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  • Writer's pictureMacabre Emporium Pod

Episode 27 - Andrew Kehoe and the Bath Twp. Massacre Pt. 1

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

This is a David-centered episode!

Bath Twp. Bombing, Andrew Kehoe
Andrew Kehoe and his wife, Nellie.

It's been 96 years; it might sound like a cheesy spin-off from the famous line from James Cameron’s Titanic. But after 96 years of tears and sorrow, the tremors can still be felt through the ground for miles from May 18, 1927. 96 years the sound of shattering glass and crumbling bricks can be still heard. 96 years when ash billowing into the sky blocked out the sun. 96 years the smell of smoke muted the sweet smell of lilacs on a spring day. It's been 96 years since a madman silenced the laughter of the children of Bath Twp eagerly awaiting summer break in 1927.

13 miles Northeast of Lansing, Mi you will find Bath, Mi. Bath would officially be founded in 1843 and had a population of 515 by 1860 and a majority of this population was farmers. The name Bath would be selected by pioneer, Silas Rose from New York State and named the area Bath in tribute to his hometown. Whereas Bath, New York is named after the Roman Baths in Central England. As technology progressed through the 20th with the Michigan Central Railroad coming through and trucks and cars traveling the dusty roads through town. Bath, Mi wouldn’t receive electricity until the mid-1910s and resist the turbulent times of Prohibition even with rumors swirling about the notorious Al “Scarface” Capone visiting his cottage on Round Lake, 5 miles outside of Bath. Residents wouldn't openly talk about his presence in the area even though one family that lived eight miles down the road would only think of him as “a pretty nice neighbor” regardless. This small Michigan village would be considered an idyllic small town, USA for the times. Where people knew their neighbors and left their doors unlocked today Bath, Mi has a healthy population of approximately 3,100 citizens and is considered a bedroom community for Lansing.

Decades before the Bath Consolidated School was constructed, throughout Clinton County one-room schoolhouses dotted the countryside, making it easier for farm children to get an education beyond home economics for girls and how to run the farms for the boys. The first schoolhouse in bath twp. was constructed in the 1840s, a large log cabin with a large fireplace for harsh Michigan winters. These schoolhouses also severed a dual purpose of being a place of worship. With the arrival of a traveling minister arrived to spread the Gospel, the boys of the school would light the fireplace as a welcoming gesture to the minister. This fire would be warm and comforting but just plain too big for the fireplace and end up burning down the schoolhouse. Now the children might have thought this was a dream come true when this happened as this would mean no more school. Education would resume after a new schoolhouse was erected.

32 years after the first schoolhouse of Bath was erected, 70 miles southwest in Tecumseh, Mi Andrew Kehoe was born. The first son after the first four daughters of Phillip and Mary Kehoe would have two more daughters after Andrew. Phillip Kehoe ran a very successful farm raising cattle and growing various crops. Attending the Culberston School Andrew would develop a fascination with electricity like most boys would with sports.

By the age of ten Andrew would see his mother’s health decline, with having a hard time keeping up with Andrew and his six sisters, Mary was often ill with what was described by most sources but never clear “a disease of the nervous system.,” that slowly and painfully drained Mary’s energy and physical abilities. By his eighteenth birthday, his mother Mary would be confined to a bed and suffer complete paralysis. Mary would succumb to her illness on Number 5, 1890.

Even with his father in his sixties and suffering from arthritis would marry widowed, Frances Wilder, that was only three years younger than Andrew, and with several children of her own. Now I’m sure you and the listeners are in disgust at this point but, this was common in these times and wouldn’t decline until the 1930s during the Great Depression. Delaware is the only state as of 2018 has banned child marriage altogether. Andrew and Frances would loathe each other, there isn’t a lot of information on why these two never liked each other. It could be a combination of things. It could be that his father Phillip remarried after his mother died, their proximity in age, or that his father built a new larger brick farmhouse after his mother passed away.

With this mutual loathing of each Andrew would leave the family farm and not much is really known about what he did in these times other than he would attend MSC college later to be known as MSU studying electrical engineering. At MSU he would show the same aptitude for electricity as he did as a child and might be considered a modern-day Prometheus with this newfound fire electricity.

He would continue his education in St. Louis, Mo. Not much else is known about what he did in MO other than he worked throughout the state and Midwest. He would continue to work in the electrical field as a lineman in Iowa before returning to Michigan in 1905 at the age of 33.

Even with his time away from the farm his relationship with his family was strained and resented his father's new family it would seem he would have some competition to inherit his father’s farm, being his stepmother and his three-year-old stepsister Irene. With his father Phillip in his late seventies and relying on a cane to move around due to having crippling arthritis he would be mostly dependent on Frances for almost everything. With the relationship between Andrew and his father strained already, a tragedy may change all that and make Andrew number one to inherit the farm.

The events of September 17, 1911, differ in how the incident began. One of these stories is that Frances and her daughter were out picking hickory nuts in the forest behind the Kehoe home and then returning home to make lunch. The other version of what happened that day, That France was in towns and hurried home instead of being in the forest picking nuts. Regardless of the events leading up to what happened on this day, Frances did enter the small kitchen of the farmhouse which contained a large stove. Being state of the art for its time it would contain a fuel tank on top and it would also have a design flaw. Anytime this stove would have to be used by Frances she would have to light the pilot with a match. As soon as she would light this stove on Sept 17 like she had many times before she would be engulfed in flames. Screaming in Agony Philip and Andrew would rush to see what the problem was. Both of these men would find Frances a blaze, flailing in a desperate attempt to douse the flames. Phillip helpless to come to his wife’s aid, Andrew would grab a pitcher of water flinging the water on Frances. As we all know you don't throw water on a grease fire as it would just cause the fire to spread. Somehow this fire was extinguished Andrew and now nine-year-old Irene would carry Frances to a nearby bedroom. He would then run to the neighbors as they didn’t have a telephone themselves. Hettie Murphy would recall from that day while she was preparing her own family’s lunch there would be a knock at the door. She would say that it was more of a nonchalant rapping instead of a banging of someone in a panic. Upon opening the door she would find Andrew standing on their porch without a care in the world.

Andrew would ask Hettie Murphy to call a doctor, she would ask if someone was sick. Andrew would calmly reply “No, Frannie got burned.” Hettie would describe the way he said this as if it was a minor burn as if dropping a boiling pot of water on your foot. He would also ask Hettie to call for a priest. Even with the doctor arriving on the Kehoe farm, there wasn’t much anyone could do except watch the priest deliver the last rites to Frances.

It's always been up to debate if Andrew had intentionally tampered with the stove as a way to kill his stepmother to make it look like an accident. Along with that, he would know that throwing water on a gas fire would make it worse. Most would say that due to his higher education, he should have known better than to do this but, I am not one to say this is the case because nobody really knows how you could possibly react in the situation. Due to the fact that most people think of water to put out a fire. Even though I’m sure most of us learned that you extinguish grease/oil fires with salt, a lid, or baking soda for smaller fires. We will never know due to Andrew taking the truth to the grave with him. Most sources tend to say Andrew Kehoe was only 14 when this happened but due to him being born in 1872 and only a three-year age gap between him and Frances but in fact he was actually 39. The stories of him being 14 when Frances would die would come out after Andrew’s crime due to rumors.

After Frances’ death Phillip’s health would dramatically decline and be confined to a wheelchair, Andrew’s attention would be elsewhere and that would be courting a woman named Ellen Price but known to most as Nellie. Nellie is the daughter of a Civil War Veteran and successful businessman Patrick Price. Price would make his fortune from his factory making parts for a lesser-known car manufacturer named Ford Motor Company. Seven months later on May 14, 1912, Andrew and Nellie wed and moved to Tecumseh to work his family farm due to him being confined to a wheelchair before he died on Jan. 18, 1915.

Andrew and Nellie tend to keep to themselves and briefly attend a nearby Catholic Church, but this would come to an end due to the church being torn down to build a new one. The church congregants would be assessed and asked to pay a fee for the new sanctuary. The Kehoe’s amount would be 400 dollars (12,000 today). And in a nod to his late father’s feelings about taxation, he would ignore this bill. After some time one of the priests of this church would come to the Kehoes to collect their share, even though the clergyman was never ordered to leave Kehoe wouldn’t return to the church and would forbid Nellie to return.

Nellie and Andrew would finally move to Bath, Mi in 1919 after purchasing the 185-acre farm from the estate of her Uncle Lawrence Price. The total asking price for the Price farm would be 12,000 dollars (203,000 today) Andrew and Nellie would sell the Kehoe farm for 6 thousand dollars and take out a mortgage for the remaining amount. Even though his neighbors in Bath would find him helpful at times but if you disagreed with him he could be impatient and somewhat petty, One of these examples would be being persistent with one of his neighbors in Tecumseh to purchase 15 cords of wood at half price just so his rival in Tecumseh, Mi wouldn’t be able to use it.

The Kehoes would seem like nice neighbors at first when moving to Bath. Their neighbors and other people of Bath would recount that Andrew was very polite and dependable and would lend a hand if someone needed it. Whereas most farmers in the area would still plow their fields with oxen and a plow, his neighbors would be drawn to watch Andrew work his farm with his new tractor and he would even offer his closest one Job Sleight to give it a try after finally introducing himself and showing interest in these newer modern techniques.

Andrew Kehoe would become the go-to man in the area if they needed something removed with explosives. He became extremely proficient at the farm in Tecumseh. In Bath, explosions were often heard on the farm. Using dynamite or pyrotol was common on farms to remove tree stumps and rocks since these could damage valuable farm equipment when plowing or maintaining crops.

With farming being hard and dirty work Andrew Kehoe would keep himself and his property in pristine condition. No tool would be out of place when not in use. If Andrew himself got dirty when working, he would immediately go in and change his soiled clothes. He would be spotted on more than one occasion running his tractor in a full suit, whereas farmers wore overalls and button-down shirts.

Even though the Kehoes especially Andrew was well respected in the community as a helpful and polite man there were times his much darker side would come through. One of the examples of this is when the neighbor’s pet Terrier went missing in March of 1920. There are many versions of what happened to the dog anywhere from it accidentally being shot by Andrew or him flat out claiming he did it when the damn nuisance was burying a bone on his property. Even though with both stories are out there it's unclear which version is true. The harte’s would remain neighborly with the Kehoes and would lend a hand to each other when it was needed but would no longer give rides to them when they needed to go to Lansing due to the fact they didn't own a car themselves.

David Harte would also witness Kehoe’s darker side while running a manure spreader being pulled by his horses. Harte would recall seeing Andrew shouting onward repeatedly to his horses until they were in a froth. Later that night the horse would die from being overworked. The next day David Harte would come by to borrow a wagon seat while a truck would come to pick up the dead horse. He would say “I see you had bad luck with your horse.” Andrew’s response was “Yeah damn him, he ought to have been killed years ago, He didn’t pull and we had a mix-up and when I got through with him, he was dead.”

By the 1920s more centralized and organized education was needed in the county. There was a total of ten schoolhouses serving Bath and the surrounding area. Some of them being only one-room schoolhouses and tenth grade being the highest level. The idea of consolidating all the schools into one building and extending the grades to 12th grade.

Even though most residents of Bath found this a great idea and wanted to make the new school building a symbolic landmark representing a bright future of Bath. Bath resident Monty Ellsworth would, later on, write in his chronicles about the bombing.

“A consolidated school is expensive in a small community. But there are a great many other things to look at. The children don’t have to wade through the snow and mud, they are picked up at the door. A great many people appreciate not having their children playing by the road with rough children and standing a chance of being attacked by some lawless ruffian. The parents can feel that their children are safe from the time they leave the door to the time they are brought back.”

On November 12, 1921, a vote would be held on a bond proposal to fund the new school. Out of 67 votes only 20 opposed. With the new school a bond of 43k, 8k was already raised by the school board and would pay for the athletic fields and power plants the remaining 35k would come from property taxes. The rate would be $12.26 per $1,000 property evaluation. Kehoes farm would be evaluated at 10k (167,603.87 in 2023) The fall of the next year the new Bath Consolidated school would open welcoming 236 students in its first year of being open under the supervision of the new superintendent Emory Hyuck. With this new modern school open his next goal would be to have the school Accredited by U of M.

With the goal of having the school accredited, it would mean more money would be needed to hire teachers and classroom materials that would meet the criteria. With being accredited also came grant money for the school which they achieved in 1925, only three years after the school opened. Before Bath would reach this level of education Andrew would be elected as a treasurer for the school board after leading a coalition for new leadership and getting rid of the “good old boy network” that seemed to permeate the school board.

Other than having a reputation of being a helpful and polite neighbor he was also known for being frugal. During his time as a school treasurer, anytime votes would come up for new equipment, books, playground equipment, etc. Andrew would vote no. He would also call for board meetings to be adjourned if he wouldn’t get his way. As well as accusing Hyuck of financial mismanagement. Hyuck and Kehoe would always go head-to-head when it dealt with spending anything for the school, Hyuck would just want is best for the students whereas Kehoe wanted what was best for his wallet.

With his ability to keep perfect books for the school he would temporarily be appointed town clerk in 1925 after the current clerk passed away but to continue on with this position, he would have to be nominated which he was not, and this public rejection angered him. Even with his perfect bookkeeping his confrontational behavior is what would keep him from being nominated and also this is believed to be what sent him down the path of revenge.

Even though with no longer able to keep an eye on town finances as the treasurer the town of Bath would call for Andrew’s help in the winter of 1925 and 26. Earlier that year bees had found their way inside the school and established a hive and when Michigan winters came these bees would go into hibernation in the wild. But with the furnace running to warm the school, it would wake these bees from hibernation. Bees would swarm the halls and classrooms stinging staff and children. After two unsuccessful attempts, Andrew Kehoe would volunteer at taking a shot at removing the bees. It is unclear how he removed the bees but with his success with them, the school board would ask if he could also look over the school's electrical system. After all, who else in town would be best for the job since he is an MSU graduate in electrical engineering?

Along with this they would authorize him to look over general maintenance of the school as well which would give him free access day and night. Andrew became a regular sight around the school doing maintenance, sometimes the school children would greet him good morning as where he would tell them good morning as well and be good and not to cause mischief.

Even though the Kehoe’s came from a wealthy background from Nellie’s side of the family they didn't own a vehicle themselves as I had mentioned earlier, needing to pick up supplies for maintaining the school Andrew would enlist the help fo Jobe Sleight to drive him into Lansing to pick up various parts. Nuts, bolts, pipes, etc.

Later on that fall, he would call upon Jobe to drive him to Jackson, Mi to pick up Pyrotol to remove tree stumps from the west side of his farm. Sleight would find this a bit odd to drive as far as Jackson for some Pyrtol as its 100 miles round trip from Bath. Sleight would do the neighborly thing and still drive him to Jackson after all since Kehoe did a lot of volunteer work with local farm bureaus that would sell surplus pyrotol to anyone that needed explosives.

Now pyrotol is an explosive that was readily available in surplus quantities after WW 1. Unlike its more famous counterpart dynamite, it was cheaper to remove stumps and rocks from fields but could pack just a powerful punch as dynamite. A 6-ounce charge of pyrotol can be just as effective as an 8-ounce charge of dynamite. Andrew Kehoe and Jobe Sleight would pick up 500 pounds of pyrotol and blasting caps. On their way back to Bath Andrew would mention to Sleight “if you know anyone that needs any I will come off some of it slightly more than what I paid for it.” Days later the brother of a friend of Sleight’s would contact Andrew about buying some of his explosives from him but he would be told it was all gone.

February in 1926 Andrew would finally purchase a flatbed Ford truck but with his reputation for penny-pinching and not getting rich from farming, this would seem like a very expensive purchase for him to make all of a sudden. In the summer of 1926, Andrew Kehoe would suffer another blow in his world as Nellie’s health would start to decline with nasty coughs, severe headaches an,d rapid weight loss. Doctors first diagnosed her with TB but changed her diagnosis to Asthma. Nellie would frequently be in and out of the hospital in Lansing due to her illness and Andrew would make daily trips to visit her. They would go as far as hiring a young woman to help around the house as Nellie was pretty much bedridden from her illness.

Even with Andrew’s perfect bookkeeping for the school and in his time of Town Clerk tracking down where every cent went. Maybe he applied these same disciplines to his own finances we might not even be talking about this all together. Andrew would make regular payments up until March of 1921 and they would just stop.

In August of 1925 the Price estate would release 1200 dollars to Nellie and her and Andrew would come pick up their check from the Estate lawyer, James DunneBacke but not mention anything about their late payments. A month later the Probate Judge overseeing the estate would receive a letter from Nellie asking what the appraised value of the Kehoe property but still no payments.

Months later in March of 1926 Dunnebacke would release another 500 dollars to Nellie as the estate contract was written and in what he would see as a good gesture instead of writing them a check he would apply these 500 dollars to their late payments of the farm mortgage. Dunnebacke would send a letter telling the Kehoe’s what he was doing with the inheritance check. Nellie would send a thank you back and would like also to arrange a meeting and discuss their debts as Andrew was deeply involved with the school board.

Instead of being thankful for the choice that James Dunnebacke had made for them Kehoe would contact Lawyer Kelly Searl for probate hearing against the Price Estate. This hearing was that Dunnebacke had inappropriately diverted Nellies inheritance without her consent. During this hearing Dunnebacke would find it peculiar that the mortgage was in Nellie’s and Andrew’s name but, the land deed was only in Andrew’s.

Legally Nellie had the final say in how her inheritance would be used. Judge McArthur findings were simple that yes, the Price estate made a inappropriate decision with these 500 dollars but them applying it to the mortgage was in everyone’s best interest. Searl advised the Kehoe’s to accept this decision by the judge and Nellie was in favor of it but, Andrew disagreed and insisted that the money to go to Nellie, reluctantly she would agree with Andrew, and they were given a check for 500 dollars.

Two months later in May, no payments or word from the Kehoe’s about payment the Price has no other option to but foreclose on their mortgage. Dunnebacke would file the foreclosure with Sheriff Bart Fox. Dunnebacke would travel to the Sherriff office on a Saturday to start the process, but he was out so instead of making the trip twice he would mail the notice to Fox a few days later. That same day Dunnebacke would run into Nellie’s sister Elizabet Price where he would inform her of foreclosure, he would assure her that this was more to negotiate payment options instead of removing them from the farms, but Elizabeth would insist not to file the suit as the added stress would do more harm than good with Nellies fragile state. Dunnebacke would go with Elizabeth’s wishes and try to get ahold of Fox. Unable to do so Dunnebacke would send a telegram to Fox reading.”

Have tried since Five O’clock to reach your office by telephone. Don’t Serve Kehoe’s summons until further instructions from me. Dunnebacke.

Unfortunately, this telegram wouldn’t arrive in time as the deputy had already left to deliver the foreclosure suit. Kehoe took the papers from the deputy, reading them over and telling Fox’s deputy.

If it had not been for three-hundred-dollar school tax, I might have been able to pay that mortgage.”

Already considered eccentric for the area as he would be seen dressed for a night on the town while tending to his fields but, now what seems like every element of his life is beating him down, the mortgage, his political career in the community where he wouldn’t be elected as clerk or justice of the peace, , and his wife’s declining health. Along with the constant fights with Hyuck on the school board. His behavior would become more erratic.

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