Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hell Comes to Bath

The Rage Builds

Bath Consolidated School
Bath Consolidated School

In Michigan during this era, elementary and secondary school education in rural areas followed a standard pattern for most people. There were many small, one-room schools scattered across the countryside. Different grades shared the same classroom and the same teacher. There was a widespread belief that the children would receive a better and more complete education if students could attend a single school at one location. The grades could be divided into classes, as it should be, and the facility could be of a higher quality. After years of debate and dedication, the district built a new school, the Bath Consolidated School. Taxes were raised to pay for the project and as a result, landowners, like Andrew Kehoe, had to foot the bill.

Emory E. Huyck
Emory E. Huyck

Kehoe argued against the school and complained constantly about the increase in taxes. Although he was an intelligent man, Kehoe was intolerant of other's opinions. He was respectful toward other board members but could be a bitter enemy. He was the type of man who carried a grudge. He complained loudly to anyone who would listen about the increase in taxes that he saw as illegal and unfair. He blamed the board president, Emory E. Huyck, for his influence over the other members. He became obsessed with school board politics, Superintendent Huyck and the injustice of taxes, which he saw as the ruination of his life. Sometime during the summer of 1926, Kehoe plunged into the depths of insanity.

During the winter of 1926, the board appointed Kehoe to perform maintenance in the Bath Consolidated School. Kehoe was a talented handyman and knew his way around electricity. He was mechanically adept and often fixed his neighbors' machinery. As the school handyman, Kehoe had free access to the building. His presence was never questioned. But unknown to anyone, Kehoe had accumulated over a ton of a high explosive called Pyrotol in his home. He made periodic purchases of the explosive in different stores in the Lansing area during the previous months. In November of 1926, Kehoe drove to Lansing where he purchased two boxes of dynamite at a sporting goods store. Pyrotol was a World War I surplus explosive that was used by farmers for excavation and other chores. Kehoe made similar purchases that were recorded and preserved. He couldn't buy the large amount that he needed at one time. It would arouse too much suspicion. So he spread out his purchases over the previous few months. And for those that did take notice, he had an explanation already prepared. He became known in the community as a dynamite farmer. It was routine to hear explosions on his farm. He told his neighbors that he used the dynamite to remove tree stumps and excavate for his crops.

Kehoe's homemade firebomb (New York Times)
Kehoe's homemade firebomb
(New York Times)

By Spring of 1927, Kehoe began to transport the Pyrotol little by little into the Bath School. At home, he calculated what he needed for the day and brought just that amount. He began an extensive wiring program, connecting various charges of explosives, which were concealed in the floors and rafters of the school. Into the sub-floors and crawlspaces of the Bath Consolidated School, Kehoe inched his murderous way into to the darkness, snaking wire through the rafters and walls, hiding huge amounts of Pyrotol behind pipes and beams. Working quietly, steadily, with no rest or remorse, he managed to lay thousands of feet of wire throughout the building without being detected. Just beneath the feet of unsuspecting children, most of whom he never knew, Kehoe planted over 1,000 pounds of dynamite. Once the project was completed in early May, he set the charges and waited. As was his custom, he did everything according to a well thought out plan of action. During this time, Kehoe also wired up his homestead in the same manner. In every structure on the farm, he rigged a series of fire bombs These crude devices consisted of containers filled with gasoline and wired with automobile spark plugs attached to a car battery. Kehoe knew the device would work, because he had already tested it many times on his farm.

On May 17, he drove his pickup truck over to the front of the barn where he began to fill the back seat with all sorts of metal debris. He threw in old tools, nails, pieces of rusted farm machinery, digging shovels, anything that could make shrapnel during an explosion. When the entire back seat was full of this metal junk, Kehoe placed a large cache of dynamite behind the front seat and laid a rifle on the front seat fully loaded.

On this same day, May 17, 1927, in the early afternoon, Kehoe killed Nellie by bashing in her skull with some sort of heavy object. How he actually killed her and with what weapon, will never be known. He dumped her body into a hog cart, which is a type of wheelbarrow, and pushed it over to the rear of the hen house. She lay there, unnoticed and undisturbed, sprawled inside the cart like some rag doll. He then completed the wiring of the farm. In every building, he inserted one of his homemade firebombs. It became a vast firetrap. If everything went as planned, his property would simultaneously explode in flames and surely burn to the ground before help could arrive. The farm would be destroyed, the house, the barn, the trees, horses and chickens, even the fruit on the trees, there would be nothing for Nellie's relatives and the banks. Nothing.