The Murder of Francis E. Staley: Part Two

Remember how I mentioned two days ago that I was aching to get my hands on the newspaper article from 1877, published only a few days after the death of Francis E Staley?

Well. I emailed a lovely chap at history.in.gov, asking if it was possible to find that long lost article and he got right back to me! He told me that the newspaper I was searching for was weekly and under a different name before 1900, and he sent me a link. (here’s the link, if you can’t read the article below; look on page three for ‘Bloody Murder’)

Look what I found!

1877-article-of-francis-staleys-murder

BLOODY MURDER IN JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP. $1,000 REWARD. A Strange Character. Arrest of Two Men Charged With the Crime

Last Thursday morning it was discovered that Francis E. Stayley, an old citizen of Jefferson township, had been murdered in his lonely cabin, seven miles beyond Mt. Meridian, the evening previous. On that, day four of his neighbors–Ed O’Neal, James Meek. Hiram M. Cox and Milton MCAninch had assisted him in haying. At an early hour the next morning O’Neal went to the cabin to report for work that day and was horrified to find Mr. Stayley lying on the floor near the door dead. He hastened to give the alarm, and soon a large crowd of excited spectators had gathered at the scene of the tragedy, and coroner Dr. B. F. Fisher examined the body and found three pistol wounds, made by balls of .32 calibre—one in the back of the head, which glanced off, striking the wall and falling on the floor, where it was picked up; a second shot entered the breast, and striking the fourth rib on the right side, plowed its way across the breast bone and lodged between the fourth and fifth ribs on the left side; the fatal shot entered the back below the shoulder blade, and penetrated to the heart. The victim had evidently been reading his Bible on which his spectacles were found lying at the open page, and had then eaten a raw cucumber. Just as he had finished this he was attacked. It is thought that after being shot in the head he tried to close the door against the murderer and failed. After securing a box in which Mr. Staley kept his valuables, the murderer left, passing through two cornfields, and in an obscure place rifled the box of its contents. It is supposed that he got about $140 in money.

At the close of the [previous] day’s work, Mr. Staley had paid one of his hands a five dollar bill and was seen return the pocket-book to the box. The coroner’s jury returned for their verdict that the deceased had come to his death by gun shot wounds at the hands of an unknown person or persons. Mr. Staley was over 64 years old.

He was probably one of the most eccentric characters that has ever lived in this county. For about thirty years he had lived as a hermit. He went to see no one. If any person wished to transact business with him they had to call at his cabin.This was a double-pen structure of hewn logs, with a chimney between the two rooms. He lived in one. The other was occupied by lumber and sheep. Until some five years since he gave his attention to the raising of cattle and hogs; but latterly sheep have taken their place. He delighted to have them around him and usually had a number in his room, sometimes accompanied by pigs.  He could not abide a dog, and never had one about him. He had no furniture or cooking utensils, except an oven, coffee pot, knife and fork, and a queerly constructed chair, which served for his bed. This had some resemblance to a  rocking chair, without the rockers. Here he always slept, except in extremely cold weather, when he made his bed in the huge stone fireplace. He never cut his firewood but used it as he found it in the forest. He ate no meat except wild game. In one corner of the room, he kept two loaded rifles, a musket, and an ax. Suspicious of everyone, he had for years predicted that someone would murder him. He also expected his stock to be poisoned, and on the occurrence of any unusual noise at night, would arise and fire one of his guns. This made the neighbors somewhat afraid of him at night, although he was generally regarded as harmless. Much of his food in the fall and winter consisted of nuts, of which a supply was kept stored in one corner on the floor. He wore but little clothing and never changed it until it wore out. In some way, he managed to keep pretty well informed. Always knew the price of stock. Was a close student of the Bible, and many verses had been copied on the walls of his domicile.  It was here that he also kept his accounts. He was especially fond of scriptural argument. He seemed to enjoy a neighbor’s society for about thirty minutes. After that, he became restless and showed by his manner that he desired to be alone. It is said that his sheep gathered around him after his death, and took a last look at their departed shepherd.

Uncle Frank, as he was known, had not voted for twenty years, and had not been off his farm, which consisted of 270 acres, for fifteen years, until last year. Then, through the medium of newspapers furnished by one of his relatives, he became very much interested in politics, went to the polls on election day and voted the Republican ticket.

Some fifty years ago he came from Wythe county, Va., to Monroe county, this State. Two years afterward he removed to the neighborhood where he has since lived. Several relatives, Nicholas  Schultz, Mrs. Meek, and Mr. Parker live nearby. Some of them heard the shooting, which took place between 7 and 8 o’clock Wednesday evening, but no one had the remotest idea of the tragedy that was taking place. The heirs have offered $1,000 for the apprehension and conviction of the murderer.

We have heard two theories about the deceased’s strange conduct. One is that in early life he had a disappointment in love, which led to his seclusion from his fellows. Certain it is that for many years he has had an aversion to female society. The other is, that near thirty years since, he became insane for some time, and since then has lived alone. Altogether it is one of the strangest cases we have ever heard of and proves again that truth is stranger than fiction.

Mr. Shultz had been the old gentleman’s banker for years and owed him at the time of his death, $400. Mr. Staley asked him to take the remainder of his money, but he had no use for it and declined.

LATER:
On Tuesday ex-Sheriff Stone arrested Thomas Graves and John Smith at Brazil, on suspicion that they were the murderers. They were brought to this city and lodged in jail. The evidence against both parties is circumstantial. They are married men and live in the “Pocket” of Cloverdale township, several miles from the scene of the murder. Graves was seen in the neighborhood about sundown on the evening of the murder. Other persons are also suspected.

I am so interested in this! Did you notice how much things changed between the article written a few days after his death, to the one that was written in 1941? The facts have been so skewed! (Did you notice anything significantly different? Among many things, the fact that he was clutching a pickle in his hand in the previous article is gone. That made me laugh- that while diving for his gun, he didn’t let go of his pickle. Now it’s just a cucumber, and it appears he no longer had it in his hand)

It surprises me that in 1877, he had $140 in his house and was owed $400 more. (The whole ‘you take the money’ thing looks pretty suspicious to me.

Also. ex-Sherriff Stone? I wonder what that’s all about.

Do you find this fascinating too? Or am I just morbid?

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