On Saturday morning, 8 February, the temperatures were frigid. Henry Flook was up early, hauling wood. As he drove his team past Jane Bower’s cabin, Flook noted immediately that there was no smoke issuing from the chimney and no other sign of activity. By piecing together the newspaper accounts, it can be surmised that a concerned Flook returned at lunchtime with two other local men and found the cabin’s front door open a crack. After knocking and shouting raised no reply from within, the Sun reported that the trio entered and beheld “the ghastly sight of a human body cut into ragged pieces scattered on the floor before them.”
The newspapers went on to print every salacious detail of the murder scene found by Flook and his companions. For example, from the Sun, “The little living room was bespattered with blood and chunks of flesh and bone all scattered in a heart-sickening disorder. From beneath a portion of the woman’s torso, the bloody handle of an axe protruded…. Surrounded by blood-soaked garments lay parts of her dismembered body. In a corner, Flook found the woman’s head, the jagged flesh of the neck telling how the murderer hacked and hacked in his apparent insane desire to sever it from the body. The iron-gray hair was deep-dyed with of blood. Even the walls and low ceiling of the little living room bore evidence of the tragedy in dull garnet blotches. Bits of bone and tatters of flesh were stuck to the window panes …. The mass of flesh and bones, chopped into little bits the size of a marble, presented a sickening sight [that] declared the murderer must have hacked at the body fully two hours before completing his fiendish work.”
After making the terrible discovery, the frightened men went straight to the authorities. The resulting investigation found that “there was little, if any, struggle on behalf of the victim. In the death chamber, there was an overturned chair that seemed to have fallen with the woman when she was struck and killed. In a puddle of coagulated blood was a leather purse containing a little money, showing that robbery was not the motive,” noted the Sun. The beds in the cabin had not been slept in and a wound 24-hour clock was still working on Saturday afternoon—both indicating that the killing occurred late Friday afternoon or evening.
“Officers and others familiar with the circumstances [think it] one of the most brutal and fiendish crimes in the history of this section of the state.”
At Pleasant Walk United Methodist Church (formerly Mount Olive United Brethren), two miles from Myersville, Maryland, visitors may find the grave of Emma Betts, who arrived with the spring of 1900 and departed with summer, lacking even one milk tooth. They may also see the grave of Henry Dusing, a 70-year-old champion violinist who, in 1954, on a dark night, fatally encountered an automobile atop South Mountain. There is also Tiny Dagenhart. In 1913, the five-year-old girl was shot dead in the family’s kitchen by her brother when he dropped his hunting rifle. There are two more vestigial residents of interest for whom no grave markers call out: Jane Bowers and Thomas McPherson. During one week in the winter of 1908, however, newspapers bellowed their names and described in orgasmic detail Jane’s bloody, gore-soaked, and horrifying murder at the hands of her elder brother.
Whenever the modern world seems unprincipled and bleak, take comfort. It ran amok in the old days, too, as these Victorian news clippings attest.
“Looks Like Attempted Revenge”
“Hazelton, Pa., Dec. 4.—An attempt was made last night to blow up the residence of A. P. Platt, one of Sheriff Martin’s deputies. This morning, two sticks of dynamite, one of which was broken, were found on the steps of Mr. Platt’s residence. The explosive was carried to police headquarters and it was found that the piece which had been broken must have been thrown against the porch by someone. Had the dynamite exploded, the house would have been wrecked and Mr. Platt and family probably killed. There is no clue to the guilty parties.
“Mr. Platt is the manager of the A. Pardee & Company store in Hazelton, and is a prominent Hazletonian. He has offered a reward of $100 for the apprehension of the parties who placed the dynamite on the doorstep.”
“A Narrow Escape”
“Chicago, Oct. 2.—A number of very narrow escapes from death by fire occurred at No. 90 East Chicago avenue early this morning. The building is a two-story frame owned by John Johnson and occupied in the basement by Miss Julia Hogan as a restaurant; first floor as a saloon kept by Roose & Steuberg, and the second floor by John Johnson and family. Officer Moore saw the flames leaping from of the rear of the building, turned in the alarm and then ran to the scene to arouse the inmates. He rushed to Johnson’s rooms and seized two of the children, who were in a back room, and were nearly suffocated. In coming downstairs, he fell and injured his left hand and arm, but the children were not injured. Mrs. Johnson caught up the baby and escaped in her night dress, followed by her sister and husband. In Miss Hogan’s restaurant, in the basement, were sleeping Julia Hogan and Mary Esperson, Helen Larsel and Louise Norin. The last named, the cook, was aroused by the heat and smoke, which came from the kitchen. She called the proprietress, and they tried to gather some valuables, but the flames spread so rapidly that a retreat was necessary. Miss Hogan was compelled to run through the flames, and her arms were severely burned in attempting to save a dress, in the pocket of which was $56. The damage to the building was slight.”
“Her husband was the only one in the room, and he was asleep.”—Louisville Courier-Journal
The earthly remains of Iola M. Haley Newell are buried in Somerset City Cemetery, Somerset, Kentucky, within the casket seen above. It was almost certainly white, with a crackled paint finish and colored velvet covering the pallbearers′ handles. The rest of the gently sunlit parlor held rich photographic detail. The fireplace was surrounded by colorful Victorian art nouveau tiles. On the wall, above the harp-shaped floral tribute, a paper or cardboard image of a blooming plant proclaimed, “The Year of Flowers.” Reflected in the mirror, along with two female mourners, were more images also possibly culled from “The Year of Flowers.” Behind the black-clad ladies was the staircase to the home’s upper floor.
It is a wistfully beautiful image: A bright-colored room, burgeoning with flowers in recognition of a beloved daughter, sister, friend, and bride of little more than a year, dead before age 30. The most likely causes of Iola’s demise should have been pregnancy complications or childbirth. However, there is no record of a child born alive or dead—and if the latter, we would expect to see the stillborn infant in the casket, beside its mother.
It is also clear from the photo that Iola was not the victim of a wasting disease, rather of something that cut her down in otherwise acceptable health. Her husband, Dr. John B. Newell, survived Iola narrowly, dying a year-and-a-half later. Newell worked in a field of medicine—dentistry—whose practitioners could be easily exposed to Tuberculosis and other contagious diseases. Another possible cause for one, or both, of the couple’s deaths was typhoid. An epidemic occurred in Pulaski County in 1920, and since the disease can be waterborne, contaminated waterways may have existed in the area in the decade before, when the couple was yet alive.