May 3, 1905
The Murderer of the McKee’s Shot to Death in his Cell at Homer While Shrieking his Protestations of Innocence.
Denies Crime With His Dying Breath.
Special to The Times
Homer, La., April 26, 1905
A mob if seventy-five men early this morning broke into the Claiborne Parish jail, and locating Dick Craighead, the one-time convicted murderer of Mrs. Ike McKee and her son, fired about twenty shots at him as he cried piteously for mercy in his steel cell, and then left, believing that he was dead.
He is still alive at this hour, however, though unconscious and no hopes are entertained for his recovery.
Sheriff Kirkpatrick had no reason to anticipate an attack on the jail, and consequently it was left unguarded at night. When Craighead was brought here recently for his second trial, and the case deferred to the June term, the sheriff received assurances from some of the best citizens of the parish that the prisoner would be safe, as they felt there was not the slightest doubt of a second conviction. He maintained steady vigilance, however, and nothing turned up to indicate that any violence would be attempted, so the extra precautions were abandoned, and he was lulled into a sense of security.
This morning shortly before 2 o’clock, the town was aroused by ear piercing shrieks from the jail, followed almost immediately by a succession of shots. Then all was quiet, and when the officers appeared at the jail there was not a single member of the mob to be seen. They had accomplished what they came after, or thought they had, and left just as quietly as they had come.
Investigation showed that they had gone about their work with well laid plans. They met early in the night on the outskirts of the town, and cut every wire leading out of Homer. That would prevent the sheriff’s expected call for help, in case he should attempt to resist them. Then they tried to get into the jail through the door, but found it securely locked. They went to the north side and using crow bars and pick axes, which were taken from the railroad tool house, made a big enough hole to permit of the entrance of one man at a time. When they reached Craighead’s cell, on the upper floor, which was a steel affair, and impossible for them to open, they decided to kill him where he was. The prisoner was horror stricken at the appearance of the mob, and set up an ear-piercing yell, which was soon silenced by a volley of shots from rifles, revolvers and shotguns. One of the mob asked if he remembered the murder of Mrs. McKee and her son. He replied that he did, but swore that he was not guilty of it. He pleaded piteously for his life, but his pleas were futile.
The prisoner was alone in his cell, and sank to the floor apparently dead with the first shot. The mob then dispersed. There were about seventy-five men in the party and they wore no masks. Some stood guard outside while the others carried out their plans for vengeance inside the structure.
As soon as the sheriff became aware of the presence of the mob, he summoned his deputies, and the bugler of the Claiborne Guards sounded the call to assemble the company. Captain Mitchell was out of town. Then it was discovered that the mob had taken another precaution against surprise and interference, by making a raid on the armory and appropriating all the guns, which, however, had all been replaced, after they were through with their work.
When Sheriff Kirkpatrick went to Craighead’s cell he found him lying down apparently dead, but when assured that the mob had gone, be moved, disclosing the fact that he was still alive, and steps were immediately taken to staunch the flow of blood, and dress his wounds. Dr. Gibson was called in, and found that the man had been literally shot to pieces by buckshot revolver bullets and rifle bullets. He has a dozen wounds, and his left leg between the knee and the thigh, is practically hot away. His right leg has several sounds. Both thigh bones are shattered. A dangerous wound is in the back, just under the left shoulder blade, where two bullets lodged. One shot grazed his spine. There are two hole in his right arm. He bled very freely, but the prompt steps taken to bandage the wounds, staunched the flow, and today the hope was mildly expressed that he would live. He is in a very critical condition, however. He is suffering from nervous shock.
Sheriff Kirkpatrick sought to question the man, but will not give out the nature of the information which it is said was given by him. It is stated that Craighead recognized three of the men in the mob, and that another prisoner in the jail recognized another one. When asked for the names of these men, the sheriff refused to give them, nor would he admit that he had them.
There is some apprehension that the mob, realizing that it left its work uncompleted may attempt another assault on the jail, but they will not find it an easy matter to get in again. The local military company is now on guard, and the sheriff himself is in command.
A minister of the gospel has been with Craighead most of the day, and to him the accused man stoutly protests his innocence of the horrible crime.
It is reported here tonight that the mob intended to assault the jail last Friday night, and came within two miles of town, but the terrific storm which came up prevented many from joining the party and the attempt was postponed.
Many conjectures being made as to just why the mob should have acted, after the people of the parish had evidently been content to allow the law to take its course. One statement is to the effect that one of the main witnesses for the state, a man named Taylor, who proved the alibi for the negro, Petty, whom Craighead accused of the crime, and who testified at the first trial, would not come to the second trial, because he had learned that an attempt would be made to impeach his unsupported testimony. He is quoted as saying that he did not want to be mixed up further in the case, and would resent the efforts of the defense to impeach him. He is now in Union County, Ark. It is contended that the inability to prove the alibi for the negro at the second trial would have weakened the case of the state, and there was a possibility of failure to convict, though everybody in the parish was convinced of the quilt of the accused. The feeling of the people in the neighborhood of Athens, where the crime was committed has been very high and it is believed that most of the men in the mob came from the end of the parish.
In the latter part of October, Mrs. Ike McKee, and her six-year-old son were butchered to death in their home near Athens, while the father was absent in the field. Dick Craighead, who is a half-brother of Ike McKee, brought the three-year-old baby out in the field and told McKee, announcing that a negro, Will Petty, had committed the crime and escaped. Craighead’s clothes were bloody, and when the father reached the house, the surviving baby lisped that “Uncle Dick did it.” Craighead was arrested, and saved from a mob that night by the coolness and determination of Sheriff Kirkpatrick. He was taken to Shreveport where he remained until his first trial and conviction. Then he was taken back to Shreveport, until the Supreme Court decided the appeal, which resulted in a new trial on a technicality. The men who had not been sworn, were locked up over night with the members of the jury who had been sworn. The second trial was fixed for two weeks ago, and after a failure to get a change of venue, Craighead was locked uphere to wait trial at the June term. While being brought back here by Sheriff Kirkpatrick and a deputy, Craighead made a desperate attempt to escape, eluding the deputy as he was boarding the train at Gibsland.
He ran about a hundred yards, but fell down in a bog, and was recaptured. Craighead is 28 years of age, and while he comes of a prominent family, has a bad reputation in that portion of Claiborne Parish where he lived. He was a hard drinker and frequently created disturbances. He has a young wife and several children, the youngest having been born while he was in jail in Shreveport.
A later report from the jail tonight is that he will not live until morning. He is now unconscious, but up to the moment of losing consciousness, protested his innocence of the crime. “I am suffering, suffering a thousand deaths, and am as innocent as you,” he said to the doctor.
The sentiment of the people is practically the same as regards the guilt of the accused man, but the lynching is condemned unanimously.