New book examines Ohio murder
Local author David Kimmel, a professor of English at Heidelberg University, has written his first book, “Outrage in Ohio: A Rural Murder, Lynching and Mystery.” He is to have a book signing 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at Paper and Ink, 98 S. Washington St.
“It officially came out Sept. 1,” Kimmel said in an interview this week.
For this debut work, the author has drawn on an event from his own family history. Records from Mercer County document the story of Mary Secaur, age 13, who was murdered in June 1872, on her way home from church. Multiple suspects included a traveling tin peddler, Alexander McLeod, and brothers Absalom and Jacob Kimmel.
Nearly 20 years ago, David Kimmel learned about the incident and started searching for more information. The defendants were given a hearing with three local judges; however, a thorough investigation had not been completed when a mob of townspeople broke into the jail and hauled off the accused to be hung for the crime. Although Jacob was spared from the noose, the other two men were lynched about a month after Mary’s death.
“I don’t know, in the end, whether they did it or not, but you have to work awfully hard to make the official case work. There’s lots of contradiction and problems with the testimony against them,” Kimmel said. “We know for a fact that they ‘held out inducements’ for people to testify.”
He found it curious that all but one suspect who spoke against McLeod were released. Kimmel also said the scant evidence presented could have been tampered with or even planted. Another point of interest was the mental capacity of Absalom Kimmel, who probably suffered from a developmental disability.
Additionally, the sheriff at the time was facing re-election and wanted to solve the case. Kimmel said he obtained some “indirect” information about the hearings from the prosecutor’s notes, but apparently, there were no official court records.
The residents of the area, fearing for their own safety, wanted to get the killer off the streets. As often happens in such cases, the “outsider” and a man “on the margins” of normal were assumed to be the likely offenders. If the sheriff wouldn’t act, the townspeople would take justice into their own hands.
“They follow a pretty predictable set of events … they’re in the jail, the sheriff has to resist — but not too much — the crowd breaks them out, deals some ‘rough justice,'” Kimmel said. “And no one (almost) is ever prosecuted for those murders.”
The author said he interviewed many descendants from the families associated with Mary’s murder. They shared stories their ancestors had passed down in oral history accounts. Many rural residents lacked enough schooling to write down their memories, and they had more pressing concerns to address, Kimmel pointed out.
Newspaper articles gave negative portrayals of the Kimmel family, whose homestead was across the road from the hanging site. Children were playing in the yard as the gruesome spectacle unfolded, the author said.
“The whole family was there watching and, at almost the last second, Jacob Kimmel was saved by Mary Secaur’s brother … he showed up and convinced the crowd to let Jacob be taken down from the wagon and await a regular trial,” David Kimmel said.
The brother of the deceased could not save Absalom Kimmel and McLeod. After they were hanged, Jacob was returned to the jail and held for questioning. When the circuit court judges arrived in November, they interrogated Jacob and released him. The judges also declined to prosecute anyone in the deaths of to other two defendants.
“You have to wonder. Would there have been the same result if they had waited and tried the other two?” Kimmel said.
After the investigation, the Kimmels sold their farm and moved several miles north in an effort to get a new start.
During his extensive research, Kimmel struggled to put the pieces together for the book. It includes historical narratives, personal narratives and Kimmel’s own comments on what he has uncovered. He said he has tried to be respectful of everyone involved.
“I make it very clear that I am a part of the family, and that my investigation is not wholly objective,” the writer said.
At times, there were gaps where the facts ran out but questions remained. Kimmel said he reflected on human relationships and the rustic lifestyle of that place and time to create fictional conversations to “flesh out” a scene.
Initially, the writer wanted to include more discussion of the writing process, but the publisher asked him to pare down the manuscript and focus mainly on the story. Kimmel said he has told the tale through the eyes of many different characters. Also, it does not always follow the actual sequence of events.
When the book came out, Kimmel gave some talks in Mercer County. He said many descendants of the families introduced themselves to him and showed much interest in the book. Kimmel recently did a reading at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, as well.
Now he is moving on to a new project with a Tiffin connection. In his travels, Kimmel has noticed signs at small communities that are “not really a town.” On an old map, he saw what had been a rural settlement off CR 19, south of Tiffin. In researching that location, he discovered another one in Seneca County, near McCutchenville.
For now, Kimmel is busy promoting “Outrage In Ohio.” The softcover book can be purchased at Paper and Ink, through the publisher (Indiana University Press) and from online book outlets. It also is available as an e-book.