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Adair County's mysterious death, 1916

A story of a murder? Or was it?
Click on headline to read the whole fascinating account and learn the outcome.

By Jim

In the late summer of 1916, Adair County buzzed over a mysterious death. The Pellyton community newsletter simply informed News readers that Mr. Frank Holt, a man in his mid-60s and a resident of that area, had died recently in a tree-felling mishap. A front page article in the September 20th edition, however, muddied the waters by commenting, "It was first reported [in Columbia] that he had met with foul play, and later it was told that a tree fell on him...People in the neighborhood are shaking their heads, and a full investigation will be made."

The following week, the newspaper reported Mr. Holt's remains had been disinterred and carefully examined by Drs. C.M. Murrell, J.S. Miller, and L.C. Nell, and that the physicians would report to the grand jury, then in session, before making public their findings. The chief suspect, a Mr. Jones with whom Mr. Holt had been working, had been lodged in the Adair County jail.

The September 27th paper stated (in part), that "last Tuesday an indictment was returned, charging Jones with murder," and went on to say the bond was fixed at $1,500, a sum Jones had failed to raise as of press time on the 26th. The article concluded, "All the evidence is circumstantial." (A one-sentence entry in the October 6th Interior-Journal, Stanford, Ky., indicated he had eventually come up with the monies needed to secure his freedom while awaiting trial.)

Over a year went by and late 1917 arrived with no trial yet held for the chief suspect, but Mr. Holt's widow (the former Miss Mary J. Ashbrook; name also given as Absher) was arrested in Cincinnati on (unspecified) charges related to the murder. The November 29th News stated that "Sheriff Sam M. Mitchell landed here Sunday night with Mary Holt, charged with being complicit in the murder of her husband..." Mrs. Holt soon made the $500 bail and immediately returned to Cincinnati. (Mary was Mr. Holt's second wife and was some 20 years his junior. They were married in 1903 in Russell County and lived there in 1910.)

Mr. Jones' trial finally was called for January 1918 but a subsequent postponement pushed it well into the spring, very nearly a year and three-quarters after Mr. Holt's death. When his day in court finally came, prosecutor A.A. Huddletson and W.A. Coffey carried the banner for the prosecution, but the State labored under the burden of having little to present beyond circumstantial evidence. On the other hand, Mr. Jones' ace defense team, L.C. Winfrey and the firm of [W.W.] Jones & [James R.] Garnett, came prepared to carry the day.

The trial started on Friday, May 24th with "a great many witnesses on both sides," and closing arguments came Saturday evening. "Sunday morning the jury was given the papers and went to their room. In about one and a half hours they filed into the court room with a verdict of acquittal. Only one ballot was taken."

(Mr. Holt's remains were interred in the Tabernacle cemetery. A photo of his grave marker and an another narrative of his death and the subsequent chain of events may be viewed at .

Mr. Jones died some five years after the trial.

This story was posted on 2016-09-18 11:26:41
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