At 8:00 A.M. on the morning of September 20, 1944, 65 year-old Enoch McLaughlin left his farmhouse on Fallen Timber to spend a day cutting fence posts. He carried with him a jacket and various items he would need that day – a double bit ax, a brand new saw, a few wood wedges, a sack containing his lunch, water … and his pistol.
McLaughlin always carried protection, usually a shotgun or a pistol. Not only was it said he lived “a rugged life with few friends,” but also he and his sister Ada were confirmed recluses with good reason to fear their neighbors. Their past had been unrestrained to say the least. Some might say extremely contentious.
In fact, Ada said that only the Tuesday before someone had shot at Enoch and barely missed him as he walked from his barn.
Ada confirmed she also felt like a target. “A few weeks ago while I was picking berries a man came through the woods carrying a shotgun and a rifle. I dropped my berry bucket, seized my shotgun, and ordered him off the premises,” she told authorities.
Bad blood had built up over many years. It may have all started when the McLaughlins experienced trouble with dogs killing their sheep. Enoch responded by killing several of the suspect canines. This likely caused some ill feelings.
Indeed, the McLaughlins suspected revenge because, after that, several times their timber tracts had been suspiciously fired. Trouble just kept brewing.
The most serious incident occurred in 1928 when Enoch shot a dog on his farm. Then, an argument with the dog's owner and a friend resulted. According to Ada, not long after that argument, Enoch was shot in his face from ambush. After he had been wounded in the face with shotgun slugs, the farmer was still able to reach his wagon bed, get his gun, and exchange shots with the assailant (unnamed in this report), who later died. Ada said she and Enoch had both religiously packed guns ever since.
Then, around 1934 another violent incident occurred. Enoch McLaughlin shot a former employee who was cutting roots on the farm, his sister said. All of this violence was to be a portent of another tragedy on this September day.
Shortly after dark on September 20, Ada McLaughlin lighted a lantern and put a shotgun under her arm. She decided to search for her brother because he was late coming home from the woods. She found Enoch's “virtually disemboweled” body three-quarters of a mile from their home. Near his corpse she discovered his jacket and the other items he had taken with him in a “disordered fashion” indicating “he had cast them from his shoulder quickly.” His pistol was not found.
It appeared Enoch had walked a quarter mile toward his home in an effort to reach there before collapsing from his wounds. Upon finding her brother, Ada quickly summoned neighbors who sent for the sheriff, the coroner, and the undertaker.
Sheriff Earl C. Brandel and Coroner Virgil E. Fowler sifted through evidence and counted more than a dozen suspects. Sheriff Brandel said “Any one of several persons could have killed Mr. McLaughlin. It could have been someone with whom he has had trouble. It could have been a hunter or trespasser. The slayer could have waited in ambush, or the murder could have resulted from an argument started shortly before the killing. We shall investigate every angle fully and carefully.”
Authorities estimated McLaughlin had been slain about 8:30 A.M. His body was examined at McKinley Funeral Home, and reportedly officers found it difficult to determine what instrument was used to commit the heinous crime. Some thought he was slashed with knife or possibly a saw. Enoch had been cut twice across the abdomen, and he had five or six lacerations which resembled saw tooth marks. The body also had marks on left arm which was bruised badly “as if he had been stuck with an instrument as he threw up his arm to protect his face.”
Ada said, “I urged him not to go. I was afraid something would happen. Everyone is against us. They tried several times to burn us out. But, he insisted on going.” She said she was the one who actually put Enoch's pistol into his overall jacket.
“If I had been with Enoch today the sheriff would not be searching for his murderer. I know how to shoot and I am not afraid” declared the frail, small woman. Later that evening she was said to be in her yard standing in vigil alone – lantern in hand and shotgun nearby.
This incident remains one of Valley Township's most mysterious murders. As far as I know it is unsolved and perhaps a cold case in local files. Who killed Enoch McLaughlin? How did the murderer(s) kill him with a sharp object when he was carrying a firearm? What led to the murder?
Sister Ada even reasoned politics caused the trouble. “We do not believe in the New Deal or relief or federal aid and red tape,” she said. “Some of out neighbors were getting relief and old age pensions and wanted to know why we didn't get relief. We did not want relief and told them we would take care of ourselves as long as we possibly could. We worked long hours tending out farm and making an honest living.”
Enoch McLaughlin was the son of Daniel and Mary McLaughlin. He lived all his life on the family farm. Besides his sister Ada, he was survived by another sister, Mrs. Mary Cockrell of New Boston.
This account remains an interesting item of folk history. Reading the article makes one wonder what happened in the aftermath of the murder. I hope recounting it here will bring some fruit upon further details. The story of Enoch McLaughlin begs further research.
This blog entry was researched and rewritten from one source. Those who want to read the original article can find it in the Portsmouth Times archives at https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=8cTaIddhMp4C&dat=19440921&printsec=frontpage&hl=en. (Just click on the site.) I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety.
“Killer Sought After Recluse Slain By Knife.” The Portsmouth Times. September 21, 1944.
The Strange Case of Enoch McLaughlin
This is an additional report on the brutal murder of Enoch McLaughlin on September 20, 1944. The case went unsolved and remains an intriguing mystery to this day. For amateur sleuths, these details may shed considerable light on the tragic event. Considering the stormy past of the McLaughlins, one may speculate his or her own conclusions.
Enoch Selvester McLaughlin was one of 11 children born to Daniel (1823-1904) and Mary Browning McLaughlin (1840-1901). His father was born in Gushire, Scotland, and his mother was born in Jackson County, Ohio. Daniel immigrated from Scotland 1851 Filed for naturalization 1854 and naturalized in 1860. Mary married Daniel McLaughlin December 23, 1857 in Jackson. The family cut timber and raised sheep on their property near Lucasville.
Enoch McLaughlin never married but maintained the home farm with his sister (and other siblings?) after his parents died.
Further Details About the Murder
Sheriff Earl C. Brandel continued his investigation into the murder of Enoch McLaughlin. In a report about the killing, Brandel said the murderer was “fiendish and in a fit of anger and hate determined to make the farmer suffer much before death.” Wounds from a saw blade indicated “that the killer apparently sought revenge,” the sheriff said.
The Portsmouth Times reported that some of the neighbors who expressed dislike for Mr. McLaughlin because of arguments in the past forgot their disagreements and dug his grave in Owl Creek Cemetery. The report also stated that some of the others remembered their neighborhood duty and helped Miss Ada MaLaughlin, 62, recluse sister of Enocn with her farm chores.
Funeral services for Enoch McLaughlin were conducted at the McKinley Funeral Home. Rev John Kemper was in charge, and burial was in Owl Creek Cemetery.
In December 1908, Enoch McLaughlin, indicted for cutting with intent to kill, was found guilty of assault and battery. The case against the defendant's brother, Dan McLaughlin, jointly indicted with him, could not be heard until the next term. The Portsmouth Times reported: “It is quite likely that it will never be heard on account of the verdict being returned for the minor offense against the brother.”
The defendants were charged with endangering in an affray with their neighbor, Charles Lyons in Jefferson Township. The fight allegedly occurred because the McLaughlins' cattle got on Lyons' land. In the fight Enoch McLaughlin was alleged “to have slightly cut Lyons in the nose.”
Judge Blair sentenced Enoch with “a fine of $20 and ordered him to pay the costs, amounting to $66 more.”
In passing sentence, Judge Blair said that “doubtless the jury had found its verdict for the smaller offense because of the good character McLaughlin has always borne in his neighborhood.” It was warranted also in holding that he cut Lyons in the nose. Judge Blair further “held for the evidence, and believed that it was a case where McLaughlin's temper had gotten the better of his judgment.”
An effort was made to have the court nolly the case against the defendant's brother, Dan, but Prosecutor Miller said that he would not agree to his at the present time.
In July 1932, Levi and Maggie Justice of Coon Hollow, a branch of Miller's Run, went to the McLaughlin farm to gather raspberries and ginseng. While they were on the property Enoch McLaughlin, 52, was said to have fired a gun at Mr. and Mrs. Justice and their 12-year-old son as they were walking out of the woods.
Mrs. Justice told officers she saw McLaughlin shoot her husband with a shotgun from ambush. She and her son were walking a short distance behind Mr. Justice. “Shotgun slugs sprayed all around the trio,” but Justice was the only one hit.
Constables W.R. Jacobs and Floyd Nance arrested McLaughlin on a charge of shooting with intent to kill. Mr. and Mrs. Justice claim they had secured permission to pick berries on the McLaughlin farm before going there. Levi Justice told officers he had permission from McLaughlin to hunt herbs on his place, and he could give an explanation why McLaughlin shot him. McLaughlin refused to comment on the shooting.
A charge from counts of stealing raspberries against Mr. and Mrs. Justice was dismissed.
Two of Enoch McLaughlin's sisters are buried in Lucasville Cemetery: Martha McLaughlin Robertson and Mary Catherine "Kate" McLaughlin Cockrell.
Portsmouth Times. December 26, 1908.
Portsmouth Times. July 1, 1932.
Portsmouth Times. July 13, 1932.