October 1, 2013

Jilted Lover Kills His Rival, 1921



[September 21, 1921] -

Former Boarder at Home of Slain Man and Daughter of Tenant Among Those Held in London Jail


Examining Trial Set for Thursday--Three Theories Advanced

[Special to The Herald]

LONDON, Ky., Sept. 20.--Was James McClure, wealthy farmer of Laurel county, murdered by a gang of moonshiners; was he the victim of jealousy or was he slain for his money?

These are the questions which have been puzzling authorities of Laurel county since McClure's body was found last Saturday at this home near Boreing with the skull crushed like an eggshell from a blow with a carpenter's hammer.

Three men and one woman are in jail here at the present time facing charges of murder.  Their examining trials will be held Thursday in county court.  The four were arrested soon after the discovery of the crime.

Janie Sasser, about 20 years old, the daughter of a tenant on McClure's farm and said to have been a sweetheart of McClure, is the woman in the case.  Harvey Reynolds, a former lodger at the home of McClure and a friend of Miss Sasser; Perry Lawson, a brother-in-law of Miss Sasser, and a boy named Gilbert, related to the Sasser family, are also held for the crime.

Body Found Saturday

The body of McClure was discovered by Reynolds and Miss Sasser, according to their story, Saturday.  On that day they declare they went to the murdered man's home for some vegetables.  Upon their arrival they found all the doors locked. A note was fastened to the front door reading "Look for the keys about the -----," the last word having been erased.

They then looked through the windows and saw McClure's body lying on the bed.  Later the keys to the house were found in a water gourd near the spring.

McClure, according to the authorities, was last seen Friday when he ate supper at the Sasser home.

Death is thought to have come without warning to McClure.  His skull was crushed and his brain penetrated by a heavy carpenter's hammer.  The hammer was found near the bed upon which the body was lying.  The hammer used to commit the crime belonged to McClure.

No signs of a struggle could be found in the room.  It is believed that the assailant struck McClure before the dead man was aware of the impending danger.

Three Theories Held

Authorities thus far have offered no explanation for the murder.  Three theories are held, however.  One is that a clan of moonshiners operating in the vicinity killed McClure to prevent him from opposing their activities.  Another is that he was the victim of a plot to seize his estate, valued at between six and ten thousand dollars.  The third theory is that McClure was slain through jealousy by a discarded lover of Miss Sasser.

McClure, who was a cripple, was a widower. [1]


[September 22, 1921] -

Two More Arrests Made in Mountain Murder Case; Examining Trial of Six Prisoners to Be Held This Morning

[Special to The Herald]

LONDON, Ky., Sept 21.--Two women were arrested this morning on charges of complicity in the murder of James McClure, wealthy bachelor, who was found dead in his home at Borrin, this county, last Saturday, his brains beaten out and a bloody carpenter's hammer beside his bead.  Four persons were already held in jail here in connection with the case.  The two women lodged in jail here today are Mrs. Martha Hunter, 35, and Nannie Sasser, 18, sisters of Janie Sasser and aunts of Jodie Gilbert, who were arrested Monday.  All lived on the farm of the murdered man, a short distance from his home.  The other two arrested Monday are Perry Lawson, brother-in-law of the three women and step-father of the Gilbert boy, and Harvey Reynolds, a cripple, who lived with McClure and is said to have been engaged to Janie Sasser.  This engagement is said to have been broken last Thursday by the Sasser woman, who told authorities that she wanted to marry McClure instead of Reynolds and only promised to marry the latter in the belief that it would cause McClure to marry her.  The six persons in jail here have told conflicting stories, and authorities believe all are connected with the crime.

Officers yesterday discovered a bloody hand print on a post of the bed on which McClure's body was found.  It was made by a small hand, apparently the left, and is believed to be either a woman's hand or that of Harvey Reynolds, whose left hand is shriveled from paralysis to little more than half the size of his right.  Spots that appear to be blood were found today on the shirt and hat worn by Reynolds on the day McClure's body was found.  An effort to wash out the spots seems to have been made.  It also developed today that the dead man's pocketbook was missing.

The examining trial will be held tomorrow. [2]


[September 23, 1921] -

Circumstantial Evidence Points to Lodger as Slayer of Laurel Farmer As Examining Trial Opens in London

[Special to The Herald]

LONDON, Ky., Sept. 22.--Who killed James McClure, wealthy farmer in his home, ten miles south of here last Friday night, and what was the motive of the murder are still unsolved mysteries that are puzzling Laurel county authorities.  Evidence brought out at opening here today of the examining trial of the three men and three women held in connection with the crime, though wholly circumstantial, points more strongly toward Harvey Reynolds, cripple, who has been a boarder at the McClure home for several months.

Reynolds, it was brought out, told several persons that he blamed McClure for the breaking of his engagement with Janie Sasser, also held for the crime, last Thursday.  The evidence shows that both McClure, a bachelor of 50, and Reynolds, a widower of 52, have been courting the Sasser woman for several months.  She testified today that she became aggravated at McClure's failure to marry her and promised to marry Reynolds in order to spite McClure, but notified Reynolds last Thursday morning that she would not marry him.

On the following day, only a few hours before the murder, Reynolds told Jodie Gilbert, another defendant, and nephew of the Sasser woman, that McClure was the case of Janie's refusal to keep her promise of marriage and that she would be sorry in less than a month.  The prosecution is seeking to show that jealousy and revenue furnished a sufficient motive for Reynolds to commit the murder and that he had ample opportunity to do so, as his movements between 9:20 o'clock and midnight on the night of the murder are unaccounted for.

None of the six defendants testified today, but the evidence brought out in the trial shows that Martha Hunter and Nannie Sasser, sister of Janie Sasser, Perry Lawson, their brother-in-law; Jodie Gilbert, their nephew, all of whom are in jail here, and others of the Sasser family were engaged in a family quarrel that accounted for their peculiar conduct and mysterious trips to the home of different members of the family on the night of the murder.

There is still the possible theory that a moonshiner gang killed McClure, but no evidence has yet been produced to substantiate it.

Three brothers, giving their names as Hale, of Whitley county, are here at the trial and assert that they are cousins of McClure and his only living relatives. [3]


[September 24, 1921] -


While Members of Sasser Family Are Dismissed--No Witnesses To Crime

London, Ky., Sept. 25--The examining trial of Harvey Reynolds, Janie Sasser, Jodie Gilbert, Martha Hunter, Perry Lawson, and Nannie Sasser, charged with the murder of James McClure, in his home in this county last Friday night, was held without bail to the October grand jury.  The other five members whose suspect conduct on the night of the murder was explained by a family quarrel, were dismissed.

All the released defendants except Perry Lawson, lived on McClure's farm and were on good terms with him.  Reynolds, who had been living with McClure for several months, declared that he knows nothing of the affair.

There is no direct evidence to prove that he committed the crime.  A motive was established, however, in the fact that both McClure and Reynolds had been courting Janie Sasser.  She had promised to marry Reynolds but on the day before the murder refused to do so.  Reynolds told several persons that McClure was the cause of his disappointment in love and that she would be sorry she jilted him.

On the night of the murder Reynolds was at the home of Cal McDaniel until 9 o'clock, when he started to McClure's home, a distance of a mile and a half.  At midnight he reached the home of Martha Hunter and her sister.  Janie Sasser, who lived only a few hundred yards from McClure's house, and on his farm.  He said that he had come to the McClure house from Cal McDaniel's and found the doors locked.  About noon the next day, Reynolds and the Sasser woman went to McClure's house, looked thru a window and saw his body on the bed and reported that he was dead.

Nothing was missing from McClure's effects except a pocketbook containing some papers and an unknown sum of money, believed to have been only a small amount.  The clothes worn by Reynolds, when he was arrested Saturday at the scene of the murder, showed numerous spots resembling blood.  A cane belonging to Reynolds was found in McClure's barn.  It appeared to have been scraped recently with a knife, but signs of blood were found upon it.  At the spring near McClure's house, where the lost door keys were found in a drinking gourd, footprints made by gum shoes like those worn by Reynolds were found.

Reynolds  did not testify in the examining trial, but says he will tell some things in the final trial if the grand jury next month indicts him. [4]


[October 6, 1921] -


London, Ky., Oct. -- Whether Harvey Reynolds, 52 years old, self styled "doctor," now held without bail in the London jail on the charge of murdering James McClure, an eccentric, prosperous bachelor, Sept. 16, is the innocent victim of circumstantial evidence, whether he is the tool or accomplice, or whether he is a morbid degenerate possessed of the same genius of planning and executing a revolting murder that Edgar Allan gave to his crime character, is a tangle officials of Laurel county are having a hard time unravelling.

Murders in the mountains of Kentucky have not been unusual, but seldom are they surrounded with mystery including the love triangle so often behind crimes in a higher strata of society.

James McClure, bachelor, 50 years old, and Harvey Reynolds, widower, 52, lived together in McClure's house for more than a year.

During that time both of them were enamoured of Janie Sasser, 20 years old, unmarried, and living with her married sister, Martha Hunter, on McClure's farm.

Reynolds wanted to marry the woman and McClure did not, according to her own statement. She grew tired of waiting for McClure and promised to marry Reynolds, who straightway went for the marriage license, but failed to obtain it for lack of proper credentials.  On his return, the Sasser woman sent him word that she had changed her mind and would not marry him.

Reynolds Blamed McClure.

Reynolds told her nephew the day before the murder that McClure was the cause of her refusal to carry out her promise and that she would regret it in less than a month.  Then he spent a day and night with McClure.  Both left home Friday, Sept 16, McClure staying at the home of Mrs. Martha Hunter, where Janie Sasser lived, until 8 p.m. and Reynolds staying at Cal McDaniel's a mile and a half away until 9:30 p.m., according to McDaniel's testimony.

At these hours both left for the McClure home.  At midnight Reynolds arrived at the Hunter home, saying he had gone to McClure's and found the doors locked and supposed McClure had gone away for the night, as he frequently did.

Went in Morning.

Spending the night at the Hunter house, Reynolds went to McClure's early the next morning, but returned and reported the place still locked.  Later he and Martha Hunter went together, climbed upon a box, looked through a window and saw McClure lying on his bed dead.  Neighbors were notified and broke down the door.  They found McClure had been struck six times on the head with a heavy carpenter's hammer, which was standing, bloodstained, against the wall nearby.  He evidently had been struck while he was asleep, as there were no signs of a struggle.

Officers arrested:
Harvey Reynolds, who they believed plotted the crime through jealousy.

Janie Sassar, who was suspected of having committed the crime of having influenced Reynolds to, because of McClure's failure to marry her.

Trips Are Cause.

Martha Hunter and Nannie Sasser, because of their trips after midnight to and from the home of Jerry Lawson, brother-in-law, five miles away.

Perry Lawson.

Jodie Gilbert, stepson of Lawson, who made a trip to and from the McClure farm with Lawson the night of the murder.

The authorities considered the theory that the family might have plotted his death in the hope of obtaining his property through a claim of Janie Sasser as his common-law wife.

But the lost keys to the McClure house were found in a water gourd of the spring in the yard, and tracks, as if made by Reynolds new gum shoes, were found around the spring.  No body saw any spots on Reynolds clothing then but two days later at the jail spots were found on his shirt, hat and overalls that looked like blood and appeared to have been scoured with water.  Then his cane was found at McClure's barn and it showed some small spots and had the appearance of having been scraped recently with a knife.

Reynolds said after he left the McDaniels home it took him until midnight to walk the mile and a half to the Sasser home, because he is crippled.

Woman Admitted Love.

At the examining trial Janie Sasser frankly admitted her love for McClure and that it was too deep to wish him harm.

Nannie Sasser and the Hunter women were dismissed after they had accounted for their peculiar actions the night of the murder.  They [illegible] that Lawson, his wife and his sister Nannie, who was living with the Lawsons, had quarrelled because Lawson's wife thought he was paying too much attention to her younger sister and his stepson, Gilbert, chased him away from home.  He went to the Hunter home, taking Nannie Sasser with him, and members of the family were making trips between the Hunter and the Lawson home all night to patch up the family quarrel.  These trips caused all of them except Janie Sasser to be near the home of McClure between 9 o'clock and midnight.

Police Theory.

The theory of the authorities is that Reynolds, deciding to kill McClure through jealousy, deliberately planned the crime.  The visit to the McDaniels' home was to prepare an alibi, it is believed, but the fact that the commission of the crime and futile attempts to remove traces of blood took more time than he reasoned for, thwarted the plan for an alibi authorities contend.

At the same time, however, other possibilities are still being considered by officials.  One theory is that McClure was the victim of revenge of moonshiners, against whom he had testified. 

Reynolds, asserting his innocence, says he will tell some things at the final trial not yet brought out.  Many persons believe that new angles revealing a surprising story of backwoods life, will be revealed ultimately.

Reynolds, who was born and reared in an adjoining county, has been living in Laurel county for ten years.  He is a life-long cripple, his entire right side being almost useless from paralysis.

He had been married twice and had three children by his first wife, but both wives and all the children are dead.  For 23 years he had "doctored" whenever he could find patients.

Persons who have known him long consider him a fraud as a doctor, but no one knows of any criminal charge against him. [5]


[December 24, 1921] -

Jilted Lover Sentenced for Murder of Rival

LONDON, Ky., Dec 23.--Harvey Reynolds, 51-year-old cripple, today was found guilty of the murder of James McClure, September 16, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

It was the contention of the prosecution that Reynolds killed McClure, 50-year-old bachelor with whom he had lived, because he thought McClure stood in the way of the cripple's marriage to Janie Sasser, 22 years old, daughter of a tenant on McClure's farm, ten miles from here.

Reynolds, according to the evidence, and McClure were making love to the Sasser girl.  Reynolds twice a widower, sought to marry her, but she preferred the bachelor, she said.  McClure it was alleged, had sworn not to marry, but wanted to retain his sweetheart.  In order to arouse McClure's jealousy, it was alleged, Miss Sasser accepted Reynolds' proposal.  Reynolds came to London and got a license.  On his return, the girl refused to marry him, claiming McClure was the cause.  Some time later McClure was found dead in bed, his skull crushed with his own hammer. [6]


[1] "Four Arrested For Murder of Laurel Farmer." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. September 21, 1921. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[2] "Two More Arrests Made in Mountain Murder Case." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. September 22, 1921. Page 1. Genealogybank.com.

[3] "Circumstantial Evidence Points to Lodger as Slayer of Laurel Farmer As Examining Trial Opens in London." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. September 23, 1921. Pages 1 and 7. Genealogybank.com.

[4] "Reynolds Held in Laurel Murder." Richmond Daily Register, Richmond, KY. September 24, 1921. Page 1. LOC.

[5] "Police at Sea in Puzzling Murder Case in Kentucky." Aberdeen Weekly News, Aberdeen, SD. October 6, 1921. Page 3. Genealogybank.com.

[6] "Cripple Draws Life Term." Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY. December 24, 1921. Page 8. Genealogybank.com.



Diane Wood said...

Janie Sasser is my great-great grandmother. I love working on my family tree and now I have this information to add to it. I had no idea about these events and found the articles very interesting. Thank you so much.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this story. It's very interesting, yet so very sad. My SASSER family also lived in Laurel County, KY (JOSIAH SASSER & PENELOPE KEEN SASSER and their four children) from 1840 on until 1900's. Thanks again for sharing this information. Jerry Olinger.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this story. It's very interesting, yet so very sad. My SASSER family also lived in Laurel County, KY (JOSIAH SASSER & PENELOPE KEEN SASSER and their four children) from 1840 on until 1900's. Thanks again for sharing this information. Jerry Olinger.

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