Dynamite Used in Murder at C & O Railroad Camp

List of Dead and Injured

The Dead

Ben Harrison, 33, Covington, Kentucky, died in hospital. Intestines perforated, left leg and two fingers on right hand amputated, right wrist broken.

Robert Banks, 38, Sixth and Quincy street, Ironton, both arms and legs fractured, right leg fractured in two places.

Henry Carter, 38, Ashville, North Carolina, right leg and right arm blown off. Right leg taken off just below knee.”

The Injured at Hospital

John Lewis, 33, of Chattanooga, hip dislocated, both ankles broken, severe bruises to both legs, and bruises about head and face. Condition dangerous.

Harry Humphrey, 34, of Huntsville, Alabama, left ankle broken, but in head and bruised about back.

William Ross, 28, of Georgia, left arm amputated below elbow and left leg near the knee. Condition very critical.

James Johnson, 30, of 908 Barr street, Cincinnati, right arm broken and bruised about back and hips.

William Warren, 37, of Lexington, Kentucky, left ankle broken, but about face, big hole in back of head.

Winzalo Edits, 31, of Matoka, West Virginia, left hand lacerated, bruised about hips and left heel injured.

Carl Carson, 28, of Rogersvile, Tennessee, sprained knee and bruises about body.”

Others Injured

Henry Martin, ankle broken.

J H Smith, hole in head, bruised about head and face, hips and legs lacerated. Landed in top of cherry tree.

John Banks, mashed about body.

John Dean, cut about face and hands by broken lamp.

Dan James, 26, Birmingham, Alabama, ear drum burst and right arm bruised and lacerated.”1

“Their bodies frightfully mangled and torn – some with arms off, some with legs off – seven negros lie in wards at the Hempstead hospital and three in local morgues, the victims of a jealous man’s vengeance. Three victims succumbed to injuries at the hospital Sunday afternoon and night.”

“Fifteen sticks of dynamite placed under the negroes’ home, a roughly constructed railroad camp shack, are responsible for the tragedy. Five other negroes, hobbling and limping around the C & O N. railroad camp near Sciotoville, are also victims of the same explosion.”

“Behind the bars of the county jail sulks “Kid” Walker on a charge of exploding the dynamite. His ‘soulmate’ Alice Jackson, a negress, and the woman who is held responsible by the victims for their maimed condition is likewise being held as an important witness.”2

“Will Ross, for whom the dynamite is said to have been planted, is dangerously hurt, and little hope is held out for his recovery, his left arm and left leg being so badly crushed as to necessitate amputation. His body contains multiple bruises and his head and face are lacerated.”3

“Death hovering over the hospital all day Sunday and Sunday night as the ten negroes were rushed to and from the operating rooms, claimed three of the victims. At 3:15 Sunday afternoon Ben Harrison, 33, of 10 East Third street, Covington, Kentucky, died after suffering untold agony. Perforation of the intestines and shock from the operations is attributed as the cause of his death. His left leg was amputated above the knee. His right wrist was broken, and two fingers of the right hand were mangled so badly that amputation was necessary. Harrison was conscious only at times before his death.”

“Henry Carter, 38, whose home is in Ashville, North Carolina, died Sunday night at 10:20 o’clock from the shock of the explosion and operation. He had his right leg and right arm blown off by the force of the terrific explosion. His right arm was so badly mangled that it was amputated at the elbow. His right leg was taken off three inches below the knee. He suffered multiple bruises about the face and head and was delirious most of Sunday.”4

“The explosion left Carter in a pitiful condition, as his left leg was cutt off below the knee several years ago and the explosion rendered him legless, and with only one arm.”

“Robert Banks, 38, of Sixth and Quincy streets, Ironton, Ohio, breathed his last at 9:55 Sunday night. The shock of the operation and explosion, his body being frightfully mangled, proved too much for Banks. He had both arms and legs fractured, his right leg bring fractured in two place. He was employed as cook in the camp. Banks is well known in Portsmouth, having lived here for several years.”

“Harrison’s body was removed to Daehler’s morgue Sunday afternoon while Banks’ and Carter’s bodies were taken to Dice’s morgue Sunday night to be prepared for burial.”

“Two other victims are expected to die. Will Ross, for whom the dynamite it is said was intended, was very low this morning. His pulse was very weak and attending physicians held out little hope for his recovery.”

“The condition of John Lewis is also considered alarming. he spend a very restless night and his body is so badly bruised and his nervous system shocked from the explosion that he is not expected to survive the day.”5

“John Lewis, 33, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, suffered the dislocation of a hip, had both ankles broken, received two severe wounds in his right thigh. His left thigh was bruised and he suffered bruises about the head and face. His condition is considered serious.”

“Harry Humphrey, 34, of Huntsville, Alabama, had his left ankle broken, received a cut in the head and was bruised about the back. He was so close to the dynamite when it let ago that his clothes were literally blown off his body. He was sitting on a stove playing poker when the explosion took place, he told a Times man Sunday. He was burned about the hands and face. His condition is not thought to be serious.”6

“William Ross, 28, whose home is in Georgia, had his left arm amputated below the elbow and his left leg taken off near the knee. His leg was hanging by a thread when removed to the hospital. He also suffered a deep cut under the left eye and his face is a mass of cuts and bruises. His condition is critical.”

“James Johnson, 30, of 908 Barr street, Cincinnati, had his right arm broken above the elbow. His left leg was lacerated in three places and he was bruised about the back and hips. He will recover.”

“William Warren, 37, of Lexington, Kentucky, had his left ankle broken and was cut about the face and had a big hole cut in the back of the head. Warren says he was blown through a door.”

“Winzalo Edits, 31, of Matoka, West Virginia, had his left hand lacerated, was bruised about hips and his left heel injured. He will recover.”

“Carl Carson, 28, of Rogersville, Tennessee, was one of the fortunate victims, escaping with a sprained knee and bruises about arms, legs and head.”

“All of the above victims were taken to the hospital and treated for their injuries.”7

Maimed Negroes Everywhere

“When a Times man visited the scene of the explosion Sunday morning he found several other (Continued on Page Four)”8

” (Continued from Page One)”

“…negro laborers, the victims of the explosion, but not injured serious enough to be taken to the hospital.”

“Henry Martin, 35, suffered a broken right ankle and was bruised about the body.”

“Force of the explosion hurled J H Smith, 30, into a nearby cherry tree. He received a hole in his head was bruised about the face, and head and his left hip and left leg were lacerated.”

“John Dean, living in a shack about thirty feet from the site of the explosion was thrown out of bed. He struck a lamp on a table nearby and when his wife, who was just outside the house, rushed in, she found him unconscious and suffering from lacerations about the face and hands. Glass from the broken lamp cut him.”

John Banks, sleeping in a lower bunk in the second room, was pinned beneath the upper bunk and mashed about his body. His condition is not serious as he is able to get about.”

“Slumbering in one of the bunks, Nat Johnson was buried beneath the debris. Rescuers pulled his body out and thinking that he had been killed shook him roundly. Suddenly his eyes opened and he exclaimed. ‘What in the hell has happened?’ He had slept soundly all through the noise and excitement. He wasn’t even scratched.”

“Dan James, 26, was so badly frightened that he refused to remain at the camp the rest of the night. He hopped on a horse loaned him by a spectator, rode to Sciotoville and then walked to Portsmouth. He suffered a burst ear drum and was bruised and lacerated about the right arm. He and his wife live Bell Powell in Blackberry alley, but come from Birmingham, Alabama. James, although suffering much pain, and so his wife says acting and talking as if his mind was unbalanced, returned to the camp Monday morning.”9

Camp Woman Back of Tragedy

“It is an old, old story. Practically all the colored railroad workers in the camp, located about four miles back of Sciotoville, agree on the circumstances leading up to the explosion.”

“About a month ago Kid Walker, who emphatically insists to the sheriff that Kid is his right name, and that he is married and has a wife somewhere in Virginia, brought to the Perkins camp a woman giving the name of Alice Jackson. They boarded in a shack run by Mrs. John Dean, about thirty feet from the wrecked shack. Later they went to a shack occupied by Sam Kidd and his wife because they did not pay Mrs. Dean her board, so she claims. In an adjoining shack (the one blown up) lived Will Ross. So the story goes, Ross and the Jackson woman had bet before and were old sweethearts. The Jackson woman at one time is said to have nursed Ross through a long sickness.”

“Old memories were rekindled and soon Ross and the Jackson woman were again infatuated and they are said to have been seen together frequently.”

“Kid Walker, held on charge of exploding the dynamite, resented Ross’ actions. To a number of co-workers he is said to have made a threat to ‘get’ Ross.”

“About a week ago the Jackson woman took sick. Walker, coming home drunk and hearing more about the alleged intimacy between the Jackson woman and Ross became infuriated. Despite the woman’s illness he is said to have beat her unmercifully. Ross heard of it and is said to have reprimanded Walker for it. Walker is supposed to have secured a gun and threatened to kill Ross. The latter Saturday morning, about fifteen hours before the explosion, met Walker and is alleged to have taken the gun away from him and thrown it away.”10

Claim Walker Made Threats

“All day long Walker, it is alleged, muttered that he would ‘get’ Ross. At dusk he remarked to a fellow laborer that as soon as he went to town to get some shoes he would ‘fix’ Ross. It is claimed that the Jackson woman spent a great deal of the night in the shack of Ross and had just left it prior to the explosion.”

“It was a dramatic setting the plotter picked for his vengeance. Heavy clouds obscured the moon. Silence midst the timbered hills was deep and ominous. Occasional shouts came from nearby camps. It was pay day among the workers and they were enjoying it in revelry the fruits of a month’s labors. Many of them had been drinking.”

“In one end of the largest shack a poker game was in progress. Negroes were coming and going. Some were sitting around chatting. Others were in their bunks.11

Blinding Flash — Then Groans

“A blinding flash, a terrific explosion, and one whole section of the shack disappeared. Groans and curses of the victims mingled with yells of fright from other laborers. Bodies dangled from a nearby cherry tree. Others hurled through the air lay motionless and groaning on the hillside. Twisted and crushed, other bodies were buried beneath the debris.”

“W B Perkins, the boss contractor, and corps of foreman, rushed to the site of the explosion from their camp about 150 yards away, assisted where possible. They immediately dispatched a messenger to Sciotoville for medical aid and others notified the sheriff. Dr. J F York, accompanied by his assistant, Miss McGennis, of Sciotoville, responded. They rendered first aid to the most seriously injured.”

“Lumber wagons, with mules attached, were utilized in bringing the victims to Portsmouth. At eight o’clock, after bouncing and jolting over rough and muddy roads four hours, the victims were taken into the hospital. Four wagons conveyed them, two lying in the bottom of each wagon, and two huddled up on the seats. Bed clothes and blankets in which they were wrapped were saturated with blood. It was indeed a ghastly procession that wended its way through the portals of the hospital, carrying the maimed and mangled bodies.”12

Officers Quickly on Scene

“Receiving a call about one-thirty Sunday morning of the explosion, Sheriff Pete Smith and Deputy Sheriff Rome Arthurs started from Portsmouth in a machine driven by Eugene Ketter, of Sciotoville. After reaching Sciotoville Stephen Stewart drove them to the scene of the explosion.”

“Dr. J F York, arriving at the scene after being shown the party suspected, took Kid Walker in charge, tied his hands behind his back with a piece of rope, and placed a guard of fellow negroes over him. To Dr. York Kid Walker is alleged to have claimed to be in bed at 8:30 o’clock that night and emphatically denied his guilt.”

“Sheriff Smith found the men holding Walker, and they all claimed that he was the one who planted the dynamite. One negro informed the sheriff that he had seen Walker at the other end of the shack five minutes before the explosion carrying a bucket and asked him where he was going at that time of night. Walker is alleged to have told the other negro that he was going after water for his woman. The Jackson woman denied that Walker had gone after water for her use. In that case the negro said he was going in the wrong direction, as the water is in another part of the camp. Other negroes told the sheriff of the threats Walker is alleged to have made to get Will Ross, one of the men who was in the shack.”

“The shack about forty feet long, is divided into four rooms. The negro laborers ate and slept there. Each gang of negroes had a room in the shack. The two west rooms of this particular shack were destroyed. The one in which the men most seriously injured were located, was at the extreme west room. The planter of the dynamite was in position to know just exactly were Ross sat. That he accomplished his purpose is attested in the horrible injuries sustained by Ross.13

Nothing Left But Splinters

“A deep hole was blown in the ground where the dynamite was placed. One room of the shack was blown to splinters. By splinters is meant ‘splinters.’ Of this one particular section there isn’t a piece left big enough to make an ordinary soap box. Stoves in the two rooms were bent and twisted until they are nothing but heaps of junk. One stove in the extreme west room was literally chewed into bits.”

Artist’s rendition of the scene of the explosion from August 23, 1915 Portsmouth Daily Times.

“All of the victims were employed by W B Perkins, contractor, of Charlottesville, Virginia, who has the contract for cutting through a hill along the Harrisonville road for the Chesapeake and Ohio Northern. He has about 35 men under his employ. The dynamite had been brought to the camp to blast the hill.”14

Toll of Four Lives; Officials Work on Two Theories in Unraveling Mystery

“As the investigation of the terrible explosion near Sciotoville last Sunday morning which claimed a death toll of four lives and wrought permanent injuries to half dozen more continues the county authorities are confronted with two possible theories of the motive behind the dastardly crime.”

“One is jealousy over a woman, and the other is revenge for gambling losses. Kid Walker, a negro arrested as suspect soon after the explosion, fits into the first theory, and Al Marshall, a negro also arrested as a suspect Monday afternoon, is connected with the second theory.”

“Statements of several camp companions of Walker, according to officials, agree in one essential that Walker, angered because of William Ross’ attentions to his paramour, Alice Jackson, threatened to do Ross bodily harm. It will require additional evidence to prove that he planned the explosion to carry out that threat.”

“One the other hand, the county officials, while at the scene Monday afternoon claims that they learned from several witnesses that Marshall had lost a large sum of money gambling Saturday afternoon and evening, and that some of the victims of the explosion profited by his losses. It is claimed that he brooded over his ill luck at gambling and assumed a sullen attitude toward those who had won. The fact that he did not sleep in his usual bunk Saturday night and that he has talked continually about the explosion since it occurred, strengthens the latter theory in the minds of many.”15

Second Arrest

“Another arrest was made Monday afternoon in the C & O Northern camp dynamiting case. Al Marshall, a negro workman, having been placed under arrest on a charge of suspicion by Sheriff Smith.”

“Marshall’s arrest was made on the statements of several persons in camp, who claimed that he had been talking a good deal about the explosion. It was also regarded with suspicion that he was not in his bunk when the explosion took place. If he had been he would have been numbered among the injured.

“Marshall had some words with some of the men in the ill-fated shack early in the evening, it was reported to the sheriff. He denies all connection with the crime.”

“Sheriff Smith and Prosecuting Attorney Micklethwait returned from the scene of the explosion about seven o’clock Monday evening, after having spent the afternoon there in search of evidence. They interviewed several of the camp laborers, and stated Tuesday morning that they obtained information that would aid them in ferreting out the guilty man. This information, they said, they would keep secret for the present.”

Another Victim

Another innocent life paid the penalty of a jealous man’s vengeance when John Lewis, 33, colored, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, breathed his last at the Hempstead hospital about six o’clock Monday evening. Injuries sustained in the dynamite explosion plotted and fiendishly executed supposedly by a fellow laborer at the W B Perkins C & O Northern railroad construction camp near Sciotoville Saturday night caused the death.”

“Lewis was suffering from a dislocated hip, two broken ankles, severe bruises and lacerations about both legs, the face and head. From the force of the explosion, Lewis’ entire system was badly shattered and from the first his condition was alarming.”16

Ross In Bad Shape

“William Ross, 28, of Georgia, for whom it is said the dynamite was planted, while spending a very restless night, was slightly improved Tuesday morning. Very little hope had been held out for his recovery but his improvement gives him a slight chance to live.”

“Ross is suffering from the amputation of the left arm below the elbow, the left leg near the knee and bruises all over the body. It is claimed the dynamite was placed directly beneath the spot where Ross was sitting.”

“With Lewis’ death, the list is swelled to a total of four, the toll exacted as a result of the explosion. The others who died Sunday and Sunday night are: Ben Harrison, 33, Covington, Kentucky; Robert Banks, 38, Ironton, Ohio; Henry Carter, 38, Ashville, North Carolina.”

“Lewis’ body was removed to Daehler’s morgue where it has been prepared for burial. Undertaker Albert Daehler has wired a brother of the victim, James Lewis, at Chattanooga, Tennessee, for instructions as to what disposition to make of the body.”

“Soon after Robert Banks, the colored cook of the Perkins camp, had breathed his last at the Hempstead hospital, Miss Lena Gibson, his intended bride, of St. Paul, Virginia, called at the hospital to see him. His body had already been removed to the Dice undertaking establishment.”

“Miss Gibson said that Banks had send her $8.75 to come from her home in the camp two months ago, and that since that time she had been helping him as cook of the camp. They were to have been married within a few weeks, she said.”

“Banks was once married, but had been separated for sometime from his wife, who it is said resides in Ironton.”17

Man, Dynamiter Was After, is Dead; Fifth Victim of Explosion

“Death claimed William Ross, on of the victims of the dynamite explosion near Sciotoville last Sunday morning at 2:10 o’clock Wednesday afternoon. His death occurred at the Hempstead hospital, where he had been a patient since Sunday. He is the fifth victim of the explosion to die from his injuries. Ross’ left leg and left arm were blown off and he was otherwise injured.”

“Ross was a rival of Kid Walker, the prisoner at the county jail, for the affections of Alice Jackson, and one theory of the crime advanced by authorities is that Walker placed the dynamite under the shack to get even with him. Ross was a native of Georgia, and was 28 years old.

William Ross Death Certificate

“The other victims at the hospital were reported on the mend by the hospital authorities, and the indications are that all of them will recover.”

“Sheriff Smith made another visit to the scene of the explosion Tuesday afternoon in search of further evidence that would assist him in running down the crime. He said he had nothing new to give out upon his return.”

“The bodies of Ben Harrison and John Lewis, two of the victims of the explosion were buried at the county infirmary grounds Wednesday afternoon by Undertaker Albert Daehler.”

Ben Harrison Death Certificate

John Lewis Death Certificate

“The bodies of Robert Banks and Henry Carter, the other two victims, were buried at the county infirmary burial grounds Tuesday afternoon by Undertaker Dice.”18

Robert Banks Death Certificate

Henry Carter Death Certificate

Finger of Suspicion Veers and Additional Developments Coming

“The sheriff arrived at his office Thursday afternoon with a negro prisoner, the name of whom he refused to divulge. He also refused to state whether the arrest had anything to do with the dynamite case.”

“Important developments in the dynamite mystery near Sciotoville last Sunday morning are anticipated within the next twenty-four hours, and the arrest of a likely suspect will probably soon be made public.”

“The sheriff was out of the city Thursday in connection with the case, and no information was forthcoming at his office, but it was learned from a reliable source that the authorities have struck a likely clue that may pave the way for the unravelling of the mystery.”

“It was learned Thursday that Kid Walker, the first suspect arrested, has established such a perfect alibi on the night of the explosion that it would be almost impossible to connect him with the actual crime. He will be held, however, as an important witness in the case.”

“Al Marshall, the other negro held as a suspect, furnished the most damaging evidence against Walker. In the light of later developments his statements are now regarded with suspicion by the authorities. He, too, will be held until the case is thoroughly investigated.”

“The Huntington Herald Dispatch carried an item Thursday morning concerning an arrest in the local dynamite case. Local authorities claim that no arrest had been ordered. The following is the article printed in the Huntington paper:”

“Acting on information from Portsmouth that a negro wanted there for the murder of five other negroes when a shanty in the railroad…”

“…railroad camp was dynamited Sunday morning, Patrolman Mart Sperry arrested John Henry Smith, aged 25 years, last night in Ed McDaniels’ pool room near Eight street on Third avenue. Smith did not deny he was present when the affair occurred but he did deny that he was guilty. He will be held here for the Portsmouth authorities.”

“Smith answers the description given by the Portsmouth police as the man said to have been implicated in the affair by one of the negroes before he died.”19

Victims Better

“Daniel James, one of the victims, who had an ear-drum burst by the force of the explosion and his left arm bruised, was dismissed from the Hempstead hospital Thursday. His home is in Birmingham, Alabama.”

“Winzalo Edits, 26, Roadwell, North Carolina; William Warren, 28, Georgetown, Kentucky; James Johnson, 90, Ashland, Kentucky; Carl Carson, 26, Greene county, Tennessee; and Harry Humphrey, 34, Louisville, Kentucky, all victims of the dynamite explosion, were all warranted over to the county infirmary Thursday.”20

Latest Suspect in Dynamite Crime is Shamming Insanity

“John Henry Smith is the name given by the negro lodged in the county jail Thursday afternoon on suspicion of being implicated in the dynamite explosion at the C & O N. construction camp last Sunday morning. He was arrested at Huntington, Wednesday, at the request of local authorities and held there until the arrival of an officer from this city.”

“Smith is the third suspect under arrest, but formal charged have not been preferred against any of them. Since his incarceration in the county jail Smith has been shamming insanity, the authorities claim.”21

Trying to Work Up Tangible Clue

“Sheriff Smith and Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Micklethwait were closeted for several minutes Tuesday with each of the three suspects in the dynamite explosion case near Sciotoville one week ago last Saturday night but stated afterward that they had nothing to give out. The authorities are trying hard to ferret out a clue that will lead to the detection of the guilty person. The suspects are Kid Walker, Al Marshall and John Henry Smith, all negroes.”22

Kid Walker is Given Freedom

“Kid Walker and Alice Jackson, colored, who have been imprisoned in the county jail ever since the dynamite explosion near Sciotoville one week ago last Sunday morning, which resulted in the death of five negroes and permanent injuries to half a dozen others, were release Wenesday morning by Sheriff Smith. Walker had been held as a suspect, and the Jackson woman as a witness.”

“After close investigation, Sheriff Smith and Prosecuting Attorney Micklethwait came to the conclusion that Walker had nothing to do with the crime. Al Marshall and John Henry Smith, the other two suspects, are still in jail.”23

  1. The Dead. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  2. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  3. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  4. Death Hovered Over Hospital. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  5. Has No Legs, Only One Arm. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  6. Living Are Terribly Mangled. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  7. Tragedy Cause Still Lives. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  8. Maimed Negroes Everywhere(1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 1.
  9. Maimed Negroes Everywhere. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 4.
  10. Camp Woman Back Of Tragedy (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 4.
  11. Claim Walker Made Threats. (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 4.
  12. Blinding Flash —The Groans (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 4.
  13. Officers Quickly On Scene (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 4.
  14. Nothing Left But Splinters (1915, August 23). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 4.
  15. Camp Tragedy Leads To Another Death and Arrest. (1915, August 24). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 12.
  16. Camp Tragedy Leads To Another Death and Arrest. (1915, August 24). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 12.
  17. Camp Tragedy Leads To Another Death and Arrest. (1915, August 24). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 12.
  18. Man, Dynamiter Was After, Is Dead; Fifth Victim of Explosion. (1915, August 25). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 6.
  19. Finger of Suspicion Veers and Additional Developments Coming. (1915, August 26). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 2.
  20. Victims Better. (1915, August 26). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 7.
  21. Latest Suspect in Dynamite Crime is Shamming Insanity. (1915, August 27). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 13.
  22. Trying To Work Up Tangible Clue. (1915, August 31). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 5.
  23. Kid Walker Is Given Freedom. (1915, September 1). Portsmouth Daily Times, p. 2.
error: Alert: Content selection is disabled!!
%d bloggers like this: