Harvey Keith's Murder · Uncategorized

A Foul Murder – Part 4


This is the fourth installment of the newspaper accounts of the July 28, 1885 murder of Harvey Keith. The following articles cover The People Rest, The Defense Closes, Sentenced for Life, Mrs. Barker’s Case and End of the Barker Case. To read the previous installments click on the following links: Part 1Part 2Part 3.

From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 20, 1885, p.2



The Court Rules Out Confessions to Pinkerton — Others Admitted —
A Witness for Defense Contradicts Himself — That Figure in the Dark — Notes.

Paw Paw, Oct. 20 — [Special.] — The witness Dupuy, fellow prisoner of the respondents was under the fire of Mr. Clay’s cross-examination more than two hours, but the attempt to break him down was unsuccessful. The only material change in his testimony between the direct and cross was a matter of less certainty as to the date of the confession made to him by Wm. Barker, which he put at about Sept. 10 or 12 in his forenoon testimony, and at about that 9th or 10th in his afternoon testimony, and also as being eight or nine days after Wm. Barker’s arrest (Aug. 25). An attempt was also made to discredit him by requiring him to say at what times and for what offense he had been arrested. The only other time appeared to be in connection with his present offense.

Twenty-one of the notes from one of the respondents to the other were put in evidence. They are the same that Mrs. Sheriff Todd had identified in the forenoon as having been handed them by the prisoner Dupuy, and had all been identified by Dupuy, when on the stand, as notes he had received from one respondent to carry to another. Seven of them were from Marsh Barker to “Lill,” his wife; nine were from Marsh to William Barker; one was from “Lill” to Marsh and the rest from William to Marsh. Most of them were written after respondents had employed Mr. Heckert as their counsel. The first, from Marsh to his wife, entreated her to not “give them away,” but to deny the previous confessions as given under a mistake and under influence. Nearly all of those from Marsh strongly protested innocence and called on his wife and brother to adhere to the theory given by Marsh in his testimony on examination at Bloomingdale. The main motive seemed to be to establish a habit or atmosphere of assuming innocence. Several of the notes to “Lill” used an appeal on behalf of their children as ground for this course, and one intimated that if she did not want to live with him he would do what was fair. The notes abounded in the command to tell the truth. Two of the notes to William directed him to “chew this up.”

Orange Cross, who was in jail late in August on a charge of horse stealing, was put on the stand and testified that he told Marsh Barker’s fortune from cards, at the request of Marsh, and announced to the latter, after the cards had been placed, “I see you did kill this man,” to which Marsh replied, I suppose I did. Witness assumed to judge this from the king of spades. This witness had been in jail twice before, once for horse-stealing and once, in Kalamazoo county for adultery but was discharged in both cases, he said, without examination.

Jas. O. Keith was recalled to identify Harvey Keith’s shoes, which had been omitted when the other clothes were offered in evidence. Witness got them of Marsh Barker’s the day after Harvey disappeared. He also testified that when at Wm. Barker’s after bags for threshing, July 27, both the Barker women wanted him to send Harvey over, enforcing their request by repeating it. The shoes were offered in evidence.

Under-sheriff Van Auken was put on the stand. He testified to taking Marsh out to a room in the court house to see his father, and to seeing Marsh sign a paper (the confession), which Mr. Van Auken witnessed. This was the day before William was arrested. He also witnessed William’s signature to his confession. In conversation Pinkerton, who reduced the confessions to writing, had told William he was a detective before William made his confession and signature. Pinkerton told him Marsh had told him everything. William declined to take the step on a note from Marsh till he had been taken to Marsh’s cell door and Marsh reiterated the substance of his note. William was told who Pinkerton was one or two days before his confession and before he saw Marsh.

Last night just before the close of the proceedings the prosecution offered the written confession made by the respondent to Pinkerton. Unless it can be shown that they were free and voluntary confessions they cannot be admitted as evidence. The court held that the burden of proof rested with the people to show that they were free and voluntary. This morning the court ruled the confessions out, the prosecution having failed to put in that proof.

B. C. Stout and John Tully were recalled to testify in regard to the condition or character of the lake where the body was found. They both described it as muddy, grassy and weedy, with water lilies close by and willows or elder bushels [sic], a couple of rods away on the shore.

The prosecution then announced that it was through with its evidence, except the weather records of the Kalamazoo asylum to show the state of the atmosphere at the time of the murder. The prosecution rested sooner than was anticipated, and the defense asked for half an hour’s recess to determine on the outline of their argument. Mr. Heckert made the opening argument to the jury. The principal points they would endeavor to show were as follows: They would make it appear by witnesses R. M. Brown and Warren Johnson, neighbors of Marsh Barker’s, that a noise and hot words were heard at Mr. Brown’s house between 9 and 10 o’clock that evening; that Johnson saw during a flash of lightning that night a person running past his place away from Marsh Barker’s house clad only in a shirt; that witness Chas. Joy heard a person running as though in his stocking feet and a whistle as if of a policeman. They would make it appear that the murder was not committed in the house, and if not there it was not proven anywhere.

The first witness was R. M. Brown of Bloomingdale, who has followed the law 30 years but was never admitted to the bar. He testified that he was in his chamber after church was out on the evening the murder was supposed to have taken place; that he heard a noise in the direction of Marsh Barker’s house and a voice calling someone a son of a —–. Witness went past Barker’s house between then and six o’clock the next morning in his slipper feet and while stepping over a wet place, he saw what appeared to be the track of bare feet. He was at Marsh Barker’s when Harvey’s clothes were delivered to Mr. Keith. He was called in as a witness to the delivery of them. He was asked by Marsh Barker whether a delay of a few days in getting out a warrant for the arrest of Harvey Keith and Barker’s wife would make no difference. Mr. Keith wanted the matter deferred till Harvey was found so that there might be no scandal. Witness said a delay would make no difference. At Barker’s house Mr. Keith wanted Harvey’s clothes to be wrapped up together so he could carry them through the streets without attracting attention. Witness heard a noise in the direction of Marsh Barker’s after nine o’clock on the night of the murder. He was not acquainted with Harvey but knew him by sight. He was also examined as to the nature of the bottom of the lake, agreeing with the testimony of the prosecution.

The next witness was Warren Johnson of Bloomingdale. He lives close by Mr. Barker’s. On the evening of July 28 he was at home on the upper porch. His wife had come home from church and gone to bed. Witness heard a noise as of scuffling among furniture in the direction of Barker’s house and the same exclamation of the preceding witness. He put on his slippers and went down stairs and out to the pig pen. He saw a man running past in his shirt on his way from Barker’s through Mr. Lane’s orchard. Witness called for his neighbor, Mr. Lane. He saw the figure again during a flash of lightning, between the houses of two neighbors, Mr. Dader and Mr. VanBlarkam. The first time he saw the figure it was a couple of rods away. On cross examination it was brought out that the witness had no idea of distances, or how long a rod was. He knew nothing about a map as he said, when a chart of the town was shown him. Witness had spoken to Marsh Barker once, when Marsh was mowing Mr. Lane’s grass. Did not know Harvey Keith; had lived in Bloomingdale two and half years. The testimony given by witness before the coroner’s jury was then read. He there stated that the person he saw was running towards Marsh Barker’s house. Witness denied that he testified that. Witness cannot read or write and has never attended school.

There is a fair prospect now that the trial will be finished Thursday.


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 21, 1885 p.2



A Blunder by the Defense – Admits Pinkerton’s Testimony – Heckert Explains
on the Stand – The Jury Sent Out To-night – Intelligent Men.

Paw Paw, Oct. 21. — [Special.] — The defense finished with their testimony Tuesday afternoon. Chas. Joy, who lives on the south side of Bloomingdale towards Wm. Barker’s, testified to hearing the light footsteps of some one running past his house southward a few moments before 10 the evening Harvey Keith was last seen alive. Witness was waiting for his wife and mother to return from church and had just been in side to see the time. He did not see the person, but the footfall was like that of a person barefoot or in his stocking feet. The road was dusty at the time. William Lytle, a young man employed during the summer by Edson Woodman, a neighbor of Mr. Richmond for whom Harvey Keith worked till the latter part of July, testified that Harvey told him shortly before he went to Bloomingdale that a young lady at Hartford had written him calling on him to marry her. He didn’t know but he should have to skip the country. Witness was introduced to Harvey at Four mile lake just before Harvey left for Richmond’s. The above was related to witness on their way home from the lake. Harvey said he should stay at Richmond’s if the latter wanted, till after corn husking, and then go west. Witness first repeated this to Edson Woodman and Henry Tyrrell the day following.

J. P. Robinson, who lives in the vicinity of Max lake, testified to going down to the lake the morning the body was found and waiting on the bank near it till the people came from town; was there 15 or 20 minutes before any body came. Saw a couple of water-snakes about the body and the head of a turtle or turtles coming to the surface at intervals, about the head of the corpse. Witness saw the snakes swim away and back again, but didn’t see either the snakes or turtles bite the body. Witness knew Harvey Keith but couldn’t recognize the body taken from the lake, on account of its being swollen.

Mr. Matt. H. Pinkerton, the head of the Pinkerton & Co. United States Detective force and the one who got the main confession, was put on the stand by the defense to ask him if he showed Marsh Barker the Michigan law laid down in section 9416, Howell’s statutes, regarding the relation of accessories after the fact. Witness said he had. It was after witness’s first interview with Wm. Barker. The fact that Pinkerton was put on the stand by the defense gave the prosecution a chance to get some things on cross-examination which the people could not themselves bring out in evidence. The chance was promptly seized. The defence [sic] hurriedly objected but the court ruled that it was competent for the prosecution to bring out in cross-examination the remainder of the conversation at the time Pinkerton called Marsh Barker’s attention to the point of law.

Mr. Tabor then asked witness a question directed to bring out something further of the conversation at that interview.

Mr. Clay — I object to the question as leading!

The Court — When you put a man on the stand and give part of a conversation, the rest of the conversation may come out.

Witness then proceeded to relate the conversation had with this respondent. Marsh at that time related to witness the mutilation of Harvey Keith’s remains; how he had carried the body as far as the log on the by-way leading down to the lake and had laid it down to rest, 20 rods from Robinson’s landing. Marsh then related that he said to “Bill” (as he called his brother) I’m going to —- —- —- —- (describing the mutilation proposed), which he proceeded to do, placing the remains removed on the log. The recital of this conversation caused a sensation in the court room.

Mr. Clay for the respondents kept the witness under a sharp crossfire intended to obtain an admission from witness that this conversation was obtained by fraudulent representations by witness that he was an attorney and had undertaken the case for respondents. Witness stated in response to the questions that he was not acting as Marsh’s attorney; had not told him that he (witness) was a lawyer Trude of Chicago; that he did not represent himself in words to be a lawyer; he did allow Marsh to think he was a lawyer and intended to deceive Marsh as to his real character. Witness had no authority for Trude to palm himself off as Trude. Witness did not write that conversation down; did not tell Marsh that a confession was necessary to clear him; did not tell him he (witness) got Stearns, the pretended forger, clear. Counsel were not allowed to examine witness as to whether he represented himself to Mr. Barker senior as an attorney.

An effort was made to use the rivalry of the two Pinkerton agencies in Chicago to discredit witness, but with little result. He was indicted once by a grand jury at Chicago on a charge of getting money under false pretenses, but the case was immediately dropped and a suit for $25,000 damages is pending against the other Pinkerton agency.

R. M. Brown, one of respondents’ witnesses, was recalled by the prosecution. The tracks he saw in the wet spot near Marsh Barker’s in the early morning of July 29th were apparently made after the rain of that night.

B. F. Heckert, attorney for respondents, was called to the stand by his colleague to testify regarding the statement he had reduced to writing for the prisoner, witness Depew [sic], the testimony of the latter having had the effect to leave Mr. Heckert in an unpleasant light. Mr. Heckert stated that when he went at the jail Sept. 24th to see his client, the latter called his attention to statements made by Depew. The latter repeated it, of his own accord, and offered to sign it if reduced to writing, which was done, the paper receiving Depew’s signature. Witness learned that Depew feared conviction for perjury if he swore different on the trial than what he did before the magistrate. Witness saw him and said that he need not testify at all if he didn’t desire to, as the court could only commit him to jail for contempt, and he was already in jail under sentence. Depew told witness that the written statement, which differed from his testimony on this case to important particulars, was true.

Dr. Savage of the medical staff at the Michigan asylum, was called to show the weather of the week the body was in the lake, as appeared by the asylum record. Every morning during the time Harvey Keith was missing the day opened with the thermometer at 72 or over, at seven o’clock, rising to 85 or more at two o’clock, in a place well protected from the sun. The asylum record is that recognized by the state board of health and the national weather service.

Harvey Keith’s father was recalled, to testify regarding the time Harvey lived at Hartford, this county, which was two successive seasons, about six years ago.

Chas. Killefer of Bloomingdale, was called by the prosecution. The evening of July 28, witness sat on the steps from 9:20 to 9:50, at a point 10 or 12 rods from Marsh Barker’s house and in unobstructed view of the latter’s west window, from which Harvey was represented to have escaped. It was as near to the house as the witness Johnson, who testified to hearing a great racket at Barker’s and hot words. Witness was in conversation with J. Q. Adams during that period, and was facing Barker’s house, but heard no noise or voice, and saw no one run from the house. Robert Killefer sat at the same place while smoking a cigar, on arriving home from the hotel at 11 o’clock that evening. Witness heard no noise at Barker’s. It had been raining at that hour. Eugene Cooley testified that the orchard through which witness Johnson had represented a man as running from Barker’s house, nearly naked, had low trees, with limbs pretty close to the ground, and in some places interlocking from tree to tree.

Geo. Rector was called by the defense. He testified to hearing the witness Sanford Conkle say that Marsh Barker told of kicking Harvey Keith out of Marsh’s house, and that what Conkle overheard at Marsh’s cell did not amount to much.

This witness having finished, the testimony was all in, having closed at 5:30 P.M. of the sixth day.

To-day has been given up to the closing arguments to the jury, each side having three and one half hours. Prosecuting Attorney Chandler made the first speech, reviewing the evidence closely, showing the relation of the material points and bringing the press of the testimony in its order, as a part of what the prosecution had introduced to prove the respondents guilty.

Mr. Chandler was followed by Mr. Heckert for the defense. He reviewed the evidence in detail, dwelling on any discrepancies or lack of completeness in it. He said the expert medical testimony was not conclusive as to the mode of death, and argued the improbability of a conspiracy to commit murder for the paltry sum $50. He said the respondents had been great fools, but not so much so as the things the prosecution had attempted to show would indicate. One note from William Barker to Marsh, making a direct admission of the murder was passed around to jury by Heckert for the purpose of showing that it was a forgery by the prisoner Depew, and not a genuine note from William to Marsh Barker. This note contained the most direct admission of the murder of any of the notes. Mr. Heckert also called attention to Depew’s written statements differing from what he had sworn to. He dwelt a good deal on the character of the confessions put in evidence as being those of jail-birds.

Mr. Heckert took a portion of the afternoon also with his speech. Mr. Clay, his colleague, requiring only an hour or an hour and a half of time. Mr. Tabor, of the prosecution, will make the closing speech. It is understood that the court will charge the jury this evening.

The jury are a very intelligent body of men. They have followed the evidence closely throughout the case. The least promising in appearance of the jurors have the reputation of being men of independent opinions, and general confidence is expressed that their verdict will be just.


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 22, 1885, p.2



The Jury Say Guilty of Murder In the Second Degree — Judge Mills Sentences Marsh for Life and William for 25 Years — A Straight-Talk to the Prisoner — Appeal.

Paw Paw, Oct. 22 — [Special.] — Mr. Clay in opening his address to the jury yesterday afternoon paid a high compliment to the argument of his colleague on the defense, Mr. Heckert. Turning to the business in hand, he presented his clients as wronged men; denied the counsel of their choice and put in a position of semi-irresponsibility by having their utterances tortured against them. The jury must remember, too, that not all killing is murder. The body in the case was difficult to identify, as all the witnesses agreed, and some said it could not be recognized at all. It was not fully known to be Harvey Keith. The testimony of the physicians called by the prosecution was so doubtful as to the cause of death that the defense was relieved of all necessity for calling any on their side. The jury must put them selves in the place of the respondents and judge from that standpoint how they ought to be considered. The notes written by respondents were obtained by fraud and by misrepresentation of what was said to each by the others. The alleged confessions were spread abroad in all the papers to advertise the business of the detective. Four persons were represented to be in a conspiracy to murder Harvey Keith, but it was evident from the regard and solicitude of the wife of one respondent in wrapping up his garments for his father that her feeling for him was that of affection and not hatred. The mutilation of the body was not an evidence of brutality. Even on the theory of the prosecution it was not done till after death, and the practice of cremation and the law for sending bodies to the dissecting-table at Ann Arbor teaches that the treatment of the body after death does not violate the sense of a civilized community. The circumstances suggested that death was from suicide and that the young man’s course was the wisest left to him under the surroundings. The next morning respondent told of the wrong done him in his home to the father of the offender. If he had committed murder and had intended murder, he would have hid the clothes and kept the matter secret. The speaker commented on the relation of the detective Pinkerton to the case, whom he treated as a man of much ability, but carried away by the influence of his business. Don’t let Pinkerton get after you, for he will build a case against you from the slightest circumstance. The detective agencies are as willing to secure the conviction of an innocent person as a guilty one. They have in two cases been ruled out by a Michigan court. The circumstances of this case as the prosecution have tried to present it and as their theory sets forth, puts the respondent in the position of defending his home. The theory limits the offense to that of manslaughter. The brother who assisted, as the theory of the prosecution holds, in the disposition of body killed under the influence of an irresistible impulse, did only what anyone would do for a brother. Manslaughter may be held to be excusable or justifiable. It was for the jury to say whether it was so in this case. To convict the respondent Marsh Barker of murder in this case was to put the community in the light of giving favor to the invasion of a home. Mr. Clay put the jury on their honor to the sacredness of their homes to weigh this matter carefully. Mr. Clay claimed that a man could have justification in assisting his brother to defend his home from invasion, when this defense led to homicide, but the court stated that it was not for counsel to present the law, and especially such law, to the jury.

Mr. Tabor closed for the prosecution. The charge in this case was not one of manslaughter, as counsel had implied, but murder in the first degree. If the prosecution is correct it was not merely a midnight scene that took place at Marsh Barker’s, but a midnight assassination. Mr. Tabor then followed the line of evidence through: how Harvey Keith was last seen alive Tuesday, traced to Marsh Barker’s house that evening and admitted by Marsh to have been there; how Marsh next morning appeared at old man Keith’s calling for Harvey but not showing his personal effects then; how on a second visit he said, not that Harvey was taken in adultery but was found in the house with Barker’s wife, for which Barker wanted Mr. Keith to give him family damages – $50. This sum was entirely satisfactory. If counsel for respondents were to be believed this was the breaking up of two homes and $50 represented the entire damages, $25 apiece. When Mr. Keith refuses to believe this of Harvey, Barker holds a conference of 10 or 15 minutes with his brother and then returns and shows Harvey’s watch and pass-book, thinking he could extort the $50.

Mr. Tabor laid stress on the fact that Marsh went three times the next forenoon to Mr. Keith’s for a settlement of damages; and also on his replying to young Keith when he told him he was responsible for Harvey’s life, that he could produce his body. He directed attention to the identification of the body in the lake, including the exchanged rings, which was conclusive. The testimony brought out the fact that Mrs. Marsh Barker and Harvey had exchanged rings, and the ring was on the body found. He dwelt on allusions by counsel to the character of witnesses for the prosecution. He noted that the defense did not attempt to impeach them as it was their interests to do if possible. Mr. Tabor called special attention to the note from William Barker, which was handed to the jury by Heckert and was claimed to be a forgery. That particular note was written on peculiar paper handed to Barker by Sheriff Todd. Mrs. Todd gave it to Barker and saw him writing on it. Commenting on the attempt to discredit Pinkerton, he said Pinkerton was a man of high character. The mutilation of the body as brought out by Pinkerton was a strong link of great importance. The circumstances showing concert of action were especially dwelt on; Marsh’s returning home; leaving the train two miles out; receiving word through family relatives that Harvey was there; the two women sending for Harvey; all these things corroborate the narrative of Depew. He held up the action of Marsh as presented by his counsel, as suffering from the breaking up of a christian home, in a strong light. In sharp contrast with this theory of the defense was the fact that Marsh slept that night with his wife, that all was peace at his home the next morning as testified; that he goes to Mr. Keith’s for family damages; and claims for the violation of his rights only the sum of $50 as consideration.

After the conclusion of the argument to the jury a recess was taken until 7 in the evening. The charge to the jury by Judge Mills on reassembling occupied about 35 minutes. It was very impartial and drew the distinctions necessary to apply to such a case with great care. The jury went out shortly before 8 P. M. It was understood that on their first ballot the jury were all for conviction, the majority for the first degree. In a subsequent discussion they began to differ widely as to the degree and no result was reached last evening. At 6:30 this morning they agreed on a verdict of murder in the second degree. The court had adjourned till 7 A. M. This verdict was rendered against both the Barkers. The court then took a recess until 10 o’clock.

The defense desired a stay of proceedings for a motion for a new trial, or a bill of exceptions. The court gave 60 days to file a bill of exceptions. He then called on Marsh Barker to stand up. He seemed somewhat bewildered and said in a husky voice, “I have nothing to say now.” Mr. Clay, of his counsel, said that the circumstances constituted the greatest provocation and asked the lightest sentence to be imposed which the law allowed of.

The court then addressed the prisoner reciting the abundance of proof that Harvey Keith was last alive on July 28, and was last seen at Marsh Barker’s house. It had been proven that he was dead on the 29; that Marsh possessed all his clothes and effects except his shirt. The time would never come when Marsh Barker would be able to show that he was not the slayer of Harvey Keith. Every circumstance pointed that way and not one pointed in any other direction. Objection had been made to what Marsh told the detective. The court could not state that the way the evidence was obtained was improper. The respondent did not spare Harvey Keith and the court did not know why the people should spare him. Marsh had been denied the counsel of his choice. This circumstance was worthy of reprimand. It was the only thing the court was inclined to criticise [sic]. Marsh told his story. Some may carp at the way the story was obtained. But everyone knows that it was measurably true. A prisoner has no motive to lie to his attorney. The court’s experience was that criminals do not lie to their attorneys. The prisoner’s council [sic] had been faithful, and the benefit of every circumstance had been claimed in his favor. It had been claimed that he killed Harvey Keith in a fit of passion. There was not a circumstance to indicate it. Everything shown was inconsistent with this view. If the court felt that it were true, he would feel pity for the prisoner. If it was true that he killed Harvey Keith on a sudden impulse of passion on finding him in the act of adultery with his wife, it was doubtful if a jury could be found who would bring him in guilty. The people were in favor of protection to the home. But the prisoner did not kill him on that ground. Had that been the case he would not have acted towards his wife as he did. He would not have proceeded to the house of the murdered man and sought a settlement for the paltry sum of $50. The man who holds the honor of his wife and family no higher than this is not worthy of a true wife and ought not to have one. The mutilation of the body at the lake showed a spirit of malice and revenge. It was found, and was a witness against him. Horrible murders have been on the increase in Michigan in the last few years, and the perpetrators have not been convicted. It was necessary for the court to set an example that the people may have secure homes. There was not an extenuating circumstance in the case. The conduct of the prisoner had been one of defiance all through, and even now he asserted his innocence. The court regretted that it was his duty to administer punishment in such a case, it being his first experience. It would take a father from his family, but it would perhaps be better without such a father. Probably the children would be better without such a mother. The court hoped the prisoner would apply himself industriously while undergoing his sentence, and so live that he might die at peace with his Maker. The court might have committed errors, if so, they would be corrected by an impartial tribunal. If a new trial were procured, a jury would bring in the man guilty every time. The court then sentenced Marshall G. Barker to hard labor at Jackson, for the rest of his natural life. William Barker, being deaf, was called close to the judge’s stand and sentenced to 25 years in the state prison, as the indications were that he had not been the leader in the crime.

It is understood that counsel for the defense will make an appeal to the supreme court. One point on which they rely will be the confession to Pinkerton brought out on cross-examination. The father of the prisoners has paid the preliminary expenses of an appeal. Marshall and William K. Barker were taken to Jackson on the noon train to-day by Sheriff Todd. Messrs. Annable & Fitch, the law firm of Paw Paw, counsel for the defense for co-respondent, Mrs. Marshall Barker, moved that she be released on bail. The court granted it, fixing the sum at $3,000. Her counsel said this sum was so high as to be prohibitory. The prosecution indicated that they were not ready to go on with the case, as the evidence was not yet completely developed, and they might move to have the case nolle prossed. The matter of bail will be further considered by the court sitting at chambers.


The photograph of Harvey Keith was shown one evening after court adjourned. It was taken the fore part of the spring and shows the face of a bright fellow, good looking and apparently energetic. It is not suggestive of a coarse wake-up. The Keiths are a former Kalamazoo county family, residents of Comstock on the south side of the river a half-mile from the county-house. Harvey Keith, grandfather of the young man who was murdered, was several times supervisor of Comstock and helped build the first frame house in Kalamazoo, it is said. James O. Keith, son of the latter, is a man of medium hight [sic], rather light build, wearing full beard, close trimmed, and brown, somewhat marked with gray in places. He seems intelligent and possessed of an active mind. He has been in constant attendance at the trial.

One very marked aspect of the trial has been the good order of the proceedings, and also the good feeling on both sides of the contest. Judge Mills has required everything to defer to the progress of the public business, limiting the attendance to the seating capacity and enforcing stillness. Counsel have been held to a rigid line of conduct, in great contrast to the wrangling back and forth, and the lugging in of foreign comment in cross-examination that have sometimes scandalized courts in Michigan. He has saved the people’s money by shutting off immaterial lines of examination and holding the lawyers to the progress of the business in hand. The case has had all the time needed on either side, and yet is finished in about two thirds the time that many anticipated a week ago. The rulings on the admission of evidence have been very strict. To the unprofessional observer it looks as though the line was drawn partly with the view to not giving the respondents ground for a claim of injustice, a reversal from the supreme court and a new trial, after long delay. The line of separation in law is often a narrow one and a difficult one to pursue.

The murder which led to this trial has been a costly thing for Van Buren county. The bills for detective service by two agencies amounted to $361. The expense of sifting the citizens summoned for jury service, including the fees of the 12 who finally served, were in excess of $1,000. The trial has required the attendance of more deputies than common, and the bill for summoning witnesses has been large. The trial has cost, according to the present estimate of County Treasurer McLean, in the neighborhood of $4,000.



From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 23, 1885, p.2



Prospects as to Her Trial — Her Relation to the Case — Judge Mills’s Rulings — The Appeal.

Paw Paw, Oct. 23 — [Special.] — There are no new developments in the case of Mrs. Marsh Barker since the trial and sentence of her husband. She is still in jail. At first she was kept in her cell, but is now given the liberty of the house and is occupied a good deal about the kitchen. She made a confession, of the same status as those by her husband and brother-in-law, which were not allowed in evidence. The confession involves her with Harvey Keith the night of the murder, and states that she saw the body on the bed, after the crime, covered with a quilt or sheet. She could not testify on the trial without her husband’s consent and of course did not appear at all. The only things that could involve her would be to connect her with a conspiracy to allure Harvey Keith to the house for the purpose of blackmail. It has been understood that the officers had information of at least two cases where other parties had met that experience at the hands of one of the Barker families, but that the natural objection to becoming publicly involved in such a case prevented them from getting testimony they could depend on, on the witness stand. There is some reason to suppose that the officers have some direct testimony showing that in this case, but if so it has not been made public and probably it is not sufficient to base a case on. The intimation of Prosecuting Attorney Chandler that he might conclude to have the case against Mrs. Barker dismissed, implies that the material in hand is quite inadequate to proceed with.

The general impression is that the chances for the Barkers on an appeal are not very great. The rulings of Judge Mills were liberal to the defense, to the degree of allowing them very little ground for a reasonable exception. It was so much so that the prosecution felt that they had some cause for complaint at the testimony thrown out. Of course the production of new evidence might change the face of the question, but there has not been even a hint by counsel for the Barkers that they had expectations in this direction. Moreover, after the trial was over, they seemed to have but a single point in mind on which they could base an exception of any importance, which was that the court had admitted one confession by Marsh Barker to Pinkerton, on cross-examination of the latter after he had been put on the stand by the defense themselves. The claim of the defense is that after they had announced their intention to put Pinkerton on the stand to testify to a single point, it was not competent to bring out the remainder of the same conversation, having relation to other points. For the present trial, it was a bad slip for the defense to call Pinkerton on the stand, as it turns out. What this distinction may amount to before the supreme court will appear in due time. But the rulings of Judge Mills, unless the supreme court overrules on this one point, were unexceptionally fair to the defense, and his charge was a model of impartiality.


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 23, 1885, p.11

The Barkers, on the train yesterday afternoon, handcuffed together and en-route to Jackson under a proper guard, attracted a large number of people at the station to see them.

1885-10-23 Blurb


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, October 24, 1885, p.8

The Van Buren supervisors allowed L. A. Tabor, Esq., of Lawton, $225 for his able vindication of the law in the conviction of the Barkers for the murder of Harvey Keith. The trial cost the county some $4,000, but with less skillful management on the part of the prosecution might have cost much more. Judge Mills’s admirable efforts to dispatch business were ably seconded by Mr. Tabor, whose uniform self-possession kept the trial remarkably free from lawyers’ squabbles and legal quibbles.

1885-10-24 Blurb


From the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, April 9, 1886, p.4


The supreme court, contrary to the confident expectation of the attorneys employed for Marshall G. Barker, affirms the rulings of Judge Mills in the Bloomingdale murder case. Marsh Barker is serving out a life sentence for the murder of Harvey Keith, and his brother William one of 25 years for his share in the murder. It is usually possible for the attorneys to work enough errors into a trial to secure a reversal. In this case counsel are disappointed and the two Barkers must serve out their term unless some easy-going Begole, with pardon-brokerage surroundings, by an accident of politics gets into the governor’s chair again.[1] The sentence in this case corresponds with the general sense of justice in the communities where the facts are best known. It will be a further satisfaction of this sense that the case is not to be reopened and the demands of the law sacrificed to the influences of delay, forgetfulness and public indifference. With the law administered in a way to make its power felt, rather than in a spirit of lenient regard for the feelings of the law-breaker, the peaceable citizen experiences a consciousness of the security that belongs to him as long as he lives in a civilized country. The sentence in the case of the Barkers, and its affirmation by the supreme court, is a marked instance of what the law ought to be, a living force that all evil disposed people will fear and must respect.


[1] According to notes on FindAGrave.com, both Marshall and William Barker were incarcerated in Jackson State Prison from October 22, 1885 through their pardon by Governor Pingree on December 24, 1900. The January 4, 1901 Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, p.3, mentions the recent “wholesale pardon of convicts in the state prisons by Governor Pingree.”

1886-04-09 End of the Barker Case


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