Saturday, December 6, 2014

December 6, 1899: Richard Coleman

Join me in a journey to past events in 1899 Kentucky. We first learn about this case through the pages of The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) dated October 6, 1899:


Kentucky Jail Surrounded by Crowd of Angry Citizens.

Maysville, Ky., October 5.—A crowd surrounds the jail here at midnight, and it is believed that before morning they will have lynched Richard Coleman, a nineteen-year-old negro boy who has confessed to a most shocking crime.

The dead body of Mrs. James Lashbrook, wife of a well-to-do farmer, was found in an outhouse of the Lashbrook place six miles from here today. She had been outraged and beaten to death with a club. The community was quickly aroused, and after a hunt of several hours, Coleman, who was a cook employed by the Lashbrooks, was arrested. Coleman was placed in jail and has since confessed.

At 2 o'clock this morning the mob broke down the jail door. The first man to enter was thrown out by the guards inside, who then stood off the crowd with drawn guns. The mob lacks a leader, but it is feared another attempt to lynch Coleman will be made when re-enforcements reach here from the neighborhood in which Mrs. Lashbrook lived.

We learn more through the pages of The Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington, N. C.) dated December 8, 1899:


Burned to Death by Infuriated Citizens of the Town of Maysville.


Brutal Murder of the Wife of a Farmer Who Had Been His Benefactor—His Confession—Taken From Officers by Citizens.

By Telegraph to the Morning Star.

MAYSVILLE, KY., December 6.—Richard Coleman confessed the murder of Mrs. James Lashbrook, wife of his employer, and expiated his crime in daylight to day at the hands of a mob, consisting of thousands of citizens, by burning at the stake, after suffering indescribable torture. The dreadful spectacle occurred on the peaceful cricket grounds on the outskirts of this city.

Just two months ago Richard Coleman, the trusted employee of farmer Jas. Lashbrook, murdered the woman who had been his benefactor. Coleman had been left in charge of the house. Mrs. Lashbrook had driven to Maysville and returned, when Coleman asked her to enter the cabin to look at some work at which he had been engaged. The negro locked the door on the inside. Mrs. Lashbrook became frightened and screamed. Coleman struck her on the head, knocking her down, but not stopping her cries. He then seized a razor and cut her throat. He picked up the bleeding body and placed it on the bed. He then left the room, but returning, heard her still groaning and with an axe he struck her repeatedly on the head until he was sure she was dead. The negro washed the blood from his hands and his clothing and went to where Mr. Lashbrook was at work in the field and told him that he had better come to the house, as someone had killed his wife.

Coleman Arrested.

It was not until after the officers arrived that suspicion was directed against Coleman. Blood spots had been found on his clothing, but he accounted for that by saying that he had been killing chickens. That night, however, at Maysville, a partial confession was obtained and, knowing the result if that fact should be known, the officers quietly took him to Covington, Ky., for safe keeping. He was indicted for the murder. Shortly after his incarceration at Covington, he made a complete confession of his crime to the jailor. the story of his crime, including worse than murder, was told without any appearance of feeling by the prisoner.

The trial was set for to day. Sheriff Perrine determined to leave Covington by the train on the Chesapeake and Ohio, which started at 7:30 o'clock Wednesday morning from Cincinnati via Covington. Coleman had been apprised Tuesday night Tuesday night to prepare to return to the scene of his crime. He was instantly stricken with fear and begged piteously to be permitted to remain in Covington until after his trial. He said he expected to die, but he dreaded

The Vengeance of a Mob.

When he was handcuffed on leaving the jail in Covington, he was almost paralyzed and had to be assisted to the patrol wagon. On entering the train he seemed unable to sit down, until one of the guards forced him into the seat. It developed that in the crowd at Covington and even on the train, there were some of the relatives of Mrs. Lashbrook, ready to convey any information if any attempt was made to secret the prisoner. Messages were sent here. The prisoner with his  escort arrived at 10:12 o'clock. Sheriff Perrine, while en route to Maysville, had not been informed that a mob was awaiting the arrival of the train at the depot and hastily prepared for the swearing in of deputy sheriffs. As the train puffed slowly into the old station the mob formed on both sides in two long huddled crowds. Armed men stationed themselves at the platforms of all cars and warned the frightened passengers to remain quiet and not to interfere. The sheriff and his assistants were strongly armed and there was some resistance as the leaders of the mob jostled roughly against them and demands were uttered from the outer fringes of the crowds for the prisoner. Sheriff Perrine made a bold movement and started walking swiftly but with no indications of panic from the car. A step behind him followed the officers with Coleman in their midst, seeking to conceal himself behind the brawny forms of his protectors. As the officers proceeded the numbers of the mob were constantly swelled by new arrivals, and through the down town business streets to the court house they were closely followed. Hundreds of stones and other missiles were thrown, and revolvers and rifles were freely displayed. The prisoner was frequently struck and he presented a frightful appearance, the blood streaming from wounds on his face and head.

Officers Resisted the Mob.

At the court house a mob of 2,000 men, headed by James Lashbrook, the husband, had been hastily formed. A demand for the prisoner was made. There was a brief struggle, in which weapons were hastily drawn by the officers, and the sheriff and his assistants were overcome by force of numbers and the prisoner was seized by the leaders of the mob. The prisoner was dragged along by ropes loosely attached to his body. He was the target again of hundreds of missiles, and several times he sank half conscious to the ground, while the crowd pressed forward, striking at him with clubs, sticks and whips until his head and body were scarcely recognizable. More dead than alive, he was dragged along and forced to his feet. Scores of women joined the men. The wretch could be heard pleading for his life, but the cry of the prisoner was answered with an oath and a blow.

Burned to Death.

The place of execution had been selected weeks ago and all the other details of the programme mapped out by the leaders of the mob. The prisoner was strapped against a tree, facing the husband of the victim. Large quantities of dry brush and larger bits of wood were piled around him while he was praying for speedy death. James Lashbrook, the husband of the victim, applied the first match to the brushwood. A brother of the victim struck the second match. Some one with a knife was vainly slashing at the prisoner's chest. Not a single shot was fired. The purpose seemed to be to give the wretch the greatest possible amount of torture. A fatal shot would have been merciful and there was no mercy in the crowd surrounding Richard Coleman.

The ropes securing him to the tree were burned and his body finally fell forward on the burning pile. The crowd used rails and long poles to push his body back into the flames. It is not certain how long life lasted. During the process, while his voice could be heard, he begged for a drink of water.

At the end of three hours the body was practically cremated. During all the time members of the family of Mrs. Lashbrook had remained to keep up the fire.

In all the thousands who constituted the mob there was not a single effort made to disguise or conceal identity. No man wore a mask. All the leaders of the mob were well known and there are hundreds of witnesses who can testify to their participation in the tragedy. They are leading citizens in all lines of business and many are members of churches.

County Judge Harbeson will empanel [sic] a special grand jury at once to make a speedy investigation and return indictments against the leaders of the mob.

Coroner's Inquest.

The coroner held an inquest on the charred remains of Richard Coleman and rendered the simple verdict "Death at the hands of a mob."

The body was left lying there and at present has not been removed. Relic hunters took away teeth and bones, and flesh and every fragment of the body that they could lay hands upon. All the afternoon, children, some of them not more than six years old, kept up the fires on the blackened body by throwing grass, kindling wood, brush, bits of boards and everything combustible that they could gather. 

The action of the mob seems to be generally approved, even by women, who think that hereafter they will be safer.

A little more information comes from an excerpt from an article in The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah) dated December 7, 1899:


Confessed to Killing a White Woman in Kentucky, He Was Burned at the Stake.

Husband of His Victim Applied Torch—His Eyes Gouged Out and Frightful Torture Administered.

. . .It is related that Coleman, before committing his crime, threw pepper into his victim's eyes from a pepper box. One of the members used that same pepper box today to throw pepper into Coleman's eyes, as soon as he was lashed to the stake. To make sure of a good job, he held open one eyelid after the other, and peppered them successively, then drew the eyelids.

In this city the action of the mob is universally approved, even enthusiastically by women, who think that hereafter they will be safer in consequence. Some men deprecate mob law, but say this case was an exception to all rules. The latest report tonight is that Coleman's mother is on the way here to take charge of the ashes of her son.

All that was left of the body of Dick Coleman was raked out of the embers and buried in the potter's field tonight. It was only a skull and two or three charred bones. All the rest of the body was widely distributed among relic hunters. Perfect quiet reigns in the city tonight. 

Governor Will Offer Reward.

Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 6.—Governor Bradley, who has only five more days to serve, announces that he will vigorously prosecute the members of the Maysville mob. He will offer a reward for their apprehension.

Our last bit comes from an excerpt of an article found in The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) dated December 7, 1899:


. . . Coleman's father witnessed his awful death and pleaded with men in the crowd to allow his son to have a legal hanging, but his prayers were futile.

Eleven Death In One Day.

Special Dispatch to The Inter Ocean.

FRANKFORT, Ky., Dec. 6.—When the news of the burning if Coleman at the stake in Maysville reached Governor Bradley he said:

"This is a terrible disgrace to Kentucky; this, together with the rest, will keep a decent man from ever coming into Kentucky."

The Governor will offer a reward of $500 each for the apprehension of the ringleaders and accessories to the crime.

Given below is a list of how eleven persons met death during the last twenty-four hours in Kentucky, the state in which probably occurs more death by violence than any other.

Josie Baird, killed by railroad torpedo at Fulton.

James Harlan, saloon-keeper, killed by William Farmer at Louisville.

Mrs. Leslie Jump, burned to death in Williamstown.

William Carmichael, burned to death at Middlesborough.

O. D. Saunders, while teaching in church at Akersville, called out by enemies and killed by William Harlin.

Dick Coleman, burned to death at stake by mob of several thousand at Maysville.

Dick Morgan, ambushed on Poor Fork, Harlan county, by Will Peach.

Stewart Jones, shot by Jack Robbins on Jock's Branch, Belle county.

Thomas Jackson, killed by mad dog at Hopkinsville.

Aaron Hughes, killed by John Calise, in crap game, at Louisville.

Attorney A. M. Tudors, throat cut by John Hall at Richmond. 

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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