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The Evening Courier           
Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
Fifty-sixth Year Number 34
Saturday, February 9, 1935
Illinois Magazine masthead
 
Murder Stalks the Coal Field
By Bill Gisinger
Illinois Magazine Staff
Do you want to solve 13 "murders ", send 13 or more men to die in an electric chair?
 
     Then come to Taylorville, small city capital of Christian county, Illinois, says John W. Coale, probably the most overworked state's attorney in the state.
 
John W. Coale
John W. Coale
faces the mystery of more than a dozen murders in the mine war.
     Not counting Thomas G. Jamison of Peoria and John D. Charles of Monmouth, members of the Illinois National Guard who met accidental deaths from bullets while stationed in Taylorville, twelve men and a woman have been slain by "mine war" guns here since 1932.
 
Who fatally wounded Andy Gyenes as he stood unarmed, in his own front yard in Tovey, Oct. 13, 1932?
 
     That is easy. Corporal Russell Myers of Peona, did it -- shot him in the leg with a .30-.30 rifle because Gyene made no move to obey an order to get inside his miner's shack. Quickly put under military arrest, Myers was exonerated by a military court martial.
 
     Who killed Mrs. Emma Cumerlato, member of the auxiliary of the Progressive Miners of America, as she stood on the front porch of her home in Kincaid in the dusk of Jan. 3. 1933?
 
     Who killed Vincent Rodems, Springfield youth employed as a United Mine Worker in the Kincaid-Peabody shaft, yard by Mrs. Cumerlato's home ?
 
     The questions are getting harder.
 
     A scattered band of 150 Progressive Miner pickets clashed with 150 United Mine Workers who marched in columns of fours down Mine street to where the pickets were strung out along the state route highway. The rattle of submachine guns, rifles, shotguns and pistols left Mrs. Cumerlato and Rodems lying dead. A score were wounded.
 
     Albino Cumerlato swore out a warrant against Douglas McWhinnie Kincaid United Mine Worker, on the strength of his wife's alleged dying statement that "Doug McWhinnie did it." But the warrant against McWhinnie was never served, and Albino Cumerlato himself is one of several Progressives indicted but never tried for the murder of his wife.
 
     Who fired the rifle that sped the bullet which blew out the brains of James Guy Hickman, United Mine Worker special deputy, as he emptied his revolver while touring the Kincaid "square" the foggy morning of Jan. 4. 1933?
 
     Albert Mattozzo, Kincaid chief of police, and Emil Dupire, Mt. Olive truck driver, were tried for Hickman's murder. But they were acquitted by a jury of farmers; and Coale has not wasted public funds prosecuting indictments returned against them for the murders of Mrs. Cumerlato and Rodems.
 
     No United Mine Workers were indicted for the murders of Rodems or Mrs. Cumerlato.
 
     Who shot to death Melville "Cy" Staples, diminutive Taylorville Progressive who was in Springfield, Oct. 19, 1933, while Donald Richberg, present head man of the NRA, conferred with Governor Henry Homer and embattled union leaders and mine operators in a futile effort toward peace?
 
     Staples companions identified Pete Haines, Taylorville U. M. W. of A. official of the Kincaid local, as the man who used the gun that caused Staples' death. Indicted by a Sangamon county grand jury. Haines is free under $I0,000 bond and has never come to trial.
 
     Who killed "Crazy " Joe Agotis, United Mine Worker, May 13, Mother 's day, 1934?
     "I did. " says Eddie Newman, youthful Progressive Miner veteran of two score fist fights. Found guilty of manslaughter by a "marathon " jury of young men who deliberated two days and two nights. Newman, now free under $I0,000 bond, will hear the judge impose sentence of one to 14 years in the penitentiary unless his appeal for a new trial is granted.
 
     Agotis, filled with booze and "mine war" hate, fired on Newman, his sweetheart, Geraldine Thompson, and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Schwab, as they dug for fishing worms in the Schwab-Agotis alley.
 
     Newman swears he shot Agotis while Agotis was outside his shack and still firing. The state maintains that Newman fired blindly, five times, into Agotis' shack after Agotis had barricaded himself in.
 
Eddie Newman
Eddie Newman
one of the few confessed slayers in the bloody struggle. He claims self defense.
 
 
 
     Who used the guns in Kincaid which fatally wounded Frank Angenendt, United Mine Worker, and Sam Ronchetti. Progresive Miner, Apnl 18, 1934?
 
     That question is not as hard as asking who killed William Core, alias William Swift, United Mine Worker, as he left Kincaid the same day.
 
     There was a village election in Kincaid on that April, 18. Then there was a United Mine Worker auto parade to celebrate the surprisingly heavy vote. And then there was a post-election not which left Angenendt, Ronchetti and Core dead in its wake.
 
     William Boogh, lanky United Mine Worker, admits that he started the ball rolling when he got drunk and took on two too many Progressives in a fist fight in front of the P. M. A. commissary, across the "square" from the United Mine Workers side of the tiny business section of Kincaid.
 
     United Mine Workers poured across the intervening "no man's la nd" to rescue Boogh's bruised body. Some one fired the first shot, then several guns blazed. Bullets made a sieve of the boarded-up front of the commissary, the window's of which had been blown out months before by "mine war" bombs.
 
     When the shooting stopped. Angenendt and Ronchetti, the more seriously wounded, were taken to St. Vincent's hospital in Taylorville. They died within a week.
 
     Core, alias Swift, gunman imported from Morgantown. W. Va., met death about 9 p. m. that day as he drove his coupe from Kincaid into the adjoining village of Bulpitt. Riding with Core was Douglas McWhinnie, who at the inquest told a tale of "mine war" terror but did not aid in identifying his companion's slayer.
 
     Bulpitt's able-bodied male population carried special police commissions in 1933, stood guard over their darkened streets every night. Buckshot slugs tore into Core's car as he turned off the hard road. One slug entered his brain. McWhinnie, wounded crawled from the bloody wreck and fled for his life across back lots to his home in Kincaid.
 
     Dick Johnson and Paul Pruett , Kincaid Progressives, were indicted for Angenendt's murder, but never tried. No United Mine Worker was indicted for Roncherti's death.
 
     Who killed Dom Hunt?
 
     Jack Glasgow, John "Joker" Wilson, Sr., and Earl "Joker" Wilson, Jr., the state charges in the Hunt murder trial.
 
     An unidentified Progressive gunman did it, successfully maintained the defense. Glasgow and the Wilsons, the only United Mine Workers to be brought to trial in Christian county for a major offense in the "mine war", were acquitted by a jury of farmers.
 
     In the midst of a Christmas shopping crowd of men, women and children Dec. 23, 1933, Hunt was shot in the abdomen as he stood between the Brass Rail and the American Cafe saloons, both of which are within 100 yards of the sheriff's office and the police station in Taylorville.
 
     A Progressive Miner in the Brass Rail called Ernie Dees a "scabby" so-and-so. Dees went into the American cafe, returned to the crowded street with reinforcements.
 
     Several fist fights had started when Glasgow and the two Wilsons pulled guns. Hunt died five days later. He had been a striking Progressive Miner until a few weeks before his death. But he died a United Mine Worker, having returned to work in a Peabody pit.
 
     Who killed Barney Alecks?
 
     Shot in the knee by a bullet which came from the general direction of Kincaid at 4 a. m. May 11 , I934, Alecks, a Bulpitt Progressive Miner "guard", died June 14, 1934.
 
     Harry Jones and Joe Sigler of Bulpitt were the next to leave bereaved families to mourn their "mine war" deaths.
 
     Booze, as is so often the case, was the immediate cause of the tragedy. One "Hap" Donnelly, one of two United Mine Workers bold enough to live in the Progressive-inhabited village of Bulpitt, got drunk, roaring drunk, the Saturday night of Sept. 8, 1934, in his favorite Kincaid saloon.
 
     Donnelly was afraid to go home, and said so. So Jones, a neighborly Progressive, and Sigler, a neutral garage owner, volunteered to see Happy home.
 
     About 1 p. m. Jones and Sigler got Donnelly to his front perch, but he would not go in his house. Mrs. Donnelly came out into the yard to talk with the men. There was talk for several minutes.
 
     Suddenly from out of the darkness across the road came the muffled roar of a shotgun, the muzzle of which apparently was wrapped in rags.
 
     Sigler, standing where Mrs. Donnelly had been a moment before, doubled up in pain, mortally wounded in the abdomen with a buckshot slug. Jones, wounded in the back and in the leg, was paralyzed. He died about a week later.
 
     Half of the life in the village was awake that night. In fact, half of the life in the village stays awake every night. But who shot Sigler and Jones? Whoever may know is not telling. The "mine war" takes care of its own; and it makes a good business for the undertakers.
 

 
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