Murder in Pendleton County

Murder Trial in Pendleton County, Ky. – the Prisoners Convicted and Sentenced to be Hung on the 23rd Day of November. 

At the recent term of the Pendleton Criminal Court at Falmouth, Ky., Judge Wm. E. Arthur, presiding, Alexander Plummer and James Barnes were put upon trial, charged with the murder of Leonard Moss, a discharged Union soldier, in August, 1865.  The facts developed are in substance as follows: 

About the 20th of August, 1865, a stranger calling himself Leonard Moss, came to the village of Falmouth and sold a horse for $125 to an officer in colonel O’Neal’s regiment, then stationed there. The next day, Plummer and Barnes, and the father of Barnes, were seen in his company at several drinking places in the town, drinking with him.  Moss wore a heavy navy revolver in a scabbard, buckled behind him, under his coat.  James Barnes had his last drink that Moss was seen to drink mixed for him, and in a few minutes they all started out of town, Barnes upon one horse, and Plummer on another, with Moss up behind him. 

The road leads immediately down to the ford crossing Licking River, below the bridge, thence under the bridge, between the abutment and the river, then up the bank into the main road.  Before the party had reached the ford, about 200 yards from the last drinking place, the hat of Moss fell to the ground; Plummer jumped off, picked it up, put Moss in the saddle, and got on behind him.  After they crossed the ford, Moss was seen to make an attempt to turn back, and actually turned the horse around, but Plummer seized the reins, urged the horse up the bank, into the road, and the whole party were soon out of sight.  Here the road runs for five hundred yards runs up, hugging close to the river, separated from it by a skirting of trees and underbrush, cutting off the view of the town.  

At this point, within fifteen minutes from the time they were last seen, a gentleman found Moss lying insensible near the side of the road with his skull broken.  The wound extended from the outward angle of the left eye horizontally to a point above the ear, about two and a half inches deep, and an inch or more wide; the skull driven into the brain, still breathing.  In his hand he grasped a metallic watch guard, the watch gone – the ring being broken, and his money and pocketbook gone.  A saddle stirrup was picked up near him corresponding with that upon the saddle that Plummer rode.  His revolver was afterward found some twenty feet distant, where it had been thrown over the fence in the weeds. 

The road from this spot winds up the hill to the top of the ridge, overlooking the town; then winds its way northward toward Foster.  Upon this road, about three-fourths of a mile from the place of the murder, Plummer and Barnes were seen, in a very short time, riding rapidly.  Having reached this elevated position,  Plummer jumped the fence with his horse, rushed up to the house and asked a young lady standing at the well for a drink of water.  She dipped a glass from the bucket and gave it to him.  He put it to his lips with a tremulous hand, but spilled it upon his clothes, took a look toward town, said ‘the rebels and Union men were fighting,” and galloped off, joining his companion.  A fourth of a mile further on, they were seen riding as rapidly as their horses could be forced along, Plummer’s right stirrup dangling around his horse’s breast.  Half a mile further, Plummer rode up to the house of McClanahan, threw his saddle (less one stirrup) over the fence, and said he “wanted the best saddle and the best girth.” He took the saddle from the porch, put it on his horse, and rode off rapidly. 

Mrs. McClanahan alarmed her husband, who immediately came from the field, got a horse, and pursued and arrested the party some two miles further down the road.  McClanahan demanded his saddle.  Plummer replied that “he was bearing dispatches to Foster; he had authority to press the saddle and the horse, too, if he wanted it; that his name was McMath” etc., and galloped off.  The sheriff’s posse were soon on their track, but the prisoners had reached the house of old man Barnes, left their horses and taken to the woods, and left the country.  They were afterwards arrested at the Ohio and Mississippi Depot in Cincinnati, going West. 

The trial was commenced on Wednesday morning, and submitted to the jury on Saturday at noon.  In about two hours the jury returned into court with a verdict of “Guilty.”  Plummer is twenty-two years old, has been in Metcalfe’s Kentucky mounted regiment three years, and was discharged about six weeks prior to the murder.  During the trial he seemed exceedingly indifferent, evincing no emotion or feeling when the verdict of guilty was announced; not a muscle of his face was seen to move.  Barnes is nineteen years old.  He appeared to suffer much during the last two days of the trial. 

John N. Furber, Esq., of Covington, represented the Commonwealth, assisted by Records and Duncan or Falmouth,  Hon. J. W. Stevenson, of Covington; and McManama & Ireland appeared fro the prisoners. 

On Tuesday the prisoners were brought into court, and sentence passed upon them.  Plummer, upon being returned to jail, remarked that there were three men in Pendleton that he wanted to kill – that one of them was in the Court house.  Then he was ready to die.  The 23rd day of November next is the day fixed for their execution.


From an undated, uncredited newspaper clipping in the Pendleton County Library