David's Reformed Church Congregation

David's Reformed Church Congregation
Congregation of David's Reformed Church, Montgomery Co, Ohio, Circa, 1900

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thriller Thursday- The Murders at Rocky Fork ~ Part Two


As early as Friday, 30 December, 3 days after the murders, Sheriff Eckhart of Scioto County was telling the press that he expected  to make an arrest in the Piatt murders "within a few days".  

 Countless stories were reported about the status of the case. Supposedly two women had appeared at the crime scene on the day following murder; acting strangely.
At one point there was even an erroneous report that a third body had been found in the burned out cabin and it was most probably the murderer, who had been killed himself by one of the Piatt brothers.

Doubtless, the sheriff was under great pressure to put the culprit behinds bars
  The victims were well known in the community.  Oliver Piatt was a divorced man.  His wife had left him and moved to West Virginia a few years before, taking one of the couple's sons with her.  Another son, Sheridan, had stayed in Rocky Fork with his father.  Not long Oliver and his wife separated, his brother, Minor, moved into the 3 room cabin he shared with his son and they began farming the tobacco fields together. The land was located in a rugged and remote part of the county.
Their cabin sat at the base of a dangerously high hill.  Surrounding the home were some thriving apple trees and nearby grew an apple orchard that Oliver had planted in 1907.  There was a well-kept garden and a successful 80 acre tobacco farm.  The farm itself was so large that it actually straddled the Scioto/Adams county line.  The Rocky Fork Creek ran through the property and a large ravine made it difficult to traverse the area without great care. 
According to an account in The Portsmouth Daily Times, the Piatt home itself contained a sitting room with a large stone fireplace, a bedroom, and a kitchen. Outside, a porch ran along the entire length of the front of the house. 
The speculation was that the murderer had to have been somewhat familiar with the Piatt's property, and it was believed the killer would be arrested sooner rather than later.

On 4 January, 1911,  the police officers of Scioto County arrested Hammond Nichols.  Nichols, 13 years old and "crippled", was not originally a suspect in the murders. However suspician had fallen on his brother, Jesse. The Nichols brothers lived in a "shanty", in Adams County, one and a half miles from the Piatt cabin.  When officers had searched the shanty, they found an empty gun shell exactly like the three that had been found at the murder scene.  The marks made by the plunger on the shell also matched those on the spent shells at the scene of the crime.  Jesse Nichols, the elder brother, had left town quickly the day after the murders and no one knew where he had gone.  By arresting his younger, handicapped brother, the police thought they could pull Nichols out of hiding.    They decided to leak the story that Jesse was no longer a suspect, hoping he would think it was safe to come home. It worked.  As he tried to make his way to his home, he was recognized by some men working in the woods and they turned him in.  He swore he was innocent, but the Sheriff believed they had their man.
He was questioned, or as the newspaper put it, "sweated" by Sheriff Eckhart, Ex-Sheriff Gillen, and Deputy Smith.  He continued to declare his innocence, telling the officers that he had only left town to visit an uncle in Indiana for the holidays and had fully expected to return. 
Hammond was released from custody on January 30, only to be arrested again, along with Nichols boy's father, Alex in June, 1911.   Then, in July, David Brown, a cousin of the Nichols by marriage who was described by newspaper reporters as a "squatter" was also arrested for the Piatt murders.  The only evidence pointing to Brown was the fact that he appeared to have come into money suddenly.  The Scioto county lawmen thought they had the entire case wrapped up with the arrest of the family Nichols and were just waiting to take the case the court. It should have been an open and shut case.
Right?


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