Odds and Ends VI

Note: Sometimes I run across stories (or even just snatches of stories) that are too short to warrant their own Spooky Marion entry. Here are a few of these “odd and ends” concerning our fair town.

Face Disfigured by Acid Attack

In the evening of June 5th, 1905, a 17-year-old Marion girl named Bessie Ramey claimed that as she was walking from her brother’s house on Superior Street to her father’s house on Grant, she passed an acquaintance named Harry Leland on Delaware Avenue. According to Bessie, as Mr. Leland tipped his hat in greeting, he suddenly threw acid in her face and fled.

Police spent the following week trying to track down the elusive Mr. Leland and even issued a warrant for his arrest. However, they eventually came to a shocking conclusion: there was no Harry Leland and Bessie had splashed the acid on herself.

For starters, her attending physician, Dr. Young, told police that he was skeptical of her story. He told police that the girl had, in fact, been a “novel fiend” since the age of ten.

Police also talked to Nellie Hoberman who ran a boarding house on North Main Street where Bessie Ramey lived and worked. When Mrs. Hoberman let the police into Bessie’s room, they found a bottle of carbolic acid that Mrs. Hoberman kept for household purposes.

Carbolic acid was a common household disinfectant at the turn of the century and can still be found in products like soap and throat spray. I talked to a friend of mine who has a PhD in medicinal chemistry, and she had this to say about it: “It’s slightly acidic and therefore it would be corrosive. It would need to be washed off immediately. Serious burns are unlikely to occur with short exposure times, however. Still, I wouldn’t put my hands in it!”

According to Dr. Young, the burns were not particularly severe. “The burns were like blotches,” he said during a police inquiry. “They extended from the upper lip down around the mouth to the chin and neck and to the breast, where the most serious burn was inflicted. The burns on the breast may leave a permanent scar, but those on the face and neck will not.”

The Star reported that, despite the evidence undermining her claims, Bessie continued to insist that the mysterious Mr. Leland had attacked her.

Source: The Marion Daily Star, June 12, 1905

A Haunted Masquerade

Although we think of fall as being the traditional time of year for spooky parties, an article appeared in The Marion Daily Star on March 18th, 1896, describing such a party in March:

Miss Edith Smith and a coterie of her young lady friends gave a very novel and unique entertainment to a number of their gentlemen friends at her home on West Church Street Tuesday evening. It was a masquerade party and those who happened by the house were certain it was haunted, for within could be seen a number of ghostly-looking objects dressed in pure white.

The ladies wore sheets around them and pillow cases enveloped their heads. The gentlemen learned of this mode of masquerading and concluded to give the ladies a few samples of their own medicine, and so came to the Smith home attired in the same manner. There was a jolly confusion when all got into the house and it only ended when the masks were removed. Then came a session of games, music and many other entertaining features to say nothing of a delicious repast that was served.

Nineteenth Century Crimes in Marion County

The History of Marion County, Ohio, published in 1883, mentions a number of notable crimes (minus some pertinent details) from the latter half of the nineteenth century.

In 1869 or 1870, a man named McIntosh was found lying across the railroad tracks (the exact location is not given) with the lower part of his abdomen cut in half. The coroner concluded that the man had been murdered and that the perpetrators of the crime had thrown the dead body on the railroad track to make the public believe that he had been killed by a train and thus elude suspicion.

A similar case also occurred near Caledonia. (The exact date is not given.) The victim, Eli Fink, was found on the railroad tracks with his head cut off. He had been in a saloon earlier in the night where he’d been involved in an argument with another patron. A train engineer later claimed that he saw two women near the point on the track where the dead body was found.

Newton Milliser was poisoned to death with arsenic on July 22nd, 1879. Although a suspect was tried for the murder (the name is not given), the person was eventually found innocent. No further clues were ever discovered regarding the identity of Milliser’s killer.

James Taylor killed Clayton Randall in Waldo with a billiard cue on August 26th, 1879. Taylor was tried and convicted of murder that November, and on the 28th of that month sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment.

Psychics in Marion

The subject of mediums and psychics has been discussed before, both in an article that appeared on the Spooky Marion website and in the book .

On January 9th, 1909, The Marion Daily Star published an article about a Mr. and Mrs. Sprague from Jamestown, New York who entertained at a “well-attended” show at the Junior Order of United American Mechanics hall. While the first half of the evening was devoted to Mr. Sprague, who the Star called “a very clever and well-informed speaker,” the Marion audience was probably more interested in his wife, a medium who could recite the life stories of several members of the audience as well as communicate “with a local grocery clerk who was killed by the cars here several years ago.” According to the Star, the attendees were “well entertained and gave Mr. and Mrs. Sprague a liberal contribution.”

During the summer of 1982, adds for a woman calling herself Mrs. Abby began appearing in the Marion Star and a now-defunct local newspaper called Newslife.

I became aware of the 1982 ad through the Facebook group “Growing up in Marion, Ohio”, which is an excellent source for all things Marion-related. This particular clipping is courtesy of Marion native Pat Murphy.

Her advertisement raises a lot of questions: Who exactly was Mrs. Abby? Was she a local resident or just passing through town that summer? Did anyone actually call her? What happened to her?

The Mysterious Death of Jacob Rittershofer

On Sunday, March 13th, 1892, the “horribly mangled” remains of a German immigrant named Jacob Rittershofer were found on the train tracks of the Columbus, Hocking Valley and Toledo Railroad near Evans’ Quarry.

Authorities were unsure if Mr. Rittershofer’s death was an accident a suicide or even a murder.

Among his remains were two letters written in German, one to an acquaintance and one to his mother, but no suicide note.

The thirty-six-year-old stonecutter had no family residing in the United States.

Source: The Evening Bulletin, March 14, 1892

A Bloody Affair

In the early hours of Monday, May 28, 1934, two women lay in the same room in the Marion City Hospital with only a screen separating them. One of the women, a 38-year-old widow named Vesta Smith, was grievously wounded with a gunshot and would die a few hours later. The other woman, 39-year-old Bessie Myers, had been admitted after claiming she mistook bichloride of mercury – a potentially deadly poison – for aspirin.

Finally Vesta spoke: “Well, Bessie, you almost got me.”

“Yeah, I guess I did,” replied Bessie.

Incredibly, it would soon come to light that Bessie was the person responsible for shooting Vesta earlier that night. The would-be killer and her victim were sharing the same hospital room.

The May 28, 1934, headline of The Marion Star

“You’re coming on home”

On the previous day, Sunday, May 27, 1934, Bessie’s husband, 49-year-old Marion Steam Shovel foundry worker Charley Myers, disappeared. Bessie was certain he had gone over to Vesta Smith’s house for a tryst. Bessie suspected the two of them had been having an affair for around a year.

“I can’t stand it any longer,” Bessie wrote in a note investigators later found in the 671 Gay Street home she shared with Charlie. When he still hadn’t returned home by evening, Bessie decided to go find her husband and make him come home. This wouldn’t be the first time she’d gone to Vesta’s house to fetch her husband, but it would be the last time.

When Bessie arrived at Vesta’s house at 728 North State Street, Vesta’s 25-year-old daughter, Kleah, met her at the door and told her Charley wasn’t there. Ignoring her, Bessie pushed past Kleah and walked into the house to confront both Vesta and Charlie. Kleah, wanting to avoid an ugly confrontation, stepped out onto the front porch.

A few moments later, Kleah heard gunshots and rushed back into the house to find her mom on the floor and Bessie holding a gun. “Did you shoot my mother?” she asked Bessie, who then threatened to shoot her as well. Kleah fled the scene to get help.

Charlie stooped to lift Vesta’s prone body up off the floor and asked Bessie to fetch Vesta a glass of water. Bessie, still furious, grabbed a nearby bucket of water and threw it on Vesta.

Although Bessie had fired three shots, only one actually struck Vesta. The bullet entered just below her breastbone, passing through her stomach, kidney and liver before exiting her right hip.

In a panic, Charley and Bessie fled the scene in the direction of the fairgrounds. It was in this area that Bessie threw the gun away. (Although a search was made for the .38 caliber revolver later, police were unable to recover it before the trial.)

The couple then made their way to East Fairground Street and began walking west. As they reached North Main Street, Bessie told Charley she had taken bichloride of mercury and was starting to feel ill. Her husband persuaded a pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church to call a taxi for them, and they rushed to the hospital.

Mercury bichloride (HgCl2) was widely available in pharmacies in the 1930s. At the time of the shooting, its primary medical use was to treat syphilis infections. (Whether the pills belonged to Charley Myers and, if so, whether he was using them to treat syphilis was never addressed in the Star coverage.) In high enough doses, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and organs where it damages kidneys and the intestinal tract, causes internal bleeding, and is potentially deadly. Just three tablets – the amount Bessie Myers took – are enough to kill an adult.

As Vesta was being treated at the hospital, police began searching for Bessie. They even sat outside of the Myers’ home that night hoping that Bessie might return. It must have been quite a shock, then, to the investigators questioning Vesta about where she thought Bessie might be when they heard the woman in the next bed over say, “Why, here I am.”

Bessie later made a sworn statement to Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Russell Wilhelm in which she readily admitted to shooting Vesta.

First Degree Murder

Unsurprisingly, Bessie Myers was immediately charged with first degree murder.

Charley Meyers, apparently deciding to stand by Bessie, hired Grant Mouser and Grant Mouser Junior, a father and son team of lawyers, to defend Bessie.

With her husband at her side, Bessie Myers was arraigned on June 6th and plead not guilty. She was held without bail in the county jail.

On June 21, 1934, a grand jury was convened and, in what must have been a disappointment to the prosecution, indicted Bessie on a reduced charge of manslaughter rather than first degree murder.

On June 27, 1934, The Marion Star reported that the trial date had been set for July 24th. In the meantime, Bessie would be out on bail. Her legal team was preparing a defense that argued the shooting was self-defense and therefore justifiable.

The Trial

When the trial started, the Star reported that around two hundred people sat packed in the gallery. In fact, seats in the courtroom were in such high demand during the trial that many observers refused to leave them, even during breaks, for fear of losing them.

The first witness for the prosecution was Vesta’s daughter, Kleah. She testified that while Charlie Myers visited her mom frequently, the visits were social rather than romantic. Vesta, she said, made and sold beer for a living, and Charlie would stop by to buy beer and have a few drinks with her. She claimed she never saw the two of them embrace.

Kleah did, however, admit she knew Bessie was deeply unhappy about her mom’s relationship with Charley. She related one memorable incident where she and Vesta drove over to the Myers’ house. After pulling up in front of the house, Vesta called out for Charley who soon emerged and jumped in the car to go for a ride with them. When the threesome returned, Bessie came out of the house with a gun and fired a shot into the ground, warning Vesta to leave her husband alone.

After Kleah, the state only called two other witnesses: the Marion County coroner and the Marion City Police night captain who was on duty when the shooting occurred.

By contrast, the defense called nineteen witnesses, most of them character witnesses describing Vesta’s reputation as “bad” and Bessie’s reputation as “good.” The last two witnesses were the Myers themselves.

Charley Meyers took the stand on the last day of the trial. Frustratingly, The Marion Star provided only a cursory summary of his testimony:

Charles Myers testified…regarding his relations with the late Mrs. Smith and told of frequent visits to her home. He was on the stand for more than an hour.

Bessie was the last witness in the trial. She did not dispute many of the crucial facts. Yes, she had taken a loaded revolver to Vesta’s house. Yes, she had pushed her way into the house to find her husband. Yes, she had shot Vesta.

However, her testimony also provided jurors with some insight into both her state of mind and, critically, how she could claim self-defense for shooting a woman in her own home.

Over the previous year, Bessie explained, she had gone to Vesta’s house on a number of occasions to get Charley and bring him back home – incidents that caused her “mental grief over her husband’s conduct.”

She took the gun, she claimed, because she was afraid of Vesta, who had a reputation as a “fighter.” Bessie never intended on using it. In fact, she even reiterated Kleah’s earlier testimony about pulling a gun on Vesta. It seems Bessie wanted to emphasize she’d had the opportunity to shoot Vesta before but hadn’t.

Bessie testified that when she went to the kitchen that night, Vesta had backed up to a table where some knives were lying. Vesta had then approached Bessie with her hand behind her back saying, “If you value your life, get out.” Bessie then claimed she had fired the first two shots into the floor as a warning before firing the third shot directly at Vesta.


On the afternoon of July 27th, the state and the defense made their final arguments, and that afternoon the jury convened to decide Bessie Myers’ fate. One hour and ten minutes later, the jury of 12 men returned their verdict: not guilty.

Throughout the trial, Charley had stood by Bessie’s side, and when it was over, the Star reported that the two of them returned to their Gay Street home together. Whether they lived happily ever after is unknown.

The Marion Star, May 28, 1934
The Marion Star, May 2, 1934
The Marion Star, June 1, 1934
The Marion Star, June 6, 1934
The Marion Star, June 21, 1934
The Marion Star, June 27, 1934
The Marion Star, July 24, 1934
The Marion Star, July 25, 1934
The Marion Star, July 26, 1934
The Marion Star, July 27, 1934
The Marion Star, July 28, 1934