West Virginia July 17, 2017
The Story Behind This Evil Place In West Virginia Will Make Your Blood Turn Cold
To drive through bucolic Quiet Dell, WV, its small town charm is evident. Flags fly from front porches, children play in yards, and locals trade community news at the local Exxon station. Little more than a wide spot in the road at the junction of Interstate 79 and WV Route 20, Quiet Dell is about 5 miles southeast of the city of Clarksburg.
(Author’s note: Some photos below are for representation only and are not of the specific places/people mentioned.)
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
The Quiet Dell school now houses the Quiet Dell Community Association.
The Quiet Dell Community Association Facebook page lists the typical small town events – ham and bean dinners, craft fairs, bake sales and community fundraisers.
A casual glance would never tell you of the horrors that once occurred here, a crime that shook this small close knit town and made national news.
Harry F. Powers
Two women and three children were gruesomely murdered by Harry F. Powers, (born Herman Drenth in 1892 in the Netherlands), a man who went by multiple aliases. A mild-mannered local grocer and former vacuum salesman, Powers was one of the first men in modern history to be labeled a serial killer, and dubbed nationally as the "Bluebeard of Quiet Dell."
Though married, Powers would take out "lonely hearts" ads, and many women responded to him. He painted himself as a wealthy and successful businessman, too busy to find a wife.
The newspapers spread the terrible news.
Starting on August 27, 1931, each edition of the local newspapers would reveal more sordid, frightening details about "Cornelius O. Pierson" a.k.a. "Joe Gildaw" a.k.a. "Harry Powers."
It all began with a phone call from Park Ridge, Illinois, contacting Clarksburg police about a widow, Asta Eicher, and her three children who had been missing for more than two months.
Twenty-seven letters from Cornelius O. Pierson were left behind in IL.
Asta Buick Eicher left behind 27 letters from a "Cornelius O. Pierson," all postmarked from Clarksburg, WV.
It all began with a phone call.
Not recognizing the name "Cornelius O. Pierson," city officials dispatched detective Carl Southern to the local post office where it was discovered that a "Cornelius Pierson" had rented Box 277. Southern followed that lead to a home in the city’s Broad Oaks suburb, the home of a local grocer and former vacuum salesman known locally as Harry Powers. Police waited outside the house for Powers to appear.
Returning home around noon on August 27, Powers, interestingly, had five letters addressed to five different women in his pockets. Powers was placed under arrest for manslaughter in the disappearance of Eicher and her children, despite the lack of bodies or solid evidence.
The details begin to emerge.
On the morning of August 28, police brought Powers to the garage where bloodstained clothing and jewelry was discovered in a basement beneath the garage, hidden below a trapdoor. In addition to the personal effects, police noticed a noose tied to a rafter above the trapdoor.
Additional information led police to a board and batten garage on a small farm Powers owned in Quiet Dell. With the help of neighbors, detectives broke into the garage and found dried bloodstains but no bodies.
While admitting that the scene looked suspicious, Powers offered no explanation.
After following up on a tip from a local 15 year old boy, a drainage ditch was discovered beside the garage. On the afternoon of August 28, investigators found what they were looking for — the badly decomposed bodies of Eicher and her three children: Greta, 14; Harry, 12; and Anabel, 9. The victims’ hands had been bound with rope that matched the noose in the garage. Two days later, the police also found the body of Dorothy Lemke, a 50 year old widow missing from Northboro, Massachusetts.
Following intense and lengthy questioning by police, Powers confessed to the murders.
Moore's Opera House
Hysteria ensued. On September 20, thousands of people surrounded the Harrison County jail in Clarksburg where Powers was being held, demanding that he be given to the mob. Tear gas had to be released to disperse the crowd.
The trial began on December 7th in Clarksburg, lasting five days. Because the courtroom was so crowded, the hearing ended up being moved a block away to Moore’s Opera House.
The WV State Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV.
After being pronounced guilty, Powers was transported to the WV State Penitentiary in Moundsville for execution.
According to a newspaper in Camden, New Jersey, the public’s fascination with the case had reached theatrical proportions.
"Moundsville had taken on a holiday festival appearance in preparation for the execution of the man whose crimes startled the world. Outside the prison, a crowd gathered along the curbs. Automobiles were lined up for blocks."
Justice is served.
On the morning of March 18, 1932, Harry Powers dropped through the gallows at the West Virginia Penitentiary and swung for 11 minutes before being pronounced dead. His body hung lifeless, his lips still, never uttering a word about the murders of which he had been convicted.
The murders later served as fodder for the 1953 novel “
Night of the Hunter,” and the 1955 film of the same name, starring Shelley Winters and Robert Mitchum. As recently as 2013, Jayne Anne Phillips examined the case anew in her novel “ Quiet Dell.”
On your next drive through Clarksburg, WV along I-79, give a thought to poor Asta Eicher and her three children. What other creepy places in WV do you know of?
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