By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
In June 1932, Mamie Thurman was killed. But who would want to murder the pretty wife of a patrolman? It would turn out the list of possible suspects would include the most prominent citizens of the small West Virginia town.
On June 23, scandal was in the air. Harry Robertson, the Logan city commission president, and Clarence Stephenson his servant were being held in connection to a murder. And it wasn't just any murder, but that of Mamie Thurman, the wife of Alvin "Jack" Thurman, who was a political friend and appointee of Robertson's. The Thurmans lived above a private garage at the rear of Robertson's house on Stratton Street.
Robertson a prominent businessman, was married and had two daughters. Murder was not good for business or for a political career, and like all scandals, everybody's dirty laundry got aired.
Mamie's lifeless body dressed in a blue cotton dress with white polka dots was found huddled in a ditch near the top of Trace Mountain. She'd been shot twice and her throat was slashed. Garland Davis, a deaf-mute berry picker found the body about 15 feet from the edge of No. 22 Road, which led to the Island Creek Coal company. The mine was not operating, and for this reason traffic was not normally found there.
Her hat with a bullet hole in it, was about 30 feet from the body. One of her shoes was missing, which led police to believe she was killed somewhere else and her body was dumped in the mountain in order to hide it. A knife was also found some distance from the body with blood on the blade and handle. Her diamond ring and a wristwatch were not taken, so it seemed robbery was not the motive for the crime.
Nothing at the place where her body was found suggested a struggle. Her purse with $8, cigarettes and a piece of paper on which was written an automobile license number was found near the body. The police said they would check out the information, but never disclosed whose vehicle it belonged to.
Mamie had been missing since the day before when she was last seen in a Logan store. That night her husband had called her at home while he was on patrol and there was no answer. The couple had moved to Logan from Kentucky in 1924.
Doctors who examined the body determined the gash in her throat caused her death, and the bullets were fired into her head to make sure she was dead. The cut had severed the jugular vein, and the two bullets entered the head from the left side, passing entirely through the skull. One struck behind the left ear and came out above the right ear, and the second entered above the left and emerged at the top and back of the head. Neither bullet was found, but the police believed it was fired from a .38 caliber pistol. The left ear and cheek were burned by the powder flash. Her neck was broken at the second cervical vertebra and she had bruises over the right eye. It was estimated she had been dead about 12 hours before she was found.
Robertson admitted while being questioned by the police that he had several "dates" with Mamie Thurman within the last few months. The last time had been the previous Saturday. However Robertson was not a jealous man, because later he would go on to testify he was aware she was involved with 16 other men. The name of these individuals was never made public, but he said, "one of them is dead, all except three live in the city of Logan and all are married but one."
No one knows for sure if Mamie gave him those names, or if he said he had them as a ploy to insure he was protected. The unspoken message could have been, "if I go down, you all go down too." He was betting no one would call his bluff.
Some suspected that perhaps more than one of them served on the grand jury.
It turned out that Mamie Thurman was friends with Robertson's wife Louise, who eventually became aware of the affair, and cut off the friendship with Mamie. There was no question that Mamie didn't know Robertson was a married man.
At one time Mamie had worked at the Guyan Valley Bank with Robertson, which is where it seems their romance started.
Robertson known as an avid sportsman would tell his wife he was going on a fox hunt, and instead was meeting Mamie Thurman for a "date". His hunting cabin was about a mile from where Mamie's body was found.
Stephenson was the go-between for Robertson and Mamie. Normally he took care of Robertson's dogs, accompanied him on fox hunts and performed services about the home. He had been in the employ of the Robertsons for two years and lived in the attic.
Despite their two-year liaison, Robertson claimed that Tuesday night when it was believed Mamie was killed, he was at home and had not seen her.
While some in the town of Logan were shocked since Mamie regularly attended Nighbert Memorial Methodist Church, others rolled their eyes, since it seemed Mamie's affairs with a least a dozen powerful men in the small town of Logan was a well known secret.
The part they weren't prepared for was to find out that Mamie was intimate with Stephenson as well. It was bad enough that Mamie was an adultress, but having relations with a black man in 1932 was taboo.
At one point while being questioned Stephenson said, "Well, if you hung me, you'll hang an innocent man. I didn't do it and I don't know who did do it. If I were guilty I'd tell you. I realize my position."
Stephenson who was 29 years old was very short, but described as "unusually intelligent." There was an absence of the third finger on each hand, and a partial loss of the small finger on the right hand. He said the fingers were lost in a mining accident when he lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Before coming to work for Robertson, Stephenson worked at the No. 22 Mine of the Island Creek Coal Company.
On June 26, both men were arraigned before magistrate L. W. Hatfield. The men said the last time they had seen Mamie Thurman alive she was leaving the Thurman home about 7:30 p.m. Robertson then instructed Stephenson that he drive by the home of Fanette Jones on High Street to see if she had gone there. This had been one of their meeting places, since Jones rented rooms there on a nightly or hourly basis.
Stephenson found no one was at the house and it was dark. Then Robertson sent him to watch the entrance to the Holland Building where it was rumored better known Logan residents, both men and women, met for drinking parties. This gathering was known as the Key Club, which acted as a speakeasy since these were the years of Prohibition. Stephenson said he watched until 11 p.m. then went home to sleep.
Mamie's husband had a solid alibi since he worked the night duty as a patrol man, and was seen frequently on the streets until 5:30 a.m. He didn't have a car.
Stephenson said that during their last meeting he had taken the pair to Crooked Creek and left them in the car, and he went to a small shed near the spot where he stayed for about an hour. Then he took them back to town separately.
In July two notes of warning were left at the home of Asst. Prosecuting Attorney Emmett F. Scaggs. The first note read: "First warning—Do you think you and state police can get by. Close up and tell them to let up. Don't be too late."
The second note with an "amateurish skull and crossbones atop it" read: "Skagg slow down, life is good. Don't loose it. Last warning. A friend. Second and last warning."
On July 29, people crammed into the courthouse for Stephenson's preliminary hearing, which was in front of Magistrate Elba Hatfield, son of Anderson "Cap" Hatfield, and grandson of Devil Anse, whose family participated in the Hatfield McCoy feud.
That same month Jack Thurman took a leave of absence for a month. He went to visit family in Kentucky.
By September the prosecutor had offered a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator.
A chemist told the courts that the blood in the auto, Mamie's clothing and underwear found in Stephenson's room was human blood.
James Murphy, attendant at a gasoline station opposite the Robertson home, saw on the day following Mamie's murder, Stephenson take the Robertson car out of the garage and drive it over to the river bank and examine it inside and out 5 times.
On September 15, the headlines read that Robertson was not indicted, but Stephenson was. He testified that Stephenson had access to his car, and when he returned home Tuesday night from a swimming party, it was missing from the garage.
Witnesses testified they saw Stephenson driving Robertson's Ford near Trace Mountain in the early hours of June 22, when it was believed Mamie Thurman was killed.
Several miners testified that when they left the mine about 5 a.m. they saw Stephenson pass them.
In October, Clarence Stephenson was convicted of Mamie's murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Over 50 churches in Logan took donations to raise money for his appeal. Mass was held where both black and white congregants attended, however the appeal was turned down in 1933.
Clarence Stephenson was sent to serve his sentence at Moundsville Prison. Six years later he was sent to Huttonsville Prison Farm. He died on April 24, 1942 from stomach cancer and was buried in the prison farm cemetery.
Norman Sloan, who spent prison time with Stephenson, said “He told me he was hired to take the body to 22 Mountain, and that he didn’t do anything to Mamie Thurman. He never did say who killed her, but he said that he didn’t do it. Stephenson told me it was all politics.”
Mamie had her own sad story. She lost her mother at the age of 1, when she died from complications after giving birth to her brother Theodore in 1901. Four years before Mamie died, her father George Morrison who "was an excellent carpenter, but also a chronic alcoholic, died of pneumonia after falling into a small stream on Cole Street and then not found until the following day." He was supposedly buried in the Old City Cemetery on High Street, but like his daughter he was never given a headstone, so his final resting place is unknown.
Mamie had siblings who fared better than she did. Her full brother Theodore (1901-1966) was born and died in Kentucky. Her father married Viola Pugh about 1921, and they had three children; Helen (1921-1980), Sarah (1923-deceased) and George Morrison (1925-2007) who became a prosecuting attorney in New Mexico. He wrote a book about her murder.
Jack Thurman who was 16 years older than Mamie, did go on to marry again. He returned to Kentucky and wed Clara Lewis, however by 1937 she had filed a divorce petition. He died in 1957, at age 72.
In the aftermath of the Thurman scandal, none of the former commissioners ran for re-election to public office, including Harry Robertson. The 1933 election was all new members.
It is not surprising to learn that Mamie does not lie quiet in her grave. Her ghost is seen haunting a section along the roadside on Corridor G and Trace Mountain, mostly seen by truck drivers and others traversing the area late at night.
Online bloggers wrote the following stories:
But my husband and his sister and several of our friends had a very frightening experience on 22 Mine Road in November of 2008. It was the night after Thanksgiving and the five of us went up there to see if we could find anything spooky.
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