author Taylor uncovers
little known Madison hanging
Murder in the House of God released
Lela Jane Bradshaw
(February 2008) David L. Taylor remembers
a childhood trip to Madison, Ind., where his father gestured across
from the jail and told him that was the place a man had been hung years
What tree did they hang him from? the curious
boy wanted to know.
Youd have to ask some of the old timers, came the
That question was largely forgotten until years later, while going through
a box of old newspapers, Taylor found all folded up and very fragile,
a special edition published the day of the hanging. The newspaper
gave an overview of events leading up to the execution, fascinating
Taylor and bringing to mind the tale told by his father. Curiosity reignited,
Taylor began to seek out fuller accounts of the story.
Now Taylor, 51, recounts the almost forgotten story of Jefferson Countys
only judicial hanging in his latest book, Murder in the House
of God! The release coincides with the 130th anniversary of the
execution of John W. Beavers for the murder of real estate agent John
W. Sewell. On Feb. 23, the Madison-Jefferson Country Public Library
will play host to the Kent, Ind., author for a lecture and book signing
at 10 a.m.
Murder in the House of God! follows a murder case that sounds
like the plot of a Hollywood film but is actually a true story that
gripped southern Indiana in 1877. When the disfigured remains of a murder
victim are discovered in a burning church just outside of Kent, shock
and speculation race through the community. In a remarkable twist, the
victim is first believed to be Civil War veteran Beavers; only later
it is discovered that Beavers is the actually the killer. A failed jail
break involving a hacksaw blade and the ultimate religious conversion
of the killer add to the drama of this historical event.
Taylor stands by the building
that his book centers around.
The sensationalism of the case was not lost on newspapers
of the time. Taylor used the extensive coverage provided in contemporary
articles to retrace the story of the death of Sewell and the conviction
of his killer. It was like an avalanche of information,
Taylor said of his research into case. While there would not have been
a court reporter recording testimony during the trial, the Madison Daily
Evening Courier did have a reporter whose detailed notes preserved much
of the testimony presented in the case. In addition to local coverage
by Madisons two papers, reporters from Indianapolis and Cincinnati
also followed the developing story. Years after the execution, letters
to the editor were still published from those who had crowded Main Street
to witness the execution.
Murder in the House of God! explores not only the frenzy
surrounding the murder and eventual hanging, but also the power of redemption.
Accounts of the time tell that on the eve of the execution, one could
hear echoing from inside the jail songs of the Trinity Church choir
and Beavers own words of faith while outside the jail rang the
hammers of workers constructing the gallows. Beavers story shows
the journey of a man who progressed from committing murder in a church
to preaching the gospel to fellow prisoners. Taylor says, The
point Id like to see made is that even for the worst of criminals
there is hope of amends.
By the end of 2008, Taylor expects to release Ripples Over the
Dyke, a book recounting historically significant events that took
place in Madison and Trimble County, Ky. Taylor is currently working
on a new ending for the upcoming re-release of his book, Happy
Rhythm: A Biography of Hovie Lister & the Statesmen Quartet.
Taylor has also written With Bowie Knives & Pistols: Morgans
Raid in Indiana.
To order a copy of the book, or to arrange
for the author to speak at a civic or church event, contact David L.
Taylor at (812) 866-3295.
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