Murder in Wellsville
Researched & Written by Mary Rhodes, 2006
Since last summer, I have been working with the Woodlawn Cemetery Association to computerize their interment books. That is the tedious part (my winter job), the truly rewarding part was walking through the cemetery last summer, recording all the headstones in the cemetery. I felt as though I was walking through the history of Wellsville. Many pioneers are laid to rest here, people that came to Allegany County for the opportunity a young county represented, the chance to make a home.
Early on in the transcription of the Woodlawn books, I saw a cause of death listed as “Legal Electrocution”. Among the deaths from old age, brights disease, apoplexy and influenza, this one caught my eye. Curiosity got the better of me, so I hit the library archives.
In this part of the county, the Wellsville Daily Reporter is the best archive we have. It is on microfilm and usually involves a pretty tedious job of advancing the film and reading, advancing and reading. It just plays havoc on the bifocals. Fortunately I had a pretty specific date of death of June 2, 1916, so I searched on that and found:
“CHAMPLIN IS DEAD – Paid the Penalty for the Killing of His Uncle, Henry McGee, March 16, 1915.
At an early hour this morning, at Sing Sing prison, Roy Champlin was electrocuted.
The death penalty which Champlin paid resulted from his conviction for the killing of his uncle Henry McGee in Wellsville, March 16, 1915. He was tried for the murder in Supreme Court at Belmont, May 17, to 22 and was convicted. Later an appeal was made to the Court of Appeals for a new trial which was refused.
Recently an application was made to Governor Whitman, asking that the sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. This request was also denied.
Mrs. Hensing, the mother of Champlin, was at Sing Sing at the time of the electrocution and it is expected she will bring the body here for burial.”
Legal electrocution was explained, but now there were more questions. Back to the microfilm, this time searching on March 16, 1915 to find out what happened.
The news on March 17 was easily found, and in language only a reporter from 1916 could possibly use, I report my findings.
“Henry McGee Murdered – Clark Street Resident Fatally Shot by Roy Champlin Last Night – Murderer Still at Large
With a brain befuddled with whiskey and following a depraved craving to be a real western desperado, Roy Champlin, a young man thirty years of age, entered the house of Henry McGee on Clark Street last evening and after terrorizing the household fatally shot McGee twice with a 45 caliber automatic revolver, and made good his escape. McGee died at the hospital this morning at 10 o’clock.
There are conflicting stories which led up to the shooting. Champlin is a nephew of Mrs. McGee and when he is not working as a teamster or roustabout, makes his home with the McGee’s on Clark Street. He has been working this winter for Henry Knox at Stone Dam, drawing chemical wood. He came to town with Knox early yesterday and the team was put in the Ackley House barn. Late in the day Champlin was with Weidrick of Loder Street, and they were trying to break a colt, when the team ran away near the Erie Station. Champlin is a boozer and it was claimed was doing considerable drinking yesterday afternoon and eve.”
To shorten the story, Champlin came to the McGee house to pick up his revolver and to persuade Leonard McGee, the oldest child at home, to go to town with him. Mr. McGee intervened and persuaded Champlin to leave the house. McGee then locked Champlin out of the house, angering him. Champlin shot through the door, breaking the lock and chased the family upstairs, where he terrorized the family and shot Mr. McGee in the hip and the abdomen, then fled the scene. Mr. McGee attempted to defend himself with a piece of pipe, and scored some painful blows.
The paper describes the victim, Henry McGee as a hard working man, employed as a firemen at the refinery. He was the father of two grown children and three younger children still at home, the youngest child was home ill with Typhoid Fever.
The newsman speculated that Champlin will probably be caught within a short time, as it is believed he is wounded and could not have gotten far way. A trail of blood was spotted where Champlin made his escape.
March 18, the headline in the paper reads,
“MURDERER STILL AT LARGE – No Trace of Champlin Has been Unearthed by Police”
“No TRACE OF CHAMPLIN – Murderer of Henry McGee Still at Large – Believed He Started South From Town”.
A $250 reward was posted for Champlin’s capture and a picture, which was taken after a trip to Texas showing Roy in “full western regalia” was printed in the paper.
“CHAMPLIN HEADED SOUTH – Staid at a Farm House Nine Miles From Roulette on Friday Night”.
Police Officers Holley of Ceres, Hawkes of Shinglehouse and a Pinkerton Detective traced Champlin to the home of LeRoy Champlin at Kings Run, PA. They reported Champlin was complaining of a possible broken arm and a pain in his head, and speculate the wounds were the result of Mr. McGee’s defensive blows.
“CHAMPLIN IS CAUGHT, Murderer of Henry McGee is Jugged at Dubois, PA. – Admits He Shot His Uncle and Will Return to this County Without Extradition.”
Champlin was believed to have spent a night in a “hobo” camp, and began traveling with one of the tramps. They stopped at a house outside of Dubois and asked for breakfast, but were refused. The owner of the house called Officer G. Stahl and alerted him to suspicious looking characters. Officer Stahl tracked the two to the rail yards and found them attempting to hop a fast moving train. Champlin did not immediately surrender, the officers report says he attempted to draw his gun from his pocket, but he was overpowered.
“CHAMPLIN IN BELMONT JAIL – Sheriff Arrives with Prisoner on Train 26 Today.”
Sheriff John Tunstead and Deputy Sheriff Roy Brundage of Andover traveled to Dubois to bring Champlin back to justice. A paragraph in this story prints Champlin’s confession as follows:
“I Roy Champlin, did with malicious and felonious intent shoot and kill one Henry McGee, my uncle, on or between 6 and 7 o’clock in the evening of March 16th at his home in the presence of the McGee family, firing two shots from a 45 caliber Colt automatic revolver while engaged in a quarrel with McGee and after he struck me on the head with some instrument. I do hereby waive extraditional hearings. Signed Roy Champlin.
Justice was swift in those day, as it was only fifteen months after the killing that Roy Champlin paid the price. Champlin was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, his uncle, Henry McGee also rests in Woodlawn, along with his wife Eveline, who died a year after his murder.