Part 2 of 2

PAULDING – After the charred and mutilated remains of Ashby and Elsie Good were located in a pile of burned brush near their home three and one half miles northwest of Paulding on Nov. 5, 1894, suspicion immediately fell on Charles Hart.

Some of his neighbors reported that Charley had behaved strangely during the search party’s discovery of the bodies that morning. They also pointed the finger at him after he claimed that he was home on Sunday afternoon around the estimated time of the murders, which would have put him close enough to the crime scene to hear the children’s cries.

Charley was further implicated on the evening the bodies were found when a bloodhound that was brought in from Scott repeatedly alerted between the site of the bodies’ discovery and the nearby Hart home.

By that time, Charley was in the Paulding County Jail where Sheriff Ed Staley was questioning him. “He stated to the sheriff he could neither read nor write, did not know his age and had never been to school. He is apparently about 18 years of age and grossly ignorant,” reported the Paulding Democrat on Nov. 8.

“His denials of guilt were emphatic and his conduct not greatly different from any other person charged with so

heinous a crime,” the article continued.

Charley, who worked as a stave bolt cutter in the woods, told the sheriff that he had been with Levi Cain, a black man, on Sunday afternoon when the children had been murdered. That information led to Cain’s arrest that same day. Charley’s brother-in-law, Clarence Brindle, who had married Charley’s younger sister Nora when she was only 13, was also taken into custody on Monday, Nov. 5.

Soon after Cain and Brindle were incarcerated with Charley in the Paulding County Jail, a large crowd of citizens congregated outside and demanded justice. Fearing a lynching, Sheriff Staley quickly moved the prisoners to the jail in Van Wert. After several Paulding County men followed the prisoners there, Sheriff Staley knew he had a huge problem. Not only did he have to calm the public’s fears, he also had to keep the suspects safe from the people who desired swift justice for the horrific murders.

On Nov. 10, a fourth arrest was made in the case. An itinerant Methodist minister from Defiance, David Merritt, a black man around 40 years old who had been staying with Charley’s sister and brother-in-law at the time

of the murders, was detained in the Paulding jail “as a witness more than anything else,” reported the Paulding Democrat on Nov. 15.

A coroner’s inquest was held, its findings were kept from the public, and rumors fueled by reports from the daily newspapers in cities like Cincinnati, Toledo and Fort Wayne ran wild in the first couple of weeks after the crime.

Eleven days after the murders, the Paulding County Republican attempted to calm the public’s fears. “We think we are safe in repeating what we said last week – that the people of this community are law-abiding; that they’re satisfied the officers will bring the guilty parties to justice if possible, and that the county has already been sufficiently disgraced by this outrageous affair.”

Sheriff Staley and Paulding County Prosecutor F.W. Corbett decided against offering a reward leading to the arrest of the responsible party or parties, and instead called the Abbott-Mintz Detective Agency of Cleveland to help with the investigation.

In jailhouse interviews, Charley protested his innocence and implicated Cain and Brindle, and then changed his story to Merritt being the perpetrator. The fact that he switched his story further made him appear guilty in the eyes of the authorities and the public.

Due to his young age, his lack of education and his ignorance of legal matters, it is hard to tell if Charley understood the serious nature of anything he said. At every interview he asked to see his father, but was denied. In fact, his family had fled Paulding County in mid-November after an attempt was made to dynamite their home in the middle of the night.

A few days before their preliminary hearing, the prisoners were moved as secretly as possible back to the Paulding County Jail. On Nov. 22, Sheriff Staley and his deputies escorted Hart, Cain, Brindle and Merritt from the jail to the Paulding County Courthouse. By that time, news of their court date and whereabouts had been leaked.

“The streets were quite filled with people, so much so that the passageway to the jail was lined with a throng on either side,” according to the Paulding Democrat.

The courtroom was packed and the hearing was brief. All four prisoners were arraigned before Justice Henry E. Spring, and all entered a plea of “not guilty.”

Witnesses were called. Most damning against Hart was the neighbor’s testimony that “Hart told that the children were cut to pieces without having been near enough to see the remains.”

Merritt implicated Brindle by testifying to a strange story that Brindle had told about what had happened to him in the Van Wert jail. According to Merritt, Brindle said that “he had been put under the influence of a drug and had first barked like a dog, and then confessed the crime,” The Defiance Daily Republican Express reported on Nov. 24. “He continued by telling the preacher: ‘The thing is all up with us now. We and Hart will both be hanged.’”

At the conclusion of the hearing, Justice Spring released Levi Cain, bound David Merritt over to the next term of court, and remanded Charles Hart and Clarence Brindle to jail without bail.

“If the good people of Paulding County ever entertained an idea of wreaking their vengeance (sic) upon the person of Charles Hart that was the last opportunity ever to be offered to do so within it borders,” the Paulding Democrat reported the following week, and they were right.

Charley and his brother-in-law were taken back to the Van Wert jail that night, but with the threat of violence looming especially against Charley, he was transported by train back to Paulding, where the Williams County Sheriff met them at the depot and whisked Hart away to the jail in Bryan.

It was in that jail where the Abbott-Mintz Detective Agency placed two men who posed as prisoners and gained Charley’s confidence, which led to Charley’s official confession to Sheriff Staley on Monday, Nov. 26. Some reports stated that Charley believed that if he confessed he would be given a shorter sentence and that he would be allowed to see his father.

The Paulding County Republican reported Charley’s confession in the Bryan jail to the sheriff in their Nov. 29 edition. Charley said that he had come upon the children that Sunday morning, and that they had invited him into the woods to hunt for hickory nuts with them. In the woods, Charley perpetrated a crime against the little girl. Afterward, Charley said that he realized that he would be in trouble, so he tied both of their hands and bludgeoned them to death before going home to get a butcher knife to cut them up.

He did not admit to setting them on fire, and offered no explanation for why there was no blood on his clothes.

Despite gaps in Charley’s story, the authorities were satisfied that Charley admitted to being the lone killer of the Good children, and Brindle was released. A few days before Christmas, Charley was brought to Defiance County for his trial.

Before Judge Wilson Snook in a crowded Defiance courtroom, Charley, who was represented by Paulding attorneys John S. Snook and A.N. Wilcox, was asked to stand. The indictment charging him with murder was read.

The judge informed Charley that the penalty was death “as it meant murder in the first degree.” He then asked the defendant, “Knowing this to be the case, how do you plead?” reported the Defiance Evening News on Dec. 20.

“Hart stood as immovable as a stone,” the article continued, “as he answered in a firm clear voice ‘Guilty.’” Witnesses were called for the penalty phase. At the conclusion, Judge Snook said, “The sentence of this court is that you be taken to the penitentiary of the state and there under the authority of the law be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead.”

The judge set the execution for the second Friday in April 1895. The statutes at that time dictated that 100 days must pass between a conviction and the time when the sentence is carried out.

On Friday, April 12, just five months after the crime, Charles Hart was hanged in the Ohio State Penitentiary for the murders of Ashby and Elsie Good.

After no family member claimed his body in the allotted time, it was donated to medical science.

Jane Nice has been researching this crime to write a book about the Good-Hart Murders.

Next time: The bicentennial history series continues.