Sometimes the ‘Good Guys” Turn Out to be the “Bad Guys” Part Three
(Continued form August 23)
The problems of Deputy Luther Clark and City Marshall Joe Rodman continued. Owing to the fact that young John Blair’s death was thought to have been due to brutal treatment received at the hands of Clark at the time of his arrest Saturday night, Clark was taken into custody, and held pending a thorough investigation of the case. 'Big Joe' Rodman, the town marshal, who was out on bond for his part in the former shooting of Francis Bates, was re-arrested by Sheriff Vandement of Lawrenceville and taken back to Lawrenceville and placed in jail also. His arrest was caused by the fact that the men who had posted $1000 bond in the earlier Bates case desired to withdraw as sureties because of this second trouble that had come up.
Johnny Blair’s parents were dead, but he was survived by his brother Charles, who began his own investigation, and let it be known that if his brother came to his death as a result of violence, he would seek justice. He engaged Attorney Pritchett of Vincennes to look after the case, while he took the remains of his younger brother back to Warren, Ind, their former home.
On December 6, 1909 a Grand Jury was convened with Joseph Gray as foreman. Witnesses called were Charles Blair, V. A. Hutchinson, Rawn Spencer, Polk Wade, A. F. Withrow, James Johnson, Levitt B. Flanders, Virginia McConnell, John Griggs, John Gaynor, L. Boyd, and Patrick Caney. Clark was indicted for manslaughter of Blair.
Luther Clark was charged with unlawfully, feloniously and willfully striking, beating, cutting and bruising John Blair on Dec 4, 1909 with a deadly weapon, being described as a policeman’s club 2 ft. in length and 1 ½” in diameter, inflicting a mortal wound to Blair’s head. As a result of this beating, Blair died on the fifth day of December 1909. It was also charged that Clark threw Blair down upon the sidewalk with great force and violence. The autopsy showed that the mortal wound was about 2 inches long and penetrated the brain on the left side of Blair’s head.
The editor of the Lawrence County News editorialized that the general opinion in Bridgeport was that the verdict of the jury was just. “It (was) too bad that a smooth faced 19-year-old boy had to be killed in order to get the city officials to think seriously of the value of a human life. Had this boy lived until the opening of Police Court, Monday morning, the same old stereotype charge of ‘drunk and resisting an officer’ would've been placed against him. Bridgeport’s court and councilmen should advise their police and teach them when it's necessary to use a club or gun, and not uphold their brutality of any description. The old residents of Bridgeport should take back their town and stop this slugging and shooting. When their own citizens held office in Bridgeport, they had no coroner's inquests over deaths resulting from their officers. Old citizens who have lived there and paid taxes for 35 years are insulted by Marshall Rodman if he doesn't like them or if they do not hold up for his brutality, and every citizen of Bridgeport holds this against the Mayor who upholds this man. Luther Clark, the Deputy Marshal, is a boy of that town and is an ex-Philippine War soldier. He has served as an officer before, gave satisfaction and had a host of friends; everyone spoke well of him, old taxpayers pronounced Luther a good officer and now they claim that, like old dog Tray, he has fallen in with bad associates.”
But before Blair trial was held, the grand jury met again on May 6, 1910. Luther Clark and Joe Rodman were again indicted, this time for Assault with Intent to Kill Francis Bates with a loaded revolver. Bates had subsequently died. Foreman of this Grand Jury was again Joseph Gray and the witnesses this time were Red Elliott, Chas Flanders, Mike Cohen, Abe Ball, and Chas Blair.
Witnesses to be called for a October 4, 1910 trial in addition to the ones testifying before the grand jury, were Harry Oldsworth, Gertrude Blair, George Baxter, F. D. McKelfresh, Minnie Mann, Abe Mann, Adelbert Rose, Harry Ulrick, J. A. J. Black, Thomas Lackey, and Bert Claycomb.
The trial was delayed and Subpoenas were sent for a later trial date to be held on May 4, 1911 against Luther Clark to the following witnesses: Dave McKelfresh, Dr. J. F. Schrader, Clay Seed, J. D. Madding, Chas. Spencer, L. D. Leach, Fred Gillispie, Jim Ridgely, Dr. C. M. Lewis, J. A. J. Black, Noah Ridgley, and Hugo Lewis. Benj. O. Sumner was the State’s Attorney.
(Ed Note: Now Readers, are you waiting to see what the outcome was? You will just have to read the book when it is published by the Society....Sorry. )