MURDER IN LOGAN COUNTY
The taking of another’s life is a monstrous act indeed.
The violence of a murder has creepy vines that bind.
It kills a part of everyone involved.
After more than eighty years when the night winds wail, people still claim Mamie Thurman walks the hills on 22 Mountain near Holden, West Virginia. Chilling apparitions are rumored to be seen, and some claimed to have picked a woman up on the lonely mountain only to later discover their back seat empty. So, the legend grows as people wonder if Mamie’s ghost is crying out for justice.
Death came creeping in the dark to thirty-one-year-old dark-eyed brunette Mamie Thurman. On June 22, 1932, her lifeless body was found where it had been dumped on 22 Mountain which was then called Trace Mountain. Garland Davis, a young deaf- mute, stumbled upon the gruesome scene while picking blackberries. Little did he know that his discovery would lead to sensational headlines, and still have people wondering who killed Mamie Thurman.
EXIT SIGN LEADING TO 22 MOUNTAIN
HONAKER FUNERAL HOME
On the same day Mamie’s body was discovered a warrant was sworn-out by Magistrate Elba Hatfield. At about 8:30 in the evening, Harry Robertson and his Negro handyman Clarence Stephenson were both arrested and taken to the Logan County jail for questioning. Twenty-nine-year-old Stephenson was a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. He had been in Logan County for nine years, and worked at several mines before going to work for the Robertson family. He had never been married and lived in the attic of the Robertson home. Stephenson did many odd-jobs for the Robertson family, including washing dishes, but his main duty was to feed and care for Mr. Robertson’s dogs. Robertson was a prominent sportsman, worked for the National Bank of Logan, was a city political figure, and treasurer of the Logan Public Library. Robertson’s wife was the treasurer of the Logan Women’s Club, and both were said to be active church members.
Robertson admitted to police that he had been having an intimate relationship with the deceased woman, and told how he arranged dates with Mrs. Thurman with the help of his colored handyman. He would tell his wife he was going fox-hunting, and they would take their guns and drive off in Robertson’s Ford. Stephenson would drive him to one of the rendezvous points that Mrs. Thurman knew well.
Logan County was in an era of economic and political change, but the big news in 1932 wasn’t about the Great Depression that gripped the nation. Rumors and gossip ran rampant as “tongues wagged” on every Logan street corner with people forming their own theories on who killed Mamie Thurman. Mamie was described as an active church-worker, perfect lady, a very nice lady who minded her own business, and a young woman of quiet demeanor who spoke only to people she knew. Others claimed she was the vixen of Stratton Street, and a temptress. The Logan Banner published “The Mamie Thurman Story” from their files in 1985, and reporter Dwight Williamson declared Mamie “A Depression era version of an eighties liberated woman.”
Mamie was born in Kentucky on September 12, 1900. Her forty-eight-year-old husband, Jack was also from Kentucky, and was sixteen years older than his wife. The Thurman’s had lived in the city of Logan for eight years, and rented a two-room garage apartment behind Harry Robertson’s house on Stratton Street. The house faced Main Street, and was located approximately where the Logan Bank and Trust once stood. Jack Thurman had worked as a Logan city patrolman for fifteen months prior to his wife’s death. Mr. Thurman’s job was due to the efforts of Harry Robertson who was president of the city commission.
Mamie Thurman’s funeral was no doubt the most bizarre funeral ever held in Logan County. The service took place on Friday, June twenty-fourth, and was attended by 550 women, and 30 men. The funeral was conducted at the Nighbert Methodist Memorial Church where Mamie was said to be a member. Pastor, Rev. B.C. Gamble and the Rev. Robert F. Caverlee, pastor of the First Baptist Church officiated. Rev. Gamble did not deliver a sermon, but read a Bible scripture from John. He told of a woman that was brought before Jesus who was said to have been caught in the very act of adultery. It was the people’s intention to stone her to death, but when Jesus asked anyone without sin to cast the first stone her accusers left. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman, but told her to go and sin no more. “This is the text,” Rev. Gamble said. Then he paused for a few moments. “Develop your own sermon on that basis,” he said as dead silence was followed by weeping throughout the congregation. The obituary was then read, and the service was concluded.
NIGHBERT METHODIST MEMORIAL CHURCH
Mamie Thurman’s death certificate filed at the courthouse states she was buried at Logan Memorial Park in McConnell. Harris Funeral Home records show a charge for thirty-five dollars for moving Mrs. Thurman’s body to Bradfordsville, Kentucky. However, the cemetery in Kentucky has no record of the interment of Mamie’s body. It remains a mystery to this day just where Mamie Thurman was buried.
ENTRANCE TO LOGAN MEMORIAL PARK AT McCONNELL
FAMILIAR ARCH NOW GONE – August 2000
The day of the funeral, State Troopers searched the home of Harry Robertson, and found several bloodstained rags in the basement. Attempts had been made to remove several spots from the basement floor that were believed to be blood. A Charleston chemist, T.A. Borradaile later identified the stains as human blood, but at that time courts refused to admit blood tests into evidence. A razor was also found, and they discovered a hole in the wall which appeared to be made by a bullet.
Blood stains were found on the window, fender, and seat of Robertson’s Ford sedan. The car was mainly used to transport hunting dogs when he went Fox hunting on 22 Mountain where he owned a hunting cabin. The back seat of the car had been removed, and a six-by-eight-foot tarp placed over the back of the front seat and rear part of the car. Curtains made of canvas were hung from the doors. Mamie’s body was found about a mile from Robertson’s hunting cabin.
Judge Naaman Jackson granted a bond to Harry Robertson on June twenty-seventh, and Robertson drove home alone in his Packard car. Defense Attorney C.C. Chambers who represented Robertson and Clarence Stephenson, Bruce McDonald of McDonald Land Company, T.G. Moore, and C.L. Estep were named as sureties to the ten-thousand dollar bond for Robertson.
Jack Thurman, husband of the deceased, was granted a furlough by the Logan Police Department after his wife’s funeral, but returned for the hearing and trial. He took a trip to Louisville, Kentucky before the hearing started. While he was in town, he visited Mamie’s sisters at an orphanage. He gave each of the girls two-dollars. This was a considerable amount of money during the depression years. The children had been placed in the orphanage after Mamie’s father was killed in a gun battle with police in Ashland, Kentucky.
On July fifth the Banner announced that famed Judge James Damron of Huntington would aid in the Thurman investigation gratis (without reward). Judge Damron was one of West Virginia’s most distinguished criminal lawyers and judges. In a letter written to Prosecuting Attorney’s L.P. Hager and Emmett Scaggs, Judge Damron was quoted as saying he agreed with them that Mamie Thurman’s brutal murder was a drastic deed, and the handiwork of a well-laid out conspiracy. He said he believed the perpetrators of the foul and damnable murder should be apprehended and brought to justice for the sake of the good name of Logan County. In a letter back to Judge Damron, Attorney Scaggs said he agreed with him, and Damron was added as the third attorney for the prosecution.
Negro handyman, Clarence Stephenson sent a letter on July eighth to his sister Josie Carpenter who was a maid at the Pioneer Hotel in Logan. He wrote that he would die before he would lie on Robertson, or his wife. He asked in the letter for Josie to take a message to Mrs. Robertson. Clarence wanted Mrs. Robertson to know that he had been moved to Williamson jail to keep anyone from seeing him. “Tell her I will not do anything to hurt Mr. Harry or her.” He wanted his sister to ask Mrs. Robertson to stand up and help him and Mr. Harry. He indicated it was going to be hard on both of them, but said that the police didn’t know anything to hurt them.
Assistant Prosecutor Emmett F. Scaggs who described Mamie Thuman as “Logan’s most popular woman” made a statement to the press on July twenty-sixth that he would not drag the name of any person into this case for the purpose of getting even with them just to satisfy curiosity-seekers. He said some people were more interested in scandal than finding out who really murdered Mamie Thurman, and that because some prominent people were involved the public didn’t think he was proceeding fast enough. Scaggs stated that murder carried an extreme penalty, and adultery was only a misdemeanor. He declared that in his honest opinion the people in Logan County knew a lot that might shed some light on the case, but that they were not divulging information because they didn’t want to get involved. He described the crime as the most brutish crime in Logan County history. At his request, the county court agreed to offer a thousand-dollar reward for new evidence that would lead to a conviction.
Oscar Townsend rented a room from the Robertson family, and worked at the bank with Mr. Robertson. He said there were ill-feeling between Mamie Thurman and Mrs. Robertson, and that for sometime they had not been “going around together.” Mr. Townsend also informed police he traded a .32 caliber gun to Harry Robertson for a .38 pistol. Another examination was then made of Robertson’s home and his car by Trooper Satterfield, Coroner Elba Hatfield and Dr. Rowan. A blood clot was found underneath the rubber floor mat in the car. It appeared an attempt had been made to wash the floor of the car, but the blood clot was overlooked because it clung to the mat. Robertson kept the .38 pistol underneath his pillow at night, and it was believed to be the gun that killed Mamie Thurman. A knife and a large piece of bloodstained canvas were also found at the Robertson home. All of this evidence was taken to police headquarters.
LOGAN COURT HOUSE 1912-1965
On July twenty-ninth throngs of people started gathering around the Logan court house at six o’clock in the morning with some carrying their own chairs. Long before Squire Hatfield entered the circuit court room people had filled the room. They were eager to get inside the court room to watch the preliminary hearing of Harry Robertson and Clarence Stephenson who had been arrested for the murder of Mamie Thurman, and more than a thousand people witnessed the proceedings. Reporter Mary Scales said people watching the witnesses’ antics must have felt they were witnessing the season’s latest comedy.
Jack Thurman arrived at ten o’clock sharp, and walked across the room to Attorney Hatfield. He looked pale, but seemed composed. Harry Robertson and Clarence Stephenson came into the court room fifteen minutes later underguard of State Troopers Satterfield and Thompson. Stephenson’s hands were cuffed, but Roberterson’s were free. Robertson took his seat at the witness table, and Stephenson sat next to him. Stephenson looked straight ahead, and seemed calm although necks craned to get a look at both of them. Robertson kept wetting his lips, and glancing around the room.
At ten-thirty-five, Mrs. Robertson was escorted by Robertson’s roomer, Oscar Townsend. She walked to her husband’s side, and appeared to have kissed him lightly on the cheek. She placed her arm around his shoulders, and sat down next to him. They talked in a whisper for about ten minutes. Townsend took a seat behind them. Judge Estep and C.C. Chambers, attorneys for Robertson and Stephenson sat at one end of the table while prosecutors’ Hager and Scaggs sat at the other end.
Many Logan County prominent citizens, some who were associated with suspect Harry Robertson, served on the Grand Jury. Judge Naaman Jackson’s instructions to the jury were that since the last term of court there had been more murders than usual, and the only way for them to make people understand the value of life was to prosecute the criminals according to the law. He said the murder of Mrs. Mamie Thurman was one of the most gruesome in the history of Logan County and in the state. “If there is evidence enough to indict the parties responsible, the court expects you to do so,” Jackson said.
When Harry Robertson was called to the stand, he shocked everyone as he told of his two-year relationship with Mamie Thurman. He often met Mamie at the Key Club located in the heart of Logan. According to Robertson, the club was frequented by a number of well-known business men and their “lady friends.” It was a place where both male and female members were said to have pass-keys. Robertson said that drinking parties, illicit affairs, and strange unions all took place at this club. During the hearing the club was also referred to as the Amen Club, the Social Club and the Logan Business Men’s Club. Robertson said Mamie gave him a list of sixteen men with whom she had illicit affairs. He claimed the list was given to him about a year ago when they both worked at the Guyan Valley Bank. “One of the men is dead, all except three live in the city of Logan, and all are married but one,” he testified. He said he continued seeing Mamie even though she refused to stop seeing the other men. Robertson said that Clarence Stephenson was often the “go between” for his meetings with Mamie, and Stephenson later corroborated his statement.
Magistrate Elba Hatfield told the Grand Jury that all the evidence was circumstantial, but claimed it very damaging against both defendants. For that reason he ruled that Robertson and Stephenson should be held to answer any indictments returned by the Grand Jury. The jury ended a four-day inquiry on September fifteenth, and the following day the Banner headlines cried out, “HARRY ROBERTSON NOT INDICTED.” Clarence Stephenson was indicted by the Grand Jury, and would stand trial for the murder of Mamie Thurman.
There was vigilante action considered against the colored handyman, Clarence Stephenson, and the KKK was busy making sure a swift carriage of justice took place. Some of those who wore the white hoods and burned crosses were said to be principles in the trial. Some believed Stephenson had sex with Mrs. Thurman, but Harry Robertson testified that he did not. During the hearing and the trial, Stephenson often referred to Robertson as “Mr. Harry.” Years later, a man who remembered the 1930’s well said, “Back then if you told your black man to go jump off the Logan bridge, he would.” During the hearing, Chambers and Emmett Scaggs clashed over who brought the evidence out about the supposed relationship between Stephenson and Mrs. Thurman. At one time during the heat of the exchange of words the crowd actually cheered at some of Chambers remarks.
When Stephenson testified at the hearing, he told of being moved from the Logan jail by the State Police to Williamson. They went by the way of Pigeon Roost over isolated road on Trace Mountain (now called 22 Mountain). Two cars were parked beside the road, and shots were fired in their direction. Stephenson said the troopers told him they thought it was a mob, and asked if he was afraid. They urged him to tell all he knew, or it was likely he would be “taken off.” Stephenson replied, “If I was making a dying statement it would be, I don’t know anymore than I’ve told.
At one point during the hearing Stephenson pointed toward the courtroom as if he saw someone he was afraid of, but would not tell what he saw. The prosecution asked, “What do you see . . . Mrs. Thurman?” Stephenson refused to answer.
*Originally published in 1999 at www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/4478/.