In this farmhouse near Lebanon, Ohio, the hatchet man left the dead
and dying, and the bloody imprint of a thumbless hand on the window sill
THE ROOSA MASSACRE
Practically every county has a startling multiple murder that has taken
place in bygone years and the story with all it's gory details, has been
handed down from one generation to another. In reading the newspaper
stories of which mass murders, one becomes very aware of the change in
journalistic writing in the last 100 yrs. We find such expressions
as "brave little Nettie (Jeanette) alone in the house with five silent
forms" or the "white snow in the lane was crimson-streaked" or "she lapsed
into eternal sleep". The accounts were written to play upon the reader's
emotions and in that way were very successful.
The Warren County murder that still can claim to be the most gruesome
occured December 26, 1864, on the John Roosa
farm one mile north of Deerfield (South Lebanon) about midnight of
that day. It was according to newspaper accounts,
"the most horrible in the annals of crime." One adult, the Roosa's
"hired man", Jesse Couzens and three Roosa children,
Alice 13, Francis 11 and little Harry, lying by his mother's side,
were all killed by one man with a dull axe which belonged
to the house. Mrs. Roosa was bludgeoned into unconsciousness
by the same dull axe, but by a miracle recovered.
The father, John Roosa, was a patient in the "Lunatic Asylum" at Dayton
where he had gone voluntarily because of regular
monthly attacks of lunacy or in our more modern vernacular, severe
Mr. Roosa was a township treasurer and most of the time was capable
of taking care of the business. Just before the time of the murder,
Mr. Roosa had written a letter instructing her to sell their barley crop
of 800 bushels and to keep the money at the house for the purpose of paying
orders on the township treasury. Unfortunately, the letter was read
aloud in a store in Deerfield (South Lebanon) in the presence of a number
of persons. This publicity was, of course, the cause behind the robbery
and murders. However, only about $20.00 was found in the house.
Excitement ran high and Mr. Roosa was accused until it was proved that
he had not left the institution. Several others were arrested, proved
their innocence and were released. Finally a former Deerfield resident
named Samuel Coovert presented himself to the Proscecuting Attorney with
the story that a saloon keeper from Cincinnati named David Hicks had confessed
the massacre to him. He enlarged upon the story to such an extent
that suspicions were aroused. Hicks was able to prove that he was
not involved and subsequently Coovet was tried and found guilty of perjury
and sent to the penitentiary for five years.
Investigations of his stories and activities pointed to the fact that
he himself was guilty of the murders. He was removed from the penitentiary
and brought to Lebanon to stand traial. All of these investigations
had consumed two years so it was not until March 1, 1866 that Samuel Coovert's
trail began with George Smith as judge and George Sage from the office
of the proscecuting attorney. Mrs. Roosa during the two year interval
had recovered although she was badly scared on the face and neck.
She was able to testify at the trial and her most vital statement was to
effect that the murderer had held the axe in his left hand. Sam Coovert
was found to be lefthanded. In identifying him, Mrs. Roosa said,
"He looks like the man, his eyes look to me like the mans's, they have
the same staring look, I noticed it every time I look at him." Little
Jeanette, who by the time of the trial was nine, also said that Sam Coovert
"looked like" the man but since she was hiding under the bed she could
not say for sure. The trial lasted several days and a guilty of first degree
murder verdict was returned. However, it was learned that one
juror had expressed the opinion before the trial that Coovert was guilty.
Another trial was ordered, the same verdict was reached and Samuel Coovert
was sentenced to die.
The scaffold for the execution of Sam Coovert was built in the yard
behind the jail in Lebanon for the execution had been ordered to take place
in Warren County. A large crowd gathered on August 24, 1866 and promptly
at "12 o'clock the doomed man was taken to the scaffold. He seemed
very weak but quite calm. Standing on the trap door soon to fall
beneath him." he again stated his innocence in a "steady voice".
The minister offered a prayer for, " the soul that was about to be hurried
into eternity, prepared or unprepared"...."Goodbye, Sam, I will meet you
at the judgement seat and then all hearts will be known."
The black cap was drawn over his face and the hook above was fastened
to cord on the cap, he said, " An innocent man gentlemen, I am."
"God bless you, Sam Coovert, good bye," said the Sheriff.
"Good bye," responded Coovert.
Then the lever was moved and the door fell and Samuel Coovert
was sent into eternity.
Samuel Coovert is the only man to be executed in Warren County.
This in it's briefest form is the melodramatic story of the famous
Roosa Massacre. If Samuel Coovert were innocent as he insisted, a
dear price had been exacted from him. In all of the intervening years
no new evidence has come to light that would help to prove his innocence.
The story has been told and retold until it is almost a Warren County
folk-tale. Unfortunately, it is true!
FOUR AS THEY SLEEP
Columbus Star-True Detective story
Officers rushed to the penitentiary and found
that Coovert was abidexterous, formerly right handed, he had developed,
use of his left after his right thumb was shot off in the Civil War, Coovert
had been mustered ot of the Army just fourth months before the murders.
Now the authorities had as a suspect a man who
could use his left hand as well as his right and Drs. Scoville and Drake
had told them that most of the fatal blows were struck with the left hand.
Also, Cooverts right thumb was gone, and there was a bloody print of a
thumbless right hand on the Roosa window sill!
Mrs. McNeal, Coovert's sister, insisted that
Coovert had slept at her home the night of the murders. There were
no witnesses to say they saw Coovert at Middletown after 9 o'clock
that night of the murders nor was it proved he went toward the scene of
A man was seen on horseback on the road leadig
from Middletown to Lebanon at 10 o'clock the night of the crime, and between
2 and 5 am a mounted man, supposed to be the murderer passed throught he
toll gate near Monroe, going to Middletown. This man was not identified
Several persons related that a horse kept in
a stable not far from where Coovert worked in a Middletown saw mill, was
found covered with mud the morning after the murder. There was no proof
that Coovert had ridden the horse.
A red bordered silk handkerchief found in the
Roosa yard after the crime was identified as one similar to that carried
by Coovert. It resembled one Jessie Cozzins, the slain hired man,
possessed. On this evidence, it was determined to charge Coovert with the
murders. The Ohio Legislature, then in session, passed a law especially
to meet the case, authorizing the trial of a convict, already in the penitentiary
for a greater crime. Coovert was taken to Lebanon from Columbus and
his first trial for the murder of Rosemary Roosa who had also been criminally
assaulted, commenced on Mar. 1, 1866 before Judge George B. Smith.
At 9 a.m. the courtroom began to fill up with the plain country people
of Warren County. Proscecutor David Allen, who had succeeded Sage in office,
conducted a woman and a little girl to seats at the state's table.
They were Melinda Roosa and Nettie, the only survivors of the mass murder.
Mrs. Roosa was in deep mourning, relieved by
a victorine of brownish mink fur. (I think this means, she wore black).
Her smooth raven hair was drawn low on her forehead to cover scars.
Beside the left eye running downward to the cheek bone, was a furrowed
mark showing where one blow was struck. The worst scar was on the
right cheek. All wounds had been made with a dull hatchet.
As the little girl tripped along she stopped
here and there to kiss certain spectators. She wore a crimson dress,
a saque of brown and a little crimson sash about her neck. Her turban
hat of bblack velvet was trimmed with green, surmounted by a white and
black plume. The plume nodded incessantly as the wearer looked about
the crowded room.
Coovert was led in by the Sheriff. Of medium
size, he wore a faded suit of gray. He walked up to his counsel,
J. Kelly O'Neal, Thomas F. Thompson and J.M. Smith, son of the judge.
Drawing a sheaf of papers from his coat pocket. Coovert laid them
down on the trial table then shook hands with his counsel.
The prisoner's complexion was ashy, colorless.
Prominent cheek bones loomed beneath sunken eyes. His forehead was
almost triangular in shape, slightly retreating and not high, The hair
was of yellowish cast, parted behind and studiously combed forward.
The story ends here. These were two articles put together from unknown authors.
Special thanks to my Dear Cousin Sally Roosa for providing me this information.