Trial of W. Wesley Craig

From the Shenandoah Herald, Volume 84, Number 47, 22 November 1901, via Virginia Chronicle and transcribed from their scans.

Trial of W. Wesley Craig

Verdict of guilty and given seven years in the penitentiary

The trial of W. Wesley Craig indicted for burning the mill of S. H. Lonas occupied the County Court last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. His Honor Judge Tavenner, presiding.

The Commonwealth was represented by W. W. Logan and Hon. M. L. Walton. On account of sickness Mr. Logan did not argue the case.

The defense was represented by Messrs. M. E. Stickley and Rush H. Williamson.

The jury was composed of the following gentlemen: R. C. Baker, Jno. W. Copp, Silas M. Funk, Jno. W. Hockman, P. N. Jarrett, Jos. R. Keller, Jno. H. Funkhouser, B. W. Hottel, Frank Rosenberger, Barnett Copp, Jos. O. Sager, and Reuben Hollar.

Below is given a very full abstract of the testimony. No important point that would have any bearing upon either side of the case has been omitted.

S. H. Lonas testified that he was the owner of the mill. It was a chopping mill and to it was a saw and lathe mill and cross cut saw mill. He ran it with a steam engine. He ran a flour exchange. He exchanged flour for wheat. His son Bruce T. Lonas ran it principally with his help. The building he supposed cost $300. The engine was partly destroyed, cost $850, he sold the irons afterward for $200. The engine was worth $500, saw mill about $100, he had several bushels of grain burnt up. Can’t tell exactly how much buckwheat flour. It is 150 yards from house to mill. Engine worth $450 to $500. Had several sides of leather, cost about $10, different kinds of tools worth $10, belt $27 or $28. The actual value destroyed, he estimated at $300. He kept money in the mill. He kept feed and flour — did not sell on credit. He inferred that from $30 to $50 was kept in a cigar box, in a large box. Box in room in which son slept. He slept in the mill 40 out of 41 nights for last year and a half, could see money box from door. He saw no trace of money after the fire. He was waked by his brother about 11 o’clock, not certain as to time. Went to mill as soon as possible. Everything in blaze. More heat in west corner of mill. Oak ashes found in that corner. Had no oak timber in that building except perhaps a few rafters. Had 15 four horse loads of oak wood 1 1/2 loads under shed, 25 feet from pile of ashes.

Nobody was at the fire when he got there. J. C. Lonas and he went there, ran mull until good dusk, could have heard it, if it had been running. It was not operated after this hour. Bruce Lonas had charge of the mill. He was very cautious, always at his post. His habit was to clean the fire-box. Fire could not get out. We kept fire by the month. He (S. H. Lonas) was always cautious about fire. The whole building was ablaze, more heat from the Northwest side of the mill.

He had known prisoner for years. He lives about 2 miles from him. Didn’t think his feelings towards him was good on account of matters in grand father’s will. Those fellows worked for him and he paid them. Mr. Craig and others came to mill last Spring a year ago and hadn’t been on his place since.

On rebuttal said property as a whole was worth more than if put up for auction.

J. C. Lonas testified that he was a brother of S. H. Lonas, lived 1/4 mile from mill, the whole mill was burning he started from home at 11:45 p.m. Shingles were burnt off. Could see lathes. North corner of mill was severely burnt out. Mill built of pine chiefly. Mill was a total wreck. The engine was injured. He thought that he was there the day before the mill burned. There was buckwheat, corn, and rye, and most of his corn crop and buckwheat. Mill was worth $300. Everything was burnt up, found no money. Found a barlow knife open, burnt suspender buckles. As I drove past West Craig in Fall of 1900, heard him say “the damn Lonases.”

Homer Ryman testified that he knew West Craig for about 18 years. In Oct. 1900, was working on road when J. C. Lonas passed, West Craig said there goes the d–d s–n of b– Lonas that tried to cheat us out of our legacy.

Tucker Craig said “they may not have so much by Spring. They have a mill now but may not have it in the Spring.”

West Craig said the Lonases tried to cheat them out of their legacy money and he was going to put it in court.

Thos. Drummond testified that West Craig came to his house and said: “I want to know what you know about us burning Lonas’ mill and killing Bruce Lonas.”

Thomes Runion testified that he was at West Craig’s in January. He told me he had worked harder last summer than usual, peeling bark and cutting wood, and had about 3 barrels of flour. He has some land. Didn’t have any wheat out that he knew of. Didn’t think he was complaining of his back.

H. H. Hamman testified that he was present at time of called trial at Sager’s store. Heard West Craig say to Solon Linthicum “For God’s sake, Soly, stick to me, don’t go back on me.” All were under arrest at the time. Soly’s trial was first. This was after the hearing. Don’t know what induced him to make that statement. He was close to him, there was no mistake about that. All I heard.

J. E. Dellinger testified that he was at the called trial and heard West Craig say to Soly Linthicum, “I didn’t think you was going to give me away. Soly, you always talk too much.”

Henry Sager testified that he was at the trial and heard West Craig say to Soly Linthicum, “For God’s sake, don’t tell.”

Jno. W. Wilkerson testified that he reached the fire between 12 and 1 o’clock. He was looking for remains. He found an open knife just outside the entrance to mill. Handle was burnt and blade twisted found no locks or boxes.

I had a little conversation about West Craig about the burning. Knew him about 30 years.

S. H. Lonas testified that there was no insurance on the property.

J. C. Lonas testified to the place where human bones were found.

John Crider testified that West Craig asked him the question: “Do you think a man that has been a murderer can enter the kingdom of heaven?”

This closed the Commonwealth’s case.

Defendant’s witnesses.

Wm. Garber testified that he hauled in July or August to West Craig one barrel of flour and the rest in sacks. That he bought a calf of West Craig’s and paid him the money. Craig’s wife had brought berries to him and he had given her an order for a small quantity of flour.

Frank Tusing testified that he hauled one barrel of flour in July or August 1900 from Lonas’ mill at Mt. Jackson to West Craig.

Mrs. Craig, wife of the prisoner testified that her husband was at home sick in bed the day preceding the fire. that Bob Linthicum had come over and stayed there that night. Did not hear of the burning till children came from school. First barrel of flour from S. P. Lonas early in the Spring, next from Mt. Clifton 2d week in July, another barrel bought by M. J. Tusing, 100 lbs. from Mumaw, and flour from 2 bushels of wheat and some for which berries were traded.

On cross examination testified that she had not told Mrs. Baker that she was glad the mill was burned. Did not tell S. H. Lonas that she could not pity him, &c.

Robt. Linthicum testified that he was at West Craig’s the night of the fire, had gone there to cure West’s back. West Craig was in in bed all the time I was there. He was there from sundown to 11:30. His son was reading Johnstown history. He slept upstairs.

On cross examination said that he did not tell Mrs. Webb that Elsie Craig said “that he was down below the mill and was too far off to see West Craig kill Bruce Lonas, if he killed him.”


Mrs. Sarah Webb testified that she overheard a conversation between her brother and Robt. Linthicum and that Robt. Linthicum told her brother that he was at home the night of the burning with a sick wife and child. Was standing some distance away. That was all the conversation that I heard. She had met Robt. Linthicum in the road.

He said to her that Elsie Craig had said that he was down below the mill and was too far off to see West kill Bruce.

Mrs. Baker testified that Mrs. Craig told her the Monday after the burning that she was glad the mill was burned.

S. H. Lonas said that Mrs. Craig told him between Mt. Jackson and Mt. Clifton that she could not pity him for the loss of the mill, but if Bruce was burned up, she did pity Bruce. He further testified that he did not remember saying to Mrs. Craig that Bruce sold all the flour and grain and he (S. H. L.) had nothing to show for it but Bruce said that he (Bruce) had the money.

The jury was out but a short time, when they returned a verdict of guilty and fixed the penalty at seven years confinement in the Virginia penitentiary.

Counsel for the defendant moved to set aside the verdict as contrary to the law and the evidence.

The court admitting that the evidence was not strong against the prisoner, did not feel justified in setting the verdict aside, as the jury was the party to judge of the weight of the evidence.

A touching scene.

On last Saturday afternoon, there was in our Court House, one of the saddest scenes that court officers have ever been called to witness. It was not arranged by counsel for spectacular effect, but it was a most touching spontaneous exhibition of a wife and the love of children for a husband and father. It was not intended to influence the jury; for they were not present when the distressed family joined the prisoner.

William Wesley Craig had been indicted upon the charge of burning a mill, in which perished a young man about twenty years of age. The evidence had all been given by the counsel for the prosecution and for the defense had made their arguments; the court had delivered its intentions and the jury had returned to their room to deliberate and prepare a verdict.

The prisoner was waiting — waiting for the verdict that was to restore him to his family, or confine him to a cheerless cell in the Virginia penitentiary. On his left sat his wife, almost heartbroken and yet endeavoring to administer some words of comfort; behind him stood his oldest daughter, just blooming into womanhood, the tears silently streaming down her face; on his right were two younger daughters with bowed heads and on his knee sat a bright faced little boy, about four years old, who gave evidence of great delight at being permitted to caress and fondle his papa. His childish prattle showed that he did not recognize the shadow of the angry cloud that was even then threatening to burst with fury upon them.

The jury with solemn faces filed into their places; they looked upon the prisoner, the prisoner looked upon them, and the word “guilty” was pronounced.

The prisoner was hastily separated from his family and had taken but a step or two, when the little boy pulled his coat. He quickly turned around, kissed the upturned face of his frightened child, and was then led to his prison cell.