Tuesday, October 26, 2021

52 Ancestors - SHOCK: At the Hands of Person Unknown

I have traced my family tree long enough that very little shocks me – not finding a horse thief who changed his name, not the numerous moonshiners and adulterers, not a distant cousin who stole his uncle’s money, not even a distant cousin who killed his grandmother.

However, there is one discovery that shocks me to this very day even though I found it 6 years ago: this death record.

Single and age 31, Irene Manspeaker gave birth to a baby boy in June 1939. Yet a day later, the baby was dead. The cause? “Violence at the hands of some person or persons unknown.” Manner of injury: contusion and strangulation.

The informant on the death certificate was R. E. Manspeaker, Irene’s father Raymond Ellis Manspeaker. Although the name of the baby’s father was entered as “Do not know,” it is not clear whether Irene did not know who the father was or simply had not informed her father.

Who would kill a day-old baby? 

Evidence – or the lack thereof – pointed to Irene herself. And why not? She was single. She was there. Means, motive and opportunity – three terms batted around freely in every detective show I’ve ever watched – Irene certainly had them all.

The case went to trial. Irene’s lawyer argued that while she may have had motive and opportunity, she did not have the means. She had just delivered the baby. She was too weak and frail.

The jury agreed. On November 15, 1939, Irene was acquitted.

from Bluefield Daily Telegraph 16 Nov 1939

(Irene was a niece of my maternal grandfather’s cousin Anna Davis Manspeaker's husband George Ernest Manspeaker.)


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.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. That is a tragic story all around. I hope she was able to find peace in her life later on. There are so many stories that were deeply buried back then. And how much did her father know? Good question. Violence usually points to a great deal of anger on the part of the murderer.

  2. You are right, very shocking discovery to see those words. It makes me wonder what else was going on in Irene's life. Someone knew what happened to the newborn.

  3. That would be a shock! My husband has an ancestor who was murdered and it still gives me chills to think about it.