Dwight Williamson For The Logan Banner
October 31, 2013
(Writer’s Note: It has been 28 years since I first introduced Mamie Thurman and her grueling murder to the readers of The Logan Banner. It has been 81 years since her demise and I find it fitting for the Halloween spirit that I report a few important findings during my off-and-on research. While no one may ever prove beyond a reasonable doubt what truly happened on the stormy night of June 21, 1932 and her murderer never may be known, it is with great satisfaction that I now can present absolute proof as to where she was buried. After all, wasn’t that the reason her half-brother George Morrison in 1985 drove all the way from Albuquerque, N.M., to erect a proper headstone on Mamie’s grave? In this holiday account, I cannot possibly do the story its entire justice; there’s simply not enough space. Therefore, I shall only try to raise your eyebrows … and not the dead.)
Many changes to the town of Logan and indeed the entire county took place in 1932. The depression brought on by the stock market crash of 1929 changed not only the political climate of our fair county, but the state and the nation. There were fortunes lost on a local level. Former Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin, infamous for his role in the 1921 Blair Mountain battle to keep the UMWA out of Logan County, reportedly lost at least $300,000 in one local bank alone, the Guyan Valley Bank. This bank was located where Blair Law Offices is now. Its front steps faced Stratton Street. On those steps is where convicted murder Clarence Stephenson was seen the night of Mamie’s murder. Stephenson said he was sent there by Harry Robertson to see if Mamie Thurman would come out of the upstairs of the Holland Building.
Testimony by Robertson, who originally was charged with the murder but was not indicted, said the upstairs was used by prominent men and women for drinking of alcohol, which was illegal because of prohibition. The so-called Key Club or Logan Businessman’s Club, as it was referred to at the time, was a hiding place for some, illicit affairs being just one of many alleged actions taking place at the location built in 1910. Robertson testified that Mamie had given him a list of 16 businessmen with whom she had affairs. Roberston said one man was dead and all but one of the men was married. In 1936, the building became G.C. Murphys, better known as the “Dime Store.” Chester Stapleton owns the property today.
There are many names that standout in Logan history. Many of the streets of Logan and communities across the county bear the names of those who played important roles in the making of the county. The Hollands, Strattons, Neighberts , Conleys, Farleys, Dingess, to name a few, were critical components of the town and indeed the county. The names of Chafin and Hatfield were well known, particularly in 1932.
John “Con “Chafin, who served 20 years as Logan County Prosecutor, was just one of four prosecutors used in the trial of Clarence Stephenson, the black handyman who worked for Harry Robertson and lived in an attic apartment of the Robertson home. That brick home was razed when the Logan Bank and Trust drive-thru facility was built. Mamie and her husband Jack Thurman lived in an apartment owned by the Robertsons located in the back yard facing the river and above a two-car garage at that location.
Chafin, described by The Banner as known “for his brilliant mind” was a first cousin to Don Chafin. Just four years after obtaining a conviction in the Mamie Thurman trial, startling headlines again gripped the county: “Attorney Con Chafin Ends His Life in the Guyan River.” It was also a bizarre ending for a man who had just announced his intentions to seek political office again. Here’s the way The Banner reported his death:
“John E. (Con) Chafin, 55 years old, prominent and widely known lawyer and politician and former prosecuting attorney of Logan County for over 20 years is dead. His lifeless and cold body was found in the waters of the Guyan river at noon today, believed by his family to have committed suicide, as he had expressed only a short time before he was last seen the desire to “end it all.” Chafin’s body was found standing erect in about six feet of water by Ornate Carter, Woodrow McNeely and Alan McNeely of Fort Branch. The men said they noticed the body with the water barely covering his head.
The Banner reported that Chafin was last seen around 10 p.m. on Main Street after he had attended a revival at the Christian church and had accompanied his daughter to their home.
One has to wonder how you could drown yourself and still be standing in water. Would not your body instincts be to fight to breathe?
The Hatfield name was in play during the 1932 scenario as well. Elba Hatfield, the Justice of the Peace who conducted the preliminary hearing of both Harry Robertson and Clarence Stephenson, was the son of the legendary and mean Cap Hatfield, son of Devil Anse. Hatfield found probable cause for both men’s cases to be presented for consideration by the grand jury. Justices of the Peace at that time were the equivalent of today’s Magistrates. Interestingly, this same year The Banner’s headlines read: “Nearly 10,000 Gather for Annual Reunion of Noted Hatfield Clan.”
Logan County Sheriff Joe Hatfield, another son of Devil Anse, was chairman of the arrangement committee, according to The Banner. It reported four generations of Hatfields and others gathered “In the shadows of the magnificent monument erected in honor of Devil Anse, 15 miles from Logan.”
Again, one can only imagine 10,000 people in that particular area. But, the Hatfield name was big.
In the 1936 election the Hatfields suffered politically ending careers. Tennis, another son of Devil Anse, ran for Sheriff. He had previously served as one of Don Chafin’s deputies. One of Hatfield’s political advertisements in The Banner proclaimed how his brother Joe, while sheriff, had ended the burning of immigrants and other innocent people in the furnaces of the power plant now known as Appalachian Power. He failed to mention that rumor was Sheriff Chafin had taken on different occasions some men from the train station in Logan (now City Hall) and allegedly threw them in the furnace for being suspected as union organizers. Nor, did Hatfield mention his time spent in a federal penitentiary for selling illegal liquor at the Blue Goose Inn located at Barnabus. He and Sheriff Chafin were partners in the 1920’s. Hatfield testified against Chafin and the infamous Sheriff was sentenced to two years prison. He served 10 months in an Atlanta prison before being pardoned by the Georgia governor in 1925.
Hatfield and Justice of the Peace Elba Hatfield lost the election in 1936. However, it should also be mentioned Judge Naaman Jackson, who presided over the Mamie Thurman murder trial, also lost his bid for re-election the same year. Jackson lost to a young and up-and-coming attorney by the name of C.C. Chambers. Yes, the same Chambers who had defended Clarence Stephenson in the murder trial just four years prior. Chambers, many years later, was featured in Life Magazine as being connected to the Klu Klux Clan. I never could substantiate Judge Chambers’ connection to the KKK, but it must be noted records show he staunchly fought the election bid of John F. Kennedy in the primary election of 1960. It should also be noted that the original formation of the KKK was not to destroy Negroes, as many of its members owned them as slaves before the civil war. It was the Pope and Catholicism the KKK originally fought in the 1800s.
From all accounts I can find, Judge Jackson was an honorable man. However, I must point out that he was the first trustee of the M.E. Methodist Church, South (not to be confused with Nighbert Memorial) who signed the deed giving the church property to the Klu Klux Klan in 1928. The church, which stood where the former Salvation Army playground was on Stratton Street, is now the home of storage units owned by Kevin Marcum. The KKK had deeded the property to the Salvation Army in 1932. I find it an oddity that both the KKK and Salvation Army’s headquarters were both located in Atlanta, Ga.
Well known and respected attorney Edward Eiland, who as a boy lived in that section of town, recently told me of remembering hooded marches by the KKK when he was young. “They marched right up Stratton Street from the east end,” Eiland recalled.
In a 1936 ad in The Banner, Don Chafin encouraged citizens to vote the democratic ticket. All Logan County republican candidates lost that same year, including as mentioned, Judge Jackson, Elba Hatfield and Tennis Hatfield. The entire state of West Virginia went democratic, as did the nation; Maine and Vermont being the only two states not to vote for the re-election of Franklin Roosevelt. Logan County has remained predominantly democratic ever sense. The UMWA membership and the depression were the two chief factors keying republican demise.
Mamie Thurman, 31 years old at the time of her death and a former employee of the Guyan Valley Bank where Robertson was President , could not possibly know that 81 years later her name would be (at least in Logan County) perhaps as popular as the Hatfield clan or the “Czar of Logan County” himself, Don Chafin. Chafin moved to Huntington in 1936, returning upon occasions. He died in 1956 and is buried in Cabell County.
Chafin and Hatfield, like so many other well-mentioned Logan Countians of both good and bad nature have final resting places with their notable monuments or head stones. Like Mamie Thurman, there are many deceased persons, whether burned in the incinerator, tied to railroad tracks to die or simply hung by the neck, who may be seeking proper acknowledgements for their lives.
Thanks to a native Logan Countian, Rory Perry, who serves as clerk for the West Virginia Supreme Court, I have been provided an 843 page account of the trial of Clarence Stephenson, along with case related photos. In addition, I have copies of the appeal to the Supreme Court, answers by the prosecution and denial of the appeal by the Court. None of this was found in the Logan Circuit Clerk’s office where, of course, it should have been. I’m told it disappeared from there many years ago.
At any rate, thanks to Mr. Perry, but too late for Mamie’s half-brother, testimony from two of the State’s first witnesses provide proof of her final resting place. The woman described by many in her day as a “quite” dark-eyed brunette, had two fatal bullet wounds to her head, her throat cut and her neck broke was buried in a grave at what was then known as Memorial Park at McConnell. It was a cemetery which promised “perpetual” care for the deceased and later was shamefully abandoned — much like Mamie’s grave. No one, including her husband, ever placed a tombstone to mark her memory. This writer is in the process of determining which person gave her the plot she is buried in as there is no record of the Thurman’s ever buying a plot there. I have a copy of every plot ever purchased at the 20-acre cemetery, including those of Judge C.C. Chambers and wife who sold theirs and are buried elsewhere.
In due time, I hope to connect the dots of the history of Logan County from the beginning and beyond, for we truly have a fascinating past. As for now, here is the proof from the trial:
The first witness called was R.B. Harris, Harris Funeral Home director (now known as Honaker Funeral Home). After describing the injuries, testifying to her embalmment and other matters. Harris said there were two diamond rings on Mamie’s fingers, and that he had given them to Jack Thurman. The final questions asked by Prosecutor Judge James Damron read as follows:
Question: “In what county did you find this body?”
Question: “And what did you do with it after you embalmed it?”
Answer: “We kept it at the funeral home until the funeral arrangements were made, and then buried it at the Logan Memorial Park, Logan County.”
Judge Damron: “That is all.”
The third witness was the deceased husband, Jack Thurman, who was 16 years her elder and a Logan City police officer. After saying he had lived in Logan about eight years and had been with the police about 15 months, there was much more testimony but for graveyard purposes on page 49 of the transcripts Judge Damron asked:
“How much money was in her (Mamie’s) pocketbook?”
Thurman: “Eight dollars and seventy –five or six cents. I don’t remember. Somewhere between eight and nine dollars.”
Question: “Was your wife buried here in Logan?”
Answer: “Out at McConnell.”
Question: “Was her father buried close here?”
Answer: “Yes, sir.”
There was much more testimony provided as the prosecution presented 39 witnesses and the defense 25. Is it any wonder over 1,000 people attended the murder trial on a daily basis? There was real life drama.
It is sad George Morrison is not alive to know the whereabouts of his older sister. But, perhaps in his passing, maybe he knew before we did.
Rest in peace, Mamie.