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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Mar 18

The Douthett Case: Greene County's Bizarre Double Murder - Part I

Posted on March 18, 2016 at 10:18 AM by Elise Kelly

Deathbed Confessional
Serving twelve years in the Ohio State Penitentiary for burglary, Charles Morris, suffered an injury to his arm while working. Facing the possibility of having his arm amputated and fearful that he would not survive the surgery, Charles Morris confessed that he murdered Jonathan and Eliza Douthett eight years prior.

In this week's post, learn about one of the strangest criminal cases that occurred in Greene County.
"Ohio Penitentiary - Cell" by Aelffin via Wikimedia Commons
                                      Cincinnati Enquirer, March 11, 1894
A Blazing Fire
1874 Greene County Atlas
In the early hours of April 16, 1886, Mrs. George Stark was startled when she heard bloodcurdling screams from her neighbor's house. While heading up Cincinnati Pike, on the outskirts of Xenia, Mr. Stark found the Douthett's house engulfed in flames.

Inside the house, on the first floor, laid Mr. and Mrs. Douthett motionless. Both bodies were severely burned and several of Mr. Douthett's limbs were missing.

According to the Coroner's Report, the elderly couple did not die in the fire but were murdered prior to the blaze. When examining Mrs. Douthett's skull, the coroner found and extracted twenty-five small pieces of rounded metal. In addition, both of the couple's heads were bludgeoned.
Contemporary depiction of Jack the Ripper 3 October 1888 Illustrated London News via Wikimedia Commons

With this discovery, the authorities became suspicious and zeroed in on Charles Morris. Morris was a young man who resided in the Douthett's attic.

Morris' Testimony
When the police interviewed Morris, he described what happened during those early morning hours. Morris was awakened by Mr. Douthett's shouting and ran towards the stairway door. When realizing the door was locked and hearing fire crackling, Morris climbed out the window. Supposedly Morris jumped onto a small limb of a pear tree and climbed down. This tree was a mere sapling and according to some... (See Below).

                                Cincinnati Enquirer, April 20, 1886

Instead of checking to see if the Douthetts were alright, Morris sought help. 

house fire
"House fire using gasoline" via Wikimedia Commons
 Bringing others back with him, Morris attempted to enter the smoldering house to save the couple. He later told authorities that he believed the fire was started from the basket of dry leaves that sat near the hearth. 

Morris recounted that Mrs. Douthett was in poor health and that Mr. Douthett most likely died trying to save his wife. Throughout Morris' testimony, he often contradicted his statements and acted in an odd manner.

The police suspected Morris and he was soon arrested and searched. Found on him were four silver dollars, three quarters, twenty dollars in gold and some bills. The same day Mr. Douthett died, he had earlier exchanged $5 in bills for four silver dollars and three quarters. (This does not add up $5, but this was the amount stated in a newspaper article).

Morris claimed that the gold piece was a Christmas gift from the Douthetts. Morris could not account for the additional money found on his person. In addition, he also insisted that he owned a horse and two calves on the Douthett farm.

On the contrary, several people who knew the couple stated that Morris did not own any livestock on the farm. Furthermore, they questioned why Morris did not immediately try to save the elderly couple. The City Engineer made surveys of the Douthett premises and took measurements to the three nearest houses. Let's take a look at his findings. (See Below).

engineer and premises1.jpg
                               Cincinnati Enquirer, April 20, 1886

Next week we will discuss the division of opinion during the trial and the verdict. We will also reveal an unusual ending to this saga.

Until Next Time!

This Week's Trivia Question: How long did the original Ohio State Penitentiary operate?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
What famous football coach was born in Clifton? - Answer: Woody Hayes


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