Bowling Green, Ky.: They found him in September 1902 in “Hobson’s woods,” after a passerby noticed a buzzard in a nearby tree. His head was devoid of flesh (probably courtesy of said buzzard) and his body dismembered. There was a bullet hole behind his right ear. He may have been deposited in a shallow grave, because investigators found a pair of pants “buried with him.” Other personal effects included a hat, “one Phial of poison,” a “large long rubber ear trumpet,” $3.59 in cash, and a Catholic badge.
In the deceased man’s pocket was a letter from one Barney Furey, whose letterhead advertised his prowess as “Light Weight Champion of the West.” In a pencilled scribble, the Cincinnati-based boxer introduced himself to our dead friend who, we learn, was from Chicago and who had acquaintances in common with Furey: Joe Gans, an African American who was one of the nation’s greatest lightweight fighters; another pugilist, Charley “Young” Kenney; and respected match referees Malachy Hogan and George Siler.
But Furey’s letter then moved on to other business. “Now the money I owe don’t be worried,” he told the dead man, “for I will surely give it to you. I am going to Chicago to fight in a week.”
At the inquest, the coroner’s jury had no difficulty determining the cause of death, but the backstory, unfortunately, remained untold. Who was the man, and what, if anything, did a letter from a boxer in his debt have to do with his murder?
This is only one of many local mysteries to be found in the collections (currently being processed) of historic court records, including inquests, held in WKU’s Manuscripts & Folklife Archives. Search us in TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.