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Lengthiest murder trial in WV history begins

When non-union miners in Mingo County, WV went on strike for the right to join the United Mine Workers in the spring of 1920, mine guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency evicted miners from their company-owned houses. After twelve Baldwin-Felts men arrived in Matewan, chief of police Sid Hatfield encouraged townspeople to arm themselves. The situation exploded into a gunfight in which seven detectives and four townspeople were killed, including Matewan’s mayor, Cable Testerman.

Matewan WVOne week after the shootings, Hatfield and Testerman’s widow, Jessie, were caught in a Huntington hotel and charged with “improper relations.” Having already bought a license, the couple was married upon their release from jail the next day.

The Trial of Sid Hatfield and twenty-two other defendants for the murder of one of the detectives, Albert Felts, began on January 28, 1921. Some forty armed Baldwin-Felts agents lined the streets of Williamson that morning to influence the pro-union jury. At trial time, the affair with Mrs. Testerman speak well for Hatfield’s character.

Sid HatfieldBut the evidence failed to bring convictions against him and the other men accused of the killings in Matewan. The 20-some defendents were acquitted of the charges in what was the Lengthiest Murder Trial in the state’s history.

Realizing the impossibility of gaining a conviction in Southern West Virginia, Baldwin-Felts gunmen prevented Sid Hatfield from standing trial in an unrelated case in McDowell County later that year. A few months after the verdict, several Baldwin-Felts agents shot and killed Hatfield and another defendant, Ed Chambers, on the courthouse steps in Welch. This sparked an armed march on southern West Virginia by union miners, which ended with the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Again, despite numerous eyewitness accounts, accused murderers went free. Baldwin-Felts agents C. E. Lively, “Buster” Pence, and Bill Salter were acquitted of the Hatfield and Chambers murders on the grounds of self defense, although neither victim was armed.


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Lengthiest murder trial in WV history begins


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