Harry Powers: Bluebeard of Quiet Dell

Clarksburg Exponent December 11, 1931

"Just What I Expected", Says Powers of First Degree Verdict


Jurors Study Evidence for Hour and 47 Minutes as Vast Crowd Waits.


Argue Motion for New Trial in Case Before Judge Southern on Saturday.

The shadow of the gallows today falls full across the pudgy figure of Harry F. Powers, as he sits in the county jail counting the days until he will mount the 13 steps to the trap that will drop him on the end of a rope, choking out his life as he choked life from his victims.

Convicted late yesterday of first degree murder of the New England nurse he lured from her home on the promises of marriage, choked to death to get her life savings, and then buried, with the bodies of four other victims, in a slimy drainage ditch outside his garage in Quiet Dell, the Bluebeard killer tomorrow will seek a new trial from Judge John C. Southern of Harrison county criminal court.

"It was just what I expected," Power told Andrew Moore, deputy sheriff and turnkey at the county jail, when he was locked in his cell a few minutes after he had calmly received the verdict of a jury of his peers.

New Trial Asked

Only the granting of a new trial by Judge Southern, Judge Birk S. Stathers of Harrison county circuit court, or the state supreme court of appeals, can save the matrimonial racketeer from expiating his crime with his life soon after the first of the New Year. The course of what promises to be successive appeals leading to the highest court of the state will begin tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock.

After his white-haired attorney, J. E. Law, had pleaded for "sympathy, justice, and mercy" for the first mass slayer this county has ever known, the state demanded nothing less than a verdict carrying with it the death penalty. The jury remained in its rooms an hour and 47 minutes deliberating the fate of the slayer, the delay being occasioned when some members of the jury considered for a time a recommendation of mercy.

Took Three Ballots

It was reported about the court house that after reaching their room for deliberation the jurors, after electing the foreman, took three ballots. On these three votes, there was said to be sentiment for life imprisonment, but this yielded and the death penalty was finally written after careful consideration of all the evidence, it was learned.

Tears streamed down the cheeks of Mr. Law as he urged the jury to apply the spirit of Jesus to the case, and he paced up and down during the seemingly interminable interval while the talesmen locked in a carefully guarded dressing room of Moore's Opera house, where the trial was held, pondered the fate of the Romeo who wooed by mail.

Powers Unmoved

Powers sat, his back to the crowded theater, almost immovable. At times it seemed he scarcely realized the enormity of his offense or the fact that 12 of his fellow citizens of this county were deciding whether his life should be terminated in the cause of justice 30 years before he reached his allotted "three score and ten".

Once Mr. Law borrowed a paper from the newspaper reporter in the front row and he and the mail order Lothario bent over it, seemingly intent on a perusal of the latest details of the case - then closed beyond recall.

Just as the crowd began to dwindle, there came a stir. Judge Southern came to the bench, and it was believed that court would be adjourned for the night.

Jury Raps Heard

Then came three loud raps from the door of the jury room. Powers looked up, his countenance tinged with a red flush, but his expression unchanged.

The jury walked in, none of its members looking at the man they had just convicted of the most serious crime in the statute books.

"Gentlemen, have you agreed upon a verdict?" slowly intoned Clerk Ben B. Jarvis.

"We have," replied Nathan Richards, Bridgeport farmer, from his seat in the rear row. He handed the folded paper to Mr. Jarvis.

His Hope Shattered

"Hearken to your verdict, gentlemen," said Jarvis, and he read:

"We, the jury, find the defendant, Harry F. Powers, alias Cornelius O. Pierson, guilty of first degree murder as charged in the within indictment."

Powers, his hands clutched on the desk before him, seemed to stop breathing as he waited to see if the words "and further find that he be confined in the penitentiary" were added. They were not. His fate was sealed.

Judge Southern, before the jury came in, expressly warned against a demonstration in the court room, and there was none. But seconds later, while the verdict was being read again and the number of the indictment, 10357, inserted, cheers could be heard from the crown outside the courtroom. If Powers heard the gleeful mob, who had been waiting for just such an announcement through four days, he gave no sign.

State police rushed to the stage and surrounded the prisoner, but there was not the slightest excitement. Mr. Law sat motionless, his fight lost against the connected chain of circumstantial evidence adduced by the state. Then he made a formal motion that a new trial be granted and Saturday morning at 10 o'clock was fixed as the time for the start of the argument.

Jokes About Auto

Again manacled and led with a chain, Powers was hustled out to a waiting car. The motor stalled and Powers made his first remark after hearing the verdict.

"You don't have a very good chauffeur today," he said to Sheriff Grimm. And the Bluebeard, whose bespectacled countenance has appeared in virtually every paper in the nation, went silently back to the cell, from which he will re-appear only to go through the ordeal of another trial, or to start on his last journey to the state penitentiary at Moundsville, from which he will never emerge alive.

Closing scenes of the trial, staged under the strangest circumstances that a man ever fought for his life at the bar of justice, were filled with the dramatics which the court and its officers have tried so persistently and successfully to avoid.

While Mr. Law, clutching the sides of a table, talked of the love of man for man, Powers stared at the painting of a church on the back drop on the stage. While he pleaded for the jurors to remain firm in their convictions, the thought of his possible plight overcame the slayer and he wept.

Defendant Tense

While Prosecuting Attorney Will E. Morris and his assistant, William G. Stathers, pounded vigorously on the desk of the court stenographer as they tolled off point after point in the state's well-nigh perfect case of circumstantial evidence, the audience sat tense, imagining every step of Mrs. Lemke's last journey from her Northboro, Mass., home to her execution room in the Quiet Dell murder garage. Even the "crowd noise" of shuffling, nervous feet, coughing, and sharp intakes of breath at a particularly brilliant point, abated as the rival counsel fought over the life of the man who had as many aliases as victims in his rude burying ground.

The defense attorney made no statement regarding his plans for the new trial motion, but it is believed that he will rely principally on the contention that Powers could not receive a fair trial because of prejudice against him. The record is full of exceptions to the ruling of the court on admission of evidence, and these will no doubt be brought up.

May Be Sentenced

If Judge Southern passes immediately on the motion Saturday morning, and does not take time to consider, he will then sentence Powers to be hanged. The law provides that the date of execution must be fixed not earlier than 30 days from the date of sentence.

Should the new trial be refused by the criminal court judge, an appeal will be taken to the circuit court, and if the defendant is still unsuccessful in gaining a reversal of the jury's verdict, it is understood that a stay of execution will be asked for the purpose of seeking a writ of error from the state supreme court.

The case was brought to a close with rapidity yesterday morning. Defense counsel recalled to the stand state witnesses who had attempted on rebuttal to shatter Powers' alibi that he was in Hagerstown on the night the state alleged Mrs. Lemke was slain. He succeeded in having written into the record that there was a rain storm that day when the witnesses said the night when Powers stopped along the Quiet Dell road with a woman in his car to fix a flat tire was clear and "moonshiny." Two state witnesses were recalled for brief examination and at 11 o'clock, Judge Southern began reading the instructions of the court to the jury.

Reconvenes Saturday

Five instructions were offered on behalf of the state and four for the defense, while three general instructions were given by the court. The six possible verdicts were outlined as follows:

First degree murder, death penalty.
First degree murder with recommendation of mercy, life imprisonment.
Second degree murder, 5 to 18 years imprisonment.
Voluntary manslaughter, 1 to 5 years imprisonment.
Involuntary manslaughter, jail sentence or fine or both.
Not guilty.

Argument started at 11:15 with Stathers talking until noon. Law began at 1:30 and quit at 2:45. Morris talked until 3:15 and the jury retired at 3:18. The jury reported at 5:05. Court was adjourned until Saturday morning at 10 o'clock, when it will convene in the federal building. The jury was excused for the term.

Crime and Punishment

West Virginia Archives and History