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Murder At Blountsville - 7 Feb 1890

From the New Castle Courier 14 Feb 1890
Bad Blood, Engendered by Whiskey Brings Death to Eli Ladd
(21 Feb 1969 - 7 Feb 1890)

Five Men Charged With Murder

      On Saturday last, reports of a murder at Blountsville gained circulation. At first the news came as vague and changing rumors, but as time wore on inquiry developed more elaborate statements and a nearer approach to reliable details. By night it was positively known that Eli Ladd, a young colored man had been shot to death and that a number of citizens of Blountsville were concerned in the affair either as principal or accessories. Fuller particulars were awaited with anxiety.
     The coroner was called to the scene of action and took the testimony of a number of witnesses to the lamentable tragedy, and, as the results of his investigation, caused warrants to be issued for the arrest of William and Henry Rozell, Charles Smeltzer, John P. Smith and Cassius M. Lake, on the charge of murder, all of whom were taken into custody and lodged in jail to await trial.
     On Monday a representative of the Courier visited Blountsville and inquired carefully into the facts and circumstances surrounding the affair. On Tuesday, Prosecutor Barnard made a thorough investigation of the case for the benefit of the State, and caused the body to be exhumed for the purpose of determining, if possible, the exact cause of death. From the information gained through all of these sources, we are enabled to present the facts.
     Eli Ladd was a colored boy about twenty-one years of age and resided with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Ladd, at Mooreland. He bore a bad reputation. He was given to intemperance, and when under the influence of liquor was quarrelsome, overbearing and insulting. He usually carried weapons, which he was quick to display whenever trouble arose, and was loud in the utterance of threats against the persons and lives of people who opposed or resisted his will, or resented his brutality. He was the terror of Mooreland. He was not wholly unknown to the citizens of Blountsville, a village about four miles north of Mooreland. He frequently visited there and usually left the memory of his sojourns in the shape of a quarrel, a fight or dire threats of vengeance for real or fancied grievances.
     William Rozell owns a drug store in Blountsville, and had much trouble with Ladd, who was in the habit of visiting the store and at times becoming quite violent in language and conduct. He was not wanted either as a customer or loafer at the store, a fact he evidently understood. Thus matters stood on Saturday morning when Ladd put in an appearance at Blountsville and went to the house of Mrs. Bundy, a colored woman, to one of whose daughters he was paying attention. Rozell's friends claim that Ladd had threatened the life of Rozell upon his next visit to the town, and that Rozell feared he would undertake to enforce that threat. At least, Rozell, upon learning that Ladd was at the Bundy house, went there and compelled Ladd to leave the house and the town at the muzzle of a revolver. Rumors of violent threats by Ladd were circulated and no small degree of excitement arose when he drove leisurely into town in a buggy, after dinner, stopped at a hitch-rack, got out, tied his horse, took a gun from the buggy and, as in the morning, went to the home of Mrs. Bundy, whither he was immediately followed by William and Henry Rozell. Mrs. Bundy was ordered to eject him from the house. This she refused to do, whereupon on the besiegers commenced firing through the windows and doors, changing the direction of the fire when Ladd appeared at the rear of the house. He soon sought safety in flight down the street, leaving the highway at the west edge of the Village; he struck south through the fields. Excitement in the village was at this time worked-up to fever heat. During the melee a bullet intended for Ladd struck Jack Davis in the leg, and the report gaining credence that Ladd had shot him, a number of persons provided themselves with firearms and joined in the pursuit, among them were Charles Smeltzer, Cassius M. Lake and John P. Smith, who followed down the road towards Mooreland. Ladd took refuge in the barn of John Sees, on the farm of Russell Jeffrey, about a mile and half south of Blountsville, and the report soon reached Blountsville that he was hiding there. Mr. Rees was in Blountsville, and as his wife is of a nervous temperament, he got in his buggy and drove rapidly home, arriving ahead of the pursuers. When Lake and Smith reached the premises they insisted to Sees that Ladd was in his barn and demanded that he rout him out. Sees claimed that he was not aware of his presence there and declined to search for him. While they were parleying, Smeltzer came up through a field to the barn-lot gate, and as he was about to pass through the gate he whistled and directed the attention of his companions to the rear of the barn, at the same time resting his gun, a Winchester rifle, on the gate post and firing. The other two men circled around the barn and upon discovering Ladd in flight across the field also commenced firing. Ladd ran to the first fence, about fifty yards distance, and endeavored to climb over. He was seen to cling tightly to the top rail a moment, then to fall to the ground on the other side. His pursuers did not go to him, but halted, turned about and returned to the village of Blountsville.
     Mr. Sees, now thoroughly unnerved and believing the man to be dead, hurried over to Ezra Swearingen's, his nearest neighbor, and the two, with Oliver F. Draagoo, went down to Ladd. He was yet alive and requested them to turn him over. They asked him if he knew who shot him, and he replied that he did not know. He expired a few moments later. The body was removed to Blountsville, and afterwards to Mooreland for burial in the old Mooreland cemetery.
     An examination of the body showed three wounds, one across the throat, another in the hand and a third through the thigh. The first two wounds were slight, not serious enough to cause death, but in the third the ball had cut the femoral artery and death undoubtedly resulted from the loss of blood. This wound, it is claimed was received after Ladd left Sees's barn, by a ball from the Winchester, and traces of blood indicate that it was suffered shortly before Ladd reached the fence.
     The five accused men made no effort to get away, and are evidently resting in the belief that they will be able to show sufficient justification for the deed. A representative of the Courier visited them at the jail, but they have been instructed by their attorney to say nothing at present, and have declined to be interviewed. Judge Forkner has been retained as counsel for the defense, and the preliminary examination is awaiting his return from Richmond where he has been engaged in a lawsuit during the week.

The Trials of Those Accused
16 May 1890

     The trial of Cassius M. Lake for the murder of Eli Ladd, at Blountsville, in February of this year, was begun in the circuit court of Judge M. E. Forkner on Monday morning, February 12. Two of the members of the regular jury who live near the scene of the transaction had been previously excused on account of their knowledge of the case. The remaining ten members and a special venire of forty prospects were in attendance from whom to select a jury to try the case. At the first examination of the twelve men put first put in the box it looked as though a jury would be secured without difficulty; but after one or two had been peremptorily challenged trouble began, and man after man was called who either had formed an opinion from reading or hearing of the case in which he did not think would readily yield to the evidence, or was not satisfactory to one side or the other, and was consequently excused. Shortly before noon the special venire was exhausted. And the calling of bystanders was begun. After four had been called the defendant filed an affidavit and motion for an additional special venire, which was granted, and a venire was issued for forty additional jury prospects. Upon motion of the defendant the ten men still remaining unchallenged were placed in charge of the bailiff, Harvey Swain, with instructions not to separate. Tuesday morning the examination of jurors was continued and shortly before 10 o'clock a jury satisfactory to both sides was secured, as follows; Samuel B. Lane, John J. Bennett, W. J. Bayse, T. B. Cronk, Joseph Pitts, Wm. C. Hess, Luther Bradbury, Eber Mills, L. W. Modlin, Ross Thomas, Jno. R. Leonard and Robert Morris.
     After this jury was sworn to try the cause State's attorney Barnard opened the case in a statement to the jury an hour in length. The first witness called was Isaac Ladd, father of the deceased. He testified to the age of, residence and occupation of his son; whom he said was a farmer, lived with him a half mile east of Mooreland, and was in a few days of twenty-one years old at the time of his death.
     This trial lasted a week with the defendant, Cassius M. Lake, acquitted of all charges.
     The trial of George W. Smeltzer was transferred to the Delaware County Circuit court on a change of venue. His trial was started on Monday, June 21st and ended on Saturday, July 2nd the report follows:

Guilty Of Manslaughter
Friday, July 5, 1890
Charles Smeltzer Given Two Years in State Prison

     Saturday evening at 6O'clock, Judge O. J. Lotz gave his instructions to the twelve men who had for eleven days been listening to the proceedings of the Smeltzer-Ladd murder trial, and they repaired to their room, where the fate of Charles Smeltzer, charged with murder in the first degree, was to be decided. The first ballot taken was seven for conviction and five for acquittal. Balloting was kept up without an agreement until 1 O'clock Sunday morning, when a verdict was agreed to, which found the young man guilty of manslaughter, and fixed his sentence at twp years in the State penitentiary.
     Those in favor of conviction favored a twelve years' sentence, but a compromise was made with the other five by agreeing to the above verdict, which was read by the court Sunday morning in the presence of Smeltzer and his young wife. She wept bitterly when the verdict was read. Her husband was also much affected. On Monday morning when the case was called, the defendant's attorneys announced that they would not make a motion for a new trial. Smeltzer was taken into court, and when asked by the judge whether he had anything to say why judgment should not be pronounced upon the verdict, he said: "I have nothing particular to say, except that I recognize the fairness of this court in this case. While I feel that I have not done anything criminal, I will go and serve my time like a man. If I did anything wrong, I did not do it intentionally. I wish to thank you and the balance of people for the fairness that has been shown me in this trial."
     The court then pronounced judgment on the verdict and gave Smeltzer some good advice as to his conduct while in prison, where has been taken.
     The others charged in this murder case? I have been unable to find anything further. Most likely charges were dismissed against them for lack of proof that they fired any of the shots.

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