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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mystery Still Behind 1909 Gruesome Slaughter Of Beckley WV Family

Newspaper Calls Murders Of Hood Family One Of Most Heinous Crimes Against Our Little Mountain State... by, Jack Swint

From the front page of the November 4, 1909 Raleigh Herald WV Weekly Newspaper, came the first accounts of the cold blooded gruesome murders 4 days earlier on Halloween night, October 31, that claimed the life of four members of the George W. Hood family. At first, revenge was believed to be the motive but as time went by, police detectives concluded that it was robbery.

Now, 103 years later, a few people are still searching for answers why George Washington Hood Sr. (82), Royal J. Hood (27), Sarah Almeda Hood (40) and Emma Hood (13) had to die so brutally at the hands of unknown killers, who have also most assuredly died by now too. And why were authorities back then never able to arrest and or convict anyone even though detectives said they had very strong clues.

The unnamed reporter of the Raleigh Herald began the story by saying… “Never in the history of this county have the people been so wrought up over the fate that met the four members of the Hood family on last Sunday night at their home about 3 ½ miles from Beckley on the main road to Harper, where one of the most heinous crimes against our little mountain state was committed when George Hood, an aged farmer and veteran of the Civil War and his 3 children were murdered by some unknown parties and his home burned to cover up the horrible crime.”

In the war, George Hood enlisted in the 8th Virginia Infantry, later to become the 7th West Virginia Calvary.

First Accounts Of The Murders

Reports state that Royal (Roy), Almeda and Emma had been attending Sunday revival services at the Mount Tabor Church while leaving their father at home. It was believed that they also attended church services earlier that morning and Emma was baptized. Around 11 pm George W. Hood Jr., Georges youngest son, and Walter Harper returned to the Hoods after both men were on a date and discovered the house was ablaze.

The kitchen was “nearly consumed and the flames had reached the second story and the fire was beyond control.” Both men tried to enter through the front door but weren’t able to gain entry into the home. Within minutes the roof caved in. No reports of screaming were heard coming from inside the burning structure.

The next morning, authorities discovered 4 charred bodies in the burned out debris. The legs and arms of each victim had been burned entirely off. From the position of both George Sr. and Roy’s bodies, and the fractures to their skulls, police felt all were all murdered. All four were buried in the Mount Tabor Cemetery beside George Sr’s wife Arminta. Reportedly, the scadley remains of George Sr. and Royal were burried together in one coffin, and Emma and Sarah together in another. There graves are marked by the tallest monument in the graveyard.

County officers had no tangible evidence or clues as to why anyone would want to kill the Hoods who were known to be standing members of the community. Later developments and the testimony of Doctors with the coroner’s office reported that the father and son had also been shot in the head. At least one cartridge had been found by their bodies. The coroner’s jury verdict was… “We the jury believe by the evidence that G. W. Hood SR, Almeda Hood, Roy Hood and Emma Hood all came to their death by burning or other evidence.”

According to the newspaper story, “Revenge was undoubtedly the motive for the terrible crime, although some stick to the theory that robbery was the motive.” None of the media accounts explained why revenged was believed to be the theory behind the murders. One could only assume it could be because of the Civil War? Others felt that robbery was the motive because it was believed George kept sizeable amounts of cash inside the house. Reports of up to $1,700 in cash may have been on hand in the house at the time.

Suspects Questioned And Released

The Raleigh Herald newspaper reported on Thursday November 11, 1909 that police had arrested on suspicion but later released. “Five men have been arrested on suspicion and still no light has been thrown on this horrible crime.” Names of the 5 suspects were; Mike Ferrell, Nelson Thompson, Harloe Lively, Ed Scruggs and Wiley Durhan. No address for the men was given.

“The 5 men who were arrested last Saturday on suspicion all proved an alibi and were turned lose after they had been put through a sweating process.”

The article went on to state that detective Cunningham, ex chief of police George Williams, with the aid of others, are making a thorough investigation of the grounds and neighborhood in which the home of the Hood family stood and think they have discovered a pretty strong clue. It would be 8 months before any other information regarding the murders were in the media.

On Thursday, July 21, 1910 the Raleigh Herald headlined that, “Hood Mystery Near Solution… Detectives On The Case Have Some Strong Clues.”

The newspaper article claimed that police felt certain that, “they have a clue which may lead to the identity of at least a part of the number of persons positively known to have been implicated in the crime.” It goes on to read that…“Through some means which they have not revealed the men now working on the case have learned to an absolute certainty that the number of persona who took part in the perpetration of the most dastardly crime in the history of the county was five. It has also been intimated in certain quarters that these men are rapidly arriving at a solution of the puzzling case, and that just as soon as sufficient evidence can be rounded up the guilty parties, whom they are now believed to have under suspicion, will be brought to book.”

And, “In addition to having knowledge of the exact number of persons who took part in committing the crime, it is also believed that the motive has been established, and that it was not revenge as at first supposed, but robbery. And upon this theory the secret officers are proceeding with the case, and it is to be hoped that success will soon crown their efforts.”

One Reported Suspect Offered Immunity

According to the newspaper, a Charleston Deputy US Marshall went to the WV Penitentiary in Moundsville and interviewed a black man named Luther Sherman that lived near the Hoods residence at the time of the murders. Sherman allegedly was offered immunity for any involvement he had in the killings if he confessed and implicated himself and other “negroes” involved who also lived nearby. The media called it all a wild rumor and nonsense. It is not known if authorities ever followed up on this.

Coincident Or Possible Arrest Of Killers In Gassaway WV

Eighty miles away and several days after the Hood murders, an armed robbery occurred in Gassaway WV that could have possible links to the murders in Beckly. Three black men reportedly robbed Albert Lockhold and his family at 1 AM three days after the Hoods were killed. Lockhold stated that he was awakened to find himself “looking into the muzzle of a gun in the hands of a negro who demanded his money.” Finding the money, two more black men allegedly helped tie Lockhold up and at least one of the trio raped Mrs. Lockhold at gunpoint. All 3 men remained at the house until daylight.

At daybreak, Mr. Lockhold convinced the men to allow him to leave for work at the Coal and Coke Railroad. After he left, reports say that Mrs. Lockhold was raped again. The 3 men also forced her to cook breakfast for them before leaving to “wreck the morning train.” Mr. Lockhold returned home with an armed posse to capture the men, they followed in pursuit of the black trio and found one several miles away entering Gerwigs store. Later identified as “Scott Lewis,” was attempting to escape out of a back window, and shot to death by Mr. Lockhold as Lewis attempted to draw his own gun.

Lewis’s body was found by authorities riddled in bullets from the posse who had chased the man into the store following Mr. Lockhold lead. A pistol and train ticket to Orlando were found with the body. The two other men were discovered crouching down between some freight cars. They were arrested by Gassaway officers and hurried off to the jail. An inquest was convened on the dead man and was ruled, “Death caused by gunshot wounds by the hands of unknown persons.”

Several days later, then Governor Glasscock taveled to Gassaway out of fear that the townspeople would lynch the two remaining rapists before a trial could be carried out. The Governor appealed to the citizens to allow justice to take its course. It is not known what became of the men.

In Closing….

As with any murder, there is no true understanding, excuse or reasoning why another human being could so brutally kill another. The cold-blooded killing of four members of the Hood family was best summed up in the headlines of the Raleigh Herald Newspaper headlines on November 5th, 1909 as… “One Of The Most Heinous Crimes Against Our Little Mountain State.”

To date, available media accounts are from over 100 years ago, and they never really provide any other information than how senseless and gruesome these murders really were. Is it possible that Luther Sherman, the prisoner in the WV Penitentiary was involved and did confess to authorities?

And, is it possible there was a connection between the Hood murders and what happened to the Lockhold’s just 3 days later and 80 miles from Beckley? It’s not known if the police even considered the possibilities and or ruled them out. Could the 3 black men have robbed, then killed the Hoods on Sunday night, then driven or taken a train to Gassaway shortly after? Police theorized that the Hoods were robbed and then murdered. Robber y was also the motive in the Lockhold case. Police also felt more than one person was involved in the Hood case, and there were at least 3 men involved in the robbery and rape at the Lockholds.

There was also train service with the Coal and Coke railroad that was completed in 1906 that connected southern WV to Northern that the men could have taken from the Beckley area to Gassaway.

The last immediate survivors of the Hood family at the time of the killings were George Jr. and Winfield Hood. George reportedly left Raleigh County in 1931 with his wife Launa. They moved to Monroe County WV near Alderson until his death on November 7, 1956. Both he and his wife are burried in the Mt. Tabor Cemetary. Winfield Hood also left Raleigh County and joined his brother in Monroe County with his wife Elsie. He died on April 19, 1981. It is believed Winfield and Elsie are burried in the Alderson area.

It appears that the unsolved murders of the Hood family will remain a mystery forever. There are no known direct descendents of George Sr or his children. There also are no death certificates or property records on file at the Raleigh County Courthouse for any of the Hood family. Its as though this families legacy, just like their unsolved murders, are erased forever in time. The only known reminder of their existence is the monument located in the Mt. Tabor Cemetary.

Research and development for this story was assisted by Mrs. Penny Harris with “The Tombstone Transcription Project” and the “US GenWeb Archives Project.”

End Of Story…

Jack Swint-Publisher
West Virginia News
E-Mail: WestVirginiaNews@gmail.com
Website: http://WVNewsOnline.com
Blog: http://WestVirginiaNews.blogspot.com
Twitter: @WVNewsOnline
LinkedIn: Jack Swint


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