11 February 2010

Murder, Newspapers and Lies - Elliott County, Kentucky

The Associated Press had beginnings in 1848. By 1891 newspapers got their source of news from many different outlets. Once an article was released it was repeated over and over again. In print it must be true! Integrity did not seem to be an issue. Newspapers grabbed at colorful stories and ran with them.

I first saw this article in the Climax published at Richmond in Madison County, Kentucky 27 May 1891. Later I discovered the same article "word for word" in the Williamsport, Pennsylvania Daily Republican, 23 May 1891. It appeared the same day in New York in The Sun.

"A Horrible Crime. Inhuman Conduct of Two Brothers in Kentucky Who are Swiftly Punished. By Associated Press: Louisville, May 22. A story of brutal murder, and swift vengeance ...Sandy Hook, a mountain town near Ashland, in Eastern Kentucky. Near Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Maud Fleenor died recently from being thrown by her horse, and outraged by George and John Wilcox, brothers, who had been suitors. She had promised to marry Amos Queen, who had met her while she was teaching school near Sandy Hook, and about three weeks ago started to visit a friend near where she had taught.

The Wilcoxes were passing the road she traveled saw her passing, hid in the bushes, scared her ...horse, ran away, she was thrown and both legs broken.

The Wilcoxes picked her up unconscious, revived her, drew straws as to which she should be compelled to marry, bore her to a cabin, and demanded that she agree to marry John, to whose lot she fell. She refused, and fainted. They tried to set her legs and kept her a prisoner in the cabin. When found by her brother and fiance, she said the Wilcoxes did it and died soon after. The examination showed that she had been chained to the cabin wall and also had been outraged. The Wilcoxes were captured and confessed, whereupon they were shot to death by the brother and lover. They explained in their confession that they chained the girl because she had attempted to escape. Miss Fleenor was the daughter of a prominent citizen of Richmond, Virginia, who moved to Sandy Hook, some years ago, and died there. She was only 21 years old, a church member, and a Sunday School teacher."
Yet another smaller article with a different version appeared in the Hickman Courier, Hickman, Kentucky on 5 June 1891 and repeated as far away as McCook, Nebraska the same day.

"One of the most fiendish crimes ever known in Kentucky, is reported from Sandy Hook the county seat of Elliott. A young school teacher was thrown from a horse, frightened by two Wilcox brothers, each of whom the girl had refused to marry. With a leg and arm broken she was chained to a deserted cabin, where she was kept a prisoner since the middle of April, and slowly dying was made the victim of her captors' lust. Last Tuesday a posse headed by her brother, found the girl, who died fifteen minutes later. The Wilcox brothers were captured, confessed and were promptly shot to death."
Being a researcher, I am familiar with the Wilcox surname in northeastern Kentucky. But I could not place the suggested two brothers in any given family unit in the correct time frame in Elliott or surrounding counties. George and John Wilcox appear on a list of Kentucky lynchings produced for a Kentucky genweb project giving the lynching date of 20 May 1891. The list was derived from various websites and notations.

Search as I might I could not establish a Maud Fleenor [or variant spellings as some articles also spelled the surname as Fleener] born about 1870 in Virginia who had migrated to Elliott County. Nor could I locate any Amos Queen, the right age to marry a 21 year old fiance.

Why hadn't the local available papers picked up on this? Unfortunately issues of the Big Sandy News are unavailable for this time frame. After all this was horrendous and the news had spread to other states. Why did it take 3 weeks or even more to publish that the girl was even missing?

Finally I located the repeated story in the 26 May 1891 Stanford Semi Weekly with an added little bit of so called information: "...the whole section was searching for her in vain until late week, when her brother-in-law found her in the loathsome den..."

Then on 27 July 1891 two months after the crime was said to have been committed, the Grey River Argus published the story with yet different information. Mind you this newspaper was published in New Zealand! This New Zealand paper stated that Maud Fleener was 21, "...who was on a visit here from Richmond, Virginia. Miss Fleener, who was reputed wealthy had three admirers - namely John and Henry Wilcox and Amos Queen...When Miss Fleener started to visit her friends she weighed 9st 8lb. when found she weighed only 5st 5lb...the post-mortem examination showed she had been subjected to extraordinary violence...when apprehended [Wilcox'] ...made the following confession in writing...asked 'What are you going to do with us?' In reply Amos Queen stepped forward and raising his repeating rifle, blew out the brains of both scoundrels."

Even with these changes the results were the same. I could not place John and Henry as brothers in any Eastern Kentucky Wilcox family that are dead by the end of May 1891 nor could I locate Maud in Virginia with Fleener/Fleenor families in the Richmond area.

Eastern Kentucky is a hotbed of ballad makers. Such a tragedy surely would have a ballad to match. I have used ballads in genealogical research concerning Eastern Kentucky several times, but this time I have been unable to locate even the whisper of a tune concerning a tragedy from Elliott County that had any information similar to that contained in the articles.

Some of the Elliott County records were destroyed in a courthouse fire in 1957. School census records do not begin until much later. I tucked the articles away until recently I decided to scour the Mt. Sterling Advocate, which had been founded the prior year, and found a small tiny explanation concerning the affair dated 26 May 1891.

"Friday's issue of the Courier-Journal contained an article from some black-hearted liar claiming to be from Louisa, giving an account of an outrage said to have been committed near Sandy Hook in Elliott county - the details of which are too horribly infamous to be read without a shudder. The slanderous villain who wrote the article in question is beneath the contempt of decent men. Commonwealth Attorney, M. M. Redwine, of Sandy Hook, is in the city attending Circuit Court, and says he knows every man and woman in the county, and no such parties as those named lived there. He pronounces it a base falsehood from beginning to end. No paper, however, careful it may be, can fail to be caught now and then by some such outrageous liar."
Did this [form of] retraction make any other newspaper? Not that I could locate. Matthew Marian Redwine had been a prominent resident of Elliott county for many years. He was the county Prosecuting Attorney when the 1880 Federal Census was taken. At that time he resided in Martinsburg aka Sandy Hook. By the time of this so called story he was Kentucky Commonwealth Attorney. He died in Sandy Hook in 1946.

To further give the reader a visual of the area Matthew Marian Redwine was referencing, I located a description of Sandy Hook in the 27 March 1891 Hazel Green Herald [Wolfe County, Kentucky]. "Sandy Hook or Martinsburg...contains about 175 inhabitants, one dr., six lawyers, three ministers..." Redwine stated he knew "every man and woman in the county" which is easy to understand with his position and the size of the area.

A sidebar opens up another story. There was a girl named Maud[e] Sidney Fleenor in Eastern Kentucky. She was born about the year the above story took place and would have been an infant when the above horrible crime is said to have taken place. She was the daughter of George W. Fleenor born 1842 in Washington County, Virginia who died Six years after the above written news articles. Maud S. is found on the 1900 Federal Census in Harlan County, Kentucky along with her mother Maggie [Margaret Anderson Fleenor], sister Lizzie L and brother Bird Fleenor. Bird Fleenor would become a Harlan County Sheriff. Byrd/Bird Fleenor was killed from a gunshot wound 8 July 1933 involving mine labor disputes.

Bird/Byrd Fleenor's son Lee Fleenor was jailed in Harlan County, Kentucky in July 1938 charged with shooting the convicted slayer of his father. Lee Fleenor was a county deputy sheriff and was said to have wounded Charlie Reno in the abdomen, neck and shoulder. But the story becomes even more confusing. Fleenor had been convicted the year his father was killed on charges of slaying Deputy Sheriff B. Gross. He had been pardoned. Reno had been convicted of killing Bird Fleenor and was pardoned after serving four years of an eight year sentence. A miners strike in 1939 would make news in Time Magazine.

As I finish writing this story I can't help but wonder what kind of person could perpetuate such a horrible lie concerning Maud Fleenor. Why were these particular names utilized if creating a horrendous story?


  1. Teresa, that reminds me of a story I've read about the supposed burning of a slave in Carter Co. KY ca. 1856/1857. A William McMinnis, quoted as "an extensive farmer from Carter County", was accused of the deed by a John Kingsley from Portsmouth, Ohio who happened to visit Carter Co. when this incident was supposed to have occured. I was never able to establish the identity of either man and suspect it was a propaganda story designed to entice anti-slavey people. The story appeared in the New York Anti-Slavery Standard, Jan. 17, 1857. Sensationalism sold papers. In this case, it also influenced the public's mind in favor of a political opinion.

  2. Could it possibly be McGinnis vs McMinnis?

  3. Hmm, it is possible, except I do not show any McGinnis as slave holders in Carter Co. KY. There were McGuire and possibly McGind. I'm baffled at this, really.

  4. Reuben McGinnis in Carter Co had a son he named William. An older William McGinnis just across the line in Greenup. Just a thought if you decide to pursue it.

  5. Stephen T Elliott, born Jan 16, 1920 is also an Elliott County Ky mystery. He was killed in Sandy Hook; I believe when he was a teen. Found probably between 1937-1940. My father, Hollie, who is also dead now told me he found his younger brother (AKA "Bud" or Tase Elliott) dead and frozen to the ground in a field in the area. There does not seem to be anyone who knows anything more about this. Can anyone find anthing about Stephen T. Elliott, (AKA Bud Elliott). I simply want to know if anything was ever written about his death. His father was Harve B Elliott and his mother was Arminta (Mintie)Elliott. Thank you for this venue for seeling information.

    1. I've heard that Bud Elliott's death information is on the front page of the Ashland newspaper on april 25, 1940. could someone make a copy of this from the Boyd County Library and send it to: relliott@nedubois.k12.in.us

  6. The KY Birth index shows the birth as:
    Stephrn T Elliott
    Date of Birth: 16 Jan 1920
    County: Elliott
    Mother's Name: Mintie Elliott
    Volume Number: 14
    Certificate Number: 6913
    Volume Year: 1920

  7. The Elliott family appears in Elliott County in 1930 and he appears as Tase:
    Harve Elliott 44
    Minta Elliott 26
    Holly Elliott 20
    Lucy W Elliott 13
    Taise Elliott 10
    Roxie Elliott 8
    Isabelle Elliott 5
    Harvey J Elliott 3 10/12
    Jewel Elliott 2 1/12

  8. Yes, this is the family. But who or what killed him? No death cert? No newspaper article? Thanks for your help, but you are right where I am now. Still don't know why there was nothing written about his death or burial.

    1. Was he related to or friends with sheriff or judge?

  9. anybody find anything more about Bud Elliott?

  10. George & Margaret Fleenor had a daughter named M. S. Fleenor born abt 1874 in Lee Co., VA census.

    George & Margaret's daughter Maud Fleenor (1893-1951) married Reid Johnson Sampson (1887-1962). Their daughter Virginia Sampson (1916-1955) was a actress. She went by the name Lynne Carver.

    Lee Fleenor also killed Deputy Bige Gross in 1934, in the Harlan Court House. Bige Gross had killed Lee Fleenor's half brother Ewell Clem (1901-1934)

  11. Thanks for the added information.

  12. It has been said that Lee Fleenor may have known who killed George "Wash" Irvin in June 1937, on Little Shepherd Trail in Harlan Co. Ky. This is a mystery that has never been solved.