Sunday, 18 May 2014

Bath School Disaster

18th May 1927

This day in history...Bath School Disaster: Andrew Kehoe blows up Bath Consolidated School killing 38 children and 2 teachers

There have been quite a few posts about massacres and murders but today's event has been labelled as the deadliest mass murder in a school in United States history. Like the Virginia Tech, Capitol Hill, and Dunblane Massacre, the Bath School Disaster involved mass murders by a single perpetrator who committed suicide after the crime. Since 1873 there have been 51 murderous rampages that have ended with the killer committing suicide. And from 1927-2012 there have been 15 school rampages, of which 13 ended the same way. It is shocking but also interesting to see the motives behind such horrific crimes and whether or not they can be avoided. So lets start with the perpetrator...

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Newspaper Headline 1927 
Andrew Kehoe
Kehoe was born in Tecumseh, Michigan, February 1st, 1872. He was among the youngest of 13 children. His mother died when he was five and his father remarried. Kehoe was known to regularly argue with his step-mother. When he was 14, the family' stove exploded as his step-mother was lighting it. The oil fuel soaked her and she caught fire. Reportedly, Kehoe watched her burn for a few moments before throwing water on her. Due to the oil-based nature of the fire, the water helped it spread, killing his stepmother. Allegations were made, at the time, that the stove had been tampered with. 

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Andrew Kehoe, c1920
Kehoe attended Tecumseh High School and Michigan State University, where he studied electrical engineering. He met his wife, Ellen Price, at the University, who was the daughter of a wealthy Lansing family. After his education, Kehoe went west, working for several years as an electrician in Missouri. In 1911, he suffered a severe head injury in a fall. After his marriage to Ellen in 1912, the couple brought a 185-acre farm outside Bath. 

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Kenoe's house
Kehoe was known by his neighbours as a very intelligent man who easily grew impatient and angry with anyone who disagreed with him. They also recalled that he was always neat and always changed his shirts when they became dirty. On a more negative note, his neighbour also noticed that he was cruel to his farm animals and even beat a horse to death once when it had not performed well enough. 

As Kehoe had a reputation fro thrift, he was elected treasurer of the Bath Consolidated School board in 1924. He fought for lower taxes and was often seen arguing with other board members and calling for adjournment when he didn't get his way. He also repeatedly accused superintendent Emory Huyck of financial mismanagement. Whilst on the board, Kehoe was appointed as the Bath Township Clerk in 1925 for a short period. In the 1926 election, Kehoe was defeated for the position and was angered of his public rejection. A couple of his neighbours grew concerned that he was plotting something and thought he was planning to commit suicide when work on his farm halted. 

During this time, Kehoe's wife was chronically ill with tuberculosis and had frequent hospital stays, costing a considerable amount each time. By the time of the Bath School Disaster, Kehoe had also stopped making mortgage payments and he had been given foreclosure notices against his farm. 

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Ellen "Nellie" Kehoe
The Bath School Disaster
Prior to 18th May, Kehoe had loaded the back seat of his truck with a variety of metal debris capable of producing shrapnel during an explosion. Ellen Kehoe had been discharged from Lansing's St. Lawrence Hospital on 16th May. Between the 16th-18th, Kehoe murdered his wife. He put her body in a wheelbarrow located in the rear of the farm. He also tied his horses legs together so that they could not escape what he had planned next...

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The body of Ellen Kehoe, later found by investigators
...At approximately 8:45am, Kehoe detonated firebombs in his house and farm buildings, causing debris to fly into a neighbour's poultry house. Neighbour's noticed the fire and people rushed to the scene. One fireman, O.H. Bush, crawled through a broken window of one of the farmhouses in search of survivors. He, and other volunteers, discovered dynamite in the corner of the room and quickly removed it. As Kehoe left his burning farm and house in his Ford truck, he stopped to tell those fighting the fire; "Boys, you're my friends. You better get out of here. You better head down to the school."

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The remains of Kehoe's house

Classes at the Bath school started at 8:30am. At about 8:45am, almost simultaneously to Kehoe's farm and house explosions, the basement of the north wing of the school exploded. An alarm clock set by Kehoe detonated the dynamite and pyrotol he had been able to hide there. He had been hired by the school during the summer vacation of 1926 to do some electric work, given his experience. During this time he had planted dynamite and pyrotol all over the school. 

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The Bath School
After the north wing explosion, rescuers heading to the scene of Kehoe's farm turned around and headed back towards the school. Parents within the rural community also began rushing to the school. 38 people, mostly children, were killed. One teacher who survived, Bernice Sterling, told a reporter that the explosion was like an earthquake and that "After the first shock she thought she was blind. But when it came the air seemed to be full of children and flying desks and books. Children were tossed high in the air; some were catapulted out of the building."

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The collapsed school building
The north wing of the school had completely collapsed. The walls had crumbled and the edge of the roof and fallen. Some children were trapped underneath, but were unrecognisable because they were covered with dust, plaster and blood. One man volunteered to drive back to his farm to get equipment suitable for rescuing the children. When returning to his farm, the volunteer saw Kehow in the opposite direction, heading towards the school. According to the volunteer "Kehoe grinned and waved his hand; when he grinned, I could see both rows of his teeth."

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Children in the rubble
The scene at the school was chaotic. A witness, Robert Gates, said that "mother after mother came running into the school yard, demanding information about her child and, on seeing the lifeless children on the lawn, sobbed and swooned."

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The exploded building
The truck explosion
About half an hour after the explosion, Kehoe drove up to the school and saw superintendent Huyck. Kehoe summoned Huyck over to his truck and a witness reportedly saw the two men struggle over some type of long gun and that the car went up in an explosion soon after. Superintendent Huyck was killed, along with Kehoe, Glenn O. Smith and Nelson McFarren. Cleo Clayton, an 8 year old second grader had wandered out of the collapsed school building and was killed by the fragmentation from the exploding truck. One woman, Mrs. Eugene Hart, was seen sitting on the bank near the school holding her two dead daughters and little boy. Her eldest son, Perry has survived the school explosion but was severely wounded by the truck explosion. 

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Before and After photos of Kenoe's truck
The Victims

  • Before the school bombing
    • Ellen Kehoe (52)
  • Killed in the school bombing
    • Arnold V. Bauerle (8)                        - Gailand L. Harte (12)
    • Henry Bergan (14)                             - LaVere R. Harte (9)
    • Herman Bergan (11)                         - Stanley H. Harte (12)
    • Emilie M. Bromundt (11)                   - Francis O. Hoeppner (13)
    • Robert F. Bromundt (12)                   - Cecial L. Hunter (13)
    • Floyd E. Burnett (12)                          - Doris E. Johns (8)
    • Russell J. Chapman (8)                     - Thelma I. MacDonald (8)
    • F. Robert Cochran (8)                        - Clarence W. McFarren (13)
    • Ralph A. Chushman (7)                     - J. Emerson Medcoff (8)
    • Earl E. Ewing (11)                              - Emma A. Nickols (13)
    • Katherine O. Foote (10)                    - Richard D. Richardson (12)
    • Marjorie Fritz (9)                                 - Elsie M. Robb (12)
    • Carlyle W. Geisenhaver (9)               - Pauline M. Shirts (10)
    • Geroge P. Hall Jr. (8)                         - Hazel I. Weatherby (21) - teacher
    • Willa M. Hall (11)                                - Elizabeth J. Witchell (10)
    • Lola I. Hart (12)                                   - Lucile J. Witchell (9)
    • Percy E. Hart (11)                               - Harold Woodman (8)
    • Vivian O. Hart (8)                                 - George O. Zimmerman (10)
    • Blanche E. Harte (30) - teacher         - Lloyd Zimmerman (12)
  • Killed by the truck bombing
    • G. Cloe Clayton (8)
    • Emory E. Huyck (33) - superintendent
    • Andrew P. Kehoe (55) - perpetrator
    • Nelson McFarren (74) - retired farmer
    • Glenn O. Smith (33) - postmaster
  • Died later of injuries
    • Beatrice P. Gibbs (10)
The total death count was 45 (including perpetrator). There were also 58 non-fatal injuries. 

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Telephone operators remained at their stations for hours on end to summon the emergency services and to update information about the survivors and the dead. During the rescue search, an additional 500 pounds of dynamite was found, which had failed to detonate in the south wing. The Police found an alarm clock timed to go off at 8:45am, suggesting that Kehoe had attempted to blow up the entire school. When searching Kehoe's farm and house, they found Ellen's charred remains and two dead horses trapped inside a farm building. Investigators also found a wooden sign wired to the farm fence with Kehoe's last message: "Criminals are made, not born." 

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Kehoe's last message

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Explosives recovered from underneath the school.

The Red Cross managed donations sent to pay for both medical expenses of the survivors and the burial costs of the dead. In a few weeks, $5, 284.15 was raised. Kehoe's body was eventually claimed by one of his sisters. Without a ceremony, she had him buried in an unmarked grave in an unnamed cemetery. The Price family buried Ellen in Mount Hope Cemetery under her maiden name.

School resumed on 5th September, 1927 and was held in the community hall and two retail buildings for a year. Most of the students returned. The school board demolished the damaged parts of the school and built a new wing using the donated funds. It was renamed the 'James Couzens Agricultural School', named for the senator and was up and running on 18th August, 1928.

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Senator James Couzens
In 1975, the Couzens building was demolished and the site was redeveloped as the Bath Consolidated School Memorial Park, dedicated to the victims. In 1991, a Michigan Historical Marker was installed at the park with a bronze plaque bearing the names of those killed and a brief description of the events.
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Bath School Disaster Memorial Marker

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Memorial presented on a remaining
piece of the original school.

What are your thoughts on today's event? Do you have any questions about Kehoe, the victims or the aftermath? Leave your comments below

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