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.