Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 20, 2013

Digging into family history...

Unsolved 1951 murder of Roy Melvin still troubles relatives

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — For years, Shannon Yost had believed that her grandfather, Roy Melvin, died of the pneumonia that he contracted after he was shot and left for dead in a dump off of Wyoming Street, outside the Bluefield city limits.

The version of her grandfather’s death that she heard from her mother when she was growing up differs from the stories that appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in the days following Melvin’s murder with one notable exception. “Sadly, the person, or persons, who did this has never been apprehended,” Yost wrote in an email seeking assistance from the Telegraph archives.

“I often wonder what my mother’s life would have been like if her father would have lived,” she said, still holding to the story that her grandfather survived through the night after being shot twice and somehow, managed to walk to his home on Mintwood Road, an unimproved dirt road near that intersects with Union Street inside Bluefield city limits, but the residence itself is outside the city. “It traumatized both her and her middle brother, not to mention the youngest who never met his father.”

According to the newspaper’s account of Melvin’s death, Yost’s mother, Lois Melvin (later Moore) was only 13 years old when her father’s body was found at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, Dec. 29, 1951. The previous evening, Melvin, 48, had left the home in search of some wood to keep his family warm. He was an unemployed handyman at the time, but it appeared as though his luck was changing and he was preparing to return to work as a carpenter/handyman at Service Storage in Bluefield at the first of the year. Melvin had an upright, muscular, athletic build and was a member of the Bluefield Church of God.

“Roy has had no trouble with anyone since he got religion and joined the church a few years ago,” his wife, Elva Charlotte Melvin told the reporter for the Daily Telegraph who wrote the Dec. 30, 1951 story about the murder investigation. The reporter described Melvin’s humble home as, “a rickety frame, tar papered three-room structure ... located on an unpaved roadway leading off upper Union Street.”

Melvin’s brother, Anderson Melvin, told police that he visited his brother’s home on Dec. 29, 1951, and found Elva Melvin upset that her husband had not returned home from his search for kindling wood the previous evening. Mrs. Melvin had said her husband left the home at about 6 p.m. on Friday evening. Anderson Melvin told investigators that he went into the wooded area near Wyoming Street and spotted him at the bottom of a valley then known as the Stovall dump. The site was about one-quarter of a mile from the victim’s Mintwood Road home.

“The Lord told me to go there to find out about Roy,” investigators quoted Anderson Melvin as stating as they briefed the newspaper reporter on their investigation. The story ran beneath the sub-headline: “Brother says ‘Lord’ Directed him to body.”

Anderson Melvin told police that he found his brother lying on his back with kindling wood across his chest and a rolled cigarette between the fingers of his right hand. Police ruled out robbery as a motive since the victim was found with $14 in cash in his pockets, a small penknife, a pair of pliers, screwdriver, keys, a pouch of Prince Albert tobacco, and a bag of Mail Pouch tobacco. “He was wearing work clothes,” according to the newspaper article.

Anderson Melvin told investigators that he believed his brother was still alive when he spotted him, so he went to get his brother, George Melvin, who lived on nearby Glendale Avenue and also brought a nephew, Daniel Melvin, to help carry Roy Melvin’s body back to his home. On their way back to the dump, the three men asked a woman who lived on Wyoming Street near the dump to call police. That was at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 29, 1951. When Anderson, George and Daniel Melvin started carrying the victim out of the hollow, they realized he was dead, they stopped and waited for police to arrive.

Like Mintwood, part of Wyoming Street is in the city limits and part is outside the city.

Captain R.O. Bond and Patrolman Ted Land of the Bluefield Police Department were the first on the scene. After securing the murder site and determining that it was, indeed, outside of the city limits, Bond and Land contacted (then) Mercer County Sheriff Clarence Elmore who traveled to the location with Deputy Tom Bivens and Investigator Lewis H. Cook, of the Mercer County prosecutor’s office. Troopers William P. McGraner and Jim D. Baisden, of the Princeton detachment of the West Virginia State Police, as well as Justice of the Peace J.A. Douglas joined the investigation in addition to other Bluefield PD officers.

Investigators determined that Roy Melvin had been shot five times with what they believed to be a .32 or a .32-.20 caliber weapon. Three of the bullets were sent to the State Police crime lab for tests. State authorities requested that the other two be sent to Charleston as well.

The state police brought an officer from Charleston to conduct a lie detector test for three individuals including one of Roy Melvin’s brothers, but all three were released after taking the test. Investigators recovered a piece of cardboard with a muddy footprint on it, speculating that the footprint might belong to a suspect. In the meantime, police canvassed local businesses and individuals in an attempt to track down possible weapons that may have fired the fatal shots.

Roy Melvin’s cousin, George D. Melvin Jr., gave police another bullet that he found at the dump at about 4 p.m. on the same day that the victim’s body was found. George Melvin also told police that he was returning to his home in the same section of town at about 9:10 p.m., on Friday night, Dec. 28, 1951, and he spotted a tall man standing in the vicinity of the murder when his vehicle headlights shone on the dump, “just standing there,” according to the news story.

After three days of stories about the murder, the news coverage of the investigation dropped off in the early days of 1952. On the day when news of the murder first broke, the front page of the Daily Telegraph had a photo of Yost’s mother, Lois (Melvin) Moore, holding her (then) 6-week-old brother Hiram Angus Melvin. Another brother, Roy Patton Melvin, who was then 6 years old at the time, was not pictured.

“I do remember my mother having a picture of her and her two brothers with an article in the paper, but sadly, it was thrown away by accident,” Yost wrote in the email. The Daily Telegraph archives do not have hard copies of newspapers from that era, but the image is preserved on microfilm at Craft Memorial Library.

“The reason why I am asking for this information is to show my children and hopefully one day, my grandchildren,” Yost wrote. “I don’t have the answers to the questions that they have and I thought that if I had something, it would help both them and myself.” With her mother’s vivid recollections to go by, Yost remembers her grandfather as “a very good person, a hard worker, a loving father and husband.”

Major Darrell Bailey, chief of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department said he was unfamiliar with the unsolved case, but if this story brings out new leads, the department will investigate.

Sgt. M.S. Haynes, co-commander of the Princeton Detachment of the West Virginia State Police also encouraged anyone who might have information about Roy Melvin’s murder to come forward.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com