How can I learn more about a murder that occurred in my house?
October 28, 2008 10:43 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn more about a murder that occurred in my house?

I rent a house on the outskirts of a very small town in Jefferson County, West Virginia. I've heard that one of the previous occupants killed her abusive husband with a shotgun somewhere in the house. I believe this happened sometime in the 70s.

Out of morbid curiosity, I'd like to know more about the murder (particularly, which room it happened in). The town is far too small to have its own paper, but there are two papers in surrounding towns that would certainly have covered it.

The library at a nearby university has microfiche archives of the larger of the two papers (from 1932 to 1977, they say). However, I don't have any information to start with, other than the address of the property, and the fact that it probably happened in the 70s.

Given these very sketchy details, how can I find out more? Call the local police? Look up some kind of property records? Names and dates would help, obviously, but how can I find those?

(A curious side note that may or may not help: the house was originally located further back on the property, and at some point was actually moved [!] about a hundred yards closer to the road. I don't know whether this happened before or after the murder.)
posted by greenie2600 to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you could check with the District Attorney's office? Even if they dismissed the case, they would have records...
posted by jshelus at 10:51 AM on October 28, 2008

The county assessor should have property records that would reveal the owner history. The killer and killee could have been tenants, of course.

The most profitable course would probably be to talk to people. Ask your landlord. Ask the local library if there's a local historical society (as well as asking about the murder at the library's reference desk.) A lot of people out there must remember it.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:53 AM on October 28, 2008

Check your local public library's geneology room. They usually have something set up to help locals do research on their past. More than likely something would be there. Also, talk to old people. People that were there and alive for the time period that it would have happened. They more than likely know at least a few more details.
posted by deezil at 10:55 AM on October 28, 2008

Is the house wall-papered? If so, you might look into stripping it, if you're that curious. If not, take a slow walk around the house and look carefully at the walls, from chest-to-head height. A shotgun blast is going to pepper both the victim and the wall behind them with a generous spread of small pellets, unless the shot was point-blank to the victim. Its probable that the house would have been fixed up following the incident and the holes may have been putty-d over, so you might not be looking for numerous small holes so much as numerous tiny fixes to the wall in a given location.

Where did you hear this story from in the first place - a reliable source?
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:57 AM on October 28, 2008

But you know more than the address. You say "I've heard that" the killings happened. Heard that from whom? How did they know? Follow that chain backwards. It might end up with someone who knows what they are talking about; or, it might end up with a conclusion that the rumor was not true.
posted by profwhat at 11:01 AM on October 28, 2008

Best answer: (and its search engine, Google News Archive) is a great place to look up stuff like this, without the constraints of microfiche.
posted by johngoren at 11:08 AM on October 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Ask your neighbors.
posted by davcoo at 11:13 AM on October 28, 2008

It's been a long time since I've done research like this, but if none of the local papers is on Nexis (or Nexis doesn't have it back far enough), you should look it up in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. You'd have to go year by year in the print version, and I would look under a name, if you can get one, or just your street name. If the town really is super-small, you can also just look under the town name (but only under the assumption that it's not appearing every day in the papers that serve the surrounding area). It looks like there might be an online version of the Reader's Guide now, and maybe the library has access to it. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like it's a subscription service.)

Also, just ask a librarian to point you to a good starting point. Sorry if it's too obvious, but I always forget what an amazing resource librarians are.
posted by Airhen at 11:18 AM on October 28, 2008

Unless the newspaper's are especially well-archived, you're going to have to know date of the murder for them to be really useful. I would say oral interviews are your best bet. I've dug into stuff like this in the past and, while it feels awkwars to go up to neighbors and say "I'm looking into the murder that happened here," you'd be surprised how helpful people can be.

Once you hagve the date, you can look for the paper trail. Arrest records will be on file. If it was taken to court, those papers will be available. Autopsy reports are public. But it starts with knowing a date and a name.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:26 AM on October 28, 2008

For starters, check with your local registry of deeds to research the property. These are public records and anyone can walk in and search them. They might even have a search-able on-line database. From here you should be able to find out who owned it when and when the house changed hands. At some point in the 1970s it might go from "Estate of owner XYZ to New Owner." This might allow you to narrow it down to a year or two in the 1970s and a list of half a dozen names to go on. This would then make any newspaper or court searches easier.
posted by bondcliff at 11:33 AM on October 28, 2008

"A shotgun blast is going to pepper both the victim and the wall behind them with a generous spread of small pellets, unless the shot was point-blank to the victim."

Or they were loaded with slugs...
posted by Jahaza at 11:37 AM on October 28, 2008

If it happened in the 1970s, obviously you want to talk to neighbors at least 40 or 50 years old now. They ought to be able to tell whether it happened, what the people were like, and other interesting details. If they can't remember a date, try to get them to remember something associated with the event that you can then date. Do they remember what kind of car they drove -- if you get a guy who knows cars, he might be able to give you a model and year, and that puts an earliest date on it and tells you a little about the people. Did they have kids in the local school system -- if so, do you remember about what year the kids were in, maybe some likely classmates? Did they have friends that might still live around there? If you're lucky, you'll find someone who knew them, but then of course you'd better tread lightly. "Tell me all the gory details about when your best friend was shot to death by his wife" won't get you far. You might want to frame it as you wanting to write a micro-local history - a history of your own house, and if a murder turns up in the gossip, you've got what you were after, but you might also get a lot of other interesting stuff.

I might also head over to the local police just to see what they say. If it's a small enough town, they probably remember all the big local crimes, assuming the police from back then haven't retired. If what you heard is true, some poor officer may have had to drive out there to disarm and take in a distraught woman and start the cleanup procedures on a very messy body in your... bedroom or kitchen? I'm betting bedroom. That's where he kept the gun, and that's where she got him as he slept or when he came in for her.
posted by pracowity at 12:13 PM on October 28, 2008

I'm familiar with small-town southern Ohio, which I would guess is pretty similar to small-town West Virginia, and where, I've discovered, old ladies remember every detail about everything that ever happened in the last 50 years, from the trivial to the momentous.

So, find an old lady or two, and I'll guarantee they'll know all the detail. The best places to look are the local Seniors Center or in Wal*Mart. There's always lots of old ladies in Wal*Mart.
posted by essexjan at 12:59 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreed, you need to zero in on a year. Check with the local funeral home. They're often continuously owned by the same people going back decades, they may remember the incident.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:10 PM on October 28, 2008

Best answer: Any chance it was Lilly Pearl Nuckles fatally shooting Warran B. Nuckles on Feb. 5th, 1966 after he beat up their daughter?

Morning Herald, Hagerstown Maryland, Friday, May 6, 1966 Pg 9
"Defendant Shot Husband" by Robert M Kirby, Tri-State Editor

Charlestown, WV - Witnesses testified Thursday afternoon of fighting,
shooting and admittance of killing by the defendant in a voluntary manslaughter
trial being held in the Jefferson County Courthouse. Mrs Lilly Pearl Nuckles,
55, of Shenandoah Junction was indicted in April by a grand jury in the fatal
shooting of her husband, Warren B Nuckles, the night of Feb 5th. State's
attorney John Skinner told the jury the main question is whether the shooting was
in self-defense or justifiable homicide. Mrs Betty Yost, a neighbor,
testified that on the night in question, the defendant gave her a gun and said, "I
shot my husband." Mrs Yost said that Mrs Nuckles told her that Mr Nuckles beat
their daughter, Patricia. Ranson policeman Charles Bennett testified that
upon arrival at the scene, he saw Mrs Nuckles standing over her husband's body
which was lying face down. The policeman further said that Mrs Nuckles told him
on the night of the incident that she had warned her husband, "never lay a
hand on my daughter again." "I shot him" Mrs Nuckles said, according to
policeman Bennett. Defense attorney William H White Jr in addressing the jury said
that following the beating of the Nuckles daughter Patricia, he was about to
turn on his wife, when she produced the gun. A jury of 10 men and two women
are hearing the evidence before Judge Gray Silver Jr. Testimony from police
trooper Arthur is expected to resume Friday morning. He told the court
Thursday of finding a shell in a crevice of a couch in the Nuckles home believed to
have been fired from the same weapon which killed Warren Nuckles.
Morning Herald, Hagerstown MD, Tuesday May 8 1966 pg 2
Accused Wife Bonded
Charlestown, WV- Funeral Service will be held Thursday after noon at 2 for
Warren B Nuckles, 45 of Shenandoah Junction.He was allegedly shot to death
Saturday by his wife. State Police Sunday charged Mrs Lillie Pearl Nuckles, 55,
with the murder of her husband. According to investigators, Nuckles, a cab
driver in Washington DC was killed Saturday night in the Nuckles living room
by a gunshot wound in the chest allegedly fired at close range from a small
caliber pistol. Investigators said the shooting climaxed a family argument.
Nuckles was pronounced dead at the scene by Dr Mildred Williams, Jefferson
County coroner. Mrs Nuckles has been released from the Jefferson County jail on
$5000 bond. The murder case will be heard by the April term of the county grand
jury. Services will be held for Nuckles at the Melvin T Strider Colonial
Funeral Home here. Burial will be in the Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown.
Nuckles is survived by his widow; a daughter Patricia at home and a brother in
Washington. The shooting was investigated by Trooper G F Arthur and Constable M L

If that sounds close enough, call the county courthouse (304- 728-3231) and ask how you can locate and view trial transcripts. They'll probably also have some hints in case that's not what you want. You could also ask some older neighbors if they remember a Betty Yost living nearby.
posted by averyoldworld at 1:20 PM on October 28, 2008 [40 favorites]

Response by poster: Jesus Christ, averyoldworld, I think that might be it. You're fucking amazing.

Thank you!!
posted by greenie2600 at 1:36 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you find out whether or not she was convicted, could you post back? I'm avidly curious about the outcome of that case.
posted by batmonkey at 3:00 PM on October 28, 2008

Awesome work, averyoldworld. How did you do it?
posted by profwhat at 4:37 PM on October 28, 2008

...and just in time for Halloween!
posted by Class Goat at 4:39 PM on October 28, 2008

So it was Lilly Pearl Nuckles, with the shotgun, in the living room. Clue! (Or Cluedo, for those of you in the UK).
posted by tractorfeed at 4:51 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

She walked.

Morning Herald, May 9, 1966.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:07 PM on October 28, 2008 [11 favorites]

So averyoldworld, how did you find that?
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:36 PM on October 28, 2008

Happy to help! Although, I think I might seem less amazing when I tell you how - I googled: "shenandoah junction" "murder of her husband."

This was the fourth result, which is funny because now the search results are totally different. I also saw this one at some point for "shenandoah junction" murder "her husband," and that's funny, too, because google seems to be excerpting it differently.

Let us know if that happened in your house, when you find out.
posted by averyoldworld at 6:16 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The case avery mentioned is definitely it; I talked to the person who originally told me the story, and the details match up.

I found a bunch of articles on Great site! I had no idea it existed. Turns out she was acquitted. And it was a small-caliber pistol (presumably a .22?), not a shotgun.

It's unclear whether the "living room" means the room we use as the living room, or my bedroom. I suspect it may have been my bedroom (it's a first-floor room near the front of the house, which is larger than our current living room, and which features a [now-bricked-over] fireplace). But I kind of want it to be my bedroom, because that's way spookier.

I called the courthouse, and they were able to locate the record within seconds. I might make a trip there tomorrow to read the trial transcripts.
posted by greenie2600 at 6:29 PM on October 28, 2008

Looks like Lily lived for three more decades!

NUCKLES, Lily Pearl; 86; Shenandoah Junction WV; Hagerstown M-H (MD); 1997-10-28
posted by lukemeister at 6:39 PM on October 28, 2008

Wow. Just WOW!! Awesome PI work!!
posted by pearlybob at 6:45 PM on October 28, 2008

posted by finite at 7:00 PM on October 28, 2008

Averyoldworld: This is a paean to your skills.

I once considered myself to be a pro at research because of this feat: my theater company was endeavouring to get a photocopy of a play we found on microfilm in the New york Public library; the play had been a big hit in 1911, but had dropped out of site. No other copies of the play existed. The library said they could copy it, IF we got permission from the estate of the playwright. The playwright's fame had also dropped out of site.

I had only the playwright's name, his daughter's name, and the name of the play to go on. I was able to track down the playwright's last living relative after only a couple hours on Google and a couple phone calls, and I even obtained a phone number; the gentleman, who was the playwright's grandson turned out to be a retired history professor in Georgia, who, when I called to explain my quest, responded, " grandfather wrote plays?"

But after reading this, I have to admit: sir, your research kung-fu is the best.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

This thread paid off better than most recent Hollywood films.
posted by batmonkey at 1:56 AM on October 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love this site and this is why.
posted by micklaw at 5:01 AM on October 29, 2008

It's too bad Lily Pearl Nuckles is dead, because that's a great MetaFilter name.
posted by rokusan at 8:06 AM on October 29, 2008

Talk about names, from the Google Fu king, averyoldworld's, first link in this comment: " the names was transcribed as MEASLES. MEASLES is a new one for me: He is the son of John Thomas Nuckles and EthelBelle Finfrock, descending from the unconnected line of John Nuckles and Sarah Jane Turpin".

What a story and great detective work averyoldworld. Bravo!
posted by nickyskye at 10:08 AM on October 30, 2008

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