The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 1 Feb 2012. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.
Fact is so often more interesting than fiction, and such is the case with local historian Charles Hartley's new book, Murder or Not? about a murder case in Bullitt County in 1904. This book needs no fictional characters or made-up storyline. Fact is more than enough to consume the reader's attention.
Anger and built-up mistrust seething just under the surface. A blatant murder committed right in front of a train-load of people.... yet was it murder?
What could be a better story than that?
And subtly inserted at one point is a second murder mystery; a woman, Ellen Taylor who worked for the Barbour family, found killed in a nearby barn, and a Swiss farm hand accused of the crime, but the crime unsolved... or hidden.
In the early 1900's, train travel was really the way to get any place, and in Bullitt County there were several train depots with regular stops. One was at Huber's Station in northern Bullitt County, and that is the main setting of this story about two families who lived nearby: the Hagans and the Barbours. A real-life story of friendships of two men, two families, that degenerated from that friendship to mistrust, to dislike, to hate, to murder.
Or was it murder?
On August 11, 1904, a train stopped at Huber's Station, arriving from Louisville, and several people disembarked, including Francis Hagan and John Barbour.
Then suddenly shots rang out, and Francis Hagan lay dead on the depot platform, shot by John Barbour right in front of everyone. Once friends, these men had become bitter enemies over a festering dispute over a land deal. Before this shooting, Hagan had even been accused of bushwhacking and trying to kill Barbour. And now Hagan lay dead.
Barbour claimed self defense, citing the previous bushwhacking and saying that Hagan had a gun. But no gun was found except the one in Barbour's hand.
There were a dozen witnesses, but just about as many stories; one man even ended up in prison himself for lying about what he had seen. It took two trials to reach a jury verdict, but the reader is left to ponder if justice was truly served.
Charles Hartley, in his usual wonderful style, begins telling a little of the story, a few of the facts. And before one knows it, the reader is drawn into a book that can't be laid down.
Not "fact-based" but completely factual as best as Mr. Hartley's solid research allows, Murder or Not? should be particularly interesting to those who study the law or like the subtleties of a Law and Order TV show style prosecution and defense. But it will also satisfy those who just love a good mystery, or, as me, just a lover of small-town history.
Author Charles Hartley is also the creator of another great book about Bullitt County, The Train Wreck of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, 1917 about the most deadly train wreck in Kentucky history.
Starting next week, Charles will be writing this column for a while as I need to step away to take care of some political business that could cause a conflict with the column. Thank you for all the kind complements since I have been writing these "Bullitt County Memories." It is a pleasant memory that I will not forget.
Charles Hartley's books, and other books about Bullitt County, can be purchased at the Bullitt County History Museum. His new book can also be purchased for Kindle readers. Information is available here.
Copyright 2012 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.