Tuesday, July 12, 2016
July 8, 1872: Alexander McLeod and Absalom Kimmel
Today we learn about a lynching in Ohio. Our first article introduces the crime for which the men were lynched and give us a view through the eyes of a man arrested and then released is found in The Indiana Herald (Huntington, Indiana) dated July 10, 1872:
THE SECORE MURDER.
Interview with A. J. Kimmel.
Since the receipt of the first news of the terrible murder of Mary Belle Secore, in Mercer county, O., and the connection with that fearful tragedy of the name of A. J. Kimmel, of this county, our people have manifested a great interest in the matter; and we believe there has been a general hope that young Kimmel would establish his innocence of any share in the horrible crime. We are gratified to be able to state that he has been fully exonerated and discharged from custody.
On Monday, it was reported that he had returned to his home, near this place; and we believing it desirable that the gross misrepresentations of the facts which had appeared in the daily papers should be corrected, at our request Andrew J. Kimmel called at this office on Monday evening, and made the statements upon which this article is based.
His parents live at the old toll-gate on the Warren plank-road, a little over a mile from Huntington. He has been employed for some time driving a peddling-wagon for A. J. Dillingham, of Ft. Wayne. On the Thursday previous to the murder (June 27), he went to Ohio with his wagon. About 4 P. M. on Friday, at a cross-road, some four miles from the scene of the murder, he accidentally met Alexander McCloud, who was driving another of Dillingham's teams, and with whom he was well acquainted. It was their custom to meet—according to the exigencies of their business—sometimes once a week, at others from two to four weeks; but this meeting was purely accidentally. Being in the neighborhood of the residence of Henry Kimmel, Andrew's uncle, they drove thither, and remained over night. Saturday morning, Andrew hitched in his team, and got ready to leave, paying his bill; but yielded to the solicitations of his relatives to remain over the Sabbath.
On Saturday, they attended a rail-road election in Liberty township, returning to his uncle's about five or six o'clock in the afternoon, remained about the premises all evening, and slept there. Andrew slept with McCloud on the nights of Friday and Saturday. Sunday morning, June 30, (the day of the murder) McCloud, together with seven members of Henry Kimmel's family—boys and girls—went to Sunday school at Liberty Church, and all remained to hear the preaching. Andrew, being ill with neuralgia, staid at the house. At about half-past eleven A. M. he was sitting on the porch talking with his uncle, when his cousin Absalom Kimmel and McCloud returned to the house together, leaving the rest of the party which had accompanied them at the church. In reply to an inquiry, McCloud said they were tired of the preaching. Directly afterward, Andrew went upstairs, and feeling unwell, lay down on the bed, without removing his clothing. About 12 o'clock, noon, the rest of the party returned from church, and it is Andrew's opinion that at that time McCloud and Absalom Kimmel had left the house, although, from his being up stairs, he cannot positively assert that such was the case. About 2 P. M., they returned, and it is supposed the murder was committed between these hours—12[P.] M. and 2 P. M.—but it was not discovered until Monday.
They staid at Henry Kimmel's that night leaving on Monday morning, the murder being yet unknown, and Andrew ignorant that anything of the kind had occurred.
On leaving his uncle's house they passed the scene of the murder, each driving his own team, and McCloud being in advance. At this place, Andrew says, his horse became restive and frightened, and it was with difficulty that he controlled them. He thinks now their fright was caused by their smelling blood. They drove on into Jay county, Indiana, intending to peddle there through the week, and to return to Ft. Wayne Saturday afternoon. However, having so broken their assortment of tinware as to interfere with their making good sales, they were obliged to go sooner than they had thought to, and got to Ft. Wayne about five or six o'clock Thursday evening. The next morning, between eight and nine o'clock, they were arrested on Calhoun street, Ft. Wayne, by the sheriff of Mercer county and three deputies. McCloud was inclined to resist the officers, while Andrew advised submission, saying they had done nothing which need make them afraid to go anywhere. They were forced into the vehicle, McCloud cursing and protesting, and saying when some three miles out of the city, that he thought there was "some G-d d—d mob." At Decatur they got dinner, and were separated, the party proceeding in two buggies, one of the prisoners being carried in each. They passed through Wilshire, Van Wert county, Ohio, and proceeded at once to the scene of the murder, shortly before reaching which McCloud was handcuffed. Throughout the entire trip he had been rebellious, profane and saucy. Arrived at the scene of the murder, McCloud became somewhat excited, and avowed, in substance, that he had "never committed any murder or adultery on that bloody spot." It must be borne in mind that all this time the officers had not acquainted either of the men with the cause of their arrest—so Andrew says—and that up to this time he had not known of a murder being committed.
From this place they were taken to Calina, where a preliminary examination was held, and Andrew released, without having been confined in jail at all, as was incorrectly stated in some of the newspapers. He was put under $500 bond to appear at the fall term of court, as a witness, and left for home last Saturday. We believe the people or the whole county will rejoice with him and his family over the manner in which his innocence was vindicated.
Very naturally he is anxious that the misrepresentations which have been circulated through the papers should be corrected. The statement that Henry Kimmel's family were "notoriously bad characters," as was published, was proven by testimony of his neighbors to be false. They were all dismissed from custody, with the exception of Absalom Kimmel, who, with McCloud, is confined in the Celina jail. These two are the only ones now held for the crime. It is said Absalom has made a confession or statement to two persons, but up to the time of Andrew's departure, it had not been made public. One newspaper account states that a ribbon—subsequently identified as one worn by the girl—was found attached to Andrew's bridle. This he denies, and says that the ribbon referred to in the papers was picked up from the ground, on what he afterward learned to be the scene of the murder, by one of his cousins, who handed it to McCloud, and that the latter fastened it to the bridle of one of his own horses, where it was afterward found, in Ft. Wayne, by a deputy sheriff from Mercer county.
Concerning the murder, Andrew knows nothing further than was elicited by the testimony given by various parties at the preliminary trial. The late hour at which this point was reached in our interview with him, prevented him giving the facts to us with any fullness, or our making notes of what he did say.
The victim of this most cruel murder was Mary Belle Secore, a little girl about 13 years old. She was a half-orphan, her mother being dead, and lived in the family of a gentleman named Seederly. On the morning of the day of her death, she attended Sabbath School at Liberty Church, which is between two and three miles from the house in which she lived. Like many others, she remained to attend church service, and at its close, about noon, set out for home, unattended. She was last seen alive, by any but her murderers, when she had gone about half a mile from the church. She was missed Sunday afternoon, but her absence occasioned no particular uneasiness; nor yet when she failed to come home at night, for she had on frequent occasions before stopped on the way and remained over night with her grandmother.
When Monday morning came, however, and she did not, and inquiries were made, without anything being learned of her whereabouts, her friends became seriously alarmed, and began a search for her. The news spread, the neighbors joined with her friends, and soon her body was found in a brush heap, about two rods from the road and within half a mile of her home. The sight presented of her remains is described as a most sickening one. Her head had been crushed to pieces by a blow with some heavy instrument, and was entirely served [sic] from the body, which was shockingly mangled. The poor child had been popular in the country neighborhood where she lived, and her death had been so cruelly and wantonly brought about, that the utmost indignation and excitement were provoked. The officers of the law were promptly alert, and set upon the track of the murderers. Let us hope that entire success may reward their efforts, and that the cold-blooded fiends who robbed this poor child of life, after first robbing her of that which was dearer than life, may be hunted down, and made such a fearful example of as will impel all ruffians to bridle their vile passions, and make them slower to shed human blood.
The information about the lynching comes to us through the pages of the Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas) dated July 14, 1872:
THE OHIO KU-KLUX.
A Fearful Deed and Its Atonement.
Special to the Cincinnati Commercial.
VAN WERT, Ohio, July 9.—Alexander McLeod and Absalom Kimmel, two of the men charged with the rape and murder of Belle Secore, in Liberty township, Mercer county, were taken out of the jail at Celina, yesterday, and hung. It had been noised abroad that the criminals would be lynched Monday, and early in the day people from far and near flocked to the town until thousands had assembled. At 10 o'clock an organized band of some three hundred horsemen, with a captain, and a hanging committee of twenty-five in wagons, arrived. They held a meeting on the fair grounds, after which they went to the jail, caught the sheriff and took the keys from his pocket, and opened the cells. The two Kimmel brothers and McLeod were brought out and put in wagons with the committee of twenty-five, and the procession started for the place where the girl had been murdered, which is some eleven miles from Celina. Thousands of persons followed, forming a procession miles in length.
Water was furnished from barrels, tubs and pails along the route, showing that the most ample preparations had been made for the terrible work. Arriving at the field where the murder had been committed, the owner of the farm objected to having the execution take place on his premises. The captain of the lynchers then ordered that the hanging been done in a field in front of old man Kimmel's house.
When they came in sight of the house the old man was seen running across a field, and was soon hidden in the woods. Mrs. Kimmel fell in a spasm and has been prostrated ever since. A tree which forked some twenty feet above the ground was selected as a part of the scaffold. Poles were cut and placed on end, and from there to the tree a pole was fastened. Over this pole ropes were thrown, and the wagon containing the doomed men was drawn by hand to a point directly under the ropes. The captain fastened the ropes around the necks of Absalom Kimmel and McLeod, and all was ready to swing them off when the sturdy form of Elias Secore, the brother of the murdered girl, appeared and pleaded in behalf of the youngest prisoner, Jacob Kimmel, aged seventeen years, expressing his doubts as to his participation in the outrage or murder, the confession of Absalom Kimmel to the contrary notwithstanding. This noble expression of christian heroism was greeted with a wild huzzah, and by the sufferance of Elias Secore, Jacob Kimmel still lives.
The doomed men were then notified that their end was near, and given an opportunity to speak. Kimmel confessed his guilt; but McLeod said: "I am not guilty. You are shedding an innocent man's blood." The committee of twenty-five were ordered to do their work, and but one man responded. Volunteers were called for, and promptly came forward and pulled on the ropes, drawing the murderers upward till their heads touched the pole over which the ropes were suspended.
They died from strangulation, and in fifteen minutes were believed to be dead, but were allowed, however, to hang for nearly a half hour. Kimmel's jaws dropped and his tongue ran out, but McLeod's features remained perfectly natural. The bodies were given to physicians at fort recovery and Shoneville.
The younger Kimmels was sent back to jail, and all the Kimmels have been notified to leave the county within sixty days.
The only disturbance was caused by one of the committeemen proposing three cheers for Jeff. Davis during the hanging. The crowd dispersed without an incident worthy of notice, and thus ended one of the darkest crimes on record.
Our final chapter has a bit of a twist and is brought to us through the pages of The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) dated May 2, 1926:
Wrong Men Lynched—Real Murderer Confesses after 50 Years
And Now for the First Time the Restless Spooks of the Innocent Victims of the Mob Have Departed in Peace and no Longer Haunt the pitiful Grave in the Cornfield Where the Body of Little Mary, the Murdered Girl, Lies
The grave of Mary Arabelle Secaur, in a lonely corner of the Liberty Center, Ohio, burial grounds, is at last beginning to sink. It is as if the soul of the 14-year-old victim of a cruel murder is content to let what remains of her mortal body be resolved at last to dust, now that justice has been done to the memory of the two men lynched for her death—and now turn out to have been innocent.
For fifty-two years, while neighboring mounds covering the bodies of stalwart farmers who sought to avenge her were smoothed flat by the hand of time, the grave of Mary Arabelle has strangely resisted the obliterating process. The rounded mound stayed stubbornly above the surface of the ground, and all this time a rose-bush has bloomed on Mary Arabelle's pitiful grave—has bloomed even amid the snows. Now the rose-bush, planted, the townspeople believe, by the spectral hands of the two victims of mob fury, has withered.
The town folk have whispered of the wraiths of Alexander McLeod and Absalom Kimmel, the two lynched men, hovering above the little grave, each carrying wound around his arm the ghostly strands of the rope that hanged them. They say they have gone, and gone, too, are the weird lights which hovered about Mary Arabelle's grave. It is true that the scientifically minded declared that these were merely ignis fatui—the "fool's lights" often seen in graveyards due to the decomposition of bodies. But how could that be, ask the awed villagers, when they know it to be a fact that since the confession of the real murderer of the little girl was made public, these mysterious lights have ceased to glimmer upon the headstone of the grave?
It was just a few weeks ago that Thomas Bradwell Douglas, lying on his deathbed in Denver, Colo., confessed that it was he who had murdered Mary Arabelle. It had been Douglas who had led the mob which had stormed the jail in which McLeod and Kimmel were lodged and who had cried loudest for their death, while the farmers strung the ropes around their necks.
But was the story that he told true?
How could anyone have any doubt, say the townspeople, when from the very moment Douglas spoke that lonely grave began to settle, the rosebush died, and all those spooky things which had made the spot one to be shunned after dark unanimously ceased to be? No reasoning, no explanations of scientists can swerve them from their belief that during all these years the place has been haunted because of the injustice done McLeod and Kimmel and now that injustice has been rectified the unquiet spirits of the murdered girl and the lynched men have been appeased and they have departed and peace has settles down upon the grave in the cornfield corner!
Mary Arabelle's murder was exactly the sort that justified a lynching, if anything ever does. She was just at that delicate, lovely age that hovers between childhood and girlhood that morning, years and years back, when she left her home to trip to the church a good two miles away. It was, to be exact, the pleasant Sunday morning of June 23, 1872. Mary Arabelle's way led past field and through woods, but the day was beautiful and nobody ever did hear of anybody being hurt on their way to church. And Mary Arabelle reached church safely and heard the sermon and sang, and maybe flirted a little bit in the way of the time, and started back for home.
Mary Arabelle's family waited for her all through the afternoon. night came and she did not return. Her father roused the village, and all through the night the torches and lanterns of the searchers flickered in fields and woods.
They found her on Monday morning—what was left of her. The wild pigs had been at her body. But there was enough to know that she had been wickedly maltreated before she died.
Liberty Centre's church bell rang the tocsin. Storekeepers shut their shops and the farmers left their plows to help Sheriff Dan Spriggs and his deputies in their hunt for the man who had done the dreadful thing. Suspicion centered on McLeod and Andrew Kimmel—the brother of Absalom Kimmel—who were wandering peddlers, and on the day of the murder had stopped at the Kimmel home on the outskirts of Liberty Centre.
A fast-riding posse overtook them going into Fort Wayne, Indiana. They circled the two and herded them back to Ohio. The pair seemed surprised and asked why they were being taken back. They were not told. When the posse got back, the three brothers of Andrew—Absalom, George and Jacob Kimmel—were arrested. It had been learned that they had spent Sunday with Andrew and his friend McLeod. The prisoners were all lodged in the Mercer County jail at Celina.
McLeod, who was a Scotchman, was the only man of the five under arrest who was taken to the scene of the crime. This was because he was a stranger, more or less, in the community. They had found on his person a handkerchief with blood spots on it. He had explained the stains by claiming he was a chronic sufferer for nose bleed. Repeatedly he asked what "it was all about." They led him to where they had found Mary Arabelle. When they halted him he turned impatiently to his captors and demanded:
"Why have you taken me to this bloody spot?"
The phrase was his death warrant.
The place was a forlorn and desolate one. The adjective McLeod used to describe it has been for generations a tabooed word in England. It means something different in England then it does here. It has, in fact, only been within the past year or two that Bernard Shaw dared to use it for the first time on the stage—and then the audience waited intensely to hear it and gasped with horror when they did.
In Ohio of 1872 it meant literally bloody. Mary Arabelle's blood had been scattered all over the spot. Why did McLeod call it a bloody spot if he had no guilty knowledge it had been bloody, indeed?
It was enough for the men who had taken him there. The proscribed adjective was his death warrant. Grimly silent they took him back to the jail. And then George Kimmel made a confession stating the McLeod had told him that he and Absalom had killed the child. This confession George afterward repudiated, explaining it as follows:
"I was arrested and put in jail Friday. On Saturday morning Dan Spriggs and Johnson took me out of jail and led me to the woods. When they got me out there they threatened to kill me, to hang me. They gave me three minutes to tell what I knew about the murder. I knew nothing, but they had guns on them and I thought they would kill me if I didn't say something, so I told them Absalom and McLeod told me they had assaulted and killed the girl. I had no such conversation with McLeod and Absalom, and I told this lie to Spriggs and Johnson in order to save my own life."
Then Andrew J. Kimmel, the other brother, was told that if he turned State's evidence he would go free. He was told that George had already implicated Absalom and McLeon [sic]. In order to save himself, as he later admitted, Andrew went before Seth Snyder, justice of the peace at Mercer County, and stated it to be his belief that his two brothers Absalom and Jacob, together with McLeod, had committed the crime.
It was decided finally to hold only Absalom and McLeod for trial. But the farmers were determined to take the law into their own hands. In this they were strongly incited by one Douglas, so the records show.
A mob of several thousand recruited from the countryside for miles around organized and marched to storm the jail. On their way to it they unwittingly brought about the death of another man, William Doran. Doran, it appears, had committed a secret offense against the morals of the community. He was seated in his farmhouse that morning, disturbed because of the chance that his offense might be found out. He had a very guilty conscience. looking across the field he saw the mob marching and assumed they were coming for him. He fled from the farmhouse to his barn, and there he cut his throat with a razor and died.
Officials of the jail had expected trouble. All day long the country people had been coming into town in pairs and groups. Daniel Callen, an attorney who had been engaged to defend Kimmel and McLeod, ran to the jail with news of the march of the vengeance-hungry horde. From a window of the jail Callen pleaded with the crowd. He said that the two men were innocent and he could prove it if they only gave him time. Several of the mob produced pistols and threatened to shoot him if he made any attempt to interfere with them, but they tore down the door and wrenched the keys from his hand. They seized McLeod and Kimmel and put them in a wagon and started for Liberty Centre. Callen estimated the mob at twelve hundred men, two hundred whom were on horseback.
Douglas, who was at the head of the mob, inflamed it to immediate action. The blood lust was on them and they went ahead. With the cruelty peculiar to mobs they decided to execute the two men in front of the Kimmel house, where there were two trees. A sapling was placed in the crotches of the trees and two ropes attached. The nooses were placed around the necks of the prisoners.
Through the windows of the house the mother and sister of Kimmel looked on.
McLeod was asked if he had anything to say. He was given a Bible and told to swear to the truth of anything he cared to say. He took his oath and swore he was innocent. His speech convinced many that he was telling the truth. he said:
"I cannot condemn my conscience. i know nothing of the matter. I never saw the girl in my life to my knowledge and never touched her. Let the law take its course and the guilty will have to suffer. God will not let the innocent die, and I pray God to save men, for I am innocent. If it were the last word that passed my lips, I would say I know nothing about it."
A voice from the mob cried:
"Why did you say 'bloody spot?'"
"It's only my way of speaking," explained the condemned Scotsman patiently. "You say there was blood on my clothes. There is blood on them now, and yet it is not the suit I wore the day of Mary Arabelle's murder. My nose bleeds frequently. It started to bleed when you took me from jail. I swear to you I am innocent of this crime. If you want to put me to death, I will have to die, but innocent blood will flow. I tell you the truth. I swear before God and man I'm innocent. Johnson and Spriggs induced the boys to say what they did. I'm ready to die. Oh, God, comfort my poor mother and sisters and forgive you all."
He had no sooner uttered his last words of forgiveness when his hands and those of Absalom Kimmel were bound.
From the windows Kimmel's mother and sister and Mrs. Patrick Callen, a sister-in-law of the attorney who had tried to save them, stared, frozen with horror.
They saw in the crowd the face of Douglas. They saw Douglas fix the sapling on which the men were hanged.
The nooses tightened around the necks of the two men. The wagon was driven out from under them. They writhed and danced on air.
And it was not until the other week, when the murder and lynching had been all but forgotten in the haze of half a century, that there came word to the few surviving members of the mob that lynched McLeod and Kimmel of the deathbed confession at Denver of Douglas. This, written by him when he was dying and found in his Bible after his death, reads:
"In this, my dying hour, and in full hope that by so doing I will secure absolution for my sins, I make a full confession of a deed that has weighed upon my mind like a death pall from the day of its commission.
"I am the guilty wretch who outraged and murdered the girl Secaur, near Celina, O., in the Summer of 1872. Heaven alone knows what prompted me to do this deed, but all the time my brain was on fire from drink. I was veritably a madman and past the power to control my actions.
"The hanging of the two men, McLeod and Kimmel, was as vile a murder as was ever perpetrated. I was one of the men that executed them. I urged them on to do it, for I felt it necessary to secure my own safety. I now know and feel that in acting as I did throughout the whole affair I committed sins of most grievous character.
"I hope God will pardon me and that the publication of this statement will relieve the families of the men, McLeod and Kimmel, from the stigma of dishonor now resting upon them. I feel that I have but a few more moments to live and with my last breath I avow the truth of all the statements here related.
"THOMAS BRADWELL DOUGLAS."
A plain little marble shaft had been put up over Mary Arabelle's grave. In the years that passed, cornfields pressed it closer and closer. At last it was almost submerged by the green stalks.
Yet always something of unrest, of weirdness hung over it. It did not sink and become level with the ground as did the graves about it. A year or two after the murder a rose bush was found growing from it—about where the heart of Mary Arabelle lays mouldering six feet beneath. No one had planted it there—at least, no living hands had done so. But it grew and flourished. Oftentimes it blossomed even when the snow was on the ground.
And night after night those who watched saw the ghostly lights floating there; and others told of the cloud-like wraiths of two men with ropes wound around their arms floating above the grave.
For half a century almost Liberty Centre says it has seen these spooky things. Then suddenly they stopped. The grave began to sink. The rose bush died. The lights were gone, and were the smoky wraiths that carried the ghostly ropes.
From the moment Douglas emptied his heart of its guilty secret they stopped.
It is a strange story. But this village of Liberty Centre believes it.
"It was only Mary Arabelle trying to tell something," says Aunt Mollie Miller, Absalom's sister. "She was trying to right a wrong. It has taken a long time to do it, but the wrong has been righted at last. And as for those who hanged my brother and Mr. McLeod that day, I say what I heard Mr. McLeod say just before he was killed—forgive them."
[Photograph of Alexander McLeod (Above), and a Sketch of Absalom Kimmel, the Two Innocent Victims of the Lynching Party.]
[Facsimile of the Little Book Printed at the Time Setting Forth the Story of Little Mary's Cruel Death and the Hanging of the Two Suspected Murderers by the Mob of Farmers in Celina, Ohio.]
[For Half a Century Neighbors Have Reported the Strange Flashing of Lights and from Time to Time Declare They Have Seen the Spectral Forms of Alexander McLeod and Absalom Kimmel, the Victims of the Mob's Fury, Floating Above Little Mary Secaur's Lonely Grave in the Cornfield, Each Spook Carrying Wound Round His Arm the Rope He Was Hanged With.]
I hope you enjoy the picture of the spectres as much as I do. It is a very interesting interpretation of what people described.
Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.