Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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May 25

The Mysterious Case of Josephine Sheley: Part 1

Posted on May 25, 2018 at 12:27 PM by Melissa Dalton

Newspaper articles are a great resource, and can lead to unusual stories. While trying to decide on a topic for the blog post this week, I ran across a newspaper article that was printed with the title, “Death from Supposed Poison.” If that doesn’t catch your attention, I’m not sure what will! Want to hear the story? I thought you would…

The story begins with Josephine (or Josephene) Timberlake and Clinton Sheley (also listed of Sheeley in various places), who were married in Greene County, Ohio in 1873 (Fig 1). Josephine and Clinton had six children, and had a nice plot of land to farm in Silvercreek Township, near Jamestown (Fig 2). The records indicate that they had roughly 50 acres to their name, which appears to have been part of Clinton’s family plot at one point, which he inherited upon the death of his parents (Fig 3).

Marriage Record of Josephene Timberlake and Clinton Sheley, dated June 21, 1873 (JPG)
Fig 1. Marriage Records of Josephene Timberlake and Clinton Sheley (Greene County Archives)

1880 Census listing the Sheley family (JPG)
1880 Census listing the Sheley family (JPG)
Fig 2. 1880 Census (

1896 Atlas with the Sheley property outlined in red (JPG)
Fig 3. 1896 Atlas of Greene County (Greene County Archives)

The family did well, but in 1884, Clinton Sheley died of lung fever (pneumonia). Upon his death, assets were sold to pay debts, but his wife and children were left with the land (Fig 4).

Letters of Administration for Estate of C.L. Sheeley (JPG)
Fig 4. Letters of Administration for Estate of Clinton Sheley (Greene County Archives)

Josephine continued farming the land, and newspaper articles claim she did well for the family, selling wheat and other farm goods; however, there is some indication that the family did have issues with finances as time went on. What is true, we do not know. What we do know, though, is that Clara, the second oldest child, went to work and live with the McLaughlin family in town (Jamestown), when she was roughly 16 or 17 years old. She performed various tasks, but mostly worked as a maid/housekeeper/cook.

One day, Clara was called to come home as the family had taken ill. Josephine, and all four children living at home, were horribly sick. The local physician was called, and upon examination, he determined they were poisoned by eating meat laced with rat poison. Within days of the supposed poisoning, Josephine Sheley succumb to her illness, leaving her children orphans.

There are so many questions… What happened to the Sheley family? Why were they poisoned? Who poisoned them? I read through the newspaper articles, and the written statements, but the events leading up to the poisoning are unclear and conflicting. This case takes many twists and turns, so stay tuned for the second part of this story next week!

Until Next Time…

Greene County Archives


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