The unsolved murder of Mamie Thurman

Posted by | June 22, 2015

On June 22, 1932, her lifeless body was found where it had been dumped on 22 Mountain, which was then called Trace Mountain. She had been savagely murdered: shot in the head twice, neck fractured, face disfigured and powder-burned, throat cut from ear to ear. Garland Davis, a young deaf-mute, stumbled upon the gruesome scene while picking blackberries. Little did he know that his discovery would lead to sensational headlines, and still have people wondering to this day who killed Mamie Thurman.

Mamie was a housewife in Logan, WV. She and her husband, Jack Thurman, had moved to Logan, from their hometown of Louisville, KY in 1924. Jack and Mamie rented a small two-room apartment over a garage, located in the backyard of the Harry and Louise Robertson home. Robertson worked for the National Bank of Logan, and served as treasurer of the Logan Public Library. His wife was the treasurer of the Logan Women’s Club, and both were said to be active church members.

Jack Thurman had worked as a Logan city patrolman for fifteen months prior to his wife’s death. He landed his job due to the efforts of Robertson, who was president of the city commission.

Mamie ThurmanSome folks said Mamie had been a good wife, a saintly woman, and a faithful church worker at Nighbert Memorial, a prestigious church near the train tracks at the intersection of Cole and White Street in downtown Logan. Others surely smirked as they murmured across the picket fence that this same lady was a married woman living fast and loose in a small town that could keep few secrets.

Mrs. Thurman allegedly had an ongoing relationship with Harry Robertson and more than a dozen other powerful men in the county.

At about 8:30 on the evening of June 22, Harry Robertson and his black handyman Clarence Stephenson were both arrested and taken to the Logan County jail for questioning. Stephenson had never been married and lived in the attic of the Robertson home. He did many odd-jobs for the Robertson family, but his main duty was to feed and care for Mr. Robertson’s dogs. Robertson was a prominent sportsman.

Robertson admitted to police that he had been having an intimate relationship with the deceased woman, and told how he arranged dates with Mrs. Thurman with the help of Stephenson. He would tell his wife he was going fox-hunting, and they would take their guns and drive off in Robertson’s Ford. Stephenson would drive him to one of the rendezvous points that Mrs. Thurman knew well.

On July 29 throngs of people started gathering around the Logan court house at six o’clock in the morning. Many Logan County prominent citizens, some who were associated with suspect Harry Robertson, served on the Grand Jury. Robertson said Mamie gave him a list of sixteen men with whom she had illicit affairs. He claimed the list was given to him about a year before the murder, when they both worked at the Guyan Valley Bank.

“One of the men is dead, all except three live in the city of Logan, and all are married but one,” he testified. The list of sixteen men who were said to have had sexual relations with Mamie was never made public. Many claimed some of these men were later named to the Grand Jury. Robertson said he continued seeing Mamie even though she refused to stop seeing the other men.

Robertson said the last time he saw Mamie was the day she was killed. He left his house shortly after that to take his children to a swimming pool at Stollings. Later that evening he said he went to the Smoke House to listen to a prize fight with his son, and was home about nine o’clock. His wife later confirmed his statement.

Magistrate Elba Hatfield told the Grand Jury that all the evidence was circumstantial, but claimed it very damaging against both defendants. For that reason he ruled that Robertson and Stephenson should be held to answer any indictments returned by the Grand Jury. The jury ended a four-day inquiry on September 15, and the following day the Logan Banner headlines cried out, “HARRY ROBERTSON NOT INDICTED.”

Clarence Stephenson was indicted by the Grand Jury, and stood trial for the murder of Mamie Thurman. According to the Banner, witnesses at the trial accounted for every minute of Clarence Stephenson’s time up until eleven o’clock on June 22, when Mrs. Robertson said he went up to his attic bedroom. However, the jury was only out for fifty-minutes before returning with a guilty verdict with the recommendation of mercy, which carried a life sentence. Stephenson’s attorney immediately entered a motion for a new trial.

On November 15, pleas from the Logan County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) went across the county to raise the six-hundred-dollars needed for the appeal. Fifty-six churches in Logan began taking donations. More than three thousand people attended a mass meeting held at Aracoma High School with both whites and blacks attending. Despite all the efforts, the Supreme Court turned down Stephenson’s appeal in 1933.

Stephenson was sent to Moundsville Prison on August 22, 1934. On June 11, 1939, he was transferred to Huttonsville Prison Farm where he died of stomachic carcinoma (stomach cancer) on April 24, 1942. He was buried on the prison farm May 2, 1942 almost ten years after the death of Mamie Thurman.

Norman Sloan, a Logan County resident who spent time in jail and prison with Stephenson, said “He told me he was hired to take the body to 22 Mountain, and that he didn’t do anything to Mamie Thurman. He never did say who killed her, but he said that he didn’t do it. Stephenson told me it was all politics.”




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