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JASON HARMON: The short, tragic life of Anna Roe McElroy

Here is the story of native born Adair Countian, Anna Roe McElroy. I wish I had a picture of her, but I have not been able to locate one.-Jason

By Jason Harmon

Rest Haven Cemetery in Edinburgh, Indiana, is filled with Burton tombstones that could almost rival the number at Bearwallow Cemetery in Adair County. All of the Burton men and women in Edinburgh that reside here have deep roots from Burton Ridge and it is no secret to anyone.

I often stroll through both cemeteries and return to the library to search for obituaries of names that I am not familiar with. I especially find intrigue in people that died while still full of life. Those folks that were cut down in their prime, those that should have had many ripe years to enjoy.

I found an interesting story in such fashion one afternoon when I saw the grave of Anna Roe Smitha. The interest was further peaked when I discovered that young Mrs. Smitha was a McElroy with Burton ties to the old ridge.


An irony: Forebear is oldest Burton buried in Edinburgh Cemetery and Anna was so young

Anna Roe McElroys obituary details that she was born in Russell Springs, but I beg to differ. Birth records and Census records show her as an Adair Countian through and through. She was born in 1922 the daughter of Willis McElroy and Ada Burton. Willis McElroy was the son of Randolph and Bettie McElroy, but it is noteworthy that his stepmother was Ms. Roanna Burton. Willis McElroys wife, Ada Burton, was a double-blood Burton. Her father being William "Choate" Burton and her mother was Rebecca Rachel Burton. Rebecca Rachel Burton has the distinction of being the oldest Burton buried in Edinburgh having lived to the ripe old age of 99. This is quite ironic when looking at the short life of her granddaughter, Anna Roe.

Willis and Ada Burton McElroy were pioneers of sorts. Many of the Adair County Burton related families waited until the World War II era to migrate to Edinburgh. The McElroys were unique and came to Edinburgh a little earlier. Troubles seem to ensue. The McElroy marriage was on the rocks and Willis and Ada had separated before 1936 and soon divorced.

An Edinburgh arrest record at the time shows hard times for Ada Burton McElroy. She was arrested multiple times for minor offenses. In October 1937, her estranged husband had his wife and daughter, Anna Roe taken into police custody. Willis McElroy had insisted to the police on several occasions that his former wife had corrupted their young daughter. According to Mr. McElroy, Ada was encouraging 14-year-old Anna Roe to keep company with a 26-year-old man.

Met tavern, Pete Smitha, twice her age

After a rocky upbringing, Anna Roe was finally an adult. Anna took various jobs at some of the many local taverns in Edinburgh. In 1950, her fate took a turn for the worse when she met a local tavern owner, Pete Smitha, who was more than twice her age. Anna Roe McElroy and Pete Smitha were married in August of that same year. The marriage was doomed from the start and the couple never made it past the newlywed stage.Mr. Smitha appears to have been a jealous husband from the get-go. His tavern business had folded and he was growing increasingly jealous of his wife's job as a waitress in another tavern. He was convinced that she was unfaithful. During the early morning hours of October 24, 1950 his fears came to a murderous end.

Putting the details together from the coroner's report and the local newspaper, the tragic event must have gone something like this: Anna Roe left her shift at the tavern after midnight and came directly home, changed into her nightgown and after a few words with her husband she went to bed for the evening. No one knows what their last conversation was, but it must have set Mr. Smitha off. At about 3:00 am., Pete Smitha used his .410 shotgun to end his wife's life while she lay sleeping. He sat at the foot of the bed, perhaps contemplating what he had just done and then ended his own life with the same gun.

Eight year old daughter goes through window, is first to see mother dead

Anna Roe's mother, Ada, dropped by her daughter's home at 8:00 a.m. that morning with Anna Roes eight year old daughter. She was unable to gain entry into the front door, so Annas daughter shinnied her way through a window and made the first discovery of the tragedy of her own mother and stepfather dead in the bedroom. The coroner, Dr. Charles Jones, quickly ruled the death as a murder-suicide. Oddly the couple was given a double funeral in Edinburgh and buried in Rest Haven Cemetery side by side, just as though they had been happily married for years and the tragedy had never occurred.

This story does seem to have nearly been lost. I found no one in Edinburgh who recalled the event and the grave is always empty of flowers. Thats the real sad part of anyone's life. When years have passed and their name and tales have been forgotten. I honor the memory of Anna Roe McElroy now and you just might find a flower or two on her resting place from this author from time to time.


This story was posted on 2006-10-05 11:05:12
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