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Sat May 18, 2019, 06:33 AM

92 Years Ago Today; an anti-tax monster blows up an elementary school - 38 dead


Bath Consolidated School before the bombing

The Bath School disaster, also known as the Bath School massacre, was a series of violent attacks perpetrated by Andrew Kehoe on May 18, 1927, in Bath Township, Michigan. The attacks killed 38 elementary schoolchildren and six adults, and also injured at least 58 other people. Prior to his timed explosives going off at the school building, Kehoe had killed his wife and firebombed his farm. Arriving at the site of the school explosion, Kehoe died when he detonated explosives concealed in his truck.

Andrew Kehoe was the 55-year-old school board treasurer and was angered by increased taxes and his defeat in the Spring 1926 election for township clerk. He was thought to have planned his "murderous revenge" after that public defeat. He had a reputation for difficulty on the school board and in personal dealings. In addition, he was notified that his mortgage was going to be foreclosed upon in June 1926. For much of the next year, a neighbor noticed that he had stopped working on his farm and thought that he might be planning suicide. During that period, Kehoe purchased explosives and discreetly planted them on his property and under the school.

Kehoe murdered his wife Nellie sometime between May 16 and the morning of May 18, 1927; she had just been discharged from the hospital with an undefined illness. He then detonated various incendiary devices on his homestead on the morning of May 18 at about 8:45 a.m., causing the house and other farm buildings to be destroyed by the explosives' blasts and subsequent fires.

Almost simultaneously, an explosion devastated the north wing of the Bath Consolidated School building, killing 36 schoolchildren and two teachers. Kehoe had used a timed detonator to detonate hundreds of pounds of dynamite and incendiary pyrotol, which he had secretly planted inside the school over the course of many months. As rescuers began working at the school, Kehoe drove up, stopped, and used a rifle to detonate dynamite inside his shrapnel-filled truck, killing himself, the school superintendent, and several others nearby, as well as injuring more bystanders. During rescue efforts at the school, searchers discovered an additional 500 pounds (230 kg) of unexploded dynamite and pyrotol connected to a timing device set to detonate at the same time as the first explosions; the material was hidden throughout the basement of the south wing. Kehoe had apparently intended to blow up and destroy the entire school.


Andrew Kehoe, c. 1920

Purchase and planting of explosives
There is no clear indication when Kehoe conceived and planned the steps leading to his massacre of schoolchildren and townspeople, but his neighbor M. J. Ellsworth thought that Kehoe conceived his plan after being defeated in early 1926 for the election as town clerk. The general consensus of the townspeople was that he had worked on his plan at least since the previous August. Bath School Board member M. W. Keyes was quoted by 'The New York Times:

I have no doubt that he made his plans last Fall [1926] to blow up the school… He was an experienced electrician and the board employed him in November to make some repairs on the school lighting system. He had ample opportunity then to plant the explosives and lay the wires for touching it off.

Kehoe had free access to the building during the summer vacation of 1926. From mid-1926, he began buying more than a ton of pyrotol, an incendiary explosive used by farmers during the era for excavation and burning debris. In November 1926, he drove to Lansing and bought two boxes of dynamite at a sporting goods store. Dynamite was also commonly used on farms, so his purchase of small amounts of explosives at different stores and on different dates did not raise any suspicions. Neighbors reported hearing explosions set off on the farm, with one even calling him "the dynamite farmer".

Kehoe purchased a .30-caliber Winchester bolt-action rifle in December 1926, according to the testimony of Lieutenant Lyle Morse, a Michigan State Police investigator with the Department of Public Safety.

Day of the disaster
Prior to the disaster

Prior to May 18, Kehoe had loaded the back seat of his truck with metal debris capable of producing shrapnel during an explosion. He also bought a new set of tires for his truck to avoid breaking down when transporting the explosives. He made many trips to Lansing for more explosives, as well as to the school, town, and his house. A neighbor allegedly saw Kehoe carrying objects into the school building at night numerous times but never thought to mention it to anyone.

Nellie Kehoe was discharged from Lansing's St. Lawrence Hospital on May 16, and her husband murdered her some time between her release and the bombings two days later. He put her body in a wheelbarrow located in the rear of the farm's chicken coop, where it was found in a heavily charred condition after the farm explosions and fire. Piled around the cart were silverware and a metal cash box. Ashes of several bank notes could be seen through a slit in the cash box. Kehoe had placed and wired homemade pyrotol firebombs in the house and all the buildings of the farm. The burned remains of his two horses were found tied in their enclosures with their legs wired together to prevent their rescue during the fire.

Farm bombs
At approximately 8:45 a.m., Kehoe detonated the firebombs in his house and farm buildings, causing some debris to fly into a neighbor's poultry brooding house. Neighbors noticed the fire, and volunteers rushed to the scene.

A fireman named O. H. Bush and several other men crawled through a broken window of the farmhouse in search of survivors. When they determined that no one was in the house, they salvaged what furniture they could before the fire spread into the living room. Bush discovered dynamite in the corner; he picked up an armful of explosives and handed it to one of the men. As Kehoe left his burning farm and house in his Ford truck, he stopped to tell those fighting the fire, "Boys, you're my friends. You better get out of here. You better head down to the school", and drove off.

North wing explosion
Classes began at 8:30 a.m. Kehoe had set an alarm clock in the basement of the north wing of the school, and remotely detonated the dynamite and pyrotol which he had hidden there at about 8:45 a.m.

Rescuers heading to the scene of the Kehoe farm fire heard the explosion at the school building, turned back, and headed toward the school. Parents within the rural community also began rushing to the school. The school building had turned into a war zone with 38 people killed in the initial explosion, mostly children.

First-grade teacher Bernice Sterling told an Associated Press reporter that the explosion was like an earthquake:

"It seemed as though the floor went up several feet", she said. "After the first shock I thought for a moment I was blind. When it came the air seemed to be full of children and flying desks and books. Children were tossed high in the air; some were catapulted out of the building."

The north wing of the school had collapsed. Parts of the walls had crumbled, and the edge of the roof had fallen to the ground. Monty Ellsworth, a neighbor of the Kehoes, recounted:

There was a pile of children of about five or six under the roof and some of them had arms sticking out, some had legs, and some just their heads sticking out. They were unrecognizable because they were covered with dust, plaster, and blood. There were not enough of us to move the roof.

Ellsworth volunteered to drive back to his farm and get a rope heavy enough to pull the school roof off the children's bodies. Returning to his farm, he saw Kehoe driving in the opposite direction, heading toward the school. "He grinned and waved his hand," Ellsworth said. "When he grinned, I could see both rows of his teeth."

The scene was chaotic at the school building. Eye-witness Robert Gates said:

Mother after mother came running into the school yard, and demanded information about her child and, on seeing the lifeless form lying on the lawn, sobbed and swooned...In no time more than 100 men were at work tearing away the debris of the school, and nearly as many women were frantically pawing over the timber and broken bricks for traces of their children. I saw more than one woman lift clusters of bricks held together by mortar heavier than the average man could have handled without a crowbar.

Truck explosion

The remains of Kehoe's Ford truck after the explosion

Kehoe drove up to the school about half an hour after the explosion. He saw Superintendent Huyck and summoned him over to his truck. Charles Hawson testified at the inquest that he saw the two men grapple over some type of long gun before Kehoe detonated the dynamite stored in his truck, killing himself, Superintendent Huyck, Nelson McFarren (a retired farmer), and Cleo Clayton, an 8-year-old second grader. Clayton had survived the first blast and had wandered out of the school building debris; he was killed by the fragmentation from the exploding vehicle. The explosion also mortally wounded postmaster Glenn O. Smith, who lost a leg and died later that day of his wounds, and injured several others.

After Kehoe's truck exploded, Ellsworth recounted:

I saw one mother, Mrs. Eugene Hart, sitting on the bank a short distance from the school with a little dead girl on each side of her and holding a little boy, Percy, who died a short time after they got him to the hospital. This was about the time Kehoe blew his car up in the street, severely wounding Perry, the oldest child of Mr. and Mrs. Hart.

O. H. Bush, foreman of the road crew, recalled the scene after the final explosion:

I began to feel as though the world was coming to an end. I guess I was a bit hazy. Anyway, the next thing I remember I was out on the street. One of our men was binding up the wounds of Glenn Smith, the postmaster. His leg had been blown off. I went back to the building and helped with the rescue work until we were ordered to stop while a search was made for dynamite.

Sign on Andrew Kehoe's fence

Recovery and rescue
Telephone operators stayed at their stations for hours to summon doctors, undertakers, area hospital workers, and anyone else who might help. The Lansing Fire Department sent several firefighters and its chief.

Local physician J. A. Crum and his wife, a nurse, had both served in World War I and had returned to Bath to open a pharmacy. After the explosion, they turned their drugstore into a triage center, with the dead bodies being taken to the town hall, which was being used as a morgue.

Hundreds of people worked in the wreckage all day and into the night in an effort to find and rescue any children pinned underneath. Area contractors had sent all their men to assist, and many other people came to the scene in response to the pleas for help. Eventually, 34 firefighters and the Chief of the Lansing Fire Department arrived on the scene, as did several Michigan State Police officers who managed traffic to and from the scene. The injured and dying were transported to Sparrow Hospital and St. Lawrence Hospital in Lansing. The construction of the St. Lawrence facility had been financed in large part by Lawrence Price, Nellie Kehoe's uncle and formerly an executive in charge of Oldsmobile's Lansing Car Assembly.

Michigan Governor Fred W. Green arrived during the afternoon of the disaster and assisted in the relief work, carting bricks away from the scene. The Lawrence Baking Company of Lansing sent a truck filled with pies and sandwiches which were served to rescuers in the township's community hall.

The bombing had destroyed the north wing of the school. During the search, rescuers found an additional 500 pounds (230 kg) of dynamite which had failed to detonate in the south wing. The search was halted to allow the Michigan State Police to disarm the devices, and they found an alarm clock timed to go off at 8:45 a.m. Investigators speculated that the initial explosion may have caused a short circuit in the second set of bombs, preventing them from detonating. They searched the building and then returned to the recovery work.

Police and fire officials gathered at the Kehoe farm to investigate the fires. State troopers had searched for Nellie Kehoe throughout Michigan, thinking that she was at a tuberculosis sanitorium, but her charred body was found the following day (May 19) among the ruins of the farm. All the Kehoe farm buildings were destroyed and the two horses had died, trapped inside the barn. Investigators found a wooden sign wired to the farm's fence with Kehoe's last message stenciled on it: "Criminals are made, not born".

The American Red Cross set up operations at the Crum drugstore and took the lead in providing aid and comfort to the victims. The Lansing Red Cross headquarters stayed open until 11:30 that night to answer telephone calls, update the list of dead and injured, and provide information and planning services for the following day.

The local community responded generously, as reported at the time by the Associated Press: "a sympathetic public assured the rehabilitation of the stricken community. Aid was tendered freely in the hope that the grief of those who lost loved ones might be even slightly mitigated." The Red Cross managed donations sent to pay for both the medical expenses of the survivors and the burial costs of the dead. In a few weeks, $5,284.15 (equivalent to $76,215 in 2018) was raised through donations, including $2,500 from the Clinton County, Michigan board of supervisors and $2,000 from the Michigan Legislature. In addition to monetary donations, the Red Cross Headquarters received extensive donations of flowers from strangers.

The disaster received nationwide coverage in the days following, sharing headlines with Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic crossing (though Lindbergh's crossing received much more attention) and eliciting a national outpouring of grief. Newspaper headlines from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles characterized Kehoe as a maniac, madman, and fiend.

People from all around the world provided sympathy to the families and the community of Bath, Michigan, including letters from some Italian schoolchildren. One 5th grader wrote: "Even though we are small, we understand all the sorrow and misfortune that has struck our dear brothers." And another wrote: "We are praying to God to give to the unfortunate mothers and fathers, the strength to bear the great sorrow that has descent on them, we are near to you in spirit."

Andrew Kehoe's body was eventually claimed by one of his sisters. Without ceremony, she had him buried in an unmarked grave in an initially unnamed cemetery. It was later revealed that Kehoe was buried in the paupers' section of Mount Rest Cemetery, St. Johns, Clinton County, Michigan. The Price family buried Nellie Price Kehoe in Lansing's Mount Hope Cemetery under her maiden name.

Vehicles from outlying areas and surrounding states descended upon Bath by the thousands. Over 100,000 vehicles passed through on Saturday alone, an enormous amount of traffic for the area. Some Bath citizens regarded this armada as an unwarranted intrusion into their time of grief, but most accepted it as a show of sympathy and support from surrounding communities. Many of the victims were buried starting Friday, May 20.

Coroner's inquest
The coroner arrived at the scene on the day of the disaster and swore in six community leaders to serve as a jury investigating the death of Superintendent Huyck. A coroner's inquest into the matter was held the following week, starting on May 23. The Clinton County Prosecutor conducted the examination, and more than 50 people testified before the jury. During his testimony, David Hart testified that Kehoe had told him that Kehoe had "killed a horse" and The New York Times reported people as saying that Kehoe had "an ungovernable temper" and "seemed to have a mania for killing things." Neighbors had seen him wiring his house in early April 1927.

Cupola from the school building, today displayed at James Couzens Memorial Park.

Kehoe's neighbor Sidney J. Howell testified that after the fire began, Kehoe warned him and three boys to leave the farm, saying "Boys, you are my friends, you better get out of here, you better go down to the school."

Three telephone linemen working near Bath testified that Kehoe passed them on the road toward the school, and they saw him arrive there. He swerved his truck and stopped in front of the building. In the next instant, according to the linemen, the truck blew up, and one of them was struck by shrapnel. Other witnesses testified that Kehoe paused after stopping, calling Superintendent Huyck over to the truck and that the two men struggled before Kehoe's truck was blown-up.

Although there was never any doubt that Kehoe was the perpetrator, the jury was asked to determine if the school board or its employees were guilty of criminal negligence. After more than a week of testimony, the jury exonerated the school board and its employees. In its verdict, the jury concluded that Kehoe "conducted himself sanely and so concealed his operations that there was no cause to suspect any of his actions; and we further find that the school board, and Frank Smith, janitor of the school building, were not negligent in and about their duties, and were not guilty of any negligence in not discovering Kehoe's plan."

The inquest determined that Kehoe murdered Superintendent Emory Huyck on the morning of May 18. It was also the jury's verdict that the school was blown up as part of a plan and that Kehoe alone, without the aid of conspirators, murdered 43 people in total, including his wife Nellie. Suicide was determined to be the cause of Andrew Kehoe's death, which brought the total number of dead to 44 at the time of the inquest.

On August 22, three months after the bombing, fourth-grader Beatrice Gibbs died following hip surgery. Hers was the 45th and final death directly attributable to the Bath School disaster, which made it the deadliest attack ever to occur in an American school. Richard Fritz, brother of Marjorie Fritz, was injured in the explosion and died almost one year later of myocarditis. Though Richard is not included on many lists of the victims, his death from myocarditis is thought to have been brought on by an infection because of his injuries.


6 replies, 1877 views

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Reply 92 Years Ago Today; an anti-tax monster blows up an elementary school - 38 dead (Original post)
Dennis Donovan May 18 OP
no_hypocrisy May 18 #1
samnsara May 18 #2
Sherman A1 May 18 #3
irisblue May 18 #4
tanyev May 18 #5
Soxfan58 May 18 #6

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat May 18, 2019, 06:42 AM

1. OMG!

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat May 18, 2019, 06:55 AM

2. ive read about this several times... not sure if I wanna share it on twitter....

..or hide it from the crazies..

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat May 18, 2019, 07:00 AM

3. Thanks for posting

I recall reading about this several years ago. A horrific event.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat May 18, 2019, 07:21 AM

4. the impulse...the more things change...

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat May 18, 2019, 08:23 AM

5. I've often wondered how many times a sociopath murdered his family and got away with it

a century or two ago. If you lived in a remote area it would be easy enough to bury them and tell people it was flu or something and you were the only one who survived. If anyone started asking questions it would be fairly simple to move on to another remote area.

It seems to us like these horrible things never used to happen and now they happen all the time, but how much of it is because news dissemination is so much faster now?

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sat May 18, 2019, 08:29 AM

6. Thanks for the post.

I had never hesrd of this horrific event. Why do I invision some current day tax hawk with this guys picture on his wall.

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