Saturday, February 4, 2023

Arson to Hide a Worse Crime.

Lee Heflin ran to Thomas Robinson’s farm near Calverton, Virginia, on November 10, 1891, to raise an alarm that a house on a neighboring farm was on fire. Heflin led Robinson and his son George to the burning house. When they got there, other neighbors had gathered, and the house was engulfed in flames. 

The house belonged to Mrs. J. W. Kines, a widow who lived there with three of her children. It appeared that all four were still inside. The Robinsons ventured in and were able to pull out three bodies. 8-year-old Lizzie Kines lay near the door and was only slightly burned. Annie Kines, ten years old, was so badly burned as to be unrecognizable. Mrs. Kines’s body was severely charred but not as bad as her daughter's. There was no trace of 4-year-old Gilbert Kines. 

Mrs. Kines had been having financial difficulties since her husband died and had told neighbors she did not know how she would take care of the children alone. But the coroner quickly ruled out murder-suicide; the victims had been killed before the fire started. Lizzie had deep wounds to her skull and between her eyes. Her jaw was broken as well. Mrs. Kines’s skull had been crushed.

Lee Heflin had been shucking corn at the McMillan farm, about 40 yards from the burning house. When asked why he ran to Robinson’s house a mile and a half away instead of trying to rescue those in the house, Heflin responded, “I am a stranger here. I never saw a house on fire before and was afraid.”

Heflin roomed with George Dye on the McMillan farm. Neither man could give a satisfactory account of their actions the night of the murder, and they gave contradictory statements. However, the coroner’s jury ruled that Mrs. Kines and her daughters were killed by a person or persons unknown, and the motive was believed to be robbery. The Governor offered a reward of $700 for the “detention, arrest, and conviction” of the murderer or murderers.

Heflin and Dye were arrested on suspicion in Warrenton, then taken to Alexandria for their own protection. A vigilance committee in Warrenton was formed to lynch the men. On the way to Alexandria, Heflin confessed to several witnesses that he committed the murders to secure some money. He also exonerated Dye.

Heflin said he had gone to the house at about 8:00 the night before the fire. He knocked on the door, and when Mrs. Kines answered, he asked her for some money. She told him she had none. He went into the house, picked up a heavy piece of firewood, and felled Mrs. Kines with one blow. He turned and saw Gilbert, then killed him with a blow to the back of the neck. Then he killed the other two children and secured what money he could find. He took between $25 and $75 and buried it. The next morning, he returned to the house, saturated the place with coal oil, and set it on fire. He said he needed the money because he was going to elope with the wife and daughter of a farmer who lived nearby. The police went to look for the money and planned to release Dye.

Joseph Dye was still in custody when Heflin went to trial in Warrenton that December. Heflin had changed his story and now said that Dye had done the killing and he had done the burning. On December 29, Lee Heflin was found guilty of first-degree murder. Heflin was rushed from the courtroom and barely escaped an excited mob that had gathered there. 

In January, Heflin testified against Dye at his trial. Dye was found guilty as well, and both men were sentenced to be hanged on March 18.

The day before the hanging was to take place, the Governor granted them a 60-day stay of execution. Dye was appealing for a new trial, and Heflin would be a witness. Fearing violence, the authorities placed the men in a vehicle and started for the safety of Alexandria. A party of sixty men, worried that Dye and Heflin would escape justice on a technicality, overtook the vehicle near Gainesville. They overpowered the guard, then hanged the murderers from a tree. As they swung, the mob riddled their bodies with bullets. 

“Arson to Hide a Worse Crime,” National Police Gazette, December 5, 1891.
“A Family Murdered,” Evening Star, November 28, 1891.
“The Fauquier Tragedy,” Alexandria Gazette, November 12, 1891.
“The Fauquier Tragedy,” Alexandria Gazette, November 14, 1891.
“Fired to Conceal Murders,” Morning news, November 11, 1891.
“Guarded in Court,” Roanoke times, December 30, 1891.
“Hanged on the Day Appointed,” Watertown Daily Times, March 18, 1892.
“Heflin Respited. ,” Shenandoah herald, March 18, 1892.
“A Murderer Confesses,” News and Observer, November 27, 1891.
“Murderes Lynched,” Evening Star, March 18, 1892.
“South and West,” Boston Herald, November 11, 1891.
“To Swing For Their Crimes,” Atlanta Journal, January 14, 1892.
“Virginia,” Weekly Union times, November 20, 1891.

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