Harvey Keith's Murder

A Foul Murder – Part 1

On July 28, 1885, Harvey R. Keith was murdered by Marshall G. Barker after supposedly being found in a compromising position with his wife, Lillian (Hogmire) Barker. The family has always believed that Harvey was the victim of a badger game — an extortion scheme in which a woman lures a man usually into her home while her husband has supposedly been called away for several days. When the husband comes home early and finds them in a compromising situation, he pretends to be outraged and threatens violence or a scandal, but finally agrees to keep the matter quiet in return for blackmail payments. In this case it turned to murder.

Tragically, Harvey’s parents, James “Oscar” and Mary Ann (Batey) Keith, had previously lost two of their daughters to consumption (tuberculosis): Jessie “Nettie” Keith, age 22, on March 13, 1879, and Catherine “Katie” (Keith) Randall, age 20, on May 3, 1882.

Following are the newspaper articles concerning the murder. To read the other installments click on the following links: Part 2Part 3Part 4.


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 3, 1885, p.2



A Young Man Disappears Tuesday — His Almost Naked Body
Found in Max Lake Saturday Terribly Mutilated — Evidence that He was Murdered.

Great excitement exists at Bloomingdale, Van Buren county, over the perpetration of a brutal murder near there last Tuesday night, an allusion to which first appeared in Saturday’s DAILY TELEGRAPH. On that night Harvey R. Keith, aged 23, son of J. O. Keith, a reputable farmer, disappeared and was seen no more alive. A man named M. G. Barker had for some time suspected too intimate relations between his wife and young Keith, and pretending that he had business that would detain him out of town several days left his home Tuesday morning. Late that night he returned and quietly entering his house discovered enough to convince him that his fears were well founded. The guilty couple had heard Barker enter, and Keith stood by the side of the bed in his night clothes. A struggle ensued, but Barker says Keith escaped from the house by jumping through an open window and fled in the direction of his home. Next morning Barker sent word to the parents of the young man that his day clothes were at his (Barker’s) house, and as he might need them they could be had on demand. The parents sent for and obtained the clothes. Young Keith did not go home that night. Wednesday wore away and he did not return and a thorough search of the woods by gangs organized for the purpose, continuing through Thursday, Friday and up to Saturday noon failed to discover any clue as to his whereabouts. The general belief was that he had been murdered and that Barker knew more of the tragedy than he cared to reveal. Other circumstances made this theory reasonably conclusive. On the fatal night and at about the time Barker says the struggle took place a span of horses attached to a lumber wagon and in charge of a man was seen by a belated traveler hitched by the roadside near by. Young Keith is said to have been intimate with Barker’s brother’s wife, and it was thought that these men had trapped Keith, murdered him and used the team to convey his body to some place unknown.

During Saturday forenoon Frank Lackey, his sister Mrs. W. C. Kline and Mrs. C. A. Baker went to Max lake for a boat ride. Frank had gone down to the water’s edge to look for a boat when was horrified to find a man’s head, much swollen, protruding from the water, and his body naked except shirt and stockings. He informed the ladies of his discovery and the party returned to Bloomingdale making known to the authorities the discovery. A large number of citizens went down to the lake, finding the body in question to be that of Harvey Keith, and further that he had been murdered. The body was much bruised about the head, neck and breast and the lower part horribly mutilated. The murderers had emasculated the young man, and the parts were found in a log about 20 rods from the lake. A coroner’s jury was empaneled which viewed the remains and took some testimony and adjourned over until today. The doctors testified that life was extinct when the body was thrown into the lake as no water was found in it.


Another Account

BLOOMINGDALE, AUG. 3 [Special.] As reported to the TELEGRAPH Saturday afternoon the body of a man, afterwards shown to be that of Harvey R. Keith was found floating near the south bank of Max lake two miles southeast of this village. Frank Lackey with his sister, Mrs. Ida Kline, and a lady friend were walking on the shore when they discovered the body and at first thought it to be a sheep.

They came back to the village at once, leaving J. T. Robinson, who owns the adjacent farm, watching the corpse. Justice J. G. Lockard impaneled a jury, consisting of Warren Haven, Daniel Sill, R. M. Brown, Benj. F. Hughes, E. J. Merrifield and George Lackey, and proceeded at once to the lake. The body, which was near the shore, face downward was towed to a convenient landing and placed on the bottom of a boat and an examination made by Drs. Hathaway and Parker. The body was entirely nude except a fine white shirt and was somewhat bloated, but the face was unrecognizable, being terribly swollen and black. The lower part of the body with the limbs were not discolored even where out of the water when found. No marks of violence were found except young Keith had been emasculated. The examination was concluded at the lake, and Undertaker C. N. Remington took charge of the body, which was buried in Evergreen cemetery the same afternoon. Young Keith had been missing since last Tuesday morning. On Wednesday morning. M. G. Barker, who lives in the village, visited James O. Keith, father of the young man, who lives a mile southeast of the village, inquiring for Harvey. He was told Harvey was not at home. This occurred about 7:30 A.M. Barker called again about 7 o’clock, seeming anxious to see young Keith. When asked his errand he refused to answer. He came again a third time and said he wanted a settlement, that Harvey was owing him. He was told that Harvey was of age and must settle his own affairs. Barker said: “He is owing me $50, and I want you to settle. What for? To this question, repeated several times. Mr. Keith got no reply, only that that he would not tell. Finally, after consultation with his brother, he again approached Keith and showing him a watch and diary asked if he recognized them. He did and they were handed to Keith. Barker then told him he had his clothes at home and that on returning home last night he found Harvey in bed with Mrs. Barker; a scuffle ensued, and that Harvey fled in his shirt and stockings. When asked where Harvey was he said he’s skipped the country, you wont see him again. Naturally Mr. Keith was greatly alarmed and he with others began a search. Calling at Mr. Barker’s he obtained his son’s clothes which were peaceably delivered up. Young Keith was preparing to start west Wednesday, but time passed and he did not appear. He was medium height, and weight, and about 23 years old. The Keith family have always borne a good reputation and the affair almost kills his parents. He mother lies prostrated by the shock. The final verdict of the jury is not yet rendered.

At 2 o’clock this afternoon nothing new bearing on this terrible tragedy had been learned. The coroner’s jury are yet in session, and no arrests have been made.

BLOOMINGDALE, Aug. 3 – 3 P.M. – [Special.] — Keith’s body is being exhumed and will be examined by experts as to the cause of his death. No verdict has been given as yet.


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 4, 1885, p.2


Probably Choked to Death — Result of the Autopsy
Yesterday — The Inquest — The Funeral Services.

BLOOMINGDALE, Aug. 4 — [Special.] — A further examination of the body of Harvey R. Keith was had yesterday afternoon. Dr. Andrews of Paw Paw, conducted the autopsy, assisted by Drs. Carrier of Berlamont, and Hathaway and Rankin of this place. There was no water in the lungs and no blood in the heart. Pieces of the lungs taken out floated as a cork. When the coffin was opened, Dr. Andrews asked if there was not a cord around the neck, but there was none. As before reported the head and neck were terribly swollen and black, while the remainder of the body was a normal color under the conditions. The mouth was open and the tongue protruded. No doubt now remains that murder was committed, probably by choking and the body thrown into the lake. The theory that he was carried to the lake in a wagon has some foundation. A wagon and team were fed in the road in from of Wm. Barker’s house Tuesday evening. Marsh G. Barker and wife are kept apart during the inquest which is still in progress. Sheriff Todd and Judge O. N. Hilton came yesterday and are assisting. Many people are in town and there is considerable excitement. The funeral services of Harvey Keith are to be held in the Christian church next Sunday morning. The sermon will be delivered by Rev. L. W. Spayd.


Barker’s Testimony.

BLOOMINGDALE Aug. 4, — Barker, the man whose wife was one of the objects of Keith’s attention, testified before the coroner’s jury that he returned home about midnight Tuesday, July 28, and found Keith in the room with his wife; that he ordered him to leave and Keith refused, and a struggle ensued, in which Barker was slightly choked and Keith knocked down; that in the darkness Keith eluded him and fled. The evidence of Mrs. Barker was substantially the same.

1885-08-04 Undoubtedly Murdered


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 5, 1885, p.2


Verdict of the Coroner’s Jury — No New Facts Adduced and No Arrests.

No new facts were adduced before the coroner’s jury in the Bloomingdale horror yesterday. A special to the DAILY TELEGRAPH says: “The verdict of the coroner’s jury is that Harvey R. Keith’s death resulted from mutilation and strangulation by unknown persons.”

A dispatch to the Grand Rapids Democrat from Grand Junction, says: To the surprise of all the prosecuting attorney and sheriff decided that the evidence was insufficient to warrant the arrest of either of the Barkers and they are still at liberty. Great excitement prevails and the universal opinion is that our officers of law should take some active measures in the case to endeavor to bring the murderers to justice. There is, however, no proof as yet against either of the Barkers and further developments may prove them innocent.

This morning’s advices from creditable private sources are to the effect that the arrest of Marsh G. Barker will be made to-day.


Barker and Wife Arrested.

BLOOMINGDALE, Aug. 5 — [Special.] — Sheriff Todd arrested M. G. Barker and wife and took them to Paw Paw this afternoon in a carriage for the Keith murder.

1885-08-05 The Bloomingdale Horror


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 13, 1885, p.8

J. O. Keith, father of the murdered Harvey Keith, became crazed over his great grief in Paw Paw recently, and though a frail man physically it took several strong men to control him.

1885-08-13 Blurb A 

Marshal Barker and wife, suspected of being the murderers of Harvey Keith at Bloomingdale, are in jail at Paw Paw voluntarily, no complaint having been made or process issued for their arrest. They say they are safer behind the bars than they would be at large, with the present state of feeling against them.

1885-08-13 Blurb B


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