THE MAMIE STORY CONTINUES
The trial of Clarence Stephenson began on Monday, September the tenth in Logan's stately old
courthouse. It was estimated that nearly one-thousand curious people crowded their way into the
public gallery, the balcony, and even lined up in the hallways. Still, others waited outside
hoping for a chance to get inside the door. When someone came outside their place was immediately
Mr. Thurman testified he was working his usual shift from 6:00 p.m. until 6:00 a..m on June
twenty-first. "I last saw my wife about 5:30 that evening. I was working my beat with Hibbard Hatfield,
and I telephoned my wife shortly before one o'clock in the morning. When she didn't answer I went home, and found
her bed had not been slept in," he said. The next time Thurman saw his wife was at 3:00 p.m. the
next day at the Harris Funeral Home when he identified her body. During cross-examination,
Thurman said that he and his wife did not argue the afternoon of her death. He claimed that they
were always on good terms. Jack Thurman thought his wife was true to him, and believed that she
stayed at home when he was on patrol duty. He often praised her with the most affectionate terms.
The Banner quoted Mr. Thurman as saying "Mamie was a perfect wife to me, and I cannot realize
that she would do such things as she has been accused of." The Banner described his comments as
"a pitiful thing."
Fannette Jones who lived on High Street in Logan was the first witness called by the state.
It was rumored that Mr. Robertson and Mrs. Thurman had met at the colored woman's home. However,
Mrs. Jones vigorously denied that she had rented a room to them. She said Mrs. Thurman came to
her house about eight o'clock in the evening on the Saturday before she was found dead. "She
stayed for about ten minutes, and she brought her own linens. She was nicely dressed, and wore a
yellow linen dress," she said. According to Mrs. Jones, Mamie gave her a couple of sheets, but
she said she worked for them by doing chores for her.
Harry Robertson's testimony almost brought the crowded courtroom to its feet on several
occasions when he revealed sordid details of his relationship with Mamie Thurman. He told the
packed room the inside story of his many "foxhunting" expeditions with Mamie, and how he
deceived his wife for two-years. He admitted he went hunting with Mamie on Crooked Creek the
Saturday before she was murdered. He later met her at Fannette Jones home, and was with her for
about an hour. He said he often jokingly told Stephenson to tell his wife to make sandwiches for
them to eat on their fox hunt.
Robertson said the last time he saw Mamie was the day she was killed. He left his house
shortly after that to take his children to a swimming pool at Stollings. Later that evening
he said he went to the Smoke House to listen to a prize fight with his son, and was home about
nine o'clock. His wife later confirmed his statement.
Robertson was asked if he owned a hunting knife which he carried in his hunting clothes. He said the knife was not a hunting knife, but a pocket knife. "It was still in my trousers the other night when I went hunting. I never owned a hunting knife in my life," Robertson told the jury.
Considerable worry was caused to the members of the Logan Business Men's Club which was located on the top floor of one of the business districts most well known buildings. The list of sixteen men who was said to have had sexual relations with Mamie was never made public. Many claimed some of these men were later named to the Grand Jury, and were members of charter families. C.C. Chambers, one of the defense attorneys for Stephenson later served as custodian of the legal papers of the Nighbert Memorial Church where Mamie's funeral was held. It was said Mamie was a member of that church, but no records were ever found to verify her membership.
The Banner reported that the crowd was anxious to hear Mrs. Robertson's testify, and they strained to hear every word. Mrs. Roberston was described as a "splendid witness." She stated her name to be Louise Robertson who lived at 510 Stratton Street. She said she had been married to Harry Robertson for eighteen-years, and they had a fourteen-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son. She denied that she ever sent word to the jailer, Lance Hall for him to "not let Stephenson want for anything."
When questioned about where her husband was the day Mrs. Thurman was murdered she gave this account. "He went to work that morning, and came home for lunch. He was home that evening at the usual time, and took the children to a swimming pool at Stollings. They were back by seven. I had supper ready, and we ate together." She confirmed that her husband was home at nine o'clock.
"I didn't have a falling out with Mrs. Thurman," Mrs. Robertson stated. "We just quit going around together, but we had been good friends." She said they used to go golfing at the country club, but hadn't gone since October.
The Banner noted that Mrs. Robertson's response in regard to her husbands alleged affairs with Mamie Thurman was very unusual. "I learned they were intimate with each other because I had cause to believe they were. A woman doesn't have to be told these things." She claimed that no one told her about the affair, but it was her "woman's intuition" that caused her to become suspicious. She said she had not spoken to Mrs. Thurman since May. "I had an enmity (hate) toward Mrs. Thurman, but what was the use to be mad about it," she said.
Witnesses, Roy Hall, Frank Hagen, and two other men gave some of the most damaging testimony against Clarence Stephenson. They claimed they had seen Stephenson driving Robertson's Ford sedan in the Holden area very early in the morning as they walked home from work the day Mamie's body was found.
Logan Patrolman Bill Bruce became very angry when questioned by attorney Chambers about the stains on the articles found in Harry Robertson's basement. "If it wasn't for paying a fine, I'd slap your face!" he yelled at Chambers.
"Oh, no . . . you wouldn't slap my face here or any other place!" Chambers snapped back.
Judge Jackson calmed both men by saying, "If you men don't hush, I'll have you both sent to jail."
Chief Smeltzer testified that he saw Stephenson cleaning out the inside of Robertson's Ford sedan at about eight o'clock in the evening on Wednesday, the day Mamie Thurman's body was discovered. Patrolman Bruce was with him when he drove by.
Only minutes before the trial was over, anonymous notes addressed to Prosecutor John (Con) Chafin was found by several women waiting for the return of the jury. The notes claimed the writer saw the crime committed. They were signed "A Voter" and "A Citizen." They claimed the crime would be "white washed," and go the way other crimes have gone in Logan County. "We believe there are people here who saw that woman get in the car and go to her death. We believe there are those who saw her get into the car and go up Trace Mountain," the notes stated. The Banner reported that Prosecutors Emmett Scaggs and John Chafin did not think there was "anything to the letters."
According to the Banner, witnesses accounted for every minute of Clarence Stephenson's time up until eleven o'clock when Mrs. Robertson said he went up to his attic bedroom. However, the jury was only out for fifty-minutes before returning with a guilty verdict with the recommendation of mercy which carried a life sentence. Attorney Chambers immediately entered a motion for a new trial.
"I was of the opinion that the jury was warranted in returning the verdict they did. I am still of that opinion. There is no middle ground. I feel the court is not warranted in setting a new date for a trial," Judge Naaman Jackson said.
Stephenson made a statement before the sentence was passed. "I am not guilty. I have no knowledge of the crime I am accused of. I tired to tell the truth. I hope the law won't stop until they find the guilty parties," he said.
Judge Jackson replied, "It is a little hard for the court to take the balance of a man's life when he stands up and says he is an innocent man." Jackson then passed the mandatory sentence. Stephenson was given ninety days to make an appeal to the Supreme Court. The verdict was handed down on Thursday, October 13, but the Banner did not carry the story until the next day. In 1932 they only printed twice weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays.
On November 15, pleas from the Logan County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) went across the county to raise the six-hundred-dollars needed for the appeal. Fifty-six churches in Logan began taking donations. More than three thousand people attended a mass meeting held at Aracoma High School with both whites and coloreds attending. Despite all the efforts, the Supreme Court turned down Stephenson's appeal in 1933.
Norman Sloan, a Logan County resident who spent time in jail and prison with Stephenson gave this account of those years. "He never ate a bite of Logan jail food." Sloan said. "Everything was carried to him three times a day from the New Eagle Restaurant. Stephenson was the funniest looking man that you ever seen. His forehead stuck out, but he wasn't as bad looking as the picture printed in the Banner."
According to Sloan, Stephenson served as Warden Oral Skeens' chauffeur. "He told me he was hired to take the body to 22 Mountain, and that he didn't do anything to Mamie Thurman. He never did say who killed her, but he said that he didn't do it. Stephenson told me it was all politics," Sloan said.
According to West Virginia Penitentiary records, Stephenson was received at Moundsville Prison on August 22, 1934. On June 11, 1939, he was transferred to Huttonsville Prison Farm where he died of stomachic carcinoma (stomach cancer) on April 24, 1942. He was buried on the prison farm May 2, 1942 almost ten years after the death of Mamie Thurman.
In 1985 George Morrison, a half-brother to Mamie, came to Logan to look for Mamie's grave. Morrison had recently retired as assistant district attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He had only discovered three years prior to his retirement that Mamie Thurman was his half-sister, and that she had died a violent death. Morrison was born at Logan in 1925, but moved with his family to Kentucky. Later, parental rights of his mother where taken away from her, and he and his sisters were placed in a Louisville orphanage. Jack Thurman did not visit Morrison when he visited his sisters shortly after his wife's death. Morrison was the youngest child in the family, and his mother readopted him when he was fifteen.
Morrison wanted to erect a proper headstone at Mamie's grave. However, he could never locate the exact location where Mamie was laid to rest. Alva "Alvie" Burgess, was nineteen when he said he helped his father, Ed Burgess dig Mrs. Thurman's grave. "My father was caretaker at the Logan Memorial Park for many years. He explained the cemetery is divided into three sections . . . A, B, and C. Mrs. Thurman was buried in the B section which is located below the road and in the vicinity of the huge Steele monument. I think she was buried about middle ways up in that section. The only marker placed at her grave was a small metal one put there by the Harris Funeral Home. There was never a headstone placed at the site. There is no question about it she's buried there. I even helped cover her up," Mr. Burgess said.
Morrison placed a legal advertisement in the Banner and two people called him. One of the callers told of being paid to exhume a body which he believed to be Mamie's. The man refused to identify himself, and said a prominent doctor paid him to do this in 1962. The other man wrote him asking for Morrison to phone him at 294-1116 after five in the evening, his time. It was signed George. Morrison said the man sounded elderly, and claimed to be a retired businessman in Logan who knew the Robertsons, Thurmans, and nearly everyone, including the jurors who were involved in the murder. He said the man told him that a woman killed Mamie. Morrison asked how he could be sure. "I knew Harry well. He was a well-liked gentleman. We talked about it many times, and he told me who did it several times. Morrison was skeptical about both calls.
When George Morrison came to town looking for answers, he came to the Banner office. Dwight Williamson, a reporter, was introduced to Morrison by the managing editor, Raamie Barker. Dwight volunteered to show Morrison the area, but he never got to do a personal interview with him. However, that got Dwight interested, and he started reading the microfilm files of 1932. He was hooked. He knew it would make an interesting story, but it could not be condensed into a single story. Eventually, he wrote eighteen stories from the Banner files. The stories were made into a booklet called The Mamie Thurman Story from the files of the Logan Banner which sold for a dollar.
Dwight received his share of weird calls while doing the Mamie story. One of them was from an Omar man. He said a county vehicle brought a casket to Chauncey Cemetery for burial. The year was 1932, and there were no mourners. He claimed that when some of the residents got curious, they were told the body was the "blankety-blank" who was killed on 22 Mountain.
Attorney Con Chafin appeared before the board of city commissioners on behalf of Jack Thurman who had been refused bond after the trial was over. The commission voted to accept a personal bond, and he returned to active duty as a Logan patrolman. Dwight Williamson said that Thurman later died in an insane asylum in Louisville, Kentucky.
R.F. Caverlee, pastor of the First Baptist Church who officiated in Mamie's funeral transferred to a church in Fredericksburg, Virginia soon after the trial.
On Friday, December 30, 1932 a road crew discovered several bloodstained garments and a long
bladed hunting knife near the spot where Mamie Thurman's body was discovered. The knife was
covered with what was thought to be blood. "It is only a miracle," Joe Buskirk said " that my
men discovered the rags and knife." I told them to pull down a large rock that was hanging some
25 feet above the level of the road, and that is when the items were found.
All the courtroom transcripts of the trial of Clarence Stephenson and seventeen deposition copies have disappeared.
Mamie Thurman's death certificate was signed by L. W. Hatfield, who was a justice of peace and
the acting coroner. The autopsy was done by Dr. W.S. Rowan, Dr. J.E. Robertson (brother of Harry
Robertson) and L.W. Hatfield.
The autopsy report stated bullet number one entered at the lobe of the left ear and went
through the skull coming back out in the cheek bone above the right ear. Powder burns covered
the left ear and cheek. Bullet number two entered two and one half inches about the left ear
coming out the occipital bone posterior (backside) left of the central line. Her throat was
cut extending through her trachea, carotid artery and jugular vein. One cut made the complete
wound. Bruises were over the right eye, and her neck was broken at the second cervical vertebrae.
The total cost of Mamie's funeral was seven-hundred-seventy-two dollars and seventy cents.
That was an expensive funeral when most people could barely afford to put food on their tables.
Her funeral was paid for in cash by her husband who was employed as a city patrolman.
As I wrote this story I was reminded of the old Dragnet TV police series. One line that Jack Webb's character, Sgt. Joe Friday repeated often stands out in my mind. . . . "Just the facts ma'am. . . . Just the facts." That is what I have tried to do . . . stick to the facts through research. However, this true-life story may always remain a mystery. After all these years, some really think when the night winds wail . . . Mamie's restless spirit still walks those hills.
that their husband's bodies cannot be interred in the
cemetery of the church whose services they attend from
time to time, because they are not members of the congregation.
For the man who is not a member of a church, it is an
It should not be inferred from the fore-going that Logan
In peaceful Logan Memorial Burial Park . . . a part of Logan yet
Banner microfiche and courthouse records of 1932."The Mamie Thurman Story" of 1985
written by Banner reporter Dwight Williamson. Interviews with former reporter Dwight Williamson,
and with Mike Honaker of the Honaker Funeral Home. The picture of C.C. Chambers and John Chafin
appeared in G.T. Swain's 1927 book, The History of Logan County, West Virginia in 1927.
Emmett Scaggs was the great-uncle of Ronald Scaggs, and his picture is courtesy of Ronald.