The Unwritten Law

Over the years in Marion, crimes of passion have occurred that catch the attention of the town for a few days only to quickly fade into obscurity. Often the circumstances of these events are only kept alive in the lore of the families involved, passed down from generation to generation. This is one of those stories.

Amy Jo Phillips contacted me back in April of 2015 with a story that immediately piqued my interest. Her great-grandfather had killed a man in the 1920s in Marion’s west end, gone peacefully with the police afterwards and later plead guilty to first degree murder at a preliminary hearing. However, he never actually spent a single day in state prison for it.

I met up with Amy Jo in October of 2015 at the Marion Public Library where she gave me the dates I needed to bring up the relevant Marion Star articles on microfilm. More importantly, I wanted to meet her so that she could fill me in on some of the more personal details concerning this story that didn’t necessarily appear in the newspaper.

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On the morning of August 20, 1925, Denny Large and his wife Ida were having a discussion in their upstairs bedroom at their house on Bartram Avenue when they heard a car pull up outside. It was Charles Edwards, a boarder who, until very recently, had been living with them. He had come to collect some of his belongings and let himself into the Large house.

Coming down the stairs, Denny and Ida saw Edwards sitting on the living room sofa. Ida went to sit with Edwards while Denny slipped out the back door and crossed a field to his brother’s house where he retrieved a revolver.

Returning to the house where Ida was still sitting with Edwards, Denny shot Edwards twice, killing him almost instantly. Neighbors who heard the gunshots called police, and when they arrived a few minutes later, they found Denny waiting outside and arrested him without incident. That same day, Marion County Prosecutor Frank Wiedeman announced that Denny would be charged with first degree murder.

largershootingheadlineDenny Large was an unlikely killer. He was the father to six children, including a 15-month-old baby, had been married to the same woman for sixteen years and had been employed at the Marion Steam Shovel Company for six years.

So the obvious question was why did Denny Large kill Charles Edwards? It was, of course, the oldest motivation: Ida had been having an affair with Edwards while he was boarding at the Large residence. What’s more, Ida revealed to Denny that Edwards, not Denny, was actually the father of June, their 15-month-old daughter.

On the day of his arrest, Denny made a full confession to police. The next day, he entered a plea of guilty to first degree murder before Mayor Earl Hazen and was ordered held without bond at the Marion County Jail until a grand jury could be convened.

In his confession, Denny explained what had happened: For a long time, he had suspected that his wife had been having an affair with Edwards. In the days leading up to the shooting, Denny and Ida had, in fact, had several arguments about Edwards. Ida eventually admitted she and Edwards had been intimate, [and] that she loved [Edwards] and that he had professed his love for her.” After this revelation, Ida asked Denny to grant her a divorce so that she could marry Charles. “I refused,” Denny said in his confession. “I told her that I loved her and wanted her to come back to me.”

The obvious question is why, if Denny suspected an affair, he had allowed Edwards to continue boarding at his house? During his confession, Denny hinted at being intimidated by Edwards. “He was much larger and stronger than I am,” he told police. Still, shortly before the shooting, Denny recounted a confrontation with Edwards: “I told Edwards he would have to leave, that he had caused too much trouble in my home. He agreed to leave and never return. I warned him not to come back.”

For her part, Ida Large, after having just professed her love for Edwards a few days before, seems to have had a change of heart. In an interview with the Star, she sobbed and said, “I’m sorry for Denny. I’ll do anything to make amends. I did tell him, and I’ll repeat it at his trial, that I was not true to him and that my 15-month-old child belonged to Edwards. I’m going to make an effort to see Denny at the jail and tell him how sorry I am.”

On September 16th, 1926, less than a month after he shot Charles Edwards, Denny Large walked out of jail a free man. An article about the case appearing in the Cincinnati Enquirer stated, “The Marion County grand jury has failed to return an indictment against Large. The ‘unwritten law’ saved him. Prosecutor Frank Wiedeman said today no further charges would be brought against him.”

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And that was that. Denny Large never spent another day in jail for killing Charles Edwards. I wasn’t sure what the “unwritten law” mentioned in the Enquirer article was, so I had to look it up. Lawrence Friedman’s 2005 book Private Lives: Families, Individuals, and the Law sheds some light on the topic:

Under the so-called unwritten law, a man who found out that his wife was unfaithful was free to kill his wife’s lover; the deceived husband was almost never punished for this crime. No statue book actually contained this “law”; but it was reflected in the behavior or prosecutors and certainly in the behavior of juries.

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Denny Large on Lee Street in the the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Amy Jo Phillips.

Put simply, at the time it was widely accepted that a man was within his rights to shoot his wife’s lover, and no Marion County jury was ever going to find Denny Large guilty of murder. Prosecutor Wiedeman’s unwillingness to pursue charges against Denny Large seems to support this.

After his release from the Marion County Jail, Denny Large, perhaps uncomfortable with his newfound notoriety, left Marion for Kentucky and worked there for a time. According to Amy Jo, he was conscientious about sending sending Ida and the kids (who remained in Marion) money while he was gone, and he eventually returned to Marion and a job at the Osgood Company.

Ida and Denny apparently resolved any differences they may have still had and stayed together for the rest of their lives. They even had another child together in 1931. Denny passed away in 1963 and Ida, who became very religious in her later years, died in 1989. She never remarried. Although Baby June was, at least officially, a Large, Amy Jo said that she grew up knowing that Charles Edwards was her biological father and that she eventually left Ohio and settled in California.

Sources:

The Cincinnati Enquirer, September 17, 1926
The Marion Star, August 20, 1926
The Marion Star, August 21, 1926
The Marion Star, September 16, 1926

Hershel the Harding Freshman Building Ghost

From 1915 to 1996, the school known at various times as Harding High School, Eber Baker Junior High School and, lastly, the Harding Freshman Building stood on West Church Street between Union and Orchard Street. According to a 1996 Marion Star article, the building was built to accommodate Marion’s growing population, which was spurred by a booming local economy. Thousands of students passed through the school’s doors during the nearly seven decades it was open, and even now many older Marionites recall the years they attended there with a great deal of fondness.

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A postcard featuring an early photo of the school, courtesy of Mike Crane. Anyone interested in looking at Mike’s nice collection of old photos, postcards and other assorted Marion miscellanea should check out his website.

Although the students may not have been aware of it, some staff members believed that there was also another, otherworldly presence in the building. In an article appearing in The Marion Star titled “Ghostly Caretaker Makes His Rounds,” staff writer Darlene Slack reported on the unsettling experiences members of the school’s kitchen and custodial staff had had over the years with a ghost they eventually nicknamed “Hershel”:

Custodians and cooks arriving in the early morning hours began experiencing things they ‘just couldn’t explain.’

The odor of cherry flavored pipe tobacco was the most distinctive of the occurrences because it was the same kind used by a custodian who had worked there and since died.

‘I’d go down to turn the heat on in the boiler room and I could smell pipe tobacco just as plain as if somebody lit it. I’d turn on the lights and look for the smoke,’ said [custodian] Woody Jordan.

Jordan never saw the smoke, but once he did find the ashes. He arrived early one morning after a night of fresh snowfall and found coffee made, a cup that had been used to drink some of it, and ashes in an ashtray.

Jordan knew there weren’t any tracks to the door he had entered. ‘I went window to window, door to door, checking for tracks leading to the building,’ he said. He never found any.

As more of these stories began to circulate, they caught the interest of English teacher Charles Mosher, and he began to collect them. Although he was initially skeptical, he eventually became convinced that staff members truly believed they were having brushes with the supernatural:

These people were no kooks. They were sincere. I had no feeling they were embellishing stories to get me excited. They weren’t trying to convince me of anything. They were just sharing.

According to Mosher, Hershel was especially fond of pranks. Staff members would find their coats hanging upside down in the closet; the lights in locked rooms would mysteriously turn on. At times like these, Mosher said, the staff members were more amused than scared.

However, Hershel was also quite capable of frightening people. Again, according to Mr. Mosher:

 As a custodian was dry mopping the hallway on the second floor one day, he heard steps behind him, turned around and saw no one. He kept mopping until he felt a hand touch his shoulder and squeeze it.

[The custodian] said the hair stood up on the back of his neck. It really frightened him. Then the footsteps went around him and past him down the hallway into the library. The library door opened and closed, and…Hershel was gone.

When Tri-Rivers opened in 1976, Harding High School’s vocational students began attending school there. This meant that there was now room at Harding for freshman. The Freshman Building, which by the early 80s was in a state of disrepair, closed in 1983 and sat empty for over a decade as the city tried to figure out what to do with it. Finally, unable to sell  or develop the building, the city decided to demolish it. One can only wonder if Hershel was still haunting the long-silent school when the wrecking ball began crashing through its walls during the summer of 1996.

freshman building demolition
The front page of the August 6th, 1996, edition of The Marion Star. When the demolition was complete, only the gymnasium (which later became a recreation center) was left standing

- Josh Simpkins

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Sources:

The Marion Star, November 15th, 1978

The Marion Star, August 6th, 1996

There’s No School Like an Old School. An Illustrated History of  the Public Schools in Ohio’s Marion County by Donna Converse Lawrence