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The Confession of Leonard Grubb

A large part of making it through prison is learning how to pass the time.

Some people just sit and stare, letting their brains wander into realms of imagination far outside their concrete cells. Some read, either to further their education or just for entertainment. There is a myriad of ways to keep yourself occupied; all that really matters is that it keeps your mind off of the slow, relentless march of time.

Regardless of what they choose, virtually everyone talks to someone.

Humans are social animals, whether it be with just one or two people or with entire groups. We talk and we listen, learning about one another and the wider world through the stories we tell.

Our conversation stretches to a subject like restoring old cars and we might mention people we’ve known who were into doing that. We talk about what kind of car it was, what they did, etc. The pattern follows true for hobbies and activities all across the board.

Of course, in prison, these activities more than likely stretch into the illegal. One of these was, undoubtedly, bootlegging.

In 1930, prohibition was still very much in effect across the nation.

All throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, there were a certain number of people in the United States that believed that alcoholic beverages were to blame for particular crimes. They felt that alcohol would cause men to beat their wives and children, or to cause them to leave their families altogether, abandoning them for a life of drunken revelry. Alcohol was also to blame for various other crimes, such as murder and various kinds of assault.

For the anti-liquor movements, alcoholic beverages were a blight that caused the slow and steady physical, moral, and even financial degradation of society as a whole. Liquor was a bad, bad thing causing people to do bad, bad things. It had to go.

It took a while, but they finally got the job done. In 1920, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment, officially declaring the sale, manufacture, and transportation of liquor illegal anywhere in the United States. Prohibition had begun.

Of course, not everyone had positive feelings toward prohibition. There were many people who, quite frankly, thought it sucked.

They enjoyed having a few beers on a Friday night. The majority of them were law-abiding citizens, and, in modern lingo, drank responsibly. They didn’t cause fights, had loving families at home, and had never committed any crimes.

As always, there were many people who saw a business opportunity with such sentiments. People wanted to drink, so some entrepreneurs were determined to provide. With that, the bootlegging movement was born.

Individuals began to make illegal alcohol distilleries wherever they could. In the cities, bootleggers made them in their homes. In rural areas, people made them in the hills and backwoods. Speakeasys, essentially hidden, secret bars and clubs that sold illegal liquor, cropped up all around the nation.

Perhaps the most notorious of all bootleggers during that time period was Al Capone, the leader of the South Side Gang in Chicago, Illinois. But he was far from the only one.

Indiana had a rich and vibrant trade in bootlegging all throughout the Prohibition Era. They manufactured several different kinds of alcohol, and used secret signs to show interested parties that alcohol was for sale at a given place. For example, in Orange County, bootleggers would display colored rocks to advertise liquor.

While there were many bootleggers who were very successful and never caught, there were several more who were and got sent to prison. As Indiana began to pass state legislation to plug gaps in the federal prohibition laws, the easier it was for them to send bootleggers to jail.

It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that Rilin Roll knew quite a few.

In 1930, Rilin Roll was an inmate at the Indiana State Prison. He worked in the prison shirt shop as a machine operator, talking to other prisoners to pass the time until his release.

One of the stories that he told really caught on. It involved someone named Leonard Grubb, a young man who, in 1929, had been living in Brown County, Indiana. Before Roll had been sent to prison, they had been friendly; friendly enough that Leonard had confided a terrible secret to Roll.

Grubb had helped kill a policeman who discovered his still.

Roll related the tale to some of his fellow inmates, and they, in turn, told others. After a while, the story made its way to prison authorities, who took a keen interest. They felt a sudden urge to discuss the matter with young Leonard, and went about finding him.

Leonard Grubbs Indianapolis Star
Leonard Grubb. Courtesy of the Indianapolis Star

By this time, it was 1930. Leonard was about eighteen years old, and was living in Monroe County. He wasn’t that hard to find, and police took him into custody to question him about the alleged murder. Far from a hardened criminal, despite what he had allegedly done, he easily cracked and told his story.

As a matter of fact, Leonard was relieved. Murder can be a terrible burden to bear, and the guilt can gnaw away at people. But for Leonard, it was a little more than that.

Leonard said that when he was off in the woods on his own to collect wood, he would see the murdered man. He explained that for the past eighteen months since the murder, he had been seeing the man’s ghost.

Of course, police had no interest whatsoever in Leonard’s ghost stories. They wanted to know about the actual murder and who the victim was. Leonard was only too happy to oblige.

He claimed that in 1929, he was doing farm work with another local man named Marion Rogers, an older man in his early forties with a wife and five children. One day, Rogers approached Leonard and asked if he would like to operate an illegal whiskey still with him. It still needed to be built, but Rogers already had the parts, safely hidden in an abandoned farm house nearby.

Marion Rogers Indianapolis Star
Marion Rogers. Courtesy of the Indianapolis Star

Leonard agreed to help and they set off, Leonard walking while Rogers rode on horseback. The men collected the parts, and set off to build their still.

About a quarter of a mile later, near Salt Creek, Leonard claimed that a uniformed man suddenly jumped out at them. He had been hiding in some bushes along the road, and when he saw them, he exclaimed that he had gotten Rogers at last.

Acting quickly, Leonard hit the man as hard as he could with a thick club. The man fell down hard, pleading for help. Without mercy, Rogers removed a pistol from his pocket and shot the individual dead. Neither Leonard or Rogers had any idea who he was.

Climbing down from his horse, Rogers picked up the body and carried it to the nearby creek. He laid it down, then began searching the dead man’s pockets. According to Leonard, Rogers took a pearl-handled revolver and about $50 in cash. Looking at his companion, Rogers told Leonard that he’d split the money with him.

Walking back to his horse, Rogers removed the hitching rope, then returned to the creek. Finding a large, heavy stone, he tied the rock to the body, and shoved it into the creek. Walking back, he threatened Leonard, telling him that he better not tell anyone about what had just happened.

At the time, Leonard didn’t seem to have felt any remorse for the murder. Instead, he was angry because Rogers had kept all the stolen money for himself. It was partly that anger that led Leonard to tell his friend Rilin Roll about it later.

Police from both Brown and Monroe Counties asked Leonard to take them to the spot where the murder took place. Obligingly, he did as requested, showing them where everything had happened. The authorities began to search the area for the unidentified man’s body, but found nothing on that initial search. They weren’t necessarily surprised, seeing as how it was supposed to have been weighted down in the creek.

The water there was very deep, so the authorities temporarily stopped their search and sent for dredging equipment from Indianapolis, Indiana.

Police went to the home of Marion Rogers and placed him under arrest, also for first-degree murder. After being told what was going on, he told them that Leonard was a liar and that none of his story was true.

For their part, the police were also beginning to have their doubts.

Since the alleged murder had taken place, no one had been reported missing. Based on Leonard’s story, police theorized that the murdered man must have been some kind of law enforcement officer. If he had been looking to catch Rogers in the act of constructing a still, then it stood to reason that he would have been a prohibition officer, a policeman, or maybe even a game warden.

However, prohibition officers didn’t wear uniforms. More importantly, no law enforcement officials of any kind had suddenly gone missing.

While their skepticism was growing, the Monroe County prosecutor, Vern Ruble, believed that Leonard’s confession was absolutely true. When asked about it, he explained that Marion Rogers had a bad reputation in Brown County. Once, Rogers had even walked into a church service with a gun. Aiming, he fired at least one round into the stove. Needless to say, the service was over.

The area where the alleged murder happened continued to be searched. Grappling hooks were brought in and used to dredge the creek, while others continued to look through the woods. Although their efforts in the field were proving fruitless, police did finally have some luck when the slain man was possibly identified.

His name was Elva Brannon. He had relatives in the region, but was known to quickly move throughout Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, all apparently without much notice. When he was gone one morning after visiting, the man’s relatives didn’t think anything of it. While no one had seen him in that time, it never crossed anyone’s mind that Brannon might have met with a poor fate.

In light of Leonard Grubb’s confession, though, they were starting to think otherwise.

Supposedly, he and Rogers didn’t like each other, thus giving him some kind of motive to lay in wait and presumedly attack Rogers. Brannon had visited relatives in Bloomington, Indiana, telling them that he was going to leave the area and never some back. He also said that he was going to take care of Marion Rogers before he did.

Laying in wait for him along the secluded roadside, he jumped out at Grubb and Rogers as they walked past. Grubb, thinking that Brannon was going to kill Rogers, struck him with the club out of self-defense. Rogers then took advantage of the situation and shot his rival dead as he lay on the ground.

Later, after weighing down Brannon’s corpse and threatening Grubb into silence, police theorized that he began to think that Leonard couldn’t be trusted. He must have felt that Grubb would eventually tell someone what had happened.

Returning to the crime scene, Rogers somehow recovered the body and burned it, destroying any possible evidence.

It was a solid theory which explained why someone had attacked Grubb and Rogers, why they hadn’t found a body, and why Marion Rogers might have committed murder. Everything was fitting nicely into place until Alva Brannon was found alive and well in Kentucky.

Their last, best theory had just been torn to shreds.

When a murder investigation reaches a dead end, it’s often hard for investigators to walk away and let it go unsolved. Many times, they have to tell the grieving family that they’ve done everything that they can for now, but with no more leads, they have to simply wait and hope that something turns up.

In this case, however, there was nothing for investigators to feel guilty about – no evidence, no crime scene, no body. Police, despite having tried their absolute best, hadn’t found anything to support that a crime had ever even happened. In mid-November, 1930, Marion Rogers and Leonard Grubb were both released from custody with all charges against them dropped.

After the two men had returned to their lives, everyone was still left with a burning, unanswered question: why? Why had Leonard Grubb lied about committing a murder? Several decades later, we’re only left with our own speculation.

Some people tell stories to pass the time. Some people tell stories to entertain. Some people lie to make themselves seem like something that they’re not.

In the end, the confession of Leonard Grubb was the real ghost. For him, the truth refused to be buried, and ultimately came back to haunt him.

 

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Sources

2 In Nashville Jail as Murder Story Is Sifted. The Republic, 10/28/1930

Slaying Exposed in Brown County. The Indianapolis Star, 10/28/1930

Victim of Supposed Murder Found Alive. The Edinburg Daily Courier

Boy Reveals Killing in Brown County Hills. The Indianapolis News, 10/28/1930

Slaying Exposed in Brown County. The Indianapolis Star, 10/28/1930

Continue Search in Still Slaying. The Indianapolis Star, 10/29/1930

Sees Ghost of Murder Victim. The Republic, 10/29/1930

Leonard Grubb Makes Confession of Murder. Brown County Democrat, 10/30/1930

Creek Fails to Yield Body. The Indianapolis Star, 11/2/1930

Brown County Creek Death Probe Reveals Kentuckian Missing Since Crime. The Edinburg Daily Courier, 11/12/1930

An Eye-Witness to Alleged Murder? Brown County Democrat, 11/13/1930

Brown County Men Released. Greensburg Daily News, 11/18/1930

Murder Case Dismissed Monday. Brown County Democrat, 11/20/1930

U.S. Federal Census Records

Rothschild, Mike. 15 Ways People Kill Time in Prison. Prison: Behind the Bars Collection, www.ranker.com

History.com Editors. 18th and 21st Amendments. www.history.com

Bootleggers and Bathtub Gin. Prohibition: An Interactive History. Prohibition.themobmuseum.org

Moonshiners and Bootleggers. www.in.gov

Hoosiers and Their Hooch: The Road from Prohibition to Repeal. www.visitfrenchlickwestbaden.com

 

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