Historic Columbus Crimes: Mama's in the Furnace, the Thing & More

Historic Columbus Crimes: Mama's in the Furnace, the Thing & More

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A collection of true crime stories from the Ohio city, with photos included.
In Historic Columbus Crimes, a father-daughter research team looks back at sixteen tales of murder, mystery, and mayhem culled from city history, both the distant and the more recent past.
There’s the rock star slain by a troubled fan; the drag queen slashed to death by a would-be ninja; the writer who died acting out the plot of his next book; the minister’s wife incinerated in the parsonage furnace; and a couple of serial killers who outdid the Son of Sam. Also covered are a gunfight at Broad and High, grave-robbing medical students, and the bloodiest day in FBI history.
Includes photos and illustrations

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781614231202
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing SC
Publication date: 11/29/2010
Series: Murder & Mayhem
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 131
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

David Meyers is a lifelong resident of Columbus, Ohio. David has authored or coauthored a half dozen previous works, including Columbus Unforgettables; Listen for the Jazz; Columbus: The Musical Crossroads and The Last Christmas Carol. Elise Meyers Walker is a freelance writer and photographer and lifelong resident of Columbus, Ohio. Elise was also a performer at Disney World and a member of a professional theatre company in New York. She previously collaborated on Central Ohio's Historic Prisons with her father, David Meyers.

Read an Excerpt



On November 18, 1839, Patient No. 22 passed away at the Ohio Lunatic Asylum in Columbus. The record states that she was "much improved" since being admitted forty-eight weeks earlier — except, of course, she was now dead.

Word was sent to the deceased's family in Marietta, Ohio, some 125 miles away, but the primitive roads, little more than muddy scars through the forest, were nearly impassable owing to the early winter rains. So the grim task of coming to claim the body was unavoidably delayed. Meanwhile, Patient 22 — Sally Dodge Cram by name — was interred in a pauper's grave in the Old North Graveyard, just beyond the Columbus city limits.

Born December 26, 1783, Sally Dodge married Jonathan Cram at the age of twenty. Thirteen years later, the family moved from Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, to Marietta, Ohio, where Sally's father was a prominent member of the pioneer community. Jonathan became a merchant, and his store on the east side of the Muskingum River ferry landing prospered. However, when he died suddenly in 1820 at the age of forty-two, he left behind a thirty-six-year-old widow and four children, the youngest only five months old.

Over the next eighteen years, Sally's mind became increasingly unhinged. Rebecca, her eldest child and only surviving daughter, was largely responsible for raising her siblings. When she married at twenty-three, Rebecca took the youngest, Jacob, nine, to live with her.

By the time Sally was committed to the newly opened Ohio Lunatic Asylum on December 21, 1838, she had been suffering from "moral insanity" for three years. As the asylum directors later noted, the cholera epidemic of 1832–34 had given "a great impulse to whiskey and brandy drinking, of which the fruits were fully developed in 1839." Whether alcohol was a factor in Sally's mental instability, however, is speculative.

When Sally's family finally reached Columbus, they found her grave had been defiled and her body was missing. Two other graves had also been opened. Almost immediately, fingers were pointed at the Worthington Medical College by the school's enemies, of which there were many.

During the pre–Civil War era, Columbus was a hotbed of competing medical systems. There were, basically, two camps: the "regulars," or mainstream practitioners; and the "irregulars" — those who refused to go along with the accepted practices of the day. Although the regulars would ultimately prevail as the American Medical Association, it was often the irregulars who spearheaded needed reforms.

For example, the regulars advocated such later discredited procedures as bloodletting, blistering and medicinal doses of mercury and other poisons. The irregulars rejected such practices and introduced their own, which were sometimes just as silly or deadly but, occasionally, proved to be right.

The Worthington Medical College was modeled after the Reformed Medical College founded in New York by Dr. Wooster Beach. His Reformed System, which was strictly botanic (plant-based) at first, would eventually evolve into the Eclectic System through the efforts of Beach and Drs. Thomas Vaughan Morrow, Ichabod Gibson Jones and John J. Steele, all of whom had been trained as regulars. At a meeting of the Reformed Medical Society on May 3, 1830, they resolved to establish an additional school "in some town on the Ohio River, or some of its navigable tributaries."

The village of Worthington was but five years old when a charter was granted in 1808 for the establishment of a school to be known as Worthington Academy. Eleven years later, a second charter changed the school's name to Worthington College. When one of Dr. Beach's circulars announcing his interest in locating a medical college in the "mighty west" fell into their hands, the trustees of Worthington College invited him to make use of their existing charter and building.

Dr. John J. Steele, "a reformed Allopathic [regular] physician of rare accomplishments," was dispatched to Worthington by Dr. Beach to examine the site and, if suitable, make the necessary arrangements to open the school. Following amendment of the charter, the new institution was opened for instruction in December 1830, with Dr. Steele as president. However, due to his "intemperate habits and moral obliquity" (i.e., fondness for "wine and women"), he was removed from that position by the following spring. His replacement was Dr. Morrow.

Only twenty-five at the time, Dr. Morrow was a man of "giant intellect" who proved to be a masterful leader. Born in Fairview, Kentucky, he was educated at Transylvania University in Lexington and then went to New York City to study medicine. It was there that he joined forces with Dr. Beach and held the chair of obstetrics at the Reformed Medical College. He was soon to become the leading medical reformer of the West.

Gradually, enrollment at Worthington College increased from seven or eight students the first session to forty by 1835–36. However, the school was not without its critics, especially among those who supported opposing views of medicine. It came under frequent attacks by the Thompsonians, followers of Samuel Thompson. In 1824–25, "Dr." Thompson originated the Thompsonian system (also known as "steam and puke"). He claimed, "Heat was life and cold was death." For twenty dollars, the purchaser of his book received the right to practice medicine in his own family and the immediate neighborhood. Thompson did not believe in medical schools, so a "diploma" was printed in the back of the book.

The Thompsonian system was popularized in Ohio by Horton Howard, a Columbus resident, who "held the patent for Ohio, several southern states, and the entire west." Following Howard's death, Dr. Alvah Curtis inherited his mantle when he moved to Columbus in 1834. Ostensibly a Thompsonian, he opposed Thompson's anti-intellectualism and advocated the founding of schools to teach his own system. On March 8, 1839, Curtis obtained a charter for the Botanico-Medical Institute of Ohio. Several months later, he opened the College of Physicians and Surgeons in direct competition with Worthington Medical College.

Criticism of the activities of the Worthington Medical College had long found a home in the pages of the Thompsonian Recorder, founded in 1832 by Jarvis Pike. It was accused of advocating many of the same practices espoused by the regular doctors. Ironically, Morrow also had to defend his school against those who accused them of being "steam doctors."

Finally in 1836, the school launched its own monthly journal, The Western Medical Reformer. An article by Dr. Morrow stated: "There are now, in different sections of the United States, about 200 regularly educated, scientific medical reformers who have gone forth from New York and Worthington schools, besides a considerable number of old school physicians who have come out and openly declared themselves decidedly in favor of the improved, or botanical, system of practice, so far as they have been able to become acquainted with its principles."

The same year, Dr. D.L. Terry, a graduate of Worthington College who had been taken into partnership by Dr. Morrow, began to "sow seeds of discontent among the students" and soon went over to the Thompsonians. He became an outspoken critic through letters to the Botanical Recorder edited by Dr. Alvah Curtis, who had branded the doctors of Worthington College "the poisoning, blistering, cupping, bleeding, mongrelizing Beachites or eclectics."

Similarly, in 1838, Dr. Richard P. Catley replaced Professor Truman E. Mason as the chair of anatomy and operative surgery before joining forces with the Thompsonians. Having relocated fifteen miles north to Delaware, Ohio, Catley began stirring up the public about the manner in which the students were procuring bodies for their anatomy classes.

Of course, the Worthington Medical College obtained anatomical specimens no differently than other medical colleges of the day. Still, Reverend J.H. Creighton, who was attending the school during this period, later wrote that the acquisition of bodies "was mostly managed by students and some of them were very intemperate and reckless" — especially those "from the Southern States."

The basic problem was this: in order to be a competent physician, it was critical to have knowledge of anatomy. However, the legislature had not created any means for the schools to obtain anatomical specimens in a legal manner. The faculty at Worthington Medical College insisted that all grave robbing be restricted to those buried in potter's field in the belief that it would be less of an affront to public sensibilities.

Unlike for the Ohio Medical College, the legislature had not appropriated any funds to support the Worthington Medical College. In truth, the building itself — a two-story, rectangular brick structure painted red and topped by a cupola with a bell — was not well suited for its purpose and was in much need of repair. It also was becoming increasingly evident that Worthington was too small a community to become a great medical center.

Owing to the barrage of negative publicity, the college started losing students. In 1838, publication of the Western Medical Reformer ceased, and the infirmary closed. Nevertheless, the residents of Worthington continued to hold a favorable view of the school, so it was much easier for its enemies to garner support in more distant communities.

The final showdown came about when a lawyer named Thomas Watkins Powell delivered a highly inflammatory speech to a group of men who decided to mount an attack on the college. Powell, originally from Glamorganshire, South Wales, had been practicing law in Delaware since 1830 and would soon be elected to the state legislature.

A notice published in Daily State Journal on December 31, 1839, read:

Whereas, the citizens of Delaware and Franklin counties have been frequently for several years past, outraged in their sentiments and feelings by the conduct of the officers and students of the Worthington Reformed Medical College, in robbing the graves of the vicinity, and disturbing the dead of their last repose in taking our friends, wives, or daughters, when consigned, by their relatives with religious solemnity and the affections of near and dear friends, to the tomb, as subjects for dissection: And whereas it is the sense of this meeting that to permit or suffer this conduct any longer to exist or again to outrage our feelings, and thus to call forth the indignity of public opinion with impunity, would be a total abandonment of our duty as citizens, and of our moral sense of that regard due to our kindred dead.

Those in attendance resolved to recover the dead body of Mrs. Cram ("mutilated though it may be"), close the medical college, compel the students to leave Worthington and reclaim the building for its original purpose, i.e., a high school or academy.

Just before Christmas, Dr. Morrow learned that a mob from Delaware, incited by Thomas Powell's speech, was on the march. The students and their friends proceeded to take up pistols, shotguns, rifles and other firearms while barricading themselves in the college building. Upon their arrival, the unruly crowd first turned its attention to searching the house and office of Dr. Morrow. While they found nothing inside, the body of a black man was discovered out back, concealed in a freshly cut shock of corn.

The vigilantes then began constructing battering rams for an all-out assault on the front door of the institution, while Dr. Morrow and the students prepared to defend the college at all costs. But when word reached him that someone had given the angry citizens a key, Morrow stepped outside and announced they would surrender, providing the faculty could leave the school with whatever equipment and furnishings they could carry. His terms were accepted.

Upon entering the school, Powell's mob found what was believed to be the body of Mrs. Cram lying upon a table, partially dissected. They turned the remains over to her family who, subsequently, took them back to Marietta for burial in Mound Cemetery.

In the aftermath of "The Resurrection War," as it came to be called, it was discovered that the original charter of the school did not include a provision for conferring medical degrees. So a bill was passed in March 1840, on a vote of thirty-four to thirty-one, denying Worthington College the right to do so.

Undismayed, Dr. Morrow continued to instruct students in his Worthington home until 1843, though for all practical purposes the school never reopened. He was then persuaded by Dr. Alexander H. Baldridge, an 1832 graduate of the college, and a Mr. Mills to move the institution to Cincinnati, where it was renamed the Reformed Medical School of Cincinnati or the Cincinnati Eclectic College.

Dr. Morrow was still teaching medicine up until the time of his death in Cincinnati on July 16, 1850, but it would take thirty more years for the Ohio legislature to come to grips with the need for medical schools to acquire anatomical specimens.



The pen is mightier than the sword," wrote Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1839 play, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. Ever since, the truth of this adage has been periodically tested, particularly by members of the press and, sometimes, with deadly results.

One of the earliest known local incidents occurred in 1840, when Colonel James Allen of the Ohio State Journal "received a trouncing from T.J. Buchanan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, for bringing a lady into a political contest." Not long afterward, Colonel M.H. Medary of the Statesman "flogged" Oren Follett of the Journal, Dr. Miller of the Old School Republican assaulted V.W. "Bot" Smith of the Ohio State Journal and Medary "caned" John Teesdale, who had succeeded Smith at the Journal.

In 1855, George M. Swan, editor of the Elevator, attacked John Geary, his counterpart on the Fact. Nine years later, an editor of the Fact was roughed up by O.B. Chapman, editor of the Union League. The same year, the editor of the Ohio State Journal was "cowhided" by a woman he had previously referred to as "a long, lean, lank, sallow-complexioned she-rebel." This time, the editor's wife returned the favor by going after the woman with a buggy whip.

On two occasions, Chauncey Newton of the Cincinnati Enquirer was attacked on the city's streets by members of the legislature. However, he was able to walk away each time. Captain John Arthur of the Sunday News was not so lucky. On February 5, 1875, his skull was crushed when he was struck between the eyes with a blunt instrument. He died the next day.

Responding to these incidents, two of the city's most prominent ministers, Reverend Francis E. Marsten of the First Presbyterian Church and Reverend Washington Gladden of the First Congregational Church, preached sermons on "immoral" journalism. Obviously, public sentiment was on the side of those defending their honor against the "yellow press." So when Robert B. Montgomery went after F.A. Brodbeck of the Sunday News, no charges were pressed.

William J. Elliott of the Sunday Capital was no stranger to such conflicts. On June 12, 1882, Edward Eberly took offense to an article that appeared in Elliott's paper and attempted to exact revenge. Then on November 8, 1885, the Honorable Emil Kiesewetter fired two shots at Elliott in the lobby of the Neil House Hotel. In a hearing before Mayor Charles C. Walcutt, all charges against Kiesewetter were dismissed on the grounds of "provocation."

But on February 23, 1891, it all came to a head. Elliott and his brother, Patrick, encountered Albert C. Osborn of the Sunday World on High Street opposite the Statehouse. Opening fire with their revolvers, they killed him. In the melee, Washington L. Hughes died and a number of other bystanders were injured.

For several years, William J. Elliott had been owner and editor of a newspaper called the Sunday Capital. During much of that time, he had in his employ a man named Albert C. Osborn. However, about a year earlier, Osborn had left the Capital to work for F.W. Levering at a rival paper, the Sunday World. Both newspapers were noted for their reliance on sensationalism, and much of it poured from the pens of Elliott and Osborn. It wasn't long before the two men were sharing their rather low opinions of each other with their readership.

No one is sure who started it. Elliott claimed Osborn was the aggressor and that he had endured many months of personal abuse before he offered a rejoinder in the pages of his newspaper. Whether it was so or not, there is no question that once he took up the gauntlet, the conflict escalated.


Excerpted from "Historic Columbus Crimes"
by .
Copyright © 2010 David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. The Resurrection War,
2. Fightin' Words,
3. Flytown Frenchy's Finale,
4. Death Rides the Rails,
5. Murder in Sellsville,
6. In a Lonely Place,
7. Insanity Comes Quietly to the Structured Mind,
8. The Thing,
9. Mama's in the Furnace,
10. Beauty and the Brain,
11. Blood Brothers,
12. How Not to Write a Crime Novel,
13. Think of Laura,
14. The Buddy System,
15. The Ninja Drag Queen Killer,
16. The Day the Music Died-Again,
About the Authors,

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