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.
Every village has its quirky characters. My own, Myersville, Maryland, was once home to a cantankerous teacher, reverend, and still-breaker nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”
“Myersville—Emphasizing the need for lights in the streets of Myersville, there was a stoning encounter on Saturday night, when Robert J. Ridgely, a school teacher at Burkittsville and a resident of Myersville, was stoned by four or five young men of the town. Reports have it that Mr. Ridgely stoned back, but as the teacher could not be located this morning, this could not be verified.
Mr. Ridgley has an ugly cut over one eye, which bled profusely, and Wilber Shepley, one of those in the in the party stoning Mr. Ridgley, also has a cut, probably inflicted by a stone, although one report has it that Mr. Shepley sustained the cut by striking a telephone pole, while running.
“The stoning incident has aroused a number of people in the town, and it is stated that there is a stronger sentiment for electric lights, many residents claiming the affair would not have happened had the town been well lighted.”
The victim in this article, Robert Johnson Ridgley was born in Myersville in January 1867 to William Worth Ridgley (1822-1901) and his wife Martha Matilda Johnson (1834-1920). (Note: The family name is spelled variously as Ridgely, Ridgeley, and Ridgley. For consistency only, I am using the latter.) William Ridgley was well-known in the area for his success as a farmer although he was blind. His tenacity and determination were inherited by his son.
As an adult, Robert Ridgley received a scholarship from the Maryland State Normal School in Baltimore, later rechristened Towson University, starting his studies in September 1895. Before that, he was a teacher at Loys Public School. After his father’s death, he lived with his mother and a servant, Susan Shank, the latter of whom worked for Ridgley until at least until 1940. Keeping a long-term, live-in servant of this type is a positive testimony to Ridgely’s character, which was sometimes maligned by his fellow Myersvillians.
From the Valley Register, Middletown, Maryland, 2 February, 1917.
“A very peculiar white cloud, stretching from the northeast clear across the sky to the southwest, in an otherwise perfectly cloudless sky, attracted great attention from shortly before 7 o’clock last night (Thursday), until 7:30. The cloud was pure white and in the centre of the sky appeared to be about 30 feet wide, tapering down at each end to a point. At the southwestern point, a projection hung down.
“The cloud had the appearance of a huge Zeppelin and some described it that way. Nervous persons declared the cloud had a meaning and portended war. Coming as it did, just when the situation with Germany has become serious, plenty of people associated the strange cloud with war.
“The cloud was really a very peculiar and remarkable sight and large groups of people stood gazing at it for some time. The edges of the cloud had the appearance of a solid mass of roiling smoke. One man said it was the Kaiser’s hand reaching out after Uncle Sam.”