays has been culled from a newspaper or or other first-hand account of events. That's not to say the newspapers never got anything wrong. During the Prohibition era, Hamilton had two daily newspapers, and they differed on facts innumerable times. When confronted with a discrepancy, I typically do one of two things: Either mind the version that makes the most sense narratively and discard the other, or acknowledge the discrepancy. They don't always agree on exact quotes, but I assure you that if something appears between quotation marks in these stories, it is taken verbatim from a newspaper account. There are holes in some of these narratives, and that's because I don't make things up to fill the gaps. So sometimes, we just have to let the mystery be.

The moniker “Little Chicago” had already been kicked around Hamilton for at least a decade leading up to Prohibition. There was a “colored gentlemen’s club,” as described by the Hamilton Evening Journal in 1911 called Little Chicago down in the center of the city’s prostitution trade, an area of town even the newspapers referred to as “the Jungles,” an obviously racial reference.

Little Chicago was a troublesome spot, the site of several reported shootings involving liquor and women, and even when the club shut down, the name lingered to describe that part of the neighborhood, roughly where Monument Avenue meets the railroad tracks, not far from police headquarters, which prior to Prohibition was the site of Peter Schwab's Cincinnati Brewing Company.  Before it was a "resort," the building had been a slaughterhouse, later a private home, and was in fact the site of the murder of Bertha Keelor by her husband Sam. This story is detailed in the Two-Dollar Terror "The Sleepwalking Strangler."

Hamilton was a frontier town long before the Westward expansion. Arthur St. Clair built a fort on the site in 1791, and local Indian resistance ended with the Battle of Fallen Timbers four years later. Many of the soldiers stationed there stayed when Fort Hamilton was abandoned in 1796, and the infamous Whiskey Ring grew from distilleries there before the Civil War and thrived during the era of the tax on alcohol to pay for the war. The Prohibition Era was several generations later, but Hamilton seemed primed to be at the center of the new illegal liquor trade.

Because it was convenient by both highway and railway to nearby larger cities--Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit, and the actual Chicago--Hamilton started picking up a lot of illegal liquor traffic in addition to the local trade, and the nickname and reputation of Little Chicago grew.

When the county prosecutor begged a jury to not let Hamilton become a "Little Chicago," the name was cemented into history by a newspaper headline, and resonates to its citizens even today.

For the last twenty years or so, the study of Hamilton's dark history has been an on-going passion of mine. I've written many newspaper and magazine articles and given many talks on our murder and mayhem.

This page is my accumulation of those writings. Most of it is free, but there are some things I've written books on. I've given you the links to purchase those.  Because some tales I have told in different ways on different occasions, there may be some overlaps in the narrative, especially during the Prohibition sections. If I ever get around to compiling these stories into a book, I'll straighten all that out.

This page is still on-going, and still some stories I know I wrote but have yet to dig up, so check back often.

Also, you can join the Facebook group The Legacy of Little Chicago, where I will post updates as they occur. 

September 1791        The Earliest Murders

The city of Hamilton, Ohio, the county seat of Butler County, was founded as one of a chain of forts strung along the Great Miami River in the late 18th century as outposts for the Indian Wars and the protection of the Symmes Purchase. So in a way, it started out as a place ripe for murder.

There weren’t any major battles fought around Ft. Hamilton, named for the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and completed in September, 1791. Indeed, the major function of the fort was the making of hay for an army that ran on horses. Being situated deep in Indian country, however, there was always a threat of danger, and from September, 1791, to December, 1794, at least 31 persons lost their lives in guerilla style attacks on wagon trains and riders coming to and from the outpost. The favor was returned, to be sure, and for a time there was a generous reward for an Indian scalp.

“Murders were frequent and they scarcely obtained a passing remark,” Cone wrote, “unless the victim was someone of note.”

The first recorded bit of depravity among the settlers of Hamilton not related to the Indian Wars was a suicide that happened in June, 1815.

The previous year, a shoemaker named Jacob Foreman, around 50 years old, moved to Hamilton from Canada. Hamilton was then not yet a city, little more than a collection of cabins, mills and shops clustered around what had once been the fort, population around 500. Foreman was a quiet man, and no one knew much about him, but he seemed a little on the melancholy side. One Saturday his landlord, a Major Murray, hired a farmer named Oliver to bring him a load of wood and asked Foreman to go out to where he was cutting and help load the wagon, which he willingly did. After they loaded the wagon, Oliver started back thinking that Foreman was close behind. But when it came time to unload the wood back at the Murray house, Foreman was nowhere to be found. Murray and Oliver got worried after a while, they then began a search that lasted late into the night. The next morning, every man and boy in the village resumed the search, forming a long line along the river and sweeping east for nearly a mile before reaching the base of what is now called “Poor House Hill”. Searchers found Foreman hidden in the top of an old oak. He was alive and uninjured, but said he had tried at various times during the night to hang himself with a grape vine. Failing to do so, he went to sleep in the tree.

He went home with Murray, washed and shaved himself, and dressed himself in his best clothes. By supper time seemed to be in better spirits than he had been for a while. After a nights rest he was up early the next morning, when he ate a hearty breakfast. 

Shortly after breakfast, he went up stairs, and standing on the landing, deliberately cut his throat from ear to ear, almost severing his head from his shoulders. 

With his head apparently dangling by his spinal column, he attempted to walk down stairs and put his hand on the latch to open the door leading to the dining-room. He fell at that moment, rattling the latch then thumping dead upon the floor. The other boarders of the house heard the noise and opened the door to find the horrifying sight.

By the time of his funeral, word had spread throughout the countryside and there was an immense assembly at the funeral, and interment was made in the Sycamore Grove. 

The city’s physicians, however, soon exhumed the body and prepared its skeleton for educational purposes. The skeleton of Jacob Foreman, Hamilton’s first suicide victim, hung for many years in the residence of one of Hamilton's early physicians.

The first indictment issued in Butler County for murdering a family member came in 1834, when John Sponsler shot and killed his son-in-law, P. McGlochlan, in a quarrel.

When he was brought to trial John Woods, a skillful attorney and one of Hamilton’s most prominent early citizens, was assigned to defend him. Despite Woods’ skills as a jurist, Sponsler was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hung on Friday, June 10, 1836. 

The Sheriff at the time was a gigantic but well-loved fellow named William Sheely. The year before, he had been given the task of building a scaffold for the execution of one William Summers, but after building the thing, the sentence was commuted to life and his gallows went unused.

No efforts to have a new trial for Sponsler seemed imminent, so Sheely went about preparing the scaffold again. Woods fought for his client to the bitter end, however, and finally procured a commutation of sentence to imprisonment for life at the last moment. Word had already gotten out to the public, however, so on the scheduled day the town was full of men from all around come to see a hanging.

When they found that there would be no hanging, things got ugly and the crowd, full of whiskey and ready to fight, proposed to tear down the jail. Sheely wouldn’t stand for it, however, and organized his allies and placed himself at their head to disperse the mob.

Sponsler’s life sentence didn’t last long, however. Before Sheely was able to transport him to the state penitentiary in Columbus, the discouraged prisoner managed to commit suicide by cutting his throat in a cell. 

In July 1849, John Yargus was in the county jail as the result of a peace warrant sworn out by his wife, Sarah. He was a minor nuisance, so the jailers gave him a certain amount of freedom, allowing him to do chores around the jail and permitting him to sleep in an unlocked room. 

Sarah lived in a house near Trenton, about eight miles from Hamilton in the upstairs room of a house owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Miller. In the hot summer night the Millers heard the cry of murder and a heavy fall upon the floor. 

Miller was at first too frightened to go to the rescue, but he summoned up enough courage to go to the window and saw who he thought was Yargus coming down the outside stairs and go out of the gate. 

Sarah Yargus’ body had been badly mutilated, but the next morning, Yargus was in his bed as usual. Still, the evidence against him was significant, though it seemed a puzzlement as to how he could leave the jail, travel eight miles to his wife’s house, murder her, then travel the eight miles back without being missed or noticed.

Still, he was indicted and found guilty of second degree murder.

The day before he was supposed to be transported to Columbus to begin his life sentence, however, he was found dead in his cell, his throat cut from ear to ear and a razor covered with blood lying by his side, apparently the same razor found in his possession the morning after his wife’s murder, though none of the existing sources explain how he had gotten his hands on the weapon.

When found his head was protruded over the bed side, and a bucket beneath, apparently placed there for the purpose of catching the blood. Although there were two persons in the adjoining cell they heard no noise during the night, and knew nothing of it until they saw him dead the next morning. 

The Hamilton Telegraph noted that Yargus had previously made a visit of two years to the penitentiary, “and it seems he did not fancy it as a permanent residence; or it may have been that remorse for his wife’s murder was praying upon him, and that he deemed death less terrible than the never ceasing torments inflicted upon him by that worm which never dies.”

There never would be a public hanging in Hamilton, which some press and historians attribute to a vow by John Woods to that effect and under his influence a moderate judicial hand prevailed for many years. There were two two invitation-only hangings.

The first was the sad, strange case of John Griffin, the proverbial innocent man, wrongly accused.

Griffin was an Irishman by birth, and was 22 years old when was arrested for murder. When he was a small child, he emigrated to the United States with his parents, settling in New Jersey. Shortly after they arrived, however, his mother died and his father Patrick Griffin moved to Hamilton. His father placed the boy with a German family where he could work on their farm and go to school, but eventually rejoined his father on another Hamilton farm owned by John M. Millikin. At 17, Griffin apprenticed himself with the blacksmith Fred Fist, and followed the trade ever since, opening his own shop on Basin Street a block or so from the Courthouse.

Although he was “pugnaciously inclined” as befit his prodigious size -- “fully six feet in height... a frame of knit iron, like a Hercules,” the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote -- people did not think of him as a depraved or vicious person and Griffin was a popular fellow around town. He was swarthy and boyish, with jet black hair, “straight as an Indians”, that he wore long. And he liked to drink, which would get him in trouble from time to time. He was once indicted for second degree murder in the stabbing death of Henry Winkler during a bar brawl, but he was able to enlist as a private in the 74th Ohio Regiment and avoid prosecution. Wounded three times at Jonesboro, John Griffin redeemed himself as a good soldier. He was politically vocal and active when he returned, and was often called upon when a little bit of brute force was necessary to make a point. Consequently, he was not popular with the opposition.

The story of Griffin’s fall begins with a wrestling match, though he was not a contestant.

In the years following the Civil War, Hamilton had already earned a reputation as one of the roughest towns east of the frontier as the stronghold of the “whisky ring” that controlled the production and distribution of whisky throughout the state, consequently drawing a lot of criminal types to town to interact with that wealth.

One of the toughest of the tough guys was Tom McGeahan, a political boss who had a finger in just about everybody’s business in town.

McGehean and  his chums in the local liquor industry hired New Jersey wrestler Uzile Prickett, 28, had come to Hamilton in June, 1868, to participate in a match with a local favorite, Tim Waller, believed to be the best in Montgomery and Butler counties. Waller had the backing of the tobacco growers, who thought he was invincible and were ready to back him with their last dollars, of which they had plenty.

Prickett, “a swaggering, hectoring, powerful fellow,” was about 28 years of age and about 5 foot 9 inches tall and of rather light build for a man with a national reputation as a wrestler, but he made himself look bigger by wearing a number of shirts. The coroner took five shirts off him in the postmortem examination.

When Prickett got to town, McGehean’s crew discovered that a professional like Prickett was not adverse to throwing a fight if the price was right. So they paid him off and bet heavily on Waller.

The match was had on a Friday afternoon and Waller proved to be an easy victor. Prickett was supposed to have thrown the match, but he was drunk enough, having spent a few days in the saloons of the city rather than training, so he would have been an easy win for Waller in any case. A smarter man would have left town right away, but Uzile Prickett stuck around, perhaps hoping to double-cross the men who had bet against him by robbing them of their winnings, or maybe he was just having too much fun drinking for free.

At 8 p.m. Friday evening, Prickett entered the Hole in the Wall saloon, already nice and drunk. At 8 a.m. Saturday morning, he was carried out a corpse, a bullet in his head.

Although the Hole in the Wall, located in the cellar of a building across the street from the Courthouse, was one of the busiest bars on Hamilton’s busiest street at all hours of the night, especially a Friday night, no one heard the pistol shot that put the bullet in the back of Prickett’s head.

Prickett sat in the Hole in the Wall all night while the other men came and went, including the blacksmith John Griffin, a young raconteur named Connaughton, sa fellow named Shedd and the banjo player Joe Kelly. Shedd had just left, so Connaughton, Kelly and Griffin in the bar with Prickett when the saloon keeper Galloway and his wife went into the back room. They were there when they heard the pistol shot some time later. When they came out, Griffin was alone with the dying Prickett, but he did not have a gun.

Griffin went to the American Saloon around 2 a.m., drunk out of his mind and wiping blood from a cut in his hand. When called upon to explain himself, he said, “I’ve just had a fight with Prickett and I believe I hit him a little too hard.” Griffin was one of Prickett’s drinking buddies ever since the wrestler came to town, and Griffin was upset that he new friend did not put up a better fight.

The following morning, Griffin was arrested as he worked in his Basin Street blacksmith’s shop. Connaughton, Shedd and Kelly were arrested as well, but released one by one in subsequent days.

After a number of delays in seating a grand jury, he was indicted in October and tried for murder the week of Feb. 22, 1869.

The trial generated great interest and the courtroom crowded to capacity every day. There was no evidence against Griffin except for his own drunken recollections corroborated by an equally drunk Joe Kelley.

Griffin went into the American saloon about midnight that Friday with blood on his hat and his hand was wrapped in a pocket handkerchief. He said that he had a fight with Prickett, had knocked him down and thought he had hit him too hard. An American patron heard Griffin say "he had killed (Prickett) he believed," and others that he said "he was afraid he had killed him."

Prickett had twice before drank with Griffin that evening at the Hole in the Wall, once on Griffin's invitation and again on the invitation of Thomas Connaughton. 

Later on, however, he invited Prickett to have another drink with him, but Prickett declined and swore at him. So Griffin decked him.

Joe Kelly had tried to run off to avoid testifying at the trial, but was arrested and taken to the trial by the sheriff.

In his testimony, Kelly said that between 11 p.m. and midnight, he left the Globe Saloon and went down to the Hole in the Wall accompanied by George Shedd. When they got there, it was occupied only by Prickett and the bar-keeper. Shortly after Griffin and Connaughton came in. Griffin treated the crowd and then Connaughton did, Prickett drinking both times. Both Griffin and Connaughton then left the saloon. They returned soon and again departed. Shedd left a short time after. Griffin returned for the third time to the saloon, this time alone. 

That put Prickett, Griffin and Kelley in the bar alone. Prickett was sitting with his back to the rear part of the saloon, leaning back in his chair between two tables. Kelley was playing the banjo.

"All at once," said Kelley, "Griffin came up to Prickett hit him first with his left hand and then with the right, then pushed out his right fist against Prickett. Then I heard a pistol shot. Prickett's head fell back on the table. Griffin went out about a minute after the shooting and remained out some moments. When he came back he took hold of my banjo. I had gone back to speak to the bar-keeper's wife. I came back into the room, took the banjo, and went up stairs into the street Griffin following me. I said to Griffin at the head of the stairs, 'This is a bad night's work.' He said, 'If you do not think he is dead I will go and give him another.' I then went after Dr. Falconer. Griffin went with me, and was standing back of me when I spoke to the doctor. I then went to my room, put away my banjo, and returned to the saloon... At the time the shot was fired no one was in the room save Prickett, Griffin, and myself. I am confident I saw the butt of a pistol in Griffin's hand."

The defense introduced an abundance of witnesses who declared Kelley was a man of the most disreputable character and they would not believe him under oath. 

The jury took five hours to reach a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree.

Defense made a motion for a new trial, which was denied, so on Friday, March 5, 1869, John Griffin was brought into court to hear his sentence. After the obligatory question “Do you have anything to say?” Griffin claimed his innocence

The judge sentenced him to be hanged between the hours of 11 a.m. 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.

The Ohio Supreme Court granted him a reprieve, however, until it would meet again on June 30, which it did and sustained the judgment of the Common Pleas Court, setting July 29 as the new day for the execution of Griffin.

Petitions to the governor went for naught, although he said he gave the case a close study, and as the day grew near, Griffin still proclaimed his innocence and plotted a desperate move. His allies couldn’t save him from the outside, so he made a move to gain his freedom from within.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 21, the Rev. Charles Hone, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, visited the prisoner in his cell on the left hand side of the main entrance. Griffin was always kept securely locked up, while the other 14 prisoners had the liberty of the connecting hall.

Father Hone was a frequent visitor to the jail and the turnkey, a man named Bayless, let him in without ado. After Griffin and Hone spoke for a short time, Bayless let him out, putting the key in his pants pocket. A deputy’s wife opened the door to the outside for them, Hone a step ahead of the turnkey. As they approached the door, Griffin made a motion with his hand, which caught the Bayless’ attention. As he turned around, all 14 prisoners rushed for him, knocking him to the ground and reaching into his pockets to get the key.

The deputy’s wife had the presence of mind to slam the door shut and sound an alarm bell.

The prisoners failing to get possession of the key then made a rush to the door, four of them -- a horse thief, a brawler and two thieves -- making their escape. 

The alarm woke up the entire city, and hundreds of men came running to join in the pursuit. Within 15 minutes, the prisoners were captured and returned to their cells.

They kept a closer eye on Griffin after that. While the prisoner was getting a shave and a haircut on the day before his scheduled execution, a search of his cell turned up a razor blade.

Around dusk before his final day, workers began building a gallows in the southeast corner of the jail, the corner diagonally opposite Griffin’s cell.

The sound of their hammering grated on Griffin’s nerves, who was seeing a visitor at the time.

“You see they are fixing my machine,” he said.

Accounts called it “a very rude piece of workmanship,” an 8-foot by 5-foot platform five feet -- eight stairs -- from the floor.

Although the execution was a ticketed event, people started gathering around the jail as early as 8 a.m. on the assigned day.

Extra guards were placed at each gate and patrolmen stayed close to the jail to assuage the surges that took place anytime anyone exited the building.

The jail was closed to everyone except friends of the prisoner, the city officials, clergy and the press, who were each given a card:

At 10:30 a.m., three Catholic priests, including the Rev. Hone, joined the prisoner in earnest conversation and prayer. At 11:40, the undertaker brought a coffin draped in black velvet and mounted with a silver crucifix into the jail room, and at the same time, two deputies brought Griffin from his cell and escorted him to the gallows. The prisoner's hands were tied in front and he held a black walnut crucifix during his long walk. The deputy’s voice broke as he read the death warrant, but Griffin stood quietly gazing down at the coffin which had been cruelly placed directly in front of the scaffold.

Immediately after a reading of the death warrant, the sheriff asked the dying man if he had anything to say. 

Griffin turned directly toward the spectators and said, "Gentlemen, I am here in a place I never expected to be. I am not able to make a speech, and not very willing. I never had an idea. that I would come to the scaffold. It is by such cowardly testimony as Kelley's, a man who was in jail at the time, and Shedd and Galloway if they had kept them in also, they would have told on themselves. Kelley came to me in jail and said he was as much to blame as I. I am not guilty."

When he finished, the Rev. Hone gave the prisoner a final blessing and raised the crucifix hanging around his neck for him to kiss.

After a deputy adjusted the noose, Griffin said, "I bid you all goodbye. I hope to meet you in a better world. Farewell." 

The deputy put the white cap upon Griffin's head. Standing on the trapdoor Griffin shouted, "Sheriff, I am ready," and as if that were the cue, the sheriff sprung the trapdoor without hesitation.

As the rope stretched under Griffin’s bulky weight, his feet nearly touched the pavement. Still, the 7-foot drop broke his neck and killed him instantly, with barely a twitch of the muscles. His body spun around a moment, his hands still clutching the crucifix.

The rope would not see service in Butler County again for 17 years.

This would have ended the case, but there was much doubt as to Griffin’s guilt and the possible political motivations behind a frame-up, and a group of attorneys and private citizens continued the investigation, which uncovered enough evidence to safely say that Griffin did not kill Uzile Prickett, but was set up for the fall by unscrupulous gamblers.

According to testimony and other information collected too late for Griffin’s redemption, Prickett had over $800 in his pocket after the wrestling match was over, a considerable take for a lost fight, but had not a cent on him when the body left the Hole in the Wall the next morning. 

Those who had lost on their bets determined to get their money back, and shot Prickett, taking his money, and placing him in a posture where his head was resting on a table. 

Griffin came in inflamed by drink, and at the instigation of others to wake up the wrestler, struck Prickett a tremendous blow on his head with his fist without realizing the man was already an hour or more dead. Afterwards he went away in a drunken stupor with the impression that he had really killed his man, nor could his counsel prove otherwise. 

Thomas McGehean, who was implicated in the fixing of the fight but in none of the nasty business that followed, would be the defendent in another of Butler County’s most celebrated and spectacular cases, although the trial was held elsewhere as his counsel moved for and won a change of venue.  [For a more detailed account of this case, see "A Hamilton Whodunit"]

McGehean was a native of Clermont County, about 35 years old when Thomas Myers was killed in the American Saloon. McGehean had been brought up as a shoemaker, but abandoned that occupation for politics and financial speculation. In 1862, through his political influence, he was a named special agent of police of the United States Government, and was afterwards city marshal of Hamilton. A bold, rough, determined man, he made many enemies and had been charged with counterfeiting and other crimes, but he was made of Teflon before there was Teflon and nothing stuck to him. He was also involved with the whiskey ring, and generally had the reputation of being generous to his friends and deadly to his enemies.

Among his chief rivals was Thomas S. Myers. They had come up in the world together and were partners in many ventures, but had a falling out. Both men had their entourages and there would be frequent clashes in Hamilton’s taverns and saloons, where the real business of the city was conducted.

There are many versions of what happened on Christmas Eve, 1869, but basically, Myers was upstairs in the American saloon’s crowded game room playing faro, a popular gambling card game in Hamilton.  McGehean and his party arrived, and as soon as he walked into the room, it was alleged that he shot at Myers, who was seated, with a gun that was in his overcoat pocket. Myers in turn pulled out his revolver, but being fatally wounded fired wildly several times before collapsing. Someone threw some rocks, but in general, those in the crowded room decided to flee the room than to start a brawl, and the place was soon empty.

McGehean’s version (which in hindsight is probably closer to the truth) is that his stop at the American Saloon was his third or fourth of the evening as he went around collecting debts and making plans. At the first saloon, he took off the heavy fur overcoat he was wearing and sent a boy to his house to bring back the light-colored chinchilla coat. He was just going up the stairs at the American when he heard pistol shots in rapid succession and sound of chairs falling. People bumped into him as the fled, but he continued into the room, but never went far past the doorway. The commotion did not last longer than fifteen seconds. 

At the coroner’s inquest, Jackson Garver was identified as the man who threw the rock. No one saw -- or at least, no one told -- who shot Tom Myers.

McGehean said that when Garver hit Myers with the stone, an act that Garver corroborated, Myers drew his pistol and in doing so accidentally shot himself in the abdomen. 

McGehean hired the famous Copperhead, former Congressman and Ohio gubernatorial candidate Clement L. Vallandingham as his attorney. It was Vallandingham who argued and won for a change of venue, and the trial was moved to Lebanon in adjacent Warren County. Thomas Millikin served as co-counsel.

The trial began June 6, 187l. The Prosecuting Attorney at the time was S.Z. Gard, whose son Warren Gard will be the prosecutor in the cases of Samuel Keelor and Alfred Knapp.

It wasn’t hard to prove that there were bad feelings between McGehean and Myers. Garver swore that he saw McGehean shoot Myers with his gun still in pocket of his overcoat. However, the coat showed no bullet holes.

After the witnesses had been examined, defense counsel arranged that Millikin would make the first speech and Vallandigham would finish it off.  

Vallandigham had a new Smith & Wesson .32 five-shot revolver, and the defense team went on a walk to a remote place where they could experiment with seeing how close they could fire to a swatch of fabric without burning it. They then walked back to Vallandigham’s room on the second floor of the Lebanon House to go over arguments. Millikin urged Vallandigham to take the three remaining bullets out of the gun, and he said he would later.

When he got to the room, Vallandigham laid the revolver on a table next to an unloaded weapon that he had planned to use in a demonstration during his closing argument to illustrate the theory that Myers accidentally shot himself.

Two other attorneys on the defense team, S.C. Symmes and A.J. McBurney, another lawyer on the defense team, joined them.

"I will demonstrate to you in a moment," said he to his associates, "the absurdity of (the) statement that Tom Myers did not shoot himself." 

He picked up one of the pistols on the table, put it in his right pants pocket and continued, “Now here is the way Tom Myers had his pistol in his pocket." 

Symmes interrupted him and excused himself, seeing someone pass in the hallway that he needed to conduct business with, leaving Vallandigham alone with McBurney.

"You see, Mr. McBurney, how I hold this pistol?"


"Very well, now, Myers drew his out this way, and the muzzle came up to hereabout he pulled the trigger."

Vallandigham held the muzzle against the right side of his abdomen at a point corresponding with that where Myers received his bullet.

There was an explosion, and Vallandigham exclaimee, “Oh! murder, I am shot!"

The wounded man tore at his garments to see the wound and McBurney shouted for assistance.

"What a foolish thing to do," Vallandigham said calmly, pointing to a little red spot on his skin. "I took hold of the wrong pistol, and that's the result."

He died the next morning.

The jury in the case could not reach a verdict for McGehean, and the second trial resulted in guilty finding of second degree murder. That decision was reversed, however, and on a third trial, McGehean was acquitted.

That wasn’t good enough for the people of Hamilton, who held a series of “indignation meetings” composed of well known and influential men, at which they denounced the verdict and voted to have McGehean run out of town.

Their resolution carried no weight, but McGehean left town for a few years anyway and lived in Cincinnati until things cooled down a bit. He eventually returned to Hamilton and opened a saloon in a two-story frame house on Basin Street.

On June 13, 1875, McGehean had closed the place for the night, then went to another bar to drink. He met some friends there and bade them come back to his saloon around midnight, where he would treat them.

He had no sooner opened the door and turned on the gas when two shots rang out. McGehean fell back with 11 large buckshot in him, three of them severing his jugular vein.

He staggered out from the bar and fell a few feet outside the door. it. The shots were heard across the city and many came running to see the infamous Tom McGehean, assassinated in his own bar, his revolver gripped in his right hand. He died, as they said, “game”.

No one was ever charged with the crime.

The 1882 history of Butler County and Cone’s book both cite these events as the end of Hamilton’s “era of crime and bloodshed.” Hamilton moved away from the corruptible constable system to having a proper police force in 1876, “and brought order out of chaos and gave us a good, clean administration,” Cone wrote. “Today, Hamilton is practically free of crime and has an excellent reputation at home and abroad.”

Mmmmm. We’ll see, Mr. Cone. We’ll see.


December 1870        A Hamilton Whodunit

A Hamilton Whodunit

Stephen Cone, a Hamilton journalist, wrote two volumes of Hamilton history, the first in 1896. His second volume, “Concise History of Hamilton,” published in 1901 or 1903, included a section titled “An Era of Crime and Bloodshed”:

No history of Hamilton can be complete without reference to the darker side of its annals, and to event which, for a time, cast a fair shadow over the fair fame of the city, but from which it emerged, purified and it has ever since been law-abiding. This was the period just preceding and during the Civil War, and for the several years following the close of the rebellion and the restoration of national peace. It extended from 1858 to 1871, and in eleven years of that time and the next preceding the assassination of Thomas Myers, crime ran rampant and no less than nineteen murders marked this blood era. Counterfeiting, murder burglaries, highway robbery arson and other crimes wer of such frequent occurrence that the name of Hamilton came into such bad repute as to make it a synonym for crime and notorious both at home and abroad.

On December 6, 1870, the Cincinnati Enquirer began an article about a Hamilton murder with this assessment:

It may not be a pleasant thing to reflect upon, but the little city of Hamilton has no reason to be proud of her record of crime. There is blood upon her historic pages from the day of Mad Anthony Wayne down to the last one reeled from the calendar. It may have been the warlike spirit which filled the veins of those veterans who marked the site of the town with that ancient fort, was never fully eradicated. We don’t say it disparagingly, because Hamilton is a good town, and the elements which compose it will compare favorably with those of any other Ohio city, but the town has had a streak of bad luck. It has had the misfortune to entertain, in its time, quite a number of gentlemen who lacked that thorough appreciation of human life which goes far toward making up the model citizen. In fact, this want of appreciation was of that negative character which would have better adorned the resident of Cheyenne or Virginia City in their palmy days, than the burgher of a lymphatic, phlegmatic, half-German Ohio City, it has been a standing reproach in Hamilton in the fact that the town was losing its grip if it couldn’t point to at least ONE MURDER A YEAR.

The murder in question is the death of Thomas Myers.

Christmas Eve, 1870, was on a blustery, snowy Saturday night, and the many saloons of downtown Hamilton were bustling with activity.

But it was quiet upstairs in the gambling rom of the American Saloon on High Street, next to the Hamilton Hotel and across the street from the Butler County Courthouse.

Cone described the American as “a favorite resort for politicians who congregated there to fix the slates for congressional, city and county officers. In more than one case, plans for murder were mapped out in the American Saloon. The citizens of Hamilton were long-suffering, intimidated and awed into silence by desperados who regarded neither property nor life, and who would not hesitate to sacrifice either to gratify their infernal malice if they presented obstacles in in the way of accomplishment of their diabolical designs.”

The Cincinnati Commercial said that two classes of people frequented the American: “Professional gamblers who deal and deal with faro and important gentlemen who like a whiskey punch and a game of cards of an evening, where all is quiet and pleasant and a little money may be staked without fear of the police.”

To get to the gambling room, you had to walk along the downstairs bar to a set of folding doors that led to a narrow flight of stairs. Only select people were admitted to the faro room, which was fourteen feet wide and thirty-six feet deep.

The two windows of the gambling room looked south to High Street and the courthouse. Between the windows was a sideboard which contained an ample supply of Tom & Jerry, a warm holiday punch similar to egg nog that was popular at the time.

Between 8 and 9 p.m., here were about 14 or 15 men sitting around the three tables in the room: two round card tables and one rectangular table—six feet by three feet—used to play faro, a gambling game so complicated that in addition to the dealer, it required a “look-out” to keep track of the bets on the table.

At one of the round tables, local brewer and political boss Peter Schwab sat playing a friendly instructive game of casino with Dr. William Huber. A young man named Ed Harrington sat watching them.

Alexander Sands, David Brown, George Clark and William Grimes sat at the other round table playing seven-up, a game very much like the card game pitch that I grew up playing.

George Johnson, proprietor of the American, served as the lookout at the faro table in a swivel chair, his customary spot beside the dealer, Shertz. Across from them were Pogue Brewer, owner of one of Hamilton’s distilleries, sat next to him Tom Myers, president of the local building association, who had come straight there from the group’s annual meeting. A man named Bannister sat at one end of the faro table, the end closest to the windows.

Some reports said there were thirty people in the faro room.

Around 8:30 p.m., a group of five men walked with purpose through the saloon and went through the folding doors and up the stairs without waiting to be let in. Among them was Tom McGehan, a local political boss and entrepreneur, who either led the group of men up the stairs or took up the rear. Testimonies varied.

Witnesses who saw them said that it wasn’t but a few seconds later that they could hear the crash of furniture and the eruption of general pandemonium as more than a dozen men scrambled back down the stairs.

One of the men threw a large stone that flew past Thomas Myers’s head and landed in the middle of the faro lay-out. A second rock hit him in the head. Myers rose from his chair and the four men surrounded Myers and started pummeling him with more rocks and leather slungshots.

Then the gunfire started, Myers screamed “Murder!” or something to that effect, and the card players and kibitzers all rushed door, falling over each other as they scrambled down the narrow stairs. There were at least four shots. Some witnesses said five. The first one was muffled. The confusion was so sudden and so intense that the men in the room would later testify that they could not tell who was beating Myers and who was trying to come to his aid.

As it would turn out, no one was coming to his aid, but the confusion may have been because one of the alleged attackers—Wilkins “Ich” Sheeley—was a deputy city marshal. The city marshal at the time was Johnson McGehan, the brother of Tom McGehan.

Myers fell to the ground, his face cut, bruised and bloody, a bullet wound in his abdomen.

When the room cleared, Peter Schwab was alone in the room with Myers. He saw the wounds and went to seek a doctor. At the foot of the stairs, he ran into James Leffler, who had been sitting in the first floor bar of the American and was just getting ready to leave through the back door when the thunder of escaping men rattled the staircase.

After all of the men had dispersed, Schwab came down and asked him to fetch a physician, and found Dr. Huber, with whom Schwab had been playing casino just moments before, just outside the door.

Someone was asking him to go to the Phoenix Bar at the Hotel Hamilton next door to tend to a wounded man, but at Schwab’s urgent request, the three of them—Schwab, Leffler and Dr. Huber—went back up to the gambling room where Myers lay dying. They were soon joined by Joseph Myers, the wounded man’s brother, who owned a shop in the 200 block of High Street and happened to be on the street when the commotion started.

Dr. Huber testified that Tom Myers was lying on the floor, the room a total wreck with all of the tables and chairs overturned, some broken. There were three slungshots on the floor and several boulders. The only gun was the one that belonged to Tom Myers, a .32 caliber Smith and Wesson, with four spent shells and two bullets in the chambers. They righted the faro table and the four men lifted Myers onto it. Myers was alive at this point, but fading fast, and never spoke another word before he died, about 15 minutes later.

The coroner’s inquest was held the next day, Christmas, with the examination of a dozen witnesses that lasted well into the night.

Of course, nobody saw nothing, a Hamilton tradition. Except for Peter Schwab and the men involved in the melee, everyone headed for the door as soon as the fracas started. Some said they saw the flash of the powder, and there was general agreement that the first shot was different from the rest, more muffled.

Witnesses in the gambling room were so intent on escaping that they could not identify the late-comers, the men who walked into the room just before the boulders and bullets started flying. But on the testimony of others, those who saw the line of men coming through the front door of the saloon to the stairs in the back, five men were arrested, and after a grand jury met the first week of January, were indicted for first degree murder.

They were Myers’s former friend and political rival Thomas McGehan and his close associates Jackson Garver; Dan McGlynn  (born in Ireland but came to Hamilton as a child, knew McGehan ever since) Wilkins “Ich” Sheeley (the deputy marshal, who was shot in the cheek during the fray, the wounded man in the Phoenix Cafe), and James McGehan, Tom McGehan’s nephew and son of Johnson McGehan, Hamilton’s town marshall.


Tom Myers was about 30 years of age. He was six feet tall. McGehan’s book (which I will talk about later) said he weighed 200 pounds, though other reports described him as a “corpulent” 300 pounds, and the indictment against McGehan said the bullet wound was 14 inches deep.

Myers, who was said to have been a carpenter by trade, had been in several infamous scuffles, including one in 1862 at the Fairgrounds with a fellow named Edward Smith. Smith shot at Myers and wounded him before the gun was taken away, and the two continued with fisticuffs. According to McGehean, even though Smith was a mere 135 pounds, he was a skilled pugilist and got the better of Myers. Not willing to let it lie, Myers bought a butcher knife at the fair and rushed at Smith with it, but was taken down by bystanders.

Two years later, he got in a fight with a man and hit him with a stone at a ball. The brothers Patrick and John Ryan, hosts of the event, ordered him to leave. A general brawl ensued, and in the end John Ryan was killed and Patrick Ryan wounded. Myers and Tom McGehan were both arrested for the crime, Myers tried for first degree murder, but acquitted on self-defense, and so McGehan was never tried but claimed that public opinion held him accountable for Ryan’s death.

Although he had twice been indicted for murder but never convicted of any crime, Thomas McGehan was “the most noted desperado of the crowd … long been the leader of the roughs in Hamilton,” the Cincinnati Commercial said.

“Besides being a bold man,” the Commercial said, “and remarkable for audacity under all circumstances, McGehan is reported to be extremely cunning and sharp-witted.”

McGehan was born in Clermont county, April 10, 1835, the second youngest of seven children and eight years old when his father died. He was sent to live with an uncle for a while, then went to live with his mother and new stepfather in Hamilton, where he learned the trade of the shoemaker.

When he came of age, he left shoemaking for horse dealing, real estate speculation, the saloon business and general wheeling and dealing. He claims to have built over 50 houses in Hamilton, served as a federal tax agent, and was elected city marshal in the late 1860s.

His first brush with the law came as a young man when he and another fellow were arrested for assaulting a town constable, throwing a boulder at his head from behind and inflicting a serious, though not mortal wound. Without counsel, McGehan demanded that he and his associate be tried separately and he went first. Without any direct evidence, he was acquitted. When his companion came to trial, knowing that he could not be tried again for the crime, McGehan testified that he was the sole perpetrator and his friend thus acquitted.

He had been implicated in a number of “ugly affairs”, including counterfeiting and bank robbery, but nothing would stick. Investigations into his activities uncovered an organized clan of thieves and burglars extending to several states. They called themselves “the McGeekins,” a name so well-known that many people in Hamilton came to mispronounce McGehan as McGeekin.

Myers and McGehan were reported to be as thick as thieves themselves when they were very young men, both involved in politics, mostly Republican. Both were also involved in the infamous “whiskey ring” that was centered in Hamilton but spread out over several states as well, and one theory about the attack on Myers was because he had been noticed by Cincinnati federal agents as a member of the whiskey ring and it was feared he was cooperating.

The Myers and McGehans were family as well. One of McGehan girls was married to one of the Myers boys.

Their falling out came in 1867, when Myers’s brother William was shot in a brawl on the first floor of the American Saloon and died the following day. McGehan was tried for that one, but it came out in the trial that William was likely accidentally shot by a bullet fired from the sidewalk through the front door into the saloon from the gun of his brother Tom.

In 1868, Myers ran for the office of Marshal of Hamilton as an independent but was defeated by Johnson McGehan, Tom’s brother. In the same election, Tom McGehan worked on the campaign of Clement Vallandigham—remember that name—the  democratic candidate for congress, while Myers worked for his republican opponent, Robert Schenk. Schenk won that election.

Some of the newspapers tried to present the McGehan/Myers conflict as a partisan affair, Myers a Republican and McGehan a Democrat, but each had worked for both parties at various times.

Others testified that the two still seemed to be amicable and that while McGehan ran the Phoenix Saloon through much of 1870, he often dealt faro while Myers played.

It’s unclear what, if anything, specifically spawned the Christmas Eve attack on Thomas Myers. Witnesses reported that at various times during the night, one or another of the McGeekins, including Ich Sheeley, the deputy Marshal, popped into the American, the Phoenix and other local saloons to see if Myers had been there.

They were all seen together just prior to the incident in the American gambling room, in the Lingler Saloon on Basin Street, which is now Court Street, on the site of the historic Journal-News building. McGehan kept a stable behind the Lingler establishment and owned the building next door, so he was a frequent patron.

Several people—including the historian Cone, who was a newspaperman at the time—saw McGehan, Sheeley, McGlynn, Garver and James McGehan talking in low, conspiratorial tones.

While at Lingler’s, McGehan sent a boy to his house to get a coat. He was wearing a heavy mink riding coat and wanted to trade to something lighter. A chinchilla box coat with a velvet collar.

Some would testify that as the posse left Lingler’s a little after eight o’clock that they heard Sheeley say to McGehan, “Myers is over at the American without a friend,” with McGehan replying, “Well, let’s go kill the s.o.b.” That testimony proved to be highly suspect, as the details changed from one hearing to the next. One of the witnesses, for instance, said that he knew who the men were because they saw them in the moonlight, but it was an overcast night and the moon had already set at 7:15 in any case.

From Lingler’s, McGehan and his posse went across Riley Street, now the plaza at Journal Square, and crossed High Street to the American. They walked through the lower level in single file in whatever order, and went up the stairs. Almost immediately, the melee started.

Peter Schwab, the only man to not run for the stairs, said at the inquest he did not see who threw the boulders, but in the instant after that he saw Garver grab Myers by the coat and lift him from the table. At the same time, Myers pulled his gun out from his belt and started shooting, crying “Murder!” In addition to the bullet that took Myers down, they later found a bullet in the ceiling, a bullet in the east wall, a bullet in the west wall. One of them had bounced off of Ich Sheeley’s face. There was also a rip in the wallpaper where Myers’s gun scraped the wall as he fell.

At the inquest, the doctor who performed the post mortem said that the bullet he took from Myers’s body was the same type as the others, but of course that was in the days before ballistic testing, so there was no way for sure of telling that they came from the same gun. At the first trial, there was an elaborate demonstration of weighing the bullets that proved inconclusive.

Myers’s head was also badly wounded, the doctor telling the coroner that he might have died from those wounds if not for the gunshot, though other doctors would say differently at the trial, that the blows were enough to bring a man down, but not kill him.

Joseph Myers, brother of the victim, would say at the preliminary examination, but not at the prior coroner’s inquest, that he met McGehan coming out of the American as he was going in. He he told McGehan, “I didn’t come here for a fuss,” and McGehan replied, “Tom’s my meat, and he’s upstairs dead.” This exchange was later disputed by David Brown. Witnesses saw them shake hands. The bartender, Billy Reynolds, said that when McGehan came down from the gambling room, he had him search him to show that he was not carrying a gun or any other weapons, but Reynolds did not search the coat. Then McGehan ordered a Tom and Jerry and Reynolds gave him a light one because they were almost out.

Another witness, a distiller and Butler County Treasurer John Lindley who was under indictment at the time for embezzling $115,000, for which he was later acquitted, said he had a drink with McGehan at that bar, and asked him who shot Tom Myers.

“I don’t know,” McGehan told him, “but the supposition on the street is that I did it.”

Even though Myers was not a particularly well-regarded citizen, McGehan was in even more disfavor, and the threat of a lynching hovered in the air.

The newspapers noted that Hamilton’s “vigilance committee,” a self-appointed group of individuals dedicated to cleaning up the corruption and rampant crime in Hamilton, were keeping a close eye on the preliminary hearing that was held the day after the coroner’s inquest, and all five men were held without bond to await the action of the grand jury.

McGehan employed as part of his defense team Clement Vallandigham, who plays an important role in the drama of this case, so a few words about his history…

At the beginning of the Civil War, first elected in 1858, Clement Vallandigham represented Ohio’s third district, which included Hamilton and Dayton, in the House of Representatives. He was an outspoken critic of the Civil War, an advocate for state’s rights, and a leader of the Copperhead movement. The Copperheads were vocal critics of Abraham Lincoln, so named by the Republicans after the poisonous snake. Although it was meant to be derogatory, the Peace Democrats embraced the term because the penny, which featured the image of Lady Liberty on one side, was also called a copperhead.

Vallandigham was effectively gerrymandered out of office in the 1862 election, and he was arrested for speaking out against the war, given a military trial. Calling him a “wily agitator,” Lincoln himself ordered that Vallandigham be exiled to the Confederacy, and he surrendered himself as a prisoner of war.

The Confederacy didn’t particularly want him and treated him like a guest and helped him make his way to Canada by ship. From his exile, he ran for the democratic nomination to be governor of Ohio in 1864, and made a surprise appearance in Hamilton to accept the nomination, traveling with a fake mustache and a pillow in his coat.

Lincoln seems to have lost interest in him by this time and told his people in Ohio to watch him closely and arrest him if necessary, but otherwise leave him alone.

He lost that election, and lost the bid to return to congress in 1868, the election that was supported by McGehan, who according to the McGehan book, made the introduction to Hamilton’s brewer Peter Schwab to finance the campaign. He then set up his law practice in Dayton.

His exile, by the way, inspired Edward Everett Hale to write the short story “The Man Without a Country.”


Altogether, there would be seven trials in the case and McGehan got three of them. The most spectacular was the first of the lot, when McGehan faced a Warren County jury in Lebanon on a change of venue.

It was quite the circus. An early biography of Valandigham listed seven attorneys on each side.

His defense was that Myers shot himself as he tried to draw his pistol from his belt and the witness reports that the first shot was muffled, not as clear and ringing as the rest of them.

The trial was a jumbled mess of contradictions and changed stories. Witnesses on both sides testified to different things than they had at the coroner’s inquest and the grand jury. A doctor says at one hearing that he saw gunpowder near Myers’s wound, but at the trial said he meant he saw something that looked like gunpowder, but wasn’t.

By the fifth day of the nine-day trial, it had been well-established that on the night of Tom Myers’s death, Tom McGehan was wearing a light-colored chinchilla overcoat with a dark velvet collar, but many of the witnesses could not or would not say he was in the gambling room of the American at the time of the fray. And no one put him any closer to the action than the door from the stairs. The defense tried hard to keep Jackson Garver from testifying since he was a co-defendant, but the court allowed it, and because of the legal wrangling, the public knew that he was to appear on Saturday, June 10, so the courtroom was packed.


Garver was a fireman, and testified that he left the station at 7 p.m., stopped at Heintz’s saloon at took a drink before going to Lingler’s saloon, where he was greeted by McGehan: “You were the man I wanted to see.”

“What do you want me for?”

“We have some business.”

Garver replied that he was away from the station house without a substitute and would be fired if he got caught. McGehan told him not to worry about that and summoned Ich Sheeley, the deputy marshal, to their conversation. “Ich, we are going to give it to that big loafer tonight. He has been putting on too many airs. Go and tell Peter Schwab.”

Sheeley left Lingler’s and returned in fifteen or twenty minutes and had a private conversation with McGehan, who then asked Garver if he had any weapons. He had nothing but a bowie knife. McGehan told him to go borrow something and he borrowed a slungshot. McGehan said to him and McGlynn, “Now boys, if you get into trouble, I’ll spend my last dollar to get you out.”

After three or four drinks, they went from Lingler’s to the Phoenix at the Hotel Hamilton, and picked up some stones on the way. McGehan sent Garver in to see if Myers was there. He was not, so McGehan said, “He’s at the American.”

As they went into the saloon, McGehan said to him, “You go ask Myers whey he has been working to get you discharged from the fire company, and then hit him.”

Garver said when they went in, he saw Myers sitting next to Brewer, then whispered to either McGlynn or James McGehan, “Are you ready?” Receiving an affirmative, they both unloaded their stones, and one of them hit Myers, but he wasn’t sure which.

Garver testified that he was watching Tom McGehan the whole time and when he heard a smothered pistol report, he saw McGehan about three or four feet away with smoke coming out of his right coat pocket.

Myers then fell forward and exclaimed, “Oh dear” or “Oh my god” and tried to get his pistol out, then waved it in his hand but could not shoot it.

Myers staggered backward and another stone hit him on the forehead. He fell with his feet toward the stove. By this time, Garver testified, the room cleared except for Peter Schwab and McGehan. They were speaking, but he could not hear what they said.

Garver then said he went downstairs and saw McGehan, Sheeley and Reynolds, the bartender. McGehan told him to help Ich get attention.

He met up with McGehan again at Lingler’s, who told him, “Now be silent as the grave, for if this gets out they’ll hang every damned one of us.”

They hung out together until three or four in the morning, going to a couple of different bars and to Sheeley’s house to check on him. McGehan gave Sheeley some money and on their way out fell down. As Garver helped him up, Tom said, “I did not think I was as full as that.”

Outside, McGehan showed Garver the hole in his coat. This testimony was corroborated by Samuel Van Camp, who was by then carousing with them. They soon parted, McGehan to his room on Basin Street, Garver to his house on the west side. On the way, he threw the borrowed slungshot into the Great Miami River.

During his testimony, some—perhaps not all—of Garver’s criminal history was revealed, including an 18-month stint in the penitentiary for stealing a jug of whiskey at the county fair when he was 16 years old, as well as “eight or ten” indictments for assault and had once been dismissed from the fire department for assaulting a fellow firefighter. During the war, he left the Army without a discharge, taking some military mules with him.


McGlynn basically took the fifth, would only testify that he came into the bar with Ich Sheeley and who he saw in the room that night, but would not say whether he saw the fight or even that he saw any of the other co-defendants there except that he came into the bar with Ich Sheeley. The testimonies of James McGehan and Ich Sheeley were filled with contradictions and confusion, but both consistently said that they did not go in together and that they never saw Tom McGehan any closer to whatever transpired in the gambling room than the doorway if he was in the room at all. Sheeley said he was trying to break up a scuffle between Garver and Myers when Myers started waving his gun around but he didn’t remember much after that because he got shot in the face.

On the ninth day of the trial, the defense produced the infamous coat. The Cincinnati Enquirer described it as “light drab, made of chinchilla cloth. It is cut after the sack pattern, is double-breasted with a velvet collar somewhat darker than the material itself, and is lined with some dark material. It seems well-worn, but we should say honestly worn—that is, its wear has been from actual everyday usage rather than any attempt at ‘doctoring’ it up.”

McGehan put it on a couple of times, and it was baggy on him because he had lost 30 to 40 pounds in jail, they reported. A Cincinnati tailor took the stand to confirm that he made it for McGehan and several witnesses testified, including McGehan’s 14 year old daughter Charlotte, that it was the coat he was wearing the night in question. Several others said it was not the same coat.

It did not have a hole in the pocket or anywhere else.

The prosecution began making its closing statements on Friday, June 16, the tenth day of the trial. By most accounts, it was looking pretty good for McGehan. Only the testimony of Garver put him close to the action that night, only the testimony of Garver painted the picture of the smoking coat pocket.

Defense attorney Clement Vallindigham was in good spirits, although he was saddened about getting a telegram that afternoon from his wife saying she had been summoned to Cumberland, Maryland, to be at the death bed of her brother.

After taking his dinner at the Lebanon House, now the Golden Lamb, Vallandigham procured some muslin cloth from his host, and he went with three other lawyers to a house at the south edge of town with a .32 caliber revolver he had just purchased a few days before the trial.

They fired two or three shots into the cloth as an experiment. They were satisfied with the result, and Millikin told him he should shoot the other bullets or unload the gun, a matter of safety. Vallandigham assured him he knew what he was doing.

When they got back to Vallandigham’s room, a package was waiting for him: the revolver that had been exhibited in court. It was unloaded and the chambers removed. He unwrapped the parcel and laid the two guns side by side on a table.

A few minutes later, he and some of the other lawyers were discussing their closing arguments, and Vallandigham went to practice a demonstration he was planning to make, to show the jury exactly how Thomas Myers accidentally shot himself while trying to extricate the revolver from his pocket.

But instead of picking up the gun with the chambers removed, he picked up his own loaded pistol, and in doing the demonstration, shot himself in almost exactly the same spot Thomas Myers shot himself, just below the ribs almost directly below the left nipple.

“My God, I’ve shot myself,” he said, according to one of the lawyers present.

Vallandigham survived the night, and the next morning the sheriff delivered a shackled Tom McGehan to his bedside. In spite of his reputation as a cold-hearted killer and unrepentant thug, McGehan wept profusely at the site of his stricken friend.

Vallandigham died moments after McGehan was returned to his cell.

His untimely death was mentioned several times during the course of the defense closing, and the jury was given its instructions on Wednesday, June 21.

The newspaper speculated that the tragic accident would serve in McGehan’s favor, giving him some sympathy from the community if not from the jury. They later said just the opposite, that it worked against him because people blamed him for the death of the beloved Vallandigham.

After taking 50 ballots, the jury split three ways: Four for second degree murder, four for manslaughter, four for acquittal. So it’s tough to say that the death of the defense lawyer helped his case much there, but it certainly didn’t help back in Hamilton.

The second and third trials took place in Dayton, and McGehan was kept in jail the entire time.

The second trial ended with a guilty of second degree murder verdict, but that was overturned on appeal due to juror misconduct.

At the third trial, several witnesses for the prosecution, those who said they heard McGehan’s posse saying they were going to get Myers and a man who said he saw the hole in the overcoat, did not appear at the last trial.

The judge in the case later told the press that he was sure of McGehan’s guilt, the state did not make its case as well as in the previous trials and that the defense got better at impugning their witnesses. The Cincinnati Enquirer said that Garver’s story of seeing McGehan shoot Myers “California-style” was “exploded.”

After one hour of deliberation by the jury, McGehan was acquitted on December 23, 1872, just one day short of the one year anniversary of the shooting at the American Saloon. The McGehan book makes a point of noting that the jury consisted of seven Republicans and five Democrats.

Trouble back at the ranch was not unexpected. In the short article announcing the verdict, the Cincinnati Commercial said, if “McGehan returns to Hamilton and makes any demonstration among those inimical toward him, he will be lynched or he will make away with somebody.”

McGehan went straight home to his residence on Canal Street near 11th Street on Christmas day and locked himself in. “He appeared like one relieved of a heavy burden,” the Commercial reported. “His step was elastic and his face was aglow with the hues of health renewed.”

The house saw a parade of “personal friends, adherents and sycophants” calling to congratulate him.

But that afternoon, a handbill began circulating around town calling for an indignation meeting at 7 p.m. that evening, declaring “When the law and the courts fail, society must protect itself.”

When McGehan got word of the meeting at 4 p.m., he started out in a buggy behind a quick-stepping nag, heading south.

The Commercial called it “an orderly meeting of sober men”. Clark Lane, founder of the local library, was unanimously selected to be chairman of the group, but he declined to serve, so Ezra Potter took the gavel. He selected a group of eight men to form a committee on resolutions.

In 20 minutes, the committee returned with a resolution, unanimously adopted with a ringing “aye” that “as a community we consider that we have the right to demand that the man who is regarded almost unanimously as the leader in the startling murder committed one year ago in our midst should no longer remain among us and that we… demand that he shall seek a residence elsewhere.”

One of the speakers said, “We have met not to threaten, but to advise… but if this warning is not respected by Thomas McGehan, let it be known here tonight that the citizens of Hamilton will not be responsible for the consequences.”

Despite the civilized veneer, the Commercial reporter hinted that a secret committee had been formed to collect McGehan until they learned he had already fled.

He went to Cincinnati and opened a saloon on Vine Street in downtown, between Fourth and Fifth.

In May, 1872, McGehan returned to Hamilton and there was a second indignation meeting. This time, the resolution committee consisted of several dozen prominent men, many of whom had participated in the trials against McGehan. This resolution was much more strongly worded, calling McGehan a monster and declaring Garver, Sheeley, McGlynn and James McGehan outlaws and demanded they leave the county. Again that was no problem. By this time, charges had been dropped against Sheeley and Garver—both already left town—and James McGehan and McGlynn were in Preble County awaiting trial.

Daniel McGlynn was found guilty of manslaughter in Preble County and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

On the same day McGlynn was sentenced, January 16, 1873, James McGehan pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a one year sentence.

Tom McGehan saw a little bit of trouble in June, 1872, and spent 30 days in the workhouse for carrying a weapon. He told the judge he had to because of the threats made against him in Hamilton.

In handing down the sentence, the judge said, “Mr. McGehan is not a man who ought to carry a deadly weapon. It is the object of the statue to prevent just such people from carrying deadly weapons.” He told McGehan that if he is being threatened, he should take the parties to court. I don’t think he was joking.

He was back in Hamilton in April, 1874, when it was reported in the Hamilton Telegraph that McGehan took a bullet in the neck and a bullet in the thigh. He blamed it on a barber John Koehler, who “indignantly denied” it. The paper wrote that he should be sent to prison anyway, for bungling the job.

In the fall of 1874, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on a trip that McGehan made back to Hamilton. Someone asked him, “Did you go in disguise?” McGehan replied, “Yes, I did. I went sober.”

The year 1874 also saw the publication of “A History of the Life and Trials of Thomas McGehan Who Was Charged with the Shooting and Killing of Thomas S. Myers In the City of Hamilton, Butler County, Ohio, on the Evening of the 24th of December, 1870” and so on.

Although the book bears the name of no author, it is clearly written with the purpose of vindicating Thomas McGehan. Some have suggested that McGehan wrote it himself and misspelled his name—McGehean—to hide his identity. Other historians, anecdotally, agree with me that McGehan obviously had a big hand in the book, but the writing seems a bit too sophisticated for a Hamilton thug.

Part of the way the author does it is by naming names and accusing the people who organized and conspired against of a number of crimes, as summarized on the last page of narrative.

There are many unanswered questions in this story, but the one that bugs me the most is, “Why in the world did Tom McGehan move back to Hamilton?”

Having already been exiled and then being a part of if not the author of a book accusing prominent Hamilton citizens of flagrant crimes and surreptitious immorality, Tom McGehan purchased a bowling alley and saloon at 330 Basin Street (about where the loading dock of the Government Services Center is now) and moved back to Hamilton.

The bar had been known as Patsey’s Dive, a place with an unenviable reputation.

“Here, Tom gathered around him what few choice spirits were left, but they were indeed few, and his reputation as a ringleader gone, his patronage small and the business of a meagre character.”

In the summer of 1875, he and his wife quarreled and he drew a gun on her. He shot, but didn’t hit anybody. His wife and children left him and went to his in-laws to live.

The vigilance committee put out a $1,000 bounty on the head of Tom McGehan. Cone said that there were three or four men on constant patrol who color-coded the buckshot in their shotgun loads so that they would know who to give the reward to.

At 11 p.m., Sunday, June 13, 1875, McGehan was out drinking with one of his few remaining friends and met two men, one of them an official of the local Democratic party, at the corner of Third and Basin Streets, who were leaving a concert. They first went to Lingler’s Saloon, where the trouble might have started on that fateful Christmas Eve, and had a drink. McGehan’s original companion left them, and Tom asked one of the other fellows to buy a round, but no one had any money.

“Well, I’ve got my own saloon,” McGehan said, and invited the other two to a night-cap at his saloon, a block and a half away.

It was closed, but Tom had the key in his pocket. The two men sat at the bar and McGehan turned the gas lamps up and went behind the bar to get drinks.

McGehan did not know that a member of the vigilance committee had pulled a spring wagon up to window in the alley on the west side of the building, behind the bar, and was lying in wait. The shutters were drawn, but there was a loop hole that allowed the assassin to look in.

McGehan set two glasses on the bar, then turned around to get a bottle of whiskey. The window shattered in a thousand pieces and McGehan took eleven balls of buckshot in his right temple and side of his face from a double-barreled shotgun. One pierced his jugular vein.

The two men heard the shot, but thought that McGehan was shooting at them, so they left in a hurry and ran all the way to the hydraulic before realizing that McGehan was not chasing them.

The Commercial said the shot was delivered “fair and square” and the report heard all over downtown. The Constable John Johnson heard it, and was trying to figure out where it had come from when he met James Vallandigham, the Butler County prosecutor and nephew of Clement Vallandigham, coming out of his office.

Together, they figured it came from the direction of McGehan’s saloon, and shortly after midnight arrived to find the man lying in a pool of his own blood.

“He died game,” Cone said, “as he pulled his revolver and attempted to reach the front door of the saloon, but he had not strength enough and he sank to the floor near the end of the counter and expired.”

Although it’s said to have been widely known at the time, the name of the assassin was never reported and is lost to history.

No one was ever charged with McGehan’s death, but it’s pretty clear that McGehan, unlike Myers, did not shoot himself.

“These were dark and bloody days in our history and gave Hamilton an odious reputation. Strangers spoke of it with a thrill of horror as a place where assassins and villains could revel in blood of murdered men with absolute immunity from punishment and find protection even against the demands of violated and outraged law.”


An Audio Version

Video of the Author

October 1884        Where's Your Mother, George

Everyone in the Schneider family presumed that the widow matriarch Catharine was staying with her favorite son George on his remote Ohio farm. When George, his wife Margaret and their seven children showed up to a family dinner without her, suspicions ran high. 

No one could believe the story he told. George said that he was taking his mother to a train in the fall of 1883 when they were overcome by two robbers at the end of the lane at the edge of his farm. In the course of the robbery, he claimed, the robbers killed his mother, and buried her in a ravine on George’s property. George said they threatened his family, so he kept quiet about it for five long weeks. This novelette-length story details the unraveling of George’s story and the terrible price he paid for his rage. 

Read the whole story in the Two-Dollar Terror ebook:

Where's Your Mother, George: The True Crime of George Schneider

December 1902   The first Celebrity Serial Killer

Just before Christmas 1902, Alfred Knapp strangled his wife in her sleep. He put her body in a box and sent the box floating down the Great Miami River, telling everyone that Hannah had left him. When the truth came out, Knapp confessed to four other murders. Newspapers across the Midwest sent reporters to interview the handsome strangler. Despite spending most of his adulthood in prison, he had a charming, boyish manner that made him an instant celebrity serial killer. True crime historian Richard O Jones examines the strangler's alleged crimes, the family drama of covering up Knapp's atrocities and how a brain-damaged drifter became a media darling. 

Read more about it in the History Press paperback

The First Celebrity Serial Killer in Southwest Ohio: Confessions of the Strangler Alfred Knapp

A 2016 interview with the author at the Ohioana Book Festival, talking about writing a book about Alfred Knapp

February 1903     The Sleepwalking Slasher

Early one winter morning in 1903, Ohio laborer Sam Keelor awoke with a bloody cooper's hammer in his hand and his pretty young wife Bertha dead in their marriage bed next to him. He panicked and decided to get rid of the body, but cutting his pretty wife up into portable pieces proved to be more work than he bargained for, so he opted to cut his own throat instead. He made a mess of that, too. 

Before he could bleed out, his family discovered the bloody, bloody scene, and rescued the beleaguered coal man. He said his only regret is that he didn't kill his meddling mother-in-law, too. This "novelette" length true crime story details the family quarrel that led to the gruesome crime and the delivery of turn-of-the-century justice.

The Sleepwalking Slasher: The True Crime of Samuel J. Keelor

Hanged Three Times and Lived (text)

The first wave of the Spanish influenza pandemic in October and November of 1918, took the lives of more than 200 Hamilton residents. The most prominent of these deaths was that of Luke Brannon, who at the time was a Butler County Commissioner. He died December 2 after a ten-day struggle when the flu, as was common, developed into pneumonia.

“Perhaps no man was better known throughout Butler County than Luke Brannon,” the Evening Journal reported in its glowing obituary.

Born in Hamilton on December 9, 1859, Brannon’s career in public life began in 1890 when he served as a constable, and earned a reputation for “honesty and fearlessness.” Because of this reputation, when Peter Bisdorf was elected Butler County Sheriff in 1900, he named Luke Brannon his chief deputy.

That was a busy term for the new sheriff and his deputy. After several decades of relative quiet in the county, there was a sudden spike in murders, most of them domestic, including the capture of alleged serial killer Alfred Knapp.

But it was an incident in Oxford that cemented Luke Brannon’s reputation as a fierce enforcer of the law when “the ordinary quiet village,” according to the Hamilton Sun, became the center of chaos when the Fourth Annual Street Fair and Farmer’s Exposition turned riotous, September 30, 1903.

Reporting by the Hamilton Sun

OCTOBER 1, 1903, Last Edition

Students and Town Authorities Clash

A lively and riotous time in the classic village of Oxford. Mayor Threatens to send participants in a “walk-around” to work house. President Benton exposulates

The ordinary quiet village of Oxford was “torn up” last night by a row between the Miami students and the village authorities.

This warfare was followed by a break of more or less serious proportions between the president of Miami, Dr. Guy Potter Benton, and Mayor John Muddell.

This break became so serious and the feeling so acute that Mayor Muddell notified President Benton by telephone and subsequently in person, that if any of the students arrested and brought before him, he (Muddell) would fine them and add a workhouse sentence to the penalty imposed. 

The Mayor is said to have expressed his intentions in stronger language than that used above.

“If any of your rowdies,” he is reported as saying to Dr. Benton, “are brought before me (and the indications are that there will be some of them arrested) I will fine them heavily and give them workhouse sentences besides. And you can depend on it that they will work.”

This was the notification that Dr. Benton received over the telephone. The worthy President of Miami University expostulated and endeavored to spread all upon the troubled water.

“Now Mr. Mayor,” said he, “you know that the boys are only indulging in a little harmless fun. They do not mean anything by their antics. I knew that they had planned a walk-around for tonight and I am sure they will not do anything offensive.”

“That’s all right,” replied the mayor, “but what I said goes. They are doing things offensive to the people of Oxford right now and there will be no more of it allowed.”

This ultimatum from the Mayor caused Dr. Benton to doff his slippers and his smoking jacket and to substitute therefore his brogans and his street hat. He sallied forth and came down town with full steam up.

He hunted up the mayor to explain and turn the executive wrath from hapless students. But the mayor was red-hot ...

As a result, the walkaround was postponed. Now they are saying it will come off tonight and that there will be large doings in Oxford.

The whole trouble started over the walkaround. A walkaround is sometimes known as a “shirt-tail parade”.

The students attire themselves in night shirts and parade the streets seeking whom they may devour. 

Fences, gates, signs, meek citizens, tom cats, stray dogs and other ordinary movables both animate and inanimate of a village fall victims to the participants in one of these student affairs.

Last night was considered a propitious time for the walkaround inasmuch as the Street Fair is in full blast and the village crowded with strangers.

So Wednesday night at half past nine a crowd of probably one hundred students attired in nightgowns left the dormitories and formed into the single file. They were armed with horns, whistles, and other instruments of torture including a few drums.

They first called on President Bentlon and serenaded him. When the din subsided he made a speech to the boys, kindly advising them to be careful and not to become too boisterous. 

With a cheer for the popular President of the Institution, the shirt tail brigade started for High Street and the Street Fair. 

It is known as the Fourth Annual Street Fair and Farmer’s Exposition.

Among its attractions are a tent for prize pumpkins and crazy quilts, a lot of popcorn stands.

Had a Ride

The first thing that attracted their attention was a merry-go-round conducted by Stout and Miller of College Corner.

It was one of the busiest attractions at the Street Fair.

It was going constantly and did not stop for any appreciable length of time, if at all, during the afternoon and early evening.

This the boys promptly took possession of. 

The managers of the “Merry” good-naturedly allowed them to have a ride and the boys left after a few whirls around the circle. 

By this time the spirit of the occasion had become somewhat more demonstrative than usual and the crowd made a rush for the big exhibition tent after announcing, they said, that the would “clean it out.”

The exhibitors were terrified at the threat and knew full well that if the boys got inside they would leave about as little as a grasshopper army would leave in a field of wheat.

They appealed their predicament to Mayor Muddell, who was already preparing, it seems, to take action.

The mayor promptly threw himself into the breach between the students and the tent.

Throwing down the flap of the tent he ordered the students to stand back.

“You cannot go in there,” he shouted, and his shouts were received with cries of derision.

“I mean just what I say,” said the now thoroughly exasperated mayor. “None of you can get in here. I will not allow any of this vandalism and rowdyism.”

This was a setback to the revelers that they had not calculated upon. Some of the more fiery spirits were in favor of taking the place back by force, but they mayor had a few whiskey marshals and deputies to back him and they decided to postpone action for the nonce.

Forming in line and creating a din that was deafening, the paraders started for the Oxford Female College.

There they gave a serenade that would put Wagner to the blush.

It was a discordant blare of trumpets, horns, drums, college yells and just ordinary yells of the plebeian variety.

The Mayor had gotten some more officers together and was on the college grounds ahead of the students. 

Marshall Woodruff took the initiative this time and when the students began a march around the college building he stepped in front of the leader and holding a cane by either end barred the progress of the line.

Then ensued a parley in which the Mayor announced that he would have the students arrested if they persisted in their “rowdyism” as he designated it.

The students clamored for vengeance and threatened to do all sorts of things to the village authorities, but after some time spent in threatening and yelling, they concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and retired to deliberate.

An indignation meeting of the students was held on the streets and Mayor Muddell and Marshal Woodruff were duly and properly handed the anathema maranatha. 

But the students didn’t propose to be balked altogether. 

With a continuance of the yells they started back to the merry-go-round double quick.

This time, the proprietors of the Street Fair were not so affable. They thought that they had done enough in the way of making concessions to the “college spirit” and refused to admit the students.

The boys decided to “rush it” and made the start.

The leader ran plump into the brawny fist of Mr. Miller, one of the proprietors, and went down and out. He is now said to be in dry dock for repairs and to be entertaining a pair of mourning eyes.

That ended the efforts of the students to start a rough house, but they met and indignated a few more hours and then determined, it is said, to secure reinforcements and carry out the original program tonight.

It was while the second rush for the merry-go-round was being made that the telephone conversation between Mayor Muddell and President Benton took place.

President Benton stands loyally by the students and insists that they were just indulging in a little harmless diversion. The Mayor insists that they are rowdies and that he will send a few of them to the workhouse if they start anything else.

The townspeople are inclined to side with the village authorities as the student antics are not very popular in the village.

All in all, Oxford is almost as much wrought up over the affair as she has ever been. Mayor Muddell is mad enough to tear a few students limb from limb.

President Benton is inclined to think that the Mayor is unduly efficious.

And there you are.

EXTRA EDITION: Bloody Riot at Oxford

A riot occurred at Oxford this evening

Four men, including the town Marshal, were shot.

Two of them will die and the Marshal, John Woodruff, has but a small chance to recover it is thought.

There is every indication that there will be a lynching in Oxford before morning.

LAST EDITION: Brannon slipped noose from throat of victim and saved Spivey from an awful fate.

Nothing could be more dramatic than the attempted lynching of Joe Spivey, which occurred in Oxford last night and over which the whole county has been talking since the first news was spread throughout its length and breadth by special editions of The Sun.

No stretch of the imagination could conjure up anything more terrible than the scenes that attended the affair. Nothing could have been more truly courageous than the brave stand, the nervy, uncompromising, forceful stand taken by Deputy Sheriff Luke Brannon, the Democratic candidate for Sheriff of Butler County.

Joseph Spivey, once a tobacco spinner of Middletown, Ohio, was last night saved from an awful death at the hands of an infuriated mob after a street battle in which Spivey, his brother Louis Spivey, former Kentuckian, fired a fusillade of shots, seriously wounding the village Marshal John Woodruff, his deputy Jacob Manrod and a student, Lewis Jared.

The two Spiveys and Bob Richardson shortly before 6 o’clock entered the saloon of Otto Pfeiffer.

They had been drinking heavily and were in a quarrelsome mood.

They tried to involve Pfeiffer in a quarrel and he ordered them out of his place.

The men became infuriated at this and one of them drew a revolver and threatened to shoot.

Richardson succeeded in quieting the man and finally got them out of the saloon without any further trouble.

Then the two met Marshal Woodruff and one of the Spiveys made an insulting remark.

Woodruff ordered him to halt.

Without a word in reply to the challenge of the officer, Joseph Spivey whirled about, whipped out a huge revolver and opened fire.

Marshal Woodruff fell badly wounded at the first shot.

Spivey then turned the gun upon Deputy Manrod and  he fell with a bullet through his body.

The desperate men then began firing upon the crowd which had been attracted by the shots. 

One of the bullets found a lodging in the body of Jared, who is a Miami University student and whose home is in Monroe.

Joseph Spivey, followed by his brother and by Richardson, then took to his heels with a crowd of now thoroughly incensed citizens in hot pursuit.

The hunted men were chased several blocks before they were brought to bay.

They fought like fiends but were overpowered. 

In the fight Joseph Spivey was beaten almost to a pulp by Leisch Burton, a negro, and Louis Spivey was seriously and perhaps fatally wounded by a shot fired by some unknown person.

Mayor Muddell hurriedly gathered together several deputies and took charge of the prisoners.

The three men were taken to the village jail and placed in separate cells.

A scattering crowd stood around the jail.

It refused to disperse and talked in its usual unconcerned way about he lynching that was to come off.

Mayor Muddell evidently knew what was brewing and kept a sharp lookout. He had released Bob Richardson.

In the meantime, Everett Woodruff, the father of the wounded Marshal, arrived on the scene.

The elder Woodruff was almost insane with grief and rage at the shooting of his son.

He harangued the crowd whose passions had already been inflamed by the shooting and proposed an assault upon the jail.

He procured a sledgehammer and crying to the mob to follow him, he rushed upon the defenseless bastille.


A crowd of about 200 in which there was but a few citizens, the remainder being young boys and college students, went to his support.

They stormed the jail, a rickety, antiquated building and Woodruff with the sledgehammer beat in the door.

Proceeding to the cell in which Joseph Spivey lay bleeding from his many wounds, Woodruff again used the heavy hammer with telling effect.

While the battering was in progress, Spivey pleaded with all the fervor of terror for mercy.

He begged his pursuers to allow him to live.

Thrusting his arms out through the bars of the cell at which the sledge blows were aimed he cried out, “Cut off my arms, men. O, brothers of mine, cut off my arms and let that be my punishment. I will tell you everything I know and I will do everything you tell me to do, but for god’s sake don’t hang me. I have a wife and a daughter and I want to see them again.”

“Yes, and I have a son, too, that I love as much as you love your wife and your daughter,” responded the aged Mr. Woodruff grimly. “You shot my son and he will die. I will not have him anymore and I want to see you hanging to a limb before he dies.”


This caused fresh terror for Spivey and he got down and prayed with more fervor than he had ever prayed before.

But the mob, led by the frenzied old man and urged on by a motley crowd of foolish “kids” who ought to have been home and in bed, was inexorable.

Mayor Muddell was in his office when the rush was made.

He started for the corridor and pulled a revolver which old Mr. Woodruff brushed aside with the remark, “We don’t care for that.”

The assault, the prayers and the pleas of Joe Spivey and his badly wounded brother who was in an adjoining cell and who added his cries to those of the frightened Joe, did not take but a few minutes.

The cell door gave way and Joe Spivey was dragged out. 

With remarkable forethought the leaders of the mob removed his collar and necktie.

Then they threw a noosed rope, which had been prepared some time before, around the neck of the terrified prisoner and dragged him out. 

On the way, one or two took a kick at him and as a result he had several broken ribs.

Spivey was a pitiful figure. About his head was wound a bloody bandage and the blood was streaming from cuts in his head and face.

His eyes were filled with mingled blood and tears and he groped about as though unable to see.

It was plain to be seen that he expected death at the hands of the mob. He trembled violently and was scarcely able to stand.

Spivey was half-led, half-dragged to the public square, which was filled with crowds of the curious attracted to the scene.


Down in the center of High Street while all of this was going on, the Street Fair was in progress.

There were scenes of gaiety that hadn’t, apparently, been checked a great deal by the lynching bee.

Picture the great open square and almost in the center a huge elm spreading its naked limbs over a tiny park plot.

At one corner of the square stands the city building in which is located the jail and direct opposite is the Girard House, the principal hotel of the village.

The music from the organ was blaring forth on the Merry-go-round as the wooden horses and boxes when went whirling around the circle, each box filled with a jolly crowd and each horse carrying a country lass or a country swain who thought more of the ride on the Flying Dutchman than of the lynching.

Across the street to the very center of the Street Fair, the crowd dragged the prisoner right past the merry-go-round.

The machine stopped for a few minutes.

Someone emerged carrying a red hot iron and cheerfully suggested that Spivey be branded.

The big square is filled with a seething mass of humanity, shouting, crying and yelling alternately while cries of “Lynch him! Lynch him! Hang the brute!” fill the air.

In the center of the swaying crowd with a noose around his neck cringes the frightened victim of the mob’s wrath and above stretch the black limbs from which he expects to be hung.

They went straight to the famous “nigger tree” on which two negroes have been lynched and which, according to local tradition, died soon after the second negro swing from its handy branches.

About the victim were a group of determined men, with set jaws and with faces upon which the lust for blood was stamped.

The scarred and bloody face of the wretched man was turned upward and the swollen lips pleaded for mercy, but there was no pity reflected in the countenance of those who bent over him.

The mob was bent on vengeance and the insistent cries for the life of the victim sounded the knell of hope to the apparently doomed man.


The loose end of the rope was thrown over a convenient limb and a dozen hands grasped it as it fell. 

Joe Spivey began to beg and plead for his life with a desperation almost supernatural. 

He cried, shouted, entreated.

With a yell the would-be lynchers threw their weight on the stout strands.

With a jerk he was swung up into the air.

But the mob, in its hurry, had neglected to tie his hands.

Clutching wildly at the taut rope the unfortunate wretch writhed and twisted in the agony of strangulation.

Swiftly the struggling man was drawn by a steady pull until his head touched the branch over which the rope had been thrown.

At this juncture he threw up his arms and caught the rope above him.

This move loosened the rope and dangling in the air Spivey pleaded that he be allowed to write a note of farewell to his wife.

Holding on until the veins in his bared arms and pinched neck stood out like whip cords, he yelled in a voice positively unearthly: “Please don’t kill me. Please don’t hang me. Give me time, my brothers, my brothers. Give me time, will you, to write a letter to my wife and my little baby before you hang me up?”


The appeal seemed to reach some of the mob although others were loudly clamoring to “string him up”, “tie his hands,” “pull his legs down,” “Kill the dog!” and the like.

But the men who were jerking at the rope let the poor, cringing, cowardly victim down for a moment.

Spivey, mumbling incoherently drew forth a pencil and an old envelope while his would-be executioners stood grimly by the guilty wretch, on the back of which he began to write.

Half-blinded by tears and blood, his hand trembled and his eyes wandered from the paper to the rope which traced its sinuous way from his neck to the limb above.

The mob became impatient at the delay and cries of “String him up! Kill him! Lynch him!” became so insistent that the letter writing was cut short.

Suddenly, a shout went up to “Pull, pull,” and without warning he was swung clear of the ground again while the envelope fluttered from his stiffening hands.

With superhuman effort the poor wretch again grasped the rope above his head and writhed about until he got his feet against the trunk of the tree.

“Let me pray! O brothers, let me pray!” he yelled in a voice so full of pathos that strong me turned away, sick at heart at the sight and the sounds.

“Please let me pray just once,” was his appeal last made and  uttered in a weird, half-strangled voice that somehow carried away for half a square and ended in a shriek.


Once more the mob delayed and this delay with the one that had preceded it gave Spivey a respite that saved his life.

If ever a mortal suffered the tortures of the damned here on earth those tortures were suffered by Joe Spivey during the ten minutes that the mob played with him as a cat would with a mouse.

In the crowd was Rev. T.J. Porter, pastor of the Presbyterian Church.

In fact he had had hold of the rope--not however, with a view to pulling it to hang Spivey, but to slacken it to save his neck.

The minister had pushed his way into the circle about the foot of the tree and started to pull on the rope in an effort to get the man down.

When the mob was at its very height of its madness, Rev. Porter exhorted the members to observe the law of man and desist from the lynching.


“For God’s sake, men, don’t do this,” he shouted out many times while tugging against the mob leaders.

The rope was allowed to slacken and Spivey swung to the ground.

He wanted to get down on his knees, but the leader of the mob would not allow that.

They kept the rope taut enough to keep him standing and an occasional pull made him clutch at his throat and emit groans and wails of agony.

The mob got impatient.

“Why the hell didn’t they tie his hands and feet? We can’t hang him that way.”

Again the body was let down.

Some of the mob grabbed Spivey to tie his hands.

Rev. Porter stepped to the fore and offered up prayer with him.

The victim of the mob’s fury looked a look of gratitude never forgettable. 

The minister was evidently intent on delaying matters as long as possible and the praying became too extended to suit the lynchers.

Rev. Porter knelt on the sodden ground side by side with Spivey and together they started to make supplication to the Divine Throne.

“Pull that rope,” yelled someone and those who had hold of the business end of it promptly obeyed.

For the third time the drooping body was drawn into the air.

For the space of a few brief seconds it looked like the accused murderer’s life would be sacrificed.

It was at this juncture--just at the most opportune moment--just as the last reason for the delay had been exhausted--just as the grave was yawning at the very feet of Joe Spivey, that Deputy Sheriff Luke Brannon came elbowing his way through the crowd.

He had just arrived from Hamilton in response to a call by telephone and was probably the most surprised man in town when he found that the mob had stormed the jail and secured the prisoner.


Brannon never hesitated. 

“Men, this will have to stop. You have to let the law take its course.”

He did not know how many revolvers were leaded with messengers of death for anyone who might interfere.

He knew most certainly that he was dealing with frenzied, maddened men.

He did not know what he had to encounter in that seething mass of half-crazed men and boys. 

But he never hesitated.

He burst through the crowd.

He came alone and displayed no weapon.

In an instant he was in the midst of the men pleading for Spivey’s life.

“In the name of the law,” he shouted, “I command you to desist and disperse,” and the loud stern tones of his voice rang out over the heads of the astonished mob.

With his tall spare form towering high above the crowd, the plucky sheriff at the same time as he issued his command jumped for the rope from which swung the half-conscious body of the mob’s victim.

Not an instant did he hesitate and his prompt action saved Spivey’s life. 

Brannon, hurling the ringleader aside, leaped into the air, grasped the rope above the head of the hanging man, and pulled with all his might against the men who were trying to swing Spivey into eternity.

The long arm of the deputy shot up like a walking beam and down came the rope.

The added weight of the deputy on the rope brought the body to the ground.

“I am an officer of the law,” he said, “and this man is my lawful prisoner. You will interfere with me at your peril.”

“Don’t mind that guy. String him up,” howled those on the outside. 

The crowd surged around Brannon.

“Stop!” he cried.

“Who are you?” asked a burly man and forced his way through the crowd. 

Brannon did not hear him.

Hands were pushed forward to take the prisoner from the deputy but the stranger threw them aside.

“Are you the sheriff?” asked he of Brannon. 

Brannon, loosening the knot with one hand displayed the gold eagle with the other.

“Then by God, I’m with you,” cried the stranger as he reached fro Spivey who stood limp.

Cooly removing the noose from the neck of the prostrate man, Brannon again faced the crowd.

The stranger hurled several of the crowd out of the way.

Brannon then jerked his prisoner from the ground and grasping him by the shoulder forced his way to the edge of the crowd.

It was all done so quickly that few realized what had happened until they beheld the big deputy with the prisoner running across the street in the direction of the jail.

Releasing Spivey he leaned over and shouted in his ear: “Now run! Run for your life to the jail.”

Together the officers and prisoner raced for the jail 200 yards distant with the mob howling at their heels.

The attempts to hang Spivey lasted for about twelve minutes and during that brief period the mechanical organ of the merry-go-round was silent while the wooden horses had a rest.

But that was all the longer it lasted.

No sooner had Deputy Brannon reached the prisoner and started across the street with him than the music began again and the street fair revelers turned from the interrupted lynching (looking somewhat disappointed, to be sure) to the more enjoyable pleasures of riding on the merry.

The angry mob, cursing, ran after them and saw them disappear. 

At the door of the jail through which the two fugitives had slipped, the mob encountered Mayor John Muddell and a dozen citizens that had been sworn in as deputies.


The defending force was heavily armed and stoutly stood their ground despite the angry remonstrances of the mob.

Suddenly the electric lights in front of the hall blazed and four men were seen standing with leveled revolvers.

One man with a revolver that looked like a cannon cried, “I’ve got a forty-four here and I’ll kill the first man that comes near.

The crowd halted.

The baffled mob then listened to an address by Mayor Muddell who pleaded that the people allow the law to take its course.

He assured them that justice would be speedily meted and out and promised that the prisoners would be given a hearing first thing in the morning.


Rev. Porter also spoke.

He made an earnest and eloquent plea for Spivey’s life.

He said that while foul crime had been committed the people of the village should not increase its heinousness by adding another murder to those that had already been done.

He said that mob law is never right and that the participants in the wild scenes of the evening would be heartily ashamed of their part in the affair when they recovered their sober senses.


At this juncture, Rev. Porter was dramatically interrupted by Everett Woodruff, the father of the wounded Marshal and the leader of the mob.

Woodruff assailed the preacher violently, called him a hypocrite and other equally uncomplimentary names.

He said that the blood of his wounded boy was crying out for vengeance upon a dastardly assassin and he insisted that the old Mosaic law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” be fulfilled in the present instance.

He said that the speechmaker was only a cloak, that while the mob was being harangued by preachers and others, their victim would be spirited out of their reach.

Ex-Mayor Peter Flannigan stepped to the front and promised that if the mob would disperse quietly he would personally answer that the prisoners were not removed. 

And then it rained.


But Mr. Flannigan was unaware of what was going on in the rear of the jail.

When Deputy Sheriff Brannon arrived at the jail with his prisoner, he hurried him through the corridor with several deputies who had been pressed into service. 

Passing through the jail building the sheriff dragged Spivey into the building adjoining and then crawled through a coal chute, hid his prisoner in a shed adjoining the jail in the rear.


In the alley a short distance away awaited Fred Nagel, the Oxford livery man, with a hack and team.

With him in another vehicle were H.D. Cormier and H.G. Nagel. 

Fred Nagel crept to Brannon’s hiding place and told him of the opportunity for flight.

Crawling from the shed with Spivey handcuffed to his wrist, Brannon leaped over the fence and jumped into the hack.

Whipping up the team the Sheriff was soon safely on hi sway to Hamilton with the prisoner.

In the meantime, Nagel and Cormier bore the unconscious body of Louis Spivey from the jail and placed him in their waiting hack.


Through a  wild storm with the rain beating in their faces and the lightning playing about them at a fast gallop the officers bore their prisoners over fourteen miles of hilly road and landed them safely in the Butler County jail.

They arrived in Hamilton shortly after midnight.

Spivey all during the long ride prayed and pleaded with Sheriff Brannon to drive faster as he feared that the mob would secure horses and follow them. 

He fawned like a great dog upon the officer who had saved his life.

He clasped Brannon’s hands in his own and kissed them, crying and moaning out his thanks while with bloodstained face he looked up pitifully into the officer’s face.


With his body so full of bruises that he can find no rest no matter in what position he lies on his improvised cot, Joe Spivey, the man who was hanged, talked to a Sun reporter shortly after his thrilling trip from Oxford. His head is nearly covered by a bandage which hide the marks of his fight with the negro Burton. On the left side of his face is a scratch. Around his neck is a large blister that marks where the rope tightened while his right ear against which the knot was lodged is swollen and blue. He talked as freely as his condition would permit with the reporter and punctuated his words with sighs and groans that showed that the man was suffering terribly. His brother Lou was unable to talk He is in serious condition.

Joe said: “My home is in Irvine, Estill County, Kentucky. I don’t know anything about the trouble last night. I can’t remember anything of it.”

How many whiskeys had you drank?

“I hain’t drunk no whiskey for eleven months. I did drink about fifteen beers, though.

Which one of you shot the marshal?

“I don’t know.”

But you said you would tell if the men would not hang you.

“No. I said I would tell how it was done.”

What did you start to write to your wife?

“I just got as far as ‘My Dear Wife’ when they took the paper away from me.”

Who is your best friend?

“Luke Brannon.”

Have you ever been in the penitentiary?

“Yes, I was sent to the Frankfort penitentiary for a year for shooting a man named Eli Ball, north of Irvine.”

Did you know what the men were going to do when they broke into the cell room? How did you know?

“They done told me.”

Were you scared?

“Yes, I was. I thought my time had come for sure.”

How does it feel to be hanged?

“It don’t feel very good.”

Will you ever take another drink?

“Not as long as I live.”


“I have no apologies to make for my conduct on Thursday night,” said Everett Woodruff, father of Marshal John Woodruff, Friday, “and if the Spiveys were now in town I would do it over again if I had anyone to help me. I think John will pull through. I hope he does. He tells me he feels somewhat better today.

Mr. Woodruff is not as excitable as he was Thursday night and his words make a decided impression.


The tale of Brannon’s heroic rescue of Spivey (who would get a life sentence for the murder of Marshall Woodruff) made him a local hero and when Bisdorf declined to run again in 1904, Brannon was easily elected and served two terms, during which time he shut down the gambling dens that sprung up around the Butler County Fair during fair week just by saying they should be shut down. When Brannon talked, people listened.

After he retired from the sheriff’s office, he remained active in politics and served several terms on the county commission.

“To this office, he carried the same determination, the same strength of character, the same integrity which had marked his other ventures in life,” the Evening Journal wrote in its obituary.

August 1904     Bacon on the Table

Mayme Sherman was not anxious to share the news with her husband.

She had gotten a job offer to be a telegraph operator at the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railway (CH&D) station in Glendale, a good job that paid $25 a month and a chance for advancement. But she worried, knowing that her husband would not take it well. She had only been married to Charles Victor Sherman for just over a year, but she knew he was a jealous man and did not want her to work. They had been going around and around about it lately and she’d been trying to find a good way to break the news to him.

When the iceman William Brock came around about 10 a.m. to make his daily delivery, Mayme was not at home.  He found her a few doors down talking to a neighbor, and  they walked back to her house together. She seemed angry about something and remarked, “There will be hell here again tonight.”

“What do you mean?” the ice man asked, and she told him about the job offer. He told her, “You should just stay at home, then. Charley makes money enough.”

“I don’t care what he thinks,” she said. Brock noticed that the hatchet the Shermans normally kept near the ice box was not in its usual spot. He didn’t see it anywhere.

Mayme did not have to worry about how to break the news to Charley. He already knew. Sherman was a switchman at the CH&D yard in Hamilton, a few blocks from where they lived at 417 Sycamore Street, just around the corner from where Alfred Knapp had strangled his wife Hannah in her sleep two years earlier. About 2 p.m. on the afternoon of August 24, 1904, two days after Mayme’s 31st birthday and a week after Knapp had paid the price for his crime in the electric chair at the Ohio State Penitentiary, Sherman was working in the yard when he received a message from the chief dispatcher in Dayton, Joe Hoffman, asking if Mayme would consider taking a job as the second operator at the Hamilton Station instead of going to Glendale. He knew from the message that Mayme had gone behind his back looking for work and he did not like that. For one thing, her ex-husband Charles Stedding was a telegraph operator at the Glendale station and he did not want her being around him. He did not want her to be around any other man. She was his wife now, and he insisted that she would keep his house. He made a good $75 a month, sometimes more. There was no need for her to work.

“I walked up to the telegraph office and told the operator that I could answer that message myself and say no, she couldn’t work,” Sherman would later say.

He then walked the block to their house and found Mayme standing at the back fence talking to a neighbor, Mabel Bunting.

“Why do you persist in wanting to work when you know I don’t want you to?” he asked her.

“We need the money,” she said, “and the $25 would be as good for me as for anybody.”

“I can’t keep you from working,” he shouted at her, “and if you go over there you will be working for yourself!”

He wanted to fuss some more, but he heard his train coming from the south. They would talk about this later, he told her; he had work to do. He ran to catch the train and rode it across the belt line to the Champion Coated Paper mill.

“There will be trouble here tonight,” Mayme told Mrs. Bunting, so she decided to cook a nice dinner of some of his favorite foods, fried bacon and stewed corn. She had the table nicely set and placed a cloth over the dishes on the table to await his arrival.

Mayme was a pretty brunette, but a big girl, a muscular five feet, nine inches, 170 pounds. Her neighbors knew her as a good housekeeper who kept their home neatly furnished and immaculately clean, always in the best of order. Born Eva May Connery in Byer’s Junction, Jackson County, Ohio, her father was the postmaster and station agent. She picked up the nickname “Mayme” at age 12 and started using it as her proper name. She was married briefly to a boy named Dobbes at 16, but returned home a month later and divorced before she turned 17. Her father trained her in the telegraphy trade. When she was 24, she came to Cincinnati to work.

She married Charles Steddings, a co-worker at the Eighth Street telegraph office. They were happy for a few years, then she took a job at the Hamilton Depot and found a room in a boarding house on Fourth Street between Sycamore and Ludlow. There, she met Charles Sherman. Steddings agreed to an amicable divorce. He and Mayme got along well, but he could see that she was infatuated with this other man and he did not want to impede her happiness. Mayme and Charles Sherman married on June 17, 1903. They were both 30 years old. Steddings helped her pack and move to Hamilton in a house at East Avenue and Chestnut Street. The Shermans moved to the Sycamore Street house on January 21, 1904, and that’s when their troubles started.

As neat and tidy as she was, Sherman demanded more. While changing clothes one night after work, he berated her about the sloppy way she made the bed.

“If you don’t like it, find yourself someplace else to sleep,” she said. As she stormed down the stairs, she snapped, “I’m getting tired of you anyhow. If you don’t leave, I might.”

Sherman finished changing her clothes and followed her to find she had locked herself in the kitchen. He went out the front door and around the house to come in through the back door. As he walked in, she brandished a poker at him.

“What are you going to do with that?” he demanded.

“I am going to kill you if you lay hands on me,” she yelled.

“What have I done to you that you treat me like this?” he asked.

“I am tired of the way you treat me,” she said, putting down the poker and sitting in a chair, exasperated. “You’re always finding fault with me.”

Sherman went to her, got on his knees and asked her not to leave him. He told her that they got along together and that he would do more to help her out, sweet talking until he got her in a better mood. Then they went upstairs for sex, but she was still distant and did not speak to him for the rest of the night.

Along about May and June, Sherman’s mother, Mary, came for a long visit, but she and Mayme didn’t get along. They eventually came to blows. Sherman was walking home after work and as he turned the corner onto Sycamore, Mayme came running out of the house.

“Vic, either me or your mother has got to leave for good,” she cried. “She hit me over the head with a club.”

“Where at?” Sherman asked suspiciously. She pulled the hair back off her forehead. “I don’t see anything.”

“Well, either she goes or I do,” she said.

In recounting the story later at his trial for his wife’s murder, Sherman said that he reassured her that if anyone would go, it would be his mother. As much as he loved his mother, he said, his loyalty would always be to his wife.

When they got back in the house, Sherman asked her mother about the trouble. Mother laid it all on Mayme, saying that they got into a fuss about how to beat a carpet. She said Mayme pushed her down and hit her with a club, breaking her arm. He examined it. The arm was bruised, so Sherman took her to see a doctor, and then called his brother Ed in Indiana to come get their mother and take her back home.


While Mayme busied herself making some of her husband’s favorite foods in the hope of mending the rift between them and getting his permission to take the job, Sherman got the engine back in its house and got back to the yard about 5:30 p.m. He confronted the telegraph operator, Campbell.

“What did my wife telegraph to the Hoffman?” he asked.

Campbell said he did not know, that he was in the baggage room when she answered.

Sherman gave Campbell “a tearing out” for helping his wife look for work, told him to mind his own business.

When his shift ended at 6 p.m., he went straight home, eager to put an end to the nonsense. Mayme did not come out to meet him as she usually did, and that just made him madder. He walked around back and entered through the kitchen door, took off his coat and shoes and put on his house slippers. He started across the kitchen to wash up at the sink and heard his wife call out from the parlor asking if he was ready for supper.

“Not yet,” he shouted back.

He dried his hands and walked into the dining room just as Mayme walked in the other door.

“Are you ready for supper?” she asked again.

“Not yet,” he said again.

“Well, hurry up,” she said. She wanted to go to the Eagles picnic at Lindenwald Park. He wanted to finish the fuss he had started earlier.

“Why do you persist in wanting to work when you know I don’t want you to?” he asked her again, exactly as he had that afternoon.

“Did you give them an answer?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m taking the job, and it’s none of your business.”

“I told you, you would not work,” he said. “Now I will show you.”

During his confession in the hospital later that night, perhaps before he had time to think about a legal defense, Sherman told Police Chief Sipp that she did not say anything, but gave him a look that he took as a sneer, and that was all he could take. He hit her in the face with his fist as hard as he could. Mayme fell to the dining room floor and he went after her, striking her again and again in the face until he felt it in his knuckles, then he started to choke her. She kicked and sputtered, and after a long, painful moment, he let her go. While he paced the floor fuming, she struggled to her feet. Before she could get all the way up, Sherman picked up one of the oak dining room chairs and struck her with it. She went back down and he hit her with the chair until it broke into pieces.

In this version of the story, Sherman was still boiling and stormed out of the house and to the coal shed out back. He grabbed a hatchet and came back into the dining room. Mayme was leaning back in a corner between the dish closet and the clothes closet. He struck her on top of the head. When she fell forward, he hit her again at the base of her skull. The coroner would later say that either of the blows would have been sufficient, but Sherman was still in a rage. He said he did not remember taking a pocket knife from his work pants, nor stabbing his wife several times in the back, nor rolling her over to slash each side of her throat. He said he did not remember taking the knife to himself.

The battle in the Shermans’ dining room had caused enough of a ruckus to attract the neighbors, and Mrs. Ely ran to the home of Mayor Charles Bosch on South Fourth Street a block away, next door to the house where Alfred Knapp strangled his wife. The mayor and his wife were sitting on the porch, and watched Mrs. Ely run past the house, coming to a sudden stop when she realized she had passed her destination, and turned around, excitedly telling the mayor that her neighbor was either killing or had killed his wife. Bosch grabbed his coat and hat and ran ahead of Mrs. Ely.

He knocked at the front door of the Sherman home, but the house was dark and no one answered, so he went to the side door and then tried windows, all the time trying to get the attention of someone inside. He made his way all around to the kitchen door. It was unlocked, but just as Bosch turned the knob and started to push it open, Jack Walsh, one of the neighbors in the crowd that had gathered around the yard, said, “Don’t go in there, Mayor. You don’t know what might happen. I’d stay out.”

It sounded like good advice, so Bosch asked where he could find a telephone.

“Next door,” said someone else, and without looking for a gate, Bosch jumped the fence, went directly inside and called up police headquarters and ordered a wagon with as many officers as were available without giving any details. But the alarm had already been raised and when Bosch returned to the Sherman house, Patrolmen Joe Kramer and John Dulle had just arrived. Bosch told Dulle to cover the back door while he and Kramer went in the front. The parlor was empty. The dining room, curtains drawn, was empty and in near total darkness. Dulle came in from the kitchen, paused.

His eyes adjusting, Bosch spied a pair of legs lying alongside the dining room table.

“Here it is, boys. Strike a match,” he said as he fished one out of his pocket. He and Kramer both lit matches, enough light for them to see a man lying in a pool of blood, apparently dead. In the opposite corner, a woman was sitting on the floor, leaning back against the wall, definitely dead. Her hair, disheveled and matted with gore, partly covered her face, but he could see her mouth hanging open, dripping blood, her hands folded in her lap. Her clothes were soaked, her dress drawn up to her knees, and the walls surrounding her streaked and splattered with blood nearly to the ceiling.

Mayme Sherman’s injuries were frightful, her face was a battered mass of bone and bruised tissue, her nose mashed in even with the blackened eye sockets and her right eye dangling on her cheek. Long gashes marred the top and back of her head. The post-mortem would reveal she had four fractures of the skull, any one of which could have caused death, along with seven knife wounds in her back under the right shoulder blade and a slash on each side of her throat. Her arms were blue from the elbow down, probably from trying to deflect blows, her hands slashed and stabbed through as if she had grabbed the blade.

As Mayor Bosch took in the horror, he heard the rumble of the police ambulance coming up in front of the house. He also heard the voice of Charles Sherman saying, “Isn’t this a nice thing to walk into?”

Just then Police Chief Jacob Sipp and police surgeon Dr. William C. Huston entered the room with lanterns. The doctor took charge of the scene, putting pressure on Sherman’s profusely bleeding wounds.

“See what jealously will do?” the bleeding man said. “This happened because I didn’t want her to take a job. She was well provided for, but she just wouldn’t listen to me.”

Coroner Thomas D. Sharkey soon arrived, pronounced Mayme Sherman dead and instructed the drivers to take her remains to Albert Wagner’s morgue on Ludlow Street.

Before they carried his body out, Charles Sherman told Chief Sipp, “I hit her with my fist; I hit her with a chair; and then I hit her with a hatchet.”

“Did you use a knife?” the chief asked.

“I think I did,” Sherman replied.

Dr. Huston accompanied Sherman on the ride to Mercy Hospital, keeping his hands on the man’s throat wounds.

“Is my wife dead?” he asked.

“Yes,” Huston said. “She is dead.”

“Then there’s no use sewing me up,” he said. “I might as well be dead, too.”

“Yes, you might as well be dead,” the doctor said. “They’ll get you anyhow.”

Sherman looked down at his hands, covered with blood and clumps of his wife’s hair matted with gore. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, he handed the clump over to an attendant. In the good light of the hospital, Dr. Huston took inventory of Sherman’s wounds, finding them not as serious as they first appeared: five stabs in the left breast over the heart and a puncture wound on each side of the throat. Although there was a lot of blood, the cuts were all shallow and none of them serious.

After his wounds were dressed, Coroner Sharkey ordered that he be placed in a straightjacket to keep him from doing more damage to himself. At 10 p.m., Chief Sipp summoned Police Clerk Frank Clements (who would one day be chief of police himself during Hamilton’s beleaguered Prohibition era) to take down Charles Victor Sherman’s confession.


Sherman’s attorneys--Bickley and Bickley--made the unusual decision to claim the brutal murder was an act of self-defense.

Attorney U.F. Bickley always referred to the victim by her birth name, Eva May Connery, and called witnesses, some from her hometown of Byer’s Station and some former co-workers, who said she was “a woman of high temper, of a violent, quarrelsome, disagreeable disposition and of questionable moral character,” according to the Hamilton Daily Republican. There were intimations that she drank to excess, but objections to that sort of testimony were consistently sustained. No one testified to the contrary.

Other witnesses testified as to the upright character and even temperament of Charles Victor Sherman, that he was a perfect gentleman, known as a peaceable, quiet and law-abiding citizen, though most of them admitted under cross-examination that they did not know anything about the defendant’s home life nor his relationship with the victim.

During his testimony, Sherman told a story that matched his earlier confession until he got to the part about their dining room showdown. Mayme was impatient because she wanted to go to the Eagles picnic and when he brought up the subject of the job, she struck him on the nose with her fist, then picked up a poker from the stove and came at him swinging. He caught a blow on his arm and she swung it again. This time he grabbed it and punched her in the face. They exchanged blows again and she fell to the ground. He grabbed her by the throat and told her to drop the poker.

“I won’t drop it until I kill you with it,” she croaked and he tightened his grip until she dropped it. When he let her go, she ran to the sideboard and grabbed a straight razor. They wrestled over that for a while, and he finally got it away from her and put it back in the drawer. While he was doing that, she grabbed the hatchet from the ice chest and came at him again. He grabbed one of the kitchen chairs to protect himself, but then she made as if to throw the hatchet so he swung the chair at her, but missed and the chair shattered to pieces against the stove.

Mayme swung the hatchet at him again and connected with a glancing blow to the side of his head. He succeeded in knocking it out of her hand, and when he went to retrieve it, she picked up the poker again.

“She started at me,” he testified, “when I grabbed her, shoved her into the corner, her head struck a door jamb and she sank to the floor. I took out my knife, cut my throat on one side and went out the porch and called Mrs. Bunting. I then went back into the room, cut my throat on the other side and that is the last thing I remember.”

Sherman testified that he could not remember anything that happened after attempting to cut his own throat, neither in the home nor in the hospital. He said that Coroner Sharkey came to him the next day with a typewritten piece of paper that he said was his statement. Sherman said he refused to sign it and his legal counsel advised him not to say anything else until the trial, and that’s why he never mentioned that his wife attacked him and he was only defending himself.

During cross-examination, his most frequent answer was, “I don’t remember,” particularly in regard to his earlier confessions. He did not remember seeing the coroner that night and did not remember talking to the chief of police in the presence of a stenographer. He denied ever striking his wife over the head with the chair and denied having struck her with a hatchet. He could not account for the cuts on her back and throat.

The Daily Republican News wrote, “Remarks dropped in the course of the cross-examination and afterward by persons present seemed to show that the general impression was that Sherman’s story, while well adhered to, was rather thin.”

The defense called Dr. G.A. Herrmann to the stand to testify about tending to the broken arm of Mary Sherman, who he guessed was 65 to 68 years old (the mother only testified through deposition). Dr. Herrmann said he was dressing it as he would any ordinary fracture and overheard Mayme and Charles fussing.

“That settles it,” he heard Mayme say. “I am not going to live with you.”

“If anyone leaves, it will be Mother,” Sherman said.

Sherman had the doctor make arrangements to send the old woman to the hospital in Oxford, where another of her sons would pick her up.

The jury deliberated for five hours, rendering a verdict of guilty of second degree murder, having found no proof of premeditation.

Charles Victor Sherman received a life sentence for the murder of his wife, but he did not stay in jail long.

He was never granted another trial, but his friends and family lobbied hard to have him pardoned. In 1911, just six years after his conviction, Ohio Governor Harmon named Charles Victor Sherman his “Thanksgiving Pardon” as the result of a plea submitted by his family and endorsed by several well-known Indiana politicians, including the sitting Lieutenant Governor and a former Congressman.

The press release announcing his pardon was filled with factual errors and painted the man in quite a different light than the reports of his arrest and trial, describing the murder thus: “One evening he attempted to caress her and she struck him. A quarrel ensued, during which he picked up a chair and felled her. The blow killed her.”

His conviction, the press release said, was the consequence of the backlash over the crimes committed by “Strangler” Alfred Knapp.

“Sherman’s trial occurred when the public mind was inflamed and as a consequence he was convicted of a more serious degree than he would have been at some other time,” it said.

Local officials “did not look upon the pardon with much favor,” the Evening Journal reported.

Sherman did not come back to Hamilton, but did pass through on his way to be with his mother in Rushville, Indiana, and had an hour-long layover at the Hamilton Depot. His appearance did not go unnoticed as he was immediately recognized by his former co-workers at the CH&D, who greeted him cheerily. The Hamilton Evening Journal reported that Sherman looked much holder, his brown hair turned gray. He appeared emaciated and had grown nearly deaf from catarrh, a side effect of frequent bouts of tonsillitis he suffered while in the Ohio Penitentiary.  

By the time World War I came around, Sherman was out of prison and registered for the draft. At the time, he was living with his sister in Lansing, Michigan, and working for an auto body company. He had already served in the infantry for seven months of 1898 during the Spanish-American War. It’s not clear whether he saw any action, but he did enter a home for disabled veterans in Los Angeles in 1928, citing asthma and poor hearing, when he was 55 years old. Two years later, during the 1930 census, he was living in a military home in Montgomery County, Ohio. Sherman died at age 80, in 1953, in Los Angeles and is buried in the veterans section of the national cemetery there.



Butler County Democrat: Another Atrocious Hamilton Murder, September 1, 1904; “I’ve Killed Mamie”, February 2, 1905; Sherman Murder Case, February 2, 1905; The Sherman Arguments are Made, February 9, 1905; Sherman Sticks to His Story, February 9, 1905; Sherman Tells Murder Story, February 9, 1905.

Hamilton Evening Journal: Butler County Life Man Given Pardon, November 29, 1911.

Hamilton Republican News: Another Murder for Hamilton, August 25, 1904; Body Taken to Father’s Home, August 26, 1904; Sherman and Jury Taken to the Premises, January 30, 1905; Confession Goes to Sherman Jury, January 31, 1905; State’s Case is Nearly Complete, February 1, 1905; Defense Opens in Sherman Case, February 2, 1905; Attack is Made on Mrs. Sherman, February 3, 1905; Sherman Tells Story of Crime, February 4, 1905.

Birth, death and census records via


February 1917     The Arsenic Affair

When farmer Lorel Wardlow died from an acute case of quinsy, the country doctor who took care of him signed off on the death certificate without an autopsy. The little town of Kyle was soon buzzing with gossip about his widow and her behavior with the farmhand Harry Cowdry, who helped take care of his boss in his last days. When the coroner got wind of the scandal, he started the investigation.

Before the dust settled on the 1917 case, there would be accusations of murder, an exhumation of the body, three trials, one hung jury, a prison break and a scandal that rocked Southwestern Ohio.

The Arsenic Affair: The True Crime of Belle Wardlow and Harry Cowdry

May 1919     Prohibition Comes to Town

The crowds, as expected, were immense. 

As the end of legal beer and liquor sales approached, Hamilton Chief of Police Charles G. Stricker and city officials braced themselves for riots with a stern warning that the midnight closing law would be strictly enforced with “no leeway” given to any saloon. 

“This closing proposition is governed by state law,” the chief said, “and we intend to enforce it.” 

At 5:30 a.m., Saturday, May 24, 1919, the seventy-six saloons in Hamilton opened their doors for one last hurrah. 

At the request of the saloon owners, police stationed themselves in some of the bigger establishments to prevent the destruction of property in case the crowds became too “hilarious”. Every man was on duty Saturday, most officers working double shifts.

For the next 18 hours, “more of the spirited stuff changed hands than in any other three days in the history of the city saloon business,” the Daily Republican News reported. “Early in the morning, the sight of men and women emerging from cafes and wholesale liquor houses with packages beneath their arms was common and until nine o’clock in the evening, this stream of package carriers continued to be in prominence.

“By the time the clock had ticked off the ninth hour, every wholesale house in the city had disposed of their bottled stock and only the barrooms remained to be visited and put in a Sahara-like condition.

“And with the coming of the morning, every saloon in the city with the exception of Lyman Williams’ place on Fifth and Henry streets offered their final rounds and the curtains were drawn and saloondom passed out of existence in the city.

“Two hundred locals witnessed the inauguration of the dry spell and drank deep of the passing beverages. The contents seemed to be lacking in producing the ‘fighting’ effect, but little disorder was reported to the police headquarters.

“But four arrests were made and of these none were more succumbed to the high-tension powers of that ‘stuff’ of former days… After the close of the bars, hundreds of men, their arms burdened with bottles, cases, jars and other containers carrying the ‘juice’ wended their way homeward. This procession was the most congenial which has been witnessed in some time. Everybody as everybody else, friend. Mr. Jones had known Mr. Smith since he was a boy. They were all good fellows. Yes, everyone on earth was a good scout And the only ones upon whom was heaped the anger, wrath and the ‘unspeakable,’ were those who had voted for prohibition.”

The Evening Journal said there was “no gaiety at the bars although all were packed during the evening.” Many of the bars sold out their stock by early evening. As the evening wore on, the bars with ample supply dropped prices to deplete their inventory.

As the hour of midnight drew near, the revelers bid farewell to John Barleycorn in song. Voices that were “not particularly melodious in keys unknown to the musicians,” songs such as ‘How Dry I Am,’ ‘Good Night, Ladies,’ and ‘Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here,’ penetrated the air.”

When midnight struck, the lights over the bars were dimmed, which was the usual signal that leaving time had approached, all turned toward the door, glancing back with a sigh for the last time at the “wet” bars. Fleeting thoughts of the sight of coming soft drink and near beer bars only added to their depression.

Outside the saloons people quietly gathered in small groups. No one was particularly boisterous nor were there any drunken brawls. The people seemed to not know what to say or do. The small groups stood still for a moment, and “almost mute opened their mouths only to lick their lips and close them again. The congregations lasted only a few minutes, when they parted, each member going his way silently, carrying with him his sorrow and depressed spirit.”

The Republican said, “Til as early as three o’clock in the morning many men were seen about the streets, resting in unconventional poses wandering far into the land of dreams where was pictured, nothing but ‘barrels of the juicy fluid’. Many were disturbed from their slumbers and taken home but quite a few were awakened this morning by the break of day.

“Tho not boisterous and uncontrollable, the ceremonies from Saturday night were far from impressive…

“The most humorous of the entire number of incidents related of occurred as the clock was nearing 3 a.m. Sunday morning. A party of ‘farewell celebrants’ were coming into the city from the South in a Ford car.

“Cries of ‘Glorious, Glorious Sahara,’ ‘When I’m Stewed,’ and many other choice selections were heard from the machine.

“At the end of a pole attached to the front of the machine hung a very much empty ‘booze bottle’ scornfully decorated with crepe. The black drapings waved remorsefully in the breezes bearing on them, the inscription in chalk, ‘Gone but not forgotten.’”

At one party in Lindenwald, a group of partiers held a mock funeral, digging a nine-foot hole and burying a case of Wiedemann lager with moans, dirges and mock blessings.

“Sunday was a day of rest, regrets and recuperation for many,” the Journal concluded. “As they arose, many of them along toward noon day, they were given to contemplation, especially as to whether the morning after had been worth the night before.

They “kept their spirits up by the knowledge that one more day—Monday—and one more saloon—the Lyman Williams café at South Fifth and Henry streets—still remained to them for a last chance to quench their thirsts, which seemed to have greatly increased with their thoughts of Prohibition.”


Butler County and the city of Hamilton were dead-set against the Prohibition of alcohol. There were four votes on the issue from 1917 to 1919, and the “wet” vote was never less than 68 percent in the city, never less than 56 percent in the county. Wet voters beat dry voters by at least thirty-eight points on the four ballot measures in Ohio, making it one of the most staunchly anti-Prohibition cities in the state. When the state legislature voted overwhelmingly (20-12 and 85-29) to ratify the 18th Amendment on January 8, 1919, the city’s state senator and state representative both voted against it. 

Hamilton’s Congressman Warren Gard was one of Rep. Andrew Volstead’s fiercest opponents. And when the referendum came up that November, the men of Hamilton voted 68.1 percent against it.

Nevertheless, Prohibition came, but whatever moral high ground the Prohibitionists felt they had gained, the economic losses were nothing less than staggering—and with dire consequences.

On the eve of Prohibition, the Hamilton newspapers projected that the city would lose $50,000 in annual revenue—nearly $700,000 in 2016 dollars—which would lead to drastic cuts in services, including police protection.

Nationally, more than 300,000 saloons were to go out of business, as well as 236 distilleries and 992 breweries. More than 1.6 million people would be put out of work.

On May 19, 1919, the Hamilton Evening Journal polled over sixty saloon owners and other liquor-related businesses as to their plans for when the laws would go into effect later that week. Many said they would simply shut down. Some planned to sell their place or convert it to a butcher shop or a grocery store, while others planned to continue serving soft drinks, near-beer and food.

In that alphabetical list, Lyman Williams, who owned a saloon at the corner of Fifth and Henry streets across from the B&O Railroad station, reported that he would “probably try the soft drink business.”

Although statewide Prohibition didn’t officially begin until the end of the day Monday, May 26, all annual liquor licenses expired May 25, but because that was a Sunday, none would be open anyway. So essentially, all of the local bars were to stop selling liquor at midnight, Saturday, May 24.

Almost all. There was a loophole, and Lyman Williams found it. For $305 (over $4,000 today), Williams purchased from the state a special one-day license for that Monday, making his shop the last legal saloon in Hamilton and Butler County.


Anticipating a busy final day as the last legal saloon in Hamilton, Lyman Williams engaged the help of some of his friendly competitors—George Renners, Dennis Buckley and Charles Grieser—to help him manage the crowds.

They took out the pool tables in the back rooms and expanded the bar to get ready for the big day, the grand finale.

“From early in the morning to the last minute the café will be open, with excellent service and plenty of ‘suds’ to serve,” the newspaper promised.

They opened at 8 a.m. People lined up around the block to get one last legal drink. Six police officers were stationed on the premises, at the expense of the Williams consortium.

But there would be no trouble.

Williams reported rushing business all during the day and up to the final minute. “When the clock struck twelve,” the Republican reported, “it tolled a death knell for ‘booze’ in Hamilton, but some went home with stocks to last them for some time.

“The memories of Saturday and Monday will live long in the lives of those who took part in the farewell ceremonies for Old John Barleycorn. From now on the traffic between here and Kentucky should be very heavy” for the next five weeks until national Prohibition kicked in.

Prohibition came to Hamilton peacefully and quietly, but the peace and quiet would not last long.

“The dry era came in like a lamb in Hamilton,” wrote local historian Jim Blount decades later, “but it soon turned into a lion—earning the town a new name, Little Chicago.”


November 1919     Early Raids

Although he didn’t seem to be involved in the notorious gangster wars that would scandalize Hamilton before Prohibition ended, Lyman Williams would remain one of the city’s most reliable purveyors of alcohol. The Cincinnati Enquirer called him “The King of the Hamilton Bootleggers.”

He paid his first fine for violating the Volstead act on October 10, 1919, not quite five months into the dry era, for selling beer of more than 2.75 percent alcohol. The fine was $1,000, equivalent to more than $13,000 in 2016 dollars.

“Some of the beer was a product of Milwaukee breweries and others is being brought into the city from Kentucky being a product of breweries in that state, and if Ohio remains dry as to 2.75 percent beer complications may ensure on the score of shipping liquor into dry territory, which is forbidden by federal law,” the Daily News reported.

Lyman Williams and the other café operators were not only under the constant eye of federal Prohibition agents, but also local vigilantes operating as “The Butler County Dry Enforcement League” and the “Ohio Anti-Saloon League.”

Six months after the last saloon in Hamilton sold its last drink, police discovered the first moonshining operation in Hamilton at 202 Webster Avenue.

Information had quietly reached police headquarters that a small stable at the rear of the modest little house in an isolated part of the city near the Belt Line railway on the west side contained a still. 

It was about 8 a.m., November 2, 1919, when Inspector Herman Dulle and a four-man squad started for the scene for what the Daily News called “a thorough and cleverly planned and adroitly executed raid.” The five officers quietly surrounded the building and opened the door to the surprise of Henry Harrison Wilder, 38, the resident of the house, and Chester Rice, his 21-year-old brother-in-law, stirring a large copper kettle with a capacity of about 40 gallons of mash that was set in a wall and heated by a gas fire running full blast. 

The Daily News provided a detailed description of the operation: “On top of kettle where it was narrowed to a circular opening was placed a large drum through which the thick steam from the mash kettle passed and was from the drum conveyed by a pipe to thc worm, another large receptacle, and through the copper coils of which the steam also passed condensed and emerged from the worm as the complete product crystal clear as mountain dew. The fire was going and the mash almost on the boil when the officers so suddenly entered, and only a few hours longer would have been required when the process would have been finished.”

Police said that Wilder had the ingredients to make about eight gallons “of the essence of moonshine,” and valued the still at $400. They had to partially dismantle the police ambulance to transport the still with its component parts, sacks of corn meal, and three barrels of mash in the process of fermentation to Cincinnati as evidence.

Local Revenue Officer Frank Fontaine was informed of the arrests, took charge of the matter and notified the federal authorities at Cincinnati.

Wilder, married with three children, was from Owsley County, Kentucky, a carpenter by trade, first coming to Hamilton in 1906 to work in the factories, but had moved back and forth several times.  He says he was employed for a number of years in a distillery in Kentucky and has made moonshine whiskey before but this was his first batch in Hamilton. He admitted ownership of the still but denied any intent of making whiskey for sale.

Rice came here from Owsley County about three months prior to work in the factories. He and his wife lived with his parents on Gobbler's Knob. He said he didn’t know anything about Wilder's operations but only went over there for a visit and just happened to be with Wilder in the stable when the police appeared.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas Donovan started for Cincinnati Monday night with the prisoners handcuffed and went without police escort to the depot to await the train. Donovan noticed several men in a group who nodded mysteriously to the prisoners. He surmised they were dressed like mountaineers and anticipating an ambush, drew his revolver, put his men in a corner of the depot where he could watch the door, and remained in that guarded position until he ushered the two men onto the train. 

When the train arrived in Cincinnati, the federal officer took his men to the jail on the top floor of the new courthouse building. It was late and for an hour he wandered around the outside of the building trying to attract the attention of the jailer. Later he learned of a push button which is located on the outside of the gates and which connects with the jailer’s new office. The two alleged moonshiners were finally placed in cells in the federal row. 

On December 1, Wilder pleaded guilty to three charges: operating an illicit still, manufacturing whiskey without a license, and doing the same in violation of the war time prohibition. The still was brought into court as evidence. U.S. District Court Judge John Weld Peck fined him $1,500 and sentenced him to six months in the Montgomery County jail. The judge dismissed charges against the brother-in-law Rice when Wilder exonerated him, stating that Rice had only stopped in for a visit. Inspector Dulle and the other officers who made the arrests went to Cincinnati as witnesses, but were not called.

Although it was Hamilton police that made the first raid, by January, 1920 a city councilman and two former saloon keepers faced federal charges as part of a complex distribution ring that stretched from Louisville, Kentucky, to New York City. Hamilton men part of the importation of whiskey from Canada heading south and Caribbean rum making its way north from Florida. When Chicago lawyer George Remus moved to Cincinnati as a more convenient location for his bootlegging practice, he soon turned to Little Chicago as recruiting and training ground. If a man made his mark in Hamilton and Cincinnati, he could get a better job in Kansas City or St. Louis--even Chicago, the major league racketeering city of the Midwest.

While there were many scuffles and shooting related to the consumption of alcohol and liquor raids on stills and saloons a daily occurrence, the first death directly attributed to Prohibition came during a bungled hijacking in January 1922 when three men came to Hamilton from Columbus and Newark, Ohio, looking to make a purchase. No one in town would deal with them, but they saw deals going down in the “soft drink parlors” they visited. In one such spot, they watched two men load five cases into the trunk of a car with Indiana tags, and one man drove away.

They followed the car north, and when they were well into the country, the trio pulled their Hudson alongside the Indiana car and one of the thugs jumped onto its running board. He fired eight shots into the car but apparently missed as the driver fired back two and hit. The man fell from the car, dead, and his companions stopped to pick him up, letting the Hoosier car get away. They dumped his body in Franklin County and were soon arrested, spilling the entire tale.

For the first two years, the raids went off without much fuss or excitement as three sets of agents scoured the area for stills and points of distribution. The law gave local justices of the peace and magistrates the authority to pursue liquor violations even outside their jurisdiction, giving enterprising politicians a chance to make their mark and fill their coffers. There were squads of federal and state agents at work as well, and the three groups seldom worked together. Consequently, state and federal agents found it difficult to get indictments, but local Prohibition agents found a thriving business.

Along with seven other establishments, Williams’s café was targeted for a massive federal raid on a Saturday afternoon, January 29, 1921. Officials called it “one of the most successful Prohibition raids in Ohio.

“Bursting into the city in seven high-powered automobiles and working with clock-like precision the dry forces scurried to many parts of the city simultaneously and at precisely the same moment instituted two-thirds of the raids… Pointing revolvers on entering each place the Federal men made their raids quickly and immediately upon discovery of evidence corralled the proprietor or man in charge. Their prisoners were taken to the county jail.”

In some places, the feds confiscated a few bottles or a few cases of whiskey. They even found a still. In others, like the Lyman Williams café, they found nothing, but arrested the owners and bartenders anyway based on what proved to be rather flimsy information provided by some of the “unofficial” detectives.

These “detectives” said that they went into each place, ordered whiskey, took the drink but held it in their mouths while they went to the restroom to spit it back into a bottle. 

Charges against the 11 men arrested, including Lyman Williams and two of his bartenders, were dropped, and the case set an important national legal precedent. The courts ruled that “evidence secured through private agencies… would not be permitted as a basis for federal cases in the future.”

The big raid, therefore, was a complete waste of time, effort and money.

Although the vigilante enforcers were now out of business, local café owners soon had to contend with the pesky Squire Morris Schuler, a justice of the peace in the little village of Seven Mile, who found his own little loophole to become the scourge of bootleggers all over Butler County.

December 1919         The Murder of Harry Baker

Russell J. Sunderland was walking north along South Fourth Street, on his way home on Campbell Avenue after a night of visiting friends in South Hamilton, when he heard two shots fired at about 1:20 a.m., Monday morning, December 15, 1919. Then two men ran toward him in a big hurry, but they turned east on Maple Avenue before they got to him. Sunderland continued on Fourth in the direction of the shots and at Court Street saw the body of a man lying on the sidewalk at northwest corner of Fourth and Court streets in front of the Carr Milling Company. He heard the man groan and ran toward High Street find a telephone so he could call for help. The Crystal restaurant was open, and when he dashed inside he saw, Municipal Court Clerk Thomas McGreevy and told him what he’d seen. McGreevy called police headquarters and rushed to the scene. 

He immediately recognized the fallen man as Merchant Patrolman Harry E. Baker. The Hamilton Police Department at the time consisted of a mere twenty-one officers covering a city approaching 40,000 residents, so the banks and merchants in the vicinity of High Street to form an association to hire patrolmen for the protections of their businesses. More than mere night watchmen, the merchant patrolmen had full access to the resources of the police department, walked regular beats, carried weapons, had the power to make arrests, and belonged to the Police Mutual Aid Society. So when the entire night shift of the HPD arrived on the scene, they recognized Baker as one of their own. He was lying face down on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. He had been shot in the back, just below the left shoulder. The bullet pierced both lungs and his heart, killing him instantly, and broke the third rib on the right side of his body. There were no powder burns on his clothes, indicating he had not been shot at close range. His overcoat was buttoned, his weapon not drawn, and he had $62 in cash in an inside pocket.

Harry E. Baker had served as a Merchant’s Policeman for fourteen years. The Daily News described as “a cool, brave, efficient officer, modest and unassuming in demeanor but vigilant in the discharge of his duties.” Said the Evening Journal, “everyone liked Harry E. Baker. He always had a kindly word for all; he did not indulge in idle gossip; the story of the scandal-monger was not for his lips to repeat.” He had missed but two nights of work in his career: the night he was married and the night of the great flood of 1913. He was 36 years old, born in Reily and moving to Hamilton as a young man. He bought a house at 648 Minor Avenue. He left behind his wife of nine years Nellie Mae and two children, Dorothy, 5, and Eva May, 3.

The only clue at the scene was a dark gray wool cap found near the body, 7¾ in size, and though it had no labels or identifying marks, was made from an unusual eight-piece pattern. There was also a clump of hair, indicating that a struggle had taken place and the cap removed under pressure.

Officials could piece together a meager sequence of events. Merchant’s Patrolman Baker had sent in what proved to be his last report from the Second National Bank at 1:06 a.m. At 1:10 a.m., shortly before the shots fired, Merchant Patrolment Frank Brown and Charles Morton saw two men standing in the entrance to the Grand Theatre on South Third Street. As the officers approached, the men fled, turning east on Court Street. One appeared to be about 35 years old, 5 feet, 8 inches, wearing a brown overcoat and a slouch hat, with about two-days’ growth of beard. The other was about 25, similar height, had light gray hair and wore a short gray coat and a gray wool cap just like the cap found at the scene of the murder.

At the time of the shooting, Hamilton Patrolman Ed Johnson was on the south side of High Street between State Street and Third when he heard three shots fired, but he couldn’t tell exactly where they came from. He walked back on State to Court Street but didn’t see anything although he was less than a block from the scene of the shooting.

Two Greek men in the New York Restaurant at 303 Court Street said that shortly before the shooting two men had been in there and one of them wore that cap. No one in Hamilton made a hat like that, so police surmised it was made in Cincinnati. With the two Greeks, Detective Charles Hermann made inquiries at various hobbing houses and found that it had been made by the K & F Cap Company, who said that they had made a shipment of 11 of those hats to the Pettit & McKeown shop on Main Street. From there, they learned the caps had been sold during fair week and that one of them had been purchased by a young man living at 328 South B Street. 

The trail eventually led to a boarding house at 345 A Street that was occupied by a family and several young single men from Kentucky who had the reputation of being heavily armed. So they proceeded cautiously.

At 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, three days after the murder, a squad of more than a dozen Hamilton police officers and deputy sheriffs quietly surrounded the boarding house and arrested eleven people. Most of them were soon released, but police kept in custody Justus Tucker Bowling, 21, Nelson H. Barger, 25, and Hargis “Harry” Callahan, 17.

It was Hargis, whose father had been a Kentucky sheriff and killed in a feud with another clan, who first began to talk under the harsh grilling given by the police. 

The house on South A Street was occupied by a gang of young men who had come to Hamilton from Kentucky looking for work, and set about to commit some crimes to make some easier money. But the gang seemed to have more ambition than nerve. The leaders of the gang were Kimber Baker, who was also the son of a Kentucky county sheriff and lived in a boarding house nearby on B Street, and Nelson J. Barger, cousin of Nelson H. Barger who was also in custody. On two previous occasions, Callahan told interrogators, Barger and Baker led the gang across the river to stick up a crap game at the Moon Restaurant at 309 Court Street, a game run by “Big Jim” Pappas, also known as “the Greek,” but twice they retreated to A Street without carrying out their plan. 

At 3 p.m. Sunday, December 14, the two ringleaders came to the house and announced that they were going to pull the job that night and anyone who didn’t want to help “could go to hell.” From 6 to 11 p.m. they sat around the house working up their nerve and trying to get some of the other young Kentuckians in the house to join the caper before finally heading across the river. N.J. Barger had two guns, a .32 and a .38. N.H. Barger had a .45 and he gave Bowling a .25. Baker had a .38. Callahan was unarmed. They first went to Thompson’s pool room on High Street near Third, and hung out there until 1 a.m. They walked down Third and ducked into the Grand Theatre’s lobby to get out of the wind. Here, Tucker Bowling said that he didn’t think they ought to go through with the plan. Callahan and Nelson H. Barger backed out, too. Baker and Nelson J. Barger berated him and the two gang leaders left the others in the lobby. This was when they were seen by the Merchant Patrolmen. 

Bowling left Callahan and N.H. Barger as they went into the Busy Bee restaurant on Third Street for some soup, after which they walked over to High Street where they saw a patrolman, Ed Johnson. As they were trying to stay out of his sight, they heard the shots fired. This diverted the attention of the patrolman, so they went to a barber shop where they knew there was a crap game in progress. A short time later, a man came in and told them they ought to disperse because a cop had been killed a couple of blocks over. Barger and Callahan wandered over that way with some other men and saw the cops inspecting the cap, and they knew it belonged to Kimber Baker. They went back to the house on A Street where Nelson J. Barger met them at the door in an agitated state and told them to get straight into bed. 

None of the gang saw Baker again. N.J. Barger went to work at his job at the Mosler Safe Company on Monday and half a day on Tuesday, then took a train to Berea. Callahan said he and N.H. Barger took a suitcase to the express office for N.J. Barger’s mother, addressed to her son in Berea, Kentucky. 

Detectives Peter Hetterich and Charles Hermann went to Kentucky. It was easy enough to track Barger down there--Hetterich just went to the address in Bobtown where the suitcase had been shipped and arrested him. But Kimber Baker was another story, one without an end. 

On Thursday, Hermann and Hetterich took a log train to Bond in Jackson County, an arduous journey in that day. “Understand there are no railroads down there,” Hetterich said. “The country is the wildest kind and the only way to travel is on horseback.”

According to their report, they went to McKee, the county seat, where they had information that H.C. or L.C. Baldwin, county attorney, had arrested Kimber Baker, who was in custody at the jail and would be turned over to the detectives the following morning at the Bond station. The detectives were puzzled by this, but it turns out that the high sheriff of Jackson County was William Baker, the wanted man’s uncle, and that the high deputy was George Baker, Kimber’s father. High Deputy Baker, upon hearing that his son was in the Jackson County jail, made a deal with Baldwin: “I’ll take the boy home with me and keep him overnight, and I will see that he is turned over to the Ohio officers at the Bond station the next morning.”

So Baldwin released Kimber Baker into the custody of his father.

Hamilton detectives proceeded to Bond, some ten miles from McKee, arriving at 7:30 p.m. December 18. They immediately got in touch with High Sheriff William Baker, then made arrangements for a room from a lady named Moran. The high sheriff came to their room after supper. Detective Hermann acted as spokesman and told William Baker, the wanted man’s uncle, of their mission. The high sheriff assured them: “Well, your man has been apprehended and will be turned over to you officers in the morning at the Bond station.”

Hetterich spoke up: “Well, sheriff, there is a $200 reward to be paid for Kimber’s apprehension and we want to pay the right fellow.”

Baker said, “There is a $250 reward for Kimber’s apprehension, and our county attorney, Baldwin, is the man to whom it should be paid as he apprehended him.”

“Well, the reward must have been raised fifty dollars,” Hetterich said, “as when we left Ohio it was only two hundred.”

The misunderstanding caused a bit of unnecessary friction between the Hamilton officers and the high sheriff of Jackson County. Hermann would later learn that Safety Director Grevey had received a telegram from Baldwin: “Is Kimber Baker rewarded?” Grevey answered: “Arrest and hold Kimber Baker, there is a reward of $250 for him.”

At any rate, when High Sheriff Baker left the detectives’ room, they retired, arose at 5:30 a.m., ate breakfast, “then proceeded down to Bond station to await the arrival of the Jackson County officials with Kimber Baker in their custody, as the high sheriff William Baker had told us the night before,” wrote Hermann. “We went to the Bond station and got there about 7:30 a.m. and waited about an hour, and along came High Sheriff William Baker and another gentleman, who was introduced to us as County Attorney Mr. Baldwin of Jackson County. This was the first that we met Mr. Baldwin and we asked the officials where Kimber was, as they did not seem to have him in their custody, and they spoke up and said that he (Kimber) had left his father’s house and had not returned. I spoke up and said that was a peculiar affair in letting a fellow do that.”

At that moment, Baldinw called Hetterich aside and they spoke for a moment, then Hetterich invited Hermann into the sidebar. Then they learned the story of how George Baker, the wanted man’s father, had taken him away and promised to take him to Bond station.

“Baldwin then informed us that it would be useless for us to stick around, and also informed us that should he come across Kimber again that he would apprehend him and notify the authorities in Hamilton, Ohio.”

So the Hamilton detective hopped on the next train out of town, ready to begin their journey home empty-handed. Just before the train was about to depart, the high sheriff came into the car and promised them that he would find Kimber that night and take him to the depot in Berea, Kentucky, at noon the following day.

They did not know that the prisoner had been released on his own recognizance so that he could make his farewells before turning himself in. When the detectives arrived at the jail Friday morning, Sheriff Bill Baker said that the boy “was up in the mountains somewhere,” and felt confident that he would show up soon. The sheriff did not seem to make any apparent effort to find him.

As they were getting ready to leave town, they were pulled aside individually by two separate deputies, both curious about the $500 reward on Kimber Baker’s head, one promising to deliver the prisoner to the Boone Tavern in Brush Creek, the other saying he’d bring him to Berea. Neither showed up, and the detectives felt that trying to find the fugitive would be haystack needle futile. Said Herrman: “I had to walk most of the time while down there, and you see an automobile about every other day. I wouldn’t give one foot of this city for the entire hills of Kentucky.”

Detective Hetterich returned from Berea on Saturday with Nelson J. Barger in tow. Detective Charles Hermann returned Sunday, but without Baker. Said Hermann to the Evening Journal: “We were simply double-crossed by the authorities down there... From hearsay we understood that Kimber Baker was wounded in the left shoulder but we never got to see him. They seemed to be very anxious to know down there if there was any reward and who was to get it. It is only a question of time until we get our man.”

It seemed the whole of Jackson County was set on protecting the fugitive. With a $500 reward on the head of Kimber Baker law enforcement officials from surrounding areas attempted to track him down, but everywhere they went, they were told that Baker has been captured and taken back to Ohio.

Confronted with the confessions of his three captive companions, Nelson J. Barger readily told his side of the story, throwing the blame on the fugitive Kimber Baker.

After leaving the three young companions, he said, he and Kimber Baker walked around for a while and stopped under the arch at the Carr & Brown’s mill on Fourth Street.

“A man came up and asked us what we were doing there,” said Barger in his confession. “We told him we was waiting on some friends to come up. He asked us where we lived and what our names was. Then he told us we were under arrest. I asks him what was his idea in arresting us. He said, ‘On suspicion,’ and reached out to take hold of both of us and said, ‘Come on.’ Baker swore and said he wasn’t going. I asked the man where he got that stuff--suspicion. Kimber started with his pistol and whe he jerked his pistol I jerked mine, and about the pistol fired I snapped the small pistol I had twice at this man and it did not fire. Then I throwed the .38 pistol I had on him and fired at him to the best of my knowledge. As the guns fired the man run and grabbed ahold of Kimber Baker and as they come loose from the scuffle I fired another shot and Kimber Baker stepped out of the dark in front of my pistol and was shot in the shoulder... He ran across the railroad until I hollered at him to ‘Come this way.’ He was bareheaded. He spoke to me and said he lost his cap.”

They fled south down alleys, then crossed the Columbia Bridge and there split up, going to their respective boarding houses and never saw each other again.

Kimber Baker was never seen again by local law enforcement, but the rest of “Barger gang” still had some consequences to attend to, and were held in the Butler County jail to await trial.

If not for the quick thinking of jailer Fred “Sandy” Brinkman, the Barger gang would have pulled off what the Daily News called “one of the boldest attempts at jail delivery ever recorded in Butler County.”

Because he was a minor, Hargis Callahan’s case was turned over to juvenile court, but Justus Bowling and Nelson H. Barger were both given indeterminate sentences on weapons charges. Nelson J. Barger was tried for first degree murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair, but he died of tuberculosis on April 17, 1921, before the sentence could be carried out.

January 1920               The Grand Theater Caper

Barely six months after the last legal liquor sales in Hamilton, Municipal Court Judge E.J. Kautz told the Daily News that there was more drinking than ever before, despite Prohibition and his own personal efforts to induce a cure on the drunkards that came before his court.

In an interview published January 20, 1920, Kautz said that he learned that fining men for drunkenness and then jailing them for not paying their fines was punishing the families of the offenders.

“I began to put them on probation,” he said. “In extreme cases I ordered the man to bring his week’s pay to me as soon as he received it. Then I would either pay off his bills or turn the money over to his wife. In some instances, after paying the bills, I deposited the surplus in the bank to the family’s credit... I have had instances in which many months later, both husbands and wives have thanked me for what seemed hard in the trying days... One man who never had a dollar in his life before now owns his own team and has more than $500 to his credit in a savings bank and he tearfully told me that it was due to my handling his money for him til he got the liquor out of his system long enough to gain strength enough to hate it.”

Kautz also noted that violent crime was on the rise in Hamilton, but in his opinion it had little to do with Prohibition and more with Hamilton’s rapid growth and prosperity, coupled with a prison system that served as little more than crime schools. A young petty thief goes to jail and comes out schooled by older, hardened criminals to commit bigger crimes such as armed robbery and safe blowing.

“And the crimes as a rule are of greater moment than those of pre-Prohibition days,” the judge said. “We have more murder, robbery and hold-ups here in the last six months than ever recorded for any half-year previously.”

The judge didn’t cite any specific crimes in the interview, but it was less than a month since the murder of Merchant Policeman Harry Baker and a notable safe robbery of one of the downtown theaters.

The theft at the Grand Theatre, a vaudeville house on South Third Street, was discovered at 6:30 a.m., November 28, 1919, by Edward Brannen, a theater employee who lived in an upstairs apartment in the same building. He had gotten up early to go rabbit hunting but on his way out saw that the theater office was in shambles. He immediately called the police and theater manager Roy Dennis.  None of the newspaper accounts explained why Brannen did not hear any commotion during the night as a gang of thieves had blown the door off of the larger of two safes in the office.

As word got out about the caper, three young men reported that a little after 10 o’clock the night before, as they were passing the corner of Second and High Street at the Rentschler Building, they saw four men, one standing apart from the other three near the Radcliffe drug store window. One of the youths said to his companions, “That man on the corner is a crook. He looks it.” They walked on a short distance then ducked inside a doorway to get a better look at the suspicious characters. The apparent leader of the yeggs was about 5 feet 6 inches tall, wore a leather top coat and a soft slouch hat. He gave the men a sign and they all went toward the Jefferson Theatre. The leader looked over the list of prices at the box office.

The presence of the boys excited the men and they scattered. One went across the street and the other down the alley by the theater.

The stir caught the attention of John Schwalm, manager of the Jewel movie theater, and caught a better glimpse of the leader in a store lobby. He didn’t recognize the man in the slouch hat, but his suspicions were aroused enough that he called the managers of the Grand and Jefferson theaters to warn them to be on their guard. The newspapers excoriated Schwalm for not calling the police as well.

Around 2:40 that morning, three beat officers met at Third and Maple near the Grand to talk for a few minutes, then went on foot in different directions. They were barely a block on when they heard a noise sounding like the fall of a heavy plank being slapped on the sidewalk. They went back to the theater, had a look around but seeing nothing went about their beats. Police later believed that the noise was the sound of the explosion as they pieced together a likely timeline of events.

The “yeggs,” probably four of them and judging from the effort they put in preparation for the blowing of the safe were probably professionals from out of town. They entered the theater balcony by means of a door leading from a fire escape, pried open the door leading from an actress’s room to the office at the rear of the building above the alley, and then opened the door leading from the office to the foyer.

Once they were in the office they began to make plans for their escape. They went back to the stage and forced open two doors. While doing this, they discovered the large stage rug, twenty by twenty-eight feet, which they carried up to the office along with the stage curtains to help muffle the sound of the coming explosion. They wrapped all of the telephones in the office with the heavy curtains and tied them up with twine, apparently to keep them from blowing off the hook, which would have allowed the operator to hear what was going on.

There were two safes in the room, and they evidently judged that the money would be kept in the larger one, so they pried it away from the wall with a section of heavy iron pipe.

The yeggs used the “soap and soup” method, the “soup” being liquid nitroglycerin extracted from a stick of dynamite, which they would have brought with them, probably carrying it in a rubber bottle as an experienced yegg would. Then at the scene, they filled the cracks along the sides and bottom with soap--literally Ivory Soap or some other soft bar--before carefully pouring the “soup” through the crack at the top of the door using a funnel. The soap kept the soup inside the safe.

After hooking up wires that they found in the theater to the safe, they wrapped it in the rug and curtains they carried up from the stage. Then a spark of electricity from a battery set off the nitroglycerin. 

Police suspected that the yeggs were surprised to have used too much soup for the job as “the damage was terrific,” the papers reported. The heavy iron door and the thinner inner door of the safe were blown off the hinges and some of the lower parts of the safe were blown through the heavy rug, through a window and then through a heavy wire screen outside the window. The chairs in the room were badly damaged as was Mr. Dennis’s desk. They left behind a bloody towel indicating that one of the men was struck by some of the flying pieces of iron and cement. 

Evidence indicated that the explosion startled the yeggs into a hasty retreat. They took with them the contents of two small drawers containing nothing but small change, and ignored the strongbox inside with the day’s receipts, amount undisclosed. They left in such a hurry that they forgot their tool bag, although they did take all their tools with them. 

In addition to the injury indicated by the bloody towel, there was something of a tragedy in the loss of the theater manager’s brand new suit. Mr. Dennis had just purchased the new threads, intending “come out” with it the following Sunday, and had hung it in his office on a hook next to the window opposite the safe. When pieces of the safe went through the window, they carried the new coat along. The right sleeve and back were literally chewed to pieces by the window glass and wire screening.

No one was ever arrested for the robbery or the destruction of Mr. Dennis’s new suit.

May 1920   Trouble from the kentucky hills

Even discounting all the alcohol-related crime--all of the moonshining, bootlegging, hijackings, shootings, and assassinations--Hamilton was still a dangerous place during the Prohibition Era.

There was already an established gambling trade and rampant prostitution with tough customers even before the liquor trade went underground. There are accounts of regular crap games in barbershops and pool halls as well as the saloons--or “cafes” as the Prohibition euphemism would have it. At the same time, the industrial boom attracted families from Kentucky by the trainload. Many of them came from close-knit clans accustomed to lawless conditions in those remote hills, where taking care of their own justice sometimes spawned bitter feuds. Some of them simply weren’t used to city ways, and that sometimes led to trouble.

As it did Tuesday, May 25, 1920. Hamilton police got a call at 5:25 p.m. about a disturbance on Benninghofen Avenue in Lindenwald, someone shooting up the house of John W. Abbott. Patrolman William Bishop responded and found that a man witnesses identified as George Lunsford had been recklessly firing a .45 Colt revolver near the house and one of the bullets had passed through the front door. They said Lunsford, 46, had lived in Hamilton for about a year as a laborer in one of the East Side foundries. His divorced wife and three children still lived in Estill County, Kentucky, while he rented a room on Mt. Pleasant Pike and was engaged to Miss Mary Gay, who lived at the same address. They were supposed to get married the following day and Lunsford had been celebrating with some moonshine. He had since left the scene, walking toward Pleasant Avenue. 

One of the young men in the Abbott house gave Bishop a ride toward toward Lunford’s rooming house and pointed out the suspect walking south on Pleasant Avenue. Bishop got out at Snyder’s Drug Store and waited there for the gunman to pass. 

“I asked him if he was the man who did the shooting on Benninghofen Avenue,” Bishop later told the Hamilton Daily News. “He said, ‘Yes and what of it?’ I arrested him and at once felt his hips for a gun and then felt it in a holster under his left arm. I tried to get it. He grappled me and said, ‘You [expletive deleted]! I’ll kill you before you get that gun.”

Lunsford grabbed the officer’s left wrist and twisted it. “We struggled,” Bishop said. “He acted like a wild man and looked like a tiger. I struck him twice on the head with my blackjack but it only made him wilder. I called on bystanders to jump on his back and help.” They just looked at him. 

After a moment’s struggle, Lunsford broke away, dashed across Pleasant Avenue, hid himself behind a telegraph pole, and opened fire on the officer with the large revolver. Bishop likewise darted behind a pole. Lunsford’s first shot hit that pole then ricocheted through the window of the drug store, dinging a radiator in the rear. There were several women and children inside the drug store who all ran screaming for cover, but Frank Snyder took his revolver from its hiding spot and rushed to the aid of the officer. Mrs. Snyder stopped him in his tracks. 

When he ran out of bullets, Lunsford nonchalantly opened the revolver, emptied the shells on the ground, and walked away. Bishop ran inside the drug store, made a call to the station for back-up, and continued his pursuit. He chased Lunsford down Williams Avenue, but lost him in the Lindenwald alleys.

Chief of Detectives Herman “Cap” Dulle and two other officers soon arrived in an automobile and joined in the chase, which took them east across the canal toward White City Park, then up the hill to Gobbler’s Knob. Four more officers joined in the pursuit, as did Chief of Police Charles Stricker.

When they caught sight of him on the Knob, the police abandoned their automobiles and took chase on foot with a running exchange of gunfire, a half-mile through the woods and on to a farm where Lunsford made his defiant last stand in a ravine.

The officers advanced toward the ravine and ordered Lunsford to throw up his hands. They were met instead with a stream of curses and epithets, daring the officers to come after him, saying he’d kill anyone who tried.

“I’m coming to get you,” Detective Dulle shouted, and as other officers gave covering fire he approached the ravine. When Dulle was about twenty yards from the ravine, Lunsford stepped from his hiding place to fire a volley of shots at the officers. 

Dulle fired one shot over his head, and when he saw Lunsford grasp the gun in both hands to get a careful bead on him, Dulle shot Lunsford in the chest, piercing his heart. The man fell back into the ravine. The chase was over. 

When Chief Stricker came upon the scene, Dulle approached him, calmly eating an apple. “I couldn’t help it, chief,” he said. “I had to pick him off. It was either me or him.”

Police discovered a second wound hit Lunsford in the back just below the left kidney. He still had three bullets in his gun and ten in his pocket. Later investigation would turn up that Lunsford had shot and killed one man and crippled another in a 1905 incident in Kentucky. The jury that tried him stood 11-1 for hanging him and so he got a life sentence, but it’s not clear how or when he got out of prison.

Although his fiance and other friends tried to say that the police shot the wrong man, that it wasn’t Lunsford who was shooting up the Abbott home and that he was only responding to provocation by Officer Bishop. Coroner Edward Cook investigated the allegations, but found no corroborating evidence and cleared Dulle from culpability in the affair.

It wasn’t long, however, before Chief of Detectives Herman Dulle found himself in another shoot-out, this time with an entire Kentucky family.

Shortly after midnight, in the early morning of June 25, 1920, police received a call that a man was dragging a screaming woman around by the hair in a house on North B Street, the home of Eli Bolin. A native of Owsley County, Kentucky, Bolin had lived several years in Hamilton with his wife and four grown children: sons James, William, and Lee, and daughter Sarah Cornett, along with her 11-year-old granddaughter Belle Cornett. 

Night Desk Sergeant Charles Stegemann and two patrolmen responded, but all was quiet by then. Eli Bolin made several threats against the officers and refused to let them inside. Someone in the house said, “To hell with the police.”

Because the Bolins were acting in such a belligerent manner, police wondered what they were trying to hide, but decided to wait until daylight to take up the case again, expecting to find a still or a cache of liquor.

“Stegemann, Detective Edward Riley and myself left the station house for the Bolin home shortly after 7 o’clock and met an old man, Eli Bolin, outside,” Chief of Detectives Herman Dulle told the papers. 

Dulle asked him what the trouble had been the night before.

The old man replied, “There must have been someone dragging and beating a woman here on the streets and somebody must have called the police station and the officers came to this house.”

Dulle asked him why he did not let the officers in the house.

“We thought the men were burglars,” the old man replied.

Dulle said, “Bolin, you certainly must have known that the men in policemen’s uniform were policemen.”

“Yes, he was dressed like a policeman,” he said, “but then oftentimes people either borrow or steal policemen’s clothes.”

Bolin would testify that the police were the belligerent parties, calling him “an old briarhopper” and saying they were “going to clean the briarhoppers out of Hamilton.”

When Officer Stegemann saw Sarah Cornett dash up the stairs, he went in after her.

At the top of the stairs--two staircases with a small landing mid-way--Stegemann encountered James Bolin, 30. His sister would testify at the coroner’s inquest that Stegemann shot Bolin without provocation while he was lying sick in bed, and only then did Jim go for his shotgun to chase the sergeant back down the stairs. Her story was not given much credence as it contradicted the testimony of her father and the policemen present, all of whom said that Jim Bolin confronted Stegemann with a shotgun as he reached the top of the stairs, crowding him with the barrel and ordering him to leave. Stegemann drew his gun and started to back down the stairs.

He shouted, “Cap, come  up here. There’s something wrong. They have guns.”

Dulle rushed up the stairs, reaching the landing at the same time Stegemann was backing down. “I saw some young fellow with a short shotgun pointed at Steggie and I saw why he was trying to get away.”

The shotgun blasted and Stegemann started to fall. “I reached out and caught him in my left arm and let him slide easily to the floor,” Dulle said. “I looked up and saw that this fellow was trying to get the gun down on me, but fortunately the barrel was too long.

“I reached out and grabbed the gun with my left hand and pushed the barrel up in the air. About this time some other fellow [Lee Bolin] in another room was taking a couple of shots at me and I decided it was time to do something or give up. I had to shoot to save myself. I pulled my gun and shot once at the fellow who shot Steggie and then I took a shot at the fellow in the other room.”

Sarah Cornett then stepped in between Dulle and her brother and relieved the latter of his shotgun.

The only shot from the police that had any effect was from Dulle’s gun, which entered Jim Bolin’s right side and passed clean through. He also caught two stray bullets from Lee’s gun. One of them went into his back at the left shoulder, deflected off bone and exited from the back of the right shoulder, which made the one wound at first seem to be two. The other broke his right arm.

“I went down the stairs and told Riley we should get out as the people had shotguns, and he and I went out to the front of the house and while Riley stood guard I telephoned for help.”

Help soon arrived and Stegemann, a 10-year veteran of the Hamilton police and night desk sergeant for the last three, was rushed to Mercy Hospital without saying a word. At Black Street, he stirred and asked for a drink of water, then fell unconscious and died an hour later without again waking. 

Police took Sarah Cornett into custody as a material witness, but she raised such a fuss at the police station that they locked her up in the jail for safekeeping until she was released on $500 bond.

Although several of the city’s top physicians operated on his wounds, James Bolin died at 5:30 that evening. When interviewed by Chief Stricker, he confessed, “I shot the officer,” but that was his only statement on the matter.

Police did not turn up the still they expected, but did find $3,500 cash. Eli Bolin would not say where the money came from. Willie Bolin, who was at work the morning of the incident, said it was the accumulated savings of the entire family.

At the coroner’s inquest, the tight-lipped Bolins never revealed what woman was being dragged by the hair and screaming. 

The coroner again exonerated Dulle. Because Jim Bolin confessed to shooting Stegemann, the only charges to come out of the affair was an indictment of shooting with intent to kill against Lee Bolin. He was released on $1,000 bond, but without comment, the prosecutor nolle prossed the indictment two years later without a trial.

Sarah Cornett sued the Hamilton police for unlawful arrest and won a $1,500 settlement.

August 1920          Fatal Dust-up in Lindenwald

With the influx of factory workers from the hills of Kentucky and a reduced police force, there was a lot of “do-it-yourself” justice taking place in Hamilton during the early days of Prohibition.

Work was scarce in Kentucky and plentiful in Hamilton, so whole families would often make the trek together. One such blended family was that of Addie and Fred Bales. Both of them had been married before and between them had eight sons and four daughters ranging in age from late teens to early 30s. Addie’s husband Tommie had died in 1905. The family was from Jackson County and Rockcastle County, Kentucky. Fred Bales was a coal dealer, also from Jackson County.

The oldest Rose child was James Charles Rose, 30, a molder who worked at the Estate Stove Works and a member of Stove Molder’s Union No. 283. He had a room in his younger brother Brownie’s house on South Thirteenth Street. Ten years earlier, Jim had gotten into a spot of trouble after a drunken altercation in the street when a man named Isaac Bunce came at him with a hatchet and threatened to bury it in his skull. Jim, who at the time was going by the name Charles Ross because he was wanted in Kentucky for escaping jail, got the jump on him and landed the first blow. Bunce fell backward, hit his head on the bricks and fractured his skull in two places. Jim Rose, aka Charles Ross, and his brother-in-law John Sapp Jr. were charged with manslaughter in the case, but Judge Warren Gard went light on him because he was supporting his widowed mother and her children, fining him $10 and suspending a 60-day jail sentence. His lawyer explained the name discrepancy as a the result of a mistake at the Champion mill, that he had never been arrested or jailed in Kentucky.

On Sunday morning, August 8, 1920, Jim Rose went to an uncle’s house on South Ninth Street and there met his brother Willie Rose, who lived with his stepbrother Chester Bales on Laurel Avenue.

Around 12:30, the brothers started out to the home of their mother on Symmes Avenue. When they got there, Willie Rose left the house to visit a friend in the neighborhood. Jim Rose and another brother left to visit some friends named Townsend and caught up with Willie at their house.

From there between 2 and 3 p.m., Jim and Willie started to head back through Lindenwald via Zimmerman Avenue when they passed the home of an acquaintance, Jim Lewis,  and noticed Leo Sweat sitting on the front porch with his wife Virgie, nee Sapp, who had once been married to Jim Rose and divorced in 1918, marrying Sweat a year later. Virgie’s sister was married to Jim Lewis, a teamster who had just finished putting his team away and getting ready for supper.

Willie Rose wanted to have a few words with Leo Sweat. Willie had been sweet on Dorothy Beaty, a girl from Selkirk (also known as Gandertown and now called Auburn, a little village in western Butler County on Scipio Pike). He had gotten wind that Leo Sweat had said some unflattering things about Dorothy and wanted to call him out on it.

They passed the house and Jim went to the alley in the back while Willie circled back to the front porch. From there, versions of the story differ in significant details.

Lewis said that Willie Rose came up to the porch and said that he wanted to talk to Sweat, who came down from the porch and the two of them walked around the side of the house toward a coal shed. Then, according to Lewis, Jim Rose stepped from behind the shed and hit Sweat. At that point, Lewis jumped off the porch and got between them, telling the Rose boys to not start any trouble on his property. Jim Rose let loose of Sweat and headed toward the house after his ex-wife. He went in the back door and followed her through the house and out the front door when Lewis stepped up to Rose again and told him again not to make any trouble there. Rose kicked him and told him it was none of his business, so Lewis went into the house and got his revolver.

The fight moved from the alley to the back yard, and when Lewis re-joined the fray, Rose grabbed him by the coat collar and made a motion as if he was reaching for a gun. Then Lewis shot him. Rose stumbled away into the neighbor’s yard and dropped dead.

Lewis then went to the car barn and started his machine with the intent, he said, of going to the police and giving himself up. His version of the story was backed up by Leo and Virgie Sweat.

In his statement Willie Rose says that he had heard that Sweat had been talking disparagingly about a young lady to whom he was engaged to be married and he and his brother James Rose went to the Lewis house to see Sweat about it. 

Jim Rose remained in the alley back of the coal shed. As he and Sweat walked back toward the shed he asked Sweat about what he had said about his girl, Sweat admitted it, but was insolent and Willie Rose hit him and knocked Sweat down. Jim Rose attempted to stop him, he avers, but he tore away and ran after Sweat. Lewis came out to take Sweat’s part and Jim Rose stepped in to take his brother’s part. 

Lewis went back to the house and while Jim Rose was trying to separate Sweat and Willie. Lewis came out of the house, stepped up to Jim Rose, said “I’ll kill you,” and shot James Rose in the breast. Willie contended that his brother did not hit Lewis.

According to other witnesses, when Lewis came out into the yard he ordered the Rose boys out. They testified that Jim Rose grappled with Lewis and hit him in the face. It was then, the majority of the witnesses say, that Lewis shot Rose. 

The call came to police headquarters at 3:27 p.m. that a man had been shot and killed on Zimmerman Avenue. Officers were hurried to the scene, found James Rose dead and James Lewis gone. People at the scene described the car he had left in, and officers took out after it, intercepting it at Second and Ludlow streets. Lewis told officers, “I am the man you are looking for.”

He was arrested, taken to the station house, locked up and charged with murder in the first degree in a warrant sworn out by Officer William Huber. 

In the meantime, Coroner Cook had been called to the Lewis home, viewed the body of Rose and it was taken to the mortuary of Funeral Directors Bonner and Cahill where under the direction of Coroner Cook an autopsy was held at 4 o’clock Monday afternoon, conducted by Dr. G.M. Cummins.

At the inquest, Willie Rose testified that he and his brother had not seen any moonshine and were not intoxicated. He said that he had not made any such remark that he was going to blow up Lindenwald or attack the Lewis home. He stated in his testimony that Lewis did not order him to leave the yard. He said that James Rose and Lewis never had any trouble.

Virgie Sweat testified that she heard James Rose yell, “Get him, Willie,” as the pair came into the yard after Sweat. She also said that James Rose, once while drinking, told her he would “get” Sweat. She said that from the time she and Rose were divorced until she and Sweat separated she never spoke to Rose.

Addie Bales, mother of the dead man, testified that when Virgie Sweat was separated from Leo Sweat, she came to her home in company with James Rose once and told her that she liked James Rose better, that she had married Sweat for spite, but would get a divorce and remarry Rose. She also said she never knew of any trouble between Rose and Sweat.

Dorothy Beaty, over whom willie Rose said he started the fight, testified that Leo Sweat had made an indecent remark to her once but she never told Rose about it. She also testified that Sweat told her he had used Rose’s marriage licence in marrying Virgie Sapp Rose Sweat. She said she told him that he erased Rose’s name and inserted his own.

Leo Sweat testified that around 2 o’clock that Sunday afternoon, he and James Lewis were sitting on the porch of Lewis’s house when Jim and Willie Rose passed going toward an alley in the rear of the three-room cottage on Zimmerman Avenue.

Shortly after, Willie Rose came around the house from the rear and asked him to come out as he wanted to see him. Rose didn’t say what he wanted to see him for and they walked around the house. They had almost reached the alley gate when Rose struck him and that started a fight.

Then Jim Rose came in from the alley and began taking Will’s part when Jim Lewis came up, ordered both the Roses out of the yard when Jim Rose attacked him and they were all four fighting. Sweat broke away, ran toward the house and in the back door. 

Jim Rose followed him through the house to the porch. Lewis and Willie Rose followed around the side of the house and a number of times Lewis ordered the Roses away, but all four got to fighting again.

Lewis got away, went into the house and came out with a pistol and again ordered the Roses out of the yard and off the place.

Sweat said Jim Rose grabbed him by the left arm and with his right hand or fist kept beating Lewis on the breast. Lewis tried to break away and then shot Jim. 

Willie Rose tried to lead Jim into an adjoining yard but as they reached the gate between, Jim sank down and died. Then Lewis told Sweat he was going to give himself up to the police and left.

Although he was initially charged with first degree murder, the grand jury reduced the charge to manslaughter.

When James Lewis came to trial at the end of November pleading self-defense, it only took a jury thirty minutes to come back with a not guilty verdict.

July 1921      Murder on the Middletown Pike

With the influx of factory workers from the hills of Kentucky and a reduced police force, there was a lot of “do-it-yourself” justice taking place in Hamilton during the early days of Prohibition.

Work was scarce in Kentucky and plentiful in Hamilton, so whole families would often make the trek together. One such blended family was that of Addie and Fred Bales. Both of them had been married before and between them had eight sons and four daughters ranging in age from late teens to early 30s. Addie’s husband Tommie had died in 1905. The family was from Jackson County and Rockcastle County, Kentucky. Fred Bales was a coal dealer, also from Jackson County.

The oldest Rose child was James Charles Rose, 30, a molder who worked at the Estate Stove Works and a member of Stove Molder’s Union No. 283. He had a room in his younger brother Brownie’s house on South Thirteenth Street. Ten years earlier, Jim had gotten into a spot of trouble after a drunken altercation in the street when a man named Isaac Bunce came at him with a hatchet and threatened to bury it in his skull. Jim, who at the time was going by the name Charles Ross because he was wanted in Kentucky for escaping jail, got the jump on him and landed the first blow. Bunce fell backward, hit his head on the bricks and fractured his skull in two places. Jim Rose, aka Charles Ross, and his brother-in-law John Sapp Jr. were charged with manslaughter in the case, but Judge Warren Gard went light on him because he was supporting his widowed mother and her children, fining him $10 and suspending a 60-day jail sentence. His lawyer explained the name discrepancy as a the result of a mistake at the Champion mill, that he had never been arrested or jailed in Kentucky.

On Sunday morning, August 8, 1920, Jim Rose went to an uncle’s house on South Ninth Street and there met his brother Willie Rose, who lived with his stepbrother Chester Bales on Laurel Avenue.

Around 12:30, the brothers started out to the home of their mother on Symmes Avenue. When they got there, Willie Rose left the house to visit a friend in the neighborhood. Jim Rose and another brother left to visit some friends named Townsend and caught up with Willie at their house.

From there between 2 and 3 p.m., Jim and Willie started to head back through Lindenwald via Zimmerman Avenue when they passed the home of an acquaintance, Jim Lewis,  and noticed Leo Sweat sitting on the front porch with his wife Virgie, nee Sapp, who had once been married to Jim Rose and divorced in 1918, marrying Sweat a year later. Virgie’s sister was married to Jim Lewis, a teamster who had just finished putting his team away and getting ready for supper.

Willie Rose wanted to have a few words with Leo Sweat. Willie had been sweet on Dorothy Beaty, a girl from Selkirk (also known as Gandertown and now called Auburn, a little village in western Butler County on Scipio Pike). He had gotten wind that Leo Sweat had said some unflattering things about Dorothy and wanted to call him out on it.

They passed the house and Jim went to the alley in the back while Willie circled back to the front porch. From there, versions of the story differ in significant details.

Lewis said that Willie Rose came up to the porch and said that he wanted to talk to Sweat, who came down from the porch and the two of them walked around the side of the house toward a coal shed. Then, according to Lewis, Jim Rose stepped from behind the shed and hit Sweat. At that point, Lewis jumped off the porch and got between them, telling the Rose boys to not start any trouble on his property. Jim Rose let loose of Sweat and headed toward the house after his ex-wife. He went in the back door and followed her through the house and out the front door when Lewis stepped up to Rose again and told him again not to make any trouble there. Rose kicked him and told him it was none of his business, so Lewis went into the house and got his revolver.

The fight moved from the alley to the back yard, and when Lewis re-joined the fray, Rose grabbed him by the coat collar and made a motion as if he was reaching for a gun. Then Lewis shot him. Rose stumbled away into the neighbor’s yard and dropped dead.

Lewis then went to the car barn and started his machine with the intent, he said, of going to the police and giving himself up. His version of the story was backed up by Leo and Virgie Sweat.

In his statement Willie Rose says that he had heard that Sweat had been talking disparagingly about a young lady to whom he was engaged to be married and he and his brother James Rose went to the Lewis house to see Sweat about it. 

Jim Rose remained in the alley back of the coal shed. As he and Sweat walked back toward the shed he asked Sweat about what he had said about his girl, Sweat admitted it, but was insolent and Willie Rose hit him and knocked Sweat down. Jim Rose attempted to stop him, he avers, but he tore away and ran after Sweat. Lewis came out to take Sweat’s part and Jim Rose stepped in to take his brother’s part. 

Lewis went back to the house and while Jim Rose was trying to separate Sweat and Willie. Lewis came out of the house, stepped up to Jim Rose, said “I’ll kill you,” and shot James Rose in the breast. Willie contended that his brother did not hit Lewis.

According to other witnesses, when Lewis came out into the yard he ordered the Rose boys out. They testified that Jim Rose grappled with Lewis and hit him in the face. It was then, the majority of the witnesses say, that Lewis shot Rose. 

The call came to police headquarters at 3:27 p.m. that a man had been shot and killed on Zimmerman Avenue. Officers were hurried to the scene, found James Rose dead and James Lewis gone. People at the scene described the car he had left in, and officers took out after it, intercepting it at Second and Ludlow streets. Lewis told officers, “I am the man you are looking for.”

He was arrested, taken to the station house, locked up and charged with murder in the first degree in a warrant sworn out by Officer William Huber. 

In the meantime, Coroner Cook had been called to the Lewis home, viewed the body of Rose and it was taken to the mortuary of Funeral Directors Bonner and Cahill where under the direction of Coroner Cook an autopsy was held at 4 o’clock Monday afternoon, conducted by Dr. G.M. Cummins.

At the inquest, Willie Rose testified that he and his brother had not seen any moonshine and were not intoxicated. He said that he had not made any such remark that he was going to blow up Lindenwald or attack the Lewis home. He stated in his testimony that Lewis did not order him to leave the yard. He said that James Rose and Lewis never had any trouble.

Virgie Sweat testified that she heard James Rose yell, “Get him, Willie,” as the pair came into the yard after Sweat. She also said that James Rose, once while drinking, told her he would “get” Sweat. She said that from the time she and Rose were divorced until she and Sweat separated she never spoke to Rose.

Addie Bales, mother of the dead man, testified that when Virgie Sweat was separated from Leo Sweat, she came to her home in company with James Rose once and told her that she liked James Rose better, that she had married Sweat for spite, but would get a divorce and remarry Rose. She also said she never knew of any trouble between Rose and Sweat.

Dorothy Beaty, over whom willie Rose said he started the fight, testified that Leo Sweat had made an indecent remark to her once but she never told Rose about it. She also testified that Sweat told her he had used Rose’s marriage licence in marrying Virgie Sapp Rose Sweat. She said she told him that he erased Rose’s name and inserted his own.

Leo Sweat testified that around 2 o’clock that Sunday afternoon, he and James Lewis were sitting on the porch of Lewis’s house when Jim and Willie Rose passed going toward an alley in the rear of the three-room cottage on Zimmerman Avenue.

Shortly after, Willie Rose came around the house from the rear and asked him to come out as he wanted to see him. Rose didn’t say what he wanted to see him for and they walked around the house. They had almost reached the alley gate when Rose struck him and that started a fight.

Then Jim Rose came in from the alley and began taking Will’s part when Jim Lewis came up, ordered both the Roses out of the yard when Jim Rose attacked him and they were all four fighting. Sweat broke away, ran toward the house and in the back door. 

Jim Rose followed him through the house to the porch. Lewis and Willie Rose followed around the side of the house and a number of times Lewis ordered the Roses away, but all four got to fighting again.

Lewis got away, went into the house and came out with a pistol and again ordered the Roses out of the yard and off the place.

Sweat said Jim Rose grabbed him by the left arm and with his right hand or fist kept beating Lewis on the breast. Lewis tried to break away and then shot Jim. 

Willie Rose tried to lead Jim into an adjoining yard but as they reached the gate between, Jim sank down and died. Then Lewis told Sweat he was going to give himself up to the police and left.

Although he was initially charged with first degree murder, the grand jury reduced the charge to manslaughter.

When James Lewis came to trial at the end of November pleading self-defense, it only took a jury thirty minutes to come back with a not guilty verdict.

August 1921             Tragedy on the Venice Pike

The shooting of Hardman Walke, 22, occurred 10:30 p.m., Friday, August 12, 1921, on a farm about three miles south of the city on the road to Venice.

There had long been tension between Walke and the farmer Jacob Troutman, 45, who objected to the attention Walke was paying to  his 16-year-old daughter Leona. He had repeatedly warned Walke to stay away from his daughter and threatened to shoot him if he did not.

Five months before the shooting, Troutman had gone so far as to petition the juvenile in April for help in keeping the young man away from his young daughter. It was Troutman’s contention that both his wife Mary and daughter were “crazy about Walke.” He told court authorities that Mary and Leona attended nightly class at a local church, met Walke, and neither returned home until a late hour. Troutman, his wife and daughter, and Walke were called into a conference by Probation Officer L.K. Shirley, and Walke promised to remain away from the Troutman home. At the time of the hearing, juvenile officers termed the Troutman girl “too old for her age.” 

Walke was the son of the late Herman Walke, a Hamilton police officer who was killed during a scuffle in the city jail in 1916. He worked as an auto mechanic and boarded with Ellen Cook and her husband John on Kolbenstetter Avenue (the street no longer exists, but was somewhere near the fairgrounds).

Mrs. Cook would later say that Walke had received a phone call about 4 p.m. Friday afternoon and then told her he was going to the Troutman’s that evening because “the old man was away and the coast was clear.” She said that Walke often received phone calls from a woman and that the woman would ask for “the painter,” by which she meant Walke. Walke told her that he had married Leona Troutman the previous Christmas day and often referred to her as his wife. 

She and her husband often went with Walke when he went down to the Troutman farm to call on Leona, but they never went in the house. The girl would use a flashlight to signal when the coast was clear. Sometimes Walke would have to drive back and forth as much as four times before he would get the signal. If he did not get the signal, he would not go in. She also noted that Walke often had a revolver laying on the seat beside him while they waited, but he never took it in the house with him.

Around 9:30 p.m. on the evening of August 12, Jacob Troutman, his son, and a farmhand named William Clark got into a truck to deliver a load of elderberries to Cheviot. Clark said they only went a short distance when Troutman got out of the machine and said he was not going, but did not say where he was going. 

In the meantime, Walke had parked his car about a quarter of a mile south of the Troutman home and walked up to the house. Leona let him in, and while he talked with her and her mother, a dog started to bark outside. 

“There must be someone prowling around the house,” Leona told the detectives, and the three of them went into the yard to investigate. They were in the vineyard when they heard a command to “Halt!” from Troutman in the dark. Walke started to run and Troutman fired the shotgun from about twenty feet away, hitting the young man in the right side of the back with the entire load.

After the shooting, Troutman tried to get a doctor for Walke without success before calling the police. Troutman asked Walke why he didn’t stop when he called for him to stop and Walke answered, “Oh, you would have shot me anyway.”

Troutman finally called the police, telling them he had seen a prowler near his house, had shot him and that he was still lying in the yard.

Sheriff Rudy Laubach and County Detective Frank W. Clements took city detectives Herman Dulle and Ed Riley, along with an ambulance, to the farm where they found the body as described. The ambulance rushed Walke to the hospital and into surgery, but he died on the operating table at 12:20 a.m. Saturday. Sheriff Laubach took Jacob Troutman into custody, charging him with first degree murder.

At the inquest Monday morning in a packed assembly room, Troutman refused to testify at the advice of his counsel, U.F. Bickley. Likewise, Mary Troutman’s attorney, Robert J. Shank, advised her not to testify, so she didn’t. Troutman made a point of saying that he did not hire Shank.

The coroner showed Mrs. Cook a letter that he had found among Walke’s effects. Mrs. Cook identified it as a letter Walke had said was from his wife.

The letter was of a most endearing nature. It started “my dearest” and concluded “forever from Sweetie.” In several places, the letter professed undying love for the addressee. At the bottom of the page was drawn a heart filled with xes. 

Leona Troutman stoutly denied that she had ever kept company with Walke, had never had a date with him and that he had none with her. She did admit she wrote the letter to Walke January 26, but that a friend had helped her write it.

She contradicted statements she made to the police the night of the murder that Walke was in the house when they heard a noise. She said she never received Walke at her home and denied that she talked over the phone to him Friday afternoon and denied that she had signalled him with a flashlight that Friday night, but that she was using it to search the yard after hearing a noise and Walke appeared, coming up through the vineyard gate. 

She said that after the shooting, she ran out and found Walke writing on the ground. Six feet away from him lay a .32 calibre revolver. It had not been fired. She picked it up and gave it to one of the officers. Mrs. Cook identified it as Walke’s.

Interest in the case was so great that when the court bailiff opened the doors at 8:45 a.m. on December 20, the first day of the trial, a large crowd had already gathered, and when the doors swung open it only took a moment for every seat and standing space to be filled. When Judge Walter Harlan ascended the bench at 9:15, court attaches had to force their way through the doorway. John P. Troutman, the defendant’s father, was an auctioneer and prominent in county affairs, so the family was quite well-known.

The case for the prosecution was conducted by John D. Andrews, an experienced defense attorney recently appointed assistant county prosecutor. Former U.S. Congressman and former Butler County Judge Warren Gard was chief counsel for the defense. 

In his opening statement, Gard said that he would prove that Troutman did not unlawfully kill Walke, but that he did so in the protection of his daughter, who had just turned 17. Troutman, Gard said, grew up working on farms and his whole life had been that of an honest, earnest, and hardworking citizen.

“We will show that when Leona Troutman was only 13, there was an effort on the part of Hardman Walke to seek her society. Troutman, in his desire to rear the girl to be a virtuous woman, tried to discourage Walke. We will further show that Troutman repeatedly warned Walke to stay away and that the boy persisted in his attention to the girl. In seeking protection of his daughter, we will show that Troutman even took the matter up with the pastor of the church he was attending. He also took the matter up with the juvenile court and as a result of the hearing, Hardman Walke was ordered to and promised to remain away from the girl, but he continued to meet her.

“On the day of August 12, Hardman Walke learned through some source that the father was to be away that night. He went down past the house and parked his auto about three-eighths of a mile south and evidence will show that he was armed with a loaded revolver. The father saw him come through the gate with this revolver. Evidence will further show that Troutman then went up the hill where he left a shotgun that had been used in killing groundhogs. He procured the gun. He saw Hardman Walke coming through the garden with a levelled revolver and then Troutman fell from a fence upon his hands and knees. Half rising to his feet, Troutman slipped on an iron hook and again fell. As he again arose, he saw Walke facing him with a levelled revolver. Troutman ordered Walke to halt and the latter said, ‘I’ll get you.’ Walke was then proceeding toward the stone smokehouse and Troutman believed he was going there for cover. He again ordered Walke to halt and the latter as he half turned to get behind the smokehouse, again threatened, ‘I’ll get you!’

“Half standing and with his gun in no position at all, Troutman fired the gun. He believed then he did only what he was compelled to do to save himself from death and great bodily harm.”

Andrews rebutted, saying that the defense was relying on “the unwritten law” in the protection of his daughter, but also pleading self-defense and that the shooting was an accident. The only thing the defense left out, he said, was “emotional insanity.” The law, he argued, does not recognize the right of a man to shoot another man on the ground that he is believing himself to be protecting the honor of his daughter.

“John Jacob Troutman is a mighty lucky man that he is not standing trial on a charge of first degree murder,” Andrews continued. “It seems to me the evidence shows he could very easily have been tried on such a charge and I believe him to be guilty of such a charge. The shooting of Hardman Walker was not in self-defense. It was deliberately planned by Troutman, who I believe lay in wait for  him. He shot him in the back. Does that look like self-defense?”

The jury began its deliberations at 10 a.m. Friday and at noon Saturday, Christmas eve, reported a verdict of guilty of assault and battery.

Judge Harlan was enraged at the verdict, calling it “ridiculous” and the greatest miscarriage of justice in the cases he’s ever tried. He berated both the defendant and the jury, telling the latter, “I consider you guilty of the crime of murder.”

To the defendant, he said: “The truth is, Mr. Troutman, you should have been indicted and convicted of a much more serious crime than manslaughter. You planned that murder hours ahead. Your claim of self-defense was false. Your claim that  you did not know the man  you shot was false. Your claim as to how this happened was false, and you know it... You got your gun and lay in wait for this man and on a moonlight night you shot him in the back at very close range.”

Judge Harlan slapped Troutman with the maximum sentence he could impose: a $200 fine, court costs, and six months in the county jail. He also ordered the sheriff to refrain from giving the man a trusty position or show him any consideration.

The family created an uproar. The defendant’s aged father rose and in a trembling voice asked if he could speak. The judge said he could though it would do no good.

“Oh, judge, spare him, our only support in our old age,” the old man pleaded. “What is to become of us if he is taken away? Lord help us! Lord, have mercy upon us!”

Mary Troutman stood up and wept aloud, “Oh, give me my husband! I want him!”

Judge Harlan ordered Sheriff Laubach to clear the courtroom: “Take these people out!”

During it all, Leona, the teenage daughter for whose love Hardman Walke had given his life, sat motionless, her head resting on her hand, not a trace of a tear in her eye.

August 1921                  shots fired in city hall

In August 1921, state Prohibition agents made a sweep through Hamilton and surrounding communities, making eighteen arrests in ten days. Among those arrested were Jake Milders, the proprietor of the popular Milder’s Inn at Symmes Corner, where they confiscated an undisclosed quantity of wine and liquor. Agents did report that in the various raids, they confiscated a total of 600 gallons of liquor of various kinds.

That same month, national Prohibition officials finally made a decision as to the disposition of confiscated liquors, that most commercial liquor and moonshine should be destroyed, but that higher-proof unadulterated liquor should be diverted to commercial but non-beverage uses.

On Wednesday morning, August 31, agents from the court of Squire Lewis Bolser of Coke Otto and from the state Prohibition officers made the first dump of liquor in Butler County. At first, they had considered dumping it into Four Mile Creek, but liquor valued at $2,000--$5,000 at bootlegger prices--was dumped into a large hole in the ground in the back of Squire Bolser’s house.

Attracted by the A crowd of people gathered for the dumping, “some of them were sad, no doubt,” the Daily News reported, “while others were delighted.” As the pouring began, someone began chanting “ashes to ashes” as down the hole went over one hundred and fifty gallons of white corn liquor, colored moonshine, cases of “Beef Iron and Wine,” “Wine of Peptin,” and similar alcoholic “medicines,” and nine cases of beer. 

“They had not come by invitation,” the paper said. “They were attracted by a strange pile of stuff in front of Bolser’s courtroom. Then the neighborhood was packed with machines [automobiles]. And these people were gazing upon the greatest collection of contraband whisky ever seen in the community. It was just one big pile of booze of all kinds.

“In the background were five large and complete stills. Nont of them had a capacity of less than one hundred gallons... their copper coils shining dully in the hot afternoon sun. And what a collection of coils or ‘worms’ it was. ‘That coil,’ said James Romanis, state inspector, ‘would be worth a thousand dollars to any moonshiner. It is one of the prettiest I  have ever seen.’

“‘And that one,’ remarked William Dooley, Prohibition officer, pointing to a closely wound one on one of the larger stills, “is a masterpiece. It is worth at least $200 and many a moonshiner would kill you for it.’

“In the foreground was the whiskey and moonshine, most of it in all sorts of containers from five gallon jugs and twenty-five gallon casks down to half-pint bottles. The center of attention was one dozen bottles of ‘Old Taylor’ bonded whiskey. But all the whiskey had been emptied out.

“‘Our lives would not have been safe if people had known we had that stuff in our possession,’ Constable D. O. Spivey was heard to remark while discussing this ‘old stuff.’”

The pile of confiscated merchandise included two rifles and two shotguns, and a motorcycle that had been used by a fleeing bootlegger.

The merchandise was brought out onto an “executioner’s block,” and a Coke Otto man named William wielded the axe, the beautiful “worms” being the first victims, remnants of moonshine leaking out like white blood. 

“Our work here is over for the time being,” Romanis said. “We found Butler County to be one of the wettest we have visited so far. The outlying areas of Butler County are much worse than Hamilton, though a great deal of traffic is carried on in the city. Corn whiskey is being made around the county. At these places we must direct our attack so as to get to the source of the supply.” 

In a letter to the Evening Journal, responding to complaints from citizens regarding the manner in which the raids were conducted, Romanis and Dooley wrote, “The fact that all of the violators whom we have arrested (and they number about forty) have entered pleas of ‘guilty’ shows our cases to have been clean cut and that no one can accuse us of wrongdoing.”

But in these early days of Prohibition, before the Little Chicago gangster wars heated up, Hamilton police were faced with equally pressing problems of domestic violence and violent robberies, though much of it may have been fueled by illegal liquor consumption. Even the municipal building, the seat of city government, was not a haven from domestic drama.

Shortly after 9 a.m., November 14, 1921, three months after the fatal shooting on the Troutman farm just outside the city, a small contingent of people gathered in the office of Chief of Police Charles Stricker to discuss a delicate matter. 

Mrs. Henrietta Schmitt, mother of two and wife of Lawrence Schmitt, 29 Hooven Ave., had signed out a warrant on Saturday charging Raymond McGowan, 27, of 603 Fairview Avenue with criminal assault. She told the police that about three weeks ago, McGowan came to her house and against her will assaulted her and repeated the assault last Saturday. “Criminal assault” was the primary newspaper euphenism for “rape” back when the word dare not be printed. When asked why she had not sworn out the warrant sooner, she said that McGowan told her he would kill her if she told anybody.

McGowan was arrested, released on $1,000 bond and the case was assigned for a hearing in municipal court. In open court, Judge Kautz disposed of two minor cases then adjourned to Chief Stricker’s office to hear the Schmitt-McGowan case in private.

So they gathered, Harriett Schmitt sitting near the door leading into the office, McGowan on the other side a few fee from her, and Judge Kautz seated in a swivel chair behind a desk at the west wall facing the others: attorney Harry Wonnell, Thomas McGreevy, clerk of the municipal court, City Solicitor and Mayor-elect Harry J. Koehler Jr., and county humane officer William Finfrock.

Mrs. Schmitt was called upon to give her testimony as the prosecuting witness. Judge Kautz had just told her to stand up and be sworn in. 

But when she arose, she held up not her right hand, but a revolver that she extricated from the folds of her dress.

“You dirty dog, you ruined my home,” Henrietta screamed at McGowan. “I will get you.”

She immediately started firing six shots in rapid succession. At the first shot, Koehler fell flat to the floor behind a small upright post. McGowan, seated just three feet from the woman, sprang from his chair and immediately fell to the floor, hit in the side by the second shot, sprawling on top of Koehler, and then crawled to a corner of the room. McGreevy and Wonnell crowded in the northwest corner of the room. The woman continued sweeping the room with fire but her shots were wild. One bullet grazed Wonnell’s head, singeing his hair. Another came close enough to McGreevy’s left hand to scorch the flesh before it lodged in a wall. Judge Kautz whirled in the swivel chair as the woman fired and a bullet crashed into the wall as he faced it. Those three shots crashed through a thin board wall between the chief’s office and the courtroom, passed over the heads of police attendants who were standing in the courtroom. One shot glanced off a heating pipe and lodged into the door leading to Safety Director Henry B. Grevey’s office.

Lawrence J. Schmitt, the woman’s husband, remained seated during the fusilade. 

Chief of Police Charles Stricker was just outside the room in conference with Safety Director Grevey. When the sixth shot fired he rushed into the room and pinned Mrs. Schmitt’s arms behind her, grabbing the revolver as he did. He then dragged the frenzied woman to the city jail. McGowan was rushed to Mercy Hospital, where he recovered from the wound but the bullet was not removed from his hip. Henrietta Schmitt was charged with shooting with intent to kill and served an unspecified term in the women’s section of the county jail. The charges of rape against McGowan were not further pursued.

At around five o’clock that afternoon, Mrs. Bert Reynolds, 815 Campbell Ave., heard a shot in the street outside and opened her front door. She saw a man slamming a car door, saying, “I killed him, G--- D--- him.”

Mrs. Reynolds said, “He walked around the car. He spoke to people who had gathered but I could not hear what was said. He went into a house (809 Campbell Ave.). Before going in he asked about a telephone and said to call 220 (police headquarters).”

Hamilton police desk sergeant John Neidermann took a telephone call from a man calmly declaring, “I have shot and killed a man at Eighth and Campbell avenues. This is Lou Wittman.”

When Wittman came out of the house, he and another man moved the body of the man in the car to help get a woman from the passenger side. Mrs. Reynolds heard the man say, “Sarah, you caused all this! You had a good home, good clothes, jewelry and money. What did you want?”

Mrs. Reynolds did not hear what the woman said in reply, but heard Lou Wittan say, “What did you do last Saturday night? You were with him last Saturday and I have proof of it at home.”

“Then Mrs. Wittman walked to the machine and said: ‘Harry? Are you hurt?’ Mrs. Wittman then turned to Lou and said: ‘He is dead.’ I then heard Mr. Wittman say, ‘I want him to die and I want you to suffer for two years as I have done.’ Then the other man asked for the gun and Mr. Wittman said he had only fired one shot.

Then, according to witnesses, Wittman took his wife by the arm, went south on Eighth Street to High, then down High to police headquarters where he turned himself in. Pedestrians acquainted with the couple said they conversed in undertones along the way and addressed passers-by with a polite “how do you do.”

Lou Wittman was the secretary and treasurer of the Wittman Tent and Awning Company in Hamilton. He and his wife Sarah lived at 337 South Second St. They were both well-known in Hamilton’s social circles. 

The man in the car was Harry Hamman, an Oxford man who worked in Hamilton as an auto salesman. He was married with a small daughter.

The man who was with Wittman at the time of the shooting turned out to be Al Nelson, a Cincinnati private detective whom Wittman had hired to trail his wife. Nelson at first refused to testify for the coroner's inquest, saying that he wanted a lawyer first, but Coroner Edward Cooke ordered a deputy sheriff to take him to jail for contempt of court.

He then admitted that Wittman had hired him ten days before the shooting to trail his wife because “she was not on the square.” He was staying in a hotel, and on Monday afternoon met Wittman by appointment at the Humbach Tire Shop on High Street.

He testified, “We were to trail Mrs. Wittman and Harry Hamman who were riding out High Street in the latter’s Hudson coupe. Lou did not say a word. The coupe ahead turned north on Eighth Street and east on Campbell Avenue. As the turn was made on Campbell Avenue, I suddenly realized Wittman was veering into the other machine. I seized the steering wheel, but it was too late. Wittman immediately got out and went ahead to the other car which had gone about 125 feet further before it stopped. I got out and began looking at the damage to our car. I did not hear a shot, but I heard Wittman talking loudly and run to him. Then I saw that Hamman was hurt and suggested to Wittman to aid him. Wittmann said, ‘I called the wagon. He won’t die. I shot him in the leg. I want him to suffer the way I have. I never knew Wittman carried a gun. I took it from him because I thought he would shoot his wife.”

The bullet did not hit Hamman in the leg, but in the side, passing through the body in an upward direction, piercing the heart and both lungs. When the police ambulance arrived on the scene, Patrolman Earl Welsh drove the man to the hospital in the Hudson coupe. He died on the way.

Wittman was charged with first degree murder. He and his wife, who vowed to stand by her husband, both testified. The Wittmans and the Hammans became good friends in 1920, after Hamman bought some cots from Wittman and Wittman returned the favor by trading in his car at Hamman’s lot. But things turned spicy between Sarah Wittman and Harry Hamman. He was a frequent visitor to their home when Mr. Wittman was away, and she admitted on the stand that she had taken several automobile rides with Harry Hamman but there was nothing untoward between them.

Still, she had filed for a divorce the week before the murder of Harry Hamman, though by the time the case came to trial, they had reconciled.

They both testified that they believed Harry Hamman was armed on the day of his death, and that he seemed to be reaching for one when Lou Wittman shot him, though no gun was recovered other than the .32 Wittman frequently carried.

Interest in the case was intense, the courthouse crowded to overflowing every day of the trial, especially the days the Wittmans testified. Members of the jury later admitted that they could have had a verdict in five minutes, but they waited nine hours so that the crowds would thin out. But the jury misread public sentiment, and when the foreman announced a “not guilty” verdict, the courtroom erupted in cheers. The unwritten law again resulted in another man getting away with murder in Hamilton.

December 1921                     police force slashed

A newly-elected Hamilton city council began the year 1922 with a difficult three-hour meeting on the morning of January 2, the culmination of two weeks of crisis management, including one particularly contentious evening of public input in the high school auditorium, regarding the city’s available budget of $76,100 for the first half of the year.

The council passed an ordinance appropriating $91,136.16 for the entire city’s operation for the first half of the year, a deficit of $15,036.16, the consequence of a defeated $300,000 annual tax levy in the fall election. Mayor Harry Koehler said that the deficit would have to be made up in the collection of “bus, jitney, peddler and other licenses, from municipal court fines and from receipts from the city’s building inspector’s office.”

No appropriations were made for garbage collection or street cleaning, and every department found its budget slashed to the bone. The safety department (police and fire) was the hardest hit, forcing to get by on less than half the budget of the first six months of 1921. This meant the closing of three of the city’s six fire stations and drastic changes in the way the police department would operate. All officers were called upon to work twelve-hour shifts instead of eight with no additional pay. In order to avoid lay-offs, each officer would work two weeks and take the next two weeks off.

Police Chief Charles Stricker said that under the new order, the police department would have but 20 men on duty each day. He initially scheduled them so that there would be two patrolmen on duty in the streets during the day and eight at night. Except for Chief of Detectives Hermann, who would continue full-time, the four detectives on staff would be cut back to half-time. By the end of the month, they would see salaries slashed again.

Upon finishing his eight years at the city’s helm and accepting the gift of a leather armchair from the Police Mutual Aid Society, outgoing Mayor C.P. Smith made a prophetic statement about the effects of Prohibition not only on crime in the city, but also city finances: “Prohibition is the curse to the country and is causing conditions which rapidly are becoming alarming. Before Prohibition came into effect the liquor traffic was regulated adequately by laws governing the saloons and which resulted in a revenue of $60,000 a year, whereas now the money goes into the pockets of bootleggers and intoxication increases steadily.”

Crime was already on the rise. The same day the city council approved the bare-bones budget, the Butler County grand jury met with one of its heaviest dockets yet, including four murder cases, prompting Judge Clarence Murphy to remark in his charge: “Not within memory of the present generation has human life been held so cheaply and the right of property so brazenly disregarded as now.”

Also on that busy news day, Coroner Edward Cook released his official finding on one of the murders of the previous month, ruling the death of Boston “Bull” Durham, 46, 133 Gordon Avenue, a homicide, one of ten unnatural deaths during the December past.

A little after midnight, the early morning of December 10, 1921, Durham and two friends, Robert Baker and Carl Brown, met on Fourth Street to go to a party at Brown’s brother-in-law’s house on Vine Street. They were all pretty well oiled already, and Brown couldn’t remember the street number, so after they walked up and down the street without finding the party, they decided to go to the pool room and “soft drink parlor” owned by Melville Auraden at 502 North Sixth Street. Auraden was there, as were a couple of friends of his, Leroy Shank and Cappy Golden.

Baker would later say that they only stayed there a few minutes, had a couple of drinks, then decided to again try and find the party. They again failed, so went back to Auraden’s but found the door locked. They saw a light burning inside and banged on the door, but got no answer. Durham rattled the door so hard his companions thought it would break, but it didn’t. They walked about a block on Sixth Street when Durham said that he knew there was moonshine in the pool hall and he was going back to get it. Brown followed him, but Baker decided to go home. Shortly afterward, he heard the sound of breaking glass and turned around to see Durham opening the door of the joint to let Brown in. That was the last he saw of them as he hailed a cab and went home.

Shank said that after those three fellows left, Auraden decided to close up for the night. He went with Auraden to drive Golden home a few blocks away on Seventh Street before going back to Auraden’s house, 644 Heaton Street, where they proceeded to put Auraden’s car in the garage.

At about 2 a.m., Martin Flannery, a boarder at the Lake View Hotel, was walking on Vine Street near the pool parlor and heard the sound of breaking glass. Passing the joint, he noticed the glass in one of the windows broken and then saw two men running toward  downtown on Sixth.

Flannery went to Auraden’s house where Auraden and Shank were putting away the car. He told what he saw, and the three jumped in the automobile and lit out in pursuit, first driving by the pool hall to glimpse the damaged window. They caught up with the two men walking down Fifth Street approaching Dayton. Auraden called on the men to stop, but the men started running.Auraden called Durham by name and followed them in the car. When he got within about 15 feet of them, the two men turned toward them and reached for their hip pockets as if they were going to draw weapons. Auraden got the jump on them and shot twice with his .38 revolver. Both men fell. The trio jumped out of Auraden’s car, took a look at the fallen men, then hurriedly drove to the police station.

When police and the coroner arrived, they found but one man, Durham, lying on the southeast corner of the street with a fatal bullet wound in his abdomen. He at first refused to give the coroner his name and address, saying he didn’t want his wife to find out. “We didn’t do a thing,” the dying man told the coroner. “They simply followed us and shot us.”

Brown would later say that after the three men sped off in Auraden’s car, he saw Durham crawling toward the curb.

“Can you walk?” he asked.

“No,” Durham replied. “Call an ambulance.”

Brown’s sister lived nearby on High Street, so he cut through the yard of the Catholic High School and went there, where his brother-in-law called for an ambulance. He was told that it was out on an accident call but would be there soon. Instead, police detectives and Coroner Cook arrived a short time later. Dr. Cook drove him to the hospital with a serious bullet wound in his right hip.

Durham died before they could operate on him. 

Auraden was charged with first degree murder, but put forth a self-defense and justification plea at the trial, claiming that he was exercising the privilege every citizen had to make an arrest when he believed a felony had been committed. 

When the jury found him guilty of assault and battery, the least possible verdict, instead of murder, Judge Murphy was livid and railed at Auraden as he passed sentence: “The verdicts of juries in this court lately have place a very cheap price on human life and you are very fortunate that this court is bound by the verdict rendered in this case.”

He gave him the maximum penalty, six months in jail and $200 fine, and refused to count the time he already served.

The news of the reduced police force seemed to spark a wave of burglaries and other crimes. On January 6, Burglars broke the front window of the Kroger store at Vine and Poplar streets, taking “a small quantity of silverware” and a large quantity of meat, including a smoked ham, a boiled ham, and two twelve-pound slabs of bacon. Total value: $50. The same night, a downtown office was plundered for $17 in cash, and two residents of South Eighth Street reported that they chased away a pair of thieves who were breaking into their chicken coop. After the ado, Norbert Trimble found two chickens tied up in a sack that the thieves dropped in their haste.

Police Chief Stricker said that his force was already “stretching vigilance to the limit,” and called on the citizenry to be patient and helpful.

“With our force cut in half, we are unable to cover the city as completely as in former days,” he told the Evening Journal. We will appreciate it if citizens will tip us off, at once, of suspicious characters in their neighborhoods so that our men can get the jump on them at once. We will be able to get better results by close cooperation of police force and citizens.”

He seemed to get some results.

Moonshine figured heavily in a shooting, January 8, that cost a man his left arm. William Davis, 51, a roomer in the house of William Sapp on South Fifth Street, told police: “On the morning of the shooting I bought a pint of moonshine whiskey and took only a couple of drinks and set the bottle in my room. I went out to get something and when I came back the moonshine was all gone. I asked Bill Sapp what had become of it and he said he didn’t know and an argument started between him and me. Sapp left the room and I started to go down a few minutes later and as I went out of the room to go down the steps, I saw Bill Sapp standing at the foot of the steps with a shotgun in his hand. He pulled the gun up and pointed it at me and fired and I fell to the floor.”

Doctors had to amputate his shattered arm and held Sapp for the shooting. After investigation, police charged Sapp and his wife Kate with intoxication and fined them $5 each.

[On the charge of shooting with the intent to kill, Sapp pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months in jail.]

On January 10, Hamilton Police Officers Tuley and Hufnagle raided the home of Belle Bishop, a single mother of two at 313 South C. Street, and confiscated six gallons of “high-test moonshine.” 

“This case is the most unusual I have come across,” Judge Kautz said afterward. “The woman absolutely refused to tell where she had procured the moonshine.”

Stricker declared, “There was no evidence that the woman manufactured the moonshine. We would like to know how she got it. We made every inducement to her to tell the names of the persons who made the stuff and turned it over to her bus she refused. Someone has been making the moonshine. We would like to get our hands on them.”

On January 26, two men from Greenville came to Hamilton with a big wad of cash looking to buy liquor. William Livingston and Charles Green stopped at a Hamilton saloon to make inquiries. They apparently flashed their money around in the process.

Not having any luck there, they got back on the road and headed toward Cincinnati. Livingston said that two short, heavy-set men left the roadhouse at the same time and followed them down to Clifton. When they reached a residential neighborhood, the two bandits came up alongside Livingston’s car and crowded it to the curb. Livingston stopped and the bandits leaped from their car and leveled revolvers at the Greenville men. Livingston forked over his wad of $975 and Green had $15 in his pocket. While one bandit collected the loot, the other pulled out a fuel line to disable Livingston’s car.

Despite a tri-state alert for the bandits, they were not caught.

May 1922          Love Shooting on High Street

When Common Pleas Court Judge Walter Harlan charged the grand jury convening May 1, 1922, he outlined several reasons for the increasing crime rates in Butler County.

“It is a well-known fact that crime has become more common,” he said. “The automobile has undoubtedly facilitated the commission of crime and the escape of the guilty and is itself one of the common objects of larceny. Crime conditions may be a part of the aftermath of the war.”

The judge added that other contributing factors included a “widespread disregard for official restraint and order” “financial depression,” calling on the jurors to “serve notice and warning on would-be offenders that in this county crime will be punished and repressed.”

Harlan stacked the Grand Jury with a historic majority of women, eight females among the fifteen.

Without mentioning the recent suffrage movement, the Evening Journal editorialized, “Thus for the first time in the history of the county, women will predominate the grand jury and can see for themselves what needs to be done. The judge probably had this in mind when he put them on the jury.”

The judge’s comment about automobiles being both a contributing factor and an object of crime resonated that very evening, around 9:30 p.m., when Mayor Harry J. Koehler parked his sea-green Studebaker on South Eleventh Street near Chestnut to pay a short visit to a nearby resident. When he returned, the machine was gone, another in a rash of automobile thefts. Police of Middletown, Dayton, Cincinnati, Richmond, Connorsville and Oxford were immediately notified of the theft.

The grand jury would soon hear the case of an attempted murder that took place the same morning the judge was giving them their charge. They did not hear the commotion from the courthouse, but Coroner Edward Cook was in a county office when he heard a gunshot coming from the corner of Front and High streets at a Buckeye Transportation Co. bus stop. He looked out the window to see a man with a gun in his hand, so drawing his own weapon he rushed to the scene.

The man with the gun, George Siegel, 40 years old of Cincinnati, a clerk in a law office, was still standing there and willingly handed the .38 caliber revolver to the coroner.

“He ruined my home,” Siegel cried. “I hope I’ve killed him,” and handed his .38 caliber revolver to Coroner Cook.

The coroner then deputized County Commissioner Frank Kinch and another man from the growing crowd to guard Siegel while he examined the man lying in a pool of blood in front of the bus steps. When the police ambulance arrived, the coroner went to the hospital with the victim, leaving Kinch to hold the prisoner.  A woman who was with Walker jumped into the ambulance, too, carrying the wounded man’s gabardine jacket. 

In the ambulance, the man identified himself as James Walker, 30, of Cincinnati. The woman was Ella Siegel, 35, the wife of the man who had done the shooting.

Ella and George Siegel were in the process of ending their marriage for the third time. The couple first married in 1905, had a son in 1910, were divorced in 1915, remarried in January 1917, divorced again in 1920, married a third time in June 1921. Ella said she moved to Hamilton to establish residence here. She rented a room from Miss Miller at 238 South Fourth Street, helping with the housework. She asserted that her husband had never expended more than $20 for the support of their son. The last divorce petition was filed in Butler County courts several weeks prior to the shooting, filed by Mrs. Siegel alleging cruelty.

Walker was a native of Covington, Kentucky. He was married, but his wife lived in Los Angeles, California. He was an Army machinist in the war, wounded in France, and was at the time employed by a bakery.

Siegel said he had found a picture of a man in her room in their home at 1717 Race Street and confronted her with it. “This will cause my death,” he told her. “I then went to my room and wrote a note to my child and tried to commit suicide.” He tried to shoot himself in the heart, but missed and wounded himself in the right shoulder.

“She later burned the picture of the man and told me to get out and refused to live with me,” he said to police. That was when she moved to Hamilton. 

He soon got word she was seeing a man there, and so the Thursday before the shooting, he came to Hamilton and tracked her to a hotel. He got there just minutes after she left, he would later claim. He waited to confront her, but didn’t see them again, so on Saturday, he went back home to Cincinnati to change clothes.

Siegel said he arrived at 7 a.m. that fateful Monday morning on a bus, searched in different hotels for his wife and then went to her attorney’s office and told the attorney he would not grant her a divorce unless she stayed away from the other man. The attorney, who was also Ella Siegel’s brother-in-law and had guardianship over their 12-year-old son while the current divorce was being settled, would accuse Siegel of making violent threats against him.

At around 10 o’clock, Siegel said he saw Walker and his wife walking west on High Street toward the bus. Ella Siegel was within five feet of Walker, who was stepping up onto the bus when Siegel came at him with the revolver and fired three times. The first shot entered his right side in his ribs. The other bullet entered his hip and lodged in his abdomen. The third went wild. Siegel remained apparently calm and unconcerned until Coroner Cook took his gun, and quiet in the custody of Commissioner Kinch until detectives Dulle and Mueller and Officer Holden arrived from police headquarters.

“I had often told her to stay away from Walker,” Siegel said as he rested his head on his hands while sitting in the city jail thirty minutes after the shooting. “I told her to stay away at least to keep the name of our child clean. I told her she could have him after we were divorced. The suit is still pending.”

“I told my wife that she had no respect for either herself or me to respect our child, William, and give up Walker until after our divorce is settled. And no later than last week I warned Walker to keep away from Mrs. Siegel... This morning I saw them leave a hotel together, but I don’t remember which one it was. I tried to follow them, but they evaded me until I ran upon them getting into the bus.”

While Walker was being treated at Mercy Hospital, police brought Ella Siegel to police headquarters for some intensive questioning. Dressed in a neat checkered suit with a large hat, Mrs. Siegel sat at police headquarters, still  holding Walker’s topcoat and cap. Very demurely and with a smile that spread over her countenance, she looked up from under the broad rim of her large hat and said to a reporter nearby, “I suppose this will be the end of it all.”

She vowed to say “as little as possible,” but then seemed to speak in a torrent.

“I think he’s absolutely crazy,” she cried, referring to her husband, “and I believe that if he would be given a sanity test it would show that. He’s a gambler. We have been married sixteen years. He lies when he says he was in the service. He deserted the Navy.

“I did not know Mr. Walker when I filed the suit for divorce. I only met him a short time ago. My husband has often abused and threatened me. Last week the marks were on my throat showing where he tried to choke me.”

She denied that she ever stayed in a hotel with Walker, saying, “I had an appointment with Mr. Walker at the traction office this morning at 10 o’clock. I met him just as he got off the car from Middletown and we were going to take the bus to Cincinnati. Walking up from the traction office to where the bust stood, I looked over my shoulder and saw my husband following us. We walked up and shot Mr. Walker just as he stepped in the entrance of the bus.”

When told that a charge of shooting to kill had been lodged agains her husband and tha the charge would be raised to murder if Walker died, Mrs. Siegel cried, “My God, I hope that he doesn’t die.”

Although the wounds were painful and seemed serious at first, Walker recovered. Eleven days later, the same day that Siegel was indicted on a charge of shooting to kill and his wife Ella as an accessory by the female-majority grand jury, both pleading not guilty, Walker was released from Mercy Hospital. “His remarkable vitality and constitution is said to have saved him from death,” the Evening Journal reported. “Two bullets lodged in his body.” One had penetrated the abdominal wall but was not in a vital spot, and the other was lodged at the tenth rib.

At the Siegels’ preliminary hearing, Walker testified that he was shot without warning. He said that he and Mrs. Seigel were going to Cincinnati on a bus and he did not know that Siegel was in Hamilton. He said he had seen Siegel many times in Cincinnati, that Siegel knew he was going out with Ella but had never said anything against his being with his wife, and in fact they had passed each other on the street while Walker and Ella were together and Siegel nodded in acquaintance in an accepting if not friendly. 

Walker was angry at Mrs. Siegel, believing that she knew her husband was gunning for him and could have given him a warning that Siegel was in Hamilton. 

After the hearing, as Siegel was being taken back to the county jail, Ella Siegel was walking east on Market Street with her brother-in-law attorney. She caught sight of her husband being escorted into a police car. She turned and waved to get his attention, but he stepped into the patrol car without heeding her.

Before Siegel went to trial for the offense, Walker attempted a little do-it-yourself justice. On July 3, Walker lay in wait in front of the Munro Hotel on Seventh Street in Cincinnati. As Siegel walked past going toward Vine Street, Walker leapt from his hiding spot and began shooting. The first shot ricocheted along the pavement but the second hit Siegel in the left cheek and came out the right.

Walker fled and Siegel staggered toward the hotel uttering oaths. He exclaimed, “Well, I shot him last month so he got his.”

Walker was arrested on his way to police headquarters. The revolver was recovered hidden in a cafe at Court and Plum streets.

The affair seemed to reach an unexpected conclusion when Walker came up for arraignment on the same charges--shooting with intent to kill. Feeling that the score had been settled, Siegel declined to press the case, so Walker paid the court costs and the matter was dismissed. Before the Hamilton shooting came to trial, Siegel asked for and was granted a continuance and the case was never brought forward again.

July 1922                   The Grandaddy of stills

Local Prohibition agents had a unique problem on their hands: what to do with the gallons upon gallons of moonshine from local stills and finished whiskey from bootleggers that they confiscated in their raids.

On July 7, 1922, agents of Squire Morris Y. Shuler of Seven Mile, the most active prohibition crusader in Butler County, raided the home of Fred Riley at 1008 Belle Avenue and confiscated a 60-gallon copper still, 110 gallons of moonshine, 150 gallons of mash and 815 empty 16-ounce bottles that were already labeled as:


95 percent grain alcohol

For external use only

An improved rubbing alcohol, no objectionable odor , no foul-smelling ingredients.

Stimulating, sanitary, soothing

The liquor, still, and bottles were found in the cellar of the house, which was partitioned off and was equipped with city water, electric lights, gas and sewer connections. Strong locks were affixed to the door. Riley was not present at the time of the raid. 

There were 200 pounds of sugar, four bags of barley and some new gasoline cans with wooden packets in the cellar. The raiders also found some stiff paper cartons into which 12 of the bottles could be fitted. 

The raid was made about 3:30 p.m. Thursday by state prohibition agents Jones, Hutchinson, and Spivey along with local former magistrate Lewis Bolser, who said, “This is one of the most important liquor hauls ever made in Butler County.”

The same day, a smaller still along with 100 gallons of mash and an  unspecified amount of moonshine was confiscated nearby at the home of Ernest Eldridge, 684 Williams Avenue.

The next morning, Bolser led state agents on a raid at a home on New London Pike, where they confiscated another 60-gallon still, 15 gallons of finished moonshine and 200 gallons of mash. The still was in full production when the agents entered the cellar of the house where the moonshiners were at work.

After the cases were disposed in Squire Shuler’s court, his men would dump the stuff in local creeks, which posed a danger not only to local wildlife, but to the residents of the village. It got bad enough that Seven Mile Mayor Andrew Hauser threatened a lawsuit against Squire Shuler because the fumes from the dumped hooch “caused much staggering among the residents.”

Squire Shuler says he doesn’t want to make all the residents of the village intoxicated but he can’t very well keep all the liquor taken in recent raids, and it kept coming.

On Thursday, August 10, Shuler’s court and state agents raided what was touted as “the most complete, modern and largest still ever uncovered in the state.” 

“It’s the granddaddy of them all,” Shuler said.

A party of six agents, a mix of local and state officials, with a warrant from Shuler’s court arrived at the plant office of the Hilz Brothers dry cleaning plant at Main and A streets at the west bank of the High-Main bridge at about 2:30 in the afternoon. The girls in the office called Joseph Hilz, who managed the business end of the operation. His brother William, who managed the back end, the actual dry cleaning portion, was on vacation in Michigan.

Joe Hilz led the agents on a tour of the plant. When they got to a garage at the rear of the property, facing the alley that ran off of B Street, they discovered it locked. Joe said he didn’t have a key, that the garage was the property of his brother, not the business. The officers took the hinges from the doors and let themselves in.

Inside the garage, agents found vats with a capacity of 1,300 gallons and a three-inch pipe leading from the vats through the floor. In a rear room, the agents moved a workbench to uncover a secret trap door leading to a cellar and a series of tunnels and passageways hidden by false doors and other contrivances. The tunnels were so deep that parts were dug under the flood control levees created by the Miami Conservancy District following the 1913 flood. One of the agents had a hand-drawn map that led them to the largest still yet to be discovered in Butler County.

The dry agents said that the plumbing and ventilation system was the largest any of them had ever seen outside of an authorized facility.  A specially built sewer led to the river. Other apparatus to complete the plant included all kinds of gauges capable of testing the strength and purity of the product and an electrical equipment used to age the whiskey prematurely and eliminate the moonshine taste that is found in all white whisky sold now.

A quantity of coloring matter was found and seized. A portion of the sub-cellar was devoted to a bottling plant. Apparatus for the supplying of steam was affixed wherever heat would be required in a distilling process. The set-up could produce ten gallons of white mule whiskey per hour.

The agents discovered 560 gallons of whiskey in various stages of production, from barrel to bottle. Some of the bottled goods were stamped with the Lancaster label, a popular pre-prohibition bourbon made in Bardstown, Kentucky. One of the officers tasted some of the liquor which had evidently passed through all the processes and was ready for distribution. He asserted the liquor tasted like high class bonded goods at least three years old, pre-Volstead quality. The whiskey was worth about $20 a gallon (over $300 in modern dollars) at retail bootlegger prices, and the still itself cost at least $5,000 to install

Soon after the dry agents began their work, curious pedestrians and neighbors congregated at the rear of the building to watch the raid and soon news of it spread rapidly and until 11 o’clock when the men finished their work a steady stream of people maintained a crowd of more than one hundred persons at the scene.

To get the still and the barrels of mash and whiskey, the officers had to cut through the cement floor of the garage and make a hole large enough to pull out the barrels and still. 

The prohibition officers began removing the still and the confiscated whiskey at around 4 p.m. and worked seven hours before they completed their task. The haul included nine barrels of whiskey and several jugs and bottles of wine.

The whiskey and apparatus from the operation were taken to Shuler’s barn in Seven Mile, and he put an armed guard on duty at all times. At 1:30 a.m., Friday August 18, 1923, Squire Shuler was on duty himself when a large truck escorted by four automobiles swarmed onto his property. They evidently knew exactly where the liquor was stored, for immediately after reaching the barn they back up the truck and one of the cars to it and were just ready to break into the building when Shuler fired shots into the air, hollering at the men to leave the premises. That did the trick. The truck and four cars quickly abandoned their heist and hit the road.

“The next time those shots won’t be fired in the air,” Shuler bragged the following morning. “They’ll be fired at the men and they’ll be fired earnest, too.”

Proceedings in Squire Shuler’s little courthouse, a twelve-by-twelve shack on a Seven Mile side street, were generally low-key affairs, but the entire town took the day off when the Hilz brothers came to the village to face the prohibition court two weeks after the raid. A number of Hamiltonians made the trek, too, and long before the time set for the trial, 9 a.m., the building was full and a crowd gathered around it. “There were delays, for no apparent reason, until finally at 11 o’clock, Magistrate Shuler rapped for order,” the Evening Journal reported.

Shuler announced that warrants issued against the Hilz Brothers company would be dropped, but the warrants against the Hilz brothers individually would stand.

State Prohibition Officer Hutchinson was the first to testify in the case. One of the defense lawyers asked him how he knew that the whiskey was in possession of Joseph Hilz. Hutchinson replied that Joseph Hilz was in charge of the company.

“How do you know Joseph Hilz was in charge?”

“He took us around.”

“But there were other people there, weren’t there? Some girls?”

“Yes,” Hutchinson said, “but they didn’t look like proprietors to me.”

The lawyer then began a line of questioning to find out how much Hutchinson knew about the difference between stills used for whiskey distillation and stills used for gasoline. Hutchinson said he did not know the difference between the two, but that the still found in the cistern was a whiskey still.

“Then you know the difference?”

“I do not, but under my oath I say that was a whiskey still.”

“You mean that regardless of the fact that you do not know the difference you say that was a whiskey still?”

“I do,” came the answer without a minute’s hesitation.

As the Daily News reported, “Then came the question of whether or not the whiskey found was illegal whiskey and when Hutchinson was asked how he knew that this whiskey was illegal he answered to the effect that he was testifying to that fact.”

“Is there a difference between illegal whiskey and other whiskey?”

“There is,” Hutchinson answered, “in taste and in smell.”

“What is that difference?”

“It’s something I can’t describe but that I have learned by experience.”

“How much experience have you had?”

“About nine yars, part of it in my present capacity and part as a sheriff.”

“Prohibition hasn’t been in effect nine years, has it?”

“No, but I’ve caught moonshiners.”

Then came questions regarding the difference between different kinds of whiskey--rye and bourbon, for instance--and Hutchinson said that he considered bourbon whiskey mellower than rye.

Joseph Hilz took the stand and said that he had nothing to do with the placing of the still, barrels, or any of the articles taken in the raid, saying that he just worked in the office and had no knowledge of what was going on in the plant or its labyrinthine sub-cellar. The raid was the first time that the conditions of the sub-cellar had come to his attention, that the first time he had stepped foot into the garage off of the B Street alley was after the Prohibition men had taken the hinges off the door to gain entrance. 

Still, Shuler gave both brothers the maximum fine that could be levied, $1,000 each for two counts each in the indictments, but Joseph Hilz later had the fines reversed on appeal.

Late on the evening of September 6, Squire Shuler heard for the first time a case against a woman in his Prohibition court.

Two state officers raided a home near West Elkton at around 9 p.m. that evening and found a 60-gallon still, about twenty gallons of whiskey and twelve barrels of mash. They delivered these goods along with a woman who was present on the property and her daughter, about eight years old.

Squire Shuler asked the woman her name, and she replied, “I won’t tell my name. It’s none of your business.”

“Arguments were of little avail,” reported the Hamilton Daily News, “but finally she was persuaded and wrote the name Mary Elrige on a slip of paper.”

She was asked to give bond, but she refused this as well. “When she was told that she would be taken to the county jail and her child sent to the home for girls it was almost impossible to still the crying and wailing that filled the office.”

The woman appealed that the case be settled immediately, but Squire Shuler said that he preferred to  hold it over a short time and that it was too late to settle things that night as it was getting near midnight.

Squire Shuler telephoned Sheriff Rudy Laubach and told him that the woman and child would be brought down, and the sheriff waited for their arrival, but it never happened. Mrs. Elrige had prevailed upon the prohibition officers to take the child to her sister’s house on Mt. Pleasant Pike in Hamilton, and while they were there, a man appeared and offered to provide a $2,000 bond for the woman, and the officers released her in his custody. 

“This was one of the toughest cases we’ve ever had up here,” Shuler said the next morning.

That weekend after the Hilz brother raid, the agents went on four more raids, netting more than 20 gallons of whiskey, two stills in operation and one in the making, more than 800 gallons of mash.

The first raid was staged at 8 p.m. Saturday night at 1575 Dixie Highway at the home of Louis Bauman, where a small but complete and operational still was found on the third floor of the house. Twenty gallons of whiskey, mash and sugar, all valued at $500.

The second still was found 10 a.m. Sunday morning operating in an open cornfield on the Brant farm near LeSourdesville on Dixie Highway. There they took away 800 gallons of mash, two cookers, three jugs of whiskey, and 100 feet of new hose that was used in taking water from the canal that bordered the farm. 

The other raids took place in Coke Otto (New Miami). In one, they took away a pint of whiskey, but in the other they found a cooker and the beginning of a still operation by James White on Pennsylvania Avenue.

September 1922     The first prohibition fatality

By the end of the summer of 1922, local state Prohibition officials were running out of room to store evidence.

His agents had confiscated so much moonshine and so many stills, Squire Shuler was compelled to find a larger storage space than the shed behind his Seven Mile house. Plus there were security issues. In one Hamilton raid, agents confiscated a still that had previously been disassembled, stored in, and disappeared from Squire Haney’s place in Coke Otto. 

In late August, the local papers reported that the local magistrates had appealed to Karl Clark, the clerk of courts, to provide storage. Clark demurred.

The Daily News quipped that some people might welcome such a gift: “Of course it is not meant by any means that anybody in the office of the clerk or in other offices was looking forward to the arrival of the whiskey. Who would look forward to such a thing? Especially if it was put up in big, clumsy barrels that had to be rolled around.”

The magistrates instead set upon a plan to spread the booze and equipment among several secret locations until it all could be destroyed.

The load kept growing. On September 2, federal agent Sylvester Davis, working with Fairfield Township constable William Simpson delivered one of Shuler’s warrants to the home of Frank Stanich, 1518 Pleasant Avenue. The home itself was clear, but Davis discovered a hidden three-foot hole in the cellar leading to a trap door that led to the sub-cellar, which at first appeared to empty, but one of the walls proved to be fake, and behind it a 50-gallon still was in operation, another 15-gallon still sitting idle. The officers also seized nine barrels of corn mash and nine barrels of moonshine.

Local drinkers, meanwhile, seemed to be thriving on the abundance of moonshine. On September 21, a frantic call from South Avenue sent no fewer than seven officers to the scene to find Frank Obermier “out in the street bareheaded, barefooted and but scantily clothed and a panic of fear under the delusion that someone was chasing him.” His wife told the police that he had consumed two gallons and a quart of moonshine during a three-day bender.

The fall of 1922 saw the first fatality resulting from a Prohibition raid.

On September 28, Ohio dry agent Nathan Clark led a team of six men to deliver a warrant from Squire Carl Teeter of Morgan Township to the farm of Daniel Byer near Shandon.

They searched the house and some outbuildings, coming up empty except for 100 pounds of brown corn sugar that Byer said was used for canning, steadfastly denying any knowledge of a moonshine operation. Then the agents noticed wisps of smoke coming from a gully about a quarter of a mile away.

As they made their way that direction, one of them noticed a man standing atop a nearby hill and heard someone shout, “It’s the feds!”

The man took off running and agent J.W. Preble of Steubenville shouted for him to stop, then fired three shots in the air and took off after him. Agent Henry Pottebaum, a retired Cincinnati policeman, followed. They quickly realized he had too much of a headstart and abandoned the chase when the man disappeared into the woods. They then noticed two more men running away from them in the vicinity of the smoke, which was closer than the hilltop, so they switched directions and began chasing them.

The smaller of the two men got away, but Pottenbaum caught up the other after a quarter-mile chase and took him into custody. He tried to take him back the way they came, but the man refused to go back to the gully and led them instead to a nearby lane, which made it a longer walk but easier terrain. As they walked, the man cussed at them profusely, calling them colorful names, and refused to identify himself.

As they approached the two automobiles the agents had arrived in, Agents Sylvester Davis of Hamilton and Frank Loomis of Bowling Green approached them on the lane and Pottebaum handed the prisoner over to Davis, saying he was a “mean customer” and a “tough nut.”

The prisoner, a large and muscular man, made a sudden lunge for the gun on Davis’s belt. They struggled a bit but Davis soon had control of the gun. The scuffle paused briefly as Davis held the revolver on the man. Shortly, the prisoner made a second play, this time going for Davis’s throat with his left hand and the gun with his right hand. Again, they struggled, the prisoner getting a good grip on the agent’s throat, and the gun went off.

The prisoner stopped struggling, swayed a brief moment, then fell to the ground. The bullet had gone through his right shoulder blade, pierced both lungs, barely missing his heart, and exited on the left side near the sixth rib. He quit cussing at them. In fact, he would never speak another word.

The agents loaded him into Davis’s machine and took him to a doctor in Shandon. The doctor wasn’t in, so they called for Dr. Bausch in Venice, but by the time he got there, the man was dead. He probably died in the car, the agents said.

The man turned out to be Andrew “Leather” Schaub, who lived on Hamilton-Mason Road. He was 30 years old, married, father of four young children. He was identified by his father by the initials “A.L.S.” tattooed on his forearm.

From the gulley on the Byer farm, agents confiscated a 50-gallon still in operation, a 150-gallon unit in the process of being set up, and fourteen barrels of mash, but no finished product.

Butler County Coroner Edward Cook and prosecutor John Andrews arrived on the scene and instructed county detective Frank Clements to take Davis into custody, which Andrews claimed was routine in the case of a shooting death, and place him under a $2,000 bond. A group of Shandon residents, apparently grateful to the officers for their effort, chipped in and made his bond, so Davis was set free.

The next day, when reporters tried to reach Agent Davis at the Cincinnati office to get his version of the story, he was so distraught that he could barely talk and gave the briefest of statements: “I was left alone and guarding Schaub and while I was looking at another Direction he suddenly leaped upon me and attempted to draw my gun from its holster. I resisted and we fought for the gun. The gun was discharged but not purposely, because I could have handled the man without killing him.”

The director of the Cincinnati office declared that Schaub was the most desperate character his men “were ever called upon to cope with.”

“All my men are experienced and I am confident that there would have been no shooting had it not been necessary for one of them to protect his own life,” he said. 

The coroner’s inquest the following week proved to be a contentious affair. The assembly room at the courthouse was crowded to standing room only. In addition to the corner and his staff, prosecutor Andrews and his assistant in front of the room, Straub’s parents, father-in-law, sister, younger brother, and widow and four children sat in the front row. All of the Prohibition officers from the scene were there along with several other agents from around the state. Dr. Clark of Shandon and Dr. Bausch of Venice testified. One state and one federal attorney were on hand representing Davis, who declined to testify on their advice. There were also a number of Shandon residents, including Byer and his family, in the room.

Frank Clements brought with him the two men who had escaped the state agents’ custody: 17-year-old Emmett Eisner of East Hamilton, who was at the still with Schaub, and George Willeford, also of Hamilton, the look-out on the hill.

Eisner testified that earlier on the day of the shooting, he and Schaub had gone to the adjacent farm of George Willeford to take him a saw and were trying to buy some hogs, but when they couldn’t come to an agreement Willeford asked them to do some work for him and they were in the field planting when Willeford came to return the saw. Eisner said he was with Schaub in the field when he saw the men approaching and it was he who shouted out the warning. 

“How did you know they were federal men?” assistant district attorney David T Reynolds asked Eisner. “Have you ever seen any before?”

“No,” replied Eisner, “but they were an awful suspicious looking lot.”

Eisner said that there were six or seven shots, one of them whizzing by his head and another hitting the loose dirt inches from his feet. Willeford and other Shandon residents corroborated, though the agents only accounted for four shots.

All of the agents on the scene testified that the shooting was justified because Schaub was a large man and would have overpowered Davis and no one else was close enough at the moment to help him out. In addition to conflicting testimony about how many shots were fired and who was standing where, there was also much discussion as to whether the case would end up federal court instead of the county court, it being a Prohibition issue, and arguments over whether a county grand jury could issue an indictment against a federal officer for an act committed while in the discharge of his duties.

Cooked ruled that due to the lack of a coherent story, the shooting was not justified and county prosecutor Andrews signed a warrant charging Davis with manslaughter, fixing another bond at $10,000.

When the inquest adjourned at 12:50 p.m., Davis was “verbally assailed,” the Evening Journal wrote, by Straub's mother. 

“If I had a gun I would shoot you now,” the weeping mother threatened. His fellow agents had to peel her away from him. Then the sister took up the argument and the teen-age brother doubled up his fists and made threats to the federal men.

When the October grand jury met, it declined to indict Sylvester Davis: “But we do think from the evidence submitted to us that the facts surrounding the killing are not entirely clear; that the killing of Andrew Schaub... is very regrettable and that Officer Davis and the other federal prohibition officers could have dealt with Schaub in some better manner than that used, and that they were somewhat at fault for the circumstances and actions leading up to the actual killing.”

Over the first three days of November, fifteen state prohibition agents with an unknown number of deputies again swooped into Hamilton with a fistful of warrants resulting from a six-week investigation, making more than 100 arrests, including three members of the board of governors of the Elks fraternal organization on a raid of its clubhouse. 

State Prohibition Commissioner Don V. Parker said the three-day raid netted more than 500 gallons of whiskey, and that “representative business men were arrested, stills broken up and open dens of vice uncovered.”

Parker dubbed Butler County “the worst outlaw county in the state, with everything wide open,” adding that much of the contraband liquor distributed around the state came from Butler County. 

One inspector said, “This city is by far the worst that I have ever been in with open gambling in every soft drink parlor. They have a gambling room just the same as they have a whiskey room.”

Nathan Clark of the Cincinnati Prohibition office said, “I am yet of the opinion that Hamilton and the surrounding environs comprise the hotbed of Ohio’s bootleggers and I am expecting orders that will give me full rein to concentrate my efforts to cleaning up this particular locality.”

November 1922                Notorious Roadhouses

There were dozens of “cafes” in and around Hamilton that flaunted, sometimes openly and brazenly, the laws enacted to codify the great failed experiment of Prohibition, but there were two nightclubs on the outskirts of town that were the hubs of local illicit revelry, White City Park and the Stockton Club.

Both were favorite targets of local Prohibition enforcer Squire Morris Y. Shuler of Seven Mile.

A quirk of the Prohibition laws allowed mayors and justices of the peace to establish liquor courts in which they could prosecute violators throughout the county of their jurisdiction. Morris Shuler of Seven Mile, first as a justice of peace and later as mayor, took advantage of this quirk and for a time held sway over one of the busiest liquor squads in the state of Ohio. Sometimes working in collaboration with state and federal agents, sometimes leading squads that included moonlighting police and sheriff deputies -- and for a time, even the county coroner -- on his own. Until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that portion of the law, Shuler and his small army were the scourges of bootleggers and cafe owners throughout Butler County.

Along with a cadre of 18 state agents, Shuler raided both White City Park and the Stockton Club, among a handful of other establishments,  on consecutive nights, November 2 and 3, 1922. The raids netted Squire Shuler’s court ove $8,000 in fines, the largest being levied against John Rose, then the proprietor of the Stockton Club, for $500, with his two bartenders also ponying up $100 each.

Probably the biggest catch of the day was the discovery of a still along the canal near the Dixie Highway in White City Park that was said to be operated by Carl Bley.

Squire Schuler reported that 150 gallons of the finished whiskey was uncovered in a pile of lumber, that a still was found out in the open behind a sign board with nothing over it but an improvised roof, and that a quantity of mash was found in a concrete basin built into the ground.

Although there were dozens of such raids on White City during the Prohibition years, one of the most notorious cases came to light in the spring of 1923, but it originated not in the park, but in the Globe Hotel, located on South Fifth Street near the B&O Railroad station when probation officer Hattie S. Clark went there to retrieve Ethel Hallam, 23-year-old a married mother of two, who had been carrying on in one of the rooms there.

Alvin Dunlap, the proprietor of the Globe, told her of other girls, some of them underage, registered there and behaving inappropriately by staying out very late and allowing men into their rooms. The girls had no luggage when they registered at the hotel, but Dunlap would later tell the juvenile court that he thought it was all right because they were all together.

This led to the discovery of three minors, Alice Adams, 16, who had been named a ward of the court in 1917, Marion French and Dora Sealf Scalf. Also taken into custody were Edna Tuley, 18, of Lindenwald, daughter of a policeman, and Eva Babcock, 20, Symmes Corner.

The girls had met at the Saturday night dances conducted by the Labor Temple on Maple Avenue, and it was following one of these dances that the girls formed the proposition of renting the room. Charles Vaughn, leader of the temple, was named as one of several men who visited the girls. The warrant charged that some of the girls entertained men in the room, but all but one of the girls denied this, but Dunlap told of finding two men in the room one night and said he had told them twice to come to the office if they were waiting for the girls.

The first night the girls were provided with two separate rooms but following that two beds were placed in the same room which was occupied by all six girls for a time. Some of the girls remained longer than others. One of the girls told her mother she was working in Newport, Kentucky. The mother of another was in Dayton at the time. 

The girls told of going to the White City Park resort, returning as late as 5 a.m. and then sleeping until two in the afternoon.

Dunlap denied furnishing the girls with whiskey but testimony from one of them was that they had obtained liquor from him.

Dunlap was fined $1,000 and costs and given a one year sentence in the Dayton Workhouse, suspended on the condition that he get out of the hotel business within 30 days.

At this hearing Friday the three minor girls were sent to the Delaware reform school, three elder girls given suspended sentences to Marysville and the keeper of the hotel given 30 days to get out of business or pay a fine of $1,000 and spend a year in the Dayton Workhouse.

Tuely and Babcock were put on probation on the conditions that they attend church every Sunday morning and refrain from going out after 9 p.m. unless accompanied by their parents. They were given suspended sentences to the Marysville reformatory for women and were required to report to juvenile court once a week. 

Probation officer Shirley spoke of the reports that he had received for some time in the past concerning the minors who were permitted in that place and of the harm that might come to them through environments that were said to be there.

The finishing touches were put on the evidence when the three young girls testified that they had gone there at least three times, leaving the hotel at about ten o’clock and getting back at some time between midnight and morning. The girls told of the use of the park of slot machines and one stated that she had been given small amounts of money by me there to play the machines. The evenings were spent in playing the machines and dancing and drinking soft drinks.

“It was immediately after the hearing Friday,” said Judge Woodruff, “after those minor girls had testified concerning things that had happened at White City Park that I gave orders to Sheriff Laubach and my chief probation officer L.K. Shirley to see that the place is closed until after the trial of the two me Tuesday morning.”

While all of this was going on, while the girls were confessing their sins in juvenile court, the case against White City Park was heightened by a shooting incident involving an on-duty Hamilton police detective, unrelated to the trouble with the girls.

Detective Herman Dulle said that he and fellow detective Al Mueller, had earlier in the week received a tip that a certain individual had been selling stolen silk shirts at White City Park. On Friday, April 13, even while warrants were being prepared to padlock the resort on the testimony of the teenage girls, Dulle and Mueller were eating a midnight meal at an uptown restaurant and Ella DeMont (Dumont), aka Ella Westfall, part owner of White City Park with William “Pat” Gradolph, was in the restaurant at the same time. Dulle said they told her about the silk shirts and she told them to go on over to the resort, located just off Dixie Highway on Bobenmeyer (now Bobmeyer) Road to find their suspect.

Dulle said that he and Mueller along with detective Giles of Indianapolis who was here on vacation, then went to the park in an automobile belonging to cafe owner Lymon Williams. After remaining at the park for an hour and a half waiting for the thieves to appear, Dulle said he gave up hope of catching them and notified Mueller that he was going back to the city. He went in a different car.

Although Dulle said he did not see Mueller drinking any liquor, that Pat Gradolph “had been drinking and was becoming a little wild and I thought it would be better if we left. Mueller evidently did not give much thought to Pat’s drinking and remained.”

The shooting occurred about a half-hour after Dulle’s departure.

Mueller would later tell his superiors, “About 4 o’clock, trouble started in a small side room. Yes, this room is used for gambling. I went in to investigate the trouble and succeeded in getting the parties on the outside. We settled the trouble and went back into the place.”

The story from a habitue of the resort leads to the impression that the trouble started over a crap game. A man shooting the dice protested he was short-changed. Harry Gradolph, Pat’s brother, was running the game. Trouble loomed and Mueller acted as peacemaker. Harry Gradolph told his brother of the affair.

“A short time later there was a disturbance out on the road,” Mueller said. “I did not go out and investigate. I later learned that police had been called but could not find the troublemakers. Then after the trouble apparently had been settled, that Pat Gradolph came up to me and wanted to know why I had put a gun on Harry Gradolph. 

“Pat was drunk and pulled out a revolver and started to shoot. One of the bullets hit my right foot.

“I did not shoot at Gradolph.”

Chief of Police Charles Stricker and Detective Chief W.C. Herrmann verified the story of Mueller that the detectives were detailed to investigate the tip that stolen shirts were being peddled at the park and exonerated him of any culpability, though he would soon be suspended for working security at the Stockton Club during his off-hours.

“At this time,” Hermann said, “we do not care to give the name of the party who tipped us off, but be can do so if pressed.”

Herrmann also said that police reports show that headquarters received a call from the vicinity of the park early Saturday morning telling of the disturbance. Herrmann said officers went to the scene but could not find participants in the trouble. No report of the trouble is contained on police reports.

Herrmann and Stricker took warrants to Mueller’s home Saturday morning charging Pat Gradolph with shooting with intent to wound, but orders to close the resort had already been issued to Butler County Sheriff Rudy Laubach following the sensational  expose by the six young girls of vices indulged in at the notorious resort.

Harry and Pat Gradolph were arrested Saturday afternoon by L.K. Shirley, chief probation officer in the juvenile court of Butler County and Sheriff Laubach. 

“It came to the point where something had to be done,” said Sheriff Laubach shortly after the park had been closed and the proprietors placed under arrest. “And it also reached the stage where sufficient evidence had been gathered against the place.”

Both Sheriff Laubach and Officer Shirley had made thorough investigations before a step was taken toward the placing of a lock on the White City gate. Both me reported that it came to the point where some step had to be taken and to the place where something could be done.

“I’ve been watching the place for some time,” said the sheriff, “but for the most part it was almost impossible to get any definite evidence against the happenings down there. People in the neighborhood did not bring me any complaints that could be followed and I stood watch for the right opportunity. After hearing the testimony by those girls in juvenile court Friday, I went into conferences with juvenile authorities and we decided to take action immediately.

Harry Gradolph was the first to be arrested after  he had been found in bed at the park. Pat Gradolph surrendered himself at the jail later in the morning.

The affidavit signed by Shirley charged Pat Gradolph with selling and giving the minors intoxicating beverages, permitting the minors to operate gambling devices known as nickel slot machines, and permitting gambling in the presence of minors.

The Gradolphs’ trial on April 19 included sensational testimony from Marion French, 17, who described in some detail the girls’ visits to White City Park.

Sometimes the fellows who took them to the park had liquor and the girls would take a drink before they got there. No one ever asked their age, but French said she did see the signs that read, “If you are not 21, your presence is not required.” She said that from 10 a.m. until 3 or 4 a.m., sometimes until 6 a.m., the girls sat at tables, talked, drank, smoked, ate sandwiches and played the nickel slot machines.

“They had big games on Saturday nights. You could not get into the room and you couldn’t see for the people... We would dance and when that wore off we would go into the barroom and get more liquor”

She said Pat Gradolph took her without the other girls into a little room off the barroom and locked the door. Then the back door opened and Harry Gradolph brought in a bottle of liquor and gave it to his brother, who served it.

“They felt pretty good lots of times but they were not real drunk,” French said.

One of those late nights, Miss French said she and another of the girls returned to the room about midnight and were awakened at 5 a.m. when Alice Adams came in.

“Where’s Eva?” French asked.

Adams replied, “She’s at White City so drunk that she couldn’t get home.”

French went back to White City and found Eva, enlisting the aid of the taxi driver to get her into the car and back to the Globe.

Edna Tuley testified that she bought beer there but was unable to tell if it was intoxicating. She admitted she played the nickel slot machines in the barroom.

Eva Babcock said that the fellows who took them to White City gave them whiskey but they always went outside to drink it. She said it was often so crowded on the dance floor that it was impossible to move.

On the stand, Pat Gradolph said his business was operating a soft drink stand known as White City Inn. He denied knowing the girls and denied giving them whiskey. He said he had seen them there drinking pop and eating sandwiches.  He admitted there were slot machines in the barroom and one in the dance hall, but that he never saw the girls playing them.

“They are mostly for the men,” he told the court, but the women slip in unbeknown.

Pat Gradolph was sentenced to a year in the Dayton Workhouse and fined $1,000, $500 of which was suspended on condition that he closed White City Park. His brother Harry was fined $100 and costs and sentenced to one year in the Dayton Workhouse, suspended on the condition that he return to his trade and “refrain from such activities as has characterized his work at White CIty Park or any other place.”

The following week, Ella Westfall was also convicted on similar charges and sentenced to a year at Marysville Reformatory for Women.

The Stockton Club’s most notorious moment came the following New Year’s Eve when a free-for-all broke out during a dance. The Wolverines, led by Hamilton pianist Dud Mecum and featuring famed cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, were playing when “some two score revelers ‘opened up’”at the club, in which a dozen or more persons were injured, although only one person was reported to have gone to Mercy Hospital at 4 a.m., which the hospital denied, but many persons were seen out and about in Hamilton with bandages on their heads and with scars and bruises.

There was no official report or investigation of the incident, but the club closed in order to allow the alleged “rough-house” a chance to blow over.

November 1922         Burglers Taking Pot-Shots

One of the city’s big annual social events a century ago was the St. Mary’s Bazaar, held Thanksgiving weekend at the “modern-equipped parochial school” located at Sixth and High streets. The 1922 version included a sale of specially-made sweets and the nightly give-away of 16-pound turkeys. The classrooms of the school were transformed into live entertainment and game venues.

The chairman of the 1922 bazaar was Oscar Yordy of 1112 Hanover Street. On the final night of the event, spirits were high in the Yordy family as he took his wife Nora and two children--Mary, 11, and Howard, 8--home around 10:30 p.m. Although the hour was late, spirits were high and the children were eager to play with the prizes they had won.

Oscar let his wife and children out of the car at the garage door off the alley at the rear of the house and went about putting the machine away as Nora and the kids ran toward the front porch. The house was dark and the children raced ahead, stopping at the door to wait for their mother to open it.

Nora later told an Evening Journal reporter: “I was about to insert the key in the door latch when there was a flash and a red flame. The children cried for help and I also cried as I felt a sting on the left side of my chest above the heart.”

A .32 calibre bullet, after passing through the glass in the door speeded discreetly over the heads of the two children, who were standing in front of their mother. Had the ball been aimed a few inches lower it would have struck the boy in the head. Glass from the shattered window sprayed over the boy and girl, causing them to run screaming from the porch.

Fortunately, Nora was wearing a heavy winter coat, so the bullet glanced off her chest just above her heart and lodged in the folds of the collar of the coat. A brief moment later, above the sound of the children’s terror, Nora heard another shot.

“When I heard the second shot, I feared that my husband had been shot but thanks to Providence he was not,” Nora said. The burglar apparently fired the shot to draw attention away from his escape out the rear door of the house.

Upon hearing the shot followed by the screams of his wounded wife and horrified children, Mr. Yordy ran to the front of the house and caught his wife in his arms as she was slipping to the