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Who Murdered N. Greer McClure?

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on January 14, 1934



                Fifty-six years have come and gone since a Dayton workman en route to his post paused on the canal bridge at Third st. early one morning and saw what he at first believed to be a barrel bobbing along in the current of the waters below. He took a second glance, for some reason he was never able to explain, and a few moments later Dayton citizens were scurrying to the scene and the city was discussing a murder mystery that has not been solved up to the present moment.
            It may have been life held few such mysteries in those days; or it is possible that acts of violence were not as commonplace as they are today. At any rate the whole town paused in awe over the discovery of a man’s body floating in the canal, a huge boulder securely fastened by a rope to the neck. It must have created far more interest and excitement than a similar find would create today, for a local newspaper of the following day referred to it as “the most mysterious murder case in the history of the city up to the present time.”
            It is not difficult to locate a few Dayton citizens who recall the case, and who were present on the canal bridge 56 years ago when the body was dragged from the water. Nor is it hard to locate those who remember as vividly as though it had happened yesterday the excitement it occasioned. In fact, I can find within five minutes, one Daytonian who had an active part in trying to unravel the mystery of N. Greer McClure’s death. For that proved to be the name of the “floater” taken out of the waters of the canal on the 15th day of October, 1877, after a passing workman had taken a second glance at the dark object floating in the current beneath his feet. But we have at hand a more interesting description of the mystery than could be secured by personal interviews, for men’s minds cannot retain facts as accurately as when they are set down in printed words. So let us refer to the files of our old newspapers of 56 years ago.
            On the morning of Oct. 16, 24 hours after the body of N. Greer McClure had been lifted from the canal and after ample time had elapsed to permit the launching of an investigation into the case, we find this detailed story of it in a local newspaper:

            “Yesterday morning a large crowd was collected at the canal bridge at Third st. crossing by a rumor that a man’s body had been seen floating in the water. All were on the lookout to discover the body. The object that had attracted attention was finally discovered and proved to be in reality the body of a man. The head and shoulders remained down in the bed of the stream as though weighted down, but the body and limbs were lifted up at frequent intervals by the action of the current.
            “Poles were obtained and in a short time the body was drawn from the water. It was that of an old man dressed in a plain and rather seedy looking suit of clothes. The features were swollen and discolored, and a rope was fastened around its neck, to which was attached a stone weighing fully 20 pounds. No money was found in the pockets of the dead man. Northing but an old pocket knife, a pair of spectacles and a scrap of note-paper on which was written in pencil ‘N. G. McClure.’ The crowd had increased to 200 or 300 people, drawn by the account of the finding of a body, and the coroner, who had been notified, arrived and took possession of the body and its effects.
            “It was quite apparent from the first that the name on the paper was the right one. McClure had been missing from his home since the 6th of October. He lived in Bellbrook, about 9 miles from the city, with his wife. They have some means, and he had no regular business. He was 70 years old, but was quite active, and of temperate habits. Saturday a week ago he came to Dayton with his nephew, on a load of wheat. Leaving his nephew at Kratochwill’s mills, since then he had not been seen and no trace of him was had by his family. His object in coming to the city was for the purpose of meeting some persons from Indianapolis who were to pay him some $200. Who the persons are he was to meet, or what the money was for, his own wife did not know, as McClure was very reticent about his business affairs to her.
            “As above stated, when he was found there was no money on his person or anything of value. His wife says that he carried a gold chain, a silver watch and a pocketbook.
            “This would suggest very strongly that there has been foul play. One theory is that persons who know that the old man had money about him have taken the opportunity to overpower him, and have thrown him into the canal with a stone attached to him to hide the deed.
            “Dr. Hallanan, who examined the body, testified that death was to all appearances the result of strangulation. Mr. Ben Schieble, the coroner’s secretary, went to Bellbrook yesterday to ascertain what could be learned there in reference to the deceased. The town became very much excited when it became known that McClure had been found drowned and under circumstances so suggestive of murder. Today an inquest will be held by ‘Squire Boyer’ and it is expected some light be elicited regarding the affair.”
            Long before that article appeared, in fact an entire day and night previous to its appearance, Dayton was in possession of most of the details, and trying to piece them together in such way as to solve the mystery. McClure was widely known throughout this part of the country, having been for many years a resident of Shelby co., and still later a frequent visitor in Xenia, where he was reported to have done his banking and marketing.
            That no time was lost by legal authorities in setting about to clear up the mystery is indicated by the news stories in the old files. That they should engage in the usual bickering, and working at cross-purposes, is the least of the mystery. Scarcely had they started out to locate those responsible for the crime, for crime it appeared to be, before the police department and county officials were engaged in an argument as to just which branch of law enforcement had jurisdiction in the case. But happily that was soon adjusted, we find from reading between the lines of the old files, and a harmonious man-hunt was on.
            In the afternoon following the day on which the body was discovered in the canal a coroner’s inquest was held, and all doubt as to the nature of the affair was banished with a verdict to the effect that N. Greer McClure had been the victim of foul play. Turning again to the files we gain much information through the story of the coroner’s investigation that had not come out previously.
            “Yesterday acting Coroner Boyer,” reads the local paper, “held an inquest on the body of N. G.  McClure. The most important testimony was that of Dr. Egry, who made a thorough examination of the body. His affidavit was as follows:

            “ ‘I have made an examination of the body of N. Greer McClure found dead in the canal in the city of Dayton, Montgomery co., and find that the deceased’s neck was broken caused by a heavy blow in the back of the neck; that there is a heavy gathering of coagulated blood at the same place; that all the signs of strangulation or suffocation are wanting, rendering it certain that death did not come from drowning. And the said William Egry is firmly of the belief that the said N. Greer McClure was dead when his body was thrown into the waters of the canal.”

            “The jury consisted of B. B. Schieble, Charles S. Ross, B. Donna, Thomas Grifford, John Layton and J. R. Bosser. After hearing all of the evidence in the case they retired and brought in a verdict that the death of the deceased was the result of violence at the hands of some person or persons unknown.    “The circumstances of the case and the strange uncertainty that surrounds the murder make it
the most remarkable that has ever occurred in the city. McClure was born and raised in the vicinity of Sidney and lived there on his farm for 40 years. Seven years ago he married a second time and shortly moved to Indianapolis, but after two years returned to Bellbrook and made his residence there on a small piece of property belonging to his wife. They have no children, but a son of McClure’s by his first wife is married and lives at Indianapolis.
            “The most peculiar trait of the man was his notions regarding his money matters. He is known to have had considerable, and is believed at the time of his death to have been worth in the neighborhood of $10,000. Shortly after returning to Bellbrook he sold a piece of property for $2500. On several occasions he made loans to his neighbors of amounts around $2000 and $3000. About a year ago his brother, John McClure, desired to obtain a loan of $200 and was told by the deceased that it would be difficult to let him have the sum at the time as all his available money was then in the bank at Xenia for a specified time at 8 per cent. Every few months he would make a visit to Xenia or Dayton for the purpose, he always stated, of attending to his money matters, generally returned the same day but sometimes remaining several days. The result of these visits, or their purpose in detail, he never referred to.
            “At home he was as good a husband as could be desired. Cheerful and contented, he was always  ready to have any comfort that was needed. He was a regular attendant at the Presbyterian church and his wife and he never had any differences. ‘Except,’ said the old lady to a Dayton reporter, ‘he never would tell me anything about his money and I never even saw the inside of his pocketbook. If he gave me his pants to mend he never forgot to take the pocketbook first, and he never kept any books about the house. ‘
            “About a year ago his wife, becoming alarmed when reading an account of the Ashtabula bridge disaster, thought that some time he might get into a similar accident and not be recognized, so she wrote the address of her husband on a piece of paper and placed it in his pocket where it was not noticed by him and was found with the body.
            “As previously stated, he came to Dayton with this nephew, Jesse McClure, on a load of wheat. When we went away at Kratochwill’s mill he inquired of the young man how soon the wagon would return and said he would get through his business and go back with in. Jesse waited from 10 in the morning until nearly dark, when he returned to Bellbrook without the old man. A witness before the coroner’s jury testified to meeting an old man about 10 days ago on Third st. who resembled McClure, but a close comparison showed they were not the same person. No trace of him alive has been obtained since finding the body.
            “The vicinity of the Third st. canal bridge where the body was found is peculiarly favorable for committing deeds of crime. It is one of the most deserted parts of the city after dark. Factories and old frame shanties loom up at intervals, but those who are out nights generally take more frequented thoroughfares. The policeman makes a round every hour, and he is the sole disturber of the quiet.”

            Several days elapsed before any arrests were made, though the public ran true to form in its criticism of both the police department and the sheriff’s staff. They were just as insistent upon quick action then as now. Whether or not their criticism had anything to do with speeding up the sleuths at work on the case cannot be determined, but that they got what they asked for is indicated by events of Oct. 20, four days after the finding of the body. Under a one-line heading, “Murder Will Out,” in his issue of that date, the local paper said:

            “Detective Pat Hughes and Ben Schieble returned from Bellbrook last evening having under arrest Charles M. Fudge and Henry Hutchinson of that town, on the charge of murder. Both prisoners have been under surveillance of the police since the body of N. G. McClure was found in the canal last Monday. Yesterday the evidence pointing to their implication in the murder had so accumulated that it was deemed unsafe to allow them to remain at large. No positive proof of their guilt, however, has been discovered as yet. Saturday morning, Oct 6, the prisoners started for Dayton with a load of potatoes immediately after McClure left Bellbrook with his nephew.
            “Fudge was one of the witnesses before the coroner’s jury and he then testified that he had not seen McClure that day and he made no mention of Hutchinson being with him during the day. Mr. Schieble, who has shown a good deal of interest and shrewdness in developing the case, went to Bellbrook after the inquest with Constable Matthews to make further inquiries. Detective Hughes was also at Bellbrook gathering facts in the case. Capt. Clark, seeing that there must be a clashing of interests that would endanger results, arranged for Hughes and Schieble to work together.
            “Fudge and Hutchinson came to Dayton in a dark covered wagon and were readily recollected at the toll gates they passed on their way to the city. The prisoners stated they had returned to Bellbrook the same morning, but no trace of their return could be found along the road. On the contrary, several of their neighbors in Bellbrook are positive that they did not return until after 9 o’clock that Saturday night. Fudge now states that he was drunk most of the day and does not recollect what he did.
            “In the meantime Patrolman Lynam, whose beat is along the canal in the vicinity of where McClure’s body was found, has been searching for additional evidence. He examined the canal up as far as the First st. bridge which seemed the most likely place at which the body had been dropped into the water. The stones that form the support of the bridge resemble closely the one that had been tied to McClure’s neck, and it could have been obtained from several breakages in the wall.
            “Lynam also fell upon some traces of McClure himself. An old man answering his description had been seen and talked with by two of the flagmen on the railroad along the canal. He stated that he lived in Bellbrook and that he came to Dayton to collect some money of a man living in the eastern part of the city, and he dwelt at length on the changes that had taken place in that neighborhood within his recollection.
            “The supposition is that Hutchinson and Fudge, knowing McClure’s object in coming to the city, followed him with the purpose of robbing him. They prevailed on him to ride home with them and, seizing the opportunity, put their purpose into execution and, to escape detection, murdered the old man and carried his body back to the city and dropped it into the canal where it would be thought he had committed suicide. 
            “They assert their innocence in every particular, but if this is the case they will be able to account readily for what are very apparent contradictions of their innocence. “

            Sentiment, as powerful in that day as this, swayed toward the innocence of the accused men. The case went into the second week with no dimunition of interest; it had furnished an absorbing  topic of widespread comment and all else was forgotten in its discussion. There was one thing on which everyone agreed. That was that McClure had been the victim of foul play. No one believed he had ended his own life. There appeared no division of opinion there. But the circumstantial evidence which led to the arrest of the two men awaiting a preliminary hearing on a charge of murder was not, as a rule, considered strong enough to warrant their detention. Just how well that belief was grounded we find in reading the final chapter in the mystery, as presented under the heading, “CLEARED” in the old newspaper of Oct. 24, 1877:

            “Yesterday was a day fraught with deep interest to two individuals at least. It was the day upon which was to be decided the question of liberating C. M. Fudge and Henry Hutchinson, or binding them over to a higher court on charges of murder. It resulted in the former alternative.
            “As perusal of the testimony will show, they stand clearly innocent of any connection with the murder of N. Greer McClure. So manifest was this that after advancing all the testimony he had the prosecutor himself moved the dismissal of the case. This action was in perfect agreement with the feelings of every person in the court room. When the mayor announced the case discharged a spontaneous burst of applause went up from the crowd. The friends of the two men crowded up to shake hands and congratulate them, and everybody seemed pleased with the result. Prosecuting Attorney John M. Sprigg appeared for the state, and Col. Nolan and J. E. Haines, Esp., of Xenia, for the defendants.”
            While other clues had been unearthed in the hunt for the guilty parties, none were of sufficient strength to warrant additional arrests. The authorities followed them, and left nothing undone looking toward a solution of the mystery. But as days rolled into weeks, and weeks into months, it became apparent that the case would never be solved.
            And to this day it has not. The murder of N. Greer McClure is still listed in musty records at police headquarters under the classification of “Unsolved murders.”