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Frank Staley Murder

One of the more interesting events that occurred in the Bobtown/Belle Union/Mt. Meridian area was the death of Frank Staley in 1877. The following was taken from A Journey Through Putnam County History, 1966:

On August 9, 1877 occurred an unsolved murder about three miles southeast of Belle Union. Frank (Francis E.) Staley was shot from outside his cabin. He was a bachelor and lived alone. Robbery was probably the motive since his money box was rifled. He was known to always keep his gun handy and when his body was found he had a pickle in one hand and was in a position that indicated he had made a last desperate dive to reach the gun. A neighbor, Ed O’Neal had heard a shot about nine o’clock but did not think much about it. When Frank failed to show up the next morning at his brother-in-law’s Nicholas Shultz, they went to look for him. It seems that he and Mr. O’Neal found the body. The coroner was summoned and arrived in the afternoon. The corpse was laid away about dusk the same day on the victim’s farm. About two weeks later it was dug up and the bullet found. However, the guilty party or parties were never found.

There are several items that need to be pointed out about this article, since the facts appear to have been stretched just enough that the folklore that this story has evolved into is much different that the primary source documentation. The death of Frank Staley was first reported in the Indianapolis News on August 4, 1877. An article in the Greencastle Banner dated August 9, 1877 stated Frank Staley was found the previous Thursday morning, which would have been August 2, 1877, and it was believed that he had been murdered the prior evening, which would be August 1, 1877. That same article noted that four of his neighbor farmers – Ed O’Neal, James Meek, Hiram Cox and Milton McAnich had been at Frank Staley’s farm the day before the body was found helping him in haying. It was reported that O’Neal was the first of these men to report to Staley early the following morning for another day of haying and found his body. It was further reported that Staley was shot just as he finished eating a raw cucumber, and there was no indication he was holding a pickle, nor was there any mention of any kind regarding a pickle. The newspaper report continued that he had first been shot in the head area, with the 32-caliber bullet glancing off, at which time Staley tried to shut the door on the assailant or assailants. This bullet was found on the floor of the cabin. He was then shot in the chest, with this second bullet striking the fourth rib on the right side, lodging between the fourth and fifth ribs of his left side. Then a third fatal shot was fired which penetrated his back below the shoulder blade, lodging in his heart. That same article also reported that Sheriff Stone arrested Thomas Graves and John Smith at Brazil and held them on suspicion of causing Staley’s death.

An article in the Greencastle Banner on August 16, 1877 indicated that Graves and Smith satisfactorily accounted for their whereabouts at the time of the murder and were set free, having never being charged in the murder of Staley. It appears that no other suspects were arrested or charged in the murder of Frank Staley, and the case remained unsolved.

I could find no news reports about his body later being dug up to find the bullet. It would seem odd that this would have happened, since the August 9 news article stated that the first bullet which glanced off the head of Staley was found on the floor of his cabin. These contemporaneous primary source news articles are attached in their entirety.

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