by Keith Davis
True account of a prominent woman of Logan during the Depression, who is brutally murdered with a broken neck, throat slashed, and point blank gunshots to the head. Mamie was a member of the tight lipped aristocracy who used a special room in downtown Logan for their private club for gambling, illegal drinking, wife-swapping and the like. A local handyman was apparently framed for the murder and spent the rest of his life in prison. But recently a slew of evidence pointing to several groups from the mob, to the KKK, to rumrunners had a part in this gruesome story.
It has been called the Appalachian Dahlia, mostly because it closely parallels another famous homicide that took place years later in Hollywood. Over seventy-five years ago, in the cradle of southern West Virginia's most rugged mountain range, a bizarre and grisly murder grabbed national headlines due to the peculiar circumstances surrounding the senseless homicide. Now, a book - a new revision offering greater detail and newly discovered information - takes another look at a puzzling true account, which involved a number of white-collar suspects, an intense community scandal and a shocking gangland-style execution that still baffles the public. This is a full re-write and revision of a former literary hit, The Secret Life and Brutal Death of Mamie Thurman. The book represents the first in-depth work concerning socialite Mamie Thurman and her inexplicable, gruesome murder back in 1932. It includes a new investigation and several all-new chapters in the murder case. Mamie was savagely destroyed on a rainy night in June: shot in the head; neck fractured; face disfigured; throat cut; and her lifeless corpse dumped over a mountainside, like garbage at an illegal dump site.
According to Bill Clements, of Quarrier Press, "This new work is a complete reconsideration of its predecessor. It includes much more research and interview material than its former release. The author grabs the reader's attention from the onset. It's part crime drama, part roller coaster ride, and most amazing of all, this is a true story." It is a terribly immoral and violent report from the heart of the Bible belt, during the final year of Prohibition. And since 1932, the story has taken on urban legend status, where there are now claims of ghostly sightings and other weird occurrences that only add to this fantastic story.
Mamie Thurman Murder Book Reveals 'Dark Underbelly' of 1930s Logan, WV
By David M. Kinchen
Huntingtonnews.net Book Critic
Oct. 6, 2008
It has all the elements of a John Sayles ("Matewan") movie: Political corruption on a massive scale, a Bible Belt coal mining community where liquor was consumed and marital fidelity was regularly ignored...Not to mention a brutal murder that foreshadowed the "Black Dahlia" murder of Elizabeth Ann Short in Los Angeles 15 years later.
We're talking about "The Secret Life and Brutal Death of Mamie Thurman" (Quarrier Press, Charleston, WV, 215 pages, $15.95) by F. Keith Davis.
In his revised second edition of a book published a few years ago, Davis explores the murder of Mamie Thurman in Logan, WV in June 1932. Logan County, of which Logan is the county seat and largest town, was ruled by one of the most corrupt sheriffs in Mountain State history, "Dapper Don" Chafin, who extorted protection money from every business in the county.
Mamie Thurman was 32 when she met her end in the most horrific fashion, with her mutilated body dumped on a hillside outside of the town of 2,500. Davis provides extensive background to the murder, including a description of rampant alcohol and drug abuse in the waning years of prohibition, a key club where members arranged affairs and what many consider the railroading of Clarence Stephenson, a nearly illiterate black handyman/chauffeur of one of Mamie's lovers, Henry Robertson.
Mamie was married to Jack Thurman, a Logan city policeman more than a decade older than her. In almost any murder of a women, her husband is the likely suspect. Did Jack Thurman, working the night shift in Logan, learn of his wife's many infidelities and take her life? To this day, many Logan residents believe Stephenson was convicted by an all-white jury to hush up the sexual involvement of Mamie with dozens of the city's socially prominent men.
To Mamie, the Roaring Twenties didn't end with the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 and the Great Depression that followed; she was a church-going, women's club member by day and the "Stratton Street Vixen" by night. Stratton and Main are the two principal streets in Logan, which looks a lot bigger in the photographs in the book than any community of 2,500 has any right to be. It looks as big as, say Beckley or Bluefield, with big office blocks and large hotels.
The new paperback adds additional details to the original book, including interviews with people who believe the wrong man was sentenced to life in prison, where he died in Huttonsville after a stretch at the gothic 1866-vintage state prison in Moundsville.
There's an element of haunting in the book, with speculation about a ghostly Mamie Thurman regularly appearing in the county. It's as if Mamie is still searching for her murderer, her real killer, not the small-statured, disfigured black man who was imprisoned for her murder in a county where the Ku Klux Klan reigned supreme.
The new edition, written by newspaperman and Logan County resident Davis, is an updated examination of the slaying that now includes new photographs from the original state police investigation and actual court testimony from the subsequent trial, which revealed the murdered woman's adulterous affairs with several prominent local businessmen. Adding to the Hollywood suitability of the story is an attractive woman reporter, Mary Yvonne Scales, who covered the trial for the local newspaper, the Logan Banner. This was at a time when women news people rarely ventured outside the food and society pages. How about Anna Paquin, the star of the HBO hit series "True Blood," as Scales?
Bill Clements of Quarrier Press: "This new work is a complete reconsideration of its predecessor. It includes much more research and interview material than its former release. There are also several new chapters that better cover the decades-old case. The author grabs the reader's attention from the onset. It's part crime drama, part roller coaster ride, and most amazing of all, this is a true story. Such a riveting literary work should be in every home and high school/college library across the state."
Calling all movie makers, including Sayles, Danny Boyd and David Fincher, director of last year's engrossing "Zodiak," about the mass murderer in Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mamie Thurman is a natural for a true-crime movie. Until then, read the book and decide for yourself who the real killer of the "Stratton Street Vixen" is.
About the author:
Authored by newspaperman and Logan County resident F. Keith Davis. His bone-chilling examination of the slaying, which now includes new photographs from the original state police investigation and actual court testimony from the subsequent trial, reveals even more about the murdered woman's adulterous affairs with prominent local businessmen and her high-risk lifestyle.