"History never looks like history,
when you are living through it."
John W. Gardner (1933-1982)
There was a double murder near Darrtown in 1865.
And, the suspect was acquited...twice!
Read about this story below.
Links to Darrtown History Pages:
Introduction/overview - Purpose of this history section
Maps - See location of Darrtown & historical maps
Early History - The first half-century of Darrtown history.
Historic Time Line - Associating world and local events
Darrtown Chronology - Darrtown events in timely order
Historic Sites - See location of local historical sites
Folklore, anecdotes and trivia - Stories told thru the ages
Railroad plans verified - Proof that a railroad was planned
German heritage - Achtung! Sprechen sie Deutsch?
Unwritten history - Rectifying an overlooked story
The Unknowns - Answers needed!
Darrtown doctors - Who were Darrtown's physicians?
Lanes Mill - One of Darrtown's earliest businesses
Four Mile Valley Railroad - Plans and route revealed
Darrtown Family Tree - Darrtown's pioneer families listed
Murder-1865 - Murder times two
Bus Line - "Next stop...Darrtown!"
A story told in the 1950's...
Kirk Mee III has long remembered a story that his father told him, back in the 1950's, when Kirk III was a young boy. Kirk Mee II shared a tale about a double murder that happened on a farm west of Darrtown, on Schollenbarger Road. No details were shared. Kirk Mee II never mentioned this story again to his son; but, the tale lodged in the memory of Kirk Mee III.
Flash forward to 2018...
Kirk Mee III and Fred Lindley had a conversation, about a belief, held by many Darrtown old-timers, that John Dillinger sometimes stayed on a farm on Scott Road, east of Darrtown. Given Kirk's interest in the story, Fred suggested to Kirk that Kirk contact Darrtown native, Rick Martin, as Rick might have some additional information about the Dillinger narrative.
A memory recalled...
In a subsequent conversation between Kirk Mee III and Rick Martin regarding the Dillinger story, Rick mentioned that, during times when he and Luther McVicker were riding in Rick's auto, Luther said that that a man known as "Dad" Irwin got away with a double murder on a farm west of Darrtown, on Schollenbarger Road. That story triggered Kirk's memory of an anecdote that his father told him some 65-70 years before. And, with that, Kirk and Rick began a quest to uncover the truth about the double murder.
The power of conversation...
Kirk Mee III discussed the double murder story with family members and friends.
Rick Martin did the same... and... one of Rick's friend's, Charlotte Proctor, a hair stylist in Hamilton, Ohio, had a customer named Richard O. Jones, who coincidentally authored several books about Butler County (Ohio) murders. Charlotte mentioned the Darrtown double murder story to Richard O. Jones.
Murder story verified...
Subsequently, research conducted by Richard O. Jones revealed three 1865 newspaper articles about the Darrtown double murders. Jones gave copies of the news clippings to Charlotte. Charlotte gave copies to Rick. Rick passed copies on to Kirk. Kirk mailed copies to the Darrtown webmaster ... and now, the articles are available at this website (see below).
Rick Martin explained that he frequently drove Luther around Darrtown and vicinity, after Luther retired from his service station work. It was during those drives that Luther shared many of his memories, including what he knew about the Irwin and Schneider murders.
BELOW: This is an IMAGE of the three newspaper articles found by Richard O. Jones.
Reproductions of the three articles appear below this image.
Webmaster notes regarding the following three articles:
FROM AN UNIDENTIFIED NEWSPAPER
"A BLOODY FEUD
Marrying a second wife and what came of it
One of the most remarkable cases to be found anywhere in the annals of the law was tried last week in the Butler County court of common pleas at Hamilton, Ohio. It presents features of greater singularity than the Coosa case, or than many other cases which have created sensations in their day. As no prominence has been given to it yet, beyond a bare mention in the papers, a brief resume of the facts will be of interest.
Near Darrtown, in Butler County, and about 9 miles from Hamilton, there resided, in 1865, an old farmer named John Irwin, some 70 years of age. He was well to do in the world and had been twice married. By his first wife, he had several children, most of whom had either married or gone away from the homestead. One son, however - Sylvester Irwin - remained with him. To this son and one W. A. Harris, a son in law, the old man leased the farm, they are occupying one portion of the house and he the remainder.
In the spring of 1865, John Irwin married a widow about 35 years of age. Up to the period of this second marriage, the evidence tended to show that the old gentleman and his family lived together peaceably and harmoniously. With the advent of the second wife, however, trouble and discord crept in. She appears to have been a woman of quick passions and of remarkable determined character. Broils grew frequent in this household, though it appears that the old man never quarreled with his children, unless she were present and, in some way, instigated or fostered the difficulty.
In carrying on their farming operations, Sylvester Irwin and Harris had use of the barn for their stock. On the morning of August 5, 1865, about six months after the second marriage, a violent altercation occurred, in the course of which Mrs. Irwin made threats of clearing the whole party out of the house, and also a visiting personal violence on Sylvester Irwin and one of Mr. Harris’s children. About 11 o’clock, the old man, accompanied by his wife, went to the barn, a short distance from the house, when he proceeded to nail up the barn door.
The hired man, in the employee of Sylvester and Harris, coming from the field with the horses, found it impossible to enter the barn, and then accordingly, tied the horses to the fence.
At this juncture, Mr. Irwin and his wife came out of the barn, while at the same time Sylvester started from the house. The trio met in a narrow lane. Some angry words passed between Mr. Irwin and Sylvester, when the former raised a hatchet and threw it at his son. At the same instant, the son fired, the shot taking effect in the arm. The old man then stooped to pick up a stone, when Sylvester fired a second time, the shot taking effect behind the left ear, and passing out at the forehead. This was the ball that proved fatal.
Mrs. Irwin rushed up to Sylvester with a Bowie knife in her hand and made a cut at Sylvester. He caught her by the arm, and as she swung around, fired a third shot which took effect in her back. He then wrested the knife from her and gave her a stab in the back. According to the medical testimony, either of these wounds would have been fatal. He came to Hamilton the same night and gave himself up.
Two trials were had on indictment for killing his father. On the second trial they acquitted. This third trial, just concluded, was for murder in the second degree of his stepmother, and also resulted in an acquittal, the jury being out about five hours.
Such is, in brief, the statement of a case which has, from the date of a transaction up to the present time, excited more interest in Hamilton and vicinity, than any case in years. The theory of the defense was that it was the intention of Mrs. Irwin to get rid of the heirs who might stand between her and the property."
From the Cincinnati Enquirer on Sunday…
"Horrible murder in Butler County-a son kills his father and mother
By a note from the office of the American Express company, in Hamilton, we learned the particulars of a dreadful murder which occurred yesterday in Darrtown, nine miles from Hamilton, in Butler County. The circumstances of this terrible and melancholy affair are as follows: at dinner time, the father, mother, and son were seated at the table, discussing at length, family affairs, when the conversation became fearfully exciting and harsh and violent language was indulged in. Finally, the mother, Mrs. Irwin, rose from her seat and, with the carving knife in her right hand, rushed toward her son, who, rising from his chair, fell back from the table and drawing a revolver warned her not to make another step for him, else he would shoot her. At this juncture, the father, enraged and excited, rose and took the part of his wife, and seizing the hatchet, rushed toward the young man, who immediately fired at his father, and then turning toward the mother, also shot her, both parents falling lifeless at his feet.
The young man, Irwin, who is unmarried and aged about 30 years, then informed the neighbors what he had done, and in hunting of the constable of Darrtown, he gave himself up for trial, declaring that he committed the deed in self-defense. The prisoner was then brought to Hamilton and lodged in the county jail. The occurrence has caused considerable excitement in Darrtown.
ANOTHER ACCOUNT OF THE DARRTOWN MURDER
Since writing the above, we have received, from J. J. Longfellow, a justice of the peace in Hamilton, a statement that Sylvester Irwin is the name of the son who killed his father, John Irwin, and his stepmother, Jane Irwin. Constable William Howard arrested Irwin, as he was making for the train. He had on his person a revolver and $70 in money.
During the preliminary examination before magistrate Longfellow, there was an intense excitement among the citizens of Hamilton who knew John Irwin and highly respected him. The excited crowd were loud in their denunciation of Sylvester Irwin, the murderer, and cried out to hang him. The prisoner was conveyed out of the back door and safely secured in the county jail.
There are different versions as to the origin of this truly terrible affair. One account, different slightly from the one above, is that Sylvester returned to the house from plowing, when some girls from an upper story window of his father’s house spit down on him. This act of indignity excited the ire of Sylvester and he demanded of his father, at the barn, whether or not he countenanced such actions. Hard words follow, when the step-mother, Jane Irwin, ran out of the house, down to the barn, with a carving knife, and rushed towards Sylvester, who drew a pistol. The father, John Irwin, seized a hatchet, and stepped in between his wife and son, evidently to protect each other, being proverbial for his peaceable disposition. The son then fired at the father, the ball entering the forehead, causing instant death. He then fired at Mrs. Irwin, a ball entering the right breast. Sylvester, then noticing that his shot has not performed its mission of instant death, seized a knife and cut her throat, ear to ear, and, with a club, beat her head. She only lived 20 minutes. Sylvester then fled and was arrested in Hamilton, as already stated. His trial has been set down for Tuesday morning, the eighth, at 9 o’clock. The coroner of Butler County was engaged last evening in holding an inquest upon the dead bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin."
From the Cincinnati Gazette
"A double homicide - a boy kills his father and mother
The village of Darrtown, situated about nine miles from Hamilton, in Butler County, Ohio, was the scene, on Saturday, of one of the most fearful tragedies we have ever recorded. The following statement of affair, made by Mr. J.J. Longfellow, a justice of the peace, before whom the preliminary examination of the party arrested, took place, presents the facts so far as known.
About noon, Saturday, Sylvester Irwin, a single man about 30 years old, living with his father, John Irwin, near Darrtown, came in from plowing. In passing the house, some girls, from an upper story window, spit down upon him. This excited his anger and he demanded of his father, at the barn, whether or not he countenanced such actions.
Hard words followed, when the stepmother, Jane Irwin, ran out of her house, down to the barn, with a carving knife and rushed toward Sylvester, who drew a pistol. The father, John, seized a hatchet, and stepped in between his wife and son, evidently to protect both, being proverbial for his peaceable disposition. The son then fired at the father, the ball entering the forehead, and causing instant death. He been fired at Mrs. Irwin, the ball entering the right breast. Sylvester, then noticing that his last shot had not performed its mission of instant death, seized a knife and cut her throat from ear to ear, and, with a club, beat her head. She only lived twenty minutes.
Sylvester then fled and was arrested in Hamilton by Constable Wm. Howard, as he was making for the train. He had on his person a revolver and $70 in money.
During the preliminary examination, before Magistrate Longfellow, there was an intense excitement among the citizens of Hamilton who knew John Irwin and highly respected him. The excited crowd were loud in their denunciation of Sylvester Irwin, a murderer, and cried out to hang him. The prisoner was conveyed through and safely secured in the county jail. His trial has been set for Tuesday morning, the 8th, at 9 o’clock. The Coroner of Butler county was engaged last evening in holding an inquest upon the dead bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin."
QUESTIONS REMAIN; however, the three foregoing newspaper articles provide a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the 1865 double homicide in Darrtown.
BELOW: This is a reprint of an email from Fred Lindley to Kirk Mee III and Rick Martin that adds clarity to the chronology of this tragic event.
On 5/27/18, 6:07 AM, Fred Lindley wrote:
Hello, Kirk and Rick.
FYI…I have deduced that Sylvester Irwin’s first trial occurred on Tuesday, August 8, 1865.
My reasoning followed this path:
• The newspaper article titled “A BLOODY FEUD” reported the murder to have occurred on August 5, 1865.
• The Cincinnati Enquirer article, titled “Horrible Murder in Butler County,” reported that Sylvester’s trial was “set down for Tuesday morning, the 8th.”
I researched the calendar of 1865 and discovered that August was the only month in 1865 that had a Tuesday on the 8th.
I am puzzled that Sylvester’s trial seemingly occurred within three days of the murders. Perhaps this was not the trial date, but, rather an “arraignment” date.
From an Internet source, I found the following definition of an arraignment: Arraignment is usually a criminal defendant's first appearance in court or before a judge on a criminal charge. At arraignment, the charges against the defendant will be read or the defendant will be asked if he/she is aware of the charges against them, and will be asked how they wish to plead. It is not a hearing to determine guilt or innocence.
I hope this is helpful, as we continue our efforts to learn more about the Irwin murders of 1865.
Thanks for all your work in this regard.
A SUMMATION OF THE IRWIN MURDERS: To access a summary of the Irwin murders of 1865, as researched and described by Kirk Mee III, click the following link. See "KIrk's summary of 1865 Irwin murders."
MORE "MURDER" INFO: Kirk Mee shared the following resource, which cites the Irwin murders; plus, three other murders committed in or near Darrtown, during the 1860's.
A book, published in 1874 and titled “A History of the Life and Trials of Thomas McGhean," tells how Thomas McGhean was tried three times for murdering Thomas S. Myers; once in Hamilton, Ohio; once in Lebanon, Ohio; and once in Dayton, Ohio.
In an attempt to refute a belief, allegedly held by some, that Thomas McGhean committed additional murders, the final chapter of this book includes a list of all murders committed in Butler County between 1839 and 1874 (see Chapter LIIII on page 280). The list includes four incidences of murder in or near Darrtown.
The book, archived at the Harvard College Library - the Bright Legacy, is available at the following link: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044105355754;view=1up;seq=2
The following images
provide an overview of the 1874 book
and show excerpts about murders committed in or near Darrtown.