There is a reason why the term “Depression” was used to describe America following the collapse of the stock market in 1929: there were many people who simply became depressed—even to the point of suicide, and Logan County had it’s share. The following accounts are taken from the microfilm files of Southern West Virginia Community College’s library. These stories documented in 1930 will precede a future story of how Sheriff Don Chafin, two of Devil Anse Hatfield’s sons and a host of other officials ruled the county. It will be a true story of lies and deceit and how one man almost single handedly saved the county from total corruption—and he wasn’t even from Logan.
In the meantime, the following accounts of that time period should set the stage for the upcoming story, one which came as a surprise to both Logan Mayor Nolletti and his Police Chief E.K. Harper when they found out about the 1930 murder of the Logan Police Chief, Roy Knotts.
The town had grown tremendously since the early 1900’s after the railroad reached Logan. Multitudes of people from all walks of life and from all parts of this nation and many foreign countries were blended into the making of the county and the city; a city of many businesses, restaurants, hotels, and all of the “bad” things that can be imagined.
Newspaper accounts were daily filled with doom and gloom about coal miners being killed or injured in various coal mining accidents, but it was stories of murder, arrests, prostitution and the illegal making and consumption of alcohol during the Prohibition period that generally grabbed the headlines. And, the suicide rate was also unbelievable at the time. Here’s one unfortunate story whose headline reads: “Whitman Woman Kills Two Children and Then Herself.”
“For reasons yet enshrouded in mystery the wife of a coal miner killed two of her sons and then ended her own life yesterday afternoon at their home at Whitman. With a 38-caliber pistol Mrs. Mary Cherepanick, wife of George Cherepanick, after locking every door in the house, put a bullet through the head of her oldest boy, Mike, another into the right temple of her youngest child, Charles, and then fired a third bullet into her own temple.
The mother and the three-year-old died instantly, it is believed. Mike was still alive but unconscious and bleeding profusely when his brother, George, peered through a window and discovered the bloody sight,” the story related. The family lived at house number 403 at Farley Camp, about a mile from where the then Whitman YMCA was located. Mike was taken to Holden Hospital where he died that evening, nearly six hours after the shooting. He was 13 years-old. The report said all three people were found lying in the dining room floor of the four room house with no signs of a struggle evident.
George, the father, was at work in the mines when his wife, perhaps suffering from a mental lapse, executed her terrible plan of violence. Helen, 10, and Mary, six, were with other children practicing for a Christmas pageant. The son, George, was playing outside of the house at the time of the shootings.
The dead were taken to New Jersey where two of the family’s children and the woman’s mother and step-father were previously buried. It is not known whether Mr. Cherepanick returned to Logan County and resumed his job.
Another story related how a Holden resident, Steve Mathis, filled a lard can with black powder with hopes of being blown to pieces. He ignited a piece of string greased with lard that he used as a fuse. The story said that Mathis took the can to the side of Cottage Hill near the old No. 2 mine of Island Creek Coal Company where he sat down on the can and ignited the fuse. Unfortunately, the powder was not properly packed and a flash instead of an explosion resulted. After the flash, Mathis ran down the hillside with his clothing on fire. The Banner reported that residents along Holden Avenue extinguished the flames and rushed him to Holden Hospital where he died 10 hours later.
In another edition of The Logan Banner, yet another Holden man, John Nagy, described as a “foreign born miner,” committed suicide by placing a dynamite cap between his teeth and exploding it. Married and the father of three children, he was 45-years-old. He died about an hour after being taken to the Holden hospital.
In that same day’s edition of the newspaper, a headline read: “Attempt at Suicide Ends in Death after Ten Weeks.”
“An attempt at suicide by drinking lye more than two months ago ended in the death of Mrs. Steve Kelich of Dehue at the local hospital on Sunday,” the Banner reported. “She lived long enough not only to regret her effort to end her life but to look forward to her recovery, and on Thanksgiving Day she planned to go home.” Mrs. Kalich was 30 years-old and a native of Austria. She had been married twice and had two daughters by her first husband, Steve Marich, and two by her second marriage.
Her first husband was killed in a motorcycle accident. She then married Kelich and they had lived at Omar and Dehue, coming to Logan from Pennsylvania. The story related that it was thought a series of misfortunes developing in rapid succession caused the woman to drink a lye solution that caused her to be a patient at Hatfield-Lawson hospital for two months. Reportedly, her life had become unbearable because, first, her husband had lost an eye in a mine accident, her 12-year-old daughter lost an eye by exploding a dynamite cap she had found, the youngest child, a tot of four years, broke a leg while at play, and then a third daughter fell from a swing and broke an arm.
Following the funeral service, the young woman was buried in the almost new cemetery that guaranteed perpetual care for its inhabitants—Logan Memorial Park—the now abandoned 20-acre cemetery at McConnell where many Loganites have been laid to rest, including the most famous of all—Mamie Thurman.
BITS and PIECES
Remember Shane Burton?…..he was the Crawley Creek born product of Chapmanville who wound up playing in the National Football League with several teams, including Miami, Chicago, Carolina and New England, where he was a member of the Super Bowl squad…..well, I hear he is now in California drawing NFL disability, a hefty $10,000 a month; not bad…..two players from the Logan High School 1971 basketball team that finished the regular season with a 22-0 record before losing to Charlestown in the state tournament will soon be inducted into the Logan High School Hall of Fame…..Brent George and Alfred Vance will be in town for those honors…..other members of that ’71 team included Mark Hatcher, who averaged 24 points a game, Virdell Banks, James Green, Arthur Blackmon, John Collins, Fred Duncan, John Monroe, Rod Adkins, and Mark George…..Hatcher, who averaged 28 points per game as a junior in 1970, was one of the best ever at LHS and played for Virginia Tech before injuring his knee, while Monroe wound up being drafted by the New Orleans Saints for his football prowess….led by the speedy Brent George, those ‘Cats were one of the fastest teams ever coached by Willie Akers…..in my opinion, Virdell Banks should be inducted alongside his two teammates; he was a smooth and key part of that team…..the 1970 Logan squad lost in the AAA tournament to Parkersburg, 61-54…..what I remember about that team is the managers, who were Pete Codispoti, Oval Adams and Brad Wooten, all of whom were good athletes themselves……the assistant coaches back then were Masil Maynard and Jack Stone…..still on the subject of sports, it is good to see soccer getting a foothold in the county…..the late Bea Orr tried to implement the sport into the county way back in the early ‘80’s, but the argument always was that the teams might wear out the grass fields; no longer is that the issue, so, congratulations to Chapmanville Regional High School for its first win ever recently in what is the first year of the soccer sport for the school…..DID YOU KNOW that sharks will eat anything?…..some of the odd things found in their stomachs include: a roll of roofing paper, a telephone book, pots and pans, a drinkable bottle of wine, a keg of nails, and a car license plate…..heck, that’s worse that our own Logan Court Martial, Jimmy Hooker…..I was glad to see Owen Wells’ story Aug. 21 concerning what we now refer to as the Don Chafin House…..I don’t know the details as to possible improvements to the historic place, but the structure is now in worse shape than ever, and if the supposed improvements prove to be another “smoke screen,” as in the $10,000 grant that was “blown” about a year ago, then the “real” story of the house must be told…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I don’t care what the papers say about me, as long as they spell my name right.”—“Big Tim” Sullivan, New York political boss, 1900…..FINAL NOTE: I could not be more proud of my daughter, who has made the bold decision to leave her position with WVOW radio in order to better take care of her child, and more particularly, her ailing mother. I know there will be many regional listeners that will surely miss her loving voice. I, for one, will miss the talents of one Erin (Williamson) Miller. She has never failed to amaze me.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.