Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on the 1922 Clinton County murder trial of Thomas Oliver Vandevort.
PLEASE NOTE: This was scheduled to run in the News Journal’s print edition on Thursday — but it did not — and then on Friday — but again it did not run — due to repeated production department errors, for which we apologize.
Many more witnesses were called and it was soon found out that Vandervort had been drinking liquor and was also drunk when he shot Wallace. Murder weapons were presented as evidence, and things were not looking good for Thomas Vandervort. The trail would take days, and weeks, as evidence was presented.
Attorney Rogers was no slouch at cases like this, so the defense made its plea to the jury.
Rogers stated, “Ever since the tragedy, the defendant has been confined to his cell, and his opportunity has been handicapped.” He then said, “I want to impress on you, the jury, with the importance of your position. This indictment has been but one count, murder in the first degree, but the court will tell you that other crimes are also involved in the indictment. First-degree murder must be premeditated, deliberate, and malicious.”
Rogers then went on to explain second-degree murder and then proceeded to astound the court when he addressed the jury. Rogers stated to the jury, “The defense is ready to lay its cards on the table, face up. Our story dovetails in many incidents with the story of the state. Thomas Oliver Vandervort was a devoted father and he loved the child’s mother. His life was a sense of turmoil and woe from the hour in which she did not sue for divorce (this evidence was presented when court documents were spoken of, early on in the case, but there are missing first-hand account records of what was presented and how.)”
Rogers then went on to say that “Vandervort did not contest anything to the suit and was very agreeable to the terms. Thomas had loved this woman so much that he went and married her again after she wanted to, as well, but got divorced yet again, because of too much mother-in-law!”
Rogers continued in his final statement: “Testimony will show that, on the day of the tragedy, Vandervort bought furs on the corner of South Street and Sugartree Street. The day before, he had been at his wife’s home and arranged that their children go and live with Jeff Whitlow in Burtonville. About 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, his attention was called to the fact that his wife’s horse and buggy were in town. She saw Bosier at the post office.
Bosier was a married man, with children, and should not have been seen with a single lady, unless they were together, so were they together, and was Bosier cheating on his wife with Mrs. Whitlow?”
“Evidence will also show the following,” Rogers went on. “Vandervort met his former wife at the Hadley Grocery. He went into the store and gave her a $5 bill for groceries. She bought $3 worth and received $2 in change. Vandervort then met Wallace. They agreed to buy some liquor, the prisoner furnishing most of the money. The liquor was obtained and then it was divided what wasn’t drank at the Pennsylvania Railroad toilet.”
Rogers and Vandervort had drunk the majority of the liquor.
Rogers was in his prime, at this point, as he paced up and down the courtroom, hands aflare, according to records.
Rogers said t, “Vandervort then sold his furs he had brought to Harry Fent, of Sabina. Wallace was still drinking from a different bottle,” Rogers reminded the court. Vandervort had only one or two drinks and he was very drunk, as the liquor they had bought was rank poison.”
More facts were laid out, according to Wilmington News Journal accounts. Rogers’ final closing moment came when he said that Mrs. Whitlow had been induced with drugs, and didn’t know what she was saying when she accused Mr. Vandervort of being the shooter.
The jury was then dismissed to deliberate, as the defense rested. All anyone could do now was wait.
The jury deliberation time cannot be determined; however, a verdict of guilty was reached.
Judge Clevenger sentenced Vandervort to life in prison. He then stated that after a few years,” Vandervort would be eligible for parole. He was to be sent to the Ohio Penitentiary. Clevenger proceeded to order Clerk of Court Weltz to draw up the proper entries, and Vandervort was ordered to pay court costs, and he still had the funds available to pay.
The trial ended up costing the county $481.00, which is the equivalent to $7,816.20 today. This trial was a major event in Clinton County, and what made it even more monumental, was that the two first female jurors to hear and see a murder trial in Clinton County history, were on that jury.
Those two jurors, Mrs. Eleanor Hall, a member of the New Vienna Reporter, and Mrs. Frank Woodmansee made a strong statement that day. They are quoted to say, “We may be challenged by the council, but at least we have earned the title.”
The trial became so large that it was picked up by some of the biggest newspapers in the nation, including the Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the New York Times.
This trial truly encompassed all of Clinton County and our many neighboring villages, being the talk of the nation, including Sabina, Blanchester, Burtonville, Cuba, Martinsville, and more.
This trial was indeed a big one for a little county.
Jonathan McKay is a Clinton County native and a current member of Wilmington City Council.