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The Hanging of William Felix Henry

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser

 

EXECUTIONS IN MADISON COUNTY

 

On March 28, 1883, a double murder was perpetrated at Rocky Fork in Godfrey (north of Rt. 3, and west of Camp Warren Levis). Two young African-Americans, who were cousins, were gunned down in their home. Henry Depugh, son of Reverend Depugh, and Henry Ross were both shot in the head. On Tuesday evening, March 27, Henry Depugh had gone into Alton and purchased a pair of shoes. He left for home in a wagon at about six o’clock. Ross had been at the home of a neighbor, but left for home at an early hour, saying he expected DePugh from town. The next morning, Mr. Green’s young son, Joseph Green, went to the home to borrow some eggs. The door was locked, so he peered into the window. Horrified, he saw the body of Depugh lying on the floor, and ran to tell his father. An investigation followed, but the murderers were not discovered until February 1884. William Felix Henry, a 23-year-old colored man, left a breech-loading shotgun behind at R. H. Flagg’s store in Alton for security on purchasing some goods. The gun fit the description of one of the weapons taken from the Depugh home the night of the murder. Further investigation found a revolver, similar to the one possessed by DePugh, at A. S. Bennet’s second-hand store in Alton, left behind by William Felix Henry. William F. Henry was arrested and placed in the Alton jail. His uncle, Reverend Jacobs, visited him in the jail, and after a conversation, Henry was ready to confess.

William F. Henry had gone to the Depugh and Ross home on March 27, 1883, and slept part of the night with them. He rose, and in cool deliberation, shot Henry Depugh while he was cooking a meal for his guest. It was later determined by he shot Depugh because Depush had shot his dog years ago. After shooting Henry Depugh, the assassin put another load into his victim, and then finished him with a bullet from the revolver. Henry Ross, according to William F. Henry, slept through the murder. William F. Henry, started to leave, but feared that Ross would tell that he had been there, so he went back inside and killed him as he slept. He then set the house on fire, and left in the darkness of the night. After the confession, which was kept quiet in fear of a lynch mob, William F. Henry was taken to Edwardsville to the county jail. A trial was held, and he was sentenced to hang on January 16, 1885. However, William F. Henry soon retracted his confession, and implicated others in the crime. Because his stories kept changing, no one believed him. William Felix Henry was hung on the gallows until dead, on January 16, 1885. Deputy Sheriff Volbracht made a trip by stagecoach to Fork McKinney, Wyoming Territory, to arrest Reuben Morris, a U. S. Cavalry soldier who William F. Henry implicated in the crime. Morris surrendered, and was brought back to Edwardsville and jailed, along with Lemuel Welch, who was also implicated by Henry. After further investigation, it was revealed the men were innocent, and Reverend Henry Depugh, father of one of the murdered men, withdrew his charge against them and they were released.

                      Rocky Fork area, Godfrey, Illinois - 1906

HORROR AT ROCKY FORK
Brutal Double Murder by Midnight Assassins
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, March 29, 1883
A terrible double murder was perpetrated Tuesday night at Rocky Fork, north of Melville, the victims being young colored men named Henry DePugh and Henry Ross, who lived together in a small house near the Hawley place. The crime was not discovered until sometime yesterday, when a girl was sent to the house to borrow some eggs. She found the door locked, and looked into the window, when she saw DePugh lying dead on the floor. Horrified by the sight, she ran away and told what she had seen. A crowd of colored people soon gathered but were afraid to enter the house until the arrival of Messrs. Challacombe and Merriman, who proceeded to investigate the matter.

On entering the house, a horrible scene was disclosed: Ross was found lying in bed with his brains blown out and spattered all over the room, evidently done at close quarters. DePugh was found lying on his face in the kitchen. He also had his brains blown out, seemingly with a shotgun. As there were known to have been two double-barreled shotguns in the house, and as both were missing when the crime was discovered, they are supposed to have been the weapons used in the murder. An evident attempt had been made to burn the house, the lamps being emptied on the floor and the oil set on fire, but the villains were evidently in too great a hurry to give the fire a good start, and it went out after burning a hole in the floor. The house had been plundered of all its valuables. The victims were both young men, and had been living together for some months. One of them was a son of Elder DePugh. Great excitement prevails among the colored population over the crime, but no clue is yet discovered to the perpetrators. The Coroner was notified and went out to the scene this morning.

Further Particulars
Coroner Youree went to Rocky Fork last evening, empaneled a jury, with James Squire as foreman, and investigated the affair as fully as possible. The verdict was the deceased came to their death at the hand of some person or persons unknown. The whole affair is involved in mystery. DePugh was in town Tuesday evening, purchased a pair of shoes at Dow’s store, and left for home in a wagon about 6 o’clock, and was seen on the road by some resident of Godfrey an hour later. Ross was at the house of Mr. Green, a neighbor, the same evening, but left for home at an early hour, saying that he was expecting DePugh from town. The next morning Mr. Green’s little son went to DePugh’s house on an errand, and was the first to learn of the awful tragedy. He gave the alarm, and a horror-stricken crowd soon collected. Indications were that Ross was shot while asleep, as he was found lying on the bed, his face to the wall, a ghastly wound in the back of his head, the pillow being powder-scorched. DePugh was found lying on the floor near the stove in the kitchen, with the back part of his head blown away, the blood and brains scattered about the room, giving terrible evidence of the efficacy of the assassin’s work. It appeared as though the murderer had also used a blunt instrument on DePugh’s skull in order to extinguish the last spark of life. The pipe of the stove near which he was lying showed the effects of the shot being perforated in many places. After completing the work of death, the murderers scattered coal oil about the rooms, breaking a lamp in doing so, and set on fire the house, a one-story, five-roomed structure. They then left the place, closing and locking the door, taking away the key. The fire burned a short time, consuming part of a door and making a hole in the floor, after which it went out. The evident intention of the assassins was to destroy the building, and with it all traces of the crime.

NO CLUE TO ROCKY FORK MURDERERS
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, March 30, 1883
No clue has yet been discovered as to the identity of the perpetrators of the dastardly, double murder at Rocky Fork, Tuesday night. Some persons claim that DePugh had a considerable amount of money, and that the possession of this was the object of those who committed the crime. Other theories are also promulgated, but as yet, founded on no grounds but supposition. Reverend Henry DePugh, father of one of the murdered men, with his wife, arrived from Galesburg at the scene of the tragedy yesterday morning, having heard of the fate of their son. Mr. DePugh was overwhelmed by the horror of the scene and stated that he had suspicions of certain persons who were near at hand. The opinion of the community, where the murders were committed, has settled down to the conviction that spite-work or revenge, not robbery, was the motive of the tragedy, especially as a small amount of money was found in the pocket of one of the victims.

As soon as the bodies were discovered, a thorough search for traces of the murderers was commenced. The well and cistern were dragged, outhouses and straw stacks examined, in an effort to find the two missing guns, but to no effect. Keen eyes were quickly engaged in quest of the trail made by the assassins, and the tracks of two men were discovered, appearing as though they had run to the woods nearby, where all traces disappeared. One of the tracks was made by a man with the left boot run down, the heel being turned considerably. Deputy Sheriff Volbracht was investigation at the place yesterday but made no discovery to throw any additional light on the affair. Although it is probably that Ross did not know what hurt him, so instantaneously fatal was the shot that struck him, DePugh evidently made a stubborn resistance and battled for life to the last. The most plausible theory is that the deed was done early in the morning, that DePugh arose, leaving Ross asleep in bed and went out to the barn (he had changed his clothing, wearing a suit different from the one he had on Tuesday). When Ross was shot, DePugh heard the explosion and returned to the house. As he reached the kitchen, the concealed assassin fired on him – one shot putting out an eye. It appears as though DePugh and his murderers then engaged in a hand to hand struggle, for the head of the murdered man was crushed as with a blunt instrument. The utmost excitement in regard to the affair still prevails, and the opinion is freely expressed that the murderers, if discovered, would have a speedy reckoning. That they may be quickly identified is the wish of every good citizen. The funeral of the murdered victims took place at 2 o’clock today, with a large attendance. Rev. J. W. Eads of Alton officiating.

ROCKY FORK MURDERS
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, March 31, 1883
Justice Quarton today issued a search warrant at the instance of Rev. Henry DePugh, the object being to ascertain if any traces of the missing guns or other things calculated to throw light on the dark tragedy could be found. The paper was given to Deputy Sheriff Volbracht to serve, and he left for Rocky Fork just before noon, accompanied by Constables Boyd and Meissenheimer of Godfrey. After the officers left, news was received that three persons, who were suspected of being concerned in the massacre or of knowing something of the perpetrators, had left Rocky Fork in haste. It appears that the men suspected had recently had some trouble with one or both of the murdered men, hence the suspicion that attaches to them.

Reward Offered for the Rocky Fork Murderers
The citizens of Godfrey have raised $200 as a reward for the murderers of DePugh and Ross. They sent a letter by Hon. J. M. Pearson to the Governor, and it is expected he will offer $500 more, and it is also thought that the county will offer $250, making in all $950. Suspicions are still rife as to the persons and the cause, but nothing definite has been learned. The missing keys of the house, where the murdered men were found, were discovered yesterday morning hanging at one of the doors.

THE ROCKY FORK CASE
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, April 4, 1883
Coroner Youree, accompanied by Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, started for Rocky Fork this morning to hold another inquiry in the Rocky Fork murder case. Hon. J. H. Yager, States Attorney, who is resolved to probe the mysterious affair to the bottom, also went out to attend the inquest and examine the witnesses. It is hoped that this second inquiry will result in throwing new light upon this awful tragedy, and giving some clue to the guilty parties.

THE ROCKY FORK INVESTIGATION
No Clue to the Murderers
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, April 5, 1883
Coroner Youree went to Rocky Fork yesterday, according to previous arrangement, to make a more rigid investigation of the mystery attending the murder of Henry DePugh and Henry Ross, on the 28th of March. Dr. Youree was accompanied by States Attorney Yager, Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, G. F. McGinnis, Justice Melling of North Alton, and others. The original jury consisting of James Squire, H. M. Squire, Calvin Holiday, Jackson Hyndman, Monroe Mosey, James Martin were again called on, and Mr. G. F. Long acted as clerk. The examination commenced about 10:30 o’clock at DePugh’s house, the scene of the tragedy. All witnesses were excluded except the one testifying, and every story or rumor was sifted down, the greatest latitude being allowed.

The witnesses were Ed B. Merriman, B. H. Merriman, C. A. Merriman, Green Parker, Elizabeth Welch, Lemuel L. Welch, Lincoln Johnson, George Hyndman, Lincoln Mosey, Mrs. Fanny C. Maloney, Annie Kinney, Joseph Green, Reuben Jacobs. All the witnesses examined were residents of Rocky Fork and Godfrey, except Lincoln Johnson, who was a colored man from Perry County who had been in the neighborhood but a few days.

Edward B. Merriman, B. H. Merriman, and C. A. Merriman, the first witnesses
Testified that they knew the deceased, spoke well of their characters, and stated that they met DePugh on the Grafton Road about 7 o’clock the evening before the murder, going home from Alton.

Green Parker
Last saw Henry DePugh and Ross alive at the colored church at Rocky Fork, about two weeks ago. Understood that DePugh assisted William Baker in getting Miss Mosey. The couple eloped and were married. Heard the family were opposed to the match, but had made friends. The Mosey family are colored. Witness makes ties for his cousin Ferguson and brother-in-law, Blankinship. Lodge in shanty near the DePugh place with three others. Lucius Ferguson slept at Maloney’s. Heard of the murder about dusk Wednesday evening. Was at church the night of the murder; got home about 12 o’clock; was never in DePugh’s house before the murder. Robert Parker and John H. Ferguson also went to church. Lucius Ferguson said, yesterday, that one of the young Moseys looked very guilty, and that Miss Gotling’s name was mentioned in connection with DePugh and Ross.

Lemuel Welch Recalled
After being through with the examination, Lemuel Welch was recalled and informed by the Coroner that as many of his statements were contradicted by other persons, it gave the matter such a suspicious aspect that the officers had resolved to issue a search warrant and examine his premises. Welch seemed so willing, in fact anxious, that this should be done, that the matter was dropped. Mr. William Jackson, for whom Welch had been working, was met just after the examination, and in answer to a question by State’s Attorney Yager, said that Welch was at work at his house, south of Godfrey, at 7 o’clock a.m. Wednesday morning, March 28.

The jury finally decided to confirm their original verdict that deceased came to their death at the hands of unknown parties. The testimony of the remaining witnesses will be published tomorrow.

ROCKY FORK MURDER TESTIMONIALS CONTINUE
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, April 6, 1883
Owing to the crowded condition of our columns yesterday, we were obliged to lay over a large portion of the testimony given at the second inquest held Wednesday. The remainder will be found below:

Reuben Cannon, colored
Live on Spaulding’s place, knew deceased seven years. Saw DePugh Saturday and Ross Sunday, previous to the murder. Mrs. Maloney said last June that the “boys” had dropped a piece of bread in the road and poisoned her dog, and she would get even with them. She lives a mile down the hollow. Her husband, before Christmas, sued the boys for hunting on his place, and they were fined $2.50. Witness and DePugh, twelve days before the murder, were standing on the new bank corner in Alton, when DePugh said, “That’s the man who was going to go for my cousin (Ross), but I interfered and stopped him, and we are watching him.” Parker is the man he pointed out. Know nothing of the difficulty spoken of. The 15th February, while out with DePugh and Ross, they refused to cross the Maloney farm.

Wilson Parker, Godfrey
Make ties and chop wood. Have known DePugh and Ross about four years. Saw Ross about a month ago. Saw them together during the big sleet, hunting. Heard of the murder late Wednesday evening at our cabin. Mrs. Bartlett and my two brothers were together at that time. Sunday a week ago was at work making ties at Delhi. Green Parker was there; got back Monday at noon. Made ties all day Tuesday. Tuesday night were all in our cabin. Some of us went to church, one mile and a quarter off. Robert Parker and John Ferguson went to church Monday night. All slept in the cabin Tuesday night. Got home from church about 10 or 10:30 o’clock. Was not at Malony’s Tuesday night. Heard of no difficulty, had none with Ross. Haven’t been at Alton for four weeks. Had no trouble with Ross or Depugh, heard of none. Mrs. Perry sometimes came to our cabin, was accompanied once or twice during the winter by Miss Gatling. Wednesday morning, we were at home, left cabin at 7:30 or 8 o’clock. Bill Baker and Charlie Townsend came from town and said that the paper stated John Ferguson had done it, and that it was dangerous for anyone suspected to go through Buck Inn [North Alton]. Was at church Monday night instead of Thursday; witness dropped a 4-barrel pistol as he started out.

Elizabeth Welch, colored, Godfrey
Was acquainted with deceased several years. Never heard of their having enemies or any trouble. Heard of murder last Thursday morning at 8 o’clock, and told my husband. Had breakfast at 6 o’clock Wednesday. Heard of no trouble between my husband and the dead boys; my husband was at home Tuesday night. Henry Depugh waited on Miss Mosey.

Lemuel L. Welch, colored laborer
Knew the deceased 9 or 10 years; know Wilson Parker. Did not hear any threats. Heard of the murder from Mrs. Will Waggoner through my wife, Thursday morning. Did not work Monday or Tuesday, but did Wednesday. Got up early Wednesday morning to work at Mr. William Jackson’s. Five or six weeks ago, met Henry DePugh over at Mr. Mosey’s. He spoke of the trouble he had about a dog. That Wilson Parker had his dog for 3 weeks; that he had trouble to get the dog when Parker said he would “make it a d—d dear dog to him.” DePugh said that a drunken man once drew a navy pistol on Ross in the room in DePugh’s house. Don’t know his name; suppose the drunkenness was the sole cause. George Hyndman was present. DePugh said “he would not give the drunken man away.” (Deputy Sheriff Volbracht here stated that Welch told him that Wilson Parker at one time called and threatened Ross with a revolver, at another time wife a knife.) Monday before the murder, DePugh and Ross came with guns, double-barreled shotguns, where witness was at work at coal shute. Moore, Goble, and Isaac Kinney were present. Witness stated two colored men, Albert Williams and George Burke, never came near after the murder until sent for. Thought it looked suspicious. This Wednesday morning, Lincoln Johnson asked witness if he knew a one-armed man (George Burke). I offered to bring Johnson over to the inquest, but he refused to come, and acted suspiciously.

Lincoln Johnson of Perry County, Illinois
Came here last Thursday, stopped with Mr. Williams. Thought Uncle George Burke might be one of the murdered men; came up to see. Worked for a time in East St. Louis, and there heard of the murder.

George Myers Hyndman
Stayed with the murdered men frequently; had no conversation with DePugh about trouble with anybody. Maloney sued some of us for hunting on his place. DePugh went with Mr. Mosey’s daughter up to the time he was murdered. John Henry Ferguson once called at DePugh’s, was drunk, but did not draw a pistol and there was no trouble. Knew them for 13 years. Shellaberger took DePugh’s dog and kept it a week. DePugh showed me $20, but afterwards paid his taxes.

Coroner Youree here stated that a railway porter named Mosey told him that he saw DePugh with $60 at Alton, a short time before the murder.

Lincoln Mosey, colored, Godfrey fruit dealer
Knew DePugh and Ross for 4 or 5 years. Their reputation was good, never heard of any trouble. Our family was at Brighton at a celebration two years ago. Father heard that his daughter had eloped with William Baker. Father was opposed to Baker’s pretensions, but there was no particular feeling.

Mrs. Fanny C. Maloney
Have lived in this settlement [Rocky Fork] 7 or 8 years. Did not have DePugh and Ross prosecuted for hunting on my place, which belongs to Mr. Hawley. Lucius Ferguson boards with me, he got up about 7 o’clock a.m., the Wednesday the murder was discovered, having sat up with a sick child the previous night.

Annie Kinney, colored
Henry DePugh never stated that a drunken man drew a pistol on Ross, but said that a man who had been drinking called at his house; did not tell his name. Was quite intimate with DePugh, never heard of his having any difficulty with anyone.

Joseph Green, aged 14, colored
Last saw Henry DePugh alive when he started to Alton, Tuesday afternoon, dressed in his best. Wednesday morning mother sent me after some eggs; knocked on the door, then looked in and saw DePugh lying dead on the floor. Ran home, told mother; she ran over and stayed until others arrived, but did not look in the house. Ross was at our house Tuesday evening and told mother to send me over and get some eggs. DePugh and Ross never had any trouble with our folks. My sister told some of the neighbors of the murder.

Reuben Jacobs, colored
Was first told of the murder by Mr. Green’s little girl, and was then called by Mr. Green himself, and together we went to DePpugh’s house. Looked in at the window and saw Henry DePugh lying dead on the floor. It was between 12 noon and 1 o’clock. Mr. Holliday and I broke open the door. Never knew of any trouble except the suit for trespass for hunting. Have searched diligently in this matter, but have discovered nothing. The doors were fastened and windows, except one, nailed down. No strangers were seen in the neighborhood the days previous to the murder.

Samuel L. Welch, recalled, some of his statements having been contradicted by other witnesses. He made the additional statement that on Thursday he went to St. Louis to Dr. J. K. Allen, 20 S. 15th Street; came back on the train. Walked to Alton in going. Dr. Youree told this witness that as some of his statements had been contradicted, it was resolved to search his place with a warrant. As he professed perfect willingness, in fact seemed anxious for this to be done, the matter was dropped.

Mr. William Jackson was met just after the examination, and in answer to a question by State’s Attorney Yager, said that Welch came to his place to work at 7 o’clock the morning of the murder.

The jury then agreed to confirm the previous verdict that deceased came to their death through gunshot wounds inflicted by persons unknown. Thus, the murder is as great a mystery as ever, and we fear will ever remain so.

THE ROCKY FORK MYSTERY
Light at Last – Full Confession of the Murderer
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, February 5, 1884
For the last two months, Deputy Sheriff Volbracht has been on a trail that he thought would lead to the discovery of the criminal who had murdered Henry DePugh and Henry Ross at Rocky Fork, March 28, 1883. The first positive clue was the discovery that a double-barreled breech-loading shotgun had been left at the Bee Hive store in Alton as security for some goods purchased by a colored man named William Felix Henry, the gun exactly answering the description of one of the weapons taken from the DePugh house the night of the murder. The further discovery of a revolver similar to one possessed by DePugh, sold by Henry at Mr. A. S. Bennet’s second-hand store, precipitated matters, and led to the arrest of the suspected man.

He avowed his innocence, but told so many contradictory stories that he only tightened the web of circumstances that, inexorable as fate, was impelling him to the point when would be verified the saying that “murder will out.” Sunday evening, a colored minister of the gospel named Jacobs, an uncle of Henry, called on the prisoner in his lonely cell, and after a talk with him, announced that he was ready to make confession, which was done yesterday morning, about 9 o’clock, in the presence of States Attorney Yager, Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, and Mr. L. D. Yager, the latter recording the words as they fell from the lips of the self-confessed murderer. The tale was told as coolly and calmly, so state the witnesses, as though the criminal had been telling of shooting a squirrel.

The annals of crime can scarcely afford a parallel to this case, where a man, ostensibly a friend, went to the house occupied by two comrades, slept part of the night with them, then arose and after cool deliberation, shot the man who was engaged in hospitably trying to entertain him prior to his departure. After shooting his friend and watching him speechlessly reeling and writhing in agony, the assassin put another load into his victim, and this not proving sufficient, finished him with a bullet from the revolver. Strange to say, Ross, according to the confession, slept through the first act of this fearful tragedy in the lonely house on the hill, but the murderer, after going out of the place, fearing that the sleeping man would tell that he had been there, went back and dispatched him as he slept. Then firing the house, he departed into the gloom and darkness of the night. The fire he started, however, failed to burn, and the damning evidences of his horrible crime were not obliterated.

The DePugh house at Rocky Fork is situated on the brow of a hill, with a steep incline to the south, a deep valley in front, with wooded slopes on the hill beyond. The house is about 7 miles from Alton, in a northwest direction, reached by a winding road through the romantic valleys and ravines beyond North Alton. The house is a two-story frame, painted white. The front door, on the south, leads to what was used as a sitting room by the young men, DePugh and Ross, who had been the only occupants for some time prior to the tragedy. In the sitting room was a heating stove. Near it the fire, set by Henry, was started. A hole was burned through the floor, and the folding doors leading to the adjoining room on the north were also partially burned before the flames died out. A door led from the room first mentioned to another apartment on the east. Adjoining this, on the north, was the bedroom in which Ross was sleeping, beyond this the kitchen in which DePugh was killed, the floor, walls, and other surroundings giving deadly evidence of his struggles in the throes of desolation. The cooking stove, at which the unfortunate man was engaged in preparing a meal for his guest, contained a pan of biscuit, over which he was stooping when the first shot was fired. The stovepipe was perforated, and a handful of brains was lodged on the stove. All these things were noted by the first arrivals at the spot.

The murderer is a black man, 23 years old, about medium height, rather heavy set, with an unprepossessing countenance in which the animal seems largely to predominate over the moral and mental. Those who are acquainted with him say that most of his life was passed in Alton, and that he moved to Shipman something over a year ago, returning to Alton last September. He has a family consisting of a wife and one child.

The officers were afraid that an attempt would be made to lynch the prisoner, should the fact of his confession be known, hence the news was confined to a few persons.

Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, at an early hour, this morning left with his prisoner for Edwardsville, where he has been consigned to the county jail for safe keeping. This officer certainly deserves great credit for his energy and persistence in tracing up and arresting the author of one of the most horrible crimes on record. The confession of the prisoner reveals a nature utterly depraved. The history of great crimes could be searched through and through without finding anything more revolting than this inhuman butchery of two innocent men. The murderer had never been suspected of the crime, his presence at the house not having been known, and had the deed not been traced to him by his disposal of the gun and revolver, almost a year after the crime was committed, his guilt might never have been known.

The discovery of the murders was made about 1 o’clock, March 28, 1883, by a small boy named Green, the son of the nearest neighbor, who lived a quarter of a mile away. The boy was sent by his mother to the DePugh house to procure some eggs. He found the doors locked, and looking through a window, saw Henry DePugh lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the kitchen. The boy ran home greatly frightened, and reported that Henry DePugh had cut his throat. The alarm was spread through the neighborhood, and the people flocked to the place. A rear door was broken open by Calvin Holliday and Reuben Jacobs, and the full extent of the tragedy was soon discovered. Wesley Welch and a young man named Aker had been suspected of the crime and had preliminary examinations, and were acquitted, but no suspicion had attached to the real criminal until lately.

Confession of William Felix Henry
Alton, Illinois, February 4, 1884
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, February 5, 1884
When I was a small boy, I was working for 75 cents a day (I am 23 years old now). I paid my board, two dollars a week, and bought a dog for $8, and broke the dog, and always liked him. That was five or six years ago, and I was out hunting with Henry DePugh, and he shot the dog. I asked him to pay me for the dog, and he said he wouldn’t, and said he didn’t care if he did shoot the dog, and he would shoot another. It made me mad, and I said, “All right, I will always remember you for this.” That was my reason for shooting him. I did not see him in town the day before the murder. I left here at 5 o’clock the evening before, and went to John M. Pearson’s, and Carrie Ody gave me supper. Sam Berry rode with me to the Post Office at Godfrey, and went to DePugh’s. I heard a wagon in front of me near Strong’s, and I drove slow so as not to overtake it. DePugh was in the wagon, and I overtook him at home. He put up my horse and then we went in and sat down and talked until 8 or 9 o’clock (it was friendly). And I told him I wanted to leave at 12 that night. He said all right, and that he would get up and fix me something to eat. He got up at 12 and woke me, fixed me something to eat, and gave me a lantern, and I hitched up my horse. I came back in the house and sat in the sitting room. He was standing by the stove and reaching to get something when I shot him with the breech loader. He fell down towards the door and got up, reeled around, but didn’t speak, and then I shot him with his revolver, and he fell down in front of the sitting room door and was not dead. He sat up on the floor and reeled around and seemed dazed. Then I shot him a third time with the gun in the head. He died then. Ross slept during all this shooting, and I took the revolver and two guns and put them in the buggy. I thought that Ross would tell, so I went back in the house with the breech loader and held the muzzle near his head (about four feet off) and shot him while he was asleep and killed him. I stood there and thought that would not do, so I set the house on fire. It started to burn, and I went home. I did not meet anyone on the way going home. I was living at Shipman. I took $4.50 from Henry’s pocket of his good pants. I kept the breech loader and took both guns to Shipman, and when I came to Alton to see about my dog, about a month afterwards, I brought the muzzle loader, wrapped up with me. I hired a skiff and threw the muzzle loader in the river because it had Henry’s name on it in three places. I kept the revolver and sold it to Bennet. I gave the breech loader to Henry Flagg as security for a carpet. The story about buying the pistol is not so. No one helped me murder the boys. I am sorry I done it, and I feel easier now that I have told it.
Signed, William Felix Henry
Witnessed by:
J. H. Yager, States Attorney, L. D. Yager, and F. Volbracht.

ANOTHER STATEMENT FROM ROCKY FORK MURDERER
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, March 15, 1884
I did not throw the muzzle-loading gun I took from the DePugh house into the river as I stated in my confession. My brother-in-law, Henry Scott, living at Shipman, has the gun now. I had the gun altered by a gunsmith named Nelson, in Shipman, by having a maple stock with a pistol grip put on, with a piece of ouray metal put in the grip. I had front action locks put on. The gunsmith charged me $10. Saturday, September 22, my brother-in-law, Scott, stole the gun from the gunsmith in the night and took it away. On Monday following, I went to the gunsmith’s and he took out a warrant against me, but he did not find the gun at my house. Scott knew where I got the gun. He told me how I could get clear if I got into trouble – told me if anyone asked me where I got the gun to say I bought it from some unknown person. I had told him before all about my having killed Henry Depugh and Henry Ross. I sent word to Scott after my arrest that I had made a statement that I had thrown the gun into the river. I did this so he would not make away with it, and so I could get it if I got clear. If the gun is not at Scott’s home, he may have it at his barn. His wife has at times strapped the gun under her clothes to conceal it when people came to their house. Last Christmas, Scott and his brother went hunting. His brother hunted with this gun and he hunted with the gun belonging to his boss, Mr. Fred Merriwether. Find out from the brother, a boy 14 years old, named Riley, where it is. Signed by William Felix Henry.

In order to ascertain as to the truth or falsity of the above statement, Deputy Sheriff Volbracht made a trip yesterday to Shipman, and visited Scott’s house and made a search for the gun, but could not find it. Scott and his wife both denied having any knowledge of the story related by Henry.

ROCKY FORK MURDERER IN EDWARDSVILLE JAIL
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, July 25, 1884
There are now 11 prisoners in the county jail, though it is yet fully three months to the convening of the Circuit Court. The most notable is William Felix Henry, the murderer of Ross and DePugh at Rocky Fork. Though Henry has been confined nearly six months, he looks well physically. He is well satisfied with the board and treatment he receives at the hands of Jailer Berry. To the question whether he would plead guilty, he answered he could not yet tell. When further asked regarding the murder, he spoke as if entirely innocent, and apparently without feeling any anxiety as to what his fate will be.

ROCKY FORK MURDERER TO BE EXECUTED
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, January 15, 1885
Tomorrow is the day fixed for the execution of Felix W. Henry, in the jail yard at Edwardsville, at 11 o’clock a.m., at which time the sentence of the court will be carried into effect.

The principal circumstances connected with Henry’s crime have been so often published that the story is, doubtless, a familiar one to most of our readers. March 28, 1883, at one o’clock, a boy named Green went to what was known as the DePugh house, in a lonely neighborhood at Rocky Fork, about seven miles northwest of Alton, and after knocking in vain, looked through a kitchen window and discovered the dead body of Henry DePugh lying in a pool of blood on the floor. The frightened boy posted away and gave the alarm, and in a short time, a crowd assembled at the place. The doors were forced open, and not only was it found that DePugh had been killed, but his companion, Henry Ross, the two having occupied the house together, was found lying dead on a bed in an adjoining room. The room in which DePugh was found was bloody as a shambles, giving evidence that his death struggle had been protracted. It was found that the murderer, after accomplishing the death of the two men, had fired the house, but the flames after scorching the floor and one of the doors had gone out. This, too, in spite of the fact that coal oil had been liberally distributed about the place. Of course, great excitement prevailed, suspicion was rife, and two inquests were held by Coroner Youree, but no light was thrown on the dark tragedy. About the only things missing from the house were two guns and a revolver, articles that afterwards served to fix the crime on Felix Henry. Almost a year after the murder, early in February 1884, the revolver was found at A. S. Bennet’s second-hand store in Alton, and it was ascertained by Deputy Sheriff Volbracht that Henry had pawned the weapon. Soon afterwards, one of the guns was discovered by the Deputy Sheriff at Mr. R. H. Flagg’s store, where it had been left by Henry as security for money due for a carpet. On this evidence, the officer arrested Henry, and he shortly afterwards made a full confession to the effect that he alone did the deed. He told the story in detail to States Attorney Yager, Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, and Mr. L. D. Yager, and afterwards made substantially the same confession to other persons.

Henry was taken to Edwardsville jail immediately after the confession, it being feared that a mob would be organized for the purpose of lynching him.

The accused was formally arraigned before Judge Snyder at the March term, 1884, of the Circuit Court. Previous to this time, however, he had withdrawn his confession, claiming that it was extorted from him by threats and promises, and had in the meantime made several statements in reference to the tragedy, first asserting that the crime was committed by a Reuben Morris, who afterwards entered the United States Regular Army. Another story was to the effect that the murders were committed through revenge by George Hunter, Ed Mayo, Wesley Welsh, and Reuben Morris.

Henry’s Statement
“If I can get a new trial, I will get the woman that went with me to Shipman the night of the 27th of March, 1883, and also I will get the man who was with me when I bought the guns of Reuben Morris. I bought the guns and pistol on Saturday evening, April 7, 1883, and can prove it, and also the gun I took home with me. I can prove it all. Signed F. W. Henry

Another Statement
On November 27, 1884, Henry made the following additional statement:
“I avail myself this evening of the opportunity of telling the truth, and God in Heaven knows I am telling the truth. Reuben Morris told me that it was him and George Hunter, Ed Mayo, and also Wesley Welch, and if this is not so, he lied. And so far as the gun, he did sell it to me, and he also wrote a letter stating the same thing.” Henry gave Reuben Morris’ address as Fort Hays, Kansas.

Judge John G. Irwin, Attorney for the DefenseThe Defense
Colonel J. J. Brenholt was engaged to defend Henry at the preliminary examination, but after the confession he retired from the case and peremptorily refused to engage in it further. When the criminal was arraigned before Judge Snyder, he stated that he had no legal advisor and no means with which to engage one. Then, in accordance with the custom, the court appointed Colonel Brenholt and Judge John G. Irwin to appear for the defense. These gentlemen attempted to excuse themselves, but the judge was inexorable, and they felt compelled to undertake the thankless, unpopular task. To say that the defense was conducted in the most able and masterly manner, that, too, in the face of a strong adverse popular feeling, and without hope of pecuniary reward, is but stating what is known by all conversant with this remarkable case. It may be stated here that little credence is generally attached to Henry’s attempt to fasten the crime on the four persons named above.

Latest
Henry made a long confession last night to State’s Attorney McNulty, Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, and Rev. R. H. Manier, his spiritual advisor. He still asserts that the four men he has heretofore accused were the guilty ones, but modifies a previous statement so far as to admit that he was present, and says that he, Hunter, and Mayo stood on guard while Welsh and Morris killed the two men. The officers and the minister have no faith in the story.

LAST STATEMENT OF WILLIAM FELIX HENRY
Rocky Fork Murderer
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, January 17, 1885
William Felix Henry, in his last confession, stated that the parties implicated with him in the killing of Ross and DePugh were Reuben Morris, Lem Welch, George Hunter, and Ed Mayo. His story of the killing is as follows:

“When we got there, Lem Welsh and Morris went into the house, and Mayo went into the kitchen and out again, and he, Hunter, and myself took positions around the house. From our position we could see everything that was going on in the house. Morris and Welsh entered into conversation with DePugh and Ross; we could hear their voices but could not understand what was said. In about 20 minutes I saw Morris strike DePugh twice on the head with a loaded buggy whip, and knocked him senseless. Ross advanced to help DePugh, when Welsh struck him with a heavy walking stick on neck and side of face twice, and knocked him senseless. Both lay like dead. After a few minutes, they picked DePugh up and carried him into the kitchen, and Welsh held him in sitting position while Morris shot him in the head. Then Morris laid him on his back, with his head towards door leading into the sitting room. After Morris shot DePugh, Welsh and Morris went back into the sitting room and stripped Ross’ clothes like he was going to bed, then took him into the bedroom and put him in bed and covered him up as if he were asleep. Then Welsh shot him in the head, then they came out of the bedroom, and Mayo went in and asked them if they were ready to go. They said they were not ready yet. Morris then shot the stove pipe to make it seem there had been a fight, and smeared blood on the stove and on the wall near the window with their hands. After this, Mayo proposed to burn the house, and Welsh and Morris then kindled fire near the door in the sitting room by piling wood and pouring coal oil and setting it on fire. During this time, I was keeping watch out by the east window, and G. Hunter at the west window. Mayo then went out and told Hunter they were ready to go, and all came round to the east side of the house. I said we must go, for I have 45 miles to drive. Welsh brought a muzzle-loading gun and pistol, and Morris brought a little knife and some trinkets out of the house which belonged to DePugh. We got into the wagon and left the kitchen door open. Hunter got out, went back and locked it, and brought the key away. Afterwards he changed the key to fit his brother Henry’s door by knocking down the prong so it would fit the lock, and last I knew of it he had it in use. We then went to Godfrey and passed Welsh’s house, where he stopped. I got my horse and buggy and left Morris, Mayo and Hunter at Isaac’s, and I went on to Brighton. I got there about 11, then took in my buggy a woman known as Nina or Mary Brown, who wanted to go to Carlinville, and drove on to Shipman and got there between 12 and 1. When I got home, I got out of the buggy and took groceries in my house which I got in Alton, and told my wife, when she asked me where I was going, and I would be back at 6 or 7 in the morning. She only knew someone was out in the buggy, but did not known who. I then got in the buggy and drove on to Carlinville. Then returned to Shipman and reached there about 7 or half-past in the morning. I went in and made fire, and my wife got up and got breakfast. Then Albert Scott rode with me to livery stable, and gave the horse in charge of John Longmeier. From there we went to the post office. While there, the station agent called me and told me there was a package there for me. I went over and go it – it was the shotgun we got out of DePugh’s house. Then we went home and went hunting with the gun. The same morning I got the gun, I got the card out of the post office from Morris on which was written, “This gun is from me. Reuben Morris.”

THE HANGING
Source: Alton Telegraph, January 22, 1885
Felix W. Henry, the murderer of Henry DePugh and Henry Ross at Rocky Fork, in March 1883, paid the penalty of his crime on the gallows Saturday last [January 16, 1885], at 11 a.m. in the jail yard at Edwardsville. The condemned man spent his last night on earth with open eyes, showing no inclination to sleep. During the evening, he called for a French harp, on which he was a proficient performer. The instrument was given him, and he spent several hours entertaining the guards with various tunes played in a creditable manner. He seemed indifferent or apathetic regarding his approaching end. During the evening, he sat down and wrote a last letter to his wife, which was given to an officer to forward. At 11 o’clock, he partook of a lunch which was provided for him, and then resumed playing on his harp, interspersing the performance with songs, and related to the guards many anecdotes and stories. This the entire night was passed without sleep. At 8 o’clock in the morning, breakfast was brought him of which he partook with his usual appetite. After breakfast he made his toilet very carefully, and spent several minutes looking at himself in the mirror.

At 9:30 o’clock, Sheriff Holtz entered the jail and read the death warrant to the prisoner, who listened to the reading seemingly unmoved. Promptly at eleven o’clock, the Sheriff conducted the prisoner to the scaffold, which was erected in the center of the jail yard, which was enclosed with a high board fence. The gallows consisted of two main posts, eighteen feet high, joined on top by a crosspiece, in the center of which was fastened a ring, to which was attached the rope. Around this structure was a frame work which supported a floor, eight by eight feet, nine feet from the ground. In the center of the floor was the trap, hinged on one side and fastened on the other with a subtle trigger bolt, worked by a hand lever. In the center of the trap door was placed a box, on which the prisoner stood. The prisoner was placed in position, his hands and feet pinioned, the black cap drawn over his face, and the rope adjusted about his neck. Prayer was offered by Reverend R. H. Manier, the spiritual adviser of the prisoner. After the black cap was drawn over his face, the condemned man exclaimed, “Oh my God, forgive me!” He made no speech on the scaffold. When all was ready, the Sheriff sprung the lever, which let the trap fall, and the victim dropped as far as the rope would permit. Owing to the bad adjustment of the rope, his neck was not broken, and he died slowly of strangulation. At 11:42 he was pronounced dead by the physicians. His body was taken down and placed in a plain, neat coffin by the undertaker. About seventy-five persons were within the enclosure and witnessed the execution. Among the spectators was Reverend H. DePugh, father of one of the murderer’s victims. Among others present were the jury, guards, county officers, reporters, and others. A crowd of over two hundred, inspired by a morbid curiosity, surrounded the jail and stood there in the driving storm until the execution was over and the body of Henry was brought out.

After being viewed by the crowd, the body of the murderer was driven at the Poor Farm Cemetery for interment.

Henry made another confession yesterday to Rev. Mr. Manier and others, which will be given to the public tomorrow. It implicates four others, but is probably nothing more than he has heretofore confessed. His confessions, during the last few weeks, have been so many and so various that little confidence was placed in any of them, further than that many believe he had accomplices in the crime, but no doubt exists as to Henry’s own guilt.

Thus has the most brutal and revolting crime ever perpetrated in this county been expiated and the ends of justice satisfied under due process of law, but the misery and woe resulting to innocent parties from the crime can never be atoned for.

The principal circumstances connected with Henry’s crime have been so often published that the story is, doubtless, a familiar one to most of our readers. March 28, 1883, at one o’clock, a boy named Green went to what was known as the DePugh house, in a lonely neighborhood at Rocky Fork, about seven miles northwest of Alton, and after knocking in vain, looked through a kitchen window and discovered the dead body of Henry DePugh, lying in a pool of blood on the floor. The frightened boy posted away and gave the alarm, and in a short time, a crowd assembled at the place. The doors were forced open, and not only was it found that DePugh had been killed, but his companion, Henry Ross, the two having occupied the house together, was found lying dead on a bed in an adjoining room. The room in which DePugh was found was bloody as a shambles, giving evidence that his death struggle had been protracted. It was found that the murderer, after accomplishing the death of the two men, had fired the house, but the flames, after scorching the floor and one of the doors, had gone out. This too, in site of the fact that coal oil had been liberally distributed about the place. Of course, great excitement prevailed, suspicion was rife, and two inquests were held by Coroner Youree, but no light was thrown on the dark tragedy. About the only things missing from the house were two guns and a revolver, articles that afterwards served to fix the crime on Felix Henry. Almost a year after the murder, early in February 1884, the revolver was found at A. S. Bennet’s second-hand store in Alton, and it was ascertained by Deputy Sheriff Volbracht that Henry had pawned the weapon. Soon afterwards, one of the guns was discovered by the Deputy Sheriff at Mr. R. H. Flagg’s store, where it had been left by Henry as security for money due for a carpet. On this evidence, the officer arrested Henry, and he shortly afterwards made a full confession to the effect that he alone did the deed. He told the story in detail to State’s Attorney Yager, Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, and Mr. L. D. Yager, and afterwards made substantially the same confession to other persons.

Henry was taken to Edwardsville jail immediately after the confession, it being feared that a mob would be organized for the purpose of lynching him.

The accused was formally arraigned before Judge Snyder at the March term, 1884, of the circuit court. Previous to this time, however, he had withdrawn his confession, claiming that it was extorted from him by threats and promises, and had, in the meantime, made several statements in reference to the tragedy, first asserting that the crime was committed by a Reuben Morris, who afterwards entered the United States Regular Army. Another story was to the effect that the murders were committed through revenge by George Hunter, Ed Mayo, Wesley Welsh, and Reuben Morris.

ROCKY FORK MURDER
Lemuel Welsh and Reuben Morris Indicted
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, April 1, 1885
Lemuel Welsh of Godfrey, and Reuben Morris, a U. S. soldier with the army out West, both colored men, have been indicted by the Grand Jury for complicity in the killing of Henry Ross and Henry DePugh at Rocky Fork, March 23, 1883. The indictment was based on one of the many confessions of Felix Henry, who was executed at Edwardsville the 16th of January last, for the crime in question. Welsh was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Volbracht and taken to Edwardsville jail today. Welsh is also indicted for the murder of Williams, near Godfrey, some months since.

REUBEN MORRIS IN PRISON
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, October 22, 1885
Deputy Sheriff Volbracht arrived home this morning after a trip to Fort McKinney, Wyoming Territory, in quest of Reuben Morris, a U. S. Cavalry soldier, accused of complicity in the murder at Rocky Fork, of Henry DePugh and Henry Ross. The officer succeeded in getting his prisoner, and made a quick trip, 247 miles, and return, being made by stage. Morris was surrendered without any trouble by the U. S. officers when the proper papers were presented to them.

The entire trip was made in 9 days. The prisoner came peaceably, and was ironed [put in chains] only at night. He was turned over to Officer O’Leary this morning, by the Deputy Sheriff, at East St. Louis, and is, no doubt, safe in jail. Morris was suspected at the time the murder was discovered, but left soon afterwards and enlisted as a soldier. The principal evidence against him is that furnished by the words of Felix Henry, the self-confessed murderer, who expiated his offense on the gallows last January. Just 50 minutes before the death penalty was inflicted on Henry, he grasped the hand of Reverend Henry DePugh, father of one of the victims, and asked his forgiveness for what he had done to his family. When his petition was granted, Mr. DePugh earnestly inquired: “Felix, who murdered my boys?” Almost under the shadow of the scaffold came the solemn answer, “Reuben Morris and Lem Welch.” It will be remembered that Lem Welch has been in jail at Edwardsville some time, and Morris is now keeping him company. Felix Henry and the two men now awaiting trial were all arrested by Deputy Sheriff Volbracht, who has shown great determination and persistency in bringing the suspected men to trial. November 27, 1884, William Felix Henry made the following written statement about the murder to one of his attorneys, which has not heretofore been published: “If you get me a new trial, in the Supreme Court, I will get the woman that went with me to Shipman the night of the 27th of March, 1883; and also I will get the man who was with me when I bought the guns of Reuben Morris. I bought the guns and pistol on Saturday evening, April 7, 1883, and I can prove it.” Signed by William Felix Henry.

The night of March 27, 1883, spoken of above, was the time of the murder. It may be mentioned that many persons have but little faith in the “confessions” and statements of Felix Henry, unless they are supported by other evidence.

WELSH AND MORRIS RELEASED FROM JAIL
Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, November 18, 1885
Lemuel Welsh, accused of complicity in the Rocky Fork murder of DePugh and Ross, in March 1883, and of the murder of S. Williams at Godfrey, June 1884, was arraigned in the Circuit Court at Edwardsville yesterday on the charge of killing Ross and Williams, the evidence in the case of the last-named victim being first considered. Mrs. Williams, widow of the murdered man, testified that her husband was shot at 10 minutes before ten o’clock at night. Welsh’s niece testified that the accused was at his home at that hour, thus establishing an alibi. State’s Attorney McNulty then, at the instance of Reverend Henry DePugh, father of one of the Rocky Fork victims, withdrew the charge against both Welsh and Reuben Morris, in regard to the double murder, and they were discharged. C. H. Lynch appeared for the defense. Morris was around town today, clad in a U. S. Army uniform, including a light blue overcoat. His countenance does not, by any means, indicate the cold-blooded murderer he was charged with being.

 

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