One of the strangest multiple murders in Appalachian history happened on October 24, 1932. The town of Huntington, West Virginia, was rocked by the extermination of one of its most prominent families. So, what makes it so strange? The very person blamed for the crime left a note stating he was, “Murdered by a ghost.”
Samuel White Patterson was born in Elk County Pennsylvania, in 1863. He married Mary Cleveland, from Brooklyn, New York, in 1903. There was a rumor that her family founded Cleveland, Ohio. Samuel was a successful coal operator in the Pocahontas coal field. He moved his attentions to the Williamson Field in 1924. Mary was active in the Women’s Club.
Their only son, Thomas, was considered a prodigy. He graduated from Yale, with honors, and was a member of the Skull and Bones Society. He was a literary individual and had a number of friends and acquaintances. He privately published a book of poetry, but no copies are known to exist today. He returned home after graduation.
The servants couldn’t enter the home of Samuel and Mary Patterson on that Monday morning. They heard music inside, so they knew the family was home. They tried every way to attract attention of the occupants and then began to think something was very wrong. They contacted Samuel’s brother, George. He broke the window to get inside the home.
Nothing was out-of-the-ordinary… at first. There were no signs of struggle or forced entry. They went to Samuel’s study and found him at his desk, as if he’d been reading. He was shot through the head and had a terrible gash.
They went to the living room to find Mary in front of the radio, as if she’d been listening. She had the exact same wounds as Samuel. Someone had shot her through the head and she had a gash on her forehead, as if someone had hit her with a hatchet.
George then thought of their son, Thomas. The group ran to Thomas’s room, but the door was locked. They tried to summon the boy, but there was never any answer. The police finally arrived. The authorities scaled the wall under his bedroom window. They climbed onto the balcony of Thomas’s room and broke through the window.
Unlike the rest of the house, Thomas’s room was wrecked. There was blood everywhere and it looked like he’d taken a hatchet to the walls. At first, they believe he’d been shot, as well.
The authorities automatically assumed Thomas committed the crime. He’d previously authored a book of poetry and rumors stated he had a biography of Edgar Allan Poe with a publisher. Since he was a fan of “dark” literature, it was assumed he was the culprit. Coroner F.X. Schuller cerebrated the theory it was a double murder/suicide. The crimes occurred at 11 pm Sunday Night. One account said Thomas had tried to write on bathroom walls with blood, but that wasn’t substantiated.
It began to circulate that Thomas had serious mental issues. They claimed he’d been under the care of a psychologist in Baltimore and a doctor had suggested Thomas be institutionalized.
They found a note near Thomas’s body. There were several pages of gibberish that has never been published. Among those lines were, “I have been murdered by a ghost… a devil.” They also read, “I wish to be cremated… Homicide manic… I am sorry.”
Then It Gets Strange
The authorities believed Thomas was to blame, since he didn’t have a gunshot wound. They found two slash wounds on his wrists, but said they weren’t particularly fatal. They believed he made the wounds with the butcher knife and bled to death.
In the nearest bathroom, they found the basin filled with blood and a pistol beside it. They stated Thomas had drained his blood into the basin before he stumbled back to his room and passed out. Details emerged that were unsettling. All weapons found near Thomas’s body were new. If a family member has mental issues, it would likely be noticed if they began accruing hatchets, guns, and large butcher knives. No such purchases were known to be made. Thomas could’ve just used those same items in the home without purchasing any.
Thomas was not cremated. The entire family had services on October 26. There were three sealed coffins.
Sadly, there is no resolution for the scene. It is unlikely there will ever be answers. Why did Thomas take a hatchet to his walls? In retrospect, it appears as if he was trying to escape his room, rather than remain inside.
There are also worrisome details with the parents. There were no defensive wounds or signs of alarm. It was as if someone shot both Samuel and Mary at the exact same time. If someone shot Samuel first, surely Mary would’ve gone to investigate, and vice versa. Instead, the couple remained seated in their position, as if nothing happened. Why did they have two wounds? It would appear the hatchet wounds came after the bullet, because it is unlikely they would’ve simply sat there and allowed someone to hit them.
Why would Thomas choose such a protracted means of ending his own life? They found two new hatchets near his body and a large butcher knife. He would’ve had a gun, a hatchet, and a large butcher knife, but he chose the slowest means of suicide.
Also, no one knew or stated how Thomas amassed such a fatal arsenal with no question. Were his mental health in such question, friends or family should’ve seen him purchasing the items. There’s also the question as to how he could time it perfectly so he go back to his room, lock the door, and then pass out from blood loss.
Since Thomas died with his parents, their wealth went to charities. Nearly a million dollars was distributed. Their will went to probate in November 1932. Their property, valued at over $1 million, was not a motive, or was motive for someone who knew nothing of their will.
The Samuel Patterson house was a massive structure that was converted to a nursing home in 1953. It was demolished in November of 1961. A television station sits there now.