On the night of September 21st, 1909, Howard Little allegedly came to visit Elizabeth E. Baker Justus and her extended family in Laurel Creek, VA and asked if he could spend the night. The family knew him and quite naturally opened their home to him. By nine o’clock, all six family members were asleep. Then, using a pistol, a knife, and a hatchet (Betty kept the hatchet next to her bed for protection), Little is said to have dispatched the lot of them, set the cabin on fire and made good his escape.
Who was Howard Little and why would he commit such a heinous deed? Robert M. Baker, great-great-great grandson of Betty Baker, in his telling of this story, maintains that in July 1909 Betty Baker had been paid $1,300 ($1,650 according to her) by Little, an agent for the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company in Hurley, VA, for the sale of some timberland (or perhaps it was for the rights to the timber on her 150 acres on Laurel Creek), the implication being that the September visit was a bungled petty theft that ended as non-premeditated murder.
A woman identifying herself only as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org of Lahoma’ (Oklahoma?) counters this version: “I was told that Grandpa Howard ran moonshine for a living. He would run it through the mountains from Bull Creek, WV to Laurel Creek and Guesses Fork VA and back, carried by pack mules late at night to avoid the law. Late one night, he was jumped by some Justus boys, who allegedly beat him, stole his moonshine, and took what money he had on him. In retaliation, he went to their home…”
Betty had several hundred dollars in a metal milk pail hidden beneath the hearth in her house. She had a hundred dollars saved for each of her children. This was in addition to the money she had received from Howard Little, and it was not found by the killer or killers. If the sums are correct, Betty had almost $2,500.00 hidden in various places on her property. Detectives determined that some of the money from the sale of her timber rights had been taken during the commission of the crime, but not all of it was missing.
Down the holler about three hundred yards lived Baker relatives Sennit Justus and his wife Lilabelle—Lillie. On that September night Lillie claimed she heard two gunshots and then saw the orange glow of flames from the Baker house. She ran up the holler to the cabin and could see the bodies of Betty, daughter Lydia, and two of the boys lying on the floor in the flames.
Sam Justus, another Baker relative and neighbor, claimed that he was the first to arrive at the cabin as it burned. He saw that the youngest child, Lafayette, was still alive and tried to carry him away from the burning cabin, then ran to get help. The boy managed to fall or climb back down to the burning house where he too was consumed by the fire, the sixth and last victim. George Meadows, Lydia’s husband, was found shortly afterward outside near the fence where he had crawled after being shot twice.
to be continued…
From the Baker family side:
and from Little family side: