Oliver Vermillion was a wealthy man in the 1820s. He lived in the Thompson’s Ford area of Nickelsville, Virginia. Vermillion was a livestock baron who’d originally came from Russell County, Virginia. Folks in the community assumed Vermillion, like most locals, carried his money on his person.
A neighbor stopped to visit Vermillion one day, but he was gone. He didn’t think much about it and went about his duties. It wasn’t long before a week had passed since anyone had spoken to him. Still, no one was particularly concerned because he routinely left without notice. He often traveled to cattle markets in surrounding regions.
Weeks became months, and then a year passed. The people who knew him puzzled over his disappearance. His cattle remained unattended unless neighbors helped, his house still contained his belongings, and no one ever saw him elsewhere.
Community members also remembered that a local shopkeeper had come into a great deal of money around the time Vermillion disappeared. The storeowner was already financially stable, but he suddenly had considerably more. He couldn’t provide a consistent reason for the abrupt windfall. Neighbors soon suspected he was behind Vermillion’s disappearance, but no one could prove their suspicions. There was no body, no signs of a struggle, and no real evidence to incriminate the suspicious character.
Vermillion’s memory grew distant as time marched on. Neighbors took over the management of his herds and property. His home was rented out, in case he returned. Eventually, his livestock and belongings were either sold or put away. He was forgotten as the years passed.
The Past Plagues the Present
A new family settled into Vermillion’s house in the 1850s. A few weeks later, the lady of the house was hanging clothes out to dry when she heard her chickens on the hillside. The hill sat next to the house, so the family often let them roam during the day. The birds were oddly loud around one particular spot. They didn’t exactly sound frightened, but they were uneasy.
The havoc didn’t diminish as she crept up the hill to investigate. She reached a cluster of brush and pulled the foliage aside to find a small cave. She started to enter, but halted when she noticed a human skeleton on the ground.
Neighbors eventually arrived with the authorities. It was confirmed that the bones belonged to Oliver Vermillion. The few who remembered him recognized the skeleton’s clothing. Most of the people in Nickelsville believed he was murdered, but no one knew what possible legal action they could take after so long.
Community leaders came together with police and thought of a possible solution. Many residents of Copper Creek still believed if a murderer touched their victim’s bones, the bones would bleed. They set about arranging an Ordeal of Blood.
To Touch a Skeleton
The sheriff issued a blanket summons to gather everyone who’d been at least 15 at the time of Vermillion’s disappearance. On the day of the event, far more spectators attended than those actually summoned. The bones were displayed and everyone who fit the criteria was compelled to touch them as an officer watched. The deputy then inspected the remains for blood.
Eventually, the community’s original suspect from almost 30 years earlier arrived. Everyone watched, spellbound, as he approached the table that held the remains. He was visibly shaken, much more so than anyone else in attendance. He held the bone a moment and dropped it, but the remains did not bleed. There was no way to convict him, despite his obvious guilt. He was the only attendee to have such a reaction, out of all who’d preceded him, and those after him.
It seemed he’d gotten away with murder, but his telling behavior garnered far more observers than he imagined. Vermillion’s bones did not bleed, but perhaps vengeance came in another form. Many people watched the suspect’s abnormally guilty display towards the remains. After that day, his usual customers stopped visiting and a short time later, he was forced to leave the area or face financial ruin.