Everyone likes a good ghost story. One of the best known around Hampshire County WV. But the legend isn’t the real story. The real tale is something more tragic. Several people lost their lives instead of just one. Let’s take a look at the legend as it is today.
Legend says that the Jail was built in the late 1700s. The brick residence of the sheriff is attached to the stone jail. Folklore relates that in the late 1800s a sheriff was shot to death by a gang of bandits on the staircase leading between the jail and the attached brick building, which was the jailer’s family home. He was shot at the top of the stairs, and, just like what often happens in the movies, he then fell down to the bottom. Witnesses say the sound of the sheriff’s body falling down the stairs can be heard in the night.
The Real Story
The real story is more shocking than the legend. The murder did not occur in the 1800’s but was perpetrated in 1929. Additionally, it wasn’t a gang of bandits as stated in the legend, but one man-Walter Crabtree. Below is an excerpt from the Hampshire Review Newspaper article detailing the events that unfolded.
Justice of the Peace Carter Inskeep and Jailer Ben Miller were shot and killed by Walter Crabtree who had been arrested for drunkenness several days earlier. After his arrest the man created a list of city officials and citizens who he intended to kill, including Jailer Miller and Justice Inskeep. After murdering one citizen and wounding several others, including a 6-year-old girl, the man went to Justice Inskeep's home and knocked on the door. When Justice Inskeep answered the door, he was fatally shot. The man then went to the county jail and summoned Jailer Miller from his quarters and killed him. The man returned home, where he was arrested a short time later by the county sheriff and a state patrolman. He was cleaning his gun at the time of his arrest. The suspect was tried and convicted of Justice Inskeep's murder and sentenced to death. He was executed on May 9, 1930. He was the first person ever sentenced to death and executed in Hampshire County.
Walter Crabtree was a man addicted to alcohol. He had been arrested on numerous occasions for possession of liquor. Remember, this was during prohibition so even having alcohol was illegal. These arrests manifested in his mind a vendetta against local law enforcement. Mr. Crabtree had recently been released from a 6 month incarceration at the jail for alcohol possession. According to a Barrier Miner newspaper article form December 20,1929, Mr. Crabtree had a death list of persons whom he wished to kill. Below is the transcription of that article.
Romney (West Virginia), Dec. 18.
Walter Crabtree developed such a grouch against the authorities who had several times arrested him that, he made up a list of six persons whom he intended to wipe out. He then, went on the warpath with a shotgun. Before he was overpowered and captured, he had called at three houses, killing one man at each place, and carefully crossing his name off the list as he disposed of them. The first victim was Henry Inskeep, Justice of the Peace, the next a jailer, and the third Asa Walford. The jailer, Ben Miller is reported as having been decapitated from the shotgun blast.
Mr. Crabtree, not being in his correct frame of mind also shot and wounded three citizens. One of these was a young old girl. Although town sentiment against the man ran high, the town did not exact mob justice. Upon his arrest, he was taken to the next county for safekeeping and then promptly sent to Moundsville Penitentiary.
Walter Crabtree was sentenced to death for his murder spree. He was incarcerated at Moundsville Penitentiary for only a few months. The institution was under a new warden by the name of AC Scroggins. In May 1930, Walter Crabtree was hanged for the triple homicide of Inskeep, Miller, and Wolford. His execution was carried out before 52 witnesses including law enforcement and journalists. Lest it be forgotten, Mr. Crabtree, though a murderer, had a family and his family suffered as surly as others. Below is a transcript of a letter sent to the warden.
“We, Hazel Sandes nee Crabtree, Edith Crabtree and S. D. Crabtree, the sister, mother and father of Walter Crabtree who you have confined in the penitentiary and sentenced to be hanged on May 9, 1930, do hereby request and desire, in case the death penalty be inflicted that the body of the said Walter Crabtree be returned to us at Romney, W. Va., for burial.”
Not only was Mr. Crabtree’s execution the first under the regime of Scroggins, but it was also the last public execution at Moundsville. Walter Crabtree was returned home and interred in Indian Mound Cemetery. The grave toady remains unmarked.
Both former inmates of the Old Hampshire County Jail and those who lived in the adjacent sheriffs home have reported ghostly activity. The majority of reports center around strange noises throughout the jail and home. Some even claim to hear the body of Mr. Miller falling to the floor after his murder.
May the souls of all those who died in this tragedy find peace in the afterlife.
**We at Traditional Legends do not condone conducting paranormal investigations in the cemetery. Please be respectful of the deceased and do not attempt.
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