While Barren county was still reeling from the atrocious murder of Mrs. William Bowles by her son-in-law, John Franklin, there was yet more tragedy to envelope the county. Robert Lincoln Brown, age 33, shot and killed his father-in-law, Alonzo McClellan, at the victim’s home in the Neals’ Chapel community, around 3 miles east of Glasgow, on Thursday evening, November 10, 1898. Brown shot and instantly killed his father-in-law, and wounded 2 other members of the McClellan family – his mother-in-law, and also Bertha Courtney, his wife’s niece, who was visiting at her grandparents’ house at the time of the fatal altercation.
The murderer, Bob Brown, was the son of Tom Brown, also of the Neals’ Chapel country, and of the late Susan Slayton Brown, daughter of Holman Slayton and Spicy Nichols. Previous to the night of his crime, Brown was regarded as a quiet, law-abiding citizen, and was considered a devout member of the Church. For 3 years he was trustee of the School district in which he lived. He was 6’3″ tall, weighing 171 lbs., and was a rather good-looking fellow, even with only one eye. He never drank, smoked, chewed tobacco, nor did he swear. It was speculated he had whipped his wife mercilessly on several occasions, and had once beaten his son terribly and locked him in the smokehouse and left him there overnight. The boy was 5 years old at the time of the murder.
In about 1891, Brown married a daughter of Alonzo McClellan, named Ida. McClellan was a highly respected farmer who lived near Neals’ Chapel Presbyterian Church. The Browns went to housekeeping right away within a short distance of his in-laws, on the road between Neals’ Chapel and New Salem Methodist Church. The fruit of this marriage was 4 children, a boy and 3 girls. From the beginning, Brown and the McClellans disagreed, and there was often trouble between them. Finally, McClellan forbade Brown to come to his house, and for 3 years he had not been there.
James Slayton, another son-in-law of McClellan, lived in the same neighborhood. Brown was on the outs with them all. He worked himself into a feeling of deep hatred for all his father-in-law’s family, and had been said to make threats of violence before. But his actions on that evening were wholly unexpected, and without slightest provocation.
McClellan had yet another daughter at home, Terry, who was around 13 or 14 years old, and a great favorite of Brown’s. The girl stayed at Brown’s house a good deal with her sister, and Brown’s attention to her alarmed McClellan. He stopped her visits to her sister’s house. On that fateful Thursday, the girl was asked to spend the night with Brown’s family, but her parents objected. Brown’s indignation rose to such an extent that he put a pistol in his pocket, and told his wife he was “going down to see about that.”
The McClellan family were just finishing supper and the old man (who was actually 58) had just pulled his shoes off to warm his feet in readiness to retire for the night. His wife and granddaughter, Bertha Courtney, were in the room with him. Brown appeared at the door and asked for Terry. Mr. McClellan ordered him to leave the house immediately. Brown then drew his pistol and shot the old man through the heart, killing him instantly. At that moment, Lewis McClellan, 17 year old son of Alonzo, entered the room with a pistol and fired at Brown from behind. The bullet struck Brown in the back of the head, glancing off without inflicting great injury. Brown turned and wrenched the pistol out of the boy’s hand, knocking him down. It was stated Brown presented his pistol to shoot McClellan’s lifeless body when little Bertha Courtney, a girl of about 11 years, knocked the pistol down and prevented him shooting her grandfather again.
Mrs. McClellan, in shock and terror, had fled the house and took refuge at her other son-in-law, Jim Slayton’s. Brown had secured a double-barreled shot gun, and went to Slayton’s house, supposing his mother-in-law had gone there. He saw her through the window of the house when he arrived. He put the muzzle of the gun against the glass and fired both barrels. After shooting Mrs. McClellan, Brown returned to his home, armed himself heavily, and went directly to his barn, where he hid himself and prepared himself for a siege.
As soon as the news of the killing reached town, Deputy Marshalls Scott and Bailey hurried to the scene, but Brown was not found that night. Friday morning the officers were joined by Marshal Collins, Sheriff Barlow, and Deputy Sheriff Powell Barlow, and the search was renewed. Brown’s wife was found at her home, and the officers ordered her to leave. They wanted to search the house and feared that if Brown was there a fight would occur. Mrs. Brown seems to have stood by her husband, and evidently knew then where he was concealed but wouldn’t give him away.
After 3 days’ search it was discovered Brown was intrenched in a corner of the loft of his barn, and the officers couldn’t go in after him for fear of his shooting them. The officers attempted to get at him by means of a ladder, but Brown opened fire, shooting Sheriff Barlow in the hand, shooting a hole in Tom Glass’ ear, and shooting Ed Neece’s hat off. The officers fired a volley of about 100 shots into the loft. Brown was desperate and they knew it. Deputy Sheriff Powell Barlow slipped around the back of the barn and lit a match. When Brown realized they intended to burn him out of hiding he began to parley. He promised to surrender if the officers wouldn’t let anyone kill him. With assured protection, he came down and gave himself up.
About 50 mounted men armed with shot guns and pistols escorted him to town and to the jail, where he was lodged safely behind bars. It was feared a mob from the Neals’ Chapel country would attempt to lynch him on Friday, but nothing came up. On Saturday, still fearing mob violence, the prisoner was taken to Bowling Green, for safekeeping by Deputy Sheriffs Barlow and Rousseau.
After Brown was lodged in the jail, he gave his statement: “I went down to old man McClellan’s house to see why he wouldn’t let Terry come up to my house. Without saying a word when I entered, the old man started at me with his cane, and I drew my pistol and fired to scare him off. Then his son drew a pistol and shot me in the back of the neck. This inflamed me and I lost all control of myself and kept on firing. When I had emptied my pistol I turned on Lewis and knocked his weapon out of his hand, and then we scuffled. I jerked loose from him and he jumped up and ran away. I picked up my pistol and the one that belonged to the boy and went out in the yard to see what had become of the old lady and the girl. Not seeing anything of them I concluded they had gone to Jimmy Slayton’s. When I got to his house, I saw the old lady through the window talking to Slayton and I poked my gun through the window and shot her.”
In all of this, not much is known of little Bertha. One account gave that she had run screaming from the house and started for the home of her uncle George Slayton (who was actually Brown’s uncle), who lived not too far away. Brown, in his uncontrolled blood lust, overtook the child and shot her. Bertha fell into the deep ditch along the road, and Brown fired another shot at her prostrate form, wounding her seriously, but not fatally.