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?
They assembled on June 11, 1846 at the Bowling Green home of one Fielding Bettersworth, recently deceased. The task of the twelve citizens was to determine, at the behest of the Warren County coroner, the “when where how and after what manner” said Bettersworth departed this life. Having found no “marks of violence on his body,” and presumably having made such further and other inquiries as they deemed necessary, the panel concluded that the deceased had come to his end “by falling in water and mud and drowning being intoxicated at the time.”
The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library holds many other inquest reports in a large collection of Warren County court records currently being processed. Dating as far back as 1798, they include findings of death by routine misadventure–overindulgence in spirits, drownings, accidental gunshots, fires–or foul play, but also by more mysterious means. Take the 1811 case of a man found dead two miles west of Bowling Green, about 50, average height, “very corpulent,” with “no teeth in the under jaw except the eye tooth on the right side,” two fingers missing from the left hand. . . and a pair of bridle reins drawn tight around his neck. After describing in detail the man’s clothing and property, including “money amounting to about $75,” and finding that he had been travelling through the area with several other gentlemen, the inquest determined that death came after he “was strangled by the bridle reins, either by his horse or his company.”
Click here to access a finding aid for the inquest report on Fielding Bettersworth. For other collections of Kentucky court records, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.