A Walking Corpse Mystery

http://victorianvisualculture.com/2014/11/16/headless-photographs/

http://victorianvisualculture.com/2014/11/16/headless-photographs/

On the 26th of July, 1906, Mrs. Rufus Robbins, out berrying on a farm near her Trumbull County, Ohio home, received a nasty shock.

AN OHIO MYSTERY

Warren, Ohio, July 27. Much excitement prevails today at Leavittsburg, Ohio, near here, as the result of finding the headless body of a man in a berry patch. The head was later found in a nearby hay field. Both body and head were badly decomposed.

In the pockets were found letters showing the man to be Albert Kennedy, of Ellis, Mo., who recently has been living at Mantua, where his brother now resides. Kennedy is known to have had $300 just before his death. Only 75 cents and a silver watch were found in the pockets of the dead man. Kennedy went west a few weeks ago to sell a farm, and intended to bring his daughter back to Ohio with him. If his daughter accompanied him she has disappeared. The police have taken steps to find out if the girl accompanied her father and, if so, to learn what has become of her.

Kennedy was last seen in Kansas City, June 26. It is supposed he was inveigled away from the station at Leavittsburg, where he was to have changed cars, and then killed for his money. It is believed a dog may have carried the head from the body. Kennedy was a temperate, quiet man of 50. Emporia [KS] Gazette 27 July 1906: p. 1

[His unclaimed baggage, which was checked through from Chicago, has been held at Mantua station for two weeks. [Omaha (NE) World Herald 27 July 1906: p. 1]

So far, an unusual death, but not exactly fortean event. As usual in this “real-time” reporting, some details change and others become muddled. Here’s part of what was published by the Cincinnati Enquirer: 

Warren, Ohio, July 2. Wednesday night while picking berries on the farm of S.S. Parks, five miles southwest of Warren, Mrs. Rufus Robins discovered the head of a man. Upon investigation it was learned that five weeks previously a dog belonging to Mr. Parks had been in the custom of going to a dense thicket near by.

Search in the thicket disclosed the remaining part of the dead man’s body, and papers found in his clothes identified him as Albert Kennedy, a rich merchant of Ellis, Kansas, from which place he was en route to Mantua, Ohio, where he has a brother. The dead man had visited his brother at Mantua in April and returned to his home in Ellis to close up some business, preparatory to returning and purchasing a farm near Mantua. It is know that he left Kansas some time in June, but as to his presence in the secluded thicket all is mystery.

No clews were obtained which would point to suicide, the fact that the thicket where the body was found is entirely out of line with adjoining railroads or towns destroys the theory of sudden illness.

The evidence tends to show that Kennedy had been decapitated by means of a corn knife. That he was murdered, no one doubts, as he was known to be very wealthy and to have kept large sums of money in the house and to have carried money around with him. The authorities think they have a clew to the perpetrators of the crime, and are hard at work on the trail of the guilty one.

The circumstances of the head being so far from the body is thought to show that the murderers had planned to carry it away and destroy it entirely, as the slayers of Pearl Bryan did with the head of the Indiana girl who was killed near Ft. Thomas Ky., some years ago [1896]…

Kennedy is survived by a seventeen-year-old daughter and two brothers, one living in Ellis, Kansas, and one in Mantua, Ohio. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 27 July 1906: p. 1

The Cincinnati press had covered the sensational Pearl Bryan murder case obsessively and, even at this late date, they seemed obliged to drag a mention of the decapitation into any story involving a missing head, especially since her head was never found.

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland added still more details, such as that the head “had evidently been carried [to the hayfield where it was found] by an animal, as there were teeth marks on it.” The body was discovered, wrote the paper, by “Nat Sabin and Wilber Jackson, two newspaper men of this city [Warren, Ohio] [who] found the body in some bushes near by. The article also adds this about the letter found in Kennedy’s pocket:

“Late this afternoon Coroner Scoville found a letter on the body that identified the man as Albert Kennedy of Mantua. The letter is from the Erie station agent at Mantua to the general passenger agent of the Erie at Kansas City, stating that Kennedy was going to Kansas and was afraid that his ticket would run out before he reached his destination. The letter is dated Mantua, April 18.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 27 July 1906: p. 5

While I haven’t found that Coroner Scoville had an assistant, one Dr. J.C.  Jones either examined the body and/or visited the scene. He made a sensational pronouncement. Incidentally, although this account is from a Montana paper, the same statement was found in the Ohio newspapers.

HIS DEAD BODY WALKED DECLARES OHIO DOCTOR

Warren, Ohio, Aug. 7. Careful examination of the thicket where the body of Albert Kennedy, a rich merchant of Ellis, Kan., was found 500 feet from where the head had been discovered, has caused Dr. J.C. Jones to say that the headless body walked or wriggled the distance from the scene of the murder, which was evidently committed where the head was found.

Dr. Jones says the struggle with Kennedy’s assailants so excited the nerves that the reflex action carried him that distance after life was extinct. The murder occurred six weeks ago, but, although Kennedy had been missing and his family was alarmed, no idea that he was murdered had been entertained. The Anaconda [MT] Standard 8 August 1906: p. 8

Now, common sense might suggest that, given the mid-summer date, decomposition accelerated by the heat, and teeth marks on the head, the theory that a dog moved the head was a sound one. Not having access to any original documents, if they still exist, I can’t say where the Cincinnati Enquirer got the notion of decapitation by corn knife or what blood spatter patterns led Dr. Jones to his conclusion-of-the-walking-dead.

The other mystery was Kennedy’s daughter, Ella, age 17. No one seemed to know if the daughter had accompanied him on this trip and was missing or if she had remained behind in Kansas. A single article from a Nebraska paper suggests some ugly gossip.

Ellis, Kansas, July 27. Albert Kennedy, whose decapitated body was found near Warren, O., last night, lived nine miles northwest of here for about twenty-five years. He owned a half section of land. Kennedy had been a widower for many years and a daughter had been keeping house for him. It was alleged that Kennedy’s relations with his daughter were questionable. About two weeks ago Kennedy was told that he must leave that part of the country. He left immediately and went to Ohio, his old home. Omaha [NB] Daily Bee 28 July 1906: p. 1

If there was any truth to the rumors—the only hint comes in the fact that Kennedy did not remarry—police might have focused on Ella as the prime suspect. But despite the missing money, a possibly missing daughter, and the mystery of how Kennedy ended up in a thicket in Ohio, the coroner delivered a verdict of death by natural causes. There was a quick burial in the potter’s field, and it was reported just two days after the discovery of the body that the police had dropped the case. The Cincinnati Enquirer was perhaps exercising journalistic optimism in suggesting that authorities were “hard at work on the trail of the guilty one.”

ABANDON MURDER MYSTERY

Police Think Albert Kennedy Met No Foul Play.

Special to the Plain Dealer.

Warren, O., July 28. The local police have practically given up the Albert Kennedy case, believing there was no foul play. Martin Kennedy, a brother of the dead man, who resides in Mantua, seems to still hold to the opinion that his brother was murdered. Another brother, David Kennedy, of Ellis, Ks., has wired that he will be here tomorrow night and asks that the body be held. The remains were buried in the potter’s field. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 29 July 1906: p. 11

I’m puzzled by why he was buried in the potter’s field since he had a brother living so close to the crime scene who normally would have taken responsibility for a decent burial, but it may be that he needed to be put underground as quickly as possible and the body was later moved to a more respectable location, although I haven’t found a grave location.

Kennedy’s brothers, who lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kansas, all gathered in Mantua, vowing to uncover the truth.

Believe Brother Was Murdered.

Warren, O., July 31. B.J. Joseph, James and Richard Kennedy, brothers of Albert Kennedy, whose headless body was found at Mantua Thursday, arrived here to investigate his death. The brothers held the opinion that the man was murdered, despite the coroner’s verdict of natural death. They will make a vigorous investigation and hire detectives to solve the death. The Democrat-Sentinel [Logan, OH] 2 August 1906: p. 8

After the Coroner’s verdict, some enigmatic marks on a tree were thought to be significant, although this squib has the earmarks of a desperate journalist flogging a story well beyond its shelf-life. Unless, of course, one of you recognizes the markings as Illuminati hieroglyphics, the Marks of the Beast, or Templar bar-codes.

FRESH MARKS ON A TREE

May Indicate Albert Kennedy Was Murdered Near Warren.

Special to the Plain Dealer.

Warren, O., July 31. The finding of strange marks on a tree over the spot where the body of Albert Kennedy was found has led the officials to think that they were perhaps placed there by someone wishing to mark the spot where the body lay.

The marks were five in number over the body and several smaller ones on the opposite side of the tree. The five marks were perpendicular and about a foot long. They were fresh cuts and had but started to heal. The six Kennedy brothers [I counted only five named] are still in the city and are quietly investigating the case. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 1 August 1906: p. 7

While this should have been just the beginning of the solving of the mystery, there, blast it, the trail goes cold. I seem to make a habit of ending my posts this way and I can only apologize. Not finding a resolution to stories of this kind is frustrating for all of us. These unfinished episodes plague the fortean historical researcher like a forgotten lens cap blights the life of a monster-spotter.

Any further news of Ella Kennedy or a reversal of the natural death verdict? Certainly the beheaded have been known to flop or step a short distance, but what was Dr. Jones thinking?

If you have any answers or theories, please do not leave enigmatic marks on trees, but contact chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.

A couple of other tales of the walking dead are at this previous post.

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com

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