Monday, May 23, 2011

The Hanging Of John Morgan

Grasslick Road is the site of the 1897 Pfost-Greene murders.


On the night of November 4th, a man named John Morgan stopped by to visit the Pfost-Greene family.  Mrs. Chloe Pfost Greene, then 70 years old, was at home with her daughters Alice and Matilda from her first marriage, and son James Greene from her second marriage.

John Morgan was a local boy who Mrs. Pfost-Greene took into her home and treated like a son.  He had moved out  three years prior, but remained friends with the family, doing odd jobs and farm work for them.  Therefore, John knew that Mrs. Pfost-Greene had a promissory note due to her for the sum of $100 for selling a horse.

On the night in question, John Morgan stopped by, and was invited to spend the night.  Around 4am, he and James went out to feed the hogs, and John Morgan brained James with an axe he had secured there. He went into the house, where the women were getting breakfast ready, and struck Matilda twice, killing her.  He then struck Alice, and thinking he killed her, went after Mrs. Pfost-Greene.  In the meantime, Alice had managed to run out, half-conscious and sounded the alarm.  John Morgan was arrested and confessed the next day, and was hung on December 16, 1897 (See photo above).  His hanging, which took place on the present day Ripley High School football field, was the last public hanging in West Virginia due to the large spectacle it became.  What is interesting about the death records for the family is that like on all death records, there is a place to record the informant...the person who provided the information of the death to the authorities.  In the case of Mrs. Greene, James, and Matilda, the informant section is filled out with the words "Morgan's Confession."

Today, the house where the murders took place is gone, but before it was demolished, it was said there was a blood stain on the floor that could not be removed.  The field surrounding the property is also rumored to be haunted.  Witnesses say they see a young woman running and can hear her screaming.  It is also said that if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of an axe.  This apparition is said to be that of Alice, who did survive the attack, but left a residual imprint on the environment due to the tragic and emotional event she was caught in.

Due to some questions I received in the comments for this blog, I was able to track down what happened to Alice.  Nancy Alice Pfost passed away in Jackson County, WV on November 30, 1944.  She is buried in the Fairplane Cemetery.  It doesn't appear as if she ever married or had any children.

Also due to an email I received, I was able to find out a little bit more about the sheriff who was in charge of the hanging.  It seems there was some family tales about exactly how he and his wife died, and hopefully, I was able to help that family out a little bit.  According to records on file at the WV State Archives, James Owen Shinn passed away due to complications from prostrate cancer in Mason County, WV in 1947.  His wife, Mary, died in 1953 from pneumonia.

September 2012:  Another update!  I've been asked where exactly the farm and the house were located, and while I can't give an exact answer, I did do a little bit of additional research to those interested:

The property where the murders happened was the Francis Marion Pfost farm.  Francis was Chloe/Cloah's first husband, and he inherited the property from his father Abraham, who in turn, inherited it from his father Isaac.  There isn't any specific location for that farm that I could find, but at one time it was around 1000 acres and it could be found in the Grass Lick Creek Community, located on Grasslick Rd (now Rt. 21), about 8-10 miles from Ripley.  There is later reference to the farm being owned by Sheriff J.O. Shinn, the sheriff responsible for hanging Morgan.

On this road, there is the Pfost/Greene Cemetery, and according to its website, the cemetery is actually located on the site of the former Francis Marion Pfost farm.  Since this cemetery is on the original farm property and is home to the tombstones of those who died during the murders, that might be a good place to start an investigation.  However, I have another unconfirmed report that the Laurel Commons Apartment Complex may also be on the site of the murders.

There is a member on Ancestry.com who has all his/her information set to private, but it does list that he/she has a photograph of not only the Pfost HOUSE, but several photos of the family as well.  Again, since this information is set to private, I haven't seen it, but may consider contacting this person in the near future for more information!




Info:  WV State Archives

The photo to the right is from THIS SITE

2 comments:

  1. What happened to Alice of the family. We find no account of her after the hanging.

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    1. It looks like Alice, whose name was actually Nancy Alice Pfost, died in Jackson County, WV on November 30, 1944. She never married, nor does it appear she had any children. She is not buried with the rest of her family in the Pfost-Greene Cemetery, but rather in the Fairplane Cemetery. Here's her death certificate: http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view.aspx?Id=432330&Type=Death

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