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“Because of the nature of a crime such as this, that is occurring in the early morning hours in a person’s home when no one is around, no actual eyewitnesses to the crime, it is never really possible to know exactly what has happened, or exactly who all is involved in it, unless you do find an eyewitness, or unless somebody that participated in it tells you what happened,” said Logan County assistant prosecutor Douglas Witten, who was addressing Judge Harvey Oakley in a plea hearing involving a confessed murderer of a crime committed three years earlier.

Witten explained that there had been rumors circulated since the killings occurred, including that the deaths were the result of a “paid killing, a gang-land type killing, everything from that to suicide and accidental death.” Witten would end up with a conviction of the person(s) responsible for the horrific deaths of two Logan County residents.

It was November 1, 1972, three years after the previously unsolved murders of Ezra Butcher and Imogene Whitt at the Godby Heights residence of Butcher, that the prosecution declared that the ongoing investigation by state troopers Wilfong, Gilbert, and Corporal Garrett had taken “until today to investigate this matter to the point that it could be put to trial.”

The breakthrough in the case appears to have come in a most unexpected way, when a fellow named for a World War II American general was indicted in Logan County for separate charges. The man, Douglas McArthur Willard, a former police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, was brought from Moundsville prison — where he was serving time for the 1970 conviction of breaking and entering into the West Virginia Supermarket at Man — to face the new charges. A former Logan County sheriff’s deputy, Ronald Vance, was also charged in the breaking and entering crime. Vance’s trial, however, would end up in hung jury and it is not known if he later was found guilty in a second trial.

Willard had originally stood trial in the breaking and entering crime and was sentenced to 1 to 10 years prison. When it was learned by Logan authorities that an inmate in Indiana and a woman in Florida allegedly had been told by Willard that he was responsible for the Godby Heights murders, Willard was brought to court on new indictments that included two robberies. Facing as much as 100 years prison, Willard asked attorneys Bernard Smith and young attorney George Partain if there was anything he could do to get the judge to lessen his sentencing. It wasn’t until Willard offered to make statements to solve the three-year-old murder case of Butcher and Whitt that the attorneys, Judge Oakley, and Prosecutor Oval Damron’s office decided to listen.

To cut through all of the legal courtroom red tape, an agreement was reached with Judge Oakley, as well as state and federal officials in which the defendant (Willard) agreed to two independent polygraph tests and to testify in court when necessary concerning the murders and any other crimes he was aware of. The two independent polygraph results were required to confirm that the information provided by Willard was accurate. In addition, the polygraph results would also have to lead to the conclusion by police of the unsolved murder cases involving Butcher and Whitt.

In agreeing to “solve” the murders by making statements to court, Willard agreed to plead to second degree murder and breaking and entering. In return he would be sentenced to prison with the ability to at some point be paroled out.

Guyan District Justice of the Peace Ezra Butcher (described as being in his late 50s) and 35-year-old Imogene Whitt had died from gunshot wounds during the early morning hours of May 27, 1969, and the murders had never been solved, leaving many rumors and speculation as to why the couple had been killed.

Understandably, when Douglas Willard passed two polygraph tests, police and court personnel were intrigued that the murder cases might finally be solved due to Willard’s cooperation. What a shock it likely was to even his own defense attorneys when Willard declared that it was he who had committed the murders.

The September 16, 1972, Charleston Gazette headline read “Indictments Returned Against Two Men In Three-Year-Old Logan Murder Case.” Here’s what appeared in that day’s newspaper account:

“Logan Circuit Court announced Friday murder indictments were handed up against two men in connection with the shooting deaths three years ago of a Logan magistrate and a woman.

“The indictments, each carrying two counts of murder, were handed up against Douglas MacArthur Willard of Cleveland, Ohio, who is a West Virginia Penitentiary inmate, and Ventrue Mitchell of Boone County. Police had made an earlier arrest following the shooting, but the suspect, a former Logan County man living in Cleveland, was later cleared.

“Willard was brought before the court from the state penitentiary in Moundsville where he was serving a sentence on a breaking and entering conviction here last June.

“Mitchell, of Madison, W.Va., reportedly operates a tire recapping business there. He was brought before the court at the same time as Willard.”

Interestingly, the indictment against Mitchell read that he had “feloniously, willfully, maliciously, deliberately, premeditatedly, unlawfully, and knowingly incite, instigate, move, procure, aid, counsel, hire, and command the said Douglas Willard to do and commit, in the said county of Logan, the felonies and murder, although the said Ventrue Mitchell was not present at the scene of the crime ...”

Willard, who had committed numerous crimes, including a previous robbery of $1,700 from a Chapmanville liquor store, told the court that he had come from Cleveland to the Butcher home to collect some money owed to him by Butcher and “another person” in Logan County involving some stolen cars that Willard had previously brought into Logan County.

He said that he had been working with Ezra Butcher and another person and that he was owed the sum of $10,000. When he went to Butcher’s home, Butcher opened the door and had a pistol in his pocket. The two men began to scuffle, Willard explained, and in the process, he fired three shots into Butcher. He said that Whitt was shot in the midst of the fight.

In the Gazette article previously mentioned, it was reported that a state police spokesman in Logan said, “No definite figure was ever set but speculation on the total amount of money missing from the Butcher home ranged above $20,000.” A valuable coin collection also was said to be missing.

The article noted that the arrest climaxed one of the longest continuation murder investigations in department history and that state trooper R.G. Wilfong “has done little else but investigate the shootings.” His search for clues reportedly carried Wilfong to Cleveland several times, Columbus, Ohio, Atlanta, Ga., Lewisburg, Pa., and other undisclosed points.

Conspiracy theorists be damned, the fact is that Willard testified against a man, Sam Moore, in the breaking and entering of a West Virginia Supermarket in which Moore was tried three times before finally being convicted and sentenced to 1 to 10 years in prison. Moore, originally from Mud Fork, was a resident of Cleveland. He had been indicted by various Logan County grand juries over the years charging him with three murders, one armed robbery, five breaking and enterings and one burglary.

In Moore’s 1973 trial for helping to rob a Chapmanville couple (Raymond and Glenna Swim) of $5,000 in December 1970, he told Judge Oakley that he would give information to show that trooper Wilfong and prosecutor Damron were involved in the automobile theft ring. However, he would later deny to new Prosecuting Attorney Don Wandling that he had made those comments.

“Do you remember talking to Mr. Ward (John Ward, Moore’s defense attorney) that you had evidence concerning Doug Willard and some state police, and Oval Damron, the former prosecuting attorney being in a car theft ring here in Logan County?”, asked Prosecutor Wandling.

“Didn’t you try to tell Judge Oakley the same thing at the trial,” Wandling quizzed.

“What?” asked Moore.

“About this evidence you had on other people. Didn’t you try and bring that out at the trial?” Wandling asked.

According to the court transcripts, Moore shook his head in denial.

“Would the transcript be lying if it says otherwise?” asked the prosecutor.

(The third and final segment involving the murders of Ezra Butcher and Imogene Whitt will appear in next week’s edition of this newspaper.)

Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.

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