An eleven year old girl was brutally murdered in 1920. The crime scene is botched, the evidence askew, and the constable ruled unstable. Three Ohio towns become three blind mice trying to capture the cold-blooded killer who saunters off scot free.
Amid the Ohio valley authority the cold case evidence and unsolved murder file vanish like a vague vapor in the air.
On March 25, 1920 at approximately 7:00 p.m., Walter Thompson, John Shields, and John Galloway discovered the gruesome body of an eleven year old girl. They noticed blood stains in the dirt by the roadway near dark hollow and followed a blood trail
from the road to a pile of leaves. There beneath a heap a brush behind a huge decayed stump covered with a tree limb and many dry leaves lay the body of little Frances South who was viciously assaulted, raped, and strangled to death.
Beside her lay her hair comb and a hat cord. Her hands were tied behind her back and her face almost unrecognizable. This was described as the most brutal murder in the history of Jefferson County, Ohio.
A button from her coat appeared torn loose during the struggle between the child and her assailant that also led them the finding of her body. The marred body of Miss South was immediately reported to authorities then taken to the Adena morgue awaiting autopsy.
A posse of more than 100 men was dispatched to search the areas of Adena, Ramsay, Dillonvale, and Mt. Pleasant. Five suspects were immediately arrested and taken to Adena for questioning.
According to her family, Frances South left her home in Adena and was there at approximately 11:30 am. She was sent to retrieve medicine for her ill mother. Shortly before noon on the day she was murdered, a man was seen on the roadway only a
few feet away from her and was described as an American. Adena townsfolk became astir.
The mayor of Adena in 1920 was Alvin Stringer and the Sheriffs involved in the murder case were Western T Baker of Jefferson County and Dodd of Carroll County. John Crawford of Adena, who was a game warden, acted as constable to the case.
The March 26, 1920 headline of the Steubenville Gazette read:
Adena girl assaulted and strangled. [Headline above]
"Four Negros were held under suspicion of the murder and were found while riding a train enroute from Sherrodsville to Steubenville. A W L & E railroad conductor from St. Clairsville pointed out to authorities that the four rode via coal train from Maynard to Halls Station. The other suspect Jus Texus about age 45 from Ramsay was arrested and jailed in Adena on March 26th. There were several hairs found on his coat identical to South." "The Greek, Jus Texus was released and two foreigners were captured at Herrick and jailed. One negro was arrested at the Adena Railroad yard and held on suspicion."
Jus Texus and the four suspects were released the following Sunday from Jefferson County after being jailed and questioned in Steubenville held only on suspicion. A score of clues filtered in regarding the murder. Two residents, W. E. Tweedy and Charles E. Hebron, of Mt. Pleasant saw a man that fateful day as they passed on the road to Adena approximately 200 ft. from the crime scene. Another witness, Mrs. Turner of Mt. Pleasant saw a man "skulking down a little ravine a few hundred feet away." Mr. Showalter, a rubber salesman, described the suspect as hiding behind a telegraph pole along the same road and in the vicinity of the murder.
"Dodd declared on the day after interrogation, the Negroes were not guilty and were held until March 27th two days following the brutal murder, then extradited to Jefferson County on March 28th. All four denied involvement of the South girl murder. Another unknown man is suspected and is still being run down." "Officials say the perpetrator is likely foreign. They have expanded the search to Steubenville and believe that the man murdered the little girl after being recognized. However, the murderer may still be in the vicinity, but locals have faint hope that the murderer be brought to the bar of justice." - [SG]
Twasn't until the next morning and several hours after the murder on March 26th at 8:00 am Friday morning, that Coroner T. K. Kirk left for Adena. After examination he told the press that the hat cord found near the crime scene was from a girl's tam-o-shanter hat. He said that the cause of death was a kick in the head; she was brutally beaten and jumped upon. He said, "There were marks of nails from a man's heels plainly seen on her skull and her skull was fractured." "The murder is thought to have taken place at noon. Her hands were tied with a waist cord usually worn by foreigners in lieu of a belt."
Tam O Shanter Found: Along the W L & E Railroad tracks about a half mile from the scene, a railroad man picked it up and turned it into authorities. On March 27th, the Steubenville Gazette headline read:
"Childs Funeral Today, Numerous Posse unable to find Murderer
Mystery surrounds whole Affair
"Reverend A. H. Ashburn conducted the funeral services of Frances South at the Adena Methodist Episcopal Church and the burial was held at the Adena Cemetery. Mrs. South was critically ill at the time her daughter was murdered and now with this
grief, is at the point of death."
Murder Suspect held in County Jail
[SG] On March 31st "Mike Onancek from Ramsay, was arrested and held in Steubenville County Jail under the suspicion of murder. Onancek, a Russian miner, Age 29, was arrested as bloodstained garments were found at his boarding house in Ramsay. It was at noon on the date of the murder that Onancek was seen along the roadway south of Adena. Mrs. Helena Kowalski a Russian woman was also questioned. Crawford found bloody undergarments belonging to Onancek in his room at the Ramsay boarding house. Examination proved a bloodstain on Onancek's undershirt but Onancek claimed the bloody garments belonged to his roommate, Proco Paskovich who was arrested and released. Paskovich was believed to be a material witness by the state. After questioning, Prockovich denied any involvement of being with Onancek at the time of the murder."
"However, Onancek could not account for the stains on his undershirt. He showed no emotion when taken to the crime scene but winced when he was shown the log where the girl's body was placed. He was put in an automobile and driven to
Steubenville via Smithfield then taken to Crawford's home on Wilson Avenue Adena, Wednesday afternoon where he was detained overnight and under guard. The bloody garments were given to Prosecutor Roy R. Carpenter by Constable Crawford as
evidence in the case."
"A woman who conducted the boarding house was alleged to have said that she witnessed Onancek burning a pair of trousers and shoes at Ramsey recently denied she made such statements.
She could not be located to ascertain as to her exact statements in the matter."
Authorities are After Statements of Russian Woman
Mrs. Helen Kowalski a boarding mistress of Ramsey was arrested on Friday afternoon by Constable John Crawford and was given a severe grilling about what she knew about Mike Onancek, her roomer who was arrested several days ago for the murder of
Frances South, which occurred March 25th. Mrs. Kowalski was arrested after the hearing of Onancek in Squire Lawlier's court. Authorities questioned the woman, took her to Adena where a physician was consulted relative to a conversation between him and the woman. The details of this were not revealed today although it was a very important link in the chain of evidence against the accused slayer. Mrs. Kowalski claimed to have known Onancek for three years following the death of her husband who was killed in a Ramsey coal mine. She claimed that Onancek treated her children "like a father" and is a petite woman of small stature, fairly pretty and speaks little English. She was questioned by Squire Lawlier, then taken back to Adena by Crawford and then to the home of M. Karniah where she stayed some time and later placed in the county jail. It is said that authorities desire to question her further in the matter.
Onancek was given a preliminary grand jury hearing April 2nd in Justice Henry Lawlier's court. There he was represented by attorney's Rogers and Cohen. At the hearing, Onancek had bruises on his face; Cohen asked him "Where did you get these?" Onancek replied, "He did it!" pointing to Constable Crawford. Onancek claimed to have been beaten by Crawford while being detained at Crawford's home in Adena. The hearing was brief. His attorneys provided evidence that Onancek was several miles away from the crime scene at the time of the murder.
Constable Crawford was a game warden and deemed by the people as incompetent. As petitions scattered through the townships, the populace of Adena, Dillonvale, and Mt. Pleasant circulated and sent them to Ohio Governor James M. Cox. Their request was to abolish the present county system and institute a state constability consisting of C. A. Young, R. A Hagan, R. A. Dickerson, G. M. Hastings, R. A. Walker, F. A. Ashburn, Glenn Ashburn, Jas. Danniball, A. T. Patterson, H. T. Wease, Fred McConnell and A. C. Maber.
It was alleged that Ex-Constable John Crawford "manhandled" the investigation of Mike Onancek and Mrs. Helena Kowalski, the boarder mistress of Ramsey. Two days following the murder, on March 28, 1920 a reward for $2000.00 was offered for the child slayer and $1500.00 to authorities. [SG] "Crawford was accused of assaulting Harry Salchuck of Adena in an effort to grab the reward and abused Mrs. Kowalski at the doctor's office of Dr. Hanna to obtain information concerning her physical condition then booted her into the Adena jail cell." "The Jefferson County grand jury had to review these matters to find if Crawford was competent to wear the official clothes of important police power affecting the social welfare. Crawford was indicted on two charges, playing poker, assault and battery." Crawford was now an ex-constable. Petitions of the aforementioned were filed amidst this perplexing unsolved murder. The trial took an unusual turn and twasn't in the direction of apprehending the killer of eleven year old Frances South. The Gazette published an article entitled, "Adena people are sane." [4/14/1920]
MAN CONFESSES TO MURDER OF ADENA GIRL ; IS DEMENTED April 15, 1920 [SG]-A confessor Perry Miller, formerly of Akron, Ohio admitted to murdering Frances South while attending a church revival in Beech Bottom, West Virginia at 8:30 p.m. Miller's home was located at 1343 Grace Street, Akron, Ohio and he was staying in the vicinity of Brook County, West Virginia. Miller claimed to have hid a bloody shirt in a tree stump near the crime scene and was anxious to show authorities where the murder occurred. Though his mental state seemed a bit irregular, there were times during the questioning that he seemed rational. As a former employee of Carnegie Steel, Miller said that he was engaged to marry Frances South's elder sister, Fern South age 16. Miller claimed that he quit Carnegie Steel because they would not raise his wages.
Sheriff Western Baker and Prosecuting Attorney Roy Carpenter took him to the crime scene in Adena to validate his story of the murder. "She called me names I've never heard in the bible and I hit her with my gun over her right eye," Miller confessed. Claiming he left the girl alive as he "picked her up and carried her into the woods," he said she was alive when he left her. However," the self-confessed slayer failed to identify the spot where her body was found and then was taken to meet Fern South."
Sister of Murdered Girl Fails to Identify Man Fern South stated, "I've never laid eyes on that man in my life." Miller's statements varied at each questioning and he asked that his trial be expedited.
A suitcase had been left in a shanty by Miller several days ago and was found near Beech Bottom, West Virginia by Constable William Collins containing a bloody shirt and bloody handkerchief.
The clothing bore the appearance of having recently been laundered but the washing didn't remove the bloodstains from the garments. "Did you know that you killed the South girl?" Miller was asked. His answer: "Yes, I did." Miller agreed to a plea of not guilty and while being held in jail before trial, Miller's foreman Marc Parsons from Carnegie Steel appeared at the county jail providing records that Miller was working there on the day of the South murder. Miller was released from jail and a county institution was considered.
Charles Hebron and W. E. Tweedy who passed near the crime scene the afternoon of March 25, 1920 reported to authorities that Miller was not the man they witnessed leaving the area that fatal afternoon.
Hebron described Miller as "a slighter build" than the suspect they spotted that day.
Corwin Young of Dillonvale told a gazette reporter that he thought Perry Miller was innocent and that the guilty party is a resident of Adena. "We have traced movements and I consider that the perpetrator was someone who was well acquainted with South and familiar with the spot where the murder was committed." "I'm inclined to believe that South was not struck on the pike but enticed to go up into the woods with someone of whom she was acquainted never dreaming of his "intentions."
New clues from West Virginia poured into the Jefferson County authorities, and on April 20, 1920 in Martins Ferry, Belmont County Ohio, just three weeks following the South murder, a woman and her young daughter were massacred.
Attempting to Connect Ferry Crime with Adena:
"Mrs. Augusta Burkhart, aged 70, and her daughter Lillie were found in pools of blood with their throats slit and skulls fractured." "While the South girl was found kicked to death, the woman and her
daughter were murdered with a razor used to cut their throats and their skulls smashed to an unrecognizable mass." "An Italian man was alleged to have kept a woman wanting to rent one of the Burkhart houses from entering the house Saturday is under arrest."
"Fingerprint men are to investigate."
Today almost a hundred years later, Adena News has been working with the Harrison Historical Society to find clues to this case. The Ohio Attorney General has an online public database of all unsolved Ohio cases and Frances South isn't found.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's office has no evidence or file records whatsoever of the unsolved cold case murder of Frances South who was sent on an errand to help her ill mother and was violently slain. Several clues were available to the authority but suspicion
and interrogation of the investigation ended fearfully unresolved and possibly led her killer to other victims. The assailant may have been a drifter/boarder and by embracing suspicion the case converted ice cold. Although her killer isn't alive today, the perplexing proof is that there were several witnesses seeing a strange man in that area that day. Another rumored opinion is that her father, William S. South could have been a culprit. Suzette Schausten wrote: "Frances South was my cousin's mom's sister. She was 11 years old, went to the store to get medicine for someone in the family and was raped and killed. They never caught the person that did it, my cousin's mom and dad told her that they confirmed that the person they thought did it left the country, they say he was from Sicily he left immediate after the incident, don't know his name."
The horrendous murder on March 25, 1920 of Frances South remains a household history mystery. Who would be capable of such gruesome murders in 1920? Why did the newspaper report that "there is faint hope in bringing her murder to the
bar of justice?" What happened to the death records, tombstone, evidence, and unsolved murder case file of Frances South? Her file vanished just like her life as did her elusive murderer.
This is an unfinished research writing, just like the case. Carol Bednar-Adena News Thank you Dr. Scott Pendleton for digging up the
newspaper articles regarding the Frances South murder.