04 October 2011

Chasing Walter Plummer, An Addendum to Native Sons Gone Wrong: A Genealogical Account of Murder in Bryan, Ohio

By Pamela Pattison Lash

Ten years ago I wrote a booklet on the murder of Arthur Brown, 1892. (Native Sons Gone Wrong: A Genealogical Account of Murder in Bryan, Ohio, Detailing the Brown, Burchell, Elkins, and Plummer Families With Allied Families of Williams County, Ohio, Pamela Pattison Lash, WCGS, 2001).  On p38 I gave my afterthoughts on this detailing – “I would have liked to bring closure to the story knowing what happened to Walter Plummer after he was released from prison.  Did he contribute to society in a positive way?  Did he have a family of his own?”  Since this booklet is for sale through the Williams County Genealogical Society, I will not recount the murder here.

But, with so much more information available, I am now able to fulfill part of my afterthought – I’ve chased Walter Plummer and gleaned a great deal of data on his post-prison life.  What got me started ten years after I wrote the original detailing was a newspaper account of Walter desiring a pardon in 1904.  This would mean that he had served approximately 11 years for the murder.  He was the last of the three killers to be admitted back into society with one more (Michael Burchell) dying in prison.  It appears that Walter didn’t go too far from his home of Bryan, OH. 

My guess is that Walter changed his birth year from 1866 to 1870 perhaps to escape notoriety and/or disappear from anyone wanting to cause him harm or that of his new family.  That birth year change followed him throughout his life after prison.  He does marry and fathers a child.  He remained in his new home of Ionia, Michigan for the remainder of his life.  Whether he contributed positively to society is anyone’s guess.

1870 Bryan, Williams, Ohio; Roll: M593_1282; Page: 179A; Image: 361; Family History Library Film: 552781.
h/h 74/74  Plumer, Alfred 37 sawyer OH
Huldah 33 OH
George 11 OH
Lincoln 9 OH
Walton 4 OH
Florence 2 OH
Jessie 1/12 OH
Starner, Elizabeth 66 PA

1880 Bryan, Williams, Ohio; Roll: 1078; Family History Film: 1255078; Page: 634C; Enumeration District: 12; Image: 0129.
h/h 67/77 Plummer, Alf 45 carpenter OH-KY-OH
Jane wife 43 OH-PA-PA
George son 20 brush maker OH-OH-OH
Lincoln son 19 laborer OH-OH-OH
Walter son 14 OH-OH-OH attends school
Florence dau 11 OH-OH-OH
Marella dau 9 OH-OH-OH
Sabina dau 9 OH-OH-OH
Harry son 3 OH-OH-OH and 2 boarders

St Paul Daily Globe, November 17, 1893
Wrong Man in Jail
A Murderer Confesses and an Innocent Man Will Be Set Free.
Bryan, OH – Nov 9 - A sensational turn was given the trial of Walter Plummer today. He is charged with complicity in the murder of Walter Brown on the night of May 4, 1892. George Birchell, who with his brother Michael, was given a life sentence for the crime last November, was brought from the penitentiary and placed on the stand. His confession exonerates Michael Birchell entirely, and only implicates himself in a plan to rob Brown. He said that Plummer did the killing, assisted by one Elkins, in his presence, but that he was not aware that the blow administered was fatal until the following morning. Other witnesses were put on the stand that corroborated in a measure the convict's confession. Mike Birchell, who was sentenced with his brother and whose innocence is thought to be firmly established, is dying of typhoid fever at Columbus.

Walter was convicted of 2nd degree murder on November 25, 1893.
Note – the victim was Arthur Brown, not Walter Brown and the other two murderers were George and Michael Burchell.

1900 Columbus Ward 15, Franklin, Ohio; Roll: T623_1269; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 111.
Plummer, Walter 34 (Mar 1866) OH-KY-PA prisoner
Burchell, George 31 (Dec 1868) OH-Ire-Ire prisoner – also in jail for murder of Arthur Brown

Two newspaper articles, both on the same page

Bryan Democrat, 15 Sept 1904, p3
Application for Pardon of Walter Plummer
Notice is hereby given that at the next meeting of Ohio State Board of Pardons an application will be made for the pardon of Walter Plummer convicted at the November term, 1893, of the Court of Common Pleas of Williams County, of the crime of murder in the second degree and sentenced to imprisonment in the Ohio Penitentiary for the period of life.  Walter Plummer

Lincoln E Plummer died at Toledo, OH, Sept 8, 1904.  He was born in Bryan, OH, Oct 19, 1860 and had lived in Toledo for the last 18 years.  He leaves 3 sisters, and 2 brothers, Mrs H McCollum, Mrs William Pryke of Toledo, Mrs Ina Bottrall and George Plummer of Grand Rapids, MI, and Walter Plummer of Columbus.  His remains were accompanied here for burial by his two sisters and laid in the family lot beside his father and mother.  His mother, Mrs HJ Plummer having just recently passed away.

Note – mother Hulda Jane Starner Plummer moved to Toledo, Lucas Co, OH with her son Lincoln Plummer sometime after the trial and conviction of Walter. 

Journal of the Senate of the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, Appendix, 1908, p48-49
Convicted October term, 1893; county, Williams; crime, murder in second degree; sentence, penitentiary, life; commuted September 17, 1906.
Applicant and three others were all convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to the Penitentiary for life; one died in prison; one was pardoned by Governor Bushnell and one by Governor Nash. It was never determined who struck the fatal blow. The Judge and Prosecutor say that Plummer was no more guilty than the others who have been pardoned and that it seems an injustice to keep him in prison while the others are free.

There appears to be a strong sentiment in Williams County for his release, evidenced by the voluminous files. His record while in prison has been first class. The Board of Pardons after a careful consideration of the case has recommended that the sentence be commuted to twenty years, which with good time earned will release him at once. I am inclined to this view and grant the commutation as recommended.

1910 Grand Rapids Ward 6, Kent, Michigan; Roll: T624_657; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 0086; Image: 830; FHL Number: 1374670.
577 Hamilton St
h/h 289/357 Plomer, Walter 39 Oh-OH-OH single, boarder, foreman in furniture factory, living w/Albert and Mary Pankhurst

Family search.org, V3 p56
25 June 1910. Grand Rapids, Kent Co, MI, marriage performed by Frank A Hess, JP, witnesses May K Thomas and Ralph A Mosher, both of Grand Rapids, MI
Walter Plummer 40 (born 1870, OH) res of Grand Rapids, MI, occup – veneer joiner, son of Alfred Plummer and Hulda Starner, no previous marriages
Evelyn Roberts 27 (born 1883, Ionia, MI) res of Ionia, MI, occup – none, dau of John A Roberts and Euphemia Davis, no previous marriages

1920 Ionia Ward 2, Ionia, Michigan; Roll: T625_772; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 77; Image: 901.
246 Yeomans St
h/h 76/110 Plummer, Walter 50 OH-OH-OH machine man in factory
Eva wife 37 MI-KY-OH
Ruth dau 7 MI-OH-MI
Roberts, Carey 47 bro-in-law IN-KY-OH laborer in reed factory

1930 Ionia, Ionia, Michigan; Roll: 992; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 15; Image: 681.0.
240 Yeomans St
h/h 161/161 Plummer, Walter H 60 mar@40Y OH-OH-OH works in factory
Eva 47 wife mar@28Y MI-KY-OH

Walter Plummer (Mar 1866 Bryan, Pulaski Twp, Williams Co, OH – 1942 MI; buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Ionia, Easton Twp, Ionia Co, MI)
Note – his tombstone states 1870-1942 – picture on Find A Grave

Eva M Roberts (Sept 1882 MI – 1959 MI; buried in Oak Hill Cem, Ionia, Easton Twp, Ionia Co, MI); her parents are also buried there.