On 17 April 1875, Anna Williams of 313 Canal Street in Richmond heard a noise and went outside to investigate only to discover a plank pulled off of her hen house and a man “breaking chicken necks.” Emmet W. Ruffin, a neighbor enlisted to assist her, later testified as to what happened next., “I jumped back and drew my knife and waited for him to come out…. Just then the man jumped out of the chicken house and threw a handful of sand or dirt in my eyes…. As soon as I got the sand out of my eyes, I went after him… and struck him with the knife as he was going over the fence.” The thief dropped some of the chickens inside the yard, but Ruffin continued to follow him. Shortly, a chase ensued, with people joining in and crying “murder” and “thief.” Some members of the group began throwing stones. One struck the thief on the side of his head knocking him to the ground. The chicken thief, later identified as Robert Bland, never got back up.
The Richmond coroner’s statement reveals that the chicken thief came to his death from a stab wound, inflicted by Emmet W. Ruffin, received while engaged in stealing chickens. The jury was of the opinion that Ruffin “[deserved] the thanks of the community for his action … read more »
Death records provide familial information to genealogists, statistical information for researchers, and an occasional chuckle for archivists. My morbid fascination with death registers paid off one day when I found the 1876 death record of one John Smith of Fairfax County. The person who recorded his death couldn’t resist adding:
”Killed by trap gun set to shoot thieves. It got Mr. S. on the first fire – It is feared there are no chickens where John has gone.”
Naturally, this made my whole week. Hope you enjoy it too!
-Kelly Gilbert Sizemore, Senior Reference Archivist