(I would apologize for the length of this post except I'm not sorry! Yes- it's a little long, but it needed to be this length to tell the whole story. I found it interesting. I hope you do, too.)
Death by a Blow from a Baseball Bat
OR, How a Republican Governor from Ohio Changed My Family's History
“Everybody has something to offer the world. Even...murderers, and politicians.” ~ This Book Has No Title, Jarod Kintz
If you've been reading my blog this year, you know I'm not above featuring the less-desirable moments in my ancestors' lives as well as the shining moments. I feature the ancestors you wish you had...and the ones some might want to forget. I can't change history, but I can advertise it so that some in my generation (and maybe future generations) will learn and not re-live the less-distinguished moments in our shared history. I'm going all the way back to the May blog theme I missed- “black sheep”. In the beginning I was somewhat uncomfortable writing the story about Theodore Clay LARKIN because when I looked at the surface story it appeared to be the story of one man who was a regular joe and one man who had some serious political connections and then used those connections to get out of some serious trouble. That didn't sit well with me. But things are rarely what they first seem to be, are they? Join me in revisiting the lives of two men- my 3rd great grand uncle Theodore Clay LARKIN (brother of my 3rd great grandfather, Joseph LARKIN) and his fellow baseball player, Charles SCHOCH.
Here's your last chance to get background information if you missed it or want to refresh. I wrote about Theodore's mom Mary Angeline here, his sister-in-law (Joseph's wife) Mary Elizabeth here, and his grandmother Mary M. here.
Charles SCHOCH (also spelled SCHOCK or SHOCK)
First I want to tell you the short story of Charles SCHOCH. Charles was born about 1850 in Germany. Sometime between 1850-1857 he immigrated to America with his parents and siblings. He had three sisters- Wilhelmena, Caroline, and Magdalena. Charles' dad was George SCHOCH and his mom was Stevana (Stephania after she came to America). Early in his life, Charles was a tinner by trade (worked in a tin shop). Later in life, he was considered to be one of the prominent merchants in Neville, Ohio. He was a merchant there for about 20 years prior to his death. His family appears to have been known and liked in his community. His dad was a Village Trustee a couple of times, was on the school board, and was a Noble Grand in the IOOF Vesper Lodge #131 twice. Charles had a penchant for making bets and possibly for drinking. He also enjoyed playing baseball. When Charles was 27, his father passed away. In 1880 at age 29, Charles was living with his mother and 10 year old sister - presumably taking care of them. Within the year, he married, had a daughter, and his mother died. Charles and his wife Matilda had five daughters and a son: Mamie S. “Mary” (b.1881), Blanch (b.1883), Bessie (b. 1886), Frank (b. 1887), Prudie L. (b. 1889),and Annie Mary (b. 1891). Of Charles' children, Blanch died just after her first birthday and Frank died at age 5. Three years after Frank's death, Charles also lost his wife. Three years after his wife's death, Charles was killed in a fight at a baseball field over bets he was making on the baseball game. Charles' living children that were orphaned in 1899 include Mary (Mamie), Prudie, and Annie. I don't know what happened to Bessie. I haven't been able to find Bessie in any records with extended family. Annie was only 8 years old when she was orphaned. She went to live with her maternal grandmother and uncle- Anna and Lewis LAUGH. I believe Prudie went to live with her maternal uncle and aunt- Sam and Sadie LAUGH. Prudie stayed with Lewis until after she turned 18. Mamie was 18 at the time of her father's death.
Theodore Clay LARKIN
Now I want to tell you a story about Theodore Clay LARKIN. Theodore went by Clay. Clay was born in 1844 in Ohio. He had six siblings- Augusta, Joseph, Mary, Lea, Benjamin, and Laura. Like Charles, Clay suffered some losses in his life. When Clay was 13 years old, his dad passed away. Clay's dad died at the age of 40. After the death of Clay's dad, he and his two oldest siblings were required to go to work to support the family. Augusta became a domestic servant in someone's home. Joseph and Clay went to work as common laborers. Based on census records it looks like Mary stayed home and tended to the smaller children and household duties. Their mother also went to work to support the family. When the Civil War began, Clay and his brother Joseph both enlisted and went to war.
In 1881, at 37 years old, Clay married Martha Ann CONOVER. (Martha went by Anna.) They lived in Moscow, Clermont County, Ohio. There is a daughter named Orbie listed on Ancestry's website as being Clay's. The daughter was born in 1880- the year before Clay and Anna married. Orbie does not appear on any census record that I have found but Clay and Anna are listed as her parents on her marriage record. Together Clay and Anna had four children- Orbie (b. 1880), Edna (b. 1884), Albert (b. 1885), and Charles (b. 1889). In 1884 when Clay was 39 years old, his 9-month old daughter Edna died. Five years later, Clay lost his mother and a 5-month old son. Clay and Anna were still living in Moscow, Clermont County, Ohio in 1890 but in the 1900 census Clay was in Columbus, Franklin, Ohio. Anna was still living in Moscow, Ohio with their son Albert in 1900. Clay lost his sister (Laura) that same year. Like Charles, Clay was a baseball player and liked making bets. Clay drank and fought on more than one documented occasion.
While Charles had family who held local public offices, Clay had an extended family who was very well known in the public sphere. Two of Clay's great uncles- Elijah and Moses LARKIN- both held elected and appointed public offices including city trustee, mayor, postmaster, Justice of the Peace, and Associate Judge of the Common Pleas Court. One of Elijah's sons was Mayor for one term immediately following Elijah's mayoral term. Moses was influential in both politics and religion.
Moses LARKIN portrait found in the History of Clermont County book (see below).
Moses' son, Joseph, was “one of the most prominent men of Cincinnati in his day, and was a familiar friend of many of the great men of his times.” Remember last week when I wrote about Ulysses S. Grant being born in Clermont County? According to the Clermont County history book I found, Joseph and Ulysses were playmates when they were school-aged. Little Joseph grew up to be a wealthy and very influential financier/banker in Cincinnati, Ohio. Clay had another cousin (a second cousin) also named Joseph who was a very wealthy and influential banker and financier as well.
The LARKIN brothers- Moses, Elijah, Elisha (my ancestor and Clay's grandfather), and Joseph- were described as “men of original thought, decided convictions, [having] great influence in shaping the tone and character of the community. The cause of justice and virtue ever found champions in them, and they clung tenaciously to the truth and the side of public morals." (The information and quotes about Clay's and Charles' parental/extended family backgrounds comes from History of Clermont County,Ohio, by J. L. Rockey and R. J. Bancroft; Rootsweb; Genealogical and Family History of the Wyoming and Lackawanna Valleys, Pennsylvania, edited by Reverend Horace Edwin Hayden, M. A.; and, History of Clermont County, Ohio, with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers, by R. J. Bancroft and J. L. Rockey. Basic biographical data comes from Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Find A Grave.)
This is the background from which Clay came. The family connections listed above do not include the connections he had through his mother's and great-grandmother's families. I don't know if he lived a privileged life but he certainly had connections to influential relatives.
12 August 1897- Trouble Brewing
August seemed to be a bad month for Clay in the years leading up to 1899. On 12 August 1897 (keep the August 12th date in mind- it shows up again later) The Hocking Sentinel (Logan, Ohio) newspaper ran an article about Clay. Sometime between 6 August and 12 August 1897, Clay and a man named John BENNETT had been drinking in Moscow, Ohio. The article says they “became intoxicated and began abusing each other”. Clay pulled a knife and cut BENNETT across the arms, chest, and back. Clay punched BENNETT so hard it broke BENNETT's right jaw. BENNETT got in his own punches. He punched Clay in the face to the point that Clay would be “disfigured for life”. BENNETT was taken to his home and was in critical condition. Clay “escaped to Kentucky”. Kentucky is not very far from Moscow, Ohio, and I believe Clay had family there.
Found at Newspapers.com.
12 August 1899- A “Game Changer”*
“Murderers are not monsters, they're men. And that's the most frightening thing about them.” The Lovely Bones, Alice Seabold
August 12th the forecast was for cooler weather (low 70's in the morning ranging to mid-80's in the afternoon) with a possibility of rain for some of the areas surrounding Cincinnati, Ohio (which would include Felicity, Ohio). Front page headlines in the Cincinnati paper told of the San Ciriaco hurricane headed toward Florida. Baseball was big in the Cincinnati area and it was a perfect day to play ball. Clay had been appointed as a special policeman/Marshall to ensure security and order at the ballgame in Felicity on 12 August 1899 between the Neville and Felicity teams. Two weeks prior there had been some disturbances and trouble during a game due to people betting. It was Clay's job to make sure there wasn't a repeat 'performance' of this behavior at the 12 August game. As Clay was policing, he came upon Charles who was rooting for his team and enjoying the game. Charles was making small bets on various players and events of the game (who would make a hit or a base and who wouldn't, etc.). Clay had been intermittently participating in the bets and Charles had won a small amount of money off of Clay in these bets. Charles made another bet against a “colored man named Belt...as to whether a certain player would make his third base”, according to reports. The bet was for a quarter and a young boy was holding the bets for the men. The run was made and the boy handed over the money to the winner of the bet- Charles. Belt began making a scene and became violent. He said it wasn't a fair bet and the money belonged to him. He used “profanity and abusive language” against Charles. Charles stated he would not allow any man to curse him. About this time Clay came back around and heard Charles' statement. Clay's response was, “Curse him all you damn please, Belt!” Charles told Clay that it was in bad taste for him to make such a remark when it was his job to keep order at the game and that Clay's behavior was contrary to his job. Clay walked away “a few steps” and Charles stayed where he was on the perimeter of the baseball diamond watching the game. After a bit Clay returned, walked up behind Charles and, “with no word of challenge or warning dealt him a frightful blow from the rear”. Clay hit Charles in the back of the head with a baseball bat. Charles dropped to the ground instantly and was unconscious. The crowd was in tumult. There was a lot of threats to Clay, shouting, “terror and confusion”, and people running away from the scene. Officials broke up the game and Clay was rushed off the field and straight to jail. A large crowd gathered outside the jail threatening to take vengeance for the murder of Charles. Clay was under heavy guard due to the angry mob. At 7:34 p.m., just two and a half hours after the incident, the sun set. The moon was a new moon so it would have been a dark night.i Half an hour after sunset- just three hours after the blow to the head- Charles died never having regained consciousness. About midnight the coroner and prosecutor showed up on the scene to begin the investigation. By Sunday morning everything had calmed down. An autopsy was performed on Charles and no abnormalities were found so the blow to the head was found to be the sole cause of his death. “The verdict as rendered was in accordance death by a blow from a base ball bat in the hands of Clay LARKIN.” Several witnesses stated they saw Clay hit Charles with the bat.
Clay would not say why he had killed Charles and no motive was known for the murder at the time it was committed. Clay appeared before a magistrate judge, waived examination, and was held in jail awaiting a grand jury to be held in October of 1899. The case apparently went to a jury trial. The trial commenced about 16 February 1899. There was considerable trouble finding a jury. Thirty-six prospective jurors were called and only four were allowed to be on the jury. The judge called up an additional forty prospective jurors. Around 20 February 1900 the closing arguments were given and the jury began deliberating Clay's guilt or innocence. The jury was out 24 hours before returning a verdict to the judge. Clay was found guilty of murder in the second degree. The penalty was life in prison. 1900- the same year Clay's sister died- Clay was sent to Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio to serve out his time.
Photo of the old Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus, Ohio taken in 1900 (the year Clay went to prison). Photo was found on the Library of Congress website. Details about the 1897 and 1899 incidents involving Clay LARKIN as well as some of the information about his release were taken from newspapers found at Newspapers.com.
Ohio State Penitentiary's heyday was around 1900. It was considered a model prison and tours were given to tourists. There is some very interesting history about it at Forgotten Ohio. The cells were so small that a grown man could sit with his back against one wall and his feet would touch the opposite wall. You can read a little about the interior of the prison at Illicit Ohio. Famous writer O. Henry was imprisoned here beginning in 1898. His first story (a short story) to bear the pen name “O. Henry” was written while he was in the Ohio State Pen. You can read it at Literature Collection.
On 8 January 1906 (Governor Myron T. HERRICK's final day in office) Governor HERRICK extended executive clemency to Clay. Clay's life sentence was commuted to 15 years. A commutation for a prisoner is rare. The sentences of six men were commuted that day by the governor. All six men had murdered someone and all six life sentences were commuted to between 10-20 years. All six sentence commutations were recommended by the State Board of Pardons. I was curious as to why the governor would commute not only Clay's sentence but the sentences of 5 additional murderers. I think the answer lies in a document Governor HERRICK was looking at in his final months in office. The document was the Annual Report provided by the state Attorney General. Within the report, The Habitual Criminal Act was discussed. This act was repealed by the state legislature in 1902. After the repeal, some of the affected prisoners (prisoners who would not have been given a life sentence had the now-repealed Act not been on the books) applied to be paroled and their applications were rejected. They filed a lawsuit that was eventually brought before the Ohio Supreme Court (1904, In Re Kline, 70 O.S. 25). The Ohio Supreme Court decided that even though the act had been repealed the State could not go back and review the cases of all the prisoners who had been convicted under that act and that the prisoners' only hope of being freed or receiving a reduced sentence would be executive clemency from the governor. (Note: If this Act really did apply to Clay, that means that somewhere there will be court records about him regarding other criminal actions by him.)
Governor HERRICK chose to extend clemency to a few men. Clay's sentence began in 1900. With the clemency, and based on time served and good behavior, Clay was soon released from prison.
Portrait of Govern HERRICK found at Ohio Memory Collection's website.
“We are all descendants of murderers...” ~ Amanda Sledz
Before Clay was released from prison, Anna separated from Clay. Some statements from both Anna and Clay say they divorced but I have not found any divorce record. Sometime between 1906 and 1910, Clay was released from prison. Oddly enough, it was Anna's family who took him in. In 1910, Clay was living with his ex-wife's nephew and working as a farm laborer. The nephew he was living with was Charles Clay REED. Charles REED was the son of Addie CONOVER REED, the sister of Anna (Clay's ex-wife). I'm not sure if Anna's family really loved Clay or if the names Clay and Theodore were really popular at that time. Anna's parents named a son Theodore after Clay and Anna married. Then Anna's sister gave one of her sons the middle name Clay and another son the name Theodore.
By 1912, Clay was getting sicker. He checked in to a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio. Clay was 67 years old. He was described as being 6'3, ruddy complexion, brown eyes, and gray hair. He was a Protestant and his occupation was Farrier. He stated that when released, he would be living in Piqua, Ohio. He stated he was married but listed his nearest relative as his son, Albert, who lived on Gladstone Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio. His health disabilities are listed as, “Cardiac Dilation of Heart. Actionweak. Slight Def. Vision Hyperthropsy Arteriosclerosis Left Varicocale Frequent mucturition.” He was admitted on 3 July 1912 and discharged on 22 October 1913. He was discharged “at request”. When he was discharged his paperwork went to the address of 500 College Street, Piqua, Ohio. I'm assuming that was his address in 1913.
Despite Clay listing himself as married, I've found no evidence that he remarried nor that he and Anna reconciled. In 1900 he stated he was divorced. In 1912 he stated he was married. Anna stated she was a widow from at least 1902 until her death in 1916. Three years after Anna passed away, Clay died. He died just a few months after his brother Joseph died.
Some Final Thoughts
In the month or two that I've been working on this blog post I've spent a lot of time sorting out the different people with the same names. I believe I have presented an accurate story and kept all the Clay and Anna LARKINs straight (kept the right ones in the story and the wrong ones out). However, if you find errors, please let me know.
Thank -you's: In the beginning I called on my sister-in-law Becky for help because I was having trouble. She had access to a newspaper database that I thought could help. It did and this whole adventure really started moving after that. Thanks, Becky! Thanks also to my brother Jared who copied, edited, and messaged me a photo of one of the more famous ball players named Ted LARKIN. Initially we thought that Clay was one of the famous baseball players. As it turned out, he was not “Big Teddy LARKIN” who played for the Philadelphia Athletics team. There were actually two Ted LARKIN's playing baseball in the late 1890's to early 1900's. Our Theodore LARKIN is neither of those men. Lastly, I would also like to thank a new digital friend- Stephen McClanahan- whom I met on the FindAGrave website. He was so kind as to drive to a library in Clermont County, Ohio and copy a news article about the murder for me. That one article had details that all the other articles did not. If you are interested in looking at Charles SCHOCH's memorial that Stephen manages you can click here.
Above is NOT our Theodore LARKIN. Thanks to Jared for his efforts to edit this photo for the blog even though it turned out not to be our relative. This photo came from the book The National Game, by Alfred Spink. It's free as a download if you're interested in reading it. It was copyrighted in 1910. It's a history of baseball in America and might give a good idea of the game from Clay's era. As a side note, apparently death by baseball isn't that uncommon. There's a whole website dedicated to it- Death at the Ballpark. Charles' name is there.
Final thoughts on Charles: There were some inconsistencies in Charles' death date. I chose 12 August 1899 because I believe that to be the correct date due to all the newspaper articles that were printed at the time of his death. Other sources say 11 August 1899 (FindAGrave) and 17 August 1899 (Record of Deaths, Probate Court, Clermont County- accessed on FamilySearch). (Note: Even though FamilySearch transcribed this date as 12 August, when I enlarged it it was clearly 17 August.) The Probate Court record gives his name as Charles SCHOCK. The cause of death was “Fracture & Concussion”.
Final thoughts on Clay: I've had some time to think about that life-changing decision Clay made at the ball game in August of 1899. Charles and Clay were both described as baseball players- perhaps they had run-ins on the field during games. I believe that the night Charles died was not the first run-in that Clay and Charles had. Surely there must have been some long-term bad blood between them- either on the baseball field or off- for Clay to kill Charles that night over a little bit of money. I also believe that Clay knew John BENNETT long before they got into a fight in 1897. I'm not sure if they went out together that night and then got into it or if they never liked each other and just ended up in the same place drinking that night.
Last night as I was gripped with yet another night of insomnia, I was thinking about Clay. He grew up without a dad and I don't think he had a particularly easy time of it. I wonder if, sitting in that tiny prison cell day after day, he thought about his own son who was growing up without a dad. Until 1906 he had no hope of ever parenting his children or being there for them in any real way. Surely he must have thought about that. I may never know if he regretted killing Charles- I'd like to think he did- but surely he must have regretted sentencing his son to the same childhood he endured. (Don't we always want to think good of people related to us? If we look at the reality of the world though, evil exists- and some people are just evil. They feel no regret or remorse for what they've done. We may never know which description fits Clay.) Then my thoughts turned to his son, Albert. Albert was only about 5 years old when his dad went to prison. Initially I thought he must be a very loving, forgiving person. It seems he looked after his mom until her death and also took care of his dad until his dad's death. Albert was described in a newspaper as being a war hero (World War I). However, other information I've found suggests perhaps that may not be the entire picture. Albert had an alias. He used it to get into the military. His stepson, George NISONGER, had an alias as well and spent time in Folsom and San Quentin prisons. So perhaps we are looking at a family of criminals as opposed to a family of people who "just made a mistake".
I'm going to drop the story here and let you decide for yourself. I hope you've enjoyed the story of Clay and Charles. One last side note- in Ohio today, a Warrant of Commutation is issued in triplicate if/when a prisoner's sentence is commuted. The prisoner gets a copy, the prison keeps a copy, and a copy is filed in the Court of Common Pleas in the location where the original sentence was handed down. If there were any conditions placed on the prisoner for his release, those will be included in the warrant. Facts regarding the case or why the prisoner's sentence was commuted may also be in these documents. If you are interested in seeing those documents for yourself, you can check with the courthouse in Batavia, Clermont County, Ohio to see if they have one for Clay. Also, if you are interested in seeing his prison record you can forward a request at Ohio History's blog.
Don't forget to check out Down in the Root Cellar. Becky's been busy cranking out blog posts over there!
Until next time,
Lisa @ Days of Our Lives