WV: The 1932 Murder of Mamie Thurman, The Appalachian Dahlia

They say her ghost walks the roads where her body was found, restless, waiting for justice. Was an innocent man convicted to cover up a heinous crime committed by an affluent member of the community? That is part of the mystery surrounding the case of what some call the Appalachian Dahlia.

This blog is a gathering of details on the 1932 murder of Mamie Thurman in Logan, West Virginia.

Reading about the trial – one cannot help but come away from the clippings feeling like the prosecution made Mamie out to be a whore with a “list of affairs”, a record that was given to the judge but never made a matter of record or public. She was having an affair (two years into it by the time of her murder) with the boss of the servant convicted of her murder. Her blood was found in the car of that man, a PROMINENT citizen of Logan. One does not have to study the ways of “race” from that period of time to realize how it might have been easy to grease some palms and sell a conviction.

Her husband Jack (16 years her senior and a local police officer) would go on to marry another woman less than one year after the murder. He was twenty-seven years older than that girl.

Her brother would come to Logan to investigate what happened and to buy a headstone for her grave. He would never find her grave and would later write an account of what he believed to have happened and how he felt Clarence was innocent.

I am no expert on the case but there seems to be a more nefarious undertone to the whole event.

According to Wiki:

Mamie Thurman (1900–1932) was an American woman whose slain body was found and recovered on 22 Mine Road near Holden, West Virginia on June 22, 1932. The site is about 7 miles from Logan, West Virginia.

Biography

Born Mamie Morrison, in Kentucky September 12, 1900 to George A. Morrison and an unknown mother (who died when Mamie was 3 years old). In 1924 Mamie and her husband, Jack Thurman moved from Bradfordsville, Kentucky to Logan County, West Virginia, where jack was hired as a patrolman with the local police department. Jack and Mamie rented a small two-room apartment over a garage, located in the backyard of the Harry and Louise Robertson’s home. Robertson worked for the National Bank of Logan, and served as treasurer of the Logan Public Library. Jack worked nights, and was under the impression his wife did not venture out after dark, this was not the case. Despite the 31 year old Mamie known as a good wife, a saintly woman, and a faithful church worker at Nighbert Memorial church, she also frequented the local clubs and speakeasies, where she was known for her popularity and friendly disposition. Mrs. Thurman was also allegedly having an ongoing relationship with Harry Robertson and more than a dozen other powerful men in the county.

Death and Trial

According to medical authorities at the time, Mamie Thurman’s death resulted from her throat being slashed from ear to ear, after which she was shot twice in the left side of the head. The body was found in a patch of blackberries by a local boy, who then called the authorities. Found alongside the body were one shoe, a diamond engagement ring, and a silver wedding band, which ruled out robbery as the motive for her death. The other shoe and her purse, which contained $9 in change, cigarettes, and a wristwatch, were found 30 feet away the next day. Morticians would later uncover bloody rags and a razor in the home of her landlord Harry Robertson (the same house co-defendant Charles Stephenson lived in as the Robertsons’ handyman). The manner and brutality of her murder was a shock to the citizens of the small, quiet towns in southern West Virginia. The arrest and eventual conviction of a handyman raised many questions in Logan, as the investigation involved several prominent citizens. The trial was standing room only, and many spectators brought their own chairs and basket lunches to court.

Conspiracy

Mamie Thurman’s death certificate filed at the courthouse states she was buried at Logan Memorial Park in McConnell, West Virginia. Other records show that her body was transported to Bradfordsville, Kentucky. It remains a mystery to this day just where Mamie Thurman was buried and if the man convicted in her death was actually her murderer.

Theatrical Production

In mid-2014, it was decided a play explaining the life and trial of Mamie was to be written. The writer, Joyce Robertson, who was able to read through all the court documents in the case, finished the play’s book in 2014. The play, Mamie, focuses on the last few months of Mamie’s life, especially centered around her time of death.

Auditions were held on March 26, 27, and 29, 2015 in Logan High School’s Little Theater. The original production ran from June 19 to July 3, 2015. It was written for a cast involving of more than 40 people; the showing was held at the Liz Spurlock Amphitheater in the historic Chief Logan State Park in Logan, West Virginia.

“Mamie” was produced by The Aracoma Story, Inc., again in the fall of 2019 in Logan, West Virginia, in the historic Coalfield Jamboree Theater. It received the Broadway World Regional Award for 2019 for the BEST ORIGINAL PLAY OR MUSICAL.

Newspaper Articles

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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
23 Jun 1932, Thu  •  Page 1
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
24 Jun 1932, Fri  •  Page 1
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
24 Jun 1932, Fri  •  Page 12
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
27 Jun 1932, Mon  •  Page 2
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
06 Jul 1932, Wed  •  Page 5
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Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield, West Virginia
29 Jul 1932, Fri  •  Page 1
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
04 Aug 1932, Thu  •  Page 4
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
08 Sep 1932, Thu  •  Page 3
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
13 Sep 1932, Tue  •  Page 13
Mamie Thurman 11 Oct 1932  Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield WV) -
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield, West Virginia
11 Oct 1932, Tue  •  Page 4
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Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield, West Virginia
12 Oct 1932, Wed  •  Page 2
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Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield, West Virginia
14 Oct 1932, Fri  •  Page 1
Mamie Thurman  Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield WV) -
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield, West Virginia
25 Oct 1932, Tue  •  Page 5
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
01 Apr 1933, Sat  •  Page 1
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The Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston, West Virginia
17 Dec 1933, Sun  •  Page 2

Mamie Thurman murder still surrounded by mystery

Mamie Thurman was murdered nearly 90 years ago in Logan. The mysterious circumstances surrounding her murder still captivates people today.

Though Clarence Stephenson, 38, an African-American handyman, was convicted of the crime, few people then or now believe he was actually the killer.

Many people surmised the murder involved more than one person, maybe some of Logan’s most powerful men of the day.

The story has spawned books, countless newspaper and magazine articles, and now a play.

The Aracoma Story Incorporated will present the two-act drama “Mamie” at the historic Coalfield Jamboree theater in Logan in October. The play was written by Oceana native Joyce Robertson, who also serves as the secretary of The Aracoma Story Board of Directors.

By all accounts, Mamie Thurman was a beautiful 32-year-old, who knew how to dress and how to attract the attention of the opposite sex.

She and her husband, Jack, who was 16 years older, had been living in a Logan apartment, owned by Harry and Louise Robertson, for eight years. The apartment was next to the Robertson house.

Jack Thurman was a night patrolman with the Logan City Police.

Harry Robertson, a Logan commissioner who worked at a local bank, had gotten Jack Thurman his job.

At the time of her death, Mamie and Harry had been having an affair for two years, according to court records.

Both were also reportedly members of Logan’s infamous “Key Club.” Members had a key that allowed them to enter the “club” for the purposes of drinking (this was during Prohibition), having illicit sex, and other activities, according to historians.

In addition to testifying about his affair with Mamie Thurman, Harry Robertson revealed in court that she had provided him with a list of 16 men with whom she was also having affairs. The names were never made public, according to historians.

Clarence Stephenson worked for the Robertson family and lived in their attic room. Among his various responsibilities was driving Mamie to rendezvous with Harry, often when he had told his wife he was fox hunting.

After 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 21, 1932, Mamie Thurman left her apartment with a woman who had delivered some laundry, according to witnesses. The two went to a store, where Mamie reportedly obtained money to pay the woman for doing the laundry.

Mamie was last seen about 9 p.m. on that Tuesday, walking near a theater in Logan.

Mamie Thurman’s mutilated body was found the following day, June 22, at about 2 p.m., according to court records. She had been dead about 12 hours.

The body was found on 22 Mountain Road on Trace Mountain. The road was named for Island Creek Coal Company’s No. 22 mine operation, which had been closed.

Garland Davis, a young man who could neither hear nor speak and lived in the area, made the gruesome discovery while picking blackberries.

Mamie had been shot twice with a .38 caliber pistol, both entering near her left ear and exiting the skull. Neither of the bullets were found. Powder burns also covered her face and were found near her left ear.

Her throat had been slashed, severing the trachea, the carotid artery, and the jugular vein, according to a 1932 article in The Charleston Daily Mail.

Her neck was also broken at the second cervical vertebra. She also had bruising above her right eye.

There was little blood remaining in her body, according to the article.

Death resulted instantly from the gunshot wounds before the throat was cut, according to court records. The newspaper article, however, initially reported death resulted from the throat being cut.

The dye from her blue polkadot dress had leached onto her underwear due to a heavy rain that hit area a few hours before the body was found.

Her hat, which matched the dress, was found about 50 feet from the body with a bullet hole in it.

Also found was her purse with a little over $8 and a pack of cigarettes in it along with one shoe. She was also still wearing two rings, according to the court records, ruling out robbery as a motive.

Both Harry Robertson and Clarence Stephenson were arrested June 22 after blood stains were found in Harry’s car and home. Stephenson, however, was the only one convicted.

In 1983, Mamie’s half-brother, George Morrison Jr., an assistant district attorney in New Mexico, returned to Logan to try to find out what happened to her and to purchase a headstone for her grave. He never found her grave.

He concluded in his own book, “Ghost Of 22 Mountain,” a fictional account of the story based on facts, that Clarence Stephenson was not guilty.

One of the scenarios, Morrison proposed in his book, was that Mamie may have had an illegal abortion that was botched. The bullets and other injuries were a ruse to cover up the procedure that had gone horribly wrong, based on Morrison’s conjecture. Morrison also proposed Stephenson may have tried to get rid of the body for the doctor.

Many historians also raise suspicions of her husband, Jack, who had to have had at least some knowledge of some of her activities with other men. He testified, however, he did not.

There are also those who believe it could have been one of the 16 men on the infamous list or maybe a jealous wife.

In any case, several people have claimed to see the ghost of Mamie Thurman, and heard her screams, in the area on 22 Mountain Road where her body was found. 

Other items of interest:

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