Source: unknown Detective Magazine Published in 1970 [cover was destroyed]
Why Put the Bachelor in the Well.?
By, Paul Franklin
[Even though he had flu, Sheriff Sulsberger, in
foreground (of photo on this page), went into watery tomb to bring up victim's
body. Rumor pegged
For many years
the 394 hill folk who reside in the small community of Clarington, on the
eastern border of
The townspeople call the site "Beautiful Ridge." And so it is, beautiful is more than name. The area houses friendly people along the blacktop road which services the few families fortunate enough to live there. They are away from the dirt and the smog, and on a summer nights the residents can sit on their porches while cool breezes fan their brows, dampened with sweat from their toil as tillers of the land that God has entrusted to their care. But, lo, on a wintry day the Specter of Death rode across Beautiful Ridge, carrying with him his scythe. And his harvest that day was Clyde Dierkes.
The 65-year old bachelor had been known and loved by people for miles around. He truly believed the the Biblical saying: " I am my brother's keeper."
A general handyman by trade, Clyde Dierkes was never too busy to fix a neighbor's porch swing or re-hang a door warped by the bitter cold which in the winter, swept across the ridges in Monroe County.
As a boy he had
fished in the nearby river, hunting in the surrounding hills and swum in the
town's Possum Creek. He could remember the days when Clarington was a bustling
ship-building town and old-fashioned paddle-wheelers slipped down the ways to
carry merchandise from the
One of those who knew Clyde Dierkes well was Monroe County Sheriff Francis L. "Tink" Sulsberger. "A good man," the lawman said about him recently, as he recounted the events believed to have occurred on the fatal night of Sunday, January 25, 1970.
For just as Clyde Dierkes was known the county over as a Samaritan, there were those who thought the bachelor had played the role of Casanova when he'd come, as a handyman, to the aid of some farmers' wives. As so often happens, "the evil that men do live after them; the good is oft interred with their bones."
Not being a student of Shakespeare, Clyde Dierkes had no way of knowing that some might misinterpret his efforts to be helpful...
like many others which Clyde Dierkes had known in his more than six decades in
[Little did bachelor know as he peered at morning sun from his home that it was his last glimpse of such serenity.]
Boozer his pet beagle- hound, whined to be let outside.
just a minute," the bachelor said to his constant companion. He opened the
back door and took a whiff of the crisp morning air. "Looks like a nice
day, Boozer. I should be able to get some work accomplished in the garage
today. I might even get to my neighbors to see if they need any spare jobs done
this week." With a happy heart he watched the sun peep over the hills of
Following his customary pattern, the bachelor finished his breakfast, collected his overshoes and coat and as he prepared to go into town, whistled for his dog.
Later, neighbor would wonder just what transpired that day. Some recalled waving to the friendly hill man as he drove past in his utility van. Others remembered seeing him near the post office in town.
The operator of one of the town's service stations was to remember a small purchase Clyde Dierkes made. "He intended to check his windshield wipers, I guess," the merchant was to say later, upon recalling that he'd sold him some wiper blades.
The owners of a small country store just at the bottom of the series of ridges overlooking, Clarington, were to offer additional information. Clyde Dierkes passed right in front of their rural outlet that Sunday morning.
The man and wife who run the shop are popular in the community. They operate a neat, friendly place to shop. No hustle of shopping carts. It is a comfortable haven where you may stop, chat about the day's news and leisurely make your choice of produce or groceries.
Clyde Dierkes generally was among those who stopped by of a morning on his way to whatever job he had to do that day.
"A good-hearted man," was the woman's opinion of her neighbor, whom she had known since childhood.
All over town that Sunday people saw Clyde Dierkes. They were to remember the incidents later when the full, grim story unfolded on an isolated farm, stark, bleak and abandoned to the ravages of time and weather.
Sulsberger, like the doomed bachelor, had a full work schedule that Sabbath. To
most people in
was re-elected in 1968 as chief law officer for
But on the morning of Sunday, January 25, 1970, chasing criminals had to be put aside temporarily; the lawman was battling the flu. Feeling miserable, he had made up his mind to "take it easy" for one day, hoping that his phone wouldn't ring too many times. Or, if it did, perhaps his deputies could handle whatever situations arose.
was not to be the case. Around 7 p.m., [Faithful dog, Boozer, howling at
doorstep for his master, aroused suspicions of neighbors that foul play was
afoot.] the familiar ring brought Sheriff Sulsberger to the phone. What
transpired set into action a chain of events which didn't end for the
"This is Ella Bonar, in Clarington," said the troubled voice at the other end of the wire. "I'm worried concerning my Uncle Clyde Dierkes. I've been calling his house for about an hour, but I can't reach him. I contacted his neighbors and they say all the lights are on in his place and that the dog, Boozer, is howling on the front porch. I'm sure something must be wrong! Can you get down there to check?"
tried to calm the woman. "Maybe
Ella Bonar was quick to say, "I know sheriff. And from what the neighbors tell me, my uncle's van is parked in the driveway. They can see it from their ridge. Therefore, he can't be on an errand!"
Sheriff Sulsberger ran his fingers through his neatly trimmed hair as he assessed what he had heard. Seconds later, he dialed the number of the phone at the home of one of his deputies, Junior Miller, and relayed to him the conversation he'd had with Ella Bonar. "Get down to Clarington and see what's going on. Call me if you need me. But take it easy. Looks as if the snow isn't going to stop tonight and the roads may be bad," he concluded.
Receiving assurance from Deputy Miller that instructions would be carried out, the sheriff, still ailing, started to relax in one of the chairs in his well-appointed living room when the jangling of the telephone again brought him to his feet. "I'll get it, honey," he called to his wife, who was winding up the kitchen chores after Sunday supper.
The voice that came over the wire was low. It was obvious that the speaker was trying to conceal his identity. "I think you'd better get down to Clarington, Clyde Dierkes is in trouble!" was the message.
Immediately after, Sheriff Sulsberger tried to stall the caller. "This connecton's bad. I can't hear what you said," he replied to the mystery voice, as he tried to figure how to keep the line open and, at the same time, alert his wife to contact headquarter via radio so that he dispatcher could trace the call.
"I said Clyde Dierkes is in trouble," the annonymous speaker repeated.
"Who is this?" the sheriff pressed. "Hello/ Hello." But the line went dead.
Rushing to his two-way radio, the sheriff alerted his other three deputies to stand by for his arrival. Then he called out to his wife, "I'm heading to Clarington, might not be back right away." He pulled on his heavy driving boots, wrapped a scarf around his neck and raised the zipper on his heavy jacket. A hurried good-by kiss at the door- and the ailing lawman, forgetting his own discomfort, was on his way to the home of Clyde Dierkes.
Certain bits of information he had heard over the years; rumors concerning love affairs; veiled accusations against the bachelor came to Sheriff Sulsberger's mind as he negotiated the twisting turns in the road which leads from Woodsfield, the county seat, to Clarington, along the Ohio River. It was difficult to believe that kindly, generous Clyde Dierkes was a Lothanrio.
"Unit 1 calling Units 2, 3 and 4," the sheriff's voice crackled over his car radio network.
"Harold Keylor reporting," came the quick response.
"Meet me at Clyde Dierkes' home on Beautiful Ridge," Sheriff Sulsberger directed. "We may have trouble on our hands!"
Unit 2, unit 2 reporting," broke in Deputy Bud Headley.
"We're going to the Dierkes' place in Clarington. Join us there. Get in touch with Junior Jones and relay my message. Junior Miller is already headed that way, the sheriff instructed.
Receiving an affirmative reply from Deputy Headley, the sheriff pressed harder on the accelerator of his cruiser, not knowing to what he was rushing. A simple case of a man's leaving some lights on in his home while he made a trip for some supplies- or worse. Such are complex, sometimes sinister problems faced by our lawmen in the line of duty.
At this point, the sheriff's radio came to life. "Unit 5 calling Unit 1, I'm here in Clarington," Duputy Miller reported. "I talked with Ella Bonar who reported her uncle missing. Then I came up here on the ridge. She's right; the lights are on in the house and the dog is howling at the front door. I'm being careful to avoid trampling on any footprints. But there's a crowd beginning to gather. I'll keep them back until you get here at the scene."
The sheriff, at that moment, drove through the community of Cameron, just outside the city limits of Clarington. "I'll be there in just a minute or two. How's the road up there on the ridge?"
"Not bad. Slick near that one sharp curve near the top so watch it," came the reply.
It didn't take long for word to spread among the fewer than 500 people in the river community. A phone call here or there- and the wires began to buzz as neighbors and friends found out that something was amiss at Clyde Dierkes' residence.
By the time Sheriff Sulsberger had pulled up outside the bachelor's dwelling, he could see the gathering crowd standing around the flashing red lights of Duputy Miller's car.
The official hurried forward and joined the tall deputy near the farm home's front gate. "I don't want anyone going on the property until we've had a chance to see what's wrong, if anything," he announced.
Turning to one
of the bachelor's neighbors, Jim Farrell, the sheriff inquired, "Have you
nodded. "Sure. It was around suppertime. I saw
As the sheriff continued to quiz the other neighbors, Deputies Headley and Keylor brought their cruisers to a halt on the shoulder of the blacktop road; they were soon followed by Deputy Jones. Thereupon, Sheriff Sulsberger and his colleagues proceeded to advance slowly into the farmyard.
"If there are any footprints, they're covered by the snow," the official pointed out.
The weather in
January in the
When the lawmen reached the porch, the bachelor's beagle, Boozer, wagged his tail furiously.
"Sure, boy. That's a good dog," the law officer said, rubbing the hound's ears. "We'll find your master," he added, not sure whether or not he really would. Or, if he did what his find might turn up.
"Might as well let those onlookers come on the property," the sheriff told Deputy Keylor. "There are no footprints to worry about, so they won't be covering any evidence. But don't let them into the house as yet."
With that, Sheriff Sulsberger tested the front door, found it open and led his colleagues in a search of the one-story frame house. There was no sign of the bachelor, nor was there any indication of foul play in the house.
Turning to Deputies Jones and Miller, the official instructed,
"Go outside and check
Meanwhile, the sheriff began interviewing the neighbors as to what they had seen that day. This line of endeavor led to a blank wall. No one had seen Clyde Dierkes after he apparently had returned home early Sunday night for supper.
"Tell you what!" the official announced to the puzzled onlookers. I'll get some lights from the cruiser and we'll all fan out and search the farm. Watch out for anything out of the ordinary; call me quickly if you spot something."
Thus a search party was formed, consisting of the deputies and the missing bachelors's friends and neighbors. But to no avail.
Next, Deputy Phillips approached Sheriff Susberger and his fellow officers as they gathered a few feet away from the milling neighbor. "What about those stories which have been floating around for the past few months about Clyde Dierkes' making a play for some of the ladies in town?" he asked.
shrugged, “ I think people are always ready to believe the worst about others.
From what I understand,
Over the years, the sheriff had heard all sorts of rumors connecting Clyde Dierkes with this woman or that one-particularly those to whom he had been of service as a handyman. But like any good officer, he never based his cases on hearsay. When he had his facts and they were supported by hard evidence, he would take action. But, not until then.
However, the official did not dismiss the gossip completely. He realized that jealousy can be spawned by a simple circumstance which will throw together a man and someone else's wife- a chat at the supermarket, serving together on a PTA committee- any of them innocent happenings- or a handyman's call on a friends while the husband was absent.
Well, I'll check out the rumors," he told his colleagues, cutting off the conversation least something he said damaging to an innocent person.
Leaving Deputy Jones to guard the home of the vanished bachelor, Sheriff Susberger, after turning off most of the lights, asked Deputy Phillips to look after the rabbit hound Boozer.
In view of later developments, the sheriff is reluctant to discuss the events which followed the discovery that Clyde Dierkes was missing. Like most efficient officers, began the slow task of developing leads which he hoped might solve the mystery. His conversations and whatever evidence he found, if any, is privileged information. However, it is known that the official worked on the theory that someone might have given the wrong interpretation to Clyde Dierkes' efforts to be helpful. Later, this proved to be true.
But to protect
the innocent persons concerned, Sheriff Susberger, the next day, Monday,
January 26, 1970 gave out little news to the press. To a reporter in the nearby
That same day,
Sheriff Sulsberger made a telephone call to
Afterward, he had his cruiser gassed and oiled, which was a tip-off that he intended to make a long journey. But except to his deputies, the purpose of the trip was not known at that time.
To a constant
stream of calls from reporters in the
With that, he got into his car and headed north on
Route 8 toward
Later events proved that Sheriff Slusberger was not going on a "mystery trip" that day. But at the moment it was that. He was working on a hunch- those flashes that come to good officers who recall a remote fact out of the past which can be tied to the present.
Beautiful Ridge, the official conferred with Monroe County Prosecutor George
Burkhart at the courthouse. Sheriff Sulsberger filled the prosecutor in at that
time on his theory concerning the mystery. "I'll let you know what I find
To those not familiar with the workings of lawmen, it must be pointed out that hundreds of man hours go into the probe of missing persons. And, sometimes it turns out that the individual who suppsosedly has disappeared merely decided to visit a relative or go on a fling in a distant city!
Sulsberger knew that this was not the situation in the present instance. Clyde
Dierkes was a homebody. He was proud of his ridge-top home; he hardly ever left
Clarington, unless it was to have a saw sharpened in nearby Bellaire or to pick
up tires for his pick-up truck from a merchant across the river in
Sulsberger returned on Tuesday, January 27 1970 from his trip to
Two men had been taken into custody on suspicion of murder! and jealousy was mentioned as a possible factor in the mystery.
On Tuesday, January 27, 1970, Sheriff Sulsberger told reporters, " I think I have a murder-but I don't have a body."
Twenty-four hours later, the grim find was revealed. On Wednesday morning, January 28, 1970, a group of men-including one of the pair who had been taken into custody; he was identified as 25-year-old Floyd Stewart, of South Gate, Michigan-were lead by Sheriff Sulsberger, slowly along six tortuous miles to the top of Beautiful Ridge. It was a desolate spot, wind-whipped, snow-ridden.
It was here, from the farm home of Clyde Dierkes, that Floyd Stewart, according to the allegations of newsmen accompanying the group, headed along a path to an abandoned farm owned by his uncle, Harold Stewart, 41, a factory worker living in Clarington. Harold Stewart was the second man who'd been taken into custody under suspicion of murder.
The news reporters were kept back, so it can only be surmised that Floyd Stewart, allegedly directed the sheriff to an unused well covered by a wooden frame sagging with age. One the ground was Clyde Dierkes' wallet and a scraper for removing snow from the windshield of a car.
There, deputies removing the wooden cover, while others set up lights to probe the inky darkness 40 feet below.
The sheriff was heard to call for a length of rope. He removed his white coveralls and disappeared into the murky gloom of the old well.
A faint shout or two was heard from deep in the bowels of the earth. Then the dripping sheriff was pulled from the well. He held a brief conversation with his colleagues while Floyd Stewart, who stands about six feet two inches tall and weighs more than 200 pounds, watched the activity. He wore a heavy knitted sweater against the bitter cold.
Once again Sheriff Sulsberger was lowered into the well. When he emerged, he wasted no words. "Clyde Dierkes is down there! In 10 feet of water. I've got a rope on him. Let's pull him up!"
Witnessing the removal of the bachelor's body from the watery tomb was Proscutor Burkhart. He, along with Sheriff Sulsberger, examined the corpse when it was placed on the ground alongside the well casing. They reportedly found that victim had suffered several bullet wounds in addition to head injuries, presumably inflicted by a blunt instrument.
task completed, the officials arranged to have the body taken to
Stewart was led to a cruiser and escorted to the
Used to the sight of violent death but never steeled for the moment it is uncovered the sheriff and his deputies, all grim-lipped, left the ridge as light snow began to fall, casting a final blanket over the site of the gruesome discovery of the corpse of the 65 - year-old bachelor.
As we go to press, 41-year-old , Harold Stewart faces a charge of murder. His nephew, Floyd Stewart, is accused of aiding and abetting in killing Clyde Dierkes and dumping the body in the well. They plead Not Guilty to all allegations.
For Sheriff Sulsberger and his colleagues, it was a respite from four days without rest.
Despite his suffering from flu, the sheriff endangered his life by plunging into 10 feet of freezing water to recover the victim.
The stalwart official is hesitant to discuss the investigation. The Constitutional rights of the suspects to a fair and impartial hearing are paramount in his mind and in that of Prosecutor Burkhart.
It is allegation has not been substantiated to any degree in a court of law and must be treated strictly as hearsay.
During a press
conference, Sheriff Sulsberger acknowledged that the mystery trip to
"The authorities in that city took him into custody but released him because there was no charge against him. I got there on Monday, and after I talked with him, he came back voluntarily," the sheriff maintained.
It is alleged that Clyde Dierkes had performed odd jobs for Harold Stewart's kinswoman.
Neighbors have stated that the 39-year-old woman and the 65-year-old bachelor had known each other for the greater part of their lives. At one time, an official connected with the case said, the woman had for several years, worked for Clyde Dierkes's mother and father; thus it is possible that an innocent friendship had developed between the bachelor and the woman.
Under the laws of our land, Harold and Floyd Stewart, who plead Not Guilty, are entitled to a fair and impartial hearing. If they are indicated and brought to trial, the pair must be presumed to be completely innocent of any knowledge of, or connection with, the murder of Clyde Dierkes, unless proved otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt.
Provided by Susan Kay Dierkes Miller