"I'm the big boss of this county and I'm going to run slot machines."
- Tennis Hatfield, former Logan County sheriff and the youngest son of Devil Anse Hatfield.
That statement pretty much should give you an idea as to the way things operated in Logan County during the rise and fall of the Hatfield clan, particularly during the 1920s and '30s. Despite all the glory and historical attention that has rightfully been bestowed upon the famous Hatfields, especially during the world-renowned feud with the McCoys, it is the story of the sons of the family patriarch that must be told in full.
Despite planning that story for today, which involves outright corruption by a Logan mayor, state police, the Logan sheriff's department and the county's prosecuting attorney, all of which was centered on murder and the attempted destruction of a newspaper business that directly involved several of the Hatfields - including two brothers who served as back-to-back sheriffs of Logan - I thought I might set the stage on this Easter Sunday as to the wild west environment that existed for decades in Logan County.
By 1931, the Great Depression was still taking its toll in Logan County, and there were many suicides taking place in the dastardliest of ways. Those included men blowing their faces off with blasting caps; women drinking lye' and others using pistols to kill themselves and their own children. Illegal liquor was widespread throughout the county and women were killing their husbands - many after taking too many beatings from their spouses, who often came home in drunken stupors. Unfortunately, corruption and desperation walked hand-in-hand during this time period in which murders were committed almost daily in the southern coal fields of West Virginia.
Since the Easter spirit certainly involves forgiveness, I thought I would share the story of a 25-year-old killer from Logan County who was hanged in February 1931 at Moundsville after being convicted of murdering a Willamson taxi driver, all for just a few dollars. Many miles later with the dead man in the back seat, had the man not struck another vehicle head-on, he just may have gotten away with the crime.
Emory Stephens of Mud Fork shot and killed the cab driver, Leonard Ooten, on Oct. 2, 1930, near Williamson. After appeals made to the Governor were denied, he was made part of a double execution in which a Mingo County man was also hanged just one minute after the noose took Stephens' life. Claude Adams, age 40, on Oct. 1, 1930, had saw fit to fatally shoot his wife, Mrs. Flossie Adams, her mother and his wife's aunt in the community of Cinderella in Mingo County.
The condemned men, each dressed in dark blue suits, white shirts and black bow ties, were described as calm when they advanced to the gallows. Stephens, a former inmate at Moundsville, had been a member of a quartet that sang during an execution at the prison years before, and probably requested the services of a Negro quartet from Logan County that sang "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow" as his death march was in progress.
A curtain was drawn across the gallows as the doomed men were led up the steps to the trap doors. Asked by the warden if either had a last statement, Stephens answered, "May God have mercy on my soul, and forgive me for my sins." Adams followed with, "May God have mercy on my soul."
Witnesses at the hanging included Henry Ooten, father of the cab driver, and John Campbell, father of Adams' wife. Afterward, in the death chamber, Ooten said: "A man who killed a man for nothing ought to be hung. It was a plain cold-blooded killing."
Twenty-four hours later, hundreds of men and women who had known Stephens, along with other morbidly curious people, assembled at the family home on Mud Fork to view the body. Out of the hollows of Logan and even Mingo they came and milled about the home even before the undertaker brought forth the body. So numerous were the curious that the weight of the visitors caused the front porch first to give way, and later even the floors of the Stephens home, described by a Logan Banner account as a "horrible accident" with no one seriously injured.
The day before his death, Emory Stephens wrote the following letter to his father, indicating the youth's appreciation to his father's devotion in trying to get him a governor's pardon. The words seem to indicate that he had accepted his fate and that he believed all was well with his soul, and that he was looking forward to a reunion in Heaven with his mother.
"My Dearest and Loving Father:
"Here is a few lines from your beloved boy. Dear Father, I want you to know first I love you, and Paps. I but rejoice for the Lord has called here to save me, but dear daddy please don't worry about me, or weep, but rejoice for the Lord has called me away. And the sweet consolation is, I am going to meet my Jesus face to face, where mother and little sister have been waiting so long for my coming, and I pray to God that you will meet me up there where we won't part anymore.
"I cannot come back to you, but you can come to me, and papa you talk to grandma and tell her not to worry and weep over me but rejoice; tell her to meet me in Heaven.
"Dad I don't like to leave my brother in sin but tell him to turn to God and come prepared to meet Jesus. Just tell him how beautiful the great Beyond is.
"Father I want to be placed beside mother's grave. So, tell all my friends I love them all. So, don't worry, ask God to help you and he will. I will always remember you in my prayers. Tell my little brothers and sisters to be good and to come to brother.
"I hold no malice against no one. So, daddy I love you, meet me in heaven. I will leave you in a little while."
Goodbye, I love you."
As many of you will make your way on this special day to worship in the various churches dotted throughout our southern West Virginia coal fields, take a minute to surround yourself with the splendor of our mountains, and know that it is true that - "The Lord works in mysterious ways."
Dwight Williamson is a former writer for the Logan Banner. He is now a magistrate for Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.