[ back ]
Book details gory Columbus crime
“Historic Columbus Crimes: Mama’s in the Furnace, the Thing, and More,” is available in local book stores, through Amazon.com and other online vendors. The 127 page book is published by The History Press (www.historypress.net).
Grave robbers, serial killers, drag queens, a costumed monster, street toughs, a professorial killer, gangs, and madmen populate the new book, “Historic Columbus Crimes: Mama’s in the Furnace, the Thing, and More,” by the father-daughter team of David Meyers and Elise Meyers Walker.
The book includes 16 true crime stories culled from Columbus’ history that illustrate the depths of tragedy and pain that people can inflict on one another. The stories also highlight the heroic efforts and sacrifice some police officers exerted in order to catch the culprits.
I contacted one of the book’s authors, David Meyers, to get his thoughts regarding the book.
Rick Palsgrove: How and why did you select the particular stories for the book?
David Meyers: “For as long as I can remember, I have been a student of local history. I credit the public schools for that since we had units on both Columbus and Ohio history when I was in elementary and secondary school, although the texts they provided were rather dull. But, what they lacked, my mother’s interest in local history more than made up for. She was always pointing things out to me.
Over the years, there were stories I ran across that stuck with me, the most obvious example being ‘The Resurrection War.’ I gathered information on it in a very fragmentary fashion, thinking I would use it sometime, but I didn’t have a particular forum in mind. That is true of some of the other stories as well. For instance, I chanced upon a copy of Detective Thomas Foster’s biography and used it as counterpoint to several newspaper stories. Then when my daughter and I began writing ‘Central Ohio’s Historic Prisons,’ we assembled a number of stories of Ohio Penitentiary inmates, but could only use the briefest of summaries in that book. So when we were approached by The History Press to pitch them an idea for a book, I thought we could quickly put something together on various Columbus crimes.
I liked the idea of presenting a variety of crimes spread over a long period of time, in this case 1839 to 2005. Elise was responsible for the inclusion of the more recent ones. We wanted show how the crimes varied according to the social context.”
RP: Which story did you find the most disturbing and why?
DM: “Having spent 30 years working in corrections, I have been exposed to a number of horrendous crimes and met more than my share of criminals, so what affects me may not be the same as what affects most people. I am disturbed by the reaction or lack or reaction by Addie Sheatsley’s family to her mysterious incineration in the furnace of their home. I am disturbed that Patty Matix and Joyce McFadden could be brutally murdered while working in a Riverside Hospital research lab and that the first reaction was not to call the police. I am disturbed that Forest Bigelow could quietly put his affairs in order and then murder his family with an axe.
Elise, on the other hand, is amazed at how quickly things return to normal. A guy dressed as a ninja murders another guy with a samurai sword and a few months later it is like nothing ever happened. People are quick to forget the truly monstrous things that happen.”
RP: How do you think the 19th century crimes differ in nature from the 20th century crimes?
DM: “As L.P. Hartley observed in The Go-Between, ‘The past is a different country; they do things differently there.’ The people are essentially the same, but the technology is different, the customs and manners are different, the rituals are different, and, of course, the moral and values have changed.
The impact of the automobile on crime is well documented. It is much easier to put distance between yourself and the crime scene. Flytown Frenchy was fleeing on a bicycle. On the flipside, the improvement in communications means it is much easier to send out an alarm over long distances, around the world in mere moments. The proliferation of firearms is another important factor. Laura Carter wasn’t even near the shoot out that killed her.”
RP: You note the serial killers, the Lewingdon brothers, committed their crimes in the same era as the infamous “Son of Sam” serial killer in New York, yet the Lewingdons did not achieve the same level of notoriety as Son of Sam. Why do you think that is?
DM: “Columbus isn’t New York. Things that happen in New York are automatically accorded more importance by the news media. (The same is true of Chicago, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, etc.) Things that happen in the major news centers tend to touch reporters where they live (many of them lived/worked in New York, so their own fears helped to shape the stories; they just don’t feel the same way about Columbus). This was even true historically. If you look through microfilm of newspapers from a century ago you will see that a murder in New York is front page news in the local papers, while a murder in Columbus may be on the third page, or may not even be mentioned at all.”
RP: Do you see any similarities between Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon, and Nathan Gale, who killed heavy metal guitarist Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott and others in Columbus?
DM: “Clearly, they were both disturbed individuals who had accomplished little in their lives. They both were drawn to celebrity and, it seems, wanted to share in it somehow. Although they aspired to being musical artists, neither seems to have had much talent. They also had this love/hate thing going on with their victims. I think one of the real problems with hero-worship is when your hero lets you down. Neither Mark nor Nathan could handle this disappointment very well.”
RP: What stands out to you regarding the efforts the police put forth to catch the criminals in these stories?
DM: “When the book begins, police detectives didn’t exist. Most police work consisted of maintaining order and arresting people who were either caught in the act or were ‘ratted out’ by others. A judicious use of the ‘third degree’ would probably persuade the suspect to confess. If the crime was at all sophisticated, the perpetrator would probably get away with it.
It really wasn’t until we get into the 20th century that local police departments started investing much effort into building a detective force. In the last half of the 19th century, the Pinkertons and other private detective agencies filled in as detectives for hire. So you will notice as you read the book how the concept of police detectives evolves. We repeatedly mention a couple of pioneering African-American detectives, Gaston and Jones, on the Columbus Police force, as well as Thomas Foster, a well known private detective. As I make clear in the acknowledgements, I feel we have had some outstanding local detectives.”
[ back ]