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Saturday, February 8, 1879
Page 2


The Outrage on the People of Franklin
County by the Destruction
of the Records.

Further Particulars of the Coal Oil
Experiment on Saturday—The Basest of Incendiarisms on Record—
Indignation of the People

From Monday's Daily.]

Notwithstanding the duties of the Sabbath the fire at the County Recorder's office on Saturday was the great source of comment yesterday [Feb. 3]. At the hotels, restaurants, saloons and everywhere men were talking about it, and there seemed to be but one opinion, that a daring and dastardly job had been set up, and that the implicated parties should be brought to justice.

The discovery of the fire was made by Beale Poste, the chief clerk for Mr. Cole. He arrived at the office shortly after seven o'clock, and, after arranging things in the office, he proceeded to open the vault. It has been customary with Recorder Cole to just close the front door of the vault, and only lick the inside door, which is similar to a sub-treasury door in a safe. Mr. Poste, for the first time, found that the outside door was bolted, and the combination had been moved, so that the bold would not slip back until the combination had been placed in its proper position. He the touched the knob, for the purpose of adjusting the combination, and found that it was hot. On opening the outer door he found that the space between the doors was filled with smoke; opening the inner door a dense volume of smoke came puffing out. Immediately he closed the door, so the fire would not be fanned and went to the Sheriff's office for assistance. Deputy Sheriff Murphy was the first person told of the fire, and he at once gave the alarm at the Fulton street engine house. The fire department responded promptly, and the fire was soon subdued.


The vault for the Recorder's records is 14z16 feet in the clear, with double iron doors in the end, connecting it with the office, and a window in the opposite end, protected with double iron shutters. The shelving for the books is arranged on the sides of the room, and the cases for chattel mortgages and other papers stand at the entrance. The vault was constructed with hollow walls; the outside one is thirteen inches thick and has an air chamber six inches in width. The inside wall is nine inches thick, making the whole thickness twenty-eight inches. The floor is composed of stone and the ceiling of brick arches, supported by iron beams.


The origin of the fire is unknown, but there are good grounds to believe that it was the work of an incendiary. This was the all-absorbing topic by citizens on Saturday, and may surmises were set afloat, some suggesting that it took fire from a flue; others that it caught from a match, which had accidentally dropped in the shelvings; a few who thought a fuse had been left in the vault for the purpose, and a large number, who were quite decisive in their conclusion that entrance had been gained to the vault by some malicious person, and the books purposely ignited.

In December, 1877, just after the plastering had been completed, a stove was placed in the vault, for the purpose of drying the walls. When the stove was removed, the flue was stopped up with brick and mortar, and the opening made secure. What seems strange is that upon examination, since the fire, the flue was found open, the filling having been removed since the completion of the work. However, it is not believed that a spark dropping into the flue would have set fire to the books.

Mr. Siebert, of the firm of Siebert & Lilley, blank book manufacturers, said that the books of this kind were not easily burned, and his opinion in this respect is practicable for the reason that the books are made of hard paper, are very compact in binding, and even placed in shelving made to order. That it was the work of an incendiary is beyond doubt. The fact that coal oil was on the books, and that they were placed in the shelving with the backs in and the leaves out, and spread open, can be proven by a dozen witnesses.


it is thought by Mr. Siebert, was started about midnight, and burned for eight hours. He also states that the books would not have burned so badly, if they had been in the shelving properly. This statement is corroborated by George L. Ruggles, traveling salesman for the firm of Siebert & Lilley. Mr. Siebert states also that there was some air in the vault, as he believes the books would not have burned at all, had there not been. They believe that coal oil was poured on the books beyond doubt.


In the vault the deed books are on the west side, and the mortgage books on the east. The fire was started at the southwest corner, immediately under deed book “A,” and run the whole length of the shelving, and then run back in order, and then again start back, so that the books destroyed are the oldest and newest in the vaults. The list of the books lost are as follows: “T” and Nos. 11 and 12, what are known as the Ross County Record. They contained the deeds from 1780 to 1804. The next books contained the records from 1804 to 1820, and were marked A, B, C, D, E, F, H; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. The new books lost were Nos. 117 to 137 inclusive. The old plat books of the city, numbered 1, 2 and 3, were also destroyed. Of the books destroyed, deed book “F” is by far the most valuable. It contained the original deeds of this city. It is supposed that thirty volumes were lost, but four or five have been found. The mortgage books being on the east side, were not injured; also the chattel mortgages and deeds which have not been called for. All of the books were removed at once to the Opera House building, and placed in charge of Mr. Siebert. Later in the day, however, such as were not wet were taken back and placed in the old vault, and watchmen placed on guard. The damaged books will be ready for removal this morning.


After the excitement had subsided, a reporter of the STATE JOURNAL, talked with him about the matter. He states that on Friday evening he was the last to leave the office, and he is certain the books were in their proper condition, the back window fastened, and the inner doors to the vault locked. He further states that matches were never kept in the vault, and the gas had been turned off when he left. Mr. Cole says that there are but two keys to the vault, one of which he carries, and the other, his clerk. He states that no person has ever been permitted to look at these keys, as they always have been kept out of sight, so there has not been any chances for any person to make a duplicate key of this kind.


Mr. Kelly is on duty at the jail all night. About four o'clock he heard a man on the outside of the jail and in the rear of the Court House by the window of the Recorder's office. This man made considerable racket. He came around from the front of the Court House, where it is supposed he had been closing up things tight and then went to the rear to see that the shutters were closed, knowing that if the fire was observed from the jail it would be put out. The man then passed out the gate by the Sheriff's office from the rear of the Court House, no doubt having at that time just completed his job and having things adjusted, as he thought, so that the fire could clean out the records without being observed from the outside. Mr. Kelley patrols the room in which the prisoners are kept and he was on the alert for fear of some violence to the jail. As he is kept on the inside watching the prisoners he made no observations on the outside movements. But as to the fact of some party going out of the rear Court House yard about four o'clock; Mr. Kelley has no doubt. An investigation was made about the county premises yesterday, and the more the matter is inquired into the more alarming the atrocious outrage on the public becomes.


A reporter found Chief Heinmilleryesterday, and obtained the following statement, which begins at the time he arrived at the fire:

I sent Janitor, David Kellenberger, to open the inside shutters of the vault, and he failed. In the meantime I sent several of the firemen around to the outside, for the same purpose. They had a crowbar, but I had no idea they could open the window. About the time Kellenberger came out, I saw the light coming through the window, for the shutters came open without any trouble whatever. Whether the firemen raised the window or not, I am not positive. The bolts on the inside shutters ar on the outside, so that the firemen could easily open them. As soon as Kellenberger took off the smoke protector, he had on, I put it on and went in, taking the hose with me. At the same time, the firemen were coming in at the window. Then we turned on the water, and put out what fire there was, after which we shut off the water at the nozzle. Ne then shoved the two tables to the east side, and took out the books where the fire was, and placed them upon the table. Turning around, I saw the books in the shelving and discovered that some of the books were in the pigeon holes with the backs folded together, and the leaves spread open in front, so that they would burn more readily. I suppose twenty-five books were in this position, which were not burned, and were next to those which had been entirely destroyed. I remarked to the men “that it was a funny way to put books into the pigeon holes.” At this time the Sheriff's and Recorder's forces were removing the books outside the vault. I stopped them, thinking that the books would be safer in the vault, as the fire was out. Then I set the men to work in picking up the scraps of books in the burnt corner, and to place them on the tables carefully. I tore down such shelving as was necessary, where I though fire would be in the rear. By this time I found that every book had been removed, and the fire put out, so there was not any further danger. I then ordered the men to return to the engine houses.


Then I inspected the flue, to see what was the cause of the fire, thinking that the carpenters, in plugging the wall to put up the wooden shelving, had driven into this flue, which I thought was next to the vault. In examining the plugs which were burned, I found that all of the plugs were burned on the end in the vault and not the end in the wall. In looking at the flue at the bottom and the one above I found the upper open. They are eight inches square, and the lower one had a wire screen over it. As to whether the upper one had ever been closed or not, I could not say.

I could not discover that the fire had originated from this cause, and in company with the Sheriff I went up to the Clerk's vault where I examined the wall where the flue was supposed to come up and found that it was, apparently, as cool as any room where there was fire enough to heat it to 70 degrees. I could not discover any evidence of fire, and I then went to the top of the building to see if there were any divisions between the air chamber and the flue used for the kitchen. I found covering the flue and chamber a flat stone. A hole was cut through the side for the kitchen flue, but the air chamber was completely covered up, so that a spark could go down the air chamber, and the vault would not have any draft, unless there was a hole in the partition. I am of the opinion that the fire was the work of an incendiary, and the Sheriff is of the same opinion, as there was never better evidence to establish the fact.

About ten o'clock, when I was in the City Clerk's office, I was told that some of the books had coal oil upon them. I then went back to the Recorder's office and found Mr. Cole there, and inquired of him whether he was in the habit of placing books in the pigeon holes with the backs in and the leaves out, at the same time explaining by placing a book in the position indicated. He laughed at the idea of placing the books in that shape, and said they were always placed in the shelving with the backs out and in proper condition. I then said to him, that the books might have been placed in that way, as the holes were not large enough to receive them. He said that all the holes were wide enough. I then took Mr. Cole in the vault and showed him how I had found them. I inquired where the books with coal oil on them were, and he told me the County Commissioners had them. In company with J. B. Hall I went over to the Commissioners office, and asked Mr. Beekey to let me see those books which were saturated with coal oil. He took me into the Surveyor's office, where we found two books on a table, and they were saturated with coal oil beyond all doubt. One book was burned through the center, which shows conclusively that it was standing open. Mr. Hall suggested that these books should be preserved, and I requested Mr. Beekey to wrap them up in four or five thicknesses or coarse cloths and have them put away, until a committee or detective might wish to use them. They are now in the vault at the Auditor's office.

Several of the firemen were interviewed on the subject and the following is the result: G. W. Rhoades, of the Donaldson Engine House, states that he took out five books, which were held in the shelving by the backs, and with the leaves spread open in front. Lewis Becker, of the Fulton Street Engine House, took out seven which were in the same position. Andrew Bertsch, of the same house, took out three. Andrew Scheaf said the book were passed to him in this manner.

The firemen, Daniel Reed, Robert Wacher, and Lewis Becher, of the Fulton street house, who opened the vault window, say they had no trouble whatever in doing it, as the shutters were loose, and swung back without force being applied.


A discovery was made yesterday which may be of great use to the county. At least it establishes the fact that there will be competition in the market for supplying the county with the lost records. In 1859 and 1860 General C. C. Walcutt was surveyor of this county. The General, in company with his brother-in-law, Mr. Samuel M. Mills, had been at work abstracting the titles of the county. In this case they had prepared a complete index, with records of deeds, etc., up to May, 1820. Fortunately this will just reach the period at which the loss ends. The General states that Mr. Field aided him and his brother-in-law and the three were over a year in getting to 1820. The was then broke up the firm and the books were deserted for the field. It was the intention at first to make a complete record and the work was carefully done so far as it went. General Walcutt's records are on what is known as the “St. Louis plan.” and Brown Bothers use the “Chicago plan.” The books were stored away in the General's residence and he took them down last night and exhibited them to the reporters with considerable satisfaction, stating that it may not be “labor lost” after all. Among this collection is a copy of the original plat of Columbus, and that is one of the losses at the Court House most regretted. When the old books at General Walcutt's residence were found last night it was like striking a “lump” in the gold regions, and the General himself was about as much surprised as the newsmongers [sic.].



Albert Brown, brother of the Brown Brothers, abstracters, was arrested on Broad street shortly after seven o'clock last evening and taken to the station house, where a charge of arson was entered opposite his name. The arresting officers were Deputy Sheriff John E. Murphy and Philip Wisker, of the police force.

The warrant was sworn out before Mayor Heitmann yesterday afternoon, the affidavit being made by Officer Wisker. It sets forth, in brief, that Albert Brown did, on or about the first day of February, unlawfully, willfully, etc., set fire to the Recorder's office of Franklin county with the the intent to burn the same. The value of the property destroyed is estimated at $200, which includes the damage to carpet, shelving and other furniture. The question of the records is not considered in the affidavit, their loss being deemed irreparable.

The arrest was made on the north side of Broad street, between High and Third, Mr. Brown being either on his way to, or coming from the office of the Brown Brothers. When taken in charge he did not demand a reading of the warrant, but said: "Which way shall I go," referring to the route which should be mapped out to reach the station house. The officers started off, bringing the prisoner down Third street, east of Capitol Square, and before reaching State street, two men were met with whom Brown had a few words in regard to the news of his arrest reaching the Brown Brothers of the abstracting firm. When on Town street Mr. Brown was allowed to speak with Mr. Wm. Fairchild, whom he requested to go and inform his brothers that he had been arrested.

About twenty minutes past eight o'clock Colonel John C. Groom appeared at the station house in the capacity of attorney for Brown, being accompanied by Mr. William Fairchild. The officer in charge refused at first to allow Colonel Groom to see the prisoner, a request having been made to that effect, stating that he would not be allowed to do so without an order from the Superintendent. The attorney intimated that he only wanted to be refused, and continued that he had nothing to say to the prisoner but he would be willing that the turnkey should hear.

The prisoner has been making his headquarters for some time in the branch abstract office on High street just south of the Court House, where the firm of Brown Brothers formerly did a part of their business, but it has not been in use by them for quite a period. They have a five year lease on the property. The prisoner both slept and it is stated supplied himself for the greater part of the time with eatables in the rear room of this office. No person last night seemed to know that Mr. Brown had any regular business occupation, further than he has been employed from time to time to do odd jobs of work about the Court House and for different persons.


appointed to examine into the mystery of the fire in the Recorder's office Saturday morning, made a partial report to the County Commissioners yesterday evening. The committee suggested that a reward not less than $2,000 be offered for the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. The members of the committee are unanimous in the opinion that the fire was the work of an incendiary. A further report will be submitted to the Commissioners, in which some pertinent suggestions will be made concerning changes in the vault, with a view toward making it more secure. It is probable that galvanized iron shelving, iron-cased tables, combination lock for the window, or else no window at all, and to have the vault closed to everybody, except the Recorder and his clerk, will be recommended by the committee. The Commissioners have offered a

REWARD OF $3,000

for the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. A petition, signed by a large number of prominent citizens, requested the Commissioners to offer $5,000, and the examining committee recommended a reward of not less than $2,000, so the Board concluded that $3,000 was an equitable amount.


around the Court House yesterday were numerous, and many property owners who live near the county line were anxious to know as to whether their titles to real estate were safe or not. Recorder Cole has been very busy in consoling some of these land owners, by assuring them that there was no cause for alarm. As soon as possible work will be resumed in the office, and proper notice will be given to persons who have had deeds recorded in the books which have been lost to bring them to the office to be re-recorded.

The records are still in the old vault, and a watchman on duty. The new vault is hardly dry enough for use, but it is likely that the books will be placed in it to-day.

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