Saturday, July 23, 2022

"Bad Tom" Smith.

Dr. John E. Rader was found dead in the house of Mrs. Catherine McQuinn in Jackson, Kentucky, on February 5, 1895. Two bullets had pierced Rader’s heart; either could have been fatal. The circumstances surrounding the murder are somewhat hazy. Tom Smith, Mrs. McQuinn’s paramour, approached Dr. Rader and told him he was subject to fits. He wanted the doctor to watch his symptoms when the fits were on him. Dr. Rader agreed, and on February 4, he went to Mrs. McQuinn’s house where Smith was staying. He brought along a gallon jug of whiskey.

When the police arrived, Catherine McQuinn confessed to the murder. She said they had all been drinking, and when Tom Smith was lying in a drunken stupor, Rader had assaulted her, and she shot him in self-defense. This explanation was not out of line with her reputation. She was a rough, coarse woman with black hair and a face and voice more masculine than feminine. Though she was sometimes referred to as “Widow McQuinn,” her husband was alive but had been committed to the Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum. Catherine had an adulterous relationship with a store clerk from town, and when her husband heard of the affair, he became a raving maniac.

While Catherine could have committed the murder, the police were inclined to suspect her lover, Tom Smith. Better known as “Bad Tom” Smith, he had been indicted for murder seven times before. In most of his cases, charges were dropped for lack of evidence when crucial witnesses disappeared. His one conviction for first-degree murder was overturned on appeal.

The murders were connected to the French-Eversole feud, a bloody, vengeful war between two powerful families and their allies that dominated public life in Eastern Kentucky between 1887 and 1894. “Bad Tom” was a leader in the French family. He had been a thief from childhood and got his first taste of violence at 20 in a gun battle on election day in Hazard, county sear of Perry County. He began committing murders for the French cause but was not brought to justice until he ambushed and murdered Joe Eversole and Nicholas Combs. The County Judge, Zack Fugate, a relative of Joe Eversole, was afraid to hold court. The County Attorney was absent, and Smith had spirited away all of the witnesses. Fugate had no choice but to release him.

After he assassinated Ambrose Amburgy in broad daylight, the grand jury returned several indictments against Smith. One dark night Smith and his confederates set fire to the Perry County Courthouse in Hazard, destroying all indictments and court records. Following this, a reign of terror prevailed in Perry County, and those who had denounced “Bad Tom” Smith fled in terror.

In 1889, French and Eversole factions met in the streets of Hazard and commenced a gunfight. More than 2,000 shots were fired in what would later be called the Battle of Hazard, but only two men died—Jake McKnight and Ed Campbell, both Eversole men. McKnight was killed by “Bad Tom” Smith. Smith was convicted of this murder and was sentenced to life in the penitentiary. The verdict was reversed by the Court of Appeals. Smith jumped bail and was never retried. Leaving behind his wife and two children, Smith moved to Jackson and lived the life of “a libertine and general tough.”

In 1895, the grand jury indicted both Tom Smith and Catherine McQuinn for the murder of Dr. John E. Rader, and each was tried separately that spring. By that time, McQuinn had retracted her confession. Though neither testified in either trial, each defendant was now blaming the other. The motive of the murder was still unclear. One theory said that Smith had come home to find Catherine in the arms of Dr. Rader. Another said that Smith believed Dr. Rader carried large sums of money, and he lured the doctor to McQuinn’s house to rob him.

The murder could also have been connected to the feud. While Dr. Rader had been a prominent citizen of Jackson at one time, by the time of his death, he was seen as a desperado. John Hurst had murdered his brother in 1889, and Rader swore he would avenge his brother’s death. Hurst was sentenced to 16 years in prison but was pardoned before serving his time. Rader tracked Hurst to Lexington, went into the store where he worked, and fired five shots. Hurst survived, and Rader was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Rader was also pardoned and had only been out of prison a short time before his murder.

Tom Smith and Catherine McQuinn were both found guilty of first-degree murder. In both cases, the jury deliberated only a few minutes before returning their verdict. McQuinn was sentenced to life in prison; Smith was sentenced to hang on May 31.

It would be Eastern Kentucky’s first legal hanging, and for many, it signaled the dawn of a new era, free from the violence and corruption that had dominated their community. But there were still obstacles to overcome; Smith had been down this road before and would not go quietly to the gallows.

Publicly, Smith maintained the coolness he had shown throughout his trial. He told reporters he was not afraid to die and was sure of God’s forgiveness:

I do not fear whatever fate is in store for me. I have prayed to God for aid, and He has given me assurances of his help. I am the happiest man in Breathitt County today, I reckon, yes sir, the happiest man. No, I’ve got noting against the men that swore against me. I ain’t no murderer. Yes, I’ve killed men, but I always killed ‘em when they wuz tryin to kill me…Yes, I feel like God has forgiven me for all my sins, and I’m happy. Yes, sir, happy.

Behind the scenes, though, he was working hard for his release. Smith’s attorney was appealing the verdict and had obtained a respite of 60 days to work on the appeal. Smith knew from experience that any delay increased the chances of his release, and 60 days could stretch into many months or even years. Meanwhile, someone had smuggled saw blades into the jail, and Smith was caught sawing the bars. One way or another, he was determined to be free.

The police in Jackson were prepared for any attempt to spring Smith from jail. “Jackson is as well guarded as if it were under martial law,” said Detective George Drake, “Nearly every man in the place capable of bearing arms is supplied with weapons and is ready at a moment’s notice to march to the jail and protect it from a mob.”

As a last resort, the jail was packed with dynamite. If the mob could not be stopped, the police would blow up the jail and Smith with it.

The appeal process only took six weeks. The court reaffirmed the verdict, and Smith was sentenced to hang on June 28.

In the days leading up to the execution, Smith met with two Protestant ministers who urged him to confess to the murder of Dr. Rader. He finally agreed to confess and also requested to be baptized before his execution. At 7:30, the morning of the hanging, the sheriff led Smith, under heavy guard, to the river where he was baptized by Reverends Carpenter and Kelly.

The hanging was scheduled for 11:20 that morning, but Smith begged for more time. He explained that he knew God had forgiven his previous murders, but since he had just confessed to Rader’s murder, he needed time to ask God’s forgiveness. The sheriff gave him until 1:00 to make peace with the Lord. Tom Smith’s brother Bill used the extra time to telegraph the governor:

Gov. John Y. Brown, Frankfurt, Ky.—Would like a few days’ time, as I am an orphan boy and have no friends. “TOM SMITH”

At noon he received a reply:

Tom Smith, Jackson, Ky—I must decline to interfere. “JOHN YOUNG BROWN”

At 1:45, a crowd of 5000 spectators watched as “Bad Tom” Smith was hanged. Just before Sheriff Combs pulled the lever that released the trap, Smith screamed, “Save me, God, save me.”

“"Bad Tom" Smith,” Hazel Green herald, May 30, 1895.
“"Bad Tom" Smith,” Illustrated Police News, July 6, 1895.
“"Bad Tom" Smith Hanged,” Chicago Daily News, June 28, 1895.
“"Bad Tom" Smith Respited,” Commercial Appeal, June 1, 1895.
“Bad Tom Smith Dead,” Daily intelligencer, June 29, 1895.
“Confessed His Crime,” Age-Herald, June 29, 1895.
“Conversion of Gallows Birds,” Weekly Democratic Statesman, April 25, 1895.
“Desperado Murder,” Scranton Tribune, February 9, 1895.
“Dr. Rader Killed,” Commercial Appeal, February 7, 1895.
“Drake Talks,” Cincinnati Post, March 26, 1895.
“Eastern Kentucky Brethes Easier,” New York Herald, May 12, 1895.
 French-Eversole Feud -“Gallows Being Made Ready,” Daily Inter Ocean, June 19, 1895.
“His Dead Body,” Cincinnati Post, February 9, 1895.
“Indicted Eight Times for Murder,” Washington Times, March 14, 1895.
“A Kentucky Tragedy,” Oregonian, February 7, 1895.
“May Die,” Cincinnati Post, May 4, 1895.
“Murderer of Eight,” Birmingham age-herald, April 21, 1895.
“Sentence Affirmed,” Daily Jeffersonian, June 15, 1895.
“Urged Witnesses to Leave,” Chicago Record, April 24, 1895.
“Wicked Tom Smith,” Evansville Courier and Press, May 16, 1895.
“Wickedest Man in the West,” Commercial Appeal, April 21, 1895.
“With Dynamite,” Cincinnati Post, March 25, 1895.


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