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The Bath School bombing took place on May 18, 1927, when Andrew Kehoe set off hundreds of pounds of dynamite he had packed inside the school. The bombing killed 45 people — including 38 children. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

The Bath School bombing took place on May 18, 1927, when Andrew Kehoe set off hundreds of pounds of dynamite he had packed inside the school. The bombing killed 45 people — including 38 children. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

The Bath School Disaster

On May 18, 1927, the small town of Bath, Michigan, was forever changed when Andrew Kehoe set off a cache of explosives concealed in the basement of the local school. Thirty-eight children and six adults were dead, among them Kehoe, who had literally blown himself to bits by setting off a dynamite charge in his car. The next day, on Kehoe’s farm, what was left of his wife—burned beyond recognition after Kehoe set his property and buildings ablaze—was found tied to a handcart, her skull crushed.

By Monty J. Ellsworth
First published in 1927 by the author

I have lived in Bath Township thirteen years, where I successfully conducted a general store, wholesale butchered, and bought poultry. During this time I have become personally acquainted with nearly every child in the school. I have known Andrew P. Kehoe since he moved here in the Spring of 1919. For the last two years I have lived within sixty rods east of his home. I have tried to tell every detail of the disaster that would be of interest to the reader. Everything written, is the truth to the best of my ability.

School started in the new consolidated school November 1922. The census showed that year two hundred and thirty-six scholars. The census of 1926 was three hundred and fourteen scholars, making a fine gain of seventy eight from the time it started. The census taken this year since the blast was two hundred and seventy-three, making a loss of forty-one. There were thirty-eight children killed in the disaster and of course there were some people who moved away, but in nearly all cases some one moved back to replace them.

Of course it made taxes higher and they will continue to be high until the school is paid for. The district during this time has purchased and paid for five acres of land to be used as an athletic field, bought and paid for two lighting plants, and also paid interest and eight thousand dollars on the principal, leaving the township still bonded for thirty-five thousand dollars on the school. When this bond is paid, I don’t think the school taxes will be any higher than they were in 1922. The school taxes run as follows: 1922, they were $12.26 on a thousand dollars valuation; in 1923, $18.80; in the year 1924, $18.50; in 1925, $19.20; and in the year 1926, $19.80. What made the taxes higher in 1926 was because twenty-two hundred dollars interest and five thousand dollars on the principal was paid.

A consolidated school is expensive in a small community, but there are a great many other things to look at. The children don’t have to wade through the snow and mud; they are picked up at the door. A great many people appreciate not having their children playing along the road with rough children and standing a chance of being attacked by some lawless ruffian. The parents can feel that their children are safe from the time they leave the door to the time they are brought back, the bus drivers being selected from the most responsible men of the community who make application. This is a broad statement to make right after the terrible catastrophe that happened at our school.

I feel that there is not another man in the world who would try to live a public life and be too big a coward to stand defeat and strike such a terrible blow at the neighbours of his community. The consolidated school is a help in a great many ways; the children have the same classmates up to the time they graduate. In the rural schools they work along until they pass the eighth grade and then go into a strange school. In some cases they are large for their age and this causes them a handicap. I know from experience. Teachers have to be farther advanced to teach in a consolidated school than they do in a common country school. It is my firm belief that when everything is taken into consideration, the consolidated school is the cheapest and best way of education.

On the morning of May 18, 1927, I was planting melons northeast of my house, about fifteen rods east of the Michigan Central railroad, about sixty rods east of Kehoe’s farm, and about one-half mile west and south of the Bath school. The woods prevented a good vision of the schoolhouse, but the chimney could be seen. At nine forty-five, Eastern Standard Time, a tremendous explosion came. I couldn’t tell which way it came from but as I looked to the northeast and kept swinging around, viewing the ground to the north and then to the west, I stopped. To the west was Kehoe’s buildings and at that time a stream of smoke came out of the east gable end of his sheep barn which was followed by flames. I hollered at the section men who were working on the track near by and I said, “Kehoe’s barn is on fire,” and just as I was saying this the big barn and house and all the other buildings except the hen house started. His house and his large stock barn started in the gable end to the north in the same way that the sheep barn had started. I couldn’t see where the other buildings started.

At that time my wife, who was upstairs cleaning house, ran to the window facing the east, which brought her in plain sight of the school. By that time, black and white smoke, and dust looked as if it was going about one hundred feet in the air. She yelled, “My G– the school house has blown up.” She ran downstairs and I ran toward the house and car. I yelled to the section men who had already started for Kehoe’s buildings and I told them that the schoolhouse had blown up, but I could make only part of them hear. What I could make hear ran this way. Before they got here and I could get my car started, we could hear the children screaming and moaning at the school. It seemed as if our car would hardly run. It was a ride that none of us will ever forget.

We got to the school and as we ran across the lawn we met some people who told us our boy, who was in the second grade, was out and all right. I think there were about ten or a dozen people there at that time. The wall had crumbled each way, letting the edge of the roof drop on the brick and cement. There was a pile of children of about five or six under the roof and some of them had arms sticking out, some had legs and some just their heads sticking out. They were unrecognizable because they were covered with dust, plaster, and blood. There were not enough of us to move the roof. It looked as if hardly anything held it at the top.

Some of the men thought that if we had ropes we could pull the roof over. I said, “I have lots of ropes in my slaughter house and I will go and get them.” I ran out to the street to my machine, a Ford pick-up, I had to go south about four blocks and turn west and just as I got nicely around the corner I met Kehoe in his car going toward Bath. He grinned and waved his hand; when he grinned, I could see both rows of his teeth, in fact, I can see them yet. He must have driven down through Bath, then west a mile and a half. He was seen by two men: Jobe T. Sleight, Jr., and Homer Jenison, Bath township farmers.

He also passed one of Mr. Witt’s little boys who were in the school and running home. He waved at Kehoe and tried to get a ride but Kehoe paid no attention. He must have turned south half a mile, then east down by his burning buildings and then to Bath. I think he went west on the north road thinking that he would meet M. W. Keyes, a member of the school board, and his son, Warden Keyes, a school bus driver. He had had some little trouble from time to time with both of these men. Kehoe dropped the last check he gave Warden and as he picked it up, Kehoe said, “My boy, you want to take good care of that check as it is probably the last check you will ever get.” If he had met them, he would have likely shot both of them, as he had his rifle with him.

I went to the slaughterhouse and got the ropes and went back. By that time, lots more people had got there and they wanted a telephone pole for a pry. I happened to know where there was a pole down by Charley Wilkins’ barn, which was about six blocks from the school. Someone got in the car with me and we took a small piece of rope and latched the telephone pole on the fenders. We got back to the school and helped carry the pole on top of the debris.

There being so much help around the pole I was back down by the machine when Kehoe blew his car up in the street. This was about half an hour after the school exploded. I stood there almost paralyzed for a few moments and I didn’t know what to do. Someone stood by me and said, “Well, we must get those dead people out of the cars.” We started out toward the road and found superintendent, Mr. Huyck, and Nelson McFarren dead and Glenn Smith, who was bleeding and rolling on the ground, mortally wounded. We didn’t see anything of Kehoe’s body, as it was blown down the street and across in a low place.

No one knew for about an hour what the explosion really was. When we got to Glenn Smith, he was conscious and he tried to get on his feet and he kept saying, “Leave me, boys, and run, these trees are full of it.” He must have thought the blast came out of the trees. I went after a piece of rope to stop the blood but by the time I got back, Eddy Drumheller, the township highway commissioner, had pulled off his belt and was binding the leg. Glenn told him when it was tight enough. Glenn’s good wife came at that time. As soon as she saw Glenn’s condition, she broke down. Glenn said, “O dear, don’t worry about me.” He started to turn pale green and was getting weaker and he asked why the doctors didn’t come. About that time the ambulances pulled up but Glenn passed away before the ambulance reached the hospital. Mr. Huyck and Mr. McFarren were almost unrecognizable.

About half a block each way cars that were parked along the curb had broken glass and nearly all the tops caught fire from the gas blown over them. These fires were easily put out.

At this time the doctors and nurses began to arrive. Doctor and Mrs. Crum, who were doctor and nurse in the World War, now run a drug store in Bath, they practically turned their store and home into a hospital where they gave all the attention in their power. He was on the job with his sleeves rolled up about an hour before other doctors and nurses crime. They haven’t stopped helping yet, as they call on some of the children that are back from the hospital.

The operators in our little exchange stayed at their duty and called doctors, undertakers, and hospitals in Lansing and nearby towns. There were hundreds of people working in the wreckage getting out the children.

The Consumers’ Power Company had a gang of men working in this vicinity who assisted a great deal in the rescue and some of the contractors in Lansing sent their entire force; men from shops, and many others turned in to help.

Assistant chief, Paul Lefke, of the Lansing Fire Department, was in command at the central station at the time the call came in. They told him the Bath Consolidited School was on fire. He told three of his men to take the chemical truck to Bath as fast as they could get there. Glenn Brundage, a local fireman who had that day off, drove up in front of the department at that time. Mr. Lefke ran out and got into his car and told him to drive to Bath as fast as he could. They drove into Bath a few minutes ahead of the chemical truck. He ran to the telephone office and had them put in a call for the Lansing operator. As soon as she got the operator on the wire, he told her to connect him up with the fire department, the mayor’s office, and the police headquarters. The fire chief, Delfs, answered first, so he told him to send all the men they could spare with equipment to get the children out of the wreckage. It wasn’t long until there were thirty-four firemen with Chief Delfs at the school. Before the doctors and nurses arrived Assistant Chief Lefke was sending crippled children to hospitals in private automobiles.

Mr. Lefke was in the basement with Lieutenant Donald McNaughton and Ernest Halderman, state troopers, and Lieutenant Lyle W. Morse, assistant chief of the secret service department of public safety. In a short time the came out with about a bushel of dynamite and told the rescuers and all the other people to get back as there was more dynamite in the building. They went back in the basement and found the clock and batterv. They cut the wires and carried out the rest of the dynamite that all together weighed five hundred and four pounds.Then, they told the people that it was safe to go back to work. When one of these brave men was asked why they risked their lives going into such a place, he calmly said, “That is our duty.”

It was about noon before it was found out that Kehoe had brought his wife home from Lansing on Monday night. They immediately thought it was possible for her to have burned up in the house on the farm. Assistant Chief Lefke took the chemical truck out and emptied its contents in the cellar to cool it off enough so they could search for her body. Her charred bodv was not found until the next morning behind what was once called the sheep barn.

The doctors and nurses did wonderful work in taking care of the wounded, they would take from one to three in an ambulance and a doctor and nurse would go with them to the hospital and sometimes where there was room the mothers would go. In other cases, the mothers would follow up, so as to be with their children at the hospital. The Red Cross took headquarters in the Crum drug store.

There were sights that I hope no one will ever have to look at again. Children would be brought out, some with legs dropping, some with arms broken and hanging, some would be moaning, and others would be still. When carrying them, you would know they would never answer their mother’s call again. They were all hard to recognize when they were first brought out because they were covered with plaster and cement -and nearly all bleeding to a certain extent.

I saw one mother, Mrs. Eugene Hart, sitting on the bank a short distance from the school with a little dead girl on each side of her and holding a little boy, Percy, who died a short time after they got him to the hospital. This was about the time Kehoe blew his car up in the street, severely wounding Perry, the oldest child of Mr. and Mrs. Hart.

It is a miracle that many parents didn’t lose their minds before the task of getting their children out of the ruins was completed. It was between five and six o’clock that evening before the last child was taken out.

When the doctors got here they detailed three men and myself to take the stretchers to gather up the dead and put them in a row on the grass where we could cover them up.

As soon as the coroner got here and swore in a jury, the bodies were removed to the little town hall, that served as a morgue, where at one time during the afternoon there were thirteen ambulances to take the little ones to the undertakers designated by their parents.

Shortly after noon the ladies around town commenced making coffee and sandwiches and getting what they could for the relief workers to eat. A big relief came to these ladies during the afternoon when the Lawrence Baking Company of Lansing sent out a truck load of pies and sandwiches which were served in the community hall during the afternoon and evening. Many thanks to Mr. Lawrence.

By noon the traffic became a problem, but Lieutenant McNaughton, state trooper, soon mastered the situation by placing his men on corners leading to Bath who stayed on their duty until far in the night. He also kept men on duty watching the school all night. The following Sunday after the explosion, May 22, 1927, was the big problem of handling the traffic, but through the faithful duty of our sheriff, Bart Fox, and his deputies on the north, and Lieutenant McNaughton’s men on the east, south, and the west, this problem was solved.

It is estimated that from sixty to eighty thousand cars passed through Bath that day without a single accident except, I understand, one boy backed up in front of a car and was slightly bruised by the fender. Through this terrible catastrophe, we have learned the great value of our state troopers.

On Sunday, May 22, following our terrible catastrophe, I think we had the greatest demonstration of American sympathy ever awarded a grief stricken community. Thousands and thousands of cars stayed in line for hours. I have a gas station one-half mile west of Bath on the main road to Lansing, where there was a double row of traffic all day. In the afternoon it took about four hours to get three miles, but I don’t remember of hearing a single horn sounded. It was like a great funeral procession. Everyone’s heart was filled with sympathy for this grief stricken community. There were a great many funerals this day and it was a handicap getting to the cemeteries but I don’t think the grief stricken parents have any hard feeling toward the people who came from many miles around to see a sight which I hope human eyes will never rest on again. I sincerely hope that everyone who visited our little community feels that he was met courteously and without prejudice or graft in any respect.

The Bath Consolidated School before it was blown up by Kehoe.

The Bath Consolidated School before it was blown up by Kehoe.

Loading an ambulance in the shadow of destruction. When the rescue crew arrived at the scene of the school, Kehoe drove right up to the site of the bombing and used a rifle to set off dynamite inside of his shrapnel-filled truck. The resulting explosion killed Kehoe, the school superintendent, and innocent bystanders. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

Loading an ambulance in the shadow of destruction. When the rescue crew arrived at the scene of the school, Kehoe drove right up to the site of the bombing and used a rifle to set off dynamite inside of his shrapnel-filled truck. The resulting explosion killed Kehoe, the school superintendent, and innocent bystanders. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

The Bath School bombing took place on May 18, 1927, when Andrew Kehoe set off hundreds of pounds of dynamite he had packed inside the school. The bombing killed 45 people — including 38 children. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

The Bath School bombing took place on May 18, 1927, when Andrew Kehoe set off hundreds of pounds of dynamite he had packed inside the school. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

The Bath School disaster, May 18, 1927. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

The Bath School disaster, May 18, 1927. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

One of the first grade teachers reported that "It seemed as though the floor went up several feet," she said. "After the first shock I thought for a moment I was blind. When it came the air seemed to be full of children and flying desks and books. Children were tossed high in the air; some were catapulted out of the building."

One of the first grade teachers reported that “It seemed as though the floor went up several feet,” she said. “After the first shock I thought for a moment I was blind. When it came the air seemed to be full of children and flying desks and books. Children were tossed high in the air; some were catapulted out of the building.”

Kehoe was known for having a terrible temper and for being hard to work with. At one point, he shot and killed a dog that wandered onto his property just because it wouldn't stop barking. His neighbors later admitted that he also beat one of his horses to death when it didn't perform how he wanted it to. But his bad attitude was really set off when he was notified his house was going to be foreclosed on.

Kehoe was known for having a terrible temper and for being hard to work with. At one point, he shot and killed a dog that wandered onto his property just because it wouldn’t stop barking. His neighbors later admitted that he also beat one of his horses to death when it didn’t perform how he wanted it to. But his bad attitude was really set off when he was notified his house was going to be foreclosed on.

Andrew Kehoe, left, and his wife, Nellie Kehoe.The bombing was planned and carried out by school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe, who was angry about increased taxes in the area. Additionally, Kehoe was upset that he had lost the spring 1926 election for township clerk, and decided to plot a revenge on the town after his defeat. Oddly enough, dynamite was often used on farms for excavation and burning garbage so no one suspected a thing when Kehoe started purchasing it in town. While Kehoe busied himself preparing his farmhouse for the explosion, his wife fell incredibly ill with tuberculosis. There was no cure for the disease, and her frequent trips to the hospital racked their debts up higher and higher. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

Andrew Kehoe, left, and his wife, Nellie Kehoe.The bombing was planned and carried out by school board treasurer Andrew Kehoe, who was angry about increased taxes in the area. Additionally, Kehoe was upset that he had lost the spring 1926 election for township clerk, and decided to plot a revenge on the town after his defeat. Oddly enough, dynamite was often used on farms for excavation and burning garbage so no one suspected a thing when Kehoe started purchasing it in town. While Kehoe busied himself preparing his farmhouse for the explosion, his wife fell incredibly ill with tuberculosis. There was no cure for the disease, and her frequent trips to the hospital racked their debts up higher and higher. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

Members of the community begin the heartbreaking and grisly task of identifying victims of the Bath School disaster of 1927. On May 18, Andrew Kehoe set off hundreds of pounds of dynamite he had packed inside the school. The bombing killed 45 people — including 38 children. Lansing State Journal.

Members of the community begin the heartbreaking and grisly task of identifying victims of the Bath School disaster of 1927. On May 18, Andrew Kehoe set off hundreds of pounds of dynamite he had packed inside the school.  Lansing State Journal.

The small community was devastated by the event. Some residents claimed it felt like the world was ending. Class had only been in session for 15 minutes before the bombs went off. Parents from the area rushed to the school to see if their children were okay, and bystanders claimed the site looked like a war zone.

The small community was devastated by the event. Some residents claimed it felt like the world was ending. Class had only been in session for 15 minutes before the bombs went off. Parents from the area rushed to the school to see if their children were okay, and bystanders claimed the site looked like a war zone.

Michigan State Police officers holding some of the dynamite planted by Andrew Kehoe, May 18, 1927. Courtesy photo/Bath School Museum.

Michigan State Police officers holding some of the dynamite planted by Andrew Kehoe, May 18, 1927. Courtesy photo/Bath School Museum.

These are the eight caps that were supposed to set off the five hundred and four pounds of explosives. If this had worked, as planned, there wouldn't have been much left of Bath. Kehoe had stopped tending to his farm, and neighbours worried that he was going to commit suicide. They didn't know he was indeed planning a suicide, and intended on taking several people down with him. For the next year, Kehoe purchased explosives in secret and hid them in his home and under the school. Kehoe was an experienced electrician, and knew exactly what he needed to create a huge explosion.

These are the eight caps that were supposed to set off the five hundred and four pounds of explosives. If this had worked, as planned, there wouldn’t have been much left of Bath. Kehoe had stopped tending to his farm, and neighbours worried that he was going to commit suicide. They didn’t know he was indeed planning a suicide, and intended on taking several people down with him. For the next year, Kehoe purchased explosives in secret and hid them in his home and under the school. Kehoe was an experienced electrician, and knew exactly what he needed to create a huge explosion.

Five hundred and four pounds of unexploded pyrotol that was taken out of the basement of the unwrecked portion of the school by two state troopers. This dynamite was divided up into eight different charges in different sections of the basement. When investigators poured through the evidence after the bombing, they found another big stack of explosives under the south wing of the building and realized Kehoe intended to blow up the entire school, but his alarm clock detonator malfunctioned.

Five hundred and four pounds of unexploded pyrotol that was taken out of the basement of the unwrecked portion of the school by two state troopers. This dynamite was divided up into eight different charges in different sections of the basement. When investigators poured through the evidence after the bombing, they found another big stack of explosives under the south wing of the building and realized Kehoe intended to blow up the entire school, but his alarm clock detonator malfunctioned.

Device used by Andrew Kehoe in the Bath School disaster, May 18, 1927.  Courtesy photo/Lansing State Journal.

Device used by Andrew Kehoe in the Bath School disaster, May 18, 1927. Courtesy photo/Lansing State Journal.

All that was left of Kehoe's car after it blew up in the street, killing himself, the superintendent, Mr. Huyck, Glenn O. Smith, Nelson McFarren, and a little boy, Cleo Claton, and injuring several others. It damaged much property. There is a house on the corner of the school and not far from where Kehoe's car set that was nearly ruined by burrs, bolts, and scrap iron being driven through it. There was considerably damaged done to the nearby houses and it took over a thousand dollars to replace the windows that were broken by the two explosions. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

All that was left of Kehoe’s car after it blew up in the street, killing himself, the superintendent, Mr. Huyck, Glenn O. Smith, Nelson McFarren, and a little boy, Cleo Claton, and injuring several others. It damaged much property. There is a house on the corner of the school and not far from where Kehoe’s car set that was nearly ruined by burrs, bolts, and scrap iron being driven through it. There was considerably damaged done to the nearby houses and it took over a thousand dollars to replace the windows that were broken by the two explosions. Photo: Lansing State Journal.

Location where Nellie Kehoe's body was found. Courtesy photo/Bath School Museum.

Location where Nellie Kehoe’s body was found. Courtesy photo/Bath School Museum.

On the morning of May 18, Kehoe murdered his wife before igniting explosives to blow up his farmhouse. The explosion caused several neighbouring houses to be destroyed and even catch on fire. Apparently, while neighbors tried to salvage charred furniture from Kehoe's farmhouse shortly after the explosion, he warned them that he was headed to the school to do some serious damage.

On the morning of May 18, Kehoe murdered his wife before igniting explosives to blow up his farmhouse. The explosion caused several neighbouring houses to be destroyed and even catch on fire. Apparently, while neighbours tried to salvage charred furniture from Kehoe’s farmhouse shortly after the explosion, he warned them that he was headed to the school to do some serious damage.

Front page of the Lansing State Journal on May 18, 1927.  The towns surrounding Bath joined in to cover the medical expenses and burial costs of people injured or killed by the bombing. The Red Cross raised over $5,000, which would be almost $72,000 in modern currency. Within days the event had national press coverage, and papers from Washington D.C. and Los Angeles ran exposés depicting Kehoe as an evil madman. Lansing State Journal.

Front page of the Lansing State Journal on May 18, 1927. The towns surrounding Bath joined in to cover the medical expenses and burial costs of people injured or killed by the bombing. The Red Cross raised over $5,000, which would be almost $72,000 in modern currency. Within days the event had national press coverage, and papers from Washington D.C. and Los Angeles ran exposés depicting Kehoe as an evil madman. Lansing State Journal.

One of the many local bees that was held to clean up the wreckage. During this evening of July 26, they found a twenty-five pound sack of unexploded pyrotol, making a total of five hundred and twenty-nine pounds that didn't explode as intended by Kehoe. While no one ever doubted that Kehoe was the crazy man who committed the crime, some raised suspicion that the school board was also responsible for the event. The school board and employees were accused of criminal negligence, but were exonerated. Michigan Governor Fred Green solicited donations and created the Bath Relief Fund, which he used to help the community restart the school. In 1928, the building was demolished and replaced with the "James Couzens Agricultural School." Kehoe's house was demolished and sold at auction to pay for the mortgage.

One of the many local bees that was held to clean up the wreckage. During this evening of July 26, they found a twenty-five pound sack of unexploded pyrotol, making a total of five hundred and twenty-nine pounds that didn’t explode as intended by Kehoe. While no one ever doubted that Kehoe was the crazy man who committed the crime, some raised suspicion that the school board was also responsible for the event. The school board and employees were accused of criminal negligence, but were exonerated. Michigan Governor Fred Green solicited donations and created the Bath Relief Fund, which he used to help the community restart the school. In 1928, the building was demolished and replaced with the “James Couzens Agricultural School.” Kehoe’s house was demolished and sold at auction to pay for the mortgage.

Andrew Kehoe, the world’s worst demon, was born February 1, 1872, on a farm about four miles north and east of Tecumseh, Michigan. He was one of thirteen children, all born there. Their birthplace is shown in the picture. His father and mother moved there from New York State when they were both young. His father was a well-liked, prosperous farmer. He had acquired three hundred and twenty-five acres of land.

Andrew’s first education started in a country school not far from his father’s farm and he graduated from Tecumseh High School. He later took a course in electrical engineering at the Michigan State College, East Lansing. While he was in college, he met Miss Nellie Price whom he later married. After leaving college, he went west and his people didn’t know much about him for several years but they knew he worked in St. Louis, Missouri, as an electrician in a park.

After some years, he came back and married Miss Nellie Price. Andrew and his wife were born and raised as Roman Catholics and they went to church until there was a new one built. He was assessed four hundred dollars which he made no effort to pay. After some time the priest went out to see why they didn’t come to church or pay the assessment. Kehoe ordered him to the road and told him if he didn’t get there, he would see that he got there. After that time, he never went to church and the neighbors said that he never allowed his wife to go.

The original homestead of a hundred and eighty-five acres was later sold to Andrew. He never farmed it as other farmers do and he tried to do everything with his tractor. He was in the height of his glory when fixing machinery or tinkering. He was always trying new methods in his work, for instance, hitching two mowers behind his tractor. This method at different times did not work and he would just leave the hay standing. He also put four sections of drag and two rollers at once behind his tractor. He spent so much time tinkering that he didn’t prosper. The neighbours told the writer that he was very severe with his stock, his horses especially.

The writer interviewed some of Andrew Kehoe’s neighbours and classmates of that locality. They all told practically the same story. He was comparatively sociable when he was in school but as he grew older, he became more distant and more inclined to want his own way. He didn’t want to have anything to do with people who didn’t do as he wanted them to.

Andrew Kehoe’s mother died when he was quite young, and in time, his father married again. Andrew didn’t get along very well with his stepmother. One day she went to town and returned about meal time. She went to light her oil stove, but someone had tampered with it and it exploded, saturating her with oil, and set her on fire. Andrew stood and watched her burn for a while and then he got a pail of water and threw over her. It spread the flames and made them worse. His stepmother died from the effects. The fire was extinguished before it burned the house. Andrew was only about fourteen years of age at that time. Although there was never any trouble made about it, the neighbours whom the writer talked with were of the opinion that Andrew knew something about what was wrong with the stove.

He had his neighbors arrested for hunting on his farm but he later gave one of these men, whom he liked pretty well, ten dollars. All the neighbors that the writer talked with said Mrs. Kehoe was a lovely woman.

On another occasion, he bought eight steers from a man and when he got home he drove them in the clover pasture. The clover was wet and two of them bloated and died. He skinned them and sold the hides and went back to the man and told him that he ought to pay him half of what he lost on the steers. The man, of course, refused this. After that when he met him face to face on the street, he would not speak.

Some years afterwards, Kehoe put his farm in the real estate man’s hands to sell. This same man, seeing the advertisement, went to look at the farm before he went to the real estate office. When he stopped to ask Kehoe if the farm was for sale, Kehoe said, “Yes, but why in h— didn’t you come two weeks ago, before it was turned over to the real estate hands and I would have saved the commission.” The man said, of course, that he didn’t know anything about it. He asked Kehoe if he would show him the boundary line, which he did. The man walked alone over it and being satisfied with the place, he went to the real estate office and closed the deal. He gave Kehoe eight thousand dollars in cash, which was his equity.

Kehoe came to Bath and bought the farm of the Price estate. The purchase price was twelve thousand dollars. He paid six thousand dollars in cash on the principal and he gave a six thousand dollar mortgage. When he got nearly ready to move, he went across the road to his neighbour and told him he had fifteen cords of wood to sell because he couldn’t move it. When the neighbour told him he had all the wood he needed, Kehoe said he was going to sell all the wood for a dollar and a half a cord, which was about half price. He impressed it on his mind that he must not leave one stick as he didn’t want the man who bought the farm to have anything that he hadn’t bought. The man bought the wood.

Before he moved to Bath, he sold his sheep and cattle. He only brought three horses and some very fine thoroughbred hogs. He had two car loads of farmn machinery. He went to see David Harte, who lives directly across the road from the Price farm, on Saturday and on Sunday a motor truck came through with Kehoe’s furniture. His wife had come through to Lansing and was staying with her sisters. When the furniture arrived, he tried to call his wife. Not being able to get her over the telephone, he said he knew about where she was, insinuating that she was at church. David Harte helped him unload his implements and deliver them to the farm. This was in the spring of 1919. They were very neighborly during this year. At that time the Kehoes had no car so Mrs. Harte took Mrs. Kehoe to Lansing with her each week to shop and deliver their butter and eggs.

Mrs. Harte had a little fox terrier dog of which she thought a great deal, but it had a habit of running out on the lawn and barking. It never went into the road. It came up missing in March, 1920, and they looked all over the farm for it, but they could not find it. She went over and asked Mr. Kehoe if he had seen anything of her dog. He said that it was burying a bone beside his road fence and he shot the d— nuisance. The dog never went into Kehoe’s yard, but it must have annoyed him by barking on the lawn. They didn’t have any words over his killing the dog, but Mrs. Harte quit taking them to Lansing.

Mr. Harte and Kehoe changed work in thrashing and neighbored back and forth to a certain extent. About three or four years later, Mr. Harte went over to borrow a spring seat for his wagon and Kehoe had the team on his manure spreader. One of his horses was his old light driving horse. The next day they saw a truck from the Pregulman’s rendering works drive away from Kehoe’s place with a horse. When David took the spring seat home, he said, “I see you had bad luck with your horse.” Kehoe said, “Yes, d— him, he ought to have been killed years ago. He didn’t pull and we had a mix-up and when I got through with him he was dead.” He generally used his tractor on the manure spreader.

No matter how much Kehoe worked around machinery, he was never seen dirty or greasy. If he got greasy, he would go to the house and clean up. The last time he helped Mr. Harte thrash, he went across the road to his home at noon and washed and put on a clean shirt and then he went back for his dinner. The next year, 1926, he didn’t have any grain to thrash. He always put his tools in their place when he got through with them. His barns were always clean. Several people have made the remark that his barns were cleaner than a great many houses. He farmed the same here as he did on his old homestead.

In the spring of 1925, I bought from him what was the tenant house on the Kehoe farm. The day I bought it I asked him if it would be all right to pay fifty dollars down and two hundred dollars when I got ready to move the old house. Kehoe said, “NO, I am selling it because I want to use the money.” I had to pay him all of it right then.

The following fall, I had a steam boiler to install in my slaughter house. I asked Mr. Kehoe if he would come up and help me, which he did very readily. He ran the pipes to the scalding tanks and showed me all about the boiler. Being an old boiler, it needed some repairs and pipe fittings. He had part of these in his workshop. He said he was going to town the next day and would get the parts that he didn’t have; this he did. Being no mechanic, I had some trouble from time to time with the boiler and I would always call Kehoe and he would come right up and fix it and would never take any money for his work.

I put up a gas station in front of my house this spring. I was setting up an air compressor temporarily on Saturday so I could have it to use on Sunday. That was the Saturday before he blew the schoolhouse up on Wednesday. I needed a three-eighths union to connect the pipes so I went down to Kehoe’s and told him what I wanted. He got them for me and when I told him that in a week or so, I was going to set it up permanently down cellar and pipe it out, he said, “When you get ready to do that, come down if you need any tools. Yes, and I will come up and help you.”

Kehoe had the Lansing and the Bath telephones. I only had the Bath telephone so when mine was out of order, I used theirs and I was always made welcome. I went down there to use their telephone last winter, about February, 1927, and he had just been shooting at the target. When I got through using the telephone, he showed me his new thirty Winchester bolt action rifle that he had bought two or three months before. I had had a general store and when I sold out, I kept one rifle. I told him that I had never shot it and I would bring it up and shoot with him when he was going to practice. He told me to come up anytime, but I didn’t think anything about it again until spring on Thursday, May 12, 1927, he came along by my house and stopped where I was working out in front and we talked for quite a few minutes.

During the conversation, he reminded me that I had not come down to shoot as I told him I would. I told him I had been busy but if he would bring his gun up to my place the next day we would shoot here. He said that he would do that and the next morning about eight-thirty o’clock, May 13, 1927, he brought along pasteboard targets which we nailed on a board and set up. We shot three times apiece from one hundred yards with a rest. We each put one in the bull’s-eye and the others were very close, except I had one that was wild. Then we shot from fifty yards offhand. The first time we shot, the first three we were about even, then we changed guns and shot three times each and he beat me. Then we each took our own gun and shot twelve or fifteen times more and he beat me continually after that. He showed no signs of nervousness under the great strain that he must have been under. When he started to go home, I walked out to his machine with him and there was a box in the back about two feet long and twelve or fourteen inches wide which was about half full of rifle shells. I believe there must have been a thousand of them.

I think it was in the spring of 1922 when he volunteered his service free of charge to the Farm Bureau on the follow-up drive for membership. In the fall of 1925, he hired Jobe T. Sleight, Jr., to take him to Jackson to see about dynamite for farm blasting. He bought and brought back five hundred pounds of pyrotol, telling them he would have some to sell to the neighbors if they wanted it. No one knew of him using any of it except on New Year’s eve of 1927. There was a tremendous explosion at just twelve o’clock. Mr. Sleight did not hear the explosion but he was talking with some men a few days afterwards who were telling about the explosion and of course Mr. Sleight, knowing of his having this dynamite, thought it must have been him. When Mr. and Mrs. Sleight were returning from town one day, they stopped to see Mrs. Kehoe. She had just returned from the hospital where she had been nearly all winter. While they were there, Kehoe came in the house and during the conversation Mr. Sleight said, “What were you trying to do over here on New Year’s Eve?” Kehoe told him he was just trying out a clock system. He said that he put the dynamite out in the garden and the clock down cellar and set it for twelve o’clock.

It was the last time Mr. Sleight ever talked to Kehoe, as Mrs.Kehoe went back to the hospital. She was with her sisters when Kehoe went after her on Monday night just before the explosion on Wednesday. She was not seen again until they found her charred body back of the sheep barn a day after the tragedy. He must have murdered her as soon as he got home with her Monday night or before retiring Tuesday night. When she was found, there was evidence that she was dressed at the time she was placed in what was once a hog chute mounted on two wheels. The wood had all burned away and one foot was over the axle. There were corset stays laying around her, a box of silverware on one side, and an iron box containing between three and four hundred dollars in money on the other.

Mrs. Kehoe’s people lived in Bath township when she was a girl, and the people thought a great deal of her. God, alone, only knows what she suffered during her married life, as she was no woman to complain. She was always cheerful and pleasant. The people, knowing her fine character, were glad to see her come back into the neighborhood. They were immediately invited to attend parties and clubs in which they soon became members. Mr. Kehoe was not very prominent. He was sociable but when you would be talking with him it seemed as though he weighed every word before he spoke. He was very careful not to say anything about his own business. Both were members of the Bath Social club. The club met about every two weeks during the winter months and the evenings were spent playing progressive euchre. If any of the players at the table with Mr. Kehoe didn’t play just right he immediately told them that they were not playing according to the instructions given by Hoyle. The people didn’t get angry at him but they didn’t like his severity at a social party. On one occasion the Social club met at the Kehoe home where they spent a pleasant evening. Refreshments were served at eleven o’clock and then Mr. Kehoe furnished each man with a different puzzle that he made himself. These puzzles were made mostly of heavy copper and he said that he had many more. They showed master workmanship. He must have spent much time making them.

He never attracted much attention around the neighborhood. There was something about him that no matter how good a friend you thought you were of him, there always seemed to be a distant feeling. He would give you a straight answer with no explanation. I was talking with Mr. Kehoe during farmers’ week at the Michigan State College, East Lansing, in February, 1926. While I was talking with him I asked him if he was going over to the college. He said, “No, they would just tell the farmers a lot of things that were impossible to do.” He said, “last night I was listening over my radio to a speaker who started in by telling what colleges he had been to and what countries he had been in. I shut that off and went to the telephone and called the college and asked them what in h— they wanted of a speaker who would just get up and brag about himself. That’s the last time I am going to listen to them this week.” I was talking with Kehoe early this spring, in 1927. The snow was off the ground and it was freezing nights and thawing day times. I said, “This is not very good wheat weather.” He said, “No, and I am glad of it. The farmers ought not to raise any more wheat until the country needed it badly. The d— fool farmers will never be any better off than they are now because if they do raise anything they will brag about it to everyone else.” He also said that it would be like the d— fool up in northern Michigan that raised an extra big crop of potatoes last year and then came down to the college at East Lansing during farmers’ week and told the world how he done it, so everybody would know as much about it as he did.

The Bath school tax in 1922 was twelve dollars and twenty-six cents on a thousand dollars valuation. Mr. Kehoe began to complain about his taxes being so high. In 1923 the school board had to buy five acres of land for an athletic field and it also had to buy and install a lighting plant of their own, which made the taxes for 1923 eighteen dollars and eighty cents. This enraged Kehoe. In fact, I didn’t hear anyone say they were very pleased about it. He felt that he was hurt the worst. His valuation was ten thousand dollars on eighty acres of land, but the township was not to blame for that as it would take thirty thousand dollars to replace the buildings on the Kehoe farm. During 1923 and 1924, Mr. Kehoe insinuated to some of his neighbours that if he was on the school board he would cut down the expenses.

At an annual school meeting that was held July 14, 1924, A. P. Kehoe was nominated and elected to fill the expired term of Enos Peacock. He was sworn in by Alonzo Webster, notary public, to act as a trustee for a term of three years. Mr. Kehoe was appointed treasurer of the school by the school board for a period of one year. He was reappointed the following two years as treasurer. By a motion made by Mr. M. W. Keyes, he was placed under a ten thousand dollar bond. His books were always posted up to date and found in good condition. He had considerable trouble with the school board from time to time because he would not give and take on any subject. He wanted his own way and if he didn’t get it, he would make a motion to adjourn.

He seemed to have no use for the superintendent, Mr. E. E. Huyck. As soon as he was on the board, he started to get rid of him. On one occasion, he told Mr. Huyck that he would have to leave the board meetings because he had no business to sit with the board. He was shown that if they wanted state aid they would have to let the superintendent sit with them. The superintendent had no voice in any of the meetings. On another occasion, Mr. Huyck wanted a summer vacation. Kehoe fought not to let him have any but when he saw that the rest of the board was in favor of giving him a vacation, he at once made a motion to let him have one week. Even little things like this made him angry and he would make a motion to adjourn. The only fair treatment that he ever showed Mr. Huyck was when he made a motion which carried, giving him jurisdiction over the timing of the bus drivers.

In the spring of 1925, Mrs. Bert Detluff died after she was elected as township clerk. The township board appointed Mr. Kehoe to act as township clerk until the next spring election. At that election Mr. Kehoe ran for the office but he was defeated because the people had heard of the trouble he had on the school board.

Three swarms of bees got in the partition of the school building in some way; during the winter when the schoolhouse got warm, the bees would crawl out and drop down. This caused much annoyance among the children. The school board authorized Mr. Huyck, the superintendent, and Mr. Hugget, principal, to experiment in killing the bees. At the next meeting of the school board, Mr. Huyck reported that he was unsuccessful in killing the bees. Mr. Kehoe said that he could kill those bees, so the job was immediately turned over to him. That was the last of the bees.

During the summer vacation months in 1926, Kehoe did some repairing and rewiring which gave him free access to the schoolhouse. This is probably when he planned and did a lot of his fiendish work.

The last board meeting that Kehoe attended was on May 5, 1927. The only thing that he did during this meeting besides smiling his approval of what the rest did was to make a motion to advance Mr. Detluff, a member of the board and also purchasing agent, twenty-five dollars to meet small bills. This was just thirteen days before the tragedy.

On Monday evening of May 16, 1927, two days before the tragedy, Mrs. Blanche Harte, fifth grade teacher, called Mr. Kehoe over the telephone and asked him if she could bring her class to his woods on Thursday for a picnic. He told her that would be all right and after asking her a few questions about some school records they hung up. A short time afterwards Kehoe called her over the telephone and asked her if she couldn’t just as well have her picnic on Tuesday, as it might rain Thursday. I suppose he wanted the children to have a little fun before he killed them.

Kehoe had trouble on the school board and he very seldom voted the same as the other members.

In the spring of 1926 he ran for township clerk and was defeated.

He tried to get them to cut the valuation down on his farm. He also tried to get the people who held the mortgage to take it off, telling them he had paid too much for the farm, but of course, he couldn’t get this done.

He was going to have his own way at any cost. He planned on destroying everything. He cut the wire fences on the farm and put dynamite in his tractor so that it blew all to pieces while the tool shed was burning. All the stock that he had at this time was two horses. They were tied in the barn and their feet were wired together so that rescuing them during the fire would be impossible.

About a month before he did this, he gave the best one of these horses to a neighbour, A. McMullen, and delivered it himself. Mr. McMullen kept the horse for a few days, then he got to thinking that it might be Kehoe was going to commit suicide because he hadn’t done any work on the farm for nearly a year, so he brought the horse back to Kehoe.

Mr. Kehoe carried all the rails and lumber that there were around the buildings into the tool shed. I suppose that was to make sure that everything would be destroyed. He girdled all the small shade trees and sawed the grape vines off next to the ground and set them back on the stumps so that they would not be noticed.

I think that he was very disappointed when he got down to the schoolhouse and saw that all the dynamite had not exploded. I think if all the dynamite had exploded, it would have killed all the children, teachers, and the superintendent. So much of it being in loose form, it is probable that the ruins would have caught fire. Then, he probably would have driven his machine which was loaded with burs, bolts, scrap iron, drag teeth, and rifle shells up into the crowd and blown it up, killing and injuring many people. I think he commenced planning this revengeful murder right after he was defeated in the spring election of 1926.

Mr. Sidney Howell, a farmer living about sixty rods west of the Kehoe farm and who was very friendly with Kehoe, came by my gas station and stopped. While he was here, he told me that at the time of the explosion at the school house, he was working with his two boys in his driveway. Mr. Melvin Armstrong, another neighbor, had just driven up with his machine and stopped. A few seconds later, Kehoe’s buildings started to burn and Mr. Howell said that they got into Armstrong’s car and as they were coming down the road they saw Kehoe come out of the house and run toward the tool shed.

Mr. Howell got out of the machine in front of the house and Mr. Armstrong went to get a place to park. They went into the driveway and up by the back door. Kehoe came out of the smoke with his machine, a Ford pick-up, and drove up even with where they were. He had a funnel in the gas tank. He stopped and took it out, then looked in and picked up the cap and screwed it on. Kehoe walked over where the men were. They were about ready to walk in the back door when Kehoe said, “You are friends of mine, don’t go in there, go down to the school.” They turned and walked toward the road and Kehoe leisurely walked to the machine and drove toward Bath.

This is the sign as it was found on the fence in the Kehoe yard.

This is the sign as it was found on the fence in the Kehoe yard.

After the disaster, U.S. Sen. James Couzens donated $75,000 for the rebuilding of the school, renamed James Couzens Agriculture School. Classes  reconvened in Bath businesses while the school was rebuilt.

By Monty J. Ellsworth

The Bath School Disaster: Text & Pictures

88 years ago: Bath School disaster kills 45 – Detroit Free Press

Putnam: Evil of Bath School Disaster remembered 89 years later

Bath School bombing: Remembering the deadliest school massacre in …

1927 School Bombing Was Deadliest In American History – The Inquisitr

Bath School Disaster Victims/Story – Unforgotten Children

 


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