|Death: ||Jan. 28, 1903|
Alpheus Minerd was born in 1845, about the time his family moved from New Rumley, Harrison County, OH to Tontogany, Wood County, OH. He was the son of Samuel and Susanna (Hueston) Minerd.
Alpheus was a Civil War soldier and prisoner of war. Later, his mental disabilities led the federal government to convene a grand jury to investigate charges of criminal fraud. As an older man, he was brutally murdered, a sad postscript to a life lived under the dark cloud of mental illness and physical suffering.
The focus of Alpheus' legal case was whether he became insane before or during the war. If his illness occurred during the war, he was entitled to a federal pension. Investigators took hundreds of pages of testimony from eyewitnesses to determine whether Alpheus' family, knowing that he was mentally ill before the war, lied to the government to try to obtain the pension.
The cold-blooded murder of Alpheus by a mulatto man had racial overtones. It "landed on page 1 of every newspaper in the state and brought everlasting fame -- of a sort" to Hardin County, OH, the place where the crime occurred. The killer, William Nichols, had "the distinction of having been one of the first prisoners executed in the electric chair at the Ohio state penitentiary" in Columbus. In fact, he and his murderer are mentioned in the January-February 2004 issue of Timeline Magazine of the Ohio Historical Society, in a cover feature about the penitentiary.
As a teenager, Alpheus stood 5 feet 5 inches tall, with dark hair and hazel eyes. On Dec. 22, 1863, he and future brother in law William H. Shepard both enlisted in Company D of the 34th OH Volunteer Infantry. Shepard later testified that during their time in the Army, he was with Alpheus "all the time …"
The two men saw action in 24 battles during a 6-month period in 1864, including the following:
Princeton, WV (May 6), Cloyds Mountain, VA (May 9-10), Panther Gap, WV (June 3), Piedmont, VA (June 5), Buffalo Gap, WV (June 6), Lexington, WV (June 10), Buckhannon, WV (June 14), Otter Creek, VA (June 16), Lynchburg, WV (June 17), Liberty, WV (June 20), Salem, VA (June 21), Monocacy, MD (July 9), Snickers Gap (July 17), Third Winchester, VA (July 20-24), Kernstown, VA (July 23), Summit Point, VA (Aug. 21), Halltown, VA (Aug. 24, 26-27), Berryville, VA (Sept. 3-4), Martinsburg, WV (Sept. 18), Opequon, VA (Sept. 19), Fishers Hill, VA (Sept. 22) and Cedar Creek, VA (Oct. 19).
Moving back in with his parents after his time in Minnesota, Alpheus "was a great deal worse than when he went away, grew continually worse, and finally violent and dangerous," Jewell recalled. "He seemed to have a grudge against his father." Sister Pera said "he got dangerous & threatened to kill my father…
Standing the abuse no longer, father Samuel sought court protection against his son. Alpheus was declared insane by the Wood County Orphans Court in a decision handed down in 1871. He was sent to an insane asylum in Newburg (Cleveland), OH. He escaped from Newburg on a number of occasions, and Tontogany grocer William Crom once said he had "assisted in retaking him to the asylum on four or five different occasions when he has made his escape…" When Alpheus was captured again in 1877 after an escape, his family successfully applied for him to be admitted to the Columbus Hospital for the Insane (seen here).
Alpheus later was transferred to mental health facilities in Toledo and Columbus, OH, remaining institutionalized off and on for a total of 17-plus years.
By the turn of the 20th century, Alpheus lived a life of a full-time vagabond. In 1901, he left the Jewell residence for the last time. He made his home in the northwest corner of the Scioto Marsh in Hardin County. The booklet, The Palace of Death, describes his dwelling as a:
miserable old shack ... which served in some degree to shelter him from the winter blasts and from the summer heat. Here for many years he lived alone, leading a quiet, industrious and happy life, enjoying the confidence and respect of his neighbors; and when William Nichols, hungry, footsore and weary applied at his cabin door for food and shelter, the old soldier generously took his comrade in. The companionship proved to be congenial, and they agreed to live together.
Nichols, seen here, was of mixed race origins from Carmel, Highland County, OH, whose reputation was unsavory. The Bowling Green Daily Sentinel said that in Carmel, Nichols had led a "colony of half-breed negroes [who] maintained a starving existence by petty stealing for the past twenty-five years."
Alpheus and Nichols spent most of their time in Kenton, Hardin County, known for its lush flat fields of black earth, perfect for onion farming. They often picked roots and sold them at local markets. While in the Kenton area, they "drank considerably" amid the "highland hills," said the Daily Sentinel. It was there, near the town of McGuffey, that Alpheus met his bloody end.
According to the Complete History of the Scioto Marsh, the two men played "seven-up games at ten dollars a game," with Nichols frequently winning.
About two miles out of McGuffey, at the edge of the Shadley Woods, the two men stopped to rest. Both were drunk. A card game was started, and when Nichols won Minerd's gold watch, a fight ensued. When it was over, Minerd lay dead on the ground, stabbed and shot.
The next day, July 29, 1903, the "dead and mutilated body" of Alpheus was discovered in a stand of trees. The approximate site of where the corpse was found is seen here circa 2002, along a tree line near a steep drainage ditch.
Nichols was immediately sought as a material witness. Law enforcement officials learned that he had left the area, and had purchased a horse and buggy just before going. A sheriff tracked "his trail through Delaware to Washington Court House, then to Greenfield and from there to the hamlet of Carmel…" Nichols was lured into a public store and arrested there, where Alpheus' pocket watch was found in his possession. The suspect tried to explain it by saying the victim, fearing the watch would be stolen, gave it to Nichols for safekeeping.
The sheriff took Nichols back to Hardin County by train. During a stopover in Belle Center, Logan County, they barely escaped a mob, which "had gathered at the railway station and threatened to take the prisoner away … and lynch him, but the train pulled out before the mob could accomplish its threatened purpose."
The Jewells learned of the murder by reading it in the newspaper. Said the Daily Sentinel, "They at once went to Kenton and asked the privilege of bringing the [body home] for burial, but this was denied them because of the condition of the body."
The final resting place of Alpheus is unknown but is being researched. The Veterans Administration in Washington, DC has no record of his burial.
Body lost or destroyed
Created by: Bev
Record added: Oct 02, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 77496116