Fifty Shades of Murder: Death at the Vance Farm

 

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Night, Thursday, August 18, 1921, Vance Farm, Nelson County, Kentucky.

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Charles Vance

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Beulah Vance

Mr. Charles and Beulah Vance were sound asleep in bed when the blast from a shotgun pierced the silence. Beulah Vance startled awake to see her husband, Charles Vance, sit up, clutch his chest, and fall over the edge of the bed near the bedroom window. Realizing her husband had just been shot, Mrs. Vance immediately ran from the bedroom to the stairway, yelling in a panic to her 17-year-old son, Ernest, who had not yet returned home from a party. When Ernest failed to answer, she yelled for her 14-year-old daughter, Allie, and told her to call the neighbors and the doctor. Beulah later reported that Allie initially refused to call anyone stating that she was “frightened” but Beulah was able to prevail upon her to call a neighbor, Mr. Teeter. Beulah would also later recount that Allie was partially dressed after her husband had been shot which was allegedly suspect given the time of night.

The Sheriff’s office eventually arrived at the Vance home. Police deployed bloodhounds in an attempt to locate Mr. Vance’s assailant hoping they were still nearby. The dogs tracked a scent from the bedroom window where Mr. Vance was shot, to a chicken house nearby, then back to the front door of the Vance residence behind of which were three guns. Of the three guns found behind the door, at least one of them had been recently fired. It appeared that Charles Vance had been killed with his own gun.

Police interviewed Beulah, Allie and the remaining Vance children, along with some nearby neighbors that night and in the following days. Allie admitted to touching the gun but only to move it so it wouldn’t accidentally discharge. Allie and her father had gotten into a hearted disagreement only days before the murder after she started seeing Bernard Cecil, a young man that Charles did not approve of. He went as far as forbidding Allie from ever seeing Cecil again and the day of the murder they got into another disagreement where Charles reportedly “whipped” Allie for explicitly defying him and seeing Cecil again (2*). One theory is that because Charles forbade Allie from seeing Cecil, her sweetheart lost interest in her. Allie allegedly called a neighbor the evening of the murder stating that she was Mrs. C. M. Vance. She asked the neighbor to let her know if Bernard Cecil called on a girl living across from the neighbor.  An hour and a half before the murder, the neighbor called the Vance residence to inform them that Cecil’s buggy was in front of the other girl’s home. Since Allie had given the neighbor the name of Mrs. C. M. Vance, Allie’s mother answered and then proceeded to tell Allie of the message. Police believed that Cecil’s interest in the other girl caused Allie to explode into a murderous rage, killing her father in retribution (3*). By August 27th, police had enough suspicion and what they believed to be enough evidence to arrest 14-year-old Allie Nolan Vance for the murder of her father. Nelson County Coroner Dr. W. E. Crume issued a warrant for the arrest of Allie that same day and she was promptly arrested and taken into custody. After she was arrested, Allie broke down and cried insisting that she was innocent.

Given her young age, Allie was released to the custody of the Jailer’s wife, Mrs. Lud McKay. This meant that young Allie would spend her time at the McKay home with the jailer’s wife and kids. During this time, Allie played with the children, saw a picture show, went to church, and ate meals with the family. From the outside, it would be incredibly difficult to distinguish Allie from the other children. However, under that thin veil fueled suspicion of murder, a crime that shocked an entire community. While staying at the McKay home, Allie was quoted as saying, “They told me I must not talk about the time Papa died, but I would like to tell you about Bardstown. Last night was the first time in my whole life I ever stayed all night in town. It was noisy at first but now I like it. I don’t want to go home soon, and I hope they keep me here a long time. At home, I have to get up early in the morning and milk the three cows and then get breakfast. This morning I didn’t get up ‘till way late—it must have been almost 8 o’clock” (1*). Later, Allie went on to say about her father that, “Yes, I love my papa. He was always good to us. He never treated me badly in my life.” Dressed in mourning clothes with a veil, Beulah said, “I don’t want to hurt my Peachie you know. We have called my little girl Peachie ever since she was a baby, and to think that she should be accused of this terrible crime…” (1*).

Allie Nolan Vance’s Trial

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Allie Nolan Vance

In early 1922, Allie’s trial finally began. She gave spontaneous and frank answers and created an apparent honesty, which gave her a very favorable impression. Police and prosecutors had only circumstantial evidence against Allie. That she was partially dressed the night of her father’s murder when her mother called for her was especially damaging, according to local newspapers. During the trial, Allie said that she was still dressed so late at night because she had a toothache and she hadn’t yet retired. The coroner’s warrant was presented to a grand jury and that jury was unable to come to any conclusion. As a result, Allie would remain free until the next session of the grand jury. Nelson County prosecutor Ernest Fulton spoke of the second grand jury, “There has been no new evidence unearthed since the last jury was in session.” Allie’s attorney Nat Halstead said, “If the grand jury does not dismiss the warrant I’ll file a motion before the court demanding its dismissal” (2*). Therefore, it was determined that young Allie Nolan Vance would not be prosecuted for her father’s murder.

 

Beulah Vance’s Trial

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Beulah Vance

In late 1921, Allie’s mother, Beulah, would face multiple jury trials and her life would hang in the balance. The jury during the coroner’s inquest found, “from the evidence that Charles Vance came to his death from gunshot wounds fired from a gun found in his house and that Mrs. Charles Vance and daughter, Allie Nolan Vance, were present and are culpable of the act of Charles Vance’s death” (4*). Prosecutors were able to present some compelling but circumstantial evidence. It was revealed that Charles and Beulah were no strangers to quarrels. An area of contention was their 20-year-old daughter, Mildred Vance. Three years preceding the murder of Charles Vance, the couple had quarreled and Beulah left home with their six youngest children, staying with a neighbor, Mr. John Dodson. During the trial, Mr. Dodson testified that Beulah told him that she would not return home until Mildred left the farm because she could not control her and she did not want Mildred to associate with her youngest daughters since she thought of her as a bad influence. Mr. Dodson went on to say that Beulah told him that Charles had offered her $5,000 if she would leave him. Mr. Dodson went to Charles and asked if he would give her this amount when Charles said he would not. After several days, Beulah returned home with the children and Mildred was sent to the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Louisville, Kentucky. Beulah said that she did not notify Mildred of her father’s death and that she was uncertain as to whether or not she knew about it (5*). 

Speaking of the night of her husband’s murder, Beulah testified that when she ran from the bedroom to call for her children that she did not return to the bedroom. As such, she didn’t know whether or not Charles was dead or alive until neighbor, Mr. Teeter, told her that Charles was dead. Beulah told newspaper reporters that she was afraid if she returned to the room that his assailant also might kill her (5*).

While Beulah didn’t show emotion while testifying she did so when her children were testifying. Allie was sworn in and the judge and prosecutor asked her questions. When asked why she lied to her father about seeing Bernard Cecil she would reply, “Because I wanted to,” or “because,” or “I do not know.” Bernard Cecil testified that he had “been a going with Peachie” and that they had remotely talked of marriage. He went on to say that Beulah “sort of liked me” but Charles did not like him (5*).

Judge Brown ruled that the widow could not be held for manslaughter since the deed was too dastardly to be committed except in cold blood, and since there was not enough evidence to hold her (Mrs. Vance) for murder the case was dismissed. Beulah exclaimed, “Thank God! Oh! Thank God” and cried while she gathered with her youngest child. County prosecutor Ernest Fulton felt that the case against Beulah would be dropped. However, Judge Brown said that a thorough investigation would be conducted by the grand jury (5*). The grand jury later reconvened but was hopelessly deadlocked; six voted for conviction and six voted for acquittal. During this time, Beulah married former Vance farmhand Joe Lindsay. Joe was arrested at the same time as Beulah and charged with the murder of Charles. The first jury for Beulah was hopelessly deadlocked and Beulah would not face prosecution again after a second and third trial. Beulah Vance Lindsay would not be prosecuted for the murder of her first husband, Charles.

During Beulah’s second and third trials, five of her children testified against her. A now 15-year-old Allie, who moved with her older sister to Louisville, testified that Beulah and Joe told her that they killed Charles and that if she said anything about it that they would kill her too. The other children testified of marital discord amongst Charles and Beulah. Allie’s former attorney, Nat Halstead, now Beulah’s attorney, dismissed Allie’s testimony accusing her of perjury and saying that she was, “bold enough to cut your throat or mine” (6*).

Joe Lindsay, however, did not meet the same fate. Beulah’s 13-year-old daughter testified that she saw Joe going around the corner of the house after her father had been shot to death. The remaining evidence against Joe was circumstantial. Judge O. M. Mather instructed the jury to find Joe Lindsay guilty or innocent of murder; manslaughter or self-defense were not permitted as punishments. Unlike the trials of his wife Beulah and stepdaughter Allie, Joe Lindsey was convicted of the murder of Mr. Charles Vance and was sentenced to life in prison. Joe Lindsey died in jail while he was awaiting an appeal on the verdict in 1924 (7*).

The Aftermath and Conjecture

Two months before the murder, Charles Vance completed a will which left his sizeable estate of $35,000 to his wife, Beulah Vance. There was a stipulation in the will that if Beulah were to be remarried after his death, the estate would be divided between his 11 children. Beulah Vance Lindsay moved to Indianapolis with her two youngest sons who were attending a local school there. Allie moved in with her older sister in Louisville (6*). Little is known about the lives of the Vance family after the trials ended.

Did Beulah conspire with Joe Lindsay to murder Charles so that they could be together? Did she frame her daughter Allie so that suspicion wouldn’t be upon them? Given the stipulations in the will of Charles Vance, could the children have conspired to kill their father and frame their mother? Was Allie a cunning liar who orchestrated the murder of her father either alone or conspiring with her sweetheart, Bernard Cecil? On the other hand, did the jury get it right when they convicted Joe Lindsay? Please note that the preceding paragraph is purely conjecture.

References

  1. Staff Contributor (1921, August 29). ‘I loved him,’ declares girl, accused of killing father. The Courier-Journal, pp. 1-9.
  2. Staff Contributor (1922, February 19). Bardstown girl, 14, to escape trial on charge of killing father. The Courier-Journal, p. 8.
  3. Staff Contributor (1921, September 14). Vance girl held to grand jury. The Ohio County News, p. 7.
  4. Staff Contributor (1921, August 27). Widow and girl inquest targets. The Courier-Journal, p. 1.
  5. McClintock, L. B. (1921, October 1). Widow dismissed in Vance case despite proof of old breach. The Courier-Journal, p. 1.
  6. Staff Contributor (1923, October 26). Joe Lindsay gets life in prison term in Vance slaying. The Courier-Journal, p. 2.
  7. Staff Contributor (1924, April 29). Slayer, facing life term, dies. The Courier-Journal, p. 1-2.

Photo References

  1. Charles Vance – The Courier-Journal, 21 August 1921, p. 1.
  2. Beulah Vance – The Courier-Journal, 1 October 1921, p. 3.
  3. Allie Vance – The Courier-Journal, 1 October 1921, p. 3.
  4. Beulah Vance – The Courier-Journal, 29 August 1921, p. 9.

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