The Reckoning of Robert Lincoln Brown – 1 December 1898

The case of Bob Brown, charged with willfully murdering his father-in-law, Alonzo McClellan, on the night of November 10, went before the court on November 30, 1898. Messrs. DR Carr and JO Hutcherson, attorneys appointed to defend Brown, after a brief consultation, filed an affidavit setting forth reasons why their client could not be given a fair and impartial trial at the present term of court and asking for a continuance of the case to the March term. This the court refused to grant. Messrs. Carr and Hutcherson then made a motion asking inasmuch as the reports of the tragedy published in the local newspapers had prejudiced the people of Barren county against the defendant, that the jurymen be summoned from the neighboring counties. The motion was overruled by Judge Jones, who expressed his opinion that the defendant could get a just verdict from Barren county jury, however strong public sentiment might be against him.

Up to the night before, the Sheriff had failed to find the required number of jury men who had not formed an opinion of the defendant’s guilt or innocence, or had no conscientious scruples against inflicting the death penalty, and the deputies were scouting the county in every direction.

The courtroom was crowded with anxious spectators all the time Brown was before the court, and intense interest manifested in the proceedings.  Mrs. Alonzo McClellan and her grand-daughter, Bertha Courtney, who were also shot by Brown and at the time thought to be fatally wounded, have sufficiently recovered from their injuries to be able to attend court.  Brown’s wife was also in attendance, but refused to talk with her husband when the latter requested it.

The following is a summary of the evidence produced by both sides:

The 1st witness placed on the stand by the Commonwealth was Mrs. Alonzo McClellan, widow of the murdered man.  She was a sedate, intelligent matron about 50 years old.  It was with great difficulty she spoke, and it was evident she was yet suffering greatly from the terrible wound inflicted by Brown’s shotgun.  Mrs. McClellan stated her husband was 58 years old at the time he was killed, and had been in feeble health since last harvest.

On the night of the killing Brown’s wife came to ask her little sister, Terry McClellan, to stay all night at her house.  Her parents refused to let Terry go because they suspected Brown was leading her “in paths in which she should not go.”  In less than 5 minutes after his wife left the house, Brown knocked on the door of the sitting room and demanded admittance instantly.  Brown entered with a double-barrel shotgun on his arm and asked, “What’s all this trouble about?”  She replied that there was no trouble and they did not want any.  Brown then stalked on ahead of her and entered the sitting room with the shotgun on his arm and she followed him.

Her husband and grandchild, Bertha Courtney, were sitting around the fireplace.  Terry, her daughter, was in the kitchen, and Lewis, her son, was in the parlor.  When Brown entered the room he asked where Terry was in a loud voice.  She heard him and came running from the kitchen to see what he wanted.  Old man McClellan rose from his chair with both hands raised above his head and his cane in one of them, and said, “Bob, we don’t want any trouble with you; get out of this house.”  Brown then drew a pistol concealed in his pocket and shot the old man through the heart, killing him instantly.  He was about to shoot the prostrate form again when 11 year old Bertha ran up and knocked the barrel of the weapon down.

Mrs. McClellan says as her husband fell she fled the house to the home of her son-in-law, Jim Slayton.  As she ran from the house she heard another report and Bertha screamed she was shot and came running after her.  They passed the sitting room window and saw Brown and Lewis McClellan on the bed in a scuffle.  Brown was hitting Lewis over the head with the butt of his pistol, and the latter’s face was covered in blood.  After Mrs. McClellan reached Slayton’s house, and was examining Bertha’s wound, she was shot through the window, but did not see who fired the shot.

Terry McClellan, aged 13 years, was the most important witness.  As soon as she took the stand, Brown, who was sitting a few feet away, fixed his gaze upon her and it could be seen that she was afraid to speak while in his presence.  When she came in her face was white as a sheet, but when she went out it was almost scarlet, as great was her fear of Brown.  She was in the kitchen when Brown came to her father’s house, but when she heard him call for her she went to see what he wanted.  As she reached the door of the sitting room, she saw her father raise his hands above his head with a cane in one hand, and saw Brown draw a pistol and shoot him.  When her father fell she ran back into the kitchen.

Several days before the killing, while she was at Brown’s house, he took her down in the cellar under the house and told her that if she did not submit to him, and pay no attention to what her father and mother said, he would kill her and all the rest of her family.  He also told her he would kill them if she told what he had done to her.

Lewis McClellan, 17 years old and a son of Alonzo McClellan, substantiated the testimony of his mother.  When Brown came into the house, he went after his pistol, as he expected trouble.  He returned in time to see Brown shoot his father and Bertha.  He then shot at the murderer, wounding him in the neck at the base of the skull, the bullet glancing off without accomplishing the mission.  Brown then knocked the pistol out of his hand and they wrestled back across the bed.  Lewis was beaten over the head and in the mouth with Brown’s pistol.

After a bit of a tuffle, they separated, and Lewis left and went to the house of his brother, Tom McClellan, to inform him of the tragedy.  He afterward heard shooting in the direction of Slayton’s, and went over there to find that his mother had been pursued by Brown and shot through a window.  He denied that he had shot at Brown more than once, but admitted his pistol might have gone off in the scuffle without his knowledge.  He also identified the pistol with which his father was murdered.

Bertha Courtney, the brave 11-year old girl who knocked the barrel of Brown’s pistol down when he started to shoot her grandfather a second time, and was herself frightfully wounded, was the next witness for the prosecution.  There was nothing new in her testimony, but she elicited the admiration of every man in the courtroom.

The first witness called by the defense was Dr. Wells of Slick Rock, who stated he had been Brown’s family physician for several years, and had never noticed anything that would indicate an unsound mind.

Sandusky Bruton, a close neighbor, was intimately acquainted with Brown (the document’s words, not mine =D) and had never seen anything wrong with Brown.  Brown’s reputation was also very good in the community.

Tom Brown, father of the murderer, stated that one of Bob’s brothers had died in a demented condition, and another had died from a seizure.  He had heard a rumor that the cause of the demented boy’s condition was a blow to the head from a stick in the hands of Bob, but did not know whether this was so or not.  12 years ago, Bob’s mind had become unbalanced on the subject of baptism, and he would sit around for a day or 2 at a time without speaking a word to anyone, as though in a trance.

Reverend James Meek (NOTE:  This is the author’s Gr-gr-grandfather) had known Brown for most of his life and knew him to be a good, law-abiding citizen.  Meek was one of several character witnesses that said the same thing about Brown.

On Saturday, December 3, 1898, after being out of the courtroom but 30 minutes, the jury in the case of Bob Brown, charged with murdering his father-in-law, Alonzo McClellan, returned a verdict, finding the defendant guilty of willful murder, and his punishment was fixed at death.  Intense silence reigned in the house while the verdict was being read, and genuine satisfaction was expressed on every hand over the outcome of the trial.

When the verdict had been read, Brown attempted to rise from his chair as if he wished to say something, but was prevented from doing so by his attorney, Mr. JC Hutcherson.  Hand-cuffs were immediately laced on his wrists and he was taken to jail, where he was kept well guarded.

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About Gclee

I am a long time genealogy and local history hunter from Barren Co., KY. I have many stories to share that may be of interest to other local genealogists and history buffs. I enjoy this as a hobby and hope I can be of encouragement to others. I also hope everyone enjoys my stories as much as I have enjoyed learning about them.
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