Was It Charles Miller? We May Never Know

By Stephen D. Bowling

Who was he?  No one was sure.  He could have been any number of people who went missing in and around Jackson about 1903.  When they found him- there was not much left to help them learn his identity.

George Hays and his wife, Martha (Oliver) Hays.

George Hays and Judge Henry Franklin Davis climbed the hill on Lower Cut-Off Branch and cut several trees on February 13, 1906.  After trimming the branches, they cut the logs into eight-foot sections.  Despite the cool temperatures, they worked up a sweat.  They sat down to rest on the side of a steep bluff behind a large tree to rest before they “laid the ax” to another.  What they found was shocking and the February 16, 1906 edition of The Breathitt County News called it gruesome.  They found a human skull, bleached white by the sun, and nearby the rest of the body.

Sheriff Breck Crawford from the January 5, 1906 edition of The Breathitt County News.

Hays came to Jackson and retrieved Sheriff Daniel Breck Crawford and several men to the site about half a mile below Jackson on the Kentucky River.  Judge Davis and the authorities placed the bones in a box and carried them to the Courthouse where a Coroner’s inquest was held. 

Sheriff Crawford summoned several jurors from off the street. Mason Wright, O. A. Hagins, James William Cunningham, John D. Jones, Dick Blount, and George W. Sewell were sworn as the Jury and charged with rendering a verdict. 

According to reports, the clothing that the person was wearing at the time of their death had all rotted away with the exception of a heavy coat and his shoes. Several buttons were found among the scraps of clothing and the maggot casings. The thick coat was examined by the jury at the courthouse and a single bullet hole was found in the right chest.  

A view inside the Circuit Courtroom on the second floor of the old Breathitt County Courthouse. In this room, the inquest was held over the clothing and remains found on Lower Cut-Off Branch.

After reviewing the bones and coat spread over a large table in the Circuit Courtroom, the Coroner’s jury returned the following report:

“The flesh has all rotted away and the skeleton had fallen to pieces, and no paper or other evidences could be ascertained. 

We found evidence from the coat sufficient to convince us that the man had come to his death by a gun shot wound, and from a 10 cent coin found by the side of his bones, dated 190s, we find that he came to his death since 1903, and that his name, or the cause of his death, is unknown to us, and judging from the appearance of his teeth and other parts of his skeleton, he was a man past fifty years of age. 

We found that seven of his ribs had been fractured at some previous time and had healed, and that five of his upper and fine of his lower teeth had been lost some time before his death.”

The article from the February 16, 1906 edition of The Breathitt County News is the only information that exists about the discovery of a body on Lower Cut-Off Branch.

The jury’s decision was that the man had been murdered by a single gunshot wound to the chest.

The authorities continued to ask for information and to share the details of the Coroner’s inquest in hope that someone would recognize the description of the mean. John David Neal came forward and told Sheriff Crawford that he might know who the body was.  According to Neal, a man boarded at his home across the river near the mouth of Bailey Hollow in South Jackson for three months in 1903 and went missing leaving all of his clothing and possessions.  He never returned to claim his belongings.  J. D. Neal identified the man as Charles Miller.

The Breathitt County News reported that the “evidence is strong against two men who lived near here at the time, both of whom are now in the custody of the law, but not for this crime.”  The paper reminded readers that “Murder Will Out.”

From all indications, murder did not out.  The Charles Miller murder never again was mentioned in the local newspaper.  A search of the digitized newspapers around the state did not reveal any mention of the mystery body or the two men who were suspected.  No information exists as to where the remains were buried.  The “gruesome discovery” as the newspaper described the situation faded into Breathitt County lore, and it remains one of Jackson’s many unsolved murders.

© 2022 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Jackson, Murder and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s