Skip Navigation


Harry Powers
Clarksburg grocer and former vacuum salesman Harry Powers — also known as Cornelius Pierson, Joe Gildaw, or Herman Drenth — became the subject of a multiple murder investigation in Harrison County in late August 1931. Photograph courtesy of the Clarksburg-Harrison County Public Library.

Quiet Dell Murders

West Virginia’s Crime of the Century

By Stan Bumgardner

On August 27, 1931, lurid headlines shocked the town of Clarksburg and quickly took the nation by storm as a grisly story unfolded from the nearby community of Quiet Dell. Each extra of the local newspapers revealed more sordid, vivid details about Cornelius O. Pierson, a.k.a Joe Gildaw, a.k.a. Harry Powers. The nation soon knew him as the “Bluebeard of Quiet Dell.”

The saga began with a phone call from more than 500 miles away. On the evening of August 26, officials in Park Ridge, Illinois, contacted Clarksburg police about a widow and her three children who had been missing for more than two months. The mother, Asta Buick Eicher, had left behind 27 letters from Cornelius O. Pierson, postmarked from Clarksburg. City officials did not recognize the name and dispatched detective Carl Southern to the local post office. Southern discovered that a Cornelius Pierson had rented Box 277 and followed the lead to 111 Quincy Street in the city’s Broad Oaks suburb. It was the home of a local grocer and former vacuum salesman known locally as Harry Powers. Policemen waited outside the Quincy Street house for Powers to appear. When Powers returned home around noon on August 27, he was placed under arrest for manslaughter in the disappearance of Eicher and her children, despite the lack of solid evidence or the bodies of the missing people. In his pockets, curiously, were five letters addressed to five different women.

Additional information led police to a board and batten garage on a small farm Powers owned in Quiet Dell — located today just off the Nutter Fort exit of Interstate 79. With the help of neighbors, detectives broke into the garage and found dried bloodstains but no bodies.

On the morning of August 28, police escorted Powers to the garage and discovered bloodstained clothing and jewelry in a basement beneath the garage, concealed by a trapdoor. Powers admitted the scene looked suspicious but offered no explanation. In addition to the personal effects, police also noticed a noose tied to a rafter above the trapdoor.

Following up on a tip from a local 15 year old boy, police uncovered a drainage ditch beside the garage. On the afternoon of August 28, while excavating the ditch, investigators found what they were looking for — the badly decomposed bodies of Eicher and her three children: Greta, 14; Harry, 12; and Anabel, 9. The victims’ hands had been bound with rope that matched the noose in the garage. Two days later, the police also found the body of Dorothy Lemke, a 50 year old widow from Northboro, Massachusetts.

About 4:25 that night, in the early morning hours of August 29 — following lengthy questioning by police from Clarksburg and Park Ridge — Powers confessed to the murders.


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