Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hell Comes to Bath

Bath Cries

Kehoe's final words
Kehoe's final words
(New York Times)

The following day, Nellie Price Kehoe was found on what remained of the Kehoe farm. Her body was burned almost beyond recognition. Her left arm was broken off and her right leg was missing. Of the cart in which she lay, only the axle and wheels were left. Near the cart, workers found various items of jewelry and valuables strewn about. All the buildings on the farm were destroyed. The horses that Kehoe had tied up were dead as well as all the other farm animals that he trapped inside the barn. As rescuers searched the property for clues to the devastation, they found the enigmatic wooden sign that Kehoe had wired up to the fence, the sign that he had worked on with his usual obsessive attention, a short message which he imagined could explain his wretched madness to the world, his final words to the families of the dead, as if this sentence could explain it all. The sign read: "CRIMINALS ARE MADE, NOT BORN." A total of 38 children were killed, 7 teachers died and 61 others were severely injured. It was the worst school violence in our nation's history.

(New York Times)
(New York Times)

Across the world, newspaper headlines announced the shocking tragedy in the village with the unlikely name of Bath. The story competed for page one space with the Charles Lindbergh flight and massive floods on the Mississippi River. The New York Times story of May 19 read "MANIAC BLOWS UP SCHOOL, KILLS 42, MOSTLY CHILDREN." The press struggled to find reasons for Kehoe's bombing rampage, but of course, there were none. In the wake of such a tragedy, there is never an acceptable explanation. The Bath community was devastated. Its loss could not be measured in simple numbers. No one in the village escaped harm. Virtually everyone had lost a relative, friend, classmate, teacher. In addition to the human casualties, Bath faced a financial catastrophe. A new school would have to be built by a town that had already sacrificed a great deal to build the first one. The future looked bleak.

Over the next few days, an endless wave of funerals took place in the Bath community. Eighteen funerals alone were held on Saturday, May 22. On Sunday, the very same day that Charles Lindbergh completed his historic flight to Paris, the last of the funerals were held. People from surrounding states descended upon Bath by the thousands. Over 100,000 cars passed through Bath that day, a staggering amount of traffic for such a small town. Some of the citizens of Bath saw this armada of cars as an intrusion into their private grief. Newspaper reporters of the time commented on these thousands of people milling about the town describing them as heartless curiosity seekers. But most people accepted it as a show of sympathy and support from surrounding communities.

A coroner's inquest was held the following week. Responsibility for the blast had to be formally assessed and although no one had any doubt as to the outcome of the proceedings, everyone knew it was a legal necessity. After several days of emotional testimony by dozens of Bath citizens and law enforcement personnel, a decision was announced. The inquest found that Superintendent Emory Huyck was murdered by Andrew Kehoe on the morning of May 18, 1927. It was also announced that the Bath Consolidated School was blown up by Kehoe's deliberate plan and he, in fact, murdered 45 people, including his wife Nellie. A judgment of suicide was decided as the cause of Andrew Kehoe's death. His remains were taken to another community, unspecified, where he was buried in an unmarked grave, alone, isolated, just as he was in life.

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