While processing the index for our birth records, Tori Roberts ran across a note in pencil on Harley Beard that stated “Electrocuted at Ohio Penitentiary 1914”. Now this was such a strange occurrence because the record as I said was a birth record, not a death record. This clearly sparked interest, because whoever wrote this note must have been invested in the case in which Harley Beard was sentenced to death by the electric chair.
Initial research into Harley turned up his portrait, as it’s called, which seems more like what we would call a mugshot. The description on the entry for Harley on Ohio Memory is “Harley Beard, of Lawrence County, was electrocuted December 4, 1914, for the Murder of Bob-Mary-Nancy Massie. On May 13, 1914, Harley, a 18-year-old farm hand brutally killed Nancy (76) and her son and daughter Bob (44) and Mary (40) at their farm house in Lawrence County, Ohio. Nancy and Mary were found with their throats slit and Bob with his skull crushed the following day, and Beard was captured and confessed to the murders.”
While this explains the crime and subsequent sentence of electrocution at the State Penitentiary, it does not explain why there was a penciled in note on Harley’s birth record in Warren County. If the murders took place 150 miles away and 18 years after his birth, why would the Warren County employee find it necessary to include this in Harley’s birth record. Thankfully the Western Star shed some light on Harley’s history in Warren County. Born to Arthur Beard and Elizabeth Truss, Harley was one of at least 8 children. In March of 1901 there was an article printed in the Western Star titled “Could Not Support His Eight Children” where the article details that one of his daughters, Rebecca Helen Beard aged 14 years, “came into Squire Corwin’s office crying, and said that her half-brother took liberties with her and that she was afraid of him.” This article provided some background into the type of household that Harley was being raised in. Rebecca was sent to the Warren County Children’s Home following this incident. Unfortunately, even though the Warren County has these records, they are not open to the public. By age 16, Harley had landed himself in the paper by escaping from the Warren County Children’s Home.
The final tragic detail of Harley Beard’s short life was his letter where he “Blames Booze and Cigarettes” and “Warns Young Folks to Refrain from use of either.” While this may have been the reason Harley chose to focus on, it seems that further into his letter it becomes apparent that his wayward childhood and unstable home life led Harley to his untimely fate. “I never had a chance. I was motherless and fatherless, and if I would have had a chance I would never have been put in the penitentiary.”
We have an update on Harley Beard’s unfortunate upbringing.
In our earlier blog post we mentioned that Harley had spent time at the Warren County Children’s Home. While thumbing through the records we found out that not only did Harley spend time in the home but so did his 5 siblings: Rebecca Ellen, Mary, Wilbert, James, and Ellsworth.
The youngest, Ellsworth, was only 5 when he was taken to the home. All of the children spent time in the home and were occasionally loaned out to various households within the county, most likely to provide an extra set of hands around the house or farm. Ellsworth ended his time at the Children’s Home by being taken to the “Reformatory at Mansfield by Probation Officer April 6, 1911 at the age of 12.