Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.
This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt focusing on trains and railroad tracks was at first discouraging. After all, I have already written numerous blogs about my family members who worked for the railroad as brakemen, engineers, conductors, machinists, car repairers, firemen, flagmen, and store clerks. I even wrote about several who died while working on the railroad, mostly by falling off a trestle or sustaining head injuries by stumbling over the tracks.
But just this week I stumbled into a NEW story. (Did you see what I just did there? Clever segue, eh?) It’s the short life of a second cousin twice removed named Emanuel Blakey Roach of Port Republic in Rockingham County, Virginia.
Emanuel married Lucy Ann Morris around 1914, and the two settled into the Port Republic neighborhood where he grew up. At least by 1917 he was employed by the Norfolk & Western Railroad. According to the 1920 census, he was a brakeman; in 1930 he was a railroad laborer.
Five years later, Emanuel was dead. His death certificate reports that he fell from a train about 2.5 miles from Charles Town (not to be confused with Charleston), West Virginia. The first report of his death appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on March 20, 1935.
Within a week, the story changed significantly.
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported on March 28, that a couple was arrested for questioning in the MURDER of Emanuel Roach. They were taken into custody while on a train in Front Royal, Virginia.
More was added to the story the next day. The couple were Richard and Lillie Bowers, alias Austin. Alias? Mrs. Bowers or Mrs. Austin, whoever, said that Emanuel’s death was due “indirectly to her presence in the camp car.” So did he fall accidently? Was he thrown from the car? What did her presence have to do with Emanuel’s death?
A reporter for the Daily News Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia, learned that the initial investigation could not determine whether Emanuel’s death was due to accident or murder. However, Lillie Bowers (or was it Austin?) said that he fell or maybe was pushed when he attempted to attack her. Foul play was not suspected until it was discovered that a watch and money were missing from Emanuel’s belongings.
Whether Emanuel actually “attacked” the woman or whether he was protecting his belongings, one must wonder what a nice couple was doing in a camp car in the first place. Were they robbing him or were they just taking advantage of the opportunity to grab a little cash from a man who had fallen off the train?
Reports in the Daily News Record suggest the Bowers-Austins were up to no good all along. It seems Richard Bowers had quite the rap sheet. He had served time in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Washington DC; Louisville, Kentucky; and Harrisonburg, Virginia. Most recently in 1934 he had escaped from Western State Hospital (a psychiatric hospital, earlier known as a lunatic asylum). According to Dr. Joseph Dejarnette, director of Western State, Richard Bowers “is incorrigible.”
An interesting side note to this story is that Dr. Dejarnette was director during the heyday of lobotomies and sterilization of the mentally ill. Maybe Bowers had a good reason to escape. Still, he looks rather guilty in the death of Emanuel Roach.
|Daily News Record 29 Mar 1935|
Stay on track for more old photos and stories aboard the Sepia Saturday train.
© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.