Wayne County, West Virginia Execution

When researching for this week’s article, I came across a fact that, to be honest, shocked me a bit, in the entire history of Wayne County, West Virginia, there has only been one sanctioned execution in our history. This is not to say there wasn’t an “eye for an eye” justice, or vigilante justice throughout our history, but only once has a court of law in our county carried out a proper execution. When combing through the newspaper archives with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, I found a few accounts of the event, the most detailed being from our very own Wayne County News in the February 7, 1924 edition.
Laban T. Walker was a young man born in Catlettsburg and was left by his father at birth. Being raised by his mother was so taboo at the time that he caught endless amounts of grief from his classmates according to multiple accounts. His mother, fearing she would raise a coward, decided to gift the boy two weapons in his early teens, a knife and 22 calibur pistol. According to eye-witness Kinsey B. Lewis, his mother told him to “shoot and cut your way out” of any scrapes he got into. With his background and upbringing, it is little wonder that Waker was a violent young man who tended to settle his disagreements with his fists, or worse.
On August 21, 1878, Walker was out with friends for a day, enjoying the sun at Virginia Point. While at the Point, an altercation between Walker and Patrick Nolan. Following his Mother’s advice, Walker decided to shoot his way out of the situation, killing Nolan on the spot. Walker fled across the Ohio River but was quickly caught later that night. Walker lingered in the criminal justice system for over a year, finally being found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.
The date of the hanging was set for November 28, 1879. Between seven and ten thousand people congregated at Wayne to watch the spectacle. Fistfights and arguments erupted throughout the foggy, dreary day as the crowd impatiently awaited their main event. Finally, at 2 p.m. Walker was led from the Wayne jail and ascended the scaffold; his last words were “OH! I don’t wanna go up those!” Referring to the steps of the gallows. The black hood r55was placed over his head, and as an eye witness stated, “so ends the life of a human being in the vigor and health of manhood.”

The Demon of the Night

It all started for myself when I had a traumatic experience working for the local Police Department. My local PD made Andy Griffith look like the big city, we only really dealt with drunks, speeders and the occasional domestic violence call. I had crisis training, but it was never put into action until one fateful night.

Our officer brought in a woman to be held in our jail for a traffic violation, being the dispatcher and the jailer it was my responsibility to fingerprint, photo and attend to the prisoner. I did my job that night and was finishing the paperwork for her to be released to another agency. She was afforded privacy to use the restroom, so I would knock when I needed to speak with her. My officer went to the back to take her to another precinct when I heard him scream, I met him in the cellblock to be told she had hanged herself.

Immediately the officer and myself put our training into action, we swiftly cut her down and she was administered to. Unfortunately, that troubled soul passed a few days later. Though I had received all the training you can imagine, it doesn’t prepare you to deal with such a sudden event. The countless meetings with attorneys and the court depositions took their toll on me. I couldn’t sleep, I was obsessing over the suicide, wishing I could have seen any warning sign about what she was preparing. It was during this time that it happened, the first of many instances of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is a medical condition where the person awakes during REM sleep, while you are technically awake, you can’t move and many people hallucinate during it. With this first attack, I saw her hanging there in my living room, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream. SP has been written about for centuries across many cultures, with the prevailing myth that it was the devil sitting on your chest. How many of my readers is a fellow sufferer?

How to travel the country on a budget

Hello Again,
This week I am writing to you from the road, and the road is what has inspired me to write this article. You can look at this article as some friendly advice from a guy who has lived it and has realized the true value in traveling with your family. This summer, or next summer, or whenever you can make it happen, I implore you to travel someplace with your kids. So often, we get caught up in the money, or the time, or any other excuse we can think of, but we don’t see the big picture. As a kid, I would have never imagined that I would see the vast expanses of the American West that I loved reading about in corny westerns or in the old John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies I loved to watch on the weekends. My family didn’t travel, my Mom and Dad were too busy scraping by and providing us kids with the essentials, I admire them and love them for that, it’s not their fault we didn’t travel, it was just the circumstances. But, when I began teaching and my wife and I were together for the first few summers, the wanderlust began to bite at us, we had all summer, no one to answer to, no bosses to beg off of work from, just us. One year we decided to stop caring about material things, or house improvements; we loaded up our Jeep and drove, and drove, and drove. Something is liberating about it that can only be understood by those who have experienced it, the high skies and never-ending plains of the American breadbasket, the towering heights of the Rocky Mountains, or the beautiful forests and sanguine beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Coming home, we explored Yellowstone and the Black Hills and fell in love. For years, once we started having kids, we would talk about when the time would be right to take our three beautiful kids of the trip of a lifetime. Last week, the old wanderlust hit us again, out of nowhere we decided to put off the new couch we need, the new oven, whatever was worrying us and just drive. We rented a van and off we went. As of this writing, I am staring at the beautiful snow-capped tips of the Sierra Nevadas as my kids eat lunch somewhere in the vast expanses of the Nevada desert. In the past week, they have chilled with Mickey in Anaheim, saw the massive redwoods at Sequoia National Park, watching the sunrise over the Yosemite Valley and we are en route to those Black Hills and Yellowstone that their Mother and I love so dearly. Life is not about things, I have learned that as an adult, I still fall into the trap and want material items for myself or for around the house, but the old saying “you can’t take it with you” could not be more accurate. Who cares if I need a new couch? It can wait, but the experiences my family and I have had over the last week and will continue to have for the following week will last a lifetime. As a teacher I can say without a shadow of a doubt that kids learn better by doing rather than reading about it or watching it on TV; they will never forget this time we spent together, and that makes me feel better than any item I could ever buy.

The Naming of a West Virginia County Seat

One of the most rewarding facets of being a history nerd is when a seemingly mundane or unimportant decision can change the path of history.

During my preliminary research for this article, I thought it would be cool to look more into the name of our county seat, and what I found made me chuckle a bit.

As many people know, the original name of Wayne was Trout’s Hill, and that legacy is embodied by the best coffee in the county across the street from the courthouse at Trout’s Hill Coffee. What I wanted to know, though, was why it was changed.

The Virginia General Assembly created Wayne County in the 1840s, named for famed Revolutionary War General Mad Anthony Wayne. A local farmer, Abraham Trout, donated land from his massive farm on a little knoll to build the courthouse, out of appreciation for this act the town was named Trout’s Hill.

This is where the name of our county seat takes an interesting turn. During the 19th century, Virginia had a very unoriginal way of naming their county seats, they simply called the county seat “blank” Courthouse. Civil War nerds will recognize this by the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, which was simply a town where Appomattox County had their courthouse.

Before the Civil War, this practice extended into Western Virginia and many people in the discussion would simply call Trout’s Hill “Wayne Courthouse.” While the official name didn’t change as of yet, people would refer to the town as either Wayne or Wayne Courthouse.

A year before the Civil War, another name was put forth seemingly out of nowhere when the town applied for incorporation, “Fairview.” This name doesn’t seem to have been widely used throughout as people continued to stick with the tried and true, Wayne Courthouse.

The official death knell of Trout’s Hill, Fairview and Wayne Courthouse came in 1890 when the Norfolk and Western Railroad began servicing the coal mines of Wayne County. On all the train itineraries and paperwork, the name was always shortened to say only “Wayne.” The name stuck, and by the turn of the century, the town officially changed its name.

Such an interesting way in which our county seat changed throughout the early years of its existence, it left this writer looking to answer the Shakespearean question, “What’s in a name?”

A special thank you to Whitney Chandler for providing the source material for this and many other articles, ” A Pictorial History of Wayne County” and the great resource, “The Town of Trout’s Hill, Fairview and Wayne” by Howard Osburn.

A Depression Era Murder Mystery in Huntington, WV

Juliette Enslow

Murder on Millionaires Row: a Forgotten Huntington Mystery ( my source is huntingtonquarterly.com)

Enslow Mansion

On October 17, 1936, along Huntington’s elite Millionaires Row, a wealthy widow was brutally murdered in her bedroom suite in her mansion. Juliette B. Enslow, the widow of Frank Enslow and daughter of Huntington’s first mayor, Peter Cline Buffington, was found stabbed and beaten in the early morning hours.
Juliette was an icon of Huntington society, raised by her father Peter Buffington who had the distinction of being the first mayor; she was the granddaughter of William Buffington, who was Cabell County’s first surveyor. Her great grandfather Thomas Buffington was one of the early settlers of this region, so her roots grew deep in this area. Her first husband was Charles Baldwin, and their child was Charles Baldwin Jr. who grew up to be a lawyer and was residing with Juliette at the time of her death.
After the death of her first husband, Juliette married Frank Enslow, a lawyer who was known as one of the most influential men in WV. He was busy in Huntington business and civic affairs and served as the President of the Huntington National Bank. He also owned extensive properties in Huntington and was heavily involved in the development of oil and gas throughout WV.
In 1890 he built one of the areas most elegant homes, boasting 27 rooms, marble fireplaces, and Tiffany chandeliers. Located at 1307 Third Avenue, it was the scene of many lavish parties and the hub of Huntington society. Frank and Juliette lived there together with their daughter, Dorothy, Franks son Frank Enslow JR and Juliette’s son Charles.
Juliette was last seen alive at 10:30 pm October 16. 1936. That night her son Charles had three visitors over and played bridge in the parlor. Also present in the home was the housekeeper and companion of Juliette, Lizzie Bricker as well as a staff of servants. Around 830am, the chauffeur found Juliette’s wallet lying in the driveway, he brought it inside to the housekeeper, and she became alarmed and ran to Juliette’s suite. There she found Mrs. Enslow on the floor beaten and bloody with a towel wrapped around her neck. They found five stab marks in her head, believed to have been made by an icepick as well as defensive wounds on her hands. She was badly beaten.
A search of her suite showed two diamond rings missing, as well as a diamond-encrusted watch. The watch was later found in a dresser drawer. Curiously, even though it had rained all night, the wallet found outside was dry, leading to speculation that it had been planted. There were no fingerprints found in the room and no signs of forced entry, leading the police to believe that it was an inside job.
Juliette’s funeral was held in her beautiful mansion, and she was then laid to rest in Spring Hill Cemetery. Charles Baldwin was arrested and was arraigned on October 27, 1936; he was later formally indicted a grand jury on February 18, 1937. He went to trial and was found not guilty on March 25, 1937.
On February 27, 1940, one of Juliette’s diamond rings was found in a catch basin behind the Enslow mansion. It was described as a large diamond solitaire set in platinum with a black onyx mounting. Huntingtonians were skeptical that such a large ring could sit there for almost four years and survive the 1937 flood. However, the case was not reopened.
So, who killed Juliette Buffington Enslow? Was it her son? At the time of her murder, he was not practicing law and was living with his mother. Was he short on funds and couldn’t wait for the inheritance I’m sure he was going to have to share with Frank Jr and Dorothy? Was Lizzie an accomplice, was she more than just the housekeeper to Charles? Did one of Charles guests murder her? Unfortunately, these questions will never be answered. Also unfortunate is the fate of the Enslow mansion. It ended up being sold and was used as Steele Funeral Home for many years before it tragically burned to the ground in a fire. I believe that someone knew the truth, someone with access to the stolen rings, maybe they wanted absolution for their crimes? We will never know.