Wednesday, February 26, 2020

52 Ancestors - DISASTER: The Real McCoy

Whenever death certificates are available online, I grab them for anyone in my database. Most are rather mundane noting causes of death like pneumonia, senility, heart attack. But when the cause of death includes the word “HOMICIDE,” I need to know more. I need to keep looking. That’s what family historians do.

Such is the case with poor ol’ Sarah Ellen Cash Oldaker (1866-1938), granddaughter of Melinda Jollett (sister of my 3Xgreat-grandfather) and Thomas Marsh. Gunshot wound to the lungs and heart! At home! My first thought was maybe her husband did it, but Benjamin Oldaker had left Sarah Ellen a widow 6 years earlier.
Clip of Sarah Ellen Cash Oldaker's death certificate 1938
from the death certificate of Sarah Ellen Cash Oldaker
The newspapers could not get enough of the murder story. And with good reason. Look at those headlines.
Charleston Daily Mail 4 Feb 1938

Charleston Daily Mail 5 Feb 1938
Charleston Daily Mail 6 Feb 1938
Beckley Raleigh Register 20 May 1938
The news surely shocked the citizens of Putnam County, West Virginia, in 1938.

The life of Sarah Ellen was cut short at the hands of her own grandson, Everett Lee “Bob” McCoy. There she was, doing that grandmotherly thing: fetching her grandson a glass of milk. And he shot her. In the back. Two of her grandchildren found her on the floor of the cellar.

So why did Bob do it?
from Harrisonburg Daily News Record 7 Feb 1938
For the money.
Quote from State Police Corporal Paul Vasser
from Kingsport Times 6 Feb 1938

Of course, Bob McCoy ran, but when he was caught, the police found only $18 on him. Like any good criminal, he denied doing the deed. Eventually, though, he confessed.
from Charleston Daily Mail 6 Feb 1938
The scene at the hearing was like something out of a movie. Three hundred people showed up prompting the magistrate to move the hearing to the mortuary. Then the crowd was disappointed that the hearing lasted only 3 minutes. However, the drama was not over. A plea of “guilty” allowed charges of complicity against his parents, brother, sister, and brother-in-law to be dropped. McCoy’s mother promptly fainted.

Bob McCoy was sentenced and sent to the county jail in Winfield where he was put on a suicide watch.
from Charleston Daily Mail 6 Feb 1938
from Charleston Gazette 21 May 1938
Even though McCoy had expressed remorse, he was not content to stay in jail. On a hot day he and 4 others made their escape. Two of the escapees were glad to be found – they were hungry and happy to return to jail. Not Bob McCoy. He kept running. Twelve hours later he was found hiding under some bushes.

From the county jail, Bob McCoy was transferred to Moundsville Penitentiary in Marshall County, West Virginia to serve a life sentence. In the 1940 census, he was listed among the roughly 1500 inmates there.

Bob McCoy caught a break in his disastrous life in 1953 when miraculously the angels of authority smiled on him and granted him parole.

But McCoy being Bob McCoy, he could not leave well enough alone.

He ran.

For two years, McCoy lived like a free man earning a living as a dishwasher at West Side Lunch in Charleston, West Virginia. He learned where the cash was kept. The temptation was too much.

On March 29, 1956, Bob McCoy broke into the restaurant through a greasy exhaust fan and took the money. He gave some to his younger brother John, some to a woman named Ruth Chittum, and some he hid for himself.
from Charleston Gazette 31 Mar 1956
A bean bag for a hiding place? Bob McCoy was nothing if not resourceful.

One person’s disaster is another’s opportunity to capitalize on it. Just days after the robbery, this ad appeared in the Charleston Gazette:
ad in the Charleston Gazette 2 Apr 1956
Bob McCoy made himself a career criminal, but he really wasn’t very good at it. He was caught in no time and charged. Ordinarily he would have gotten a sentence of 1-10 years for the robbery, but violating his parole made him ineligible for another. Therefore, he had to live out his life sentence for the murder of his grandmother.

He died in 1970 of a heart attack and is buried in his hometown of Buffalo, Putnam County, West Virginia. 
from Charleston Daily Mail
4 Feb 1938
Charleston Gazette
12 Dec 1970

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Oh my goodness, what a story!! Sad that after he got paroled he still felt the need to steal and then ended up back in prison for the rest of his life. How different it all could have been if he realized with his time in prison that he never wanted to go back there after he was miraculously paroled! Sad story for your family though!


  2. Crikey! I wonder why he felt compelled to do these things - especially when he wasn't very good at them.

  3. Such a sad person with repeats of crimes in which he was caught. He didn't seem to learn from his mistakes. I'm researching a murder on a branch of my tree, but the southern family apparently didn't want it listed as such, so no charges were brought that I can find.

  4. There are characters in every tree! Wonder what makes one man learn and grow and another stays rooted in his ways?

  5. Yikes, what a story! My husband has an ancestor who was killed in her home with a hatchet!

  6. Great story and great detective work to put it all together for us to enjoy.