The J.A. Stevenson Murder
A story told in the papers.
Greenville Evening Record August 14, 1916 pg column 1&2
Osgood Man Murdered in his home last night
J.A. Stevenson Met His Death in an Encounter With Burglars Who Got Away With $400
J.A. Stevenson of Osgood, proprietor of a country store and eating house, was found murdered in his home in that village shortly after midnight this morning by unknown burglars, who secured nearly $400.
Mr. Stevenson was shot three times. One bullet broke his left arm, a second entered his left side, punctured a lung and came out on the right side near the back. The third missile was embedded in the body.
Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson were alone in the house, in their bedroom on the second floor. Shortly after midnight they were awakened and found two men in the room. Mr. Stevenson seized a revolver lying on a table at the head of the bed and fired at the intruders, who ran, carrying Mr. Stevenson’s trousers containing his money. He followed them through an empty room to the head of the stairs, and down to the door of the kitchen, where he fell and expired before even the nearest neighbor could reach him.
Mrs. Stevenson ran to the home of Jeff Williams, who telephoned for help to Greenville. Burgess Guy Thorne, Officers Landers, Grover, and Bessemer Detective Dennis Riley responded, and were at the Stevenson home at 2 o’clock. Coroner McBride of Sharon and Coroner’s Physician Steele of Greenville were also summoned and concluded a post mortem and investigation.
Search of the premises showed there had been a struggle in the room next to the bedroom; there was a small spot of blood on the hall carpet, and only one of the three shots fired by Mr. Stevenson could be found. That went through a door and into a bed in an adjoining room where it was found. It is believed the other two took effect in the bodies of the robbers. Mr. Stevenson’s shirt was torn about the neck and there were marks and bruises on his neck where the murderer grappled with him.
As he reached the kitchen door he fell to the floor, exclaiming to his wife, “They got my money and I guess they got me too.” These were his last words, and he died before Mr. Williams reached the house.
The officers found the burglars had first placed a ladder against an upper window, but was unable to gain admittance there had cut the sash of a lower window with a penknife and so sprung the lock. The broken blade of the knife was found. They then opened the kitchen door from the inside.
The only clues to the murderers were the finding a few feet west of the Lake Shore tool house of a 32-calibre revolver with four empty cartridges and one loaded shell; nearby was a “jimmy” and a half-worn man’s shoe. It was also learned that one of the men had returned to the house and stole a pail and from a clothesline nearby taken some clothing. It is believed that one of the men was seriously wounded and that his companion returned to get the means with which to dress his wound. The robbers evidently fled in a westerly direction. No trace of Mr. Stevenson’s trousers has been found.
Information was sent in all directions to officers and physicians to watch for the men. Detective Riley and Special Officer Cullen of Greenville are leading a posse of men in a thorough search of the country and every effort is being made to apprehend the murderers.
A slight clue lies in the fact that Mr. Stevenson had some trouble with a foreigner for whom he had taken charge of a sum of money. In the settlement one of the men had claimed that he did not receive all that was coming to him.
The crime, one of the most wanton and cruel murders ever perpetrated in Mercer county, was evidently planned by some one familiar with the circumstances and habits of the Stevensons. The Stevenson home is unpretentious, and the store a plain country grocery. It would be a most unlikely place for a cracksman to select unless he knew that considerable sums of money were kept on the premises. The police expect this fact to aid them materially in running down the criminals, if such a thing is possible.
Mr. Stevenson was about 65 years of age; a man who numbered his friends only by the number of his acquaintances. His death under such cruel circumstances has sent a thrill of horror through this whole section. Mrs. Sanky Unger of Meadville is a daughter.
Greenville Evening Record Pg.1 Column 5 August 17, 1916
No Clues Yet in Stevenson Murder Case
No new developments have come to light concerning the murder of J.A. Stevenson, the Osgood grocer on Tuesday night. Police officers and friends of the murdered man have been actively scouring the country and every possible clue or suspicious person has been immediately investigated. The result has been so far, an absolute blank.
Burgess Thorne of Greenville is acting for District Attorney Rowley in the matter, the district attorney being away on his vacation.
It has been determined that the murderers secured about $275. On the day before his death, which was Lake Shore pay day, Mr. Stevenson collected his bills and as near as can be learned he had about $350 in his trousers. Of this $50 was in checks.
The Mercer Dispatch Pg. 1 Column 4 August 18, 1916
Osgood Merchant Murdered
J.A. Stevenson, of Osgood, proprietor of a general store and eating house, was murdered in his home in that village shortly after midnight Wednesday morning by unknown burglars, who secured nearly $400. He was shot three times. One bullet broke his left arm, a second entered his left side, punctured a lung and came out on the right side near the back, and the third was embedded in the body. Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson were awakened shortly after midnight and found two men in their room. Mr. Stevenson seized a revolver lying on a table at the head of the bed and fired at the intruders, who ran, carrying his trousers containing his money. He followed them through an empty room to the head of the stairs, and down to the door of the kitchen, where he fell and expired before even the nearest neighbor could reach him.
Greenville Evening Record August 21, 1916
Nothing New in Osgood Murder Case
“Nothing new” was the report yesterday by those engaged in attempting to clear up the Stevenson murder case at Osgood. State troopers are working day and night, and Acting District Attorney Guy Thorne is spending the greater portion of his time upon it. Every slightest clue is being followed out. Today a young man who had stated he was in company with two men at Osgood on the night of the murder, but left them because of their suspicious actions, we closely questioned, without result.
There is no question in the minds of those familiar with the case but that one of the murderers was wounded by Mr. Stevenson in the battle that took place in the little room at the head of the stairs, and this fact is expected to eventually lead to his discovery.
A closer inspection of the premises than was first given, has led the officers to believe that the murderers were not particularly familiar with the premises. They had evidently been in every room in the little house before coming to the bedroom occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson, and had also visited the store room, but disturbed nothing there.
The Mercer Dispatch Pg. 5 Column 2 August 25, 1916
State troopers have been assigned to duty in the Stevenson murder case and two men from the Butler barracks are now at Osgood. No positive clues have been discovered, but the actions of several suspicious characters are being traced. Burgess Thorne and Chief of Police Penman, of Greenville, are giving the troopers every assistance in their power, both having been constantly at work since the tragedy occurred.
Greenville Evening Record. Pg.1 Column 6 October 20, 1916
Unknown Man Found in Swamp
The badly decomposed body of an unknown man was found at 1 o’clock today at Houston Junction, about one mile east of Mercer at the junction of the Bessemer & Lake Erie and Pennsylvania railroads. The body lay beside a spring about 100 feet from the Pennsylvania tracks. The railroad people notified the local authorities and County Detective W.J. Hawes and Officer Livermore made an investigation. The body was very badly decomposed and it is presumed that the man had been dead for three or four months. There was absolutely no means of identification, or anything to indicate whether death resulted from violence or natural causes. The body was taken in charge by a Mercer undertaker for burial.
The spot where the body was found is in a swamp near a spring surrounded by pine trees and is a very lonely spot. It has long been a camping place for tramps, and the vicinity has been the scene of numerous holdups. It is believed probable that the man was a tramp and came to his death from natural causes.
Greenville Evening Record October 21, 1916
Unknown Found Dead Stevenson Murderer
Russet Shoe Remaining on Right Foot is Mate to Shoe Found Near the Stevenson House
One of the men who on the night of August 16, last, robbed, and murdered J.A. Stevenson at his home in Osgood, this county, has been determined.
He was the unknown, whose badly decomposed body was found Friday afternoon in a swamp near the Pennsylvania tracks at Houston Junction, about one mile east of Mercer. Identification as one of the murderers was made through the shoes of the dead man. On the right foot was a russet shoe, seven and one-half size. Blucher cut, sold by the Smith Shoe Co. of Albion, Pa., and known to the trade as “Keith’s Konquerer.” This shoe is identical with the one found on the night of the murder alongside the railroad tracks at Osgood and now is in possession of Guy Thorne, Esq., who acted for District Attorney Rowley in the case.
County Detective Hawes in making an examination of the effects of the dead man was struck by the fact that only one shoe; the right one, was on the body. He remembered the characteristics of the shoe found on the night of the murder, and a comparison immediately established the identity of the dead man as one of the murderers.
An examination of the black coat found on the body disclosed two bullet holes. One of them was through the left shoulder and the other through the abdomen. The dead man was apparently 30 years old, five feet nine inches tall, would weigh about 150 pounds and had red hair. By the body was a Stetson hat 7 ½ size, with an Akron, Oh., dealer’s name inside. In one of the coat pockets was a handkerchief stained with blood.
The theory of the officers is that the wounded man and his companion boarded a Bessemer freight train, riding to Houston Junction, where he was helped from the train to the tramp’s camping place by the spring in the swamp. The man might have been dead before reaching this spot, although that he was alive when left there is borne out by the finding close to the body of a small tin can, as if water had been left near to his hand. Deserted by his partners in crime, his body was stripped of every possible clue to identification and the wounded man left to die.
Between midnight and 1 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, August 16, two men entered the home of J.A. Stevenson, keeper of a small store in Osgood, and robbed him of $365 in money which was in the pocket of his trousers in the bedroom occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson. The couple were awakened and Mr. Stevenson gave chase to the burglars, firing several shots at them. In the fight, which took place through the upstairs rooms, down the stairs and into the kitchen, Mr. Stevenson was shot three times and fell dead on the floor of the kitchen.
The alarm was immediately given, and within less than two hours Greenville officers and Burgess Thorne were on the ground. Most diligent efforts were made to trace the murderers, the State Constabulary being called into the case, but without result.
The only clues found were a man’s shoe, a 32-calibre revolver, and a “jimmy” made from a railroad brakeshoe key, which were discovered along the track a few feet west of the Lake Shore tool house.
Greenville Evening Record October 26, 1916
Wheaton Still Very Much Alive
Persistent Reports That Unknown Found at Houston Junction was Greenville Man Disproved
Some local newspaper correspondents have been insisting that the unknown man found dead in the swamp near Houston Junction, just below Mercer last week had been identified as Walter Wheaton ofGreenville. The rumor has been persistent and was of more than usual interest from the fact that the dead man had been proved almost beyond a doubt to be the murderer of J.A. Stevenson, who was shot down in his home at Osgood on the night of August 16. Wheaton is said to be a strong resemblance to the description of the body found.
Walter Wheaton, however, is alive and for the past three months has been either at Sharon or near Carlton Pa., where he has been employed on the farm of Philip Porter. Mrs. Porter is an aunt of Wheaton. Warren Wheaton of Taylor street, Greenville, a brother of Walter, last week received a letter from him dated October 15, at Carlton. Two weeks ago Saturday Walter Wheaton left the home of a sister in Sharon and went to Carlton, passing through Greenville over the Erie. His relatives state that Walter Wheaton can be found by the authorities at any time and that he is able to show he had no connection with the Stevenson crime.
On Tuesday evening of this week the Franklin Evening News published a story concerning Wheaton which carried a Greenville date line, and purported to give inside information of a positive identification by county officers of the dead man as Walter Wheaton. In this connection a history of Wheaton’s trial and conviction in Venango county in 1898 for the murder of George Carter was given. On Thursday evening The News published the following:
“It is apparent that the Mercer County authorities have not looked very hard for Walter Wheaton, whom they thought could throw some light on the murder of J.A. Stevenson at Osgood on August 16, 1916. According to advice received by The Evening News this afternoon, he has been in this vicinity ever since early this August, being in the employ of a farmer living between Carlton and Utica.
The information that comes to The Evening News is that, with the exception of a few days, he has worked steadily on the farm in question.
“I saw him a couple of weeks ago,” a man said, “and neighbors of ours saw him the latter part of last week. He has been working with Mr. Porter nearly all of the time since he was arresting in Franklin for drunkenness early in August. So far as I know the fellow has been behaving himself.”
The Mercer Dispatch Pg. 4 Column 4 October 27, 1916
The skeleton of a man, at first supposed to be merely a tramp, was found Friday near a spring in the woods about 100 yards from the station at Houston Junction. It was taken in charge by E.C. Miller and the proper authorities were notified. They began an investigation Saturday, as a result of which they have established, practically beyond a doubt, that the man was one of the robbers who murdered J.A. Stevenson, the aged Osgood merchant, on the night of August 16. This was proved by the fact that the man wore only one shoe and it was found near the Stevenson home the day after the murder. About one ankle were wrapped some cloths, over which had been drawn a women’s stocking, all of which had been stolen from a clothes line in a yard at Osgood. The clothes covering the skeleton contained bullet holes, showing that the man had been shot in the shoulder and abdomen. It is believed that he either died on a freight train and that his body was carried to the spring by his confederates or had sought refuge there and died later. It also is believed that the man’s identity has been discovered, this being established by the color of his hair and a peculiar ring found on one finger. The identity of the confederates is unknown, but the Burns Detective Agency is working on the case and developments are expected.
Greenville Evening Record Pg.1 October 28, 1916
Wheaton Has Proof of a Perfect Alibi
Walter Wheaton, the Greenville man whose name has persistently been connected with the murder of J.A. Stevenson at Osgood on the early morning of August 16, last; and who was widely reported to have been identified as the man found dead recently at Houston Junction near Mercer, has a perfect alibi in that connection.
As to being found dead at Mercer or anywhere else, The Evening Record stated last week, after a thorough investigation and the nest of proof, that Walter Wheaton was alive and was working on a farm nearUtica, Pa. To clinch the matter, Wheaton came to Mercer today, made himself known to Chief Penman and Burgess Guy Thorne, and gave a full account of his movements with day and date, names and addresses of the people with whom he stayed, since May 27 last, when he quit his job as a railroad section man at Osgood and went to Franklin. This data was given to Mr. Thorne and will be verified.
At Franklin on the night of May 28 he was detained by the police; the next day he went to the home of Philip Porter at Utica. Mrs. Porter being a cousin. He remained there and worked on the Porter farm untilAugust 9, when he bought a ticket for Cleveland, Oh., stopping at the Marine Hotel. The next day he went to Loraine, Oh., where he went to work in the shops of the Elyria Oh., Gas Engine Co., where he remained three weeks, going from there to Detroit, where he remained one week, going from there to the home of his sister in Sharon. Two weeks ago today he returned to Utica, where he is now working.
Wheaton stated positively that on August 16 he was working in Elyria, and gave the name and address of his boarding boss.
Wheaton is apparently doing his best to live straight and he feels keenly the unpleasant notoriety that has been accorded him. On October 24 the Franklin Evening News published an article giving Wheaton’s history and stating that the body found at Mercer had been identified by Burgess Thorne of Greenville, as that of Walter Wheaton, by means of a ring found on the hand of the dead man. Mr. Thorne states that he not only did not make such an identification, but that he never saw the ring in question.
While there is no question in the minds of those conversant with the facts in the case that the man found at Houston Junction and the murderer of Stevenson are one and the same, it is but justice to Walter Wheaton and his relatives that he be relieved of suspicion in that connection.