Harvey Keith's Murder

A Foul Murder – Part 2

This is a continuation of the newspaper accounts of the July 28, 1885 murder of Harvey Keith. The following articles bring out more details of the murder, Marsh and William Barker’s confessions, and the role that the famous Pinkerton’s Detective Agency played in securing those confessions, which defense counsel claimed were fraudulently obtained.

To read the other installments click on the following links: Part 1Part 3Part 4.


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 15, 1885, p.1



What the Investigation Has Brought Out — Barker’s Shrewdness and
His Wife’s Cunning — Link by Link the Chain is Tightening Around Them.

[Gobleville Herald.] — New facts are daily being brought out in reference to the Keith tragedy, and it is probable that within the next 48 hours the main details of the affair will be known. Link by link the chain of circumstances is being united that will fasten the surviving actors of the fatal drama of that dark night of July 28th, beyond a hope of escape. Here are a few points of interest which investigation has brought out: Marsh Barker is a man of considerable shrewdness and boldness, and his wife is a woman of unusual cunning and “nerve,” as was shown by her conduct at the inquest. It is said that her father, nearly forty years ago, excited jealousy and enmity of the Indians, by undue interference in their domestic affairs and was subjected to the same treatment as young Keith, though not with a fatal result. Barker and his wife, after the disappearance of Keith resumed their conjugal relations as though nothing had happened. The murdered man had a $50 bill besides about $10 in change, which was known to both Barker women. That Tuesday night he left the $50 with his mother. After the disappearance of Harvey, Marsh Barker went to J. O. Keith and asked him to pay him $50, that he claims his son owed him, telling him the latter had “skipped” and he would not see him again. Keith told him his son was of age and could settle his affairs himself. It is said Barker was engaged sometime since in a blackmailing scheme, defrauding a certain party out of $75. William Barker, the brother, is of a stubborn, morose disposition and not considered very bright. His wife is a weak, nervous woman, and it is thought she has for the past two years entertained more affection for young Keith than for her husband, and since the finding of the body has been apparently half distracted. It is said before she heard of the finding of the body she remarked to an acquaintance: “I hope they’ll find him. If they do, Marsh Barker goes over the road, sure.” The old adage that “murder will out” is now being realized, and slowly but surely the dark panorama of that fatal Tuesday night is unwinding. It shows that the victim left the church just before the storm, followed by Marsh Barker’s wife, who was seen by two women to overtake him and go with him towards her home. What followed has already been published. William Barker’s wife who had left her husband at home with the children, stayed until the storm was over and church was out, and then started home with her neighbors, the Joys, who live on the hill above the old mill farm. Here she left them and went on alone. Some time after going to bed Joy’s folks heard a noise and going to the open window, heard screams, as of some one in distress, the last one very faint. These were also heard by Parson’s folks, who live on the hill on the south side of the dam. To Joy’s folks the screams appeared to come from the south; at Parson’s they seemed to proceed from some point to the north nearly on a line between the two places — possibly near Wm. Barker’s. This was probably the route taken by Harvey Keith after escaping from Marsh Barker, concealing himself in the bushes now and then to avoid people returning from church. Being intimate with Wm. Barker’s wife he might have recognized and joined her in the road, hoping to get some clothing by her help. Here his enemies probably came upon him, through accident or design, and here he undoubtedly met his fate.

1885-08-15 The Keith Tragedy


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 24, 1885, p.2

The Keith Murder Case.

Bloomingdale, Aug. 24 – [Special.] – A good deal of difference of opinion exists in regard to the Keith murder case. Some think other parties than M. G. Barker and wife were engaged in the affair; in fact, it is quite evident there were others accessory, but so far as known everything seems to center on Barker and wife as principals. J. O. Keith is in receipt of many letters of condolence, some from people he never knew, but whom the young man was acquainted with. Some have given out that the murdered man, Harvey Keith, had a very unsavory reputation. This was not generally known here, and the receipt of so many favorable letters from his acquaintances who are people of standing, leaves much less reason for believing some stories that have been told.

1885-08-24 The Keith Murder Case


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 26, 1885, p.2


Marsh G. Barker Confesses that He Murdered Keith.

Word reaches us that Marsh G. Barker, in jail at Paw Paw, charged with murdering Harvey R. Keith at Bloomingdale on the night of July 28, has made a full confession. The story goes that a man charged with forgery was put in the same cell with Barker, and getting his confidence, suggested that they employ the same attorney, naming the man. It was impressed on Barker’s mind that he must make a clear break of everything he knew concerning the case to his lawyer, as necessary to a successful defense. He then told the whole story about his meeting Keith that night at his home; of the altercation and further that he killed Keith by choking him to death. He then retired with his wife and resumed marital relations with her, the dead man still in the home. After the rain ceased Barker went after his brother. Returning, he put the corpse out of the window, then placed it on his shoulder and carried it a short distance to his brother when the two carried it to the lake. Before throwing it into the water Barker emasculated his victim to give the idea that Keith committed suicide from mortification at his loss.

A full confession was also made by Barker’s wife which corroborates that of her husband.

The detective who wormed himself into Barker’s confession was Charles H. Stearns, who was arrested at Hartford for trying to pass a forged note. He is a member of Pinkerton’s detective force. The man who assumed the role of a criminal lawyer and extorted the confession from Barker and wife, is William Pinkerton.

William Barker was arrested at Bloomingdale yesterday and is now in jail at Paw Paw.

Bloomingdale. Aug. 25 – Geo. Hogmire was taken to Paw Paw yesterday for examination in the Keith murder case, and Sheriff Todd took William Barker for the same purpose to-day. At this writing no arrests have been made but M. G. Barker and wife.

1885-08-26 Bloomingdale Murder


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, August 27, 1885, p.2


How Barker was Circumvented — His Aged Father’s Grief.

The confession of Marsh G. Barker, of the murder of Harvey R. Keith at Bloomingdale, was given substantially in yesterday’s DAILY TELEGRAPH. There are some circumstances that led to and followed that it will be of interest. Charles H. Stearns, assuming the role of a crook at Hartford forged the name of Felix Bassett to a check and attempted to pass it on George W. Merriman, the banker. He was arrested and conveyed to the jail at Paw Paw, where he proceeded to get the confidence of the prisoner by planning an escape. Concerning this the True Northerner says: He very cunningly made a key out of a button hook and with it succeeded in throwing off two of the three tumblers in the lock on the outside door, and had perfected a plan to escape from the jail on Saturday night last. In the meantime he had sent for his lawyer, who was none other than Pinkerton himself, and on his arrival Stearns introduced him to Barker as his lawyer from Chicago, who had come over to bail and defend him. Barker was very anxious to retain the same counsel, and after some reluctance, Pinkerton, who represented himself to be A. S. Trude, consented to act as his counsel in the matter. To him Barker made the recital of one of the most atrocious crimes that has ever disgraced our state, with a nonchalance seldom seen in most hardened criminals. The main points in the confession we gave yesterday. He found his wife and Keith together under circumstances that led him to believe that his home was dishonored and he assailed Keith first with epithets and in the altercation got on Keith’s breast and choked him to death.

While Barker was making this confession his aged father was present and his moans and cries of “Oh! my son, I wish I was under the sod. Oh Marshall, Marshall!” – were pitiable to hear. After he had finished, his father withdrew weeping bitterly, and with his white head bowed with grief passed out into the street. Barker called after him frantically, “Father, help me just this once, oh please do, please come back!” “There’s no help for you, my son, from your father, if you are guilty of murder as you say you are. I would have helped you if innocent,” was the aged parent’s answer.

Barker seemed to be relieved after making his confession Mrs. Barker’s confession corroborates that of her husband. She had been deterred from making it before through fear of her husband, who had kept her silent by threatening to kill her.

1885-08-27 Bloomingdale Murder


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, September 4, 1885, pp.1&7



How He Helped, “as a Brother,” in Doing Away with
Harvey Keith – A Fellow Prisoner’s Testimony.

[Paw Paw Northerner.] — It will be remembered that when William Barker was arrested on Tuesday evening, and arraigned before Justice Warner on the charge of being an accessory after the fact, that he maintained the most stolid and unruffled composure, and when confronted with the confession of both Marsh and his wife, he calmly said: “It is a lie. I know nothing of it, and am not guilty, and I will prove it.” Nothing could seemingly shake his composure, and after trying him during all of Wednesday in every conceivable way, Mr. Pinkerton, who had exhausted ingenuity itself in endeavors to outwit the criminal, resolved on a bold stroke. Of course he was known to William as an officer seeking to drag from him his guilty secret, while to Marsh he was still the earnest lawyer Trude, anxious to acquit him of the charge.

He determined to call Marsh to the jail door, and allow the brothers to see each other while he alone did the talking, and take the chances of Marsh’s urging William to tell the whole truth to their lawyer. As they called Marsh to the door Mr. Pinkerton said, “Marsh, Bill refuses to talk with me, and I can’t do you any more good.” Marsh said promptly “Bill, tell Mr. Trude the whole thing. It’s our only hope, for the women have gone back on us, and he is the only man that can save us.” Pinkerton then took William away, and thus encouraged by Marsh and believing, as he told the officer, “That Marsh must know what he was doing,” he narrated the part played by him in the tragedy; not, however, without tearful protestations that he was afraid Marsh had blundered in telling anybody.” The following is his story in his exact language:

I, William King Barker of Bloomingdale, Van Buren county, Mich., do hereby make a truthful statement of all the facts connected with the murder and the disposition of the body of Harvey Keith.

My brother, Marshall Grove Barker, came to me at or near my house, where a team was hitched to the rear of a buggy that was standing near the road near my house, and said that he had come home and found Harvey Keith in his house . . . . . . and he had a fight with Harvey, and he had choked Harvey and struck him on the head three or four times, and had choked him to death, and he wanted me to help get rid of the body. I said I would go and help him as a brother to carry Harvey away. We went to Marshall’s house. I waited in the yard between the house and Lane’s barn. Marshall went and got the body of Harvey Keith, and brought it out to where I was standing and onto the fence on the east side of Lane’s barn, and put the body over or through the fence. We got through the fence and Marshall took the body on his shoulder, and went south to the road, then east to the four corners, then south to the railroad, then east to the next crossing, then south to the orchard, when I, William Barker, carried the body on my shoulder and through the orchard to a path leading to the creek. Just as we left the orchard fence where the path commenced, Marshall took the body of Harvey Keith on his shoulder, then carried it down to the creek to where they wash the tomato seeds alongside of the creek, and up the hill, where we stopped and rested. Then I took the body on my shoulder and carried it across the road to the fence just west and south of the old house near my house, then Marshall took the body and carried it across the lot and across Twitchells lot, east of Euga’s to Robinson’s woods, and on through the woods; then through the open field to within about 30 or 40 rods of the Max Lake, near Robinson’s landing, and there threw him (Harvey) down, and said he (Marshall) would — [Here follows a statement of the mutilation of the body, substantially the same as that given by M. G. Barker in his confession] — Marsh then took the body of Harvey Keith and threw it into the lake. We then returned home about the same route we came. We promised each other not to say anything about it, and we shook hands over it and promised not to tell anyone, and stick to the same thing all the way through. I reached my home sometime between 12 o’clock that night and 2 o’clock the next morning. My wife asked me when I got home, what I was out so late for, or words to that effect. I said I was not out for much of anything, or words to that effect. My brother came to see me between 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock A.M., and wanted me to go to the Annable house with him to see if Harvey was there. We talked about where he had been on Monday and Tuesday on his trip away, and how he had come home and found Harvey there, and about Harvey’s clothes, and showed me the watch and account book which he had with him, then my boy called me to breakfast. I then went to my house and ate my breakfast, and told my wife not to go down to Marsh’s house that day, that they had had a fuss, and that Harvey Keith had been caught in bed with Lill, and had jumped out the window and left without his clothes. I then went on down to Mr. Keith’s to thrash, and between seven o’clock and eight o’clock Marsh came there and asked me if I had seen Harvey anywhere around, and asked me to see a letter that had been written to me by my brother-in-law, J. C. Wilmore, from Stockbridge. I handed him the letter, and he took it and read it and gave it back to me, and said, “that is all right.” He left me and went to see Mr. Keith, and was talking to him. Then he started to go away, and went down to the road. I went out to where he was, and told him he had better tell Mr. Keith about Harvey being at his house, and having jumped out the window and his having left his clothes. I thought Mr. Keith ought to know, as he was Harvey’s father. Marsh then went to Mr. Keith, and told him about having Harvey’s clothes and watch and account book, and having caught Harvey in bed with his wife, and showed Mr. Keith the watch and memorandum book. Marsh then left, and started towards the road. I walked down the road north with Marsh, and we talked about the letter I had shown him and about my wife, and Marsh thought they had been more intimate than I had thought for, and there was more in it than I thought for. I then turned back, ad Marsh went on home. After we finished threshing, which was between ___ o’clock and 3 o’clock I went home, and Marsh came to my house and began talking about Harvey Keith, and said he thought he (Harvey) had got clothes and money somewhere of some of his friends, and had skipped the country, and gone west as fast as team could carry him. I said I would just as soon think he was in the lake as anywhere else. We were sitting on the door step at this time. We said this so that my wife could hear it, so that she could tell what we said then Mr. Keith came, and we quit talking about Harvey. Then Mr. Keith wanted to know what I would charge him for threshing. I told him I did not know what the wages was for that work, that I had not done any of that work this season, and when he settled with the rest, he could pay me the same as the rest. Mr. Keith then left, and my brother Marsh left just a few minutes later, and went towards home. This was the last I seen of him that day. The next day, Thursday, July 30, I went to help Dr. Hathaway, but did not find him at home. I then went to my brother Marsh’s house, and found Marsh and his wife at home. I went in and sat down. My brother was helping his wife wash, and we did not say anything on the subject of Harvey’s death. Mr. Brown came while I was there. I was in the kitchen, and Brown, Marsh and Lill were in the other room, or front room. Brown asked Lill about the blood on her arm, which was about all I heard of their conversation. I then went out doors and started for home, and Marsh came to the door and told me not to be in a hurry. I told him that I wanted to go home and go to work, and did go home. My wife kept continually saying that she did not think they would find him alive, and said when he brought his clothes to her to wash and mend, he said that when he left for the west they would never see him alive again in these parts. In the afternoon of this same day (Thursday) Marsh came to my house and talked to my wife, and said she was the means of getting Harvey and his wife together, and breaking up the family. My wife said she did not think she had. On Friday my wife requested me to go to Marsh and tell him not to come down to my house and say anything more about Harvey Keith or about that matter.


The Northerner says the confession of Marsh Barker’s wife is unfit for publication. It is substantially the same as that of the Barker brothers, but more revolting in its details. She said to Pinkerton, “I shall never forget how Harvey looked when I saw him lying dead in the bed. It was a horrible sight.” Pinkerton said, “You saw him, then, after he was dead?” “Oh yes, I went in and pulled down the sheet that was over his face.” When Pinkerton informed her that he was not a lawyer but a detective, and that the confession had all been heard by others and taken down. She said she had suspected it and was glad of it. She is described as young, pale and feeble looking, in appearance a very unlikely person to engage in any deed of blood, but so unconcerned when talking of the tragedy as to create the feeling that in the hands of a depraved husband she would hesitate at nothing. It is the impression of the detectives that she has many times lured unsuspecting men to her home, on a secret understanding with her husband, where he would confront them in the “injured” role and extort money under the threat of exposure or violence. Before Pinkerton returned to Chicago Marsh Barker asked if his wife had said she saw Harvey Keith after he was dead. Pinkerton replied yes, it was all out, and they would better go into court, plead guilty and appeal for clemency, as Barker’s father wouldn’t help them and the women turned against them. Barker then affirmed his innocence and said his first story was the true one. William Barker, however, said he would do so.

As to what he thought of the Barkers, whether they were desperate men or novices in crime, Pinkerton said: “Well, Marsh Barker is capable of any thing in the books in the way of crime. He can kill a man and carry him off as he did Keith, as unconcernedly on his shoulders as if a quarter of beef. He is a cunning fellow, withal; witness his making those tracks in the sand in his stocking feet, for the purpose, as he said, of ‘misleading folks.’ About Bill, I think he knows less than Marsh, but he would be clay in his hands, and would do anything ‘as a brother,’ that Marsh asked him to do. The wife is terribly bad, too, and even joked with me several times during her confession about the deeds of that terrible night. They are a hard lot, for a fact. There is one thing — now mind what I tell you — Bill, having once made his confession, will stick to it, but Marsh won’t. You will have to try him, and I will come if you need me.”

Marsh Barker has been very uneasy since Pinkerton (or “Trude” as he supposes him to be) left, and has busied himself writing notes to Bill, passing them to one of the prisoners to be handed him. Here is a specimen:

Bill you will get clear. I will say I don it in self defenc but God nows we are inocent as lambs but we have got to lie as well as the wimen, if we stuck to our inosents as we are we would go for life. Just say you don it for a brother and now chew this up so no one will see it.  M. G. B.

Two nights Marsh was in great fear of a mob, having an idea that Keith’s friends were coming to hang him. The prisoners put up a job on him, by means of a rumpus, giving him to understand a crowd was thundering at the door. Marsh, in his cell and unable to see into the corridor, shrieked with fear and cowered in a corner with a blanket over his head. When the derisive laughter of the other prisoners gave him the true situation he became blusteringly brave, saying, “Let them come on, — them, I am innocent as a lamb.”

At the examination of Wm. Barker before Justice Warner, Alexander DePuy, a prisoner in the jail, said that he had carried notes between the two Barkers, and had had conversations with them in reference to the murder. The witness testified:

“The first conversation I had with Wm. K. Barker was when he wrote a note to Marshall G. Barker, in which conversation he stated that Marshall G. Barker was at his house on Tuesday night and he went with Marshall G. Barker to his house. Wm. K. Barker stayed at the gate while Marshall G. Barker went to the door and pulled off his boots and went into the house, struck a match, but did not light a lamp; he heard a noise and then he rushed into the house and saw Marshall G. Barker jerking the pants off from Harvey Keith, then he run his hands into his pocket while Harvey Keith was getting out of the window. Marshall G. Barker pulled him back, jerked him onto the floor and commenced to choke him. Harvey Keith kicked Barker off, when Wm. K. Barker grabbed him by the legs while Marshall G. Barker jumped onto his stomach and choked him till he died.

At another conversation the witness testified that Wm K. Barker told him that he, Wm. K. and Marshall G, the two, went to Marshall G.’s house on the evening of the murder and that while going there they talked about getting $50 of Keith, even if they had to kill him. Witness at one time asked Wm. K. if it was not a made-up plan to get $50 of Keith, and he replied that it was for all he knew. The witness testified to several other conversations he had had with the respondent relative to the murder, but the foregoing is the substance of the most important ones.


The Feeling at the Place of the Murder.

BLOOMINGDALE, Sept. 3. – The people of Bloomingdale have been very loth to believe there were such degraded persons in their midst as the Barkers have shown themselves to be. The developments published in the last issue of the Paw Paw True Northerner show one of the worse of crimes, revolting in the extreme. That paper says no worse crime ever darkened the history of our county, not even excepting the terrible Morris murder. Both Barker families have led quiet and ordinarily peaceable lives and while they were not known as workers for good they were never troublesome. Summing the whole matter up it seems to be about as follows: That Harvey Keith allowed improper conversation between himself and Mrs. Barker on the eventful Tuesday and according to agreement met Mrs. M. G. Barker at the church and accompanied her home. That knowing Harvey was going away the next Wednesday they schemed to trap him, extort his money and perhaps leave him enough to get away and that he would go and leave them unmolested. In this there was probably some failure and it resulted in the killing of young Keith. There are apparently some undeveloped facts as yet. This community are much relieved to have the matter brought to light and that so terrible a crime is not left in darkness among us.




3 thoughts on “A Foul Murder – Part 2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s