Mary Jane Lunsford: The Discovery of the Body

Nearly fifty people had visited the crime scene before Marshal John F. McKinley arrived at 8 o’clock on the morning of March 12, 1870.  Earlier in the morning, Mrs. Thomas Casey and Mrs. Charity Harris knocked again on Mrs. Lunsford’s door and again there was no answer.  They put a ladder against the house and attempted to ask a stranger to go up and investigate.  He refused and Tom Caton agreed to enter the home.  Caton climbed the ladder and, finding the window nailed shut, pried it open with a hatchet.  Caton went in through the window and confirmed their fears.  The scene frightened Caton and he went downstairs and unbolted the back door.  According to James Barton, Mr. Casey came to him and said he believed something terrible had happened to Mrs. Lunsford.  Barton retrieved Ansel L. Robinson from the Blymyer, Day & Co. foundry and the two went to the house.  They first noticed the blood on the table downstairs.  They then went upstairs and saw the horrible scene.  Lunsford’s body lay dead diagonally across the bed, in her nightclothes, with her head lying off the edge of the bed.  Her throat was cut to her spine, her head was bruised, and she had a ghastly cut on the left side of her mouth.  There was also a large cut on her abdomen and five bite marks on her arm.  The bed had broken and her head was pushed down through broken slats.  There were signs of a struggle and the floor was covered with blood.  Robinson, Barton, Casey, and Caton lifted her up onto the bed, covered her, and Robinson left to retrieve Marshal McKinley.

When Marshal John F. Mckinley arrived, he examined the body then went downstairs and someone called his attention to the blood-stained letters sitting on a table next to the stairs.  Two were addressed to M.J. Lunsford and the other to Mr. Ebersole of Shelby from Lunsford.  He took possession of the letters, a pocketbook containing .35 cents, a lead pencil, a trunk, and an umbrella with the name “Wm. Larabee” on it. The investigation showed that the murderer made their way downstairs and escaped through the window leaving bloody fingerprints on the window sill.  Unfortunately, it would be 30 or 40 years until fingerprint evidence would start to be used in criminal investigations.  Mr. A. M. Hackett, a detective from 1852 to 1869 was asked by Councilman Mr. McCoy to examine the body and house.  Mr. Hackett learned from Charity Harris that Mr. Robinson had been at the house earlier in the day and, after examining the letters, made Robinson the prime suspect.  Robinson testified that Mrs. Lunsfoed had called him to the House to ask his advice on whether she should tell her fiance, Mr. Ebersole, that she was a “grass widow,” a woman who has been left by her husband.but not officially divorced.  He said she should tell him, as the truth would come out eventually.

Hackett first saw Robinson at Lunsford’s funeral on Sunday, March 13, and looking at his mouth believed that Robinson’s teeth matched the bite marks on Lunsford’s arm.  After later examining Robinson’s teeth more closely, he was convinced Robinson was the murderer.  Robinson was arrested the next day for the murder of Mary Jane Lunsford.  Casts were made of Robinson’s teeth and the body of Lunsford was exhumed.  Dr. James R Bristor, a dentist, took an impression of Robinson’s teeth in beeswax, then made a cast in plaster of Paris.   He tried to make a cast of the impressions on Lunsford’s arm but did not succeed.  Dr. Wm. Loughridge and Dr. W. N. King also examined the exhumed body and agreed the teeth matched the bite marks.  On Tuesday, March 22, evidence was submitted against Robinson in Miller’s Hall, on the corner of Third and North Main St., to accommodate the large crowd.   Robinson’s lawyers were Messrs. Burns, Dickey, Gass, Matson, and Dirlam.  The prosecution was Messrs. J. W. Jenner and Cowen.  To save time, testimony taken previously was read and new testimonies from dentists Dr. DeCamp and Dr. C. R. Taft were submitted.  DeCamp took another cast of Robinson’s teeth and both agreed they relatively matched the bite marks.  Mayor Cummins, after hearing the testimony, decided there was enough evidence to commit Robinson to jail and hold a trial in a higher court.


Mansfield Atlas, 1882

While Robinson sat in jail, his wife and family stood by his side.  Many in the community, though not happy with his intimate relationship with Mrs. Lunsford, felt he was incapable of such a crime.  A reporter from the Cincinnati Daily Commercial newspaper interviewed Robinson and workers at Blymyer, Day, & Co. works.  The reporter agreed with Mansfield Herald reporters that if Robinson was lying he was a good actor.  Many at his work were split on his guilt or innocence, but many agreed he could be quick to temper.  Robinson was jailed nearly six months awaiting trial which was set to begin September 26, 1870.

There were other suspects that were investigated.  In the beginning, many believed John Ebersole to be the murderer, but he was easily able to prove he was in Shelby the night of the murder.  David Evans, whose mother was believed to have Mrs. Lunsford’s daughter, was also suspected, but he was lying sick in Lima the night of the murder.  There was Abram Newsam, the overnight guest of the Harris family, who many believed he could, at least, clear up some mysteries since there was only a thin wall between him and the murder.  Hugh J. Wiley of Cincinnati was also mixed up in the affair.  Ebersole said a man at the Pacific Hotel recognized him as a man asking where Lunsford’s house was shortly before the murder.  Charles Rogers, an African-American working at Thorntons’s Hotel, was also arrested, but released after the cast of his teeth did not match the bite marks on the victim.  Later it was also believed by many that Edward Webb, who was executed in 1878 for the murder of William Finney, was the murderer.  Webb was known to visit the Harris family next door.

Next Week: The Historic Trial


The Murder of Mary Jane Lunsford

In the early morning hours of March 12, 1870, William Braby had just finished playing for the night at the Philharmonic Hall.  Around 1 o’clock in the morning, Mr. Braby noticed a man rush out from the corner where the Atlantic Hotel stood.  The unknown stranger, dressed in dark clothes, hurriedly made his way up the street and crossed the street about a block in front of Braby.  This was an odd occurrence to Braby since it had been raining and the streets were muddy.  The following morning, the mutilated body of 28-year-old Mrs. Mary Jane Lunsford was found in the upstairs bedroom of her home behind the Atlantic.  The house was a one and a half story, unpainted, wooden structure inhabited by two families.  The victim, Mrs. Lunsford, lived alone in the west end.  In the east end of the building lived an African-American family named Harris.

Mrs. Lunsford had only been in Mansfield a short time, having arrived the previous August.  She was most likely born in Kentucky, the daughter of Jefferson Hall, a Captain in the Kentucky Cavalry during the Civil War, and Nancy Alexander.  In the 1850 Census, Jefferson Hall is listed as a shoemaker and living in Estill County, Kentucky with his wife Nancy and children John (14), Allen (12), Mary J (8), and W. O. B. Hall (2).  On June 3, 1852, Mrs. Nancy Hall died of measles in Estill County, Kentucky.  Mary’s father, Jefferson, remarried less than a year later to 27-year-old Rebeca Kirby.  It’s difficult to determine when Mary Jane left her home, but she was married at the age of 16 to John Lunsford on October 1, 1858.  It was rumored John left Mary when the war broke out and never returned to her.  She made her way to Cincinnati, Ohio and on November 19, 1862, placed an ad in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial newspaper looking for her brother William O. Butler Hall.  The ad asked him to meet her in the Manchester Building and, if he did, he would “hear something to his advantage.”

Hall Lunsford Marriage01OCT1858

Marriage Record of John Lunsford to Mary Jane Hall, 01 OCT 1858

lunsford ad1862

From the Cincinnati Daily Commercial, 19 NOV 1862

It was around this time that Mrs. Lunsford first met Ansel L. Robinson.  Robinson was an iron molder, had an interest in politics, and was popular with the working-class man.  In 1861 Robinson, unsuccessfully, ran for mayor in Cincinnati and helped to get Samuel Fenton Cary elected to Congress in 1867.  Robinson arrived in Mansfield around 1868 and became superintendent of the Blymyer, Day, & Co. works.  Letters found in Mrs. Lunsfords home would show she had an intimate relationship with Robinson and was being “kept” as his mistress.  The relationship was believed to have been going on for 6 or 7 years and was one of the reasons for her coming to Mansfield.  It was also suggested that Mrs. Lunsford had a 7-year-old daughter living in Lima, Ohio.  The daughter was reportedly living with the mother of David Evans, another man who had fallen for Mrs. Lunsford.  There is no indication of who the father was.  In addition to Robinson and Evans, another man in Cincinnati was interested in Mrs. Lunsford.  Hugh J. Wiley had reportedly wanted her to marry her.  It was rumored that when she left for Mansfield he said if she didn’t return to him within the year, he would come after her.

The last man Mrs. Lunsford was known to associate with was her fiance, John Ebersole, though it was suspected she had other visitors.  The Mansfield Herold reported that upon her life rested  “a dark shadow of sin,” but “no one had sufficient cause to take her life.”  Ebersole had arrived in Mansfield from Upper Sandusky and had first met Mrs. Lunsford about 5-months before her death.  Ebersole testified he had last seen her about four weeks before and he was in Shelby caring for a man with a broken leg when he heard of her death.  The couple was supposed to be married the following Wednesday.  Multiple sources reported Mr. Robinson was going to buy Mrs. Lunsford’s wedding dress.  Ebersole intended to take his new wife to Upper Sandusky or Dayton after the marriage to give her the opportunity to “change her life.”

On the night of the murder, Mrs. Lunsford’s neighbor, Charity Harris, reported hearing screams and groans through the paper-thin walls.  The screams were also heard by her husband, Phillip; Abram Newsam, who was boarding with the Harris family; and a watchman at the Aultman Works.  Charity asked her husband to check on Mrs. Lunsford.  Phillip went next door and knocked, calling out “Mary” several times.  When he didn’t get an answer, Phillip went to Casey’s Grocery and awoke them, reporting what he heard.  They informed him that if there were any other cries to let them know.  No further cries were heard and Phillip returned to bed for the night.  In the morning, there was no sign of Mrs. Lunsford and a ladder was placed against the house to gain access to the second floor.  A grisly scene met those who entered the home.

Next week: The discovery of the body and suspects.

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.

A Demon’s Deed: The Clara Hough Murder

Clara Melissa Hough was a domestic working for the family of Joseph W. Dougal, an agricultural implement dealer.  Dougal’s home was located at 175 West Fourth, about where 454 West Fourth would be located today, near Penn Avenue.  Clara came to Mansfield from the small town of Madisonburg, outside of Wooster, Ohio.  In the 1880 U.S. Census, she is living with her grandmother, Magdalen, and working as a teacher.  Clara had no plans to marry and, according to her family, was content to live her life as an old maid.


Mansfield Herald, Oct. 8, 1885

Saturday afternoon, September 19, 1885, between 2 and 4, the 24 year-old Clara left the Dougal residence and made her way to visit Gaylord Terman, who lived north of the city.  She made this journey often and not much was thought of it.  She usually returned on Sunday evening or Monday morning.  Sunday evening passed, as did Monday morning, with no word from Clara.  On Tuesday, Clara was still absent and, when she failed to return to the Dougal residence by Wednesday morning, J. W. Dougal went to the Terman farm to check on her whereabouts.  The Terman family said Clara had arrived Saturday evening and that one of the family members had given her a ride Sunday evening, around 4 or 5, back to town and dropped her off near the water works.  It was then her custom to walk back to the Dougal residence along the B & O tracks.  Dougal next made his way to the B & O and Union depots to see if anyone had seen Clara, which no one had.  A few tickets were sold to Wooster.  Some weekends she would visit her family, but no one could say if she boarded the train.  Dougal then returned to his office and met with James T. Jolley, Robert M. Garrett and Levitt Crider and the men began a search following the tracks.

The Grisly Discovery

It didn’t take long for the search party to make the discovery.  First, about 140 yards from the railroad, Dougal and Crider discovered a pair of gloves, a young ladies gossamer, hat and bouquet within a few feet of each other.  Then about 100 feet up the ravine, the body of Clara Hough was discovered.  She had nearly made it to her destination before an unknown attacker attempted to assault the young woman.  Her body was considerably bloated and bruises were found on her wrists and neck.  When the body was turned over blood spilled out from the head and a bullet hole was discovered about two inches from the right ear.  Crider was immediately sent to notify the authorities and Marshal James Weil and Prosecutor Jacob Seward arrived and placed the body in a wagon and moved it to the wood shed of the Dougal’s house.


Mansfield Herald, Oct. 1, 1885

The Examination

The body showed clear signs of a struggle.  The Mansfield Herald describes Clara as 5 foot 7 with a massive build and she surely put up a fight.  It was believed the attack took place where her items were found and, upon her attempt to escape, she was shot with the bullet striking the back of her head.  Doctors Ireland and Anderson and Coroner Mecklam, from Lucas, examined the body and determined the bullet had entered the head on an upward trajectory, suggesting the assailant was on the ground when the shot was fired and that he did not accomplish his primary purpose, as there were no physical signs of rape.  There was some disagreement on how long Clara suffered after being shot.  Some believing she died immediately, while others feel she languished for days.  It appeared the weapon was a .32 caliber revolver.  It also appeared robbery wasn’t a motive as a pocketbook was found on Clara, which contained .35 cents and a pocket knife.  Also found were three plugs of tobacco and one which was partially used.  The tobacco has been purchased at Jackson Grocery and the bitten off piece was found in her mouth during the corners examination.


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

After the examination, the body was taken by Undertaker James A. Niman.  Isaac N. Hugh, Clara’s brother, and her brother-in-law, Edmund Keyser, arrived from Wooster Wednesday evening to retrieve the body.  They made an examination of the area where the tragedy occurred and were surprised that such an event could happen in an open space during the day.  Clara Hough is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Wooster, Ohio.

Next week: Rumors and the arrest of two young men.