Geneva Hardman Murder:
Around 7:45 am on Wednesday, February 4, 1920, Speed Collins, a farmer near South Elkhorn, on the Versailles Pike in southern Fayette County, found a school satchel and hood “near a fence by a large cornfield.” Thinking the one of the students had forgotten these items, he took to the nearby school house. The teacher, Mrs. Anna Young, realized these items belonged to Geneva Hardman, a ten year old school girl, so she dispatched several older students to her house to make sure she had not been taken ill on the way to school. Geneva’s mother became alarmed since Geneva had left for school at 7:30 am and sent her sons and daughter out to look for missing child. The students on the way back to school stopped at Claude B. Elkin’s store and told him of the missing girl.
South Elkhorn School <UK Special Collections>
Elkin and Collins, with Thomas Foley, immediately “left for the spot where the cap and satchel were found.” They noted the “tracks of a large man and the child were plainly seen on the other side of the fence in the field, where the mud was very deep, and a shallow trail indicated that her body had been dragged back into the field.” Following this trial about a hundred feet over a slight rise “the men came upon the body behind a fodder stock, partly cover by fodder which had been pulled down over it.”
The physical evidence at this scene indicated “a sharp struggle seen in the tramped mud,” a large rock covered in blood, the young girl was covered in blood (as were the stalks around her) and a child’s umbrella (bent in half at the handle). One of her hair ribbons were trampled into the mud next to the body.
These men then called the sheriff’s office and deputies arrived by 8:20 am, with Captain Volney G. Mullikin (of the Lexington police) and his bloodhounds. The large tracks of a man were visible leading away from the scene in a northeastern direction (towards Keene, in Jessamine County).
Later, it was determined that a number of school children had passed along the road and “no sounds were heard by them or any of the passerby.” In addition, Bettie McClubbing, who lived across the road from the cornfield, gave a statement that she “was in her chicken yard near the road at the time of the murder but heard no screams or any sound of struggle. She said she often heard the merry voices of the children going and coming from school, and would certainly have heard any screams from the child, whom she believes was overpowered or knocked unconscious before she was taken over the fence into the field.”
As the alarm was raised police from three counties began the search for her killer. In addition, several “posses” of armed farmers, soon to number in the hundreds, joined in the manhunt.
Versailles Pike, past South Elkhorn <Charles Bogart>
The first break in the case came from “Major” James Woolfolk, who was driving south along the pike at the time of the murder and told police that he had talked with Will Lockett (offering him a ride). This appears to have happen just before the murder. Lockett was known to the police as a burglar and bootlegger, with a warrant outstanding for housebreaking. Lockett was a veteran of the First World War (stationed at Camp Zackary Taylor in Louisville) and was a day laborer on the surrounding farms. Woolfolk was African-American. Later it was reported the Lockett had also stopped at Elkin’s store (and identified by two men including Elkin) around the same time.
Meanwhile, the bloodhounds followed the killer’s trail in the general direction of Nicholasville towards the interurban line. About three miles along in the chase, the officers came across a farmer, Will Hughes, who had seen a black man walking along the pike. He indicated that the man was cover in mud to his knees. This black man seen by Hughes was later identified as Lockett. The paper reported that “had any considerable party of the searchers found the man, it is believed that he would have been lynched without delay.”
The bloodhounds now followed the trail to Brannon Crossing, on the Southern Railroad. Several men there had seen Lockett, who was known to them, at about one o’clock.
Then at 1:55 pm, the mob caught sight of a fleeing man ahead of them and gave pursuit, but quickly lost sight of him. On the other end of the trail near Keene, two officials from Versailles were also searching for the killer.
Capture of Will Lockett:
At 4:30 pm on the afternoon of February 4th, Will Lockett was captured near Dixontown (just down the road from Keene) in Jessamine County, by Dr. W. T. Collette and Deputy Sheriff W. C. White, both of Versailles. Shortly afterwards Captain Mullikin arrived at the settlement with his bloodhounds. Lockett was quickly taken Lockett by automobile back to Lexington and turned him over to the custody of the Lexington City Police.
Further details of his arrest indicated that Collette and White first saw him on the pike near Dixontown and stopped to ask his name. He indicated that his name was “Will Hamilton.” The pair left him on the road, but as they were driving away noted him entering a residence as if to disappear and turned around to investigate. When he was taken prisoner, he was wearing his dirty army uniform and carrying under his arms a pair of new overalls. These overalls were covered in blood and mud, and later taken into evidence by the police.
One local newspaper reported while with Collette and White were on the way to Lexington that Lockett confessed to the murder. However, another local newspaper reported the next day that he told Collette and White only that his name was Will Hampton and that he knew nothing of the crime.
At around 5:00 pm, when he arrived at the police headquarters on Water Street, Lockett was quickly identified as the suspect. He was briefly questioned by Assistance Chief of Police Ernest Thompson and Detective Dudley Veal, while Collette and White present. He did not have an attorney present . His statement as reported:
What is your name? Will Lockett .
Did the girl make that mark on your hand (a scar)? No, I received it while wrestling with another man.
Do you remember meeting Major Woolfolk in a wagon? Yes sir.
How far from there did you go before you met the girl? About fifty yards.
How did you get her over in the field? I packed her over under my arm.
Did you assault her? I tried to but didn’t succeed.
Where did you get the rock used in killing her? I picked it up in the field.
Where did you get the fodder you used in covering her up? From the stock where she was lying.
Did she put up a fight which resulted in her breaking her umbrella? No, she stepped on it and broke it.
What made you kill her? I don’t know.
After this questioning, he was taken to the County Jail on East Short Street, near Limestone. The county jailor, who “feared mob violence,” then took him by automobile at around 5:40 pm to the State Reformatory at Frankfort. It was reported incorrectly that at 8:00 pm, that Fayette County Judge Charles Kerr ordered him again removed to Louisville for his safety. This may have been on purpose to confuse the gathering lynch mob.
During his short stay at the County Jail on Short Street, a mob had begun to form outside the jail and it was reported that “scores of men of the South Elkhorn neighborhood, hearing of the capture despite the fact that there was no telephone communications (a recent storm blew most of the wires down), were making their way to Lexington using any means of locomotion available.”
While on the road to Frankfort, Lockett when asked why he replied “I don’t know why I did it.” This statement was made to Chief of Police Jere J. Reagan, Assistant Chief Thompson, Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Brown and Jailer Reuben H. Cropper. It appears from the record, that he was never questioned at length during this period as the police rushed him to jail and Frankfort for his safety.
Meanwhile, the mob outside the jail continued to grow. At 8:00 pm, Deputy Jailer John P. Foster to defuse the situation allowed a committee, headed by Ollie Troutman (Lockett employer), to search the jail for Lockett. After discovering that he had been removed, this mob then turned on the city police headquarters on Water Street, which was similarly searched. The mob then left in automobiles for Frankfort arriving at about midnight. Before their arrival, Governor Edwin P. Morrow had order extra guards out around the penitentiary and at the top of the hill leading into town. The mob was effectively turned back before entering Frankfort by the Franklin sheriff at the top of the hill.
The next day, February 5th, the Fayette County grand jury indicted Lockett for murder. The case was assigned to Fayette County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kerr, who appointed Samuel M. Wilson and George K. Hunt as his defense attorneys. Both Wilson and Hunt were well respected members of the Lexington bar. Commonwealth Attorney John R. Allen was the prosecutor. Kerr schedule the trial for Monday, February 9th, during a regular term of the Circuit Court.
The next day, February 6th, Reverend Walter Vreeland, chaplain of the State Reformatory indicated that he had talked with Lockett who “knew he would be executed and that he deserved to be put to death.” Vreeland further indicated that Lockett “says he can not grasp the enormity of it or (what) caused him to kill the child.”
The same day, Judge Kerr arranged with the governor for 75 Kentucky National Guard troops to be called out for the trial. This number was later raised to 200 and then 400. In addition, the same day both the Negro Civic League and Ministers’ Interdenominational Alliance of Lexington issued statements “condemning the horrible outrage committed at South Elkhorn” and called for calm. Local and state officials also publicly called for the rule of law.
These individuals had good reason for alarm as the news of the sexual assault and murder of a white girl by a black man spread across the nation. A number of “trouble makers” from throughout the region soon started arriving in Lexington.
Will Lockett Trial:
Under the cover of darkness, Lockett was returned to Lexington at 4:30 am on February 9th, on a special train under the guard of the 75 troops. The Kentucky National Guard, under Adjutant General James M. Deweese, stationed additional troops armed with automatic weapons around the courthouse square and roped off the promenade around the courthouse. In addition, they set up several machine guns on the front steps facing Main Street. By 9:00 am, a large crowd numbering in the thousands gathered around the courthouse. Estimates were as high as five thousand. Photographs of this crowd indicated they were predominately all white males.
As the courtroom began to fill up, the spectators were searched for weapons and admonished to remain silent during the trial. All the court deputies were on duty, as well as the entire city’s police force.
Judge Kerr brought the trial to order at promptly 9:00 am and the jury was seated without delay. The jury included John G. Stoll (foreman), J. A. Crosby, John G. Cramer, William C. McDowell, W. S. Burrier, Thomas Rhorer, T. A. Hinton, James H. Curry, Henry C. Downing, George T. Hukle, Frank Battaile and R. L. Henderson. These individual were all handpicked by the judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys beforehand. They were all prominent men and as a whole were supporters of progressive reforms.
The clerk read the indictment and Judge Kerr then asked Lockett to plead. He mumbled guilty and the court clerk clarified with him that it was guilty. Since he had pleaded guilty, neither the prosecutor or defense attorneys called witnesses. Next his defense attorneys were allowed to enter his service record, which was good, and his request to be given a life sentence. The final step was the sentencing, which according to state law had to be determined by a jury. The jury passed the death sentence, according to state law, without leaving their seats.
Meanwhile outside, at 9:28 am, a mob estimated at around one hundred separated from the crowd and attempted to storm the Main Street entrance of the courthouse . This mob was led by a man with a rope with the intended to lynch Lockett.
The solders responded first by firing in the air and then into the mob, with rifle and shotgun fire. Adjutant General Deweese stated “no shots were fired until the crowd had reached the machine guns. I backed twenty steps, grappled with two of the leaders, striking one over the head with my pistol. The volley which stopped the rush was not fired a second too soon.” Several members of the lynch mob also fired upon the soldiers. Six members of the mob were killed and twenty wounded. In addition, one soldier and two policemen were also serious wounded. The firing lasted less than 10 seconds .
This should be noted that this was one of the first, if not first time, a lynch mob was stopped by the forces of law in Kentucky, and probably in the south. Over the past years, there were at least three times where a jailer turned his prisoner over to a lynch mob (and probably joined them) in Kentucky.
Inside the courtroom the trial was interrupted by the shots, but the deputies maintained order. One man entered the courtroom, shouting “judge you’d better let them have this man. They coming up here and they’ll kill a lot of men.” He was ejected. The trial took only thirty-five minutes, including the interruption by gun fire.
From crime to death sentence was less than one week which was fast, but not unheard-of, for the time. Justice was swift during this period.
The crowd quickly fled, but failed to disburse and began looting stores around the courthouse. A number of pawn shops were looted of weapons. Reports also began arriving of 1,500 men from the mountains on their way to Lexington. There were also reports of two separate attempts to break into the armory at the University.
The governor called for Federal troops from Camp Taylor, at Louisville, for help in controlling the situation in Lexington. At 3:30 pm, a special train arrived over the Louisville & Nashville Railroad arrived from Louisville, carrying 400 federal soldiers from the First Division (the Big Red One of World Wars fame). As a precaution, the train was preceded by a few minutes by another locomotive to check the tracks. The troops detrained at Mill Street and deployed in riot formation to begin sweeping the streets clear with rifle butts and bayonets. Upon arrival, the Federal commander, Brigadier General Francis C. Marshall, declared martial law in Lexington (which was to last for two weeks). Special train continued to arrive that afternoon until a total of 1,200 Federal soldiers were garrisoned in Lexington.
Martial Law Notice
Whereas, a state of lawlessness exists in the county of Fayette, State of Kentucky, with which the State authorities are unable to cope, and
Whereas, the Governor of the said State of Kentucky has asked for the aid of the United States in restoring and maintaining order in the said county of Fayette
Now, therefore, I, Brigadier General Francis C. Marshall, U. S. Army, commanding the United State troops in the said county, do hereby declare a state of martial law in the said county, and do assume all functions, both civil and military of said county.
All Citizens are warned to respect and obey my orders and those of my subordinates.
F. C. Marshall
Brigadier General U. S. Army
Lexington, KY., Feb. 9, 1920
These Federal troops quickly closed all the roads leading into Lexington. No one was allowed to enter without a military pass. Shops, businesses and schools were temporarily closed. Troops were placed around the courthouse, university and black section of town. That night, at 9:00 pm, Lockett was removed under guard of 500 Federal troops from the courthouse and boarded a special train on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad for Eddyville State Prison. As he left the military ordered all the telephone and telegraph lines temporarily disconnected.
Over the next thirteen days, restrictions were slowly lifted and the troops removed. After the last troops left Lexington, the county schools finally reopen.
A special grand jury was impanelled to investigate the riot by Judge Kerr, with the approval of General Marshall, who held all legal power. After a few weeks, the jury failed to indict anyone in “the best interest of the community.”
Lockett was taken under guard to Eddyville State Prison and executed in the electric chair on March 11, 1920, after the automatic 30 day appeals period expired.
This is however not the end of the story. On March 8th, three days before his execution, Lockett confessed that his name was really Petrie Kimbrough, born in Pembroke, Christians County, Kentucky. In also confessed to four additional sexual assaults of women. He stated that he had sexual assaulted and strangled:
- a white woman near the farm of T. B. Dawson, Todd County, Kentucky, in 1905 (not killed).
- a white woman at the crossing of the Louisville & Nashville and Big four tracks at Carmi, Illinois, in 1912 or 1913.
- A negro woman at Governor and Canal Streets in Baptishtown, Evansville, Indiana, in 1917.
- A white or negro woman near Camp Zachary Taylor in February 1919.
It was stated that “he gave no details but said that he had killed all of his victims by choking them. He was not particularly clear of dates.” Authorities were able connect this confession to the murder of Sallie A. Kraft, who decomposed body was found outside Camp Taylor several months before as detailed by Lockett. After his execution, the newspapers lost interest and did not report on the other victims.
Given the standards of justice at the time, did Lockett receive a fair trial and properly executed? That question will need to be answered by the reader. Was he deranged or mentally ill? Well that became a popular defense decades later.