The Strange Case of Thomas Hardin

One of the intriguing frustrations about genealogical research is that each answer just generates more questions. Most of the questions are pretty mundane and interesting only to other relatives, but once in a while one stumbles into a web of intrigue and mayhem which is a great story regardless of ones ancestry. I’m trying to untangle one of those at present. I’ve got to get some money work done, so I’ll do a quick post about what I’ve found so far, then I’ll get back to the research later.

I’ve known for quite a few years that William H. Hagerman, Sr., my great-great grandfather, was a victim in a sensational murder in Chehalis, Washington in 1914. The event has intrigued me, and I’ve had fantasies of making a documentary about the murder. The other day, I took a break from work and poked around the web a bit to see what more I could find. The basic facts of the case are pretty simple. WHH and his (third) wife, Artha Mae Justice (I’ll refer to women by their birth names, rather than their married names) were sitting down to supper with Rosa Belle Smith (AMJ’s daughter by a previous marriage) and two other people. Thomas Hardin, estranged husband of RBS, broke in and shot and killed the three diners I’ve named, then went outside and shot himself.

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In this round of ┬áresearch, I’ve been focusing on the perpetrator, Thomas Hardin. He was apparently a very nasty fellow. It started with this newspaper article, which documents hearsay about his violent past without giving many details:

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I set out to learn how much of TH’s past I could document. The Oregon City episode was pretty easy. The University of Oregon has an excellent online library of historical newspapers, so I could track down news of that episode. Yes, TH stabbed a man named Bateman in 1911. TH was convicted of the crime, but received a suspended sentence because of his family. And I thought liberal judges were a product of the 1960s. The other episodes were not so easy. Without specific dates and locations it’s rather difficult to come up with much. But I did find news reports from Bluefield, WV about Thomas Hardin robbing and shooting a fellow named Bateman. TH was convicted and sentenced to ten years. There’s no age or place of birth given for this Tom Hardin, so I can’t be certain it’s the same dude. It’s also interesting that he was sentenced to ten years in prison just four or five years before the marriage to RBS. But other newspaper articles refer to him being from Virginia, and How many Thomas Hardins could there be going between the Virginia-W Virginia-Kentucky region and the Pacific Northwest around the turn of the Twentieth Century committing various acts of mayhem?

So, at this point I had a more or less coherent timeline for TH. I had census reports from 1880 and 1910. I had an outline of his family tree. The dates were a bit inconsistent, and there were hints of other violent episodes and wives which I haven’t been able to document. Then, I stumbled into “Tom and Comfort Hardin killed Levi Blankenship, a brother of Tom’s wife,
Peggy Blankenship” on the coalexchange site. I’ve visited that site quite a few times. It’s a fountain of (not necessarily reliable) information about the Hagerman family. This Hardin-Blankenship episode ocurred in 1895. The Tom Hardin who commited the murder-suicide had a father named Comfort (he also named a son Comfort, but the son wasn’t born yet). Other online researchers claim the TH of the Blankenship episode changed his name to Alec (or Elic) White, moved to Oregon, and lived under that name until 1932. Those researchers also document a more-or-less coherent timeline for a different (!?) Thomas Hardin. Different birthdates; different census reports, sometimes from the same years; different wives; different death dates. But both Thomas Hardins lived in both the Virginia-Kentucky region and Oregon. Both had close male relatives named Comfort Hardin. Both left a trail of violent crime in their wake. While Thomas Hardin is a fairly common name, it seems bizarre that there would be two of them in the same time period in the same geographic areas with the same strange father/brother/son name commmiting similar violent crimes. There’s got to be a connection…

More research to follow.

 

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