Calhoun History – “I shot the Sheriff” or “Burning Down the House”

I was reminded the other day about the sheriff who was shot and killed years ago, trying to serve a mental health warrant, when I read the news story about that sherrif having a highway named after him.

There are alot of us who remember when this shooting happened. It was a big story then, and MANY people knew the story when it was fresh, before many of the details were forgotten or left out. The details have become even more one sided over the years, until most folks have no idea what really took place.

Part of the media report at that time reads: “The complaint was filed by C. M. Smith, who lives in a trailer across the road from Fitzgerald’s property. Smith said that Fitzgerald had threatened to kill him, and that he often complained about imagined trespassers on his land. Smith said that Fitzgerald had been living under a rock with about 50 chickens for two months after a barn, in which he had been living, burned down.”

OK. But the problem was that his tresspassers WERE NOT IMAGINARY. This guy was one of the many “hippys” who bought land and moved into the area during the “back to the land” movement of the early 70’s. Perhaps he was a bit excentric, alot of “hippys” are. But according to the “hippy grapevine” at the time, his neighbors were not thrilled with having a “dirty hippy” for a neighbor.

He started out living in a HOUSE, just like anyone else. But for some unknown reason, and not obviously investigated by the police, his home burned to the ground. But he was not about to be beaten, and so he moved into his barn with the livestock. A true pioneer spirit. But very shortly, again, for some “unknown” reason, and again not obviously investigated by the police (if these fires WERE investigated, I would most happily print the results of those investigations here), his barn was burned to the ground. He managed to save some baby chicks from the inferno, and luckily having a cave on his property, he moved into it with the chicks.

By then, anyone would have been carrying a weapon and looking for tresspassers! He certainly realised that someone was out to get him. He knew his neighbors did not like him and wanted him gone. He was probably somewhat traumatised from all these events. Pushed to his limits, so to speak. But, up until that point there is no record of his being a problem, or violent, or anything else. At least none reported by the media.

The end result is a terrible shame. And it was basically swept under the rug as a mentally ill man shooting anybody that came his way for no reason… The fires were not questioned, nor the manner of obtaining the “lunacy warrant”. In fact it seems the fires were never the issue, and no one was ever arrested for setting them.

I bring this up because few people realise the facts of that story, and also because this is NOT the last time that someone has been burned out. I am not certain of the year, thinking it was probably early 90’s or so. I AM certain that some of the existing State Troopers DO remember. This involves some rather locally popular folks who went on vacation, and about 1/2 hour after they pulled out of their driveway there was smoke pouring from their home. Before leaving, they checked and double checked to make sure the dogs were out and the doors locked. When the neighbors saw the smoke, they instantly called the fire department, and then ran to the house only to discover the back door unlocked and a dog inside. A WHITE VAN was seen pulling out of their driveway only minutes before the smoke was discovered, but no one was ever able to identify the owners.

According to the story, the State Police were the first ones on the scene, shortly followed by the fire department. Now, think about this. The house was built entirely of recycled lumber and old logs from log barns. The wood was treated with CRUDE OIL to get rid of bugs. Something like that would go up in flames like a roman candle. Yet, once the fire department finally arrived, the fire was BROUGHT UNDER CONTROL long enough for the ENTIRE building to be searched by police. Literally, extremely BRAVE police risking their LIVES in order to completely and thoroughly search a burning house just so that they could press charges against the owner for cultivation of marijuana. Much of the “evidence” was carried to a wood shop on the property by police, and left there after the authorities left. Articles from EVERY ROOM of the house, slightly scorched and left behind as if in an attempt to tell the owners that their home was burned down PURPOSEFULLY. I say purposefully because as soon as the police finished their search, the fire department LEFT and the house was allowed to finish burning to the ground. An entire week later there were STILL flames shooting ten feet in the air because NO ONE HAD EVER SHUT OFF THE GAS….

It came out in court, in front of a jury, that the “probable cause” which led to the search was a marijuana plant found growing at the corner of the garden. Unfortunately for their “case”, even tho the police actually dug a hole at the corner of the garden to make it APPEAR as if there had been a plant there, there was not one single person who ever actually SAW that plant. I personally was standing in that very garden just a couple days previous to the fire, and it was full of weeds and tomatoes, but NO pot plants… So, the people lose their home, alot of their property including a sports car was severely vandalized by the police, the owners lives surely ruined, and the end result was “acquittal” for lack of solid evidence… Obviously the jury knew the police must have been lying…

Many people realised that this fire was a direct result of the police just wanting to have an excuse to get in that house. A dear friend of mine was working at Monarch Rubber at the time. The person who was fire marshal at that time was also working there. This friend confronted the fire marshal about this horrible act of arson and was told to “shut up” or his house might be next.

There are many more details to the story which I don’t recall any more because it was so long ago, but the most important ones are here. And they are TRUE. Oh, yes, and THAT fire seems to have never been investigated either.

Published in: on January 19, 2007 at 7:36 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was on the street in Grantsville one day last summer, working on a project with a friend, when a man I did not know approached us. My friend greeted him, so I assume they knew of each other.

    The man who approached us then began telling the tale of people burning down his house with him in it, a few weeks before, and no fire trucks ever came. No police ever came.

    Well, he was rather excited and eccentric, so when he told of how he jumped out of his burning house, and caught his leg on a wire and burned his leg, I asked to see the wound.

    Which he gladly showed me.

    When I asked about the man in town, I was told he was crazy. But later, I heard that his landlord was just as upset that there had been no investigation.

    The entry above just reminded me of that….

  2. I tried posting this before, but it never showed up.

    I ran into a Calhoun County man last summer/fall who claimed someone had set his house on fire with him in it. He showed me the burns on his legs where he had gotten red hot wires tangled around them.

    No fire truck came, no cops came.

    I though he was a little off, (of course) then heard that his landlord, a rather respectable man, was also a little perturbed that there had been no investigation.

    So, the burned out man moved into his barn.

    Now, I’m almost waiting to hear that the barn has burned down as well..

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