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This week in West Virginia history

It’s hard to imagine a more sensational criminal than Clarksburg resident Harry F. Powers, who was executed at the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville March 18, 1932. The 39-year-old had spent decades swindling women nationwide through “lonely hearts” ads until he was tripped up as police tracked down a missing Illinois woman’s last contacts – and discovered her body and those of her three children along with that of a Massachusetts woman buried on Powers’ property. They believe he may have killed many more. “You’ve got me on five,” the Netherlands-born used furniture dealer allegedly told his jailers. “What good would 50 more do?” So many people (including reporters from newspapers across the country) wanted to attend his 1931 trial that officials moved it from the courthouse to the 1,200-seat Moore’s Opera House. Moundsville-born writer Davis Grubb used the tale as the basis for his 1955 novel, “Night of the Hunter.” The book, set in Depression-era West Virginia, became a bestseller and was adapted into a film starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965.

 

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