It was 2 o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, February 8, 1928 when Blicktown farmer John Hinig heard knocking at his front door. Cautiously he opened the door and saw a man, soaking wet, freezing, and seemingly in distress standing in his doorway. The man, William Herron, told Mr. Hinig that while he was driving his sister-in-law Viola May home two men attacked him in New Philadelphia, jumped in the car, and kidnapped them. William claimed that he had been tied up and thrown in the Tuscarawas River near Mr. Hinig’s home where the men meant to drown him, but that he had managed to escape. He told Mr. Hinig that he had no idea who the men were or what they may have done with his sister-in-law. But it was all a lie.
Killings were, and are, uncommon in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. There have only been a handful of deliberate killings that have occurred in the county’s history and, of those, some were committed by people from outside the county or merely passing through the county. What happened to Viola May on February 7, 1928, and the subsequent investigations and trial, captured the attention of the whole community because the principals in it were well-known in the city of New Philadelphia and because of the salacious nature of the crime itself. Newspapers across the state of Ohio followed the story, printing every detail and innuendo. The police, unable to find Viola May’s body at first, were under enormous pressure to obtain a confession from the primary suspect, William Herron.
William Herron was eventually convicted of murdering Viola May, but there is much more to the story than merely his conviction. Over the last two years I have explored the people, the timeline, the locations, the reported testimony, and the questions still unanswered from the case. I have looked at the tactics used by law enforcement and the public attorney to obtain Herron’s confession(s), the relationships of the individuals close to the crime, and the impact at the time of Viola May’s murder on the Herron and May families. My intention is to compose a complete history of the case. It is a work in progress.
There is more to discover and, hopefully, those reading this may be able to help. Somewhere there may be the original coroner records for the case or perhaps accurate transcriptions of the court testimony. Maybe there are records of the interrogations of William Herron by New Philadelphia and Canton law enforcement. Perhaps William Herron’s defense attorney’s records exist to shed more light on the case. Are there crime scene photographs taken by law enforcement or the press? Maybe. This is where I need your help. If you know of any of these potential records, or how I might gain access to them, please contact me.
The benefits of examining the history of a case like this is that we will obtain a greater understanding of the people, the facts, and the unanswered questions because of our access to historical records and material. Some of those unanswerable questions are difficult and come from the testimony of witnesses during the trial, both for the prosecution and the defense. The only versions of events that we have, and that we can use to try and illuminate this case, are those of the two, competing parties. Both sides attempted to undermine the testimony and character of the other, including the victim’s. One undeniable fact is that Viola May died that night and that her version of the events died with her.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2023.