Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower



Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Sep 07

Mysterious Murder in Cedarville

Posted on September 7, 2018 at 2:42 PM by Melissa Dalton

Do you ever watch those shows about mysterious murders or cold cases? I would venture to guess there is one (if not many) on TV at any time of day. As a kid, I loved watching “Unsolved Mysteries”, wondering what became of the murderer and if the victim, who almost always was characterized as a great person without any enemies, would ever be avenged. This week, I’m channeling Robert Stack and recounting the 1903 unsolved murder of Cedarville resident, Jacob Harris.

Jacob Harris was born in 1841, and lived his entire life in Greene County, Ohio. Jacob married Martha Elizabeth McCollough in 1864 (Fig 1) and they had a child, Thomas, in 1865. It appears Elizabeth died in 1867 (I’ve not be able to verify this), and Jacob then married Elizabeth Albright, who was roughly ten years his senior, in 1868 (Fig 2).

Fig 1. 1864 Marriage Record of Jacob Harris and Martha Elizabeth McCollough (JPG)
Fig 1. 1864 Marriage record of Jacob Harris and Martha Elizabeth McCollough (Greene County Archives)

Fig 2. 1868 Marriage Record of Jacob Harris and Elizabeth Albright (JPG)
Fig 2. 1868 marriage record of Jacob Harris and Elizabeth Albright (Greene County Archives)


Jacob and Elizabeth lived in Cedarville, and I found them on the 1870 and 1880 census records (Figs 3 & 4). Jacob worked as a day laborer and is listed on the census as working at the lime kiln. However, in 1893, at the age of 61, Elizabeth died of heart problems.

Fig 4. 1880 U.S. Census with Harris family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 3. 1870 U.S. Census with Harris family outlined in red (Ancestry.com)

Fig 4. 1880 U.S. Census with Harris family outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 4. 1880 U.S. Census with Harris family outlined in red (Ancestry.com)


Jacob remained in their home after Elizabeth’s death (Fig 5). According to various accounts, Jacob was well-liked and made smart use of his money. When not working, he would work as a trapper, and was in the business of buying and selling furs. This knowledge may have been what led to his untimely death.

Fig 5. 1900 U.S. Census with Jacob Harris outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 5. 1900 U.S. Census with Jacob Harris outlined in red (Ancestry.com)

On the morning of January 17, 1903, his young neighbor, Jennie Jeffreys, was walking by the Harris residence on her way home from work. She noticed the gate and door were slightly ajar, so we went to investigate. As she walked into the home, she noticed that house was torn apart and saw Mr. Harris facedown with his head covered. She knew immediately that something was not right, and ran home to tell her mother. She and her mother returned to the Harris home, and at the sight, Mrs. Jeffreys and her daughter went to notify the authorities. Word spread quickly of the brutal murder, and townsfolks flocked to the Harris residence. By the time the coroner arrived, many people had been in and out of the home. He ordered everyone to vacate the premises and began his investigation.

The coroner concluded that Harris put up quite the fight as they found evidence of the struggle throughout the house. He sustained cuts and bruises to his hands, face, and head, and they believed he was attacked by at least two men. Sadly, Harris was overpowered, and died from a “concussion of the brain caused by numerous blows on the head fracturing the skull. Said blows were inflicted by a party or parties unknown” (Figs 6 & 7).

Fig 6. Transcript from Coroner's Inquests, dated 17 January 1903 (JPG)
Fig 6. Transcript from Coroner’s Inquests, dated 17 January 1903 (Greene County Archives)

Fig 7. Article from The Dayton Herald, dated 19 January 1903 (JPG)
Fig 7. Article from The Dayton Herald, dated 19 January 1903 (Newspapers.com)


Several people were questioned in connection to the murder, and the County Commissioners offered a reward for any information that would lead to the arrest of the assailants (Fig 8). The authorities arrested five men – Charles Jeffreys, Ellis McMillan, Elza and Alva Shingledecker (twin brothers), and Thomas Tracy. It was learned that all five men took baths the night before the body of Harris was discovered, and all were acting “unusual” (Figs 9-12). However, there was no evidence against any of them, only suspicion.

Fig 8. Commissioners' Minutes Vol. 7 p. 61, dated 23 January 1903 (JPG)
Fig 8. Commissioners’ Minutes Vol 7, p. 61, dated 23 January 1903 (Greene County Archives)

Fig 9. Notice in The Hocking Sentinel, dated 5 February 1903 (JPG)
Fig 9. Notice in The Hocking Sentinel, dated 5 February 1903 (Newspapers.com)

Fig 10. Article from The Dayton Herald, dated 20 January 1903 (JPG)
Fig 10. Article from The Dayton Herald, dated 20 January 1903 (Newspapers.com)

Fig 11. Article from Xenia Daily Gazette, dated 21 January 1903 (JPG)
Fig 11. Article from Xenia Daily Gazette, dated 21 January 1903 (Newspapers.com)

Fig 12. Articles from the Xenia Daily Gazette, dated 23 January 1903 (JPG)
Fig 12. Articles from the Xenia Daily Gazette, dated 23 January 1903 (Newspapers.com)


Cedarville authorities requested the assistance of a detective agency out of Cincinnati, and Captain Grannan and his associate, Mr. Ferguson, helped work the case. The only new evidence they found was a torn, blood-stained coat. It was believed that one of the murderers was wearing the coat that the time of the murder. The maker of the coat, American Tailoring Company, claimed they could identify who purchased the coat, and this gave hope to the detectives. Samples were sent to for examination (Fig 13).

Fig 13. Article from the Xenia Daily Gazette, dated 23 January 1903 (JPG)
Fig 13. Article from the Xenia Daily Gazette, dated 29 January 1903 (Newspapers.com)

So whatever became of the bloody coat? I have no idea. The story disappeared from the papers after this. I tried various keyword searches for newspaper articles, scoured our criminal records, checked our probate records… but alas, I found nothing. It would appear that no one was ever charged or indicted for the murder of Jacob Harris. Out of mere curiosity, I searched the names of the accused in the papers. At least two of the men were accused of other crimes and arrested, and one was convicted of another murder. If one, or any, of these men murdered Jacob Harris, they were never charged.

The murder of Jacob Harris remains a mystery to this day… If you have any information on this case, write to us at the Greene County Archives. You need not to give your name.

Until Next Time…

Sources:
Ancestry.com
Greene County Archives
Newspapers.com



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