119 South Pitt Street · Mercer, Pennsylvania 16137 · 724-662-3490

Man looks for a murderer 100 years later.

The MCHS was able to play a hand in looking into this mysterious death more than 100 years ago:

The Record-Argus, Greenville, Pa. 16125

Saturday-Sunday, August 13-14, 2016

One-hundred years later, man seeks info about uncle’s murder

By Molly Vanwoert

Mystery is ‘out of a TV drama’

Until a few weeks ago, Jim Stevenson had no idea his great-great uncle J.A. Stevenson existed.

While doing research on the history of another relative, Jim stumbled across J.A.’s story – documented in old newspaper articles collected by the Mercer County Historical Society (MCHS) – and found himself thrust into a murder mystery that he said “could be straight out of a TV drama.’

Now Jim said he is trying everything he can to learn more about the uncle he never knew he had, and the murder that ended his life exactly 100 years ago.

According to historical society documents, J.A. died after being shot three times in his Osgood home on Aug. 13, 1916.

While archives from the Greenville Evening Record and The Mercer Dispatch detail the many twists and turns of the investigation into J.A.’s untimely death, from the day after attack through Oct. 28, 1916, coverage of the investigation seems to end there.

The final Evening Record article confirms the identity of one of J.A.’s killers – found dead just a mile outside of Mercer – and clears the name of another implicated in the crime, but does not answer the question of who the second killer was.

This, among others, is a question Jim wants answered.

Jim is currently working with Bill Philson – executive director of the historical society – in an attempt to track down missing newspaper articles, police reports and an obituary for J.A., which he hopes will help fill in the blanks of his family tree.

Although his father was 11 years old when J.A. was murdered, Jim said his dad’s great-uncle was never mentioned to him; his sister, Nancy; or his brother, John, as they were growing up.

“We knew nothing about [the murder], or him for that matter,” Jim said. “When it happened, my dad was 11 and lived very close by to J.A., but it was never discussed in our family – it was never brought up, by anyone.”

Jim’s father kept hand-written records of the Stevensons’ family history, something Jim said he passed on to him.

While researching a J.M. Stevenson – who was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg – Jim said an Internet search led him to the historical society’s collection of articles pertaining to J.A.’s murder – the only account of J.A.’s existence that Jim has been able to locate in his month of research.

“I just happened to run across it,” Jim said. “There is no mention of him on ancestry.com. He doesn’t show up on our family tree. The only thing that shows up is the incredible account from the historical society.”

While his great-great- uncle’s existence was revealed through research of the Stevenson family history, Jim said his connection with J.A.’s murder goes further than just genetics.

Guy Thorne, who was acting district attorney who investigated J.A.’s murder, lived next door to Jim and his family on College Avenue for most of Jim’s childhood.

“I knew he and his wife well,” Jim said of Thorne. “I used to walk their dog, and she’d give me a dime to go buy a gum stick.”

Jim, who now resides in Morristown, N.J., lived in the borough, next door to the Thornes, from the time he was 6 years old until he was 14.

In that time, he never heard mention of his uncle J.A., or the investigation that Thorne participated in.

Jim said he plans to continue to do “some belated detective work” into J.A.’s life and death, in hopes of sharing the complete history with the rest of his family, as well as the historical society.

While Philson said the historical society receives frequent calls from people hoping to get a glimpse into their family’s past, he added that Jim’s experience with J.A.’s murder is particularly interesting.

“It’s fascinating, to read about these unsolved cases, because you have your feelings about what may have happened, but you can’t prove it,” Philson said. “Their stories are still alive, even though the people are long gone.”

J.A.: ‘I guess they got me, too’

SUGAR GROVE TOWNSHIP – Today marks the 100th anniversary of what is described as “one of the most wanton and cruel murders ever perpetrated in Mercer County.”

On Aug. 13, 1916, J.A. Stevenson was shot three times in his Osgood – now Sugar Grove Township – home by two burglars, who escaped with $400.

According to Greenville Evening Record archives, Stevenson was able to reach his revolver and fire three shots – two of which struck one of the men – at the intruders before they fled the scene.

“They got my money, and I guess they got me, too,” were Stevenson’s last words according to the Record, spoken to his wife as they awaited help.

Stevenson was 65 at the time of his murder.

Because the “Stevenson home is unpretentious,” and the local store he owned was described as “plain,” the Record said police felt the crime “was planned by someone familiar with the circumstances and habits of the Stevensons” The only evidence left at the scene by the suspects was the 32-caliber revolver used to kill Stevenson and a half-worn men’s shoe.

Then, on Oct. 20, 1916, a break in the case came in the form of a body discovered in a swamp about one mile outside of Mercer near the Pennsylvania railroad tracks at Houston Junction.

Although the body was badly decomposed, the Record reported that, on the right foot of the man’s body, was the mate to the shoe found at the scene of Stevenson’s murder.

“A comparison [of the shoes] immediately established the identity of the dead man as one of the murderers,” the article says. “An examination of the black coat found on the body disclosed two bullet holes.”

The man’s wounds were wrapped in decomposed clothing that was stolen from the Stevenson’s home after the attack on J.A.

It was believed by authorities that the wounded man and his accomplice boarded a Bessemer freight train and rode to Houston Junction after fleeing the scene of J.A.’s murder.

“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 finding close to the body of a small tin can, as if water had been left near his hand,” an Oct. 21, 1916, article says. “Deserted by his partners in crime, his body was stripped of every possible clue to identification, and the wounded man left to die.”

The final article pertaining to Stevenson ran in the record Oct. 28, 1916, with no inclination that the additional men responsible for the murder of J.A. had been identified or apprehended.

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