By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
During the last days of 1972, much of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph’s front page was focused on former President Harry S. Truman, who passed away Dec. 27 that year; however, the 33rd president’s demise was soon overtaken by another incident, the murder of a Bluefield resident.
On the morning of Dec. 28, 1972, the Rev. Neville Mozingo arrived at the First Church of God on South Street and discovered the bloody body of the church’s cleaning lady, Mary Osborne. Magistrate Jim Dent, who was a sergeant with the Bluefield Police Department at that time, remembered the day he was called to the scene.
“We got a call from the minister,” Dent recalled. “A cleaning lady for the church who was also a member had been found in the church. It looked like she had reported to church early for her usual job of getting the church ready. From the evidence we found, she was attacked as soon as she stepped through the door, in the vestibule. She was dragged down the hallway a short distance into a Sunday school room. She was left by the lectern, and she was still clothed. There appeared to be some blunt force injuries to the side of her head.”
Investigators soon found a possible murder weapon: A hammer wrapped in a towel.
“It was church property from back in the furnace room,” Dent said of the suspected weapon. “And it appears that somebody had used a sink. There were still water droplets in the sink bowl, so it hadn’t been used the night before or anything. I think there had been choir practice the night before, so there were people there and she was there.”
An autopsy was conducted at the old Bluefield Sanitarium. An X-ray showed that blunt-force injury was the cause of death, and the blows made the mark of a hammer turned sideways, Dent said.
A story by Telegraph reporter Jim Gilreath on Dec. 30, 1972 described how the preliminary investigation indicated that Osborne had been struck twice on the head.
Sgt. Robert Mozingo, no relation to the church’s minister, of the West Virginia State Police detachment near Princeton was also assigned to the investigation, Dent said.
“We gathered all the evidence that we could and personally drove it to Washington, D.C. and turned it over to the FBI crime lab,” he recalled. “There was no evidence of any sexual assault or anything. She was fully clothed and she had on her coat.”
A motive had not been determined, but it appeared that whoever attacked Osborne was familiar with her routine and the building, Dent said.
“It appears as though someone was familiar with the church layout and knew her routine based on the fact they didn’t bring a weapon,” he said. “They were waiting at the door and even knew which door she could use.”
According to the Dec. 30, 1972 follow-up story, police theorized that someone had entered the church before Osborne arrived that morning. A broken window had been discovered at the rear of the church.
A fingerprint was found on the sink’s spigot handle.
“And to my knowledge, it never had been identified at that time. They didn’t have the scan system now where they could find fingerprints. We interviewed a lot of people, ran polygraphs, and even staked out the street for several nights, interviewing people who would have been out at that time,” Dent said.
The individuals who were outdoors during those early morning hours included a Daily Telegraph paper carrier and nurses who were leaving or reporting for duty at St. Luke’s Hospital, he recalled. One man they remembered was seen wearing a cape.
“We even located him,” Dent said. “His mother lived on Vineyard Street. He was a businessman from New York, and we ruled him out. He gladly submitted a fingerprint. It’s just that his cape stood out here. It was probably a dress cape.”
“At any rate, we never could identify the fingerprint, if in fact it was left by someone washing hands after the crime. To the best of my knowledge, the hammer was wrapped in a towel, and put back in the furnace room. It might be interesting to see if they still have that thumb print,” he said.
In the follow-up story published Dec. 30, 1972 in the Telegraph, investigators noted similarities between Osborne’s murder and the murder of Flora Baylor Adams in Tazewell County, Va. The woman’s body was found Dec. 19, 1971 in her apartment located under a store operated by her brother in Wardell, Va. She had been beaten with a blunt instrument which police suspect may have been a pistol. Tazewell County investigators said then that the apartment was entered after a window was broken and unlocked.
Nothing was missing from Adams’s apartment, and like Osborne, nothing had been taken from her. A $3,000 diamond ring was still on the body. Both Osborne and Adams, — who was in her 80s — were widows.
Osborne lived alone in an apartment near the church, Dent told the Daily Telegraph at the time of the murder. Besides serving as her church’s cleaning lady, she also worked part-time for Richmond Cleaners, also on South Street, and Louise’s Beauty Salon on Jefferson Street.
The area around the murder scene has changed considerably since that day in December 1972, and the church building itself is now gone, but the unsolved murder of Mary Osborne still waits for a resolution.
Chief Joe Wilson of the Bluefield Police Department asks anybody has information to call the Bluefield Police Department at 304-327-6101. Tips can be made anonymously.