When the fire had died, the neighbors and relatives who went through the smoking ruins of the cabin were met with a most gruesome sight: the charred bodies of Betty and Lydia and two of the children. Betty had apparently been decapitated. The investigation, led by detective A.C. Hufford of Bluefield, WV, aided by Robert Bailey, concluded that a local man, Howard Little from Bull Creek, WV– just a short distance north of Laurel Creek– had committed the murders and had acted alone.
Howard Little was believed to be the killer based upon the testimony of his wife Matilda, and some rather strong circumstantial evidence: namely, a lantern which belonged to the victims which was found on Little’s property. Little had recently suffered some injuries coincidentally and too near in time to the crime. He had also allegedly borrowed a pistol of the same caliber as that used to kill George Meadows, and had done so only a week or so before the murders. It was also discovered that he had planned on leaving the county shortly before he was captured. Finally, Little was in possession of a large sum of cash at the time of the fire.
Howard Little was taken into custody and transferred to the jailhouse in Lebanon for his own safety by a posse of specially-appointed police constables, as there had been rumors that he might be lynched.
The trial began on November 18, 1909, and concluded three days later. After testimony was heard from his wife and the evidence was presented, the jury came back with a guilty verdict. Howard Little was convicted of the murders on Laurel Creek and sentenced to death. He was electrocuted in Richmond on January 7, 1910.
In two letters purported to be written by Little after the crime, he makes no admission of guilt or protestation of innocence. “After he was arrested for the murder of the Justus family, Grandpa Howard always maintained his innocence,” says fuzzypanda68, “and even while he was tortured to get him to admit to the crime, he still claimed to be innocent. In the book that was written, it says they used Chinese torture techniques on him, like depriving him of water, and placing his head between two blocks and hanging a bucket of water over his head, letting it drip one drop at a time between his eyes.”
Muriel Oehme of Maryland, another Howard Little descendant, has also gone on record to say that Matilda was fed up with his womanizing, and that was her motive for testifying against him at the trial. Their estrangement may have been going on for nearly four years when the crime occurred.
Betty’s land was passed on to her children in common and they, in turn, sold their interest in it to Betty’s oldest son, Daniel, who purchased it for $150.00, just a little over a dollar an acre. Every one of the children of Elizabeth Justus signed this document by mark. The timber rights, however, still belonged to the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company.
From the Baker family side:
and from Little family side: