Bullitt County History

Murder or Not?

In January 2012, I published this non-fiction book about a murder trial that took place in Bullitt County more than a century earlier. We have decided to serialize the book here on the museum web site. Links to each part of it will be added to its table of contents here. You may also use this link to go back to the previous episode.

Barbour Arrested, Charged With Murder

As described in the beginning pages of this book, John Barbour shot and fatally wounded Francis J. Hagan at Huber's Station depot on August 11, 1904.

The initial newspaper report, much of which we've already described, also contained a statement by Robert J. Hagan on behalf of his brother.

"This last is the coldest blooded attempt at assassination I ever heard of. Two years ago my brother told me of his troubles with Barbour; that he could never have a day of peace. I advised him to move, arguing that he could not afford to kill such a man as Barbour, nor to be killed. He decided to move, and gradually since that time he has been putting his affairs in such condition as to leave. His land holdings were large and he had to dispose of them as he could, so that he was unable to leave until four months ago. In the meantime he had been tormented in every conceivable way. Not alone were the attempts on his life made, but his stock was killed from time to time and frequently was driven off his place. Once $1,500 worth of stock was driven away.

"The worst attempt on my brother's life was in August when Barbour from ambush fired on him as he was opening the gate to let his wife and his niece pass through. We are now prepared to prove that at the trial of my brother and Jones, Barbour produced practically nothing but perjured testimony. He has five negroes which he keeps for such purposes, and I will venture to predict that they will be presented on his behalf when he is tried for this latest outrage.

"I have investigated todays' shooting and there is not a witness to confirm Barbour's claims. I telephoned to the jailer of Shepherdsville tonight that if he releases Barbour on bond it will be at his personal risk.

"There is practically no hope of my brother's recovery. We intend to prosecute Barbour to the last."

His comment about the "five negroes which he [Barbour] keeps for such purpose" is difficult to assess. It is true that several of Barbour's witnesses at the earlier trial were blacks who lived and worked in the neighborhood. It is also true that the Hagans were Southern sympathizers since Frank Hagan Sr. had been a captain in the Confederate army.

Thus Robert Hagan's statement could be read as the indignant outrage of a brother, or as a calculated effort to ensure that public opinion would favor his brother this time, by associating Barbour with people whose standing in society still relegated them as second-class citizens.

The next day, after his brother's death, he again issued a statement:

"I have secured positive evidence today which will show that a plot to kill my brother was laid right here in Louisville. Barbour knew he was coming back to complete the negotiations for the sale of his property. He secured his pistol in Louisville and hid in the baggage car of the train on which Francis went to Huber's Station. He was not seen about the Louisville station before the train left, but I know that he secured a hiding place in the baggage car, and that once during the progress of the train toward Huber's Station he crept through the cars to see that his victim was still in the coach. When the train stopped he dropped off on the opposite side from that on which my brother alighted, and then ran around the train and commenced firing.

"We will be able to show exactly where the pistol was secured, where the plot was formed and who were with Barbour when he formulated his plan of murder, and how he came to hide in the baggage car. I cannot give my source of information, but it will all come out at the trial. The story of Barbour's perjury, duplicity and lies has been told many times, and I feel sure that we can secure a conviction when he is brought to trial for this crime."

Robert Hagan was a prosecuting attorney in the Louisville police court, and was used to presenting the prosecution's case to the press, and to prospective jurors, which is what he seemed to be doing here. The statement about Barbour dropping off the train on the opposite side and running around the train to approach Hagan is inconsistent with the other witnesses' statements so far printed in the newspaper.

The newspaper also reported that there was a question of where Barbour should be tried. It said: "The time and place of the trial of John R. T. Barbour is now occupying the attention of the authorities. Robert J. Hagan said yesterday afternoon that under the statutes the trial could be held either in Louisville or in Shepherdsville. The statute cited by Mr. Hagan sets forth that when a man is wounded in one county and dies in another, the trial can take place in either, according to the discretion of the prosecution. It has not been decided in which place the trial will be held as yet. The relatives seem to favor Jefferson County, and it is understood that Barbour is not anxious to return to Bullitt County, as excitement is running at a high pitch in the community of Shepherdsville and Huber's Station and the sentiment is in favor of Hagan."

The Jefferson County coroner conducted a post-mortem examination of Hagan's body and determined that he was shot three times. An inquest was scheduled for the following Tuesday.

The newspaper reported on the rather unusual steps taken by Barbour following the shooting. As we already know, he telephoned Jailer Jones in Shepherdsville and confessed the shooting. Also, that same evening, Clarence L. Croan swore out a warrant for Barbour's arrest before Shepherdsville Town Marshal J. B. Monroe. It appears that Monroe and Jones went to arrest Barbour, and according to Jones, "Barbour was under the impression that Hagan was fatally hurt, and asked to be taken to Louisville to make arrangements for a heavy bond. The arrangements which Mr. Barbour wished to make with C. R. Long, president of the Louisville Water Company, were successfully carried out."

Jailer Jones accompanied Barbour to Louisville and they returned to Huber's Station where Monroe was waiting with Herbert Lee, the husband of Barbour's niece. The group then traveled to Shepherdsville where, at four in the morning, Barbour appeared before Judge Leroy Daniels of the Bullitt County Court, at Shepherdsville, and his bond was fixed in the sum of $5,000. J. H. Linn, of Huber's Station, was accepted by Judge Daniels as sole bondsman, and Barbour was released. This was before Hagan died.

The following morning, prior to Hagan's death, John Barbour went to Louisville to his job at the water company as usual. When Hagan died sometime after two in the afternoon, the Chief of Louisville Police sent Chief Detective William Sullivan to arrest Barbour on a murder charge.

When Sullivan arrived at the Louisville Water Company, he was informed that Barbour had left to go to the jail. When Sullivan returned to the Chief's office he found Barbour waiting there.

Sullivan arrested him and took him to the jail. Meanwhile, when word of Hagan's death reached Shepherdsville, Sheriff Campbell and Jailer Jones were sent to Huber's Station to arrest Barbour on a charge of murder. When they learned that he had been arrested in Louisville, they reported back to the judge in Shepherdsville.

The next morning Sullivan escorted Barbour to City Court where he was formally charged with murder, and the case was continued to the next week, the 19th of August. Meanwhile Barbour was lodged in the Louisville jail. On the 19th, his case was examined in City Court, and that court held him over to appear before the Jefferson Circuit Court. He was sent back to jail without bail.

Earlier, when Hagan's friends learned of Barbour's trip to Louisville in the custody of the Shepherdsville jailer, and Judge Daniels' early morning bail hearing, they were critical of both, saying that the jailer transcended his authority in allowing Barbour the freedom to leave Bullitt County before facing a judge, and that the judge required too little bail for an offense that was not a bailable one. This made them more determined than ever to try Barbour in the Jefferson Circuit Court rather than in Bullitt County.

Upon learning that Barbour was being held in Louisville, the Bullitt County judge issued a writ of habeas corpus to the Louisville jailer. A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully and whether or not he should be released from custody. On the advice of several lawyers, the jailer refused to release Barbour to Bullitt County.

The reasoning behind this refusal was the claim that a Jefferson County court had indicted Barbour for murder, the first to do so, which gave them jurisdiction.

The matter was taken before Judge Pryor, of the Jefferson Criminal Court who sent Barbour to Bullitt County to be tried. His reasoning was that Barbour had first been indicted in a Bullitt County court for the wounding of Hagan, giving that county jurisdiction.

Commonwealth's Attorney Joseph M. Huffaker, of the Jefferson Criminal Court, filed a petition before the Kentucky Court of Appeals requesting that a writ of prohibition be issued to prevent Bullitt County from taking jurisdiction of Barbour for trial.

While that was pending, Barbour was delivered to Bullitt County where, on October 5th, his petition for bail came before the Bullitt County court. The newspaper reported that "skirmishing took up the morning, when Aaron Kohn, of counsel for the Commonwealth, attacked the jurisdiction of the Bullitt authorities, saying a writ of prohibition was pending in the Court of Appeals and would be heard October 11. After argument by Mr. Kohn for the Commonwealth and Senator Charles Carroll and Judge William Carroll for the petitioner, Judge Leroy Daniels decided to hear the case."

For his defense, Barbour obtained the services of six attorneys: Frank Straus, Charles Carroll, Nat Halstead, Judge William Carroll, Ben Chapeze and Herbert Glenn. All but William Carroll and Nat Halstead had Bullitt County ties. Halstead was from Nelson County, but frequently appeared in Shepherdsville. Judge William Carroll of New Castle was a family friend, having shared a law practice with Barbour's father years before. Judge Carroll would lead the defense team.

Back in the court room, the afternoon began with Barbour taking the stand to make his first formal statement before the court.

The newspaper reported that "Barbour said he was standing beside the train shaking hands with Mr. Brumley, when he looked over Brumley's shoulder and noticed Hagan approaching. He saw Hagan shift his suit case from his right hand to his left and reach into his right-hand coat pocket as if to draw a pistol. Hagan, at the same time, threw his suit case up before his breast as if to shield himself. Barbour then struck at him with a folded newspaper, knocking his hat over his eyes, and began to shoot. He shot perhaps five times, following Hagan as he retreated. When Hagan fell Barbour ceased firing."

Several witnesses were called by the defense including George James who said that Hagan's right hand hung to his side while Barbour was shooting at him.

William Hall, who had been working on Barbour's house the day of the shooting was quoted as saying that "when he saw Barbour firing at Hagan, Hagan's hand was reaching toward his hip pocket under his coat after the second fire."

Mrs. Roger White declared that she saw Hagan's hand reach back of him and that his hand was outside of his coat. She was the daughter of Joseph and Julia Brooks, neighbors of the Barbours.

Mrs. Richard Lewis, Barbour's sister, said she saw Hagan reach under his coat toward his hip pocket.

The newspaper reported, "Upon cross-examination all the witnesses admitted that they saw no weapon and that none was drawn by Hagan. All who kept track of the suit case said Hagan had it in his hand at least up to the third shot, and evidence was introduced to show that Hagan fell about seventy-five feet from the place where the first shot was fired."

Mr. Kohn asked to have the petition for bail dismissed, but Judge Daniels decided to hear witnesses for the prosecution first. The first three called were Brainard Platt, who took Barbour's statement for The Courier-Journal the night of the shooting; E. C. Bohne, cashier of the Third National Bank, who was an eye-witness, and also Robert Hazel, who also claimed to be an eye-witness.

Platt's testimony was to show that since the night of the shooting Barbour had changed some of the details of his first statement. According to Platt, Barbour said Hagan reached to his hip pocket, while today he said Hagan reached to his coat pocket.

The report continued, "Mr. Bohne said after the first shot the whole tragedy passed before his eyes. He saw Hagan running and Barbour following, shooting at Hagan as he ran. Hagan had no weapon. He heard Samuel Casseday call out: 'Don't you see the man is unarmed and defenseless?'"

Bohne said he heard Barbour reply, "Once he was fixed for me."

Bohne was also asked questions intended to bring out the fact that Hagan was not armed. He said that when Hagan got on the train he took off his coat and hung it up on a hook in the coach. Bohne saw no signs of a weapon in Hagan's coat pocket or trousers pocket.

The local newspaper, The Bullitt Pioneer, reported, "The next witness Robert Hazel said he saw the whole affair from the rear end of the train, but his testimony was more or less confused, and threw but little light on the matter." This is not surprising as we will learn later that Hazel was perjuring himself.

As the hour was late, the trial was continued to the next day. As court reconvened the following morning, the Commonwealth paraded a series of witnesses before the court, including Samuel Casseday, Barrett Gibson, Clarence Croan, William Troutwine, Josh Brooks, Mrs. Joseph Jeffers, Capt. Robert Tyler, Joseph Sanders, Ferd Bohne and Robert J. Hagan.

Samuel Casseday was the first witness introduced. According to his testimony, he said that he heard the first and second shots, and turning saw Francis Hagan run past him, carrying his grip in his right hand, while Barbour pursued him, shooting at him and cursing him. The third shot struck the valise, and Hagan dropped it. Barbour pursued him until Hagan fell, and he was about to shoot Hagan on the ground when Casseday threw a rock at Barbour. Then Barbour turned his pistol on Casseday and threatened to shoot him if he interfered. Casseday testified that he exclaimed: "You are shooting an unarmed man."

"He was armed once – the damned midnight assassin." was Barbour's reply, as he walked up to the wounded man, cursing him and calling him various names, according to Casseday.

Casseday testified that he, Ferd Bohne and J. H. Smithers carried Hagan to Bohne's carriage, and they took him to Casseday's house, and then brought him to Louisville. He said he searched Hagan's pockets and found no weapons of any kind.

Barrett Gibson testified next. He said he was in the smoking car, about three seats back of Hagan, and that he saw Barbour enter the smoking car and walk up near where Hagan was sitting before retracing his steps to exit the car. This contradicted Barbour's claim of remaining in the baggage car throughout the trip. Gibson also said that Hagan was unarmed.

Clarence Croan, the next witness, testified that he was also in the car with Hagan, and that he knew there was no weapon in either Hagan's coat of hip pocket.

William Troutwine said he was in the smoking car where Hagan was sitting, just before the train left the Tenth street depot, and saw Barbour walking along on the outside, searching the windows, while the car was still in the Tenth street depot. This testimony, and that of Barrett Gibson, seemingly contradicted Barbour's claim that he did not know that Hagan was on the train.

The prosecution next called Josh Brooks followed by Mrs. Joseph Jeffers, both relatives of Mrs. Roger White. Both testified that Mrs. White told them that she was going to be a witness for John Barbour, and that Barbour and Hagan both had pistols, and both shot at one another a number of times. This, of course, was not how she did testify.

Joseph Sanders was called regarding an earlier event in which Barbour showed him a number of bullets and the pistol with which he later shot Hagan. According to the report, "Barbour said that he had made a number of experiments by shooting in a piece of beef and that the pistol shot the most deadly bullet that he knew of. He said further that Barbour had told him if any one was hit by it there would be no use to send for the doctor."

The next witness, Ferd Bohne, who admitted that he and Barbour were enemies, said he was at the station at the time of the shooting. He testified that he heard a noise and looked up just in time to see the first shot fired, and that Hagan had his valise in his right hand, and his left hand hanging by his side. He testified further that Hagan's back was turned toward Barbour. He said Hagan ran from Barbour and Barbour pursued about sixty-five feet, shooting and cursing him as he ran. At about the second or third shot, he said Hagan dropped his valise, and about the fifth shot Hagan fell. He said as Barbour was about to shoot again Samuel Casseday threw a rock and yelled to Barbour not to shoot an unarmed man.; and that Barbour said "He was armed once upon a time – this midnight assassin and scoundrel."

Bohne further testified that Barbour then turned his pistol on Casseday and threatened to shoot him, if he interfered. He said that as Hagan lay on the ground crying out with pain, that Barbour exclaimed: "Listen to the assassin, the coward, crying like a stuck pig."

The consistency of witness statements regarding Barbour's comments may suggest that they had discussed the event prior to appearing in court, given the fact that most were inside the railroad car aboard a train whose locomotive was still noisily operating. Of course it is possible, with the windows open, for them to have heard at least part of Barbour's statements.

Robert J. Hagan was called as a witness, and he testified to the dying declaration of his brother, repeating essentially the statement he gave earlier to the press.

Following this testimony, Judge Leroy Daniels refused to allow Barbour bond, holding him over in jail for trial in the Circuit Court.

On November 1, the Court of Appeals ruled that the right to try Barbour for murdering Hagan belonged to the Bullitt Circuit Court. Their opinion read, in part, "The authorities of the county where the shot was fired first arrested Barbour. So far as he was concerned, the deed was done. It merely depended upon later developments to determine the degree of his crime, if guilty. Having him in custody, it was competent for the examining court of Bullitt county to have changed the charge upon which he was arrested so as to fit the facts of the case at any time pending the inquiry."

This disappointed the prosecution which had wanted the trial to be held in Jefferson County.

Then on November 4, the newspaper reported: "Robert Hazel, one of the main witnesses for the prosecution in the case of John R. T. Barbour, accused of the murder of Francis Hagan, has been charged with perjury."

When a Jefferson County deputy sheriff went to where Hazel was employed to arrest him, he was informed that Hazel had quit his job earlier and had not been seen since.

The newspaper stated that at the hearing Hazel testified he was a passenger on the train the afternoon of the shooting. He swore that he was upon the back platform as the train, and that he saw the whole affair. It was his statement that Hagan made no hostile actions toward Barbour, and that Barbour opened fire without being provoked.

The Barbour defense charged that Hazel was not on the train at all, and that no one was upon the rear platform when Shepherdsville was reached except Brumley, the roadmaster. The paper stated, "This official, it is said, will swear that the door leading from the coach to the rear platform had been locked by him before the train arrived at Shepherdsville."

Hazel, in his evidence, said that he had bought a ticket at one of the stations between Shepherdsville and Louisville, and that he went on to Lebanon, returning upon a freight later that night. The attorneys for the defendant asserted that records of the books at all the stations between Louisville and Shepherdsville showed that no ticket was sold to Lebanon that day.

The defense would later attempt to show that Hazel had been prompted by the prosecution to falsely testify.

In November, Barbour's doctor stated his health was suffering due to stagnant water in the Shepherdsville jail cistern, so the judge ordered that he be sent to the Louisville jail until his case was called in the December term of Bullitt County Circuit Court.

Copyright 2019 by Charles Hartley, 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.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 28 Jan 2021 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/murder/murder-8.html