As Halloween draws closer each day, I wonder what a “kid” would look like if they wanted to dress up and pose as COVID-19 for the next ghostly vacation. I would think even a scary COVID-19 character should wear a mask. But what would it look like?
Instead of examining the irony that accompanies the above scenario, allow me to present one of the most interesting murder cases to ever occur in Logan County that does not involve the name of Granny Thurman. As intriguing as the double murder is, the full outcome of the case has never been fully disclosed. Let me lay the groundwork for this story.
From the very beginning of the state of West Virginia until 1977, justices of the peace, sometimes referred to as magistrates, functioned at the lowest level of the state’s judicial system. Justices of the peace, as they were often called in my youth, were skilled in petty civil suits, misdemeanor cases, and conducted preliminary felony hearings, much like magistrates today.
However, the difference between the justice of the peace system and the judicial system is that justices of the peace did not receive any salary and were compensated by the costs assessed by them against the losing parties in the civil lawsuits and against criminal defendants who have pleaded guilty or have been convicted in some other way. The bottom line was that justices of the peace were financially dependent on successful plaintiffs in civil suits and convicted criminals. The salary of the justice of the peace was determined that way and it was really not a fair system.
Perhaps this is the reason why so many justices of the peace over the years have found themselves in deep trouble finding illegal ways to make money. The upcoming story I planned is an example of a justice of the peace who may have been murdered due to his involvement in a crime.
Due to the time I have spent researching this particular case and because of other crimes associated with it, for today’s purposes I will only present the basics of what happened. happened on May 27, 1969, when Ezra Butcher and Imogen Whitt, 35, of Chapmanville were shot dead at Butcher’s home in Godby Heights. Butcher died at the scene and Whitt died the next day after surgery for a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Logan Banner’s title on the day of the shooting reads: “Magistrate Ezra Butcher Slain”. The newspaper account said that “Guyan District Justice of the Peace Ezra Butcher was fatally shot early this morning at his home in Godby Heights and a woman in the house at the time was seriously injured.”
Logan prosecution attorney Oval Damron said a woman who lived across W.Va. Route 10 from the butcher’s house told him she heard at least two knocking around 2:35 a.m. on the morning of the shooting and immediately woke her husband. She said they heard an automobile drive out of front of Butcher’s house at high speed, but could not determine which direction it was going.
When neighbors arrived at the Butcher house, they said they found the magistrate lying on the floor in the living room, with Ms Whitt lying across his legs. Banner reported that neighbors said Butcher died a minute or two after arriving at the scene and Whitt said a few words before losing consciousness.
Butcher had been shot three times – once near the center of the chest, once on the left chest, and once on the left side. The shots were apparently fired at close range, as attendees at James Funeral Home said powder burns surrounded each wound. In addition, Butcher had several head injuries, including a severe six or eight inch cut on the top of his head.
Sadly, Ms Whitt’s eight-year-old daughter, who was in another part of the house hiding under a bed during the shooting, told prosecutor Damron that she overheard her mother say, “Why did you do this? then heard another shot. The bullets found in the living room floor appeared to come from a .38 caliber pistol, according to the prosecutor.
Boucher, a carpenter by trade, was elected justice of the peace in 1960. He was re-elected in 1964 and again in 1968.
Authorities could not find any real clues to the killings, despite a thorough investigation by state and federal authorities. Many people at the time thought that Butcher’s death was political assault. Prosecutor Damron and Judge Harvey Oakley were said to have come under enormous pressure to bring the perpetrator to justice, as the rumor mill continued to spin on a daily basis.
Nonetheless, it would not be until three years later that the murder would be solved and the discovery of a criminal ring in Cleveland, Ohio, would reveal that Butcher had been implicated in a Cleveland “crime family” that operated in South. West Virginia. Butcher, it will be revealed later, was involved in a car theft operation and had not adequately shared the profits with at least two other people involved.
While the murderer and his accomplice will be revealed in another edition of this diary, it is the shocking manner in which the murder was proven that will come as a surprise.
It is also interesting to note that the attorney general, Oval Damron, and one of the defense attorneys, Bernard Smith, would both be indicted shortly after by the federal government and put in jail for election-related activities. .
This is of particular interest to this writer because in the same 1972 Logan County indictments another person was charged with the murder of a friend of mine and this newspaper headline was published the same day that the murder indictments involving the deaths of Butcher and Whitt.
Why am I personally interested in the murder of my young friend, just after about a year after graduating from high school? Well, that’s because I was there when the death occurred.
I’ll be back with more next week.
Dwight Williamson is a magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.