Date: July 28, 1885
Location: Bloomingdale, Michigan
Victim: Harvey Keith
Cause of Death: Strangulation
Accused: Marshal G. Barker and William K. Barker
|Marshal G. Barker|
Barker came back once more, and this time he was ready to tell his story. He handed Keith a watch and a diary that Keith immediately recognized as his son’s. Barker said that he had come home after midnight and found Harvey Keith in bed with his wife. A fight ensued and Harvey escaped through the window wearing just his shirt and socks. Now Barker wanted the $50 as retribution.
|Mrs. Lillian Barker|
James Keith paid Barker nothing, but after hearing his story, began a frantic search for his missing son. He found no trace of Harvey Keith until his body turned up four days later floating in Max Lake. A post mortem examination revealed that Harvey had no water in his lungs; he had been put into the lake after his death. He had also been emasculated and from the wound the doctors could tell that it had been done after death. They believed that Keith had died of strangulation. Marshal Barker was arrested as a suspect, along with his wife Lillian and his brother William.
Barker stuck to his story and, although the sheriff believed he was guilty, there was not enough evidence to charge him with murder. To remedy this, Van Buren County hired detective Mathew Pinkerton to search for evidence. Though he was in no way related to Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Mathew Pinkerton had briefly worked for that agency. He was fired for telling people that he was Allan Pinkerton’s son. Mathew Pinkerton then started his own detective agency, Pinkerton’s United States Detective Agency, which, after being sued by the real Pinkertons, become just The United States Detective Agency.
|William K. Barker|
Marshal Barker confessed that he had suspected his wife of cheating on him and devised a plan to catch her. He told her he would be leaving town for several days to look for work. Thinking that her husband was gone, Lillian Barker, together with William Barker’s wife, enticed Harvey Keith to her house for a night of fun. But
|Mrs. William Barker|
On the strength of the confessions, the three Barkers were arrested for the murder of Harvey Keith.
Trial: October 16, 1885
By the time of their trial, Marshal and William Barker had gotten a real attorney who challenged the validity of the confessions and moved for a change of venue. The confessions had been summarized in several newspapers and were well known to the people of Van Buren County, but the change of venue was denied. The Barker brothers were pleading not guilty, but Lillian Barker had turned state’s evidence against her husband and brother-in-law, so even without the confessions, the odds were against them. The hardest job for the prosecution was finding a jury that had not already read the confessions.
The testimony continued until October 22. That evening the jury was charged and ordered out for deliberation. At 6:00 the next morning they returned, finding the Barkers brothers guilty of second degree murder.
Verdict: Guilty of second degree murder.
Marshal Barker was sentenced to life at hard labor and William Baker was sentenced to twenty-five years. By 1:00 that afternoon they were on board a train to Jackson prison.
Mrs. Barker’s trial was put over until the next term of the court, but it is unlikely that the trial ever took place.