When Frankfort Was The Scene Of Bloody Deeds

The Louisville Post - 1900

When the shot that killed William Goebel recently cracked out its deadly message, history was repeating itself. For this quaint old town of Frankfort has been the theater of great political tragedies in the past.

An imposing statue graces Goebel's grave which is located in the Frankfort Cemetery. A second statue of Goebel is located a short distance away in front of the old Capitol building in downtown Frankfort.
In its day the Beauchamp - Sharpe murder stirred and shocked the country as the taking off of Senator Goebel three quarters of a century later has done. In many ways the two crimes were identical. In each case the victim was a notable political leader, and in both cases the men marked for destruction by the assassin were stricken down without a moment's warning. As in these times, the Democratic party in the state was divided. The "old court" and the "new court" clans were at war, and Sharpe, like Goebel, headed one of the factions.

The chain of resemblance goes further; Solomon Sharpe was a young man. So, comparatively speaking, was William Goebel. Goebel, like Sharpe, had attained distinction as a lawyer, and like Sharpe, had won recognition as a party organizer. Moreover, Sharpe was stabbed to death within 75 yards of where Goebel, a little more than two weeks ago, fell, shot through by an unseen hand. Sharpe was slain by one who had been his friend. No lifelong enemy, but a man with whom he had been in close relations ended his life in the full glow and flush of his manhood and powers. That man was Jeroboam Beauchamp, himself a lawyer and politician of no mean ability. For the crime of murder Jeroboam Beauchamp was hanged by the neck until he was dead.

The Beauchamp - Sharpe Tragedy

There stands on Madison Street, in Frankfort, facing Capitol Square, a squarely built brick residence. It is the second house from the corner of Railroad Street. From trains on the L. & N. and C. & O. it can easily be seen. It was here that the Beauchamp - Sharpe tragedy occurred in 1825. The building has been much altered since then, and there is a hallway where once extended the narrow passage in which the deed was done, but the main part of the structure is just as it was on the night when Beauchamp, calling Sharpe to his door, drove his dirk (dagger) home to his enemy's heart.

Of Solomon Sharpe, President John Quincy Adams had said, "That is the brainiest man that ever came over the Allegheny Mountains from the West." Although under 40 years of age, he had already served Kentucky as attorney general, and men said he would be in the Senate of the United States before another decade went by. A few weeks before, in a hotly contested race with John J. Crittenden, who afterward became one of the greatest statesmen of the old South, and was by turns governor and senator from Kentucky, Sharpe had been elected as representative to the Legislature from Jefferson County. On the day following the night selected by Beauchamp for killing him, Sharpe was to have taken his oath of office as a member of the General Assembly.

There has been a dispute as to the causes leading up to the tragedy. In a confession left by him, the slayer declared a private matter, involving a Democratic scandal, caused him to slay his former friend and colleague. Sharpe's friends claimed that the issues between them grew out of political differences, and his brother, years after, wrote a pamphlet in defense of the murdered man. Beauchamp had studied law in Sharpe's office, but for some time before the killing there had been a feud between them. Both were members of prominent families, and Sharpe's descendants and Beauchamp's kinsmen are today among the leading people of Kentucky and of Louisville.

On the fatal November night, Sharpe was called into the little alleyway at the side of his house by someone standing in the darkness, who said he wanted lodging, giving his name as Covington, and saying he was from Sharpe's old home. As Sharpe opened the gate leading into the street, his young wife, who watching from the window, saw a figure reach suddenly forward. She saw a struggle, saw the flash of steel, heard an oath and a groan, and then her husband staggered back and fell; speechless and dying. He had been stabbed through the heart.

The famous lovers, main characters in the 1825 murder-suicide, are buried at Bloomfield in Nelson County. As this history marker states, they were buried in the same coffin.
The assassination stirred the whole countryside. Beauchamp was suspected immediately. He had spent the night at the mansion of Joel Scott, then warden of the Kentucky prison, and his host had heard him leave his room at a late hour. On the morning following, he left Frankfort at daybreak, riding horseback toward his home in Nelson County. He was arrested in sight of his birthplace and brought back to Frankfort. His wife was also taken into custody. She was accused of being an accomplice.

The trial and conviction of the two prisoners and the sentencing convulsed the whole community. Every step of the case was marked by the closest interest. There were new excitements and sensational developments at each turn. Finally, a verdict of guilt was returned, and death was fixed as the penalty for man and wife alike. They were to be executed in July 1826.

 Double Suicide Attempted

But the sun was not to go down upon the lives of the ill-fated Beauchamps without more bloodletting. A few days before the date set for the double execution the jailer permitted the condemned ones to spend a few hours together in the husband's cell. A little later he heard groans, and running to the barred door beheld an awful sight.

Upon the floor the wife, with glassy eyes and set teeth, was gasping her last. A knife was sticking from her side. It had been plunged to the hilt in her breast. Beauchamp, badly wounded and streaming with blood, was crouched in a corner. The woman pointed a finger at him and tried to speak, but the death rattle was the only sound that issued from her throat. It was supposed that Beauchamp, securing a weapon somewhere, had attempted murder and suicide. He alleged, however, that each had decided upon suicide, and that only she had succeeded in her purpose.

Mrs. Beauchamp was past help, but he was nursed back to health in order that the law's dread punishment might be inflicted. He was hanged in what is now Graveyard Hill, near an old roadside tavern, which stood where the lodge at the cemetery gates now stands. Thousands gathered to see him die the death of the hempen noose. The writer's grandfather was a boy, member of a little military troop which guarded the gallows, and I have heard him say that never before had he seen such a crowd as swirled and sweltered about the scaffold in the dust and heat of that fateful summer day.

At the last Beauchamp took on new courage. He went bravely to his end and met his fate in a fearful form without a tremor or a cry.

After this, fashion closed the last chapter in Kentucky's first famous murder case, but other notable tragedies were to make red blots upon the annals of the state capital before a hidden foe cracked out the doom of Goebel.

Waring-Richardson Killing

About 1845 John A. Waring, known in those days as the greatest desperado in Kentucky, added two Frankfort names to the list of those whom he killed in his wanton lust for human life. At the old Mansion House, a noted hostelry, he shot down in cold blood Samuel O. Richardson, a noted criminal lawyer. Richardson was wounded from behind as he went up a staircase. The other Frankfort victim of Waring was Henry Crittenden, a half brother of United States Senator John J. Crittenden, and the father of the young Kentuckian who afterward became Governor of Missouri. Another son was William Crittenden, who led the ill-starred Lopez expedition to Cuba and was executed by his Spanish captors, dying with these words upon his lips when ordered to kneel with his back to the firing party, "A Kentuckian never turns his back to a foe and kneels only to his God."

The Mansion House, where Waring slew Richardson, was located within a block of where Sharpe and Goebel were killed. Waring's reputation as a murderous bully was not bounded by state lines. He was feared and hated through a portion of the South. Once being incensed at Gov. Menifee, he sent that dignified old statesman word that he proposed to slice off the ears of his excellency, the Chief Executive, and carry them in his pocket as souvenirs. But he failed to carry out this interesting intention. He was shot by some unknown person as he rode through the main street of Versailles, on his way to kill a tavern keeper. The charge came from an upper window of a dwelling. It struck him full and square, and Waring, tumbling from the saddle, died under his horse's feet, as he had caused some half-dozen others to die; suddenly and with both boots on.

The Assassination Of Judge Elliot

The next notable Frankfort assassination occurred within the memory of many men, still young. In 1879 the Hon. John M. Elliot, then Chief Justice of Kentucky, was made the target for Tom Buford's deadly aim. In this killing political differences had no bearing. Buford was a brother of the famous old Confederate Brig. Gen. Buford, who committed suicide some years ago while temporarily deranged. Tom Buford lived near La Grange. A suit involving the title to a farm owned by Tom Buford was decided against him in the Appellate Court. The loss made a lunatic of him. He swore to be avenged upon the members of the Appellate bench. Lying in wait near the side entrance of the Capital Hotel with a shotgun, he saw Chief Justice Elliot, ascending the stone steps. He fired and Elliott fell with a heavy charge of lead in his vitals. Buford stepped calmly forward and crumpling Elliot's soft hat, placed it under the head of the expiring judge.

A statue of Judge Elliot, erected by his wife, stands in front of the Boyd County Courthouse in Catlettsburg, Kentucky.
"There now," he said to the victim, "die like a man."

Buford was sent to the asylum, where he died. Elliot came from Morgan County in the mountains. He was a prominent Democrat and was universally popular.

The Capital Hotel, where Elliot was slain, has more recently been the scene of other equally tragic events. Here, Goebel died a few days ago, and here, within five weeks three men were killed and four wounded in the desperate pistol duel between ex-Congressman David Colson and Lieut. Ethelbert Scott.

The grave of Sharpe, the Attorney General; Elliot, the Chief Justice; and Goebel, the State Senator and contestant for governor, all Democratic leaders and all victims of assassination, are close together in the historic State Cemetery overlooking Frankfort and the Kentucky River, which winds along 200 feet below. Together, they are taking their endless sleep.

On Sharpe's tomb is the legend, "Slain while extending the hand of hospitality."