The history of Logan County is vast, and its longtime existence is marked by numerous tales of murder, beginning as far back as the 1700s when Aracoma and her tribe were attacked at what is now Midelburg Island in Logan. There’s no other way to put it — the Indians were murdered.
The 1800s saw the killing of Ann Lawson by two of her own slaves in 1847 prior to the Civil War even before Logan was named Logan and before West Virginia existed as a state. Of course, the 1800s also is the time period for the killings that took place during the world-renowned Hatfield-McCoy feud. No one knows for certain how many people died in that long-standing hostility.
Actually, though, it was not until The Logan Banner, then called the The Logan County Banner, came into existence in 1888 that news, including many murders, were documented in the form of newsprint. It is this documentation that allows people like me to relay to others those dark segments of our local past that some may wish to keep buried away. Regardless, in my humble opinion, “If it happened, it is history.” And history need not be entombed — at least not forever.
There are numerous tales of murder that exist in the files of The Logan Banner. However, to name but a very few, we should list the 1917 shooting death of young Frank Kazee by Don Chafin, former 1912 sheriff of Logan, who would again be elected in 1920 after sitting out the required four years prior and serving as county clerk at the time that he shot backseat passenger Kazee over what today would be described as “road rage.” Chafin, of course, was declared not guilty by a jury.
The Blair Mountain Battle would come later in 1921 with numerous deaths being declared on both sides of the calamity that featured the infamous sheriff Don Chafin. Like the feud, it is a Logan County historical masterpiece.
Although there have been multitudes of front-page murders in Logan, a few that are of interest include the 1921 shooting death of Kernie Henderson, the 20-year-old offspring of a former Logan police chief, L.M. “Mitch” Henderson, who shot and killed his own son. It’s interesting that the officer who arrested Henderson would — along with Hibbard Hatfield — one year later be charged with a Dingess Street murder and later commit suicide during a break in his trial.
Then there is the 1930 murder of Logan Police Chief Roy Knotts, who was shot and killed on his first day on the job by Enoch Scaggs, a former Logan deputy and close ally of the Hatfield family, with Joe Hatfield serving as sheriff at the time of the killing at the Smoke House restaurant in Logan. Scaggs the year before had killed a man during a poker game at Chapmanville.
One of the more recognizable murders in Logan that most people of today can identify with is that of young Mamie Thurman; her devilish murder occurring in 1932 and leaving many unanswered questions still today. Other murders come to mind, such as the death of Susie Fortuna, Alex Sayer, Barlow Ramey, and others.
During the last few weeks I’ve written about the 1969 double murders of Justice of the Peace Ezra Butcher and a woman with him at the time of the shootings. And, while it took three years and some peculiar circumstances to resolve those murders, there has been one triple murder in Logan County that has never been solved.
It was 69 years ago in 1952 when the news of three people being killed at a King Shoals logging camp spread like wildfire via the newspaper, WLOG radio, and gossipers. The victims, Melvin Baisden, 74, Ervin Johnson Schoolcraft, 51, and 22-year-old Vicie Lucinda (Lilly) White, a widow from Varney in Mingo County, were found the morning of June 15 in a one-room cabin near the Pecks Mill location.
The bodies were found by Ellis McCoy, who was said to have lived near the cabin. McCoy told police that he heard only three shots during the night. However, the dead bodies revealed otherwise.
White, whose husband had been killed at Delbarton the year before, was clad only in underclothes and was found just inside the cabin door with three bullet holes in her head — one above each eye and one high on the forehead, forming a triangle. According to police, White had been living with Schoolcraft, who was found lying across the bed with one bullet hole in the left temple.
Baisden, a former Peach Creek railroader, was found just inside the cabin with a bullet hole squarely between his eyes, the bullet exiting the back of his head. Noting the pattern of the bullets and conditions of the bodies, according to police, it indicated that “the killer was an excellent marksman.”
The deaths took a heavy toll on their families as Baisden was survived by five daughters, two sons, one sister and three brothers. Schoolcraft was survived by a widow and six children. Mrs. White’s survivors included her father, Jeff Jackson of Lundale; her mother, Mrs. Virginia Jackson; one sister, Miss Lorraine Jackson of Williamson; and two brothers, Herman Jackson of Lundale and Matt Jackson of Williamson.
As if the triple murder wasn’t enough to shock people at the time, it was the even worse news that came the very next day following the King Shoals deaths that spread sorrow throughout the coal camps of Logan County and beyond — The Banner headline proclaimed: “Mrs. James Serey, 26, And Children, Age, 4, and 1, Fatally Shot.”
The terribly sad story reads, “A 26-year-old Hutchinson mother shot her two young sons to death in the living room of her home yesterday afternoon and then turned the .38 caliber revolver on herself, inflicting a head wound which resulted in her death several hours later.”
The wife of James Serey was described by The Logan Banner as “an attractive brunette and former member of the Women’s Army Corps.”
Neighbors who rushed to the home after hearing the shots found the four-year-old dead on the sofa and the baby also lying on the couch. Police said it appeared the older child had been holding a bottle of milk for his brother when the mother shot them both in their heads. Officers said Mrs. Serey had been despondent since the birth of her last child. No other explanation was ever given for the tragedy.
Nevertheless, as the days passed authorities investigating the triple slaying at King Shoals, despite police holding Ellis McCoy in jail for open questioning, as well as Tom Ratliff of King Shoals, authorities remained baffled as to how and why the trio was killed. Although several friends and relatives of the victims were questioned concerning the shooting, no definite clues were ever discovered, and the deaths were never solved.
The death of Mrs. Serey was the 8th suicide of the year back in June 1952 — a significant year in that it was a point in time when Logan County voters chose 9,311 to 2,745 to pass a referendum for using “voting machines” in future elections.
It is also of importance because it was a historical juncture in local television history as a Huntington television station — WSAZ-TV — received permits for installation of equipment that made it the most powerful television station in the world. And that was the beginning of what would become “antenna television” in southern West Virginia.
There is one other kicker to this story of unfortunate deaths in Logan County.
For those persons who, like myself, have been intrigued by the Mamie Thurman story — perhaps even at one time or another trekking through Logan Memorial Park at McConnell searching for Mamie’s unmarked grave — you might need to know that on your next trip to the once popular and now abandoned 20-acre cemetery, you might want to pay homage to the gravesites of two children (James and Kenneth) and their mother, Mrs., James Serey.
Like Mamie Thurman, their bodies were laid to rest there, too — their resurrected stories being told again, decades after their lives were extinguished.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.