Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thriller Thursday - The Beall Murder, Ohio, 1887 - Gard Line

By Eileen Cunningham and Debra Crumbaker

Last Quarter Phase
Photo by Ed Ting
On the night of June 13, 1887, the moon was in its last quarter phase, half bathing Preble County, Ohio, in its eerie glow, and half hidden in darkness.  It's hard to say where William Beall, his daughter Edith, and his son Johnny spent that first night after the murder of Nancy Gard Beall, wife of William and mother of the two children.  Perhaps at the home of Nancy's maiden sister, Hannah Gard, who resided in Eaton, about eight miles north of the home where Nancy had met a violent death that afternoon.  Did they sleep?  Or did the vision of his mom trying to raise her head out of the pool of blood circling on the floor around her keep young Johnny awake that night?  More than half the moon was hidden in darkness that June 13.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Colt Frontier Six-Shooter, c. 1884
“Horror of Horrors” screamed the headline of the Eaton [Ohio] Register, June 16, 1887.  On the previous Monday, June 13, Nancy Beall, daughter of Little John Gard and wife of William T. Beall, had been found murdered in her home about five miles south of Eaton in Preble County’s Gaspar township. 

According to the first news report, Nancy “was found lying on her face, cold in death.  Two bullets had perforated her brain and were found in the ceiling," first reports said.  Her head was terribly mangled by an ax and almost severed from her body.  Two revolvers were found lying beside her and belonged to parties in the family, and four chambers were empty.  The ax was also lying near, which was an old rusty one newly sharpened.  The walls and furniture were stained with blood, while the carpet was thoroughly saturated with its crimson flow.  A darker or more fearful crime was never known in this county, and it will form a black page in our county’s history.”[i]

It is standard procedure in our own time to look first at the husband when a woman is murdered, and apparently the instinct was the same in Preble County in those first few days.  Folks were pointing fingers at William Beall, largely because of a rumor that his 14-year-old daughter, Edith, who had accompanied him into town the day of the murder, had said that her father had gotten out of the buggy and returned to the house after they had left on their errands.  However,  on June 23, the Register reported Edith's clarifying  statement that, on the contrary, that had not happened.  Edith stated that at some point during their excursion to town, they had driven by their home.  “Her mother,” the Register reported, “was standing in the door of the house as they drove by and hands were waved.”[ii]

Broad-leafed Dock (Rumex)
The only other person in the house at the time of the murder was Nancy’s son, 13-year-old Johnny, who gave the following account of what had happened:  “After dinner I hitched up the horse for father to go to town, and after he had gone, I went out in the road and cut dock[iii] and wheeled it into the barn.  I was tired and went to the house and mother said, ‘You look pale and hot,’ and I told her I was tired. 

“I noticed the clock and it was ten minutes of three o’clock, and I laid down on the floor in the west front room and went to sleep.  I was awakened by the shots of the pistol and saw three men in the room, one a tall and slender man, the other two shorter and heavy set; they were tolerable well dressed in dark clothing.  The tall man had the ax in his hand, and the other two men each had a pistol in their hands.  Mother was lying on the floor with her face down.  I heard her scream when the shots were fired and she raised her head a little.  I did not see the men’s faces.  The men’s hands that the revolvers fired were bloody.”

Another news account includes Johnny's statement that he woke up in time to see the tramps leaving with a watch and some money.   Then, “I slipped out on my tip-toes and ran as hard as I could to where Mr. Pace [an African-American field hand] was plowing corn, about one-half mile away.  I told him there were three men up at the house murdering ma and they had pistols and an ax.  After hitching the horses we went back as hard as we could.  After we got to the branch [i.e., creek], Pace went over to [Odey] Casey’s to get someone to go with him into the house.  After he and some others came back, we went into the house.”[iv]

Beall farm with residence lower right. 
The original home no longer exists, but
the pond, grounds, roads, and fields 
are probably much the same as they were
in 1887.  (Google Earth image)
When questioned about the blood on his clothing, Johnny gave these details, some of which conflicted with his first statement: “When I awoke, my feet were about two feet from my mother’s feet and my head about the length of my arm away from her head, and the men were standing between me and ma.  When I ran down after Mr. Pace, I did not stop at the branch and wash the blood off my hands and face.  When I woke up, I felt there was some blood on my face, and I rubbed it off with my sleeve.  When I came back to the branch with Pace, I dipped my hands into the water.  There was some blood on my boot, some on my shirt sleeve and some on my face.”

Regarding his interactions with his parents that day, Johnny stated, “I had no difficulty with my ma after I had hitched up the horse for my father.  I asked my mother if she had told father that I hadn’t hitched up, and she said she did. I told her I had hitched up, but not at the same place we usually hitched up.  She said she didn’t think to look at any other place.  Then I went out and cut dock.” 

The next to be interviewed was Mr. Pace (probably Malvin Pace, who would have been 52 in 1887, or his eldest son, Frank, 26).  Pace testified that he indeed had been plowing corn when Johnny approached.  He hitched the horses and started for the house.  On the way, he encountered a man the news report identified as “Mr. Colors” (perhaps Moses Colur, another African-American farm worker in Preble County, age 30), who was mowing grass along the fence in a wheat field.  Pace asked Colors (or Colur) to join them, and upon reaching the creek, he went over to Odey Casey’s place to get more help.  When they reached the Beall home, they went into the house and “beheld the blood curdling sight detailed above.”

Then William Beall, Nancy’s husband, was questioned.  “He stated he left home a little after one o’clock and returned after five.”  He said he had “heard of the murder while on the way home.  When he returned home, he made some examination as to whether anything was missing from the house, but found nothing.  The next morning he made a more thorough examination and found that from $7 to $12, which his wife had placed between the straw-tick and feather-tick of the bed had been taken, also about 30 cents, belonging to his daughter, had been taken from her pocketbook, and 15 cents from the vest pocket of his son, and a small box containing a locket, with his picture in it.  Some rings and pieces of gold are also missing.”  (The ambiguity of the pronoun his makes it unclear whether the picture was of the husband or the son.)  Mr. Beall set one thing straight in his testimony as well.  Various news accounts reported a statement of Johnny’s that he had seen the “tramps” leaving with his mother’s gold watch and chain as well as a $50 note, but Beall testified that he had found these items “locked up in a drawer and not disturbed.”

Regarding the boy’s relationship with his mother, the father stated that “no trouble had ever existed between the boy and his mother and on that day there was none to his knowledge.”  However, the New Paris Mirror of Preble County reported that week, “The boy has been causing his parents considerable trouble for some time, by his refractory conduct.  At the breakfast table yesterday morning the boy quarreled with his mother and now says he made her take back all she said.”[v]

The inquest continued the next day, Thursday, June 16, in Camden, a town in the southern part of Gasper township, where Thomas O’Neil testified before Squire James Poterf.  He revealed “that he was the first to go in and touch the body.  He stated that it was cold and that the furniture in the room was not disturbed.  On going upstairs, he found the bedclothes tossed about and some drawers pulled out.  A trunk in the room had the hinges broken but was locked, and when he attempted to open it, the lid raised from the hinge side.  He also saw blood on the stone walk leading from the house to the barn and also what he took for blood on the gate.  The witnesses who first entered the house all substantially agree as to the facts connected with the discovery of the body.[vi]

“There were no marks upon the body of the deceased that would indicate that she had been assaulted with a view of outraging her person,” the news report concluded.

Putting all the facts together, on Friday, June 17, Coroner C. C. Jones announced his conclusions: “I do find the deceased, Mrs. Nancy C. Beall, came to her death by two pistol-shot wounds through the brain, one shot entering the temporal bone on the left side, just back of the left eye, and making its exit on the opposite side; the other shot being an inch or an inch and a half back of the one described, and making its exit at the outer angle of the orbit on the right side.  Also, two ax wounds on the back of the neck, between the head and shoulders, completely severing the spinal column, either of said wounds being sufficient to cause death.  I further find that while it seems almost impossible to conceive that one so young, and especially a son, would commit such an atrocious crime, yet the evidence presented to me and the circumstances surrounding the case are so strong that I feel warranted in fixing the crime on John A. Beall.”[vii]

Immediately a warrant was issued for Johnny’s arrest, and Marshal Cortland “Court” Corwin tracked the boy down at the Eaton residence of his aunt, Hannah Gard, sister of the murder victim.  They found him lying on the floor in an upstairs room, trying to go to sleep.  He was arrested and taken before the mayor, W. B. Marsh, at which time a preliminary investigation was waived.  He was then “committed to Jail without bail.”[viii]

At this point in the narrative, the news article records a strange interlude that gives some insight into Johnny Beall’s psyche.  The boy took the matter of his jailing “coolly,” we are told, and “before going to Jail, he went to the gallery of Harlan and Lewellen and had his photograph taken.  While standing for the picture, he was perfectly calm.”[ix]  Later a newspaperman would draw a sketch from the photo (left), which shows a placid, self-possessed, and well-dressed lad with perhaps—can you see it?—just the  hint of a smile.  (Hmmmm.  Well-dressed.  Is this how the boy used the money he found tucked inside the mattress?   To get for himself  the new suit of clothes that he had expected to buy earlier in the day?  To pay for a photo to show the world his moxie?)  Today psychologists are exploring the link between narcissism and the psychopathic personality.  Is it possible that in this diversion, we see that link? 

Preble County Courthouse, 1887
When he was asked if he had seen his mother at any time since the murder, “His eyes filled up and he wiped them with his handkerchief and said, ‘Yes, I can see her every time I shut my eyes to go to sleep.’  When asked how she looked, he said: ‘She appeared just like she looked when she was lying on the floor in the struggle, and like she looked when we all went in to see her and the blood was all over her.  I can see her raise her head up like she did when she was on the floor.’” He confessed that he had not slept much since the murder and “not a wink” the night before. 

Johnny arrived at the jail in the company of his father and Marshal Corwin.  Expressing perhaps a bit of paranoia, he asked the sheriff to “keep the doors all locked so that no one could get to him.”  Mr. Beall also requested that no one be allowed to talk to the boy.  Johnny spent the afternoon alone in his cell.  “He stood up by a window that faced the Court-house, and was reading a paper,” the Register noted.  “When he passed down street to the gallery, hundreds of people were on the street to see him, and everyone was surprised to see how small he is and HOW COMPLACENTLY HE WALKED ALONG [emphasis in original].”[x]

We get a bit more insight into what today would be called Johnny’s “affect” with this notation in the Register: “His good nerve and unconcern were noticed by all, and was the subject of general remark.  He is unquestionably undergoing a most tortuous experience, and if he did the act, he will in all probability weaken and confess.” 

The townspeople were mystified.  “There has never anything occurred in this county that has so shocked everyone.  The frightfully brutal manner in which the woman was butchered up, and the thought that a son could be so inhuman as to kill his mother, is so shocking that people can hardly believe it possible.

“There is no disposition to act rash with him.  There is not a father or mother but hopes and prays that the grave suspicions may be removed, and that the boy may not be guilty.”

One cannot imagine what was racing through the mind of William Beall.  His wife murdered, his son in jail, the facts all pointing to the worst imaginable scenario.  It goes some way toward showing the strength of a father’s love in that he not only accompanied Johnny to the jail and made a special request for the boy’s privacy, but that he also asked to be allowed to remain with the boy in his cell that first night.  However, the Sheriff considered it better that the boy remain alone.  He later reported that Johnny had “eaten his dinner and supper all right” and that he remained “unmoved, quiet, and unconcerned.”  At 9 o’clock that night, there was no sign that Johnny was going to break down and confess. 

The first night of Johnny’s confinement in the jail was June 17, four days after the murder.  A confession did not come until August 1.[xi]  It came about in this way:  Sheriff Daniel Peters had enlisted the aid of two detectives with the Hazen Detective Agency of Cincinnati to pose as prisoners, build a relationship with Johnny, and try to get a jailhouse confession out of him.  To that end, a young man signed into the Eagle House hotel, registering as a P. S. Fay.  After a few days, the sheriff received a telegram from Chief Locke of Newport, Kentucky, requesting the arrest of “Fay” until authorities from Kentucky could complete the necessary paperwork to return him for trial.  So, Fay, accused of being a safe-burglar, was arrested and thrown into the jail where Johnny was being housed   Only the sheriff and the prosecuting attorney, Crisler (probably 30-year-old A. Milton Crisler), were aware of the ruse.  Since the mayor was not aware of the scheme, the undercover detective had a bit of a start when the mayor appeared at the jail and kindly informed Fay that “the officers here could not keep him in jail over twenty-four hours.”  The mayor indicated he could secure Fay’s release, which was, in fact, the last thing the undercover detective actually wanted.  But Fay was apparently a quick thinker and feigned distrust, saying, “You are the mayor, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” came the reply.

“Well, I’m onto your game,” he said.  “You want to see me released, and then you will have me arrested again.”  He refused to have any more to do with the mayor, who was totally unaware of what was going on under his nose.  It is hard to know why Peters and Crisler did not let the mayor in on the ploy, or why the mayor wished to undermine the temporary imprisonment of a supposed Kentucky safe-burglar wanted by authorities in Newport.  Perhaps this is a sign of bad blood among the various authorities in the town, but the man calling himself P. S. Fay managed to navigate the deep waters of local politics and remain in the jail close to Johnny.

Model of Folsom in the same era
Now, at the same time, there was another prisoner in the jail—an actual prisoner, not one of Sheriff Peters’ planted detectives.  Identified only as “Ekes” in the newspaper, the prisoner was in jail on a charge of horse-stealing.  Ekes observed that on the second day “Fay” was in the jail, he approached Johnny twice to engage him in conversation.  Now, Ekes suspected that Fay “was not really a safe-burglar, and on the third day, when Fay was getting on a friendly footing with the boy, Ekes called the boy aside and told him to say nothing to Fay, that he thought Fay was a detective.”

Whether Ekes was really that perceptive or not, it is known that Ekes was not so interested in helping Johnny as in reserving for himself the right of extracting information from Johnny in order to inform on the boy himself—winning himself some jailhouse perks for his trouble, no doubt.  Ekes also questioned Fay closely about his “pals” and tried to pass information to the sheriff, who, of course, had to play along with Ekes’s little game.  But the damage was done.  Johnny no longer wished to speak with Fay.  However, for the first time, Johnny did show emotion.  “[T]he boy had had his suspicions aroused and was almost entirely uncommunicative.  He appeared terribly rattled, and on several occasions appeared on the point of talking.  He made a number of damaging admissions, and it was due to the terrible stage to which he was worked up by the suspicion that a detective was so near him that led to his final breaking down.”

Those who dealt with Johnny face to face in those critical days after the murder left comments which help us to see Johnny’s persona.  Fay indicated that Beall was “as bloodthirsty a young desperado as the famous Jesse Pomeroy” (a 14-year-old serial killer imprisoned in Massachusetts in 1874).  In the presence of the sheriff or another authority, said Fay, Beall “is a sniffling little hypocrite, but when they leave him, he is seen in his true character.”  Specifically, he “would swear like a trooper” and say of his father, “The G-d d-d old s-n of a b-h, why don’t he get me out of here?”[xii]  Why, indeed?

Reno Evening Gazette Story
On August 2, the Reno Evening Gazette carried the following story:

“John Beall, 13 years old, who has been in jail for six weeks on the charge of killing his mother, has made the following confession: ‘On June 13th the boy was at home alone with his mother at the farm house and about 4 o’clock, he alarmed the neighbors by saying that 3 tramps had killed his mother, and that he was asleep but awakened in time to see them leaving with a watch and some money.  The watch has since been found where he admits he hid it. He had shot his mother twice and then nearly beheaded her with an axe.  It is supposed he was with the dead body three hours before giving the alarm.  No motive for the crime is assigned, except that he was angry at what seemed to be favoritism shown to his sister by his mother.’”[xiii]

Putting together the statements of the witnesses, the coroner, and the boy himself, as they are recorded in various news accounts of the day, we can begin to see what happened in the Beall home on the day of the murder.

According to persons who knew the family, the boy was “refractory” and had been causing his mother a lot of trouble.  The week of the murder he had argued with her at the breakfast table and had “made her take back all she said,” which shows the disrespect with which he treated his mother and the dominance he may have held over her.  On the day of the murder, Johnny had planned to go to town with his mother to buy a new set of clothes, a telling piece of information recorded only by the Mitchell, South Dakota, Republican. 

However, for some reason, that did not happen.  Perhaps Johnny had been acting up and his mother decided the trip could wait until Johnny was more amenable. So, the father and sister left for town at 1:00, leaving an upset, perhaps seething Johnny at home with his mother. 

What started the downward spiral that resulted in the violence that led to Nancy's death?  In his statement to the authorities, Johnny said something in passing that may offer a clue.  To be specific, he stated that his mother had accused him of not hitching the horses for his father.  Johnny seemed curious to know if Nancy had told his father about this.  Perhaps he viewed it as another example of his mom's supposed opposition to him.  She replied that she had indeed told the father that (from her viewpoint perhaps) Johnny had been negligent in his duties. 

From this distance, we can never learn the truth of exactly what happened, but Johnny explained it (or explained it away) by saying that he had hitched up the horses, but not in the usual spot.  He told the officers that his mother “had not thought of that.” This exchange, which followed fast on the heels of  Nancy's refusal to take Johnny shopping, may have been the trigger that set Johnny off. 

From Johnny's point of view, he was tired of his mother favoring his sister, refusing him some R&R, and telling his father about his real or imagined shortcomings.  From Nancy's point of view, Johnny's sulking, lipping off, disrespect, and malingering were just getting too much to handle.  No doubt, they argued.  Later, in his confession, he would say that his mother “whipped him,” which sent him into a fury.

The fuse was lit, and Johnny lost control. At this point, the physical evidence can help us understand what took place. The coroner noted in his report, for example, that two revolvers and an axe were found next to the body. About one gun, the coroner said that four chambers were empty.  He also noted that there were two bullet wounds and two holes in the ceiling, where, supposedly, the bullets became embedded.  But with four chambers empty, how do we account for the other two? 

Of course, it's possible that when Johnny picked up the gun, two chambers were already empty.  Most revolvers in the late nineteenth century did not have a hammer block, a safety that is nowadays built into a revolver to prevent the gun from going off if accidentally dropped.
1877 Colt with no safety
  As a result, in an effort to prevent mishap, gun owners would typically leave the chamber immediately below the hammer empty.  If that was indeed Mr. Beall’s practice, that would account for another chamber, leaving only one to explain.  Does the scenario provided by Johnny give any clues?

In his eventual confession, Johnny finally admitted that he murdered his mother “in a fit of anger” following the whipping.  He revealed that “he deliberately set about to take her life in revenge for the chastisement.”  One likely scenario for what happened next was that Johnny went outside for his father's ax, using it then to break the hinges on the locked trunk where perhaps Mr. Beall kept his guns.  He then may have taken the gun in order to confront his mother,  causing Nancy to flee in fear for her life.  He ran after her, he stated, and, “as she turned, shot her in the face.”[xiv]

The coroner noted that one of the wounds indicated a bullet had entered the left side of Nancy's face at the temple and exited at the orbit of the right eye, which is a somewhat upwardly angled path.  The upward angle combined with the fact that the bullet was found in the ceiling suggests that Nancy had turned to look over her shoulder, which would have lowered her head somewhat. At that moment, Johnny fired into the left side of her face at a somewhat upward angle.

Johnny then stated that as she fell, he “stood over her and again shot.”  The path of the second wound supports this statement.  The second bullet entered the left temporal bone “just back of the eye” and made its exit on the opposite side, passing directly through the brain.  The bullet used to make that shot would logically have penetrated the floor, not the ceiling.  So, how do we account for the second bullet lodged in the ceiling?  Was it from a third discharge?  Certainly it is possible that one of Johnny's shots  went astray—perhaps the first shot and the reason why Nancy looked back over her left shoulder as she tried to escape.  Another possibility is that only two shots were fired, the first one fragmenting and, thus, striking the ceiling in two places, while the second shot went into the floor.  

Still, after two shots to the head, there was life in Nancy.  She raised her head from the floor—the image that later haunted Johnny’s thoughts and kept him from sleeping at night, in the same way that Shakespeare noted people do when burdened by the horror of their actions.  
It is unknown whether there were any cartridges in the second revolver, but since Johnny now threw down the guns and picked up the rusty ax, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Johnny was out of ammunition.  The reporter stated, “As she raised, he got the ax and split open her head.”  The coroner’s report stated there were “also two ax wounds on the back of the neck, between the head and shoulders, completely severing the spinal column, either of said wounds being sufficient to cause death.”[xv]

In February, 1888, came the sentencing trial. The Evening Bulletin of Maysville, Kentucky, published these details on February 29:  “ closing scene in the horrible Beall murder, that occurred in the afternoon of June 13, took place Monday morning in the criminal court, before Judge Fred Van Derveer, by the appearance of John A. Beall, aged thirteen years, in court and asking to retract his plea of not guilty to murder in the first degree, and entering his plea of guilty to murder in the second in the killing of his mother, Mrs. Nancy Beall, age fifty-one years, which was accepted.

Cell block at Ohio State Penitentiary
before Demolition
“The judge, after hearing the boy make his plea, asked him if he had anything to say.  He replied that he had not and was then sentenced to imprisonment in the penitentiary during his natural life.  He received the sentence without the least change of countenance, and maintained the same stoical indifference that has characterized his every movement since the perpetration of the shocking murder.”[xvi]

John A. Beall, prisoner #19440, was admitted into the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio, on February 29, 1888.  

The records provide these details:[xvii]
·    Term: Life
·    Crime: Murder in the second degree
·    Age: 13.
·    Nativity: Ohio.
·    Occupation: None.   
·    Height: 4 feet, 11 ¼ inches.
·    Color of eyes: Light yellow pigment; yellow blue
·    Color of hair: Light brown
·    Complexion: Light
·    General appearance, marks, scars, etc.:  Strong build.  Teeth good.  2 out of upper and lower left jaw.  Boot – 6.  Head – 6 3/4.  Scar on upper edge left forehead.
·    Habits: Temperate (this in contrast to a fellow inmate labeled “Intemperate”)
·  Education: Common (this is in contrast to fellow inmates designated "Poor" in educaiton)
·    Statement of Property: None
·    Residence of Relatives: Father Wm, Sister Edith, Eaton, Ohio.
·    Full-Time: Life.
·    Short-Time:  Death or Pardon.
·    When and How Discharged: Pardoned by Governor [Asa S.] Bushnell, Dec.7,  1898.

During Johnny's time in prison, Court Corwin, the Preble County marshal who had arrested Johnny, started working as a guard at the prison. One wonders if their paths crossed before Johnny's release.

Ohio State Penitentiary
So, Johnny (or perhaps he now went by John) was discharged at the age of 24 after nearly eleven years of incarceration.  Apparently there was a note in the local newspaper at one point saying John was released on the promise that he not return to Preble County, though this remains unconfirmed.  

What happened to Johnny upon his release?  Well, there is a John A. Beall in the Columbus, Ohio, City Directory of 1899, residing at 482 Armstrong and working as a laborer.  Could this be Johnny one year after his release?  The census records show more than one person named John A. Beall in Ohio at the time, so it is hard to say whether the resident of Columbus is the person who committed murder near Eaton twelve years earlier.   A yellowing, type-written page from a Beall family history offers the  assertion that at the time of his father’s death Johnny was residing in Richmond, Indiana, which is in Wayne County, Indiana, immediately adjacent to Preble County, Ohio, but, if he was there in 1908, he was gone by the time the census was taken in 1910.[xviii]  

It is possible that Johnny changed his name and headed west, where it was still possible to begin fresh in an era before paper identity made it much harder to do so.  The name Beall is often found as Bell in the records, even inside the same newspaper article about the murder.  Did Johnny switch to that variant of his surname and start over?

Perhaps so, but sadly this is not the end of the Beall tragedy.  On the evening of September 20, 1908, William T. Beall, Johnny’s father, now 72 years old, strode outside and set fire to his barn and outbuildings.  He then went back inside the old family home, pulled a rocking chair over to the exact spot where Nancy’s body had been found twenty-one years before, sat down, lifted his revolver, and, as one obituary had it, “blew out his brains.”[xix]
Silverene Watch, 1901

The coroner’s inquest the next day produced these sparse details:  “Blue eyes, black and gray hair; carried 3 bank books, revolver, pocket knife, silverene watch, [bank] note, [and] some money.”[xx]  So the man’s life comes down to the grief inside his heart and the trifles in his pocket.

If one googles “arson suicide,” a number of stories of recent date will emerge.  In some cases, immolation is the cause of death; in others, as with William Beall, a fire is set first and the death comes later by gunshot.  It’s perhaps understandable that a man would become despondent in the circumstances in which Nancy’s husband found himself, but there is more to William’s sad story than appears just in Johnnys tale, awful as that is. 

Certificate of Marriage for William T. Beall
and Rebecca Hart

Following a year of service in the Civil War (Co. G, 54th Ohio Infantry) and before his marriage to Nancy, William Beall had married a woman named Rebecca Hart, with whom he had three children: Charles, Mary, and Hannah.  

But these children did not reside with their father and step-mother.  In 1880, seven years before the murder of Nancy Beall, these three children are found living with their uncle, Alexander Hart, who is identified as “father” on the census record.  Rebecca Hart had died in 1870, and John Beall had married Nancy the following year.  Together, he and Nancy had a total of five children, only two of whom (Johnny and Edith) survived infancy.  The first was a boy, Jacob, whose death is listed as 1872.  Edith was second with a birth date of July 9, 1872.  Johnny was third, being born November 14, 1874, but interestingly he had a fraternal twin, a girl named Jandora.  Among William Beall’s many losses was the loss of this baby daughter to chicken pox on June 23, 1875, aged seven months.  But this was not all.  Baby boy Harry Beall, born in April 1879, died at the age of 3 months and 18 days the following July 13.  
Certificate of Marriage for William T. Beall
and Nancy Gard
Daughter Edith had married in 1892 but at the time of her father’s suicide was still residing in Preble County, Ohio, with her husband, Robert Omar Bonebrake.  The United States census of 1910 shows that they had continued in residence there at least two years after Beall’s suicide.  However, by 1922 they had moved on.  The city directory for Whittier, California, shows Robert Bonebrake, carpenter, residing with his wife Edith in 1922, and the United States census for 1930 shows the two in Azusa township of Los Angeles County, where Robert had become a rancher.  

Rebecca Hart’s children had also gone their own ways.  Charles married and by 1910 had moved to Washington state; it is unknown if he and his wife Ellen were still in Preble County in 1908, when William committed suicide.  Hannah had married a piano tuner named James Stallard and was living in Indianapolis.  Mary seems not to have married and disappears from the record.   None of William’s children—neither those of Rebecca Hart nor those of Nancy Gard—seem to have borne children of their own.  So, in addition to losing two wives and three children to untimely deaths, William Beall seems to have had no grandchildren to comfort him as he grew old, feeble, and alone.

Does the elder Beall’s act of burning down his barn and other outbuildings suggest a desire to prevent anyone else (say, Johnny, nearly 34 now, for example) from having the use of the property?  Had son Johnny made an appearance in the county, raising the ire suppressed in his father’s heart for years?  Had bad relations between his son-in-law, his Hart relatives, or the Gards driven him to despondency?  Would it be proper even to speculate that the instability seen in Johnny Beall was perhaps shared, to some degree, by his father?  Is it beyond the boundaries of reason to wonder whether Johnny (if he did indeed live just across the state border in Ohio) showed up at his father's farm and committed a second murder?  That, of course, is pure speculation, perhaps fueled by twenty-first century crime drama, but deserves voicing nonetheless.

The world wags on.  Youthful psychopathic murderers continue to make headlines.  Psychologists study and study and study, trying to account for such behavior with every possible explanation and a list of disorders and symptoms as long as your arm.  Yet no one can say with any certitude what causes the behavior of a psychopath.

Johnny Beall entered prison in 1888.  He was released back into society in 1898.  His father killed himself ten years later in 1908.  Twenty years of misery for the father, and who knows what for Johnny.

William T. Beall's Headstone

Gard Cemetery, Preble County, Ohio

All that remains now are the graves in the Gard Cemetery in Preble County, Ohio: Rebecca Hart Beall, Nancy Gard Beall, Jandora Beall, Harry Beall, Jacob Beall, and William T. Beall alongside Nancy’s parents, Little John Gard and Nancy Wright Gard, as well as Nancy’s sister, "Aunt Hannah." 

Nancy Gard Beall's Headstone

[i] “Horror of Horrors.” Eaton Register. 16 June 1887.
[ii] Eaton Register. 23 Jun 1887.
[iii] Dock is a broadleaf weed of the genus Rumex, related to buckwheat
[iv] Reno Evening Gazette. Reno, Nevada. 2 Aug 1887. p. 2.; Eaton Register. 16 Jun 1887.
[v] “Eaton Etchings.” New Paris Mirror. 16 Jun 1887.
[vi] Eaton Register. 16 Jun 1887.
[vii] Special Dispatch to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887.
[viii] Special Dispatch to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887
[ix] Special Dispatch to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887
[x] Special Dispatch to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887
[xi] The information about the detective’s ruse is from “A Horrible Story,” Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887.
[xii] Special Dispatch to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887.
[xiii] Reno Evening Gazette. Reno, Nevada. 2 Aug 1887. p. 2.
[xiv] Special Dispatch to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887.
[xv] Special Dispatch to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 2 Aug 1887.
[xvi] Johnny Beall, of Eaton, Sentenced to the Penitentiary for Life.” The Evening Bulletin. Maysville, Kentucky. 29 Feb 1888.
[xvii] Ohio Penitentiary Register of Prisoners and Index. Vol. 14. Dec. 1886 – Feb 1889.
[xviii] Footpaths.  Beall Family File.  Preble County Room.  Preble County Library.  Eaton, Ohio. n.d.
[xix] Sentinel. Woodsfield, Ohio.  22 Sept 1908.
[xx] Notes of the Coroner’s Inquest: 21 Sept 1908. Preble County Courthouse. Filed 3 Oct 1908.
A special thank you to astronomer, Ed Ting, who gave permission to use his photo of the moon in its last quarter phase.  See Ed's web site at .

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