Saturday, November 25, 2017

Baptized in Blood and Flames.

About four a.m. the morning of February 16, 1896, Robert Laughlin appeared at his sister’s door clad in his nightclothes and bleeding from the neck. He told a harrowing story, he had been awakened by someone drawing a knife blade across his throat. He grappled with his assailant, arose from the bed and knocked him down with his fist. Then the man’s confederate hit Laughlin across the face with a burning torch. He ran to the door, chased by one of the men but was able to outrun him. His wife Emma and his niece May Jones—who was reported variously as 12, 13, or 14 years-old— were still in the house. Laughlin and his brother-in-law went back and found the house in flames. When the fire was put out, they found the bodies of Emma and May, burned nearly beyond recognition.

Laughlin had no idea who the men were or what their motive was. R. W. Fitzgerald, a detective with the C & O Railroad, working for the coroner immediately began an investigation accompanied by Marshal William Barren of Augusta. Though some of the neighbors doubted Laughlin’s story Barren and Fitzgerald sent for bloodhounds to search for the assailants Laughlin described. The bloodhounds, however, would only follow Laughlin’s trail to his sister’s house. The men tried several times to send the dogs off in different directions but they always ended up at the sister’s house. Fitzgerald began to suspect that Laughlin himself was the killer and requested the clothing he was wearing at the time of the attack. They found that his shirt and undershirt were saturated with blood.

Fitzgerald and Barren brought the evidence to Sheriff Frank of Bracken County and requested that he arrest Laughlin, but the sheriff refused to do so. Emma Laughlin was a sister of the Jones boys, who had a wide circle of violent friends and relations. May Jones was a daughter of one of them. If he arrested Laughlin without preparing, he thought it would lead to serious trouble. The coroner also decided to defer any verdict until the following Monday.

That night detective Fitzgerald, along with a Marshal Sayers of Augusta, caught up with Laughlin at his father’s house. Sayers had known Laughlin from boyhood and doubted his story from the beginning. As they sat around the fireside Sayers said to Laughlin, “Bob, you know I have been your friend. The best thing for you is to tell us all about it here in the home of your old, broken-hearted father.”

Laughlin buried his face in his hand and sobbed for several minutes, then made his confession. He said, he waited until his wife and niece were both sleeping, then hit his wife in the temple with a poker, and with one convulsive quiver she expired. The attack on his wife woke the little girl who got out of bed saying, “What are you doing, Uncle Bob?” He hit the girl with the poker, then set fire to the house. For the sake of his story, he cut a slight gash in his throat then ran to his sister’s house. He could not say what possessed him to commit the murders.

Laughlin was arrested and quietly taken to jail in Augusta. News of the confession was withheld for fear of mob violence, and for his own safety, Laughlin was moved to a strong jail in Maysville, Kentucky. Once he felt safe, Laughlin changed his confession, he said, that night he had attempted to rape his young niece and when his wife tried to stop him he murdered them both then set the fire. When news of the confession came out, hundreds of men in Bracken County pledged their help in dragging Laughlin from the jail and lynching him.

Anger increased as newspapers reported that Laughlin’s open knife was found under the body of May Jones revealing that “the murder was more atrocious than the confession indicates.” Laughlin was secretly transported to Augusta, by way of Cincinnati, just long enough to appear for a preliminary hearing charging him with murder, rape, and arson.

Laughlin was tried in July; he was convicted and sentenced to hang. While Laughlin’s attorney appealed the conviction, the mob in Bracken County grew restless and planned to storm the Mayville jail. The authorities moved Laughlin again, to the jail in Covington, Kentucky which was already well guarded as it was holding the convicted murderers of Pearl Bryan. The Court of Appeals upheld the verdict and the date of Laughlin’s execution was set for January 9, 1897.

A tall fence was erected around the gallows in Brookville, where the execution was to take place; only those holding tickets would be allowed inside. Around 7:30, the morning of January 9, a large crowd gathered outside the fence and began shouting “Bring him out! Bring him out!” The door of the enclosure was opened at 9:10, prompting a mad rush; the crowd pulled down the fence and filled the jail yard to capacity. Deputy Sheriff McAfee mounted the scaffold and asked the crowd to be quiet. His wishes were respected and the crowd stood in relative silence.

At 9:20 Laughlin was brought to the gallows. The Reverend Mr. Lee read Bible verses requested by Laughlin, then at Laughlin’s request, sang the hymn “Nearer My Home Today.” At 9:29, the trap was sprung; Laughlin fell, the noose broke his neck, and he died instantly.

“Baptized in Blood and Flames,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, February 16, 1896.
“Confessed the Murder.,” New Haven Register, February 17, 1896.
“Details,” Evansville Courier and Press, February 16, 1896.
“Doom of Death,” Kentucky Post, November 14, 1896.
“Laughlin Burned Them,” Daily Illinois State Journal, February 18, 1896.
“Mob,” Cincinnati Post, January 9, 1897.
“Mob Wanted Laughlin,” Morning Herald, September 15, 1896.
“Report of Another confession by Murderer Laughlin,” Evansville Courier and Press, April 28, 1896.
“Robert Laughlin.,” Knoxville Journal, February 19, 1896.
“Wife and Niece.,” Boston Journal, July 17, 1896.


Unknown says:
November 29, 2017 at 5:45 PM

Looks like the murderous demon got buried in his home county...could not locate burial info for his Wife and Niece. :( Find A Grave page has a newspaper clipping with additional info...states he gave no confession right till his neck broke from the rope fall...CD from North Carolina

Unknown says:
November 29, 2017 at 5:50 PM

Interesting note...the township this occurred in...Augusta, Kentucky is the hometown of Rosemary, Nick, and George Clooney... CD from NC...,_Kentucky

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