The years of 1930 and 1931 are two of the most significant times in Logan County history for various reasons, as the Great Depression was then taking its toll on the county and it helped lead to other actions; some of which revealed the outright unscrupulous and unlawful acts that had been going on in the county for a very long time. These actions, thankfully, were chronicled and archived by various newspapers of that time period. It was one of these articles which was discovered accidentally by a surviving family member of Roy C. Knotts that will lead to the honoring of the former Logan police chief, who was gunned down in cold blood December 3, 1930 at what used to be the Smokehouse restaurant on Stratton and Main streets.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which was founded in 1984, and is a non-profit organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., contacted Logan Police Chief E.K. Harper when that organization discovered Knotts’ death that came in the line of duty. In a letter, Chief Harper was informed that in order for the fallen officer to be included on the Memorial an officer data form had to be completed and mailed back to the organization by August 31.
Harper, nor Mayor Serifino Nolletti, or anyone else they contacted, had ever heard of the murder. However, when this writer found out about the letter to Harper, Mayor Nolletti was contacted and a meeting was set up at Logan City Hall to compare notes since the organization had mailed copies of news briefs to Harper from newspapers of 1930, which announced the murder. Copies of newspaper stories from The San Diego Tribune, Alton Illinois Evening Tribune and the Charleston Daily Mail were sent to Harper, and apparently had been discovered by a family member of the deceased police chief. Since I already had various Logan Banner accounts of the murder, trial and conviction of Enoch Scaggs, who was the killer of the 1930 police chief, it was decided to tell the entire story of, not only the vicious murder, but the circumstances surrounding the attack. Here’s the way things worked in Logan County during the early 1930’s and even before then.
Several of Devil “Anse” Hatfield’s sons, including Cap, Robert, Tennis and Joe Hatfield, had been employed as deputies by the notorious Sheriff of Logan, Don Chafin, who readers should identify with in the 1921 “Battle of Blair Mountain.” Chafin, whose mother was a Hatfield had been known as the “King” of Logan County for many years and as the democratic sheriff who kept the United Mine Workers Association from organizing in Logan. He became sheriff in 1912 by promising to rid the county of mine guards who were despised by the coal miners. He kept his promise, but then came up with the plan for the Logan Coal Operators Association to pay him to keep the union from organizing in the county. Chafin maintained an army of deputies, many of them his own family, and they were paid by Chafin from funds from the coal association. The sheriff kept a cut of the money for himself and, along with wise investments, became very wealthy.
Chafin, who was known to “hit the bottle,” and was in 1917 acquitted of murder, also controlled the Justices of the Peace and had them employ many special constables who he issued badges and guns and they became members of his “Standing Army of Logan.” All was well until his partner in crime, Tennis Hatfield, a son of the famed Devil Anse, was caught selling illegal liquor at the Blue Goose Inn at Barnabus, which he and Chafin were partners in. Tennis went to prison, but when he got out, he testified against Chafin and in 1924 the “King” was convicted of moonshining and was sentenced to two years in an Atlanta prison. When he was released after 10 months, he found that the Hatfield’s had gained much political strength as a republican machine following the 1924 election in which Logan went republican for the first and last time ever. Tennis, in a Supreme Court battle, won the office of sheriff that year and became very powerful by placing illegal gambling machines in all parts of the county; a county which was flourishing at the time as the population had grown from 14,476 in 1920 to around 45,000 in 1924 and to 58,534 by 1930. Houses of prostitution existed in nearly every Logan hotel and other places in the county with Hatfield’s backing, according to newspaper accounts. In addition, illegal liquor was available at nearly every restaurant, hotel and billiards parlor in the county.
By 1930, Joe Hatfield, Tennis’ brother, had been elected as sheriff and the brothers continued their means of gaining money illegally. They had “enforcers” and “collectors” who regularly collected monies from the machines in illegal establishments. And, despite efforts by some “good” citizens of the county, including the Logan Ministerial Association, the Hatfield’s continued their wicked ways. It seemed that everyone carried a pistol, usually a .38 caliber, and murders— most, the result of drunken quarrels—were nearly every week in Logan County.
In 1925, C.C. Chambers, a young and aspiring attorney, would become the Mayor of Logan and he would announce that all bootleggers in the city had three choices: “They can go to work, get out of town, or go to jail,” said Chambers, who would later become the longest serving circuit court judge ever in Logan County; serving in that powerful position for 32 years. However, the powers to be of that time period chose to do away with the position of mayor and installed the position of “City Manager,” who would be hired by the City Commissioners who were elected officials equivalent to today’s City Council members.
The Logan City Commissioners consisted of two republicans and two democrats, who often disagreed with moves made by the City Manager. So, when it was announced by the then sitting City Manager, a gentleman by the name of W. M. Healy, that he intended for the city of Logan “to be cleaned up” and then ordered that the police chief would be responsible for ridding the city of gambling devices, illegal liquor and prostitution, the chief resigned and it seemed no one wanted the job. One qualified man was asked by a Logan Banner reporter why he did not take the job, the man answered by saying: “Because I do not want to die.”
In early December of 1930, Roy C. Knotts, 38-years-old, was named as “acting” chief of police in Logan. The following day while in the very popular Smokehouse restaurant that much later would serve meals to John F. Kennedy during his presidential campaign in 1960, the unarmed police chief would be gunned down by Enoch Scaggs, who reportedly shot Knotts five times. Although there were numerous eyewitnesses to the crime, it became apparent that nobody was willing to testify for fear of their own lives being taken.
Logan Judge Naaman Jackson, by all accounts an outstanding individual and judge, decided something had to be done about the lawlessness and corruptness of the county. After contacting the governor and explaining that a fair trial could not be obtained here, the Governor ordered Attorney General Howard B. Lee to come to Logan and prosecute the case. When Lee arrived in Logan, it is reported that he was “alarmed” at the lawlessness of the city. It was decided that no Logan jury would ever convict Scaggs of murder, so a jury from Monroe County was bused into Logan to decide the trial. Judge Jackson was to be the trial judge, while attorney C.C. Chambers would help defend Enoch Scaggs. Lee and the Governor had 16 State troopers brought to Logan in hopes of protecting the jurors.
During testimony of the trial, City Manager Healy testified that that he had given Chief Knotts a paper that contained the names of alleged owners of slot machines, and that the paper, pierced by a bullet, had been removed from his coat pocket. The list was admitted as evidence, although Chambers objected.
While this sensational trial was grabbing the 1931 headlines, other things were happening that are important in the realm of Logan history. For instance, two of Sheriff’s Hatfield’s deputies had traveled to Boone County where they tried to break into the Coal Valley newspaper offices to destroy the place. Too bad for them, an employee who lived in an apartment above shot one of the deputies, who was later arrested in Kentucky. The Prosecuting attorney of Logan, Ira P. Hager, along with a Logan deputy, traveled to Kentucky and illegally brought the deputy back to Logan County where he then disappeared. It would later be determined in testimony that Tennis Hatfield had paid the men to do the damages, and Hatfield would be indicted by a Boone County grand jury.
In Charleston, legislative investigative hearings were being conducted where testimony proved that state police in Logan were bought off by the Hatfield’s. Additional testimony showed that it was Tennis Hatfield who owned most of the gambling machines in the county. Even more testimony by one trooper said he attended a party at the home of Tennis Hatfield, which was the former home place of his father, Devil Anse, on Main Island Creek. The trooper said that there was plenty of liquor there and that some of the guests were so intoxicated “they should have been put in jail.”
In testimony later, Former state police Lt. Richard Brooks Brown said, while he was stationed in Logan, he received $175 a month from Joe and Tennis Hatfield and the sum was later increased to $225 per month to protect the county’s gambling machines and even in some parts of Mingo County.
Meanwhile, Harry Robertson, who had received more votes than anybody as a Logan City Commissioner, insisted that Jack Thurman be named as a Logan police officer. Thurman, readers may recall, was the husband of Mamie Thurman, who died a miserable death about one year later. Robertson, who rented an apartment to the couple, was originally charged with her murder.
Robertson and H.D. Willis were both democrats, while the other two members of the City Commission (as it was referred to back then) were republicans, J.C. Aldredge and N.E. Steele. The four were at a standstill in regard to replacing the current City Manager, who had previously ordered the crackdown on the illegal activities of the city. The democrats wanted to replace Healy, while the republicans wished to keep him. At one meeting, Robertson had agreed that if the Commission would fire patrolman O.E. Jenkins and replace him with Thurman he would break the tie and vote to keep Healy. After the Commission agreed to this measure and the vote later came up on Healy, Robertson double-crossed the republicans and did not vote to keep the City Manager, causing the other members to “walk out” from the meeting.
The Logan Banner said Jenkins was “sacrificed at the alter for Harry Robertson’s man, Friday.” At a later meeting, Healy was replaced as City Manager and the The Banner’s headlines read—“Board Names New Manager—Jenkins Scalped for Thurman.”
While all of this was going on many other important happenings were taking place, including a fire at what was called the Chafin Hotel. The hotel had previously served as the home of the Nighbert’s and was located at the current Logan Exxon location in Logan. County officials also were trying to find a way to keep government going as it needed hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep county government operating. The county was simply broke.
All of this was taking place while Enoch Scaggs was being tried for murder. What was never brought out in the trial, but is being added today, is that Scaggs was a hired hand of the Hatfield’s and that he had previously been a deputy for Don Chafin and that in an August 24, 1923 edition of the newspaper, he had shot and killed a man named Hilton during an argument over a bad check in a poker game when Scaggs was a resident of Chapmanville.
A more complete story of the trial of Scaggs and much more about the notorious Hatfield’s will be told in a later edition of this newspaper. However, for today’s purposes, let it be suffice to say that nearly 86 years after the fact, the murder of a Logan police chief is being told again. More importantly, thanks to another Logan police chief, Roy Knotts will finally be recognized on the Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. that bears the names of over 20,000 police officers who have died in the line of duty throughout U.S. history.
New names are engraved on the wall every April and formerly dedicated on May 13 during the annual Candlelight Vigil.
Logan’s Chief Harper, also a retired state trooper, has visited the wall that resembles the Vietnam wall that honors the many fallen soldiers of that unfortunate war.
“I feel honored to be able to do this,” said Harper, referring to the fact that he has mailed the proper forms to make it happen.
“He’s finally getting recognition,” said Mayor Nolletti. “This is definitely some Logan history that none of us knew about.”
(Part II of this story will follow in a future edition of The Logan Banner. Following this series, which sheds a different light on Logan County, the Hatfield’s, and many others, the true story of Mamie Thurman will begin.)
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.