You don’t have to go back too far in the history of West Virginia to find it was mostly remote, sparsely
populated, and locally self sufficient. Because not much law enforcement was available people tended
to handle things on their own. Once people get used to thinking that way they do not quickly change.
They become used to carrying out their own brand of justice and eventually get to where they no longer
want or (they believe) need law enforcement.
If someone becomes a threat to them or theirs they strike first. If they are wronged they seek revenge.
It is this kind of prideful thinking that takes a minor misunderstanding and turns it into the Hatfield and
A man serving life in prison for the murder of a police officer said that when he was growing up his
father taught him their version of justice. It was summed up like this. “If they hurt one of ours, we kill
all of theirs.” He lived long enough to see the foolishness of his father’s teaching. But not before he
took an officer’s life and ruined his own.
People who seek revenge usually believe they are administering justice. In the last chapter we spoke of
some prohibition officers who were murdered as an act of vengeance. The murderers believed they had
been wronged by these officers and they were going to make things right. In their minds it was justice.
These prohibition officers were not the only West Virginia law enforcement officers to fall victim to this
kind of misguided thinking.
Tuesday, August 26, 1902. Coopers Police Chief William A. Fanning was ambushed, shot and killed by
a group of men seeking vengeance for an incident where the chief had shot another man earlier in the
Monday, August 30, 1920. Charleston Police Patrolman Flemen Anderson was shot and killed by a
man who was angry because of a warning he had received from the officer. The warning was that he
was in violation of a city ordinance because he was being seen on a public street with a prostitute after 9:
00 p.m. The man went to his home to get his pistol. He came back and found Officer Anderson,
knocked him to the ground and shot him three times.
Thursday, March 11, 1926. Prison Guard Earl Langfitt was stabbed to death at the West Virginia State
Penitentiary at Moundsville. The murderer was an inmate he had reprimanded for misconduct in the
prison dining hall.
Thursday, July 26, 1927. Prohibition Officer Everett Adams was walking along a road in the Harts
section of Logan County when he was overtaken by four men who held a grudge against him because of
his work. He was disarmed, then shot four times.
Wednesday, December 18, 1929. Hampshire County Justice of the Peace H. Carter Inskeep and Jailer
Benjamin E. Miller were murdered by a white male named Walter Crabtree. Crabtree had been arrested
for drunkenness several days earlier. After the arrest he made a list of people he intended to kill. The
list included Inskeep and Miller. He shot Justice Inskeep at his home then went to the jail and shot
Miller. He also shot several others around town, killing one. Crabtree was tried and sentenced to be
hanged. The execution was carried out at the West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville on May
Tuesday, February 27, 1934. Ansted Police Chief Joseph Wilson Davis was shot and killed by the
brother of a man had shot and killed months earlier. Davis was shot in the back while in a grocery store.
Chief Davis Deputy Sheppard
Tuesday, July 31, 1951. Greenbrier County Deputy Sheriff Lago Sheppard was called to the front door
of the county jail. As soon as he opened the door he was shot four times in the face by a former
Friday, February 21, 1975. Monroe County Deputy Sheriff Jesse James Blevins Jr. was shot in the
head as he walked out of a grocery store by a man he had arrested the week before for being drunk at a
But police officers are not the only victims of vengeance here. Lynch mobs have too often taken
matters into their own hands and delivered their own brand of warped justice.
Elkins Police Chief Robert Allen Lilly was shot and mortally wounded by a black man named William
Brooks on Monday, July 22, 1901. He would die the next day.
Another Elkins officer had attempted to arrest Brooks who was found having sex in a public area.
When Brooks pulled a handgun and threatened the officer he retreated and summoned Chief Lilly to the
When Chief Lilly attempted to arrest Brooks, he pulled out the handgun again. The two exchanged
gunfire and both were wounded. Chief Lilly was taken by train to a hospital in a neighboring town.
Brooks was taken to a local hospital.
The next day, as the sheriff was trying to take Brooks through the door of the jail, his prisoner was
taken from him by a mob of over 400 men. The sheriff and jail guards tried to prevent it but they were
no match for such a large crowd.
Brooks was taken to a large tree in the center of the park. He was told to prepare to die. He was then
hanged. The crowd dispersed, having done what they had come to do.
Coalton Police Officer Frances Hayes Wilmoth was murdered on Tuesday, July 22, 1902. He was
trying to arrest two suspects when a third shot him from ambush. Two days later, two of the suspects
were lynched by an angry mob.
Greenbrier County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Myles was murdered on Sunday, November 22, 1931. He
had just warned patrons of a dance hall to quiet down and was leaving when he was killed by shotgun
Two men were arrested and taken to the Greenbrier County Jail. Several days later they were removed
from the jail by a mob of about 60 people and were lynched on a public street.
Malden Town Marshall Allen Belcher was murdered on Tuesday, November 15, 1881. The suspect
had also attempted to shoot the mayor. We know he was taken into custody. We also know a mob
was formed and an attempt was made to lynch him. We don’t know if it was successful.
There were probably many other lynchings that are lost to history. This isn’t the type of thing where
the participants want to document their involvement.
Whether it is the vengeful ambushing of a police officer or the vengeful lynching of a suspected
murderer, these events demonstrate for us the lawlessness that dominated much of West Virginia in its