Rumors and the Arrest of Two Young Men: The Clara Hough Murder

For part one of this story click here.

The murder of Clara Hough had taken the city by storm.  Nearly three pages of the October 1, 1885 Mansfield Herald was dedicated to the crime.  Rumors filled the newspapers and every stranger was suddenly a suspect.  The citizens demanded answers as three other murders had remained unsolved in the last fifteen years (John Fox, Charles Leonard and Mary Lunsford).  It was even suggested that a professional be brought in to investigate the crime.  The citizens wanted a Pinkerton man on the case.  The Pinkerton Detective Agency charged $8.oo a day for their services and apparently were hired for the case.  Known only as “P. J. R.” the operative was in Mansfield from October 13-16, but found little information to move the case forward.  The County Commissioners had also offered a $1000 dollar reward.


One of the early theories was that tramps had committed the deed.  A Mr. S. F. Guest and a young lady he was with noticed three strange men down by the tracks around the same time it was suspected Clara Hough had been murdered.  The men were unshaved and poorly dressed.  It was possible they were local boys, but Mr. Guest did not recognize them.

The most promising lead in the case came on the evening after the body was discovered.  Police had heard of two young men who were talking about what they had seen on the fateful day that the crime was committed.  James Winans and John Cromer were immediately taken into custody by police, jailed and isolated from all visitors.  The Police would give no information to reporters, which lead to some trying to get arrested to get access to the boys.  A reporter first went to the home of James Winans and talked to his father.  He stated he only heard that the boys were at the ravine and they heard a gunshot, but knew nothing else.  Next the reporter visited John Cromers home, whose father was eager to tell all that he knew.

Sunday afternoon the boys had gone for a walk down by the tracks.  They were under a large tree on the hill playing various sports when they noticed a man running up and down the creek, looking for a place to cross.  The man finally waded across the creek and ran up over the hill into the ravine.  Shortly after, the boys heard the crack of a pistol and again saw the man running over the hill and into the woods.  Mr. Cromer said the man looked at the boys before disappearing into a neighboring thicket.  According to the boys, the man came to within 200 feet of them.


Map of area where murder occurred,  Mansfield Herald, Oct. 1, 1885

It was also learned that West Ridgley, a 14 year-old boy, was with Winans and Cromer prior to the events and he noticed two men who worked at Heineman’s Farm in the vicinity.  After hearing about the murder, Ridgley went to see Cromer.  Cromer at first denied knowing anything about it, and then told Ridgley the story which he told is father.

The police returned to the area and much of the boy’s story was corroborated by footsteps, which were visible in the sand by the creek and on the top of the hill.  Despite this there were several officers who wanted the boys arrested and charged with the murder, as it seemed improbable that the murderer would come so close to the boys and just run off.  Winans was then moved to the county jail to be separated from Cromer.  A pistol was found in their possession, but it had not been recently fired.

On the morning of September 28, the daughter of John Jarvis, a baker at Crawford and Taylor’s cracker factory, was coming to town on West Market St. (today Park Avenue West) when a man suddenly appeared from the ravine asking for money and food.  The man became irate when she had none to give and Miss Jarvis “laid whip to her horse” and headed toward the city as fast as she could.  The man was described as have a scratch on his left cheek from his eye to his lip.  Miss Jarvis was so frightened she waited until her father could accompany her before returning home.

On September 29, James Winans’s father felt he had been in prison long enough without being charged and hired Attorney Dirlam as counsel and got a writ of habeas corpus to show just cause as to why his son was still detained.  James Winans was brought into court and charged, along with John Cromer, for the murder of Clara Hough.  The following day Winans was arraigned in the Mayor’s office and answered firmly “not guilty” to the question of “guilty or not guilty?”  It was later reported that Cromer accused Winans of the murder, but it was found out that this came only after Officer Ferguson told Cromer that Winans had confessed that both boys had committed the murder.  It was stated that Cromer said “If Winans said I did the shooting, he did it.”  In December of 1885, a Grand Jury discharged Cromer and Winans of the murder of Clara Hough.

Other possible suspects were reported throughout the years.  The most promising came in June of 1886 when two tramps, William Jasper and Michael Kelley were talking in Beaver Falls, Pa and Kelley admitted to Jasper that he tried to rape a woman in Mansfield and ended up shooting her.  Jasper went to the authorities and both men were arrested.  Many of the details of the story coincided exactly with the case.  It turns out Jasper was in prison at the time of the crime and was soon released and Kelley denied telling the man anything.  Marshall Weil of Mansfield went to Beaver Falls, but decided there was not enough evidence and, by July, Kelley was released.  At times during the investigation, J. W. Dougal, the man for whom Hough worked, was also suspected and, in November of 1887, it was reported that he had confessed while dangerously ill.  Dougal denied the unjust accusation.

The story continued to be popular among the citizens of Mansfield and during Halloween people would visit the site of the murder.  The area was even referred to as “Murderer’s Hollow” in an article from 1888.  The murderer was never discovered and the unsolved murders of the last fifteen years left an uneasy feeling in the minds of many residents.  Many felt the county would get a bad reputation as a place where these sorts of offenses would go unpunished.


The Bellville Star, 08 OCT 1885, p. 1.
The Bellville Star, 10 DEC 1885, p. 4.
The Bellville Star, 17 JUN 1886, p. 5.
The Mansfield Herald, 01 OCT 1885, P. 1, 5, & 7.
The Mansfield Herald, 08 OCT 1885, P. 1 & 6.
The Mansfield Herald, 26 NOV 1885, P. 4.
The Mansfield Herald, 17 JUN 1886, P. 6.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 26 SEP 1885, p. 1 & 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 03 OCT 1885, p. 8.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 10 OCT 1885, p. 1 & 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 17 OCT 1885, p. 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 24 OCT 1885, p. 5 & 7.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 31 OCT 1885, p. 3.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 07 NOV 1885, p. 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 05 DEC 1885, p. 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 12 DEC 1885, p. 5 & 7.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 19 DEC 1885, p. 1.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 19 JUN 1886, p. 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 26 JUN 1886, p. 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 05 NOV 1887, p. 5.
The Richland Shield and Banner, 26 MAY 1888, p. 5.


One thought on “Rumors and the Arrest of Two Young Men: The Clara Hough Murder

  1. Pingback: A Demon’s Deed: The Clara Hough Murder | The Sherman Room at MRCPL

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