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The Murder of Snowden Crane

By Charles Cohenour

It was Wednesday evening, November 23, 1927, the day before Thanksgiving. On Laurel Creek Mountain, in a rural area of Greenbrier County now known as Orient Hill, families gathered, eagerly anticipating the upcoming feast. Among them, the 69-year-old recluse Snowden Crane shuffled homeward, carrying a sack on his back, until he was out of sight. The contents of the sack, much like the man and his life, were never fully known and remain a mystery to this day. No one could have imagined that this would be the last time Snowden would be seen alive or that his death would bring their small, sleepy community into the limelight.

Snowden L. Crane was born in a one-room log home on the western summit of Laurel Creek Mountain on November 15, 1858, the fourth child of Benjamin and Hanna McClung Crane. The family home was built by Snowden’s father in the mid-1800's on land he inherited from his father Joseph. Information concerning Snowden’s formative years is scarce, but records establish that he could read and write. When Benjamin Crane passed away, his land was divided between Snowden and his elder brother Cyrus. The east side of Laurel Creek Mountain went to Snowden, the west side to Cyrus.

“I can remember seeing him. He was a good-sized man. He wore old arctics [buckled boots] and an old brownish-looking outfit. He always walked everywhere, and he always carried a walking stick. He had a beard and long hair, which was kinda salt-and-pepper. He was very shy,” remembers 97-year-old Prudence Piercy.

Snowden Crane
Snowden Crane as a dapper young man, date unknown. He was born in 1858 on Laurel Creek Mountain in Greenbrier County. In later years, he became a recluse, dressed in disheveled clothing, and was thought to have kept large sums of money buried around his property. He was the victim of a murder on November 23, 1927.

Lackie Crane Banton remembers, “Snowden would collect his chicken eggs in a straw basket and go over to Leslie [a small community near Orient Hill] to sell them.”

Snowden lived alone and kept to himself, staying in the same general area as members of his immediate family, including his sister Melledella, his brother Cyrus, and several nieces and nephews. While it was said that he had few friends and rarely talked to anyone other than his family, that was not the case. Snowden was well known in the western end of Greenbrier County. He was deemed an honest and industrious citizen and was respected by those who knew him. An astute businessman, he kept records of his transactions and required collateral on loans to friends and family alike.

Snowden owned more than 300 acres. A large proportion of it was in timber, a valuable commodity at the time. His land also held a large reserve of coal. Over the years, Snowden was said to have turned down many offers to buy or lease his land. At the time, Snowden was considered to be wealthy. The probate records at the Greenbrier County Circuit Court show that his total estate was appraised at $28,418 — a sizable sum for that era. It was estimated that of this amount, $27,000 was actually the value of the land.

Rumors circulated that Snowden did not believe in banks and that he kept large amounts of money buried on his property.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.