Unsolved homicides rarely are discussed in local history columns. Readers usually want the mystery solved before placing the newsprint into a kitty litter trey.
This column provides sketchy details of two murders which occurred many years ago. There were many others.
On Nov. 26, 1942 — 70 years ago — the decomposing body of World War II veteran James Edward Person was found in Edgar County, near Paris, Ill.
The coroner’s jury concluded that Person died “of exposure after numerous gunshot wounds.”
Only superficial details of what happened to Person, a native of Tennessee, were published in the popular news media.
In early October 1942, Vigo County Sheriff John Trierweiler began receiving telephone calls from several women residing on farms near Shirkieville, complaining that a nameless black man would appear at the back door near dusk and “demand food.”
On Oct. 12, the sheriff and several deputies answered a call near Tecumseh, in Vigo County, but by the time they got there, the man had departed.
Later in the day, Trierweiler’s office got a call from the wife of Guy Morris, a Shirkieville farmer, who was a telephone operator in Libertyville. She complained about the presence of the “beggar.”
Trierweiler reported that he later learned from a police radio call that a group of men were shooting at the suspect in Edgar County, near the Illinois-Indiana state line.
The sheriff later said: “Neither I nor any of my deputies at any time ever saw Person though we searched for him for several days.”
On July 13, 1943, federal grand jury indictments were issued in Danville and East St. Louis, Ill., for the arrest of Sheriff Trierweiler, Vigo County deputy sheriffs Herb Beasley, “Jumbo” Jim Elliott and Pearl Miller; Morris and Martin Kiado of Shirkieville; and Ernest and Kenneth Bozarth, Edward Garwood, James Houston, Ernest Poynter, Charles Price and Hubert Tweedy, all farmers from Edgar County.
The men were charged with conspiring to violate Person’s civil rights though some later stories classified the case as “a lynching.”
According to Ray Foreman, district attorney, and Frank Coleman, special assistant, the defendants were accused of circulating false rumors and suspicions regarding Person’s behavior in total disregard of his rights “as a human being to be free of fear and bodily harm.”
Person had received an honorable discharge. News reports credited the victim’s father Christopher Person and the American Legion post in Jackson, Tenn., with bringing the case to the attention of the Department of Justice.
The grand jury, according to a report in the Terre Haute Tribune, was unable to determine who fired the fatal shots but accused Morris and Kiado of chasing Person across the Illinois-Indiana state line.
On Dec. 9, 1946, the nine men sometimes referred to as “members of a posse,” including Morris and Kiado, were found guilty of violating the victim’s civil rights and fined $200 each.
Cases against the four Vigo County law enforcement officers were dismissed.
At about 9 a.m. on Feb. 20, 1872 — about 140 years ago — the body of Thomas Bensinger was found by two young boys some 60 feet south of Bloomington Road (now Poplar Street), three miles east of the city.
The deceased was seated on the trunk of a fallen tree with his legs crossed and his arms folded upon his breast. The brim of his hat was drawn down over his eyes.
Upon raising his hat, a bullet hole was found in the center of his forehead. Blood and brains covered his face and clothing. Bensinger’s face was camouflaged with powder burns but the hat brim was not burned.
Besieger’s killer or killers apparently shot him, arranged his position on the log and then placed his hat on his head.
Eddie Selby and Charlie Bugh, the two youths, stumbled across the grim sight while in pursuit of a rabbit. They promptly reported what they had found to authorities.
The body was brought to the city and placed in the Station House, where it was identified as Besieger, an employee of butcher Michael Lamb, father of future congressman John E. Lamb.
Besieger, about 45 years old, had been residing at the Truinett House on South Fourth Street, opposite the Market House. He was last seen Feb. 14, at which time he was said to have a watch and a small amount of money on his person.
When he was found, the only thing on his person was a plug of tobacco.
According to acquaintances, Besieger he seemed depressed and frequently talked about going to a poor house.
A half-empty bottle of whisky and another bottle partially filled with some kind of medicine lay nearby. A half loaf of bread, wrapped in a piece of calico, was found 30 feet from the body.
Coroner Charles Gerstmeyer summoned a jury, which found that “the deceased man came to his death at the hands of a person or persons unknown.”