Case #5 - Bath School Disaster
Bath School Disaster
Because this episode is about the killings of young children, this may not be suitable for everyone. Listener and reader's discretion is advised.
Hey true crime lovers and Happy New Years! It's Shelby and I have a story today that you won't believe happened, but it did. This is the first case of the year so we're diving in head first into some serious true crime so let’s get it. Living in this crazy world, school shootings have sadly became a problem we have to face on a more frequent basis. Many remember the Virginia Tech shooting that took place April 16, 2007 where a 23 year old student opened fire in a dorm and academic building across the street. 32 people were killed and 23 injured before he turned the gun on himself. This shook the nation, but 5 years later another big shooting takes place and this time children were the targets. We all remember the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary. A gunman killed 27 people...20 of them children. The country mourned the loss of the children and administration killed in this evil act. On February 14th, 2018 a gunman opened fire on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglass and killed 17 people. 13 were students and 3 were administrators. The survivors of this actually started a national campaign to push for stricter gun laws. Then there was the Sante Fe High School shooting that took place May 18th, 2018 where a 17 year old gunman who wrote about his plans to shoot up the school and then turn the gun on himself, killed 8 students and 2 administrators before surrendering to authorities. And it's even more crazy because did you know that the first school massacre not only took place in Michigan on May 18th back in 1927 but still to this day is one of the worst massacres to take place. Virginia tech had a total of 56 victims but what if I tell you the massacre we're going to talk about today had a total of 103 victims. The massacre I'm talking about is the Bath School Disaster, where a man by the name of Andrew Kehow blew up the North wing of the local school where over 300 students attended. Bath School was a school that taught grades K-12. The point of of the School being built was to put an end to scattered schoolhouses.
Andrew was born in February 1, 1872 in Tecumseh, Michigan into a family of 13. When his mom died, his dad remarried and Andrew hated his new step mom. It was said that they constantly stayed into it. Later in his life, there was a quote on quote malfunction with the stove and it blew up setting his step mother on fire. He watched for a few seconds before throwing water on her. The malfunctions were never figured out so no legal actions were taken, his step mom actually died from her injuries a little after. Andrew's life move on in and he attends Tecumseh Highschool and later he attended Michigan State College which we all know as Michigan State University now. After college he moved to St. Louis and in 1911 had a fall which caused him to be in a coma for about 2 months. Some said after this incident, it made him more erratic and later on many tried to use this as a reason as to why he did what he did. A year later he meets his wife Nellie and they buy a 185 acre farm from Nellie's Aunt for 12,000. Something that kind of threw me was the fact that some of the surviving students said that Andrew was actually a pleasant man and that it was just known that he hated the school board. Especially the superintendent who Andrew strongly believed persuaded other board members to vote for higher taxes. When the board would have to make decisions, Andrew was normally the difficult one. Voting for the opposing choice when everyone would come to the agreement of something else. He also tried to make extreme budget cuts on necessities for the school just to be able to keep from spending any more money. He definitely was described as a frugal man.Others would say that he was an impatient man when others didn't agree with what he wanted. He dressed pretty well and always made sure he was neat and clean. His neighbors stated that he was pretty bad at farming but really good at tinkering, and that he actually preferred to do that. It was also said that he shot his neighbors dog because it was on his farm barking and that he also beat his own horse to death because it wasn't working efficiently. So it was definitely known that he had quite a mean streak to him, but people never thought he would do the heinous thing that he did.
So many people wanted answers on what can lead a person into doing such a thing, Andrew had a lot going on and I’m definitely not trying to make any excuses for this guy. some of the things that could have triggered Andrew into doing this massacre were that local property taxes just went up to fund the building of the Bath School and it was known that Andrew was livid about this and constantly fought to have them decreased and he also made crazy decisions to save money like cutting back on cleaning products. He had also lost in an election to be the township clerk, which was a position he held the year prior due to the death of the township clerk at the time. And finally, Andrew was facing foreclosure on the farm. He had a lot going on at the time, don't get me wrong but he just handled it so wrong.
Andrew was this very skilled electrician and the school hired him to do some wiring throughout the school. They believe that this gave him the opportunity to set up dynamite in the school basement, he did so good wiring the dynamite in the basement that fire marshals and other authorities found it hard to believe that he did this all alone. Neighbors also claimed that they saw Andrew wiring the fence to his house and that he worked hard on it for at least 10 days. There was even a record of Andrew buying dynamite back in the Fall of 1926, just about a year before the massacre. It didn't really raise any red flags because farmers often used dynamite on their farm to get rid of things such as tree stumps.
Andrew's wife Nellie, had been in and out of the hospital dealing with Tuberculosis, when she returned from the hospital on May 16th Andrew killed her by a blunt force blow to the head, although investigators could only estimate her time of death because she had a 2 day span from being released from the hospital to the explosion. He then put her into a wheelbarrow, and rolled her to the back of the chicken coop. He then tied up the legs of the remaining living horses so that they wouldn't escape the explosion. He also put up a sign on his fence that stated, "Criminals are not born, they are made." This sign was one of the only remaining things of Andrew's farm. Early morning on May 18th, he blows up the farm with the rigged wires. Neighbors rush to the farm to try to help but Andrew is already in his truck and on his way to Bath School to watch his plan play out. While he was driving away from the house, he stopped at 3 boys who were headed to the farm to help and told them they better get down to the school with a grin painted on his face.
Now at the same time as the explosion on the farm, Andrew set up an alarm for 8:45 am to detonate the dynamite at the school. When the dynamite went off, the North Wing of the school blew up, where a lot of the younger kids were located. Authorities believed due to the large amount of dynamite that Andrew was planning on blowing up the entire school, but half didn't go off. A first grade teacher recalls seeing the bodies of her students flying all over the classroom. She was in such shock over what was happening at the time, she wasn't able to pull herself together until emergency responders arrived. Parts of the building flew everywhere and that how many bystanders were injured and killed. Kids jumped out the 1st floor window and ran to the fields to avoid being hit by the flying pieces coming down at them. The explosion was heard from miles away and when people heard the explosion go off in the direction of the school, they left Andrew's farm to assist at the school instead. One bystander recalls 5 to 6 kids trapped under the roof, you could see their body parts hanging from under the rubble. Their faces unrecognizable due to dust, plaster, and blood covering the bits of their body visible. Cars parked on the street were on fire due to the explosion as well. Mothers cried and dropped to their knees and prayed as the chaos took place, the school lawn became a temporary morgue. The children bodies were laid on the lawn and covered with a sheet, parents walked by removing the sheet trying to identify their child. Which I can only imagine being those parents worst nightmare. It was the last day of school for these kids. Parents didn't expect their children to be harmed while at school, you would think that's the one place a child should be safe and for so many children, school is the only place for them to feel safe. Because of how many victims there were ambulances from as far a Lansing came to help.
But as if this wasn't enough for Andrew, he arrives at the school in his pickup truck. The back filled with dynamite and metal shards. Somehow, Andrew and the superintendent, gets into an argument, they began to fight over a rifle until finally Andrew fires it at the truck causing a second explosion. This explosion not only killed Andrew and the superintendent but also 2 adult bystanders. The third explosion also killed an 8 year old boy by the name of Cleo Clayton. He had just survived the first explosion and he was actually trying to get away from the scene when the Third explosion occurred and sent a metal shard into his stomach. A survivor recalls seeing Andrew's body hanging on a wire. It took the community until 6 that evening to get all of the bodies out. And everyone moved with extreme caution, fearing there would be more explosives ready to go off at any moment.
Now prior to this attack, many people noticed some strange behavior from Andrew but many thought nothing of it. His neighbor from across the street whose name was David Hart, believed that Andrew had been working on this plan for months now. He was the one who claimed to see Andrew working hard on wiring his fences. He also noted that Andrew had stopped farming for months and that he was also falling behind in bills. Another person who said Andrew displayed some weird behavior was first grade teacher Bernice Sterling. She had asked prior to the explosion to use Andrew's woods for a picnic for her class. Andrew responded that if she was going to have a picnic, she better do it right away. Which should have raised red flags in her head instantly. Cause that's not a normal response you get when you ask something like that.
When the smoke cleared on the farm, authorities searched the ruins and found the body of his wife charred to a crisp. Her body was so unrecognizable that police passed over her many times before discovering her. Around the body were items like the safe, some paperwork, and jewelry. Authorities assumed that he must have killed his wife so she wouldn't ruin his plans but for some reason I kind of feel like he was just putting an end to everything. I mean the man tied up the legs of his horses prior to the explosion. That’s pretty final to me. When authorities looked over all of the equipment on the farm, if Andrew would have sold all of that, he would have had enough to save the farm.
At the school authorities found a gasoline container fitted in a gap between the dynamite, so expansion of gas would force the vapor through the tub to spark the gap. The fire department suspected that this was his backup plan in case the dynamite didn't work. Andrew's body was claimed by his sister and he was buried in Clinton County Cemetery in an unmarked grave. The school board went under investigation for about a week before it was concluded that Andrew acted alone in this. School massacres didn't occur like this back in this time and many people tried to find a reason to why Andrew would even do something like this. They wanted so bad to blame things on his mental health. They called him names such as insane, demented, and a madman and that the head injury I mentioned earlier was the blame. But it was concluded that he was rational enough to commit the crime. I mean the fact that he spent months planning this and setting things up is proof enough that this man knew what he was doing. Most of the children killed in the disaster were buried in
Pleasantville Cemetery in Bath. The time after the massacre, about 50,000 people traveled through the town just to get a glimpse at something that they probably never thought would happen. The attention quickly ended though due to Charles Lindbergh's nonstop flight that took place not too long after this. Some say that this happened for the best though, because the town as a whole needed to grieve. For the most part, just about each household had a child that attended Bath school because it was the first schoolhouse for grades K-12, like I said before about 300 students attended this school from areas around Bath as well. The school was demolished but a new one is opened up after the governor gave a donation of $75,000. The school is called James Couzens Agricultural school but it was torn down in 1975 and a commemorative park was created in its place where the focus of the park is a piece of the original school that was still remaining .
One of the oldest survivors of this disaster by the name of Irene Dunham said that she stayed home that day from school because she had a sore throat that day. When the explosion at the school happened she could hear it from her farm. Her and her mother jumped in their car and headed straight to the school. She had 8 younger siblings who also attended school there and just because she stayed home with a sore throat didn't mean her siblings did as well. One of her brothers finger was cut off in the explosion. One of her sisters along with her friends jumped out the first floor window to escape the explosion. Irene was also the one who seen Andrew's body hanging on the wire after he killed himself.
Another survivor by the name of George Baird, went to take Andrew his school tuition a few days before the bombing. He said that when he gave Andrew the money that he didn't want to make eye contact with George. George didn't go to school that day because he had such good grades that the school said he didn't need to take the test that many of the other grades were taking that day. He was out in the fields farming when he heard the explosion at the school. He jumped in his pickup truck immediately and headed to where the explosion took place. Once on the scene, George tried to help the best he could. He drove to girls with facial injuries from the explosion to the hospital. He remembers seeing unlit dynamite in the back of the police car as they removed it from the basement. George and others around that time grew up believing that Kehoe = evil.
Till this day this is still one of the worst school massacres to take place in the country. We lost so many lives that day because a man wanted lower property taxes or whatever reason he convinced himself to justify his actions.. Okay, blow up the school if you want but you leave people's lives out of it... especially children. I hate to think about how many lives would have been lost if all of the dynamite went off in the school. About ¼ of the children in town were killed. There were about 900 pounds in the basement in total and only half went off, so we can only imagine. So many scorned the fact that he did that while the children were in school and I'm right along with them. It was the last day of school for crying out loud, if you were going to blow up the school you had one more day before school was out to do something like this. It makes my head hurt because this was really a sick man. Children are the most innocent beings, leave them out of your bull shit.