Let the Trial’s Begin!



                                                   FIRST TRIAL

December 16, 1896 the preliminary  trial began in Knox, Starke County Indiana. Fifty witnesses were called to give testimony. Afterwards it was decided to continue on to convict.

Starke county could not hold a trial since another large trial was going on and because the murderer, Sutherlin and his victim were both from Marshall county then that county could take and try them….after all “Marshall county trouble makers were always coming to Starke County causing problems”. January 21, 1897 the lawyers for Sutherlin, Martindale and Stevens  an application was made to Marshall county Indiana for a change of venue and it was granted.

One thing that was certain that holding the trial in Marshall County would increase Starke’s expenses by $500 or more.

Under heavy guard William Lawrence Sutherlin was taken to Plymouth, Marshall County Indiana. There had been talk of lynching and that Sutherlin was a violent man that would try anything to get away.  Thankfully neither occurred on train between Knox and Plymouth.

The trial of the State of Indiana vs Sutherlin for the murder of his partner William Edwin B Fetters started 7 April 1887.

For the defense was Messrs. Martindale adn Stevens of Plymouth

The state of Indiana was represented by Messrs Steis of Winamac, Glazebrooke, of Knox and Prosecutting Attorney Bernetha of Rochester and Prosecutor L. M Lauer of Plymouth

Little was said about this first trial in the papers of the time.  The mule was identified as one being owned by Daniel Rohrer.  John Braden testified that Sutherlin and Fetters were in and out of his saloon on a day in mid November.  He stated that she saw Fetters pay their bill with a $5 bill pulled from a roll of money.  When Fetters body was discovered the only item found on him was a broken pencil, no money was found.

For the defense Edith Sutherlin, wife of William Sutherlin, stated testified that her husband was home the night of Fetters disappearance.  Edith also testified that Ed Fetters had made his home with them for three years, after his divorce and previous to his death.

When Sutherlin took the stage to defend himself and  he, of course, declared himself innocent of any charge of murder. He stated that Fetters did not have any money on him and the only money Sutherlin had on him at the time was $2 he received from trade. He denied skinning a mule or telling anyone he skinned one.

The defense tried to prove that Fetters was without money and that Sutherlin was in “reality a benefactor to him for years before the murder”.

Sutherlin also testified that months earlier  while in Knox at the fair Fetters made the aquanitance of Grace Primley, a woman of loose morals.  Fetters had arranged to take her home but after finding Grace had a child with her Fetters backed out.

On November 16, 1896 while they were again in Knox and on the way back home in the night Fetters told Sutherlin that he wanted to stop and visit Grace (Primley).  Sutherlin stopped the wagon at the Election School and at that point Fetters jumped off and went to visit.  Fetters told Sutherlin that from there he intended to go to Silver Lake for work and some clothing.  That is the last time Sutherlin saw Fetters.

From there Sutherlin turned in a different direction and met a camp of horse traders, traded a watch for a mule.  The mule was only good enough for the pelt and decided to skin it right then.  (This was something different he had told the court in Knox that he didnt not buy or skin a mule)

Trying to travel on with the old lame mule proved difficult so he decided to tie the mule up there in the marsh by the road and travel on home and return in the morning to kill and skin the animal.

He arrived home as the clock was striking 10pm and told his wife he had to get up early the next morning to go back and skin the mule.  He awoke about 4 am and headed out and arrived at sunrise. He took it further into the marsh and killed and skinned it.

Sutherlin explained in great detail how he skinned the mule.  “he having used one horse and a knife.  Had taken with him from his home and ax, knife, short chain and single tree to aid him in his work. Wrapped skin up ans started for Knox”.

Sutherlin picked John Hanes and son on the way and a couple miles met up with his cousin Daniel Rohrer and they all rode together for two more miles.  Eventually they all ended up back in Knox.   Sutherlin and Rohrer traveled back to Rohrer’s home and Sutherlin stayed the night and left for home shortly after sunrise the next morning, reaching Plymouth about 11 AM the next morning went to the Schulthess’ tannery and sold the hides

When prosecutor Glazebrook redirected he caused Sutherlin to squirm with the question about the disappearance  of a partner of his in the “huxter business” located in Pulaski County several years earlier.  He of course denied  any knowledge about it. (As of this time I cannot find anything of the missing partner mentioned by Glazebrook.)

After a recess the witness was asked if he had not been arrested and convicted four times during the past two years on charges of assault and battery and he admitted he had.

Witness Henry Draper of Starke county, stated he had traveled repeatedly over the road which the defendant claims to hv traded for the mule but had never seen any campers.

After quetionsing many more witnesses the case of the murder of Fetters by William Lawrence Sutherlin was closed.

Five attorneys took part in the final arguements.  The court allowed,  by law, unlimited time to emphasize his remarks to the jury.

The next day Prosecuting Attorney Bernetha began the opening address for the prosecution. Summed up the evedence , discussed the tracks of Sutherlins wagon, showed the evedence to the jury. Daniel Rohrer sold the mule to Sutherlin but Sutherlin stated he got it from a group of men.  A gun borrowed from Alexander Hanes was never returned.




After the arrest of William Sutherlin, nearly one month after the death of Ed Fetters, Bill was brought in front of the Starke County coroner, Dr. Waddell of North Judson for a coroner’s inquest.  Dr Waddell found that Ed Fetters “came to his death by being foully murdered by William Sutherlin”.

The coroner issued a writ to the justice of the peace which charged Sutherlin with the murder of William Edwin B. Fetters and on Friday 12 December 1896 was confined in the local jail in Knox Indiana and remained there without bail waiting for a preliminary hearing the next Wednesday.


Residence of Starke County Sheriff, with the attached jail to the right.  Was located at the southeast corner of Mound and Pearl Streets in Knox.
Thanks to the Starke County Historical society for the photograph.

The next day Prosecutor Glazebrook  pursued information that there may be two others which assisted in the crime. One witness, Mr. Woodworth, stated  there was a gang that killed Fetters and later testified that he had heard three to four voices raised in anger. According to witnesses there were also foot prints of different sizes found around the grave and  where the pool of blood was discovered.

After further questions in the area “Taz” Mitchell and Daniel Rohrer were arrested and questioned and released.  Rohrer was found to have sold Sutherlin the mule











The Murdered Man



William Edwin B Fetters

William Edwin B Fetters, born  May 13, 1853 to Daniel and Elizabeth Carr Fetters in Goshen, Elkhart, Indiana.  Third of four children Ed was raised on the family farm in northern corner Marshall County.

Who was William Edwin B Fetters?  During the Sutherlin trial his brother Chauncey Fetters testified that he was commonly known as “Ed”.  “He was born in 1853 and was of a sandy complexion, small in stature and not heavy for his size”.  According to to the coroner Ed was about 5’8″ tall and approximately 120 pounds.  He had a large scar on on e cheek which was caused by scalding water which happened as a child.  It was also at the time of his death he sported a mustache.

On 31 December  1880 Ed Fetters married Emeretta (Etta) Duff in Plymouth, Marshall County.  The newlyweds moved into the Fetters farm owned by Edwin’s parents, Daniel and Elizabeth (Carr) Fetters. About 2 years later the farm house burned to the ground, it was not insured.  In 1882 Peter built the new home which still included Ed, his wife and children.


Edwin Fetters, a dangerous man


Over the next eight years their family would grow to five surviving children, William Clarence, Josephine Dawn “Josie”,  Bessie Viola, Pearl Delilah and Nellie.  For the past two years I have attempted to track each child, trying to find out what became of the children.  The only child I have not found is Nellie.  But the stories about the children will wait for another time.

Fetters brother in law, Rev. Mow,  described Ed as “shiftless” but was entirely harmless. Five years before Ed was murdered Etta divorced Ed claiming he was often cruel. She   packed up the children and moved into her fathers home in Monterey, Pulaski County, Indiana and 4 of the children were scattered to other families to be raised.

After Edwin’s father passed the farm of course went to his mother.  Over the next few years as he lived there he did his best terrorize his mother to sign the farm over to him.  He knew when his mother died the farm would be split amongst all the Fetters children.

Over the next year Ed would drive his mother out of her house as he brandished knives and threatened to kill her.

It was also about this time that Fetters and Sutherlin became close friends and work partners and Ed would move into the Sutherlin home.  Their business ranged from games at local fairs a it of farming and horse trading and skinning.

1882 plymouth

Daniel Fetters, father of Edwin Fetters

I have tried to find the reasons for Fetters turning on family. His parents were considered to be very upstanding and social people.  We may never know the change in a person, did something happen behind closed doors while Ed was growing up?  One brother, Benjamin Fetters, seems to have had mental issues according to the Elkhart Truth on March 14 1890

Elkhart Truth March 14, 1890

Benjamin, eldest brother of Edwin Fetters

It appears that Fetters was more of a follower than leader.  After his mothers death he sold his share of the farm to Sutherlin shortly before the murder.  Fetters moved into Sutherlins home with his wife and children and even grew a large mustache just as Sutherlins own black one.  They were always together and always in some type of trouble.






The Murder

Approximately  nine o’clock on the night of November 16, 1896 raised voices were heard,  2-3 gunshots then quiet.  Wheat Woodruff could hear all of this from the safety of  his home near the Election Schoolhouse in Washington Township, Starke County Indiana.


As stated in the Starke County Democrat of December 19, 1896 Woodruff “heard loud voices apparently quarreling near the school house, and several shots, but did not investigate the case”.  People knew that there had been a murder but were fearful to wander out into the dark of the night, you just didn’t go out at night looking for trouble.


The next morning the two sons of Adrian Van Dalen “found a pool of blood and a man’s cap”.  Shortly after finding the cap William Sutherlin drove up on his buggy and asked for the cap, placed it on his head and remarked “that fits me” and drove off.

Rumors grew and wandered around the county until it finally reached the county seat after a badly decomposed body of a man which had been buried beneath a skinned mule had been found on the southwest shore of Eagle lake.

The grave was found by two trappers, Charles Haines and “Bee” Finch, found a grave near Eagle Lake and alerted others living in the area.  Sheriff Hartner along with  Isaac and Joseph Martin, Lewis Jacobs, John Ashley and others headed to the site and started digging.  They discovered a skinned mule one foot below.  During that era dead animals were normally just left out to decompose so why did someone bury a skinned mule?

The group knew a murder had occurred a month earlier so they made the decision to haul the skinned mule out its grave and discovered  top soil beneath, grass and weeds clinging to the dirt so they continued  digging another 18 inches and there they found the body of an unknown male, knees drawn up under his body, face down in the dirt.

Sheriff Hartner telephoned Coroner Charles Wadell, of North Judson Starke County Indina, who arrived in the chill of the night.  The south-west shore of the lake was lit by rail fires and lanterns.  Men women and children were gathered on the scene as if they were there for a show.  There was an eight foot deep hole, the mule had been dragged about 15 feet away from the “cellar-like” hole and the man’s body laid nearby.  It was then the body was identified as William Edwin B Fetters, aka Ed Fetters. His body was laid in a wagon and headed to Knox.


Ed Fetters had been seen in Knox on November 16 with his partner William Sutherlin, both lived in Plymouth, Marshall Co Indiana.  Sheriff Harter deputized Constable Charles Peele  to go to Plymouth and bring back William Lawrence Sutherlin.  Sutherlin was found at his home about 9 o’clock in the evening. Sutherlin put up no resistance, not even asking what he was arrested for, leaving his wife Edith and their two small children Lawrence and Nellie, behind.

December 12, 1896 William Sutherlin was taken before the coroner holding an investigation in the court and was positively identified by the VanDalen boy as the man that took the hat and drove away.

The coroner issued a warrant for him and Sutherlin was then taken before Squire Hays for a preliminary hearing.  While there he pleaded “not guilty” and requested a continuance for the following Wednesday.  It seems that if Bill knew of a continuance he had to be very familiar with the justice system.

From there he was taken into the presence of the murdered man which he did not recognize as anyone he knew and showed no emotion at the site of the battered and decomposing body.   Dr. I. M. Smith, Jack Batcheleder, Enoch Mow (brother in law of Fetters), Sheriff Marshall and others identified the body as William Edwin B. Fetters.  Because of the condition of the corpse he had to be immediately buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery in Knox Indiana that same Saturday night.

The prisoner was remanded to jail without bond and talk of lynching “was freely indulge in.”





Strange story of a murder


This is not a story about a single crime or criminal, this is much larger than one person.  It did not start with the murder or end with the person in prison.  This is bigger than that one single crime, it is a family story down through the decades.

This  has become an obsession of mine with hundreds of hours of research. Travel to museums looking deeper into a troubled family.  Linking up with family members that never knew the total story.

It all began during a trip to the local library in Starke County, Indiana, my research buddy and I starting scanning through a pile of yellowed newspapers, searching for….something interesting…when I suddenly spotted a large headline in the Starke County Democrat of December 24, 1896,  “Buried Beneath A Mule.”

The headline grabbed my interest and has kept me researching the crime (which became crimes), murderer, victim and families that were all linked through history, from before the murder to modern day families.

Who were the main players of this crime?  Where did this start and where did it end?

The beginning…

William Lawrence Sutherlin was born October 18, 1856 in Warsaw, Indiana to Jonathan Sutherlin and Elizabeth Rosella Guy.  The Sutherlin’s had four children, Phebe, William, Hiram and Elmer.  (Hiram and Elmer died as infants.  Phebe married Henry Tobias Cress).

Jonathan was a religious orator and farmer.  He traveled around the counties preaching the Bible. He passed away in 1866 in Kosciusko County Indiana at the age of 31 leaving his wife well off but alone to raise their children.  Elizabeth eventually remarried but passed away in 1885 at the age of 49 and was buried next to her beloved John and children.

It seems that Elizabeth’s new husband and son did not get along together well and the marriage ended.  William was on his own and seems to have turned to crimes and eventually tried for a murder, along with his drinking buddies.