“Blackstone, Poetry, and Family Troubles”: A Poisoning on Crooked Run

Poisoning in Crooked Run

This week we are going to revisit a family we first met in a previous Tuscarawas County story (The Witch of Stonecreek), only this time it is a different Fisher family member who is a major character in the tale.

Members of the Fisher family of Crooked Run were no stranger to being in the newspaper when the story of their poisoning made news in the early fall of 1899. Thirty years earlier they had been the focus newspaper stories about the possible possession or bewitching of their daughter Mary. That story, thankfully for the family, quietly drifted from the pages of the newspaper to be forgotten. Their latest sensational episode however appeared in the local papers, off and on, for almost 10 years.

This time the drama surrounded a different daughter of George Fisher (1830-1900), Lilly Fisher (1872-1933), and her husband William M. Stiers (1864-1954). William Stiers was originally from Guernsey County, Ohio and, for reasons yet to be determined, was raised by his uncle Ebenezer Stiers (1832-1907) and his wife Elizabeth Grayhem (1832-1880). William was in documented trouble with the law a couple of times during his youth; charged for shooting at a woman in 1885 and then for theft in 1892.

Report of one of William Stiers’ brushes with the law, Cambridge Herald, 12 February 1885.

There is no record of exactly how, or when, William first met Lilly Fisher though it must have occurred before October 1895 (for reasons that will soon be apparent). The couple married in Tuscarawas County in early February 1896, though the marriage record includes the words “Do Not Publish” scrawled across the record. Six months later the couple would welcome their only child, Inez May, in June 1896. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, and for reasons not made public, Lilly left William and she and Inez moved back into her father’s home.

A newspaper account from early February 1896 documents an occurrence where William Stiers allegedly threatened Lilly’s father, George, in a menacing manner. The manner itself is not elaborated on, but it was significant enough to warrant Stiers’ arrest and subsequent appearance in court. While in court, Stiers represented himself and wanted to recite a poem he had written that expressed all the ways he claimed he was being wronged by the Fisher family. The newspaper derisively reported that Stiers was “off mentally” and that “Blackstone, poetry and family troubles are too much for one man to carry around.”

Lilly Fisher, c. 1905. (Source: ancestry.com)

According to one source, Steirs spent the next couple of years harassing the Fisher family and made at least two attempts to kidnap his daughter Inez. On one attempt he managed to grab her from George Fisher’s yard, fired shots at the pursuing family, and eluded capture for several days by only travelling with the girl at night. He had already been issued a suspended sentence for his previous alleged tormenting of the the Fishers and so, after his eventual capture, he was sentenced to the county work house for six months.

During the summer of 1899 George Fisher hired a local carpenter with the surname Kuhns to undertake work on the family’s barn. This was likely Dover resident William H. Kuhns (1847-1904) and his father and brother, who were carpenters working in the area at that time. The carpenters were working on the barn during the first week of September when George Fisher and his family invited the men to an afternoon meal. As the meal progressed William Kuhns became violently ill and other members of the party began to feel sick as well. They placed Kuhns into a buggy and drove him immediately to a local doctor who, upon treating Kuhns and then examining the food eaten, determined that he and the rest of the party had been poisoned.

A man and his bicycle, c. 1900. (Source: https://lccn.loc.gov/2006689595)

The doctor concluded that the butter that had been used during the meal was tainted with strychnine and the Fisher family immediately suspected Stiers of having done the deed. According to the Fishers, Stiers was known to ride a bicycle from his family’s home in Kimbolton to the area and bicycle tracks were found on the road leading to the Fisher farm. William Stiers’ alleged and real past behavior towards the family, the family’s standing in the community, and the circumstantial bicycle trail was enough for local law enforcement to issue a warrant for his immediate arrest.

The Tuscarawas County jury that tried William Stiers did not take long to convict him of the poisoning and the local judge sentenced William to eight years in the Ohio Penitentiary. Shortly after this conviction one of his main antagonists, George Fisher, passed away in March 1900. Luckily for Stiers, his friends and neighbors in Guernsey County were able to raise enough money to have his case heard in circuit court several months after his original conviction. After serving six months in jail, the circuit court ruled in June 1900 that the evidence presented in his original trial was not enough to warrant Stiers’ conviction. He was released shortly after, but there was no reconciliation with the Fisher family or his wife.

William Stiers’ circuit court case hearing in the newspaper, May 1900.

William returned to his uncle’s home in Guernsey County and, three years later, petitioned for divorce from Lilly Fisher. William accused Lilly of desertion and both she and her late father of extreme cruelty. He argued that they had conspired to cause his arrest in the poisoning case, essentially accusing them of the crime. William’s petition was granted by the courts and he and Lilly were officially divorced, though she and their daughter continued to use his surname.

Lilly Fisher never remarried and passed away in 1933. The poisoned carpenter, William Kuhns, died an untimely death in 1904 though whether his death was result of his poisoning in 1899 is unknown. William Stiers remarried and for short time he and his new wife operated a photography studio in Uhrichsville. William’s new wife accused him of behaving erratically and violently towards her and the couple divorced after less than ten years of marriage. William went on to become a licensed chiropractor and, restlessly, moved around quite a bit before settling down in Cadiz in the 1920s. He maintained a relationship with his daughter over the years until his death at the age of 90 in 1954.

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.


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