The case of the “mystery murder”


By Dwight Williamson - Guest Columnist



Dwight Williamson


There are many interesting stories surrounding Logan County’s checkered past, especially when it comes to the category of “law and order” and politics. It seems the two have always been intertwined here in the valley of the Guyandotte.

I remember a gentleman sometime back in the late seventies or early 1980’s visiting The Logan Banner newsroom and speaking to the editor, Raamie Barker. Although Barker spoke in more detail with the gentleman than I did, what I remember is that the guy had with him a copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper in which a story in it told of how a reporter was sent from Cinc innati sometime after the Civil War to what would become the town of Logan in order to do a story about the happenings here.

Considering that about the only feasible route to reach Logan in the late 1800’s was by the Ohio River and then up the Guyandotte by boat, imagine the importance that must have been placed on the stories that were to come from this locale; taking into consideration the time and costs to get to this area from Ohio. What I remember from the article is the reporter’s account of how disagreements here were supposedly often settled in the streets—not in the form of duels, which used to be legal in America, but by the fastest draw and the most accurate shot, all of which was more like the old west shows we’ve seen on television.

Since The Logan Banner did not come into existence until 1888, I’ve seen no local accounts of these reported actions, but there sure were many shootings and killings reported from 1900 onward. As I have previously written about, many of them involved the actions of Logan County police officers—either killing, or being killed.

Allow me to refresh your memory on some of the former stories involving local law enforcement of the past. I recall reporting the story of the 1917 killing at Hedgeview on Mud Fork of 26-year-old Frank Kazee by the very young Don Chafin, who then was the County Clerk. Despite two witnesses in the Kazee vehicle that had passed Chafin—who had been drinking alcohol—the future Logan County Sheriff was declared not guilty by a jury. Chafin’s brother-in-law, Frank Hurst, served as sheriff at the time of shooting.

Throughout the 1920’s and most of the ‘30’s, the policing of the very vibrant town of Logan was usually done nightly by three city patrolmen and at least two night watchmen, also known as merchant policemen. On May 10th of 1927 Logan Police Chief Lawrence Carey shot and killed Lawrence Avis, 22, around 5 a.m. in front of the then Midelburg Theatre on Stratton Street. Carey and Hibbard Hatfield, who later went to work as a Logan County deputy, were charged with murder.

Carey, the father of 10 children, several weeks later placed the same .38 pistol used to shoot Avis to his own head and killed himself during a recess of his trial. Co-defendant Hibbard Hatfield was later found not guilty. Interestingly, Hatfield would in 1932 be working with Logan police officer Jack Thurman during the evening and morning hours in which Thurman’s wife (Mamie) was brutally killed with a .38 bullet and her throat then slashed.

On November 16, 1928, another Logan Police Chief, A.D. Scaggs, shot and killed Brooks Carey, the 30-year-old son of the man who killed himself just the year before. Scaggs was found not guilty and the nephew of feudal leader Randall McCoy was buried next to his father in the now abandoned City Cemetery.

Then there was the 1926 killing by former Logan Police Chief J.M. “Mitch” Henderson of his 20-year-old son following an argument and altercation at their home on High Street. The prosecution said it could not prove the case and therefore, did not pursue the matter.

There was also the 1930 murder of Logan police chief Roy Knotts, shot five times by Enoch Scaggs at the Smokehouse in downtown Logan. The assassination took place on the former state trooper’s first day on the job.

Throughout local history, there have been many stories involving mostly Logan police officers or former law enforcement involved in very “shady” actions, many resulting in death. One that immediately comes to mind is that of the terrible slaying in 1980 of Susie (Fortuna) Jones of Peach Creek. And, as I remember, then Logan Chief Tony Christiani was supposedly a key player involved in that murder investigation. The “want-to-be sheriff” was a former all-American football linebacker with the University of Miami. His aspirations ended with Fortuna’s death.

The following account comes from the files of 1936 when another former Logan chief of police was accused in what The Logan Banner described as a “mystery murder.” Here’s the story:

“Mrs. Elsie Dacus, age about 32 years, was found slain this afternoon (Dec. 21) at 2 o’clock in the home of Elliott Mitchell, former chief of police of Logan, in the Mitchell residence on Guyan Street, “ was the opening report by the unnamed newspaper writer. “The woman, who is the wife of Charlie Dacus, a barber of Peach Creek, and the mother of six children, had two bullet wounds in her body— one entering the left breast and penetrating the heart, and the other in the mouth. Her children are now in the detention home.”

A coroner’s jury was sworn in but could not come to an agreement as to the exact cause of death. The jury consisted of Joe Wolfe, Elmer Gunther, W. Carson Browning, Charlie Bias, Kel Holliday, and Howard Mullins.

Elliott Mitchell, Grover Barker, Jeff Godby, Abe Mitchell and Mrs. Charlotte Mitchell were all jailed pending further investigation, according to the newspaper account. According to Barker, the Dacus woman was found lying on the floor of the bedroom shortly after he and Jeff Godby heard two shots fired in rapid succession. Barker told the coroner’s jury that he ran into the room and found Elliott Mitchell standing over the woman with a .38 Smith and Wesson pistol in his hand. Barker said he grabbed the gun from Mitchell and about that time Abe Mitchell, his son, entered the home and he gave the gun to him.

Barker said Mitchell yelled at him as he entered the bedroom: “Look here, Grover, this woman has shot herself. Barker told the officers that they were all drinking. Elliott Mitchell was described as being “highly intoxicated” when placed under arrest.

The Dacus woman had been keeping house for the Mitchell’s for about two months. The Banner reported that it was understood that she was “estranged” from her husband. “Due to the prominence of those involved in the affair,” the story relayed, “the apparent murder is one of the most baffling to take place in Logan in many years.”

Logan Police Chief Jeff Watts said that the parties being held in jail would not be released “until a full investigation was made.” “We are going to get to the bottom of this and no one will be shown mercy until the guilty party or parties are found who committed the rash act,” Watts said.

A further report of the outcome of the murder investigation will be told in a later story. But for now, readers should ponder as to what may have happened in yet another paradox of Logan County’s past.

BITS and PIECES

The Logan Banner once had a circulation of 37,000 readers in Logan County…..of course, that was back when the newspaper was about the only local source of information available…..and, while the county has for many years seen a population decline, so has the newspaper’s circulation…..still, there are many former Logan Countians spread out across the nation who read the newspaper via the internet website…..I know this because I get regular e-mails, messages, letters and telephone calls from many of these people, who still call Logan County their home……for example, there are Joe and Grant Browning, who are the grandsons of Devil Anse Hatfield…..those two gentlemen—Joe in North Carolina and Grant in Tennessee—grew up here and still care for what happens here…..another gentleman who stays in touch with me is Frank Adams of Davidson, N.C…. born in 1938, Frank at one time lived as a kid where the Presbyterian Church in Logan is now located and then later lived in Midelburg Addition…..his father was a business partner with Les Lilly, who some will remember because of the former existence of Lilly’s Crown Jewelers in downtown Logan…..Frank, a longtime physical therapist, has given me interesting local information on various people and subjects that I will later convey…..after reading one of my recent stories about “beer joints”, Frank said he was reminded of the Ranch House Club that operated for years at Monitor on Rt. 44…..I recall the place(as a teenager), although I was too young to be allowed inside; but I do know it was a popular place for dancing, drinking, and for fighting…..Roger Marcum, now living in Texas, is anotherexample of a former Logan person who cares what’s happening in his former hometown…..another successful Loganite, who recently died in New York where she practiced in the field of psychotherapy, was Jacqueline Fish, who I never actually knew, but I understand that she did graduate from Logan High School in the early ‘60’s, and, I’m told, always kept in touch with friends here….her father was J.T. (Joe) Fish, who was a friend of mine…..most people do not know this, but Joe’s business at Mt. Gay (Mansbach Inc., which is now known as Southern Public Service) was where banker Harry Robertson was employed as a bookkeeper after his embarrassing troubles surrounding his admitted mistress, Mamie Thurman…..Joe was on the Board of Directors of the former Logan County Park Board back when I covered those meetings for this newspaper…..an elderly man at the time, Joe once offered to build and finance a new bridge to Midelburg Island, but wanted it named after himself…..ironically, following Joe’s death, the State built a bridge to the Island, and it was appropriately named the J.T. Fish memorial bridge…..there is one more secret about Joe and his connection to the Mamie Thurman story, but that will have to be revealed sometime later…..if you like local history, you might want to attend a meeting at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Logan Area Public Library on Midelburg Island where local and noted historian Brandon Ray Kirk will be addressing members of the Logan County Genealogical Society…..DID YOU KNOW that in his abbreviated career at Marshall, former Logan cager Stevie Browning fell just 50 points shy of a total of 1,000?…..speaking of basketball, what a great job by both Chapmanville and Mingo Central have done after reaching the state tournament; both squads make for good southern West Virginia representation…..at the time of this writing (Friday) both squads were still going strong…..although I recently was made aware that “fake news” does exist, I try to keep in mind that government should never be allowed to control the media; after all, history reminds us of what happened in Germany when Adolph Hitler gained political control of the news media…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Let us live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”—Mark Twain…..CLOSING NOTE: I’ve paid a great deal of attention to this year’s West Virginia legislative session and there’s some interesting bills that have been introduced. One such bill that some of our representatives do not seem to understand is Senate Bill 212, which is designed to eliminate administrative hearings by the Department of Motor Vehicles when a person accused of driving under the influence asks for a license suspension hearing. What legislators should realize is that police officers have to attend those hearings (even on their off-days) or face misdemeanor charges themselves. The truth is that that about 90% of all people arrested for DUI usually are guilty, but if a person is declared not guilty in court, especially by a jury, then that person should not also have to attend an administrative hearing to keep their driver’s license from being suspended. That action is clearly a matter of double jeopardy. Another problem is that the results of such hearings are often years in the making. Almost $2 million dollars could be saved by elimination of the current DMV hearings, according to Republican Sen. Charles Trump of Morgan County, lead sponsor of the bill. What happened to the budget deficit, anyway?

Dwight Williamson
http://loganbanner.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/web1_Dwight-Williamson-2.jpgDwight Williamson

By Dwight Williamson

Guest Columnist

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

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