The first thing that drew me in was the first word of the headline, “Clews.” Was it a mispelling or was “Clews” a person? Or something else?
The first sentence of the article gave clarification—I think it was a mispelling—a lack of evidence was the subject.
Secondly, the article was about the 1927 murder of a black man. 1927 was the year my father was born.
I clipped it and stashed it away for a rainy day.
And promptly forgot all about it for the next six months until I accidentally ran across it during a biannual non-essential file dump.
Reading it again, my desire to know what happened was rekindled—did they ever find the murderer?
With a bit of time on my hands, I decided to see what else newspapers could tell me about the case.
The second article was published in the 23 February 1927 edition of the Kentucky Advocate (Danville, KY).
The State Lodge G.U.O.O.F offered $50 for the arrest and conviction of Sallee’s murderer.
“We, as brother Odd Fellows of James Sallee...think it our duty...to aid in every way possible the local officials in securing evidence...as our aid will help make this a clean city to live in and draw on the better element of other cities.”
The third article, from the 25 February edition of The Advocate-Messenger, made the front page.
The Boyle County fiscal court had authorized the county judge to offer a reward for the murderer(s).
The amount was undisclosed at that time but the judge was to appeal to Governor Fields to offer the same reward as well.
The first article of the five gave a few sparse “clews” to his identity:
“...49 years old...”
“...one of the most highly respected colored men in Boyle county...”
“...was a farmer and lived about a half mile from Danville on the Stanford pike.”
“Besides his wife and son, Arthur, he is survived by three brothers and four sisters....”
These nuggets were enough to challenge me to see what else I could discover about Sallee in other records.
Census and vital records allowed a peek into James Sallee's life.
He was the third of twelve children born to David and Lucinda (Johnson) Sallee. David was a farm laborer from Virginia. Lucinda, a native of Wayne County, Kentucky and widowed by 1910, was possibly taken care of by her grown children until her death in 1922.
James Sallee’s wife was Matilda Copenhaver, his son, William Arthur Copenhaver. Matilda apparently did not remarry after her husband was murdered, but lived with her brother Perry, perhaps until her death. James and Matilda are both buried in Hilldale Cemetery in Danville, Kentucky.
And that was all I had time to unearth.
But who was the man behind the plow? Who was the widely respected 49 year old who met such a tragic and violent end on his way home from an Odd Fellows meeting on a cold February evening?