The Mysterious Ceely Rose

What makes a person legally insane?

That is a question that has plagued our courts for as long as anyone can remember. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes, it’s not always an easy question to answer. Not only is it a legal question, but an emotional one, a moral (or maybe even religious) one, but most of all it’s one without any clear and precise answers. 

In most of the United States (and England, Wales, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and a few other places) we rely on something called the M’Naughten Rule to help us figure it out. It reads like this:

the jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.

In other words, it assumes every person is sane unless it is determined otherwise. Also, the person accused of the crime must know what they are doing, and likewise know that such activity is wrong. 

Throughout the years, in the United States and elsewhere, this “rule” has been put under the proverbial microscope and examined to the nth letter of the law. For the most part, it still stands today … although the results may not always be what one might expect. Sometimes, juries get things right. Sometimes, you want to give them a high five … to the face … with a frying pan. That’s the legal system, I guess.

The Ceely Rose Story Begins

The only known photograph of Ceely Rose

Celia Frances Rose was born on March 13, 1873, in Pike County, Ohio to David and Rebecca Rose. There are some records dating back from Ceely’s early years, but unfortunately not enough to come up with a detailed early history. And, parts of what we can find only point to more questions. For example, Ceely was the third of three children. Her brother, Walter, was born in 1857 and her sister, Julia was born in 1860. Nobody knows for certain why there is a 13-15 year age gap between Ceely and her two siblings. Part of that could, possibly, be explained by The Civil War (which Ceely’s father was enlisted in) but that only accounts for a small percent of that time. Many returning civil war soldiers also, it has been remarked, had children born within a year of their return but that does not seem to be the case here.

One such theory (and that is all it is, a theory) is that because Ceely’s mother was nearing the age that women at the time faced menopause, while Julia was at the age girls at the time were getting their first periods, some have suggested that Julia was Ceely’s mother, not Rebecca. If that is true, was Ceely’s father David, or someone else in town? 

Since all this is little more than (some very ominous) conjecture, let’s move on.

In November, 1876, Julia “Annie” Rose married John H Long. A month later, David Rose sells John a sixty-three acre of land to build a home on for $600. However, a short six months later, the land was sold back to Rebecca for $700. There is no hint in the public records for why this occurred, there are any number of possibilities. Perhaps John (or maybe Annie) had some kind of falling out with the Rose family so they returned the land that had once been owned by David to move on from whatever drama that was about? Another possibility is that Annie and John simply wanted to move away from that area where there might have been more (or better) employment opportunities. 

There were two other events that occurred around this time involving John and Annie, but thanks to shoddy record keeping, we’re not entirely sure when (or, how) exactly they happened. First, we know that Annie and John had a son and they named him John. Second, according to some family accounts, Annie died in childbirth while others claim she passed away within a year or two. What we can tell at this point is that by the 1880 census, John Jr. was living with his uncle, George Long, and his grandmother, Mary Gault. As for Annie and John, there is no record of any divorce (although since few records remain from this area and period, that really isn’t saying much), there is no record of Annie’s death, and nobody is certain where John Sr. went, either. Some claim he died within a year or two of Annie while others claim he moved away, married some other lady, and started a family elsewhere, never looking back to Ohio at all.

It is true that none of these events happened to, or directly involved young Ceely, but she was part of the Rose household. If there was a family drama going on, it easily could have impacted her in some way. (For example, if the wild theory that Annie was Ceely’s biological mother and that either David was the father, or that he “adopted” the girl to raise as his own, this easily could put an interesting spin on whatever was going on, if anything was. Likewise, it would be easy to argue that whatever family dysfunction was going on could, later on, have impacted Ceely. It isn’t like family issues turn themselves on and off, they linger and fester from year to year until the family is no more.)

In 1880, Rebecca Rose purchased the Schrack Mill south of Lucas, Ohio for $500. And it would be here that David and Rebecca would spend the rest of their lives. Again, it’s not clear why the family moved, all we know for certain is that they did. It is entirely possible that the family packed up and moved after Annie’s death in an attempt to move on, but it’s also just as likely that the family would want to remain near where all the memories of their daughter took place. It’s also worth noting that if there was some big event that happened to or around the Rose family, including or not the Long family, surely there would be some record of it, somewhere. Not all newspapers printed around that time have survived, and what have don’t give any insight into the matter at all. Nor are there any family records, no gossip from letters written by the neighbors, there is nothing. 

Another thing we know for certain is that once the Rose family reached the Pleasant Valley area after buying the Schrack Mill, they were treated politely, but like outsiders. Perhaps this is as simple as a down-state family buying a well-known mill with plenty of local connections. (The Schracks used a slightly different milling technique than was common in the area, including a special Milling Stone or Bruhstone that made the place famous.) Or, maybe word of some terrible drama from Pike County had reached their neighbors causing them to keep the new family at arms length. 

Ceely Rose Comes Of Age, Kind Of

If there was one thing about Ceely Rose that was kind of obvious, it’s that she wasn’t like any of the other girls around. Today, there might be a plethora of psychological terms that better describes the lass, but at the time they just referred to her as an “imbecile” and that was that. She was said to go to school where she stayed with the younger kids, always working underneath her grade level and not progressing with the rest of the class. People also said she tended to have a childish demeanor, never fully understanding situations at an age appropriate level.

There were, however, a number of instances where she did cause some people concern. One day, it’s been reported, she started walking to school, although she never arrived. Thinking the worst, classes that day were canceled as a small search party was formed to look for the girl. She’d be found, soon enough, lost and confused, walking down a country road. She claimed she wasn’t entirely certain where she was or why she never made it to school. 

If there were any serious problems, they weren’t recorded. (Or, those records no longer exist.)

Still, most people thought she was likable enough, at least if anyone bothered to try and get to know her. She might be different from other kids, she might be an “imbecile” but “That’s just Ceely” they’d say.

Walter, Ceely’s brother, stayed at the family home and never showed even the slightest inclination to leave and start a family of his own. As this was outside the norm for the time and place, there are those who speculate that he might have been Ceely’s father, taking the rumor that his sister was Ceely’s mother to a whole new level. Others have suggested Walter was a homosexual, or perhaps asexual. Perhaps he was overly attached to his mother, or maybe Ceely? At this point, there really is no way to tell.

David, Ceely’s father, was somewhat invalided by the war (The Civil War) and there was a physical limit to what he could accomplish. This is why Rebecca, more or less, took over the duties we’d associate with the head of the household. At the time, this was acceptable, but also outside the norm.

All these factors could have had something to do with the Rose family being treated as outsiders. Or, maybe it was something else entirely.

As Ceely got a bit older, her physical body hit all the landmarks on her way to adulthood, although it’s fairly clear that mentally it was another story. At that time, nobody knew how to deal with an individual with developmental disabilities as they enter puberty. It was like having the body of an adult but the mind of a child.

Ceely developed a few minor crushes on various boys she encountered, however after they either showed no attraction to her, or acted like they were repulsed by the idea, she’d leave them alone. 

Then she (or, her hormones) discovered Guy Berry, the eldest son of her neighbors, George and Angeline Berry. Even though he felt no attraction toward Ceely, unlike the other boys who ridiculed or teased Ceely when she expressed interest in them, Guy took a much more polite route. Perhaps he thought if he just gave it time, Ceely would grow out of it.

But, it seemed to have the opposite effect. At some point in 1896, Ceely became convinced that Guy would marry her and that she would become the “Maw” of a new house. For Guy, his patience was starting to wear thin. He spoke with his parents about it, George and Angelina met with David and Rebecca, urging them to talk some sense into their daughter. And David did just that. Or, at least he tried. In the end, he gave Ceely an ultimatum. As long as he was around, she was to leave Guy alone. Period. It’s been reported that Ceely responded by saying that her father wasn’t always going to be around. But, there’s no way to know if she actually said that, or not.

Ceely became aware of a murder case that had happened in the town of Tallmadge, about 75 miles or so away. There, a farmer, his wife, and one of their hired help had been murdered, bludgeoned to death. The suspect, who originally called himself John Smith, eventually confessed, giving up his real name as Romulus Cotell. He had worked for the farmer and his wife until he developed a fascination with their youngest daughter, which the farmer’s family solved by securing him a job at another nearby farm. He killed the farmer and his wife (and their farmhand) thinking they were the only things standing between him and his love. Once the parents were out of the way, the two would run off together and become man and wife.

There was something about this story that fascinated Ceely. She talked about it often. And, in light of future events that are about to happen – this was the last sign that something was amiss, only nobody knew it at the time.

Ceely Rose – Murderess?

The first time anybody noticed anything amiss was the night of June 24, 1896. Because the family doctor was out of town, when the need for a physician came up that night, Dr. John McCombs responded. And from the time he walked in the door, he believed something was terribly wrong. Three members of the Rose family had been violently ill, yet the fourth member of the family, young Ceely, appeared to be in perfect health. The rest of the family writhed in pain, complaining of a terrible thirst. However, any time they tried to drink anything, even a glass of water, they began to vomit. No medicine they attempted to take stayed down. 

The severity of the symptoms, the way the three Roses were thirsty and unable to keep water or medicines down was so unlike anything that was going around at the time, it caused some alarm in the doctor. The fact that Ceely, who claimed to have eaten and done the exact same things as the rest of her family, did not seem sick in the slightest was cause for alarm. And the fact that Ceely claimed to be just as sick as the rest of her family when she clearly wasn’t made him think the problem was a bit more diabolical.

Dr. McCombs was mystified when nobody else saw any cause for concern. Even though the family were newcomers to the area, they had always appeared to be a nice, kind family and not the sort that would resort to anything nefarious.

Many of the families who lived nearby began to stop by and offer whatever help they could. Some brought wet towels and teas – even though the Rose family couldn’t drink the tea, they still were able to wet their lips which offered minimal relief.

George Berry even came over one afternoon. However, as he made his way across the yard between their two houses, he discovered the Rose’s chickens, dead, laying on the ground.

The longer this was going on, the more people started to think something was a bit off. 

David, the father, was the first to die. With the rest of the family, except Ceely, upstairs in agony, a doctor was called in to pronounce death. There, with the rest of the family within earshot, he performed a basic autopsy but was unable to determine what sickness, exactly, took the man’s life. Heavy Metal poisoning (arsenic, perhaps) was suspected, but the test to determine this was so costly at the time that it was only used sparingly. The county could not justify its use. Not yet, anyway.

Throughout the next week, Rebecca improved, but only slightly while Water’s condition seemed to get worse. And on July 04, he passed. Like before, an autopsy was performed and the results were the same.

Today, the Forensic Sciences have evolved to the point we can now distract a full DNA profile from the most basic samples. During crime dramas and police procedural shows, we get to see new technology being used (hopefully correctly, but often not) on our televisions from the comfort of our homes. However, in 1896, obviously there was no modern forensic tech and what was available was limited, to say the least. 

By the time of Walter’s death, many people, including the local law enforcement, suspected that the Rose family was being poisoned. Their symptoms were so unlike any of the known diseases going around at the time, and beyond three of the four Roses, nobody was getting sick at all. With people coming into the Rose’s house day in and day out attending to the sick, if this was a disease, surely one of them would have gotten sick as well, right?

With two men now dead, there was additional pressure to perform the Marsh Test, which would detect the presence of heavy metals like arsenic. Yes, the test was expensive, but a new problem was being faced as well. It was believed at the time that arsenic only remained for a short period of time in human tissue after death. With David’s body now massively decaying, it was unclear at this time how successful the test would be. And, for some reason, the county would only authorize the Marsh Test on Walter if his father’s test also came back positive. 

The test was finally performed and sent off. A few days later the results were back and the results were shocking. The level of arsenic that was detected in the samples from David Rose were massive – enough to kill an entire army. The day that Water’s test samples were sent off, Rebecca passed away in the family parlor while being attended to by several of her neighbors.

How To Catch A Killer

Most people knew, or I think highly suspected, that Ceely Rose killed her family. The problem was that nobody knew how … or why? Knowing something is one thing. Being able to prove it to a judge and jury was something else, entirely.

The fact that Ceely was an “Imbecile” only complicated the matter. Ceely’s normal behavior was, by her very nature, not like anyone around her, and certainly not anything like what society thought a young lady should be like at the time. How do you look for oddities that may point to a crime in a person whose baseline is just as odd?

Then there was the question that if they could prove Ceely was guilty of the murders, did she know what she was doing, and did she know it was wrong? Since moving to the Pleasant Valley area, there were times when Ceely displayed an understanding of right vs wrong and there were just as many instances that made it appear she did not. Where, exactly, do you draw the line?

When being interviewed by The Sheriff, Ceely would sometimes give odd answers to questions, or her answers would contradict things she had said in the past. There were times when it was clear that Ceely was playing a game with the sheriff. It makes you wonder – how much of Ceely’s imbecile nature was real … and how much of it was an act?

After Rebecca’s death, the sheriff and coroner determined that if they were going to find the truth, they would have to get creative. And when the right opportunity presented itself, the prosecutor jumped on the idea. Ceely by this time had moved into a neighbor’s farm, because these neighbors thought Ceely wasn’t capable of murdering her family and nobody thought it was a good idea for Ceely to live alone in the house. Another neighbor, George Davis, had a daughter a few years younger than Ceely and the two girls seemed to get along in the past. Tracy Davis was eager to help, if there was anything she could do. Of course, her father tried to get some kind of financial compensation for allowing his daughter to help, but ultimately agreed even though that wasn’t going to happen.

On several occasions, Tracey “just happened” to run into Ceely somewhere, and they began talking. Tracy didn’t want Ceely to think she was being spied on, so she just let Ceely take conversations wherever she wanted. Still, Tracy felt like she needed to push. She asked Ceely if she had anything to do with her parents’ death. Ceely denied having anything to do with it, then added that she knew how it was done. And, she said she’d tell Tracy in a week if she didn’t say anything to anybody.

A week later, Tracy (who was living fifteen miles away) returned home for the weekend and again tried to befriend Ceely. Often, Ceely would talk about Guy Berry. Ceely claimed to have run into guy somewhere, but the story she told made no sense and it’s impossible to tell how much of the story was true, if any of it was. Still, Ceely asked Tracy if she’d seen Guy or had heard any gossip. It was clear Ceely was still quite smitten with the guy.

Before returning home, Tracy asked Ceely to tell her what she knew about her family’s death. Ceely admitted that she knew Tracy hadn’t told anyone about what she had said, but ultimately refused to say more. Tracy then tried a new tactic. The prosecutor had an idea – Tracy could make up a story and ask Ceely’s advice on what to do. 

The false story that Tracy told Ceely was that she had met a charming and handsome gent, but her parents didn’t like the guy and forbid her to even say his name aloud in the house. (Parts of this story mirrored Ceely’s own, like the time her father forbid her to see Guy Berry after he and his family complained that Ceely’s attention was just too much. However, unlike what was going on with Ceely, Tracy’s beau liked her in return and wanted to be with her, as long as her father would allow it.)

Ceely listened to the story and when asked what she’d do, she said that she would kill her parents, adding that was what she had done. After Tracy asked her how, she related the story. A few of the details she originally gave were not true. For example, Ceely claimed that she and Guy had come up with the idea together and that Guy had provided the poison. 

One of the things that confounded the sheriff (and the prosecutor) was how Ceely managed to poison her entire family. Ceely admitted that she had found some Rough-On-Rats (a arsenic based rat poison) and put it in a pepper box which she hid under a shrub in their yard. It was a good hiding place, Ceely said, because the sheriff never found it. This she added to parts of the food the family would all consume. Ceely would dish herself out some of the poisoned food, but refused to eat it. 

Ceely led Tracy to the pepper box, still in the yard of the Rose’s mill. When Tracy inquired why the box was empty, Ceely responded that she had used the last of it on “Maw”.

For the prosecutor, things were still falling into place. They knew Ceely had done it, and they now knew how. The big question that remained was … Why?

The prosecutor, sheriff, and Tracy and her father came up with another plan. This time, Tracy would lure Ceely into a barn to have another conversation. Only, Tracy’s dad would be hidden somewhere that would allow him to overhear the conversation. Tracy would, once again, try to get details out of Ceely.

This time, with George Davis hiding and able to overhear, Tracy pressed Ceely. Ceely admitted to lying about Guy getting her the poison. She named a recent murderer who had confessed everything once he was caught and he was hauled off to jail and she didn’t want that. She wasn’t going to confess to the sheriff, or the prosecutor, or anyone who might haul her away.

But, the story Ceely was now telling still included Guy as being a part of it. Now, Guy had nothing to do with the events, but he was still aware they were happening. But, there was another detail that confounded the situation greatly. At several points, Ceely mentioned that Guy loved her and they had planned on running away together, just as soon as Ceely’s parents were no longer part of the problem. But, instead of getting poison, Guy was giving her some medication. After a few mentions of this medication, Tracy asked Ceely to clarify what the medicine was for.

“He was supposed to get me something to keep me from being enceinte.”

It just might be that this one word, “enceinte”, the French word for “expecting” or “pregnant” that has caused more speculation than anything else. How, many people wanted to know, was a developmentally disabled, barely educated young lady, who lived all her life in the small towns of nineteenth century Ohio. How was it possible she knew the French word, how to pronounce it, and what it actually meant? Some claim that because she knew and used this word correctly, she wasn’t nearly as much of an imbecile as she wanted other people to think. 

The torrid love affair between her and Guy existed, so far as anyone has been able to tell, solely within her own mind. By all accounts, he was nice to her, at first, but when he realized that he had become the object of her affections, Guy wanted nothing to do with her. There is no evidence anywhere, except from the mouth of Ceely, that states otherwise. 

Ceely Rose was arrested and tried for the murder of her father, brother, and mother. Throughout the trial, Ceely acted less like a murder defendant and more like a celebrity, clearly basking in all the attention. At no point did she show remorse for her actions, nor did she display any emotion suggesting that she missed her family and wanted to see them again.

Smart or Dumb – Sane or Insane

Once Ceely was headed for trial, the question became how to proceed. A large part of that depended on questions like how smart or dumb the girl really was … and whether or not she would be classified as insane or not. For the most part, residents around Pleasant Valley didn’t care all that much if Ceely headed to prison or to the state mental hospital – they’d known for some time (even if nobody could prove it) that the girl was a killer, and they just wanted the nightmare to be over at any cost. However, I suppose anything worth doing is worth doing correctly.

Just like we didn’t have the forensic science to prove Ceely’s guilt at the time, they also didn’t have the current understanding of sanity or mental illness that we do today. In order for Ceely to be classified insane, she either needed to display a lack of understanding of what was right or wrong (it was determined early that was not the case) or there needed to be a family history of imbecility. That, too, caused a problem because all anyone knew, she had one nephew, John Long, and … that was it. If there were more aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews or nieces, it was likely they didn’t know Ceely or whether or not they were related.

The problem with Ceely was that she didn’t fit into any of the known boxes at the time. In some ways, she was smart. Yet, she constantly did dumb things (or, at the very least, things that were age appropriate for someone much younger than her.) In school, she kept to the studies of children much younger than her, but other times displayed something closer to age appropriate knowledge.

For example, while at school, she wanted to stay with the children who were just beginning to learn how to read. She would do assignments, and make pretty much the same marks as everyone else. However, when she was at home, she would often read the newspapers that were delivered to the house. She would often talk about the stories she had read, displaying an understanding of events, at least to some degree.

It would be impossible to put Ceely into any modern day classifications since we cannot observe her for ourselves. But, we also can’t afford to fall victim to any traps. A very good argument can be made to diagnose Ceely with some degree of mental retardation, or to perhaps place her somewhere on the autism spectrum or even diagnose her with several other modern day psychiatric conditions. It may seem clear to us that even in her later teenage years, she had the mind of an eight to ten year old. Or, we may point out classic symptoms we associate with autism. However, without being able to observe her directly, without being able to put her into a controlled, modern environment – there’s no way of knowing where, or how, she would fit into any of this.

The trial of Ceely Rose lasted several days, almost a week. After a very short period of deliberation, Ceely Rose was found guilty of the murder of her father. After being sentenced to the state Psychiatric facility, the prosecutor refused to charge her with the murders of her brother or mother.

What happened with Ceely at the Toledo State Hospital is not known. A few records have survived, but they don’t tell much of a story. In fact, much of the story of Ceely’s later years remain a mystery – with only a small tidbit of info here and there, and not enough to even hint to what is between the gaps.

What we do know is that Ceely spent a wee bit over ten months at the Toledo State Hospital before being released. Cause of release, officially, “Recovered”.

The Mansfield newspaper did report on this fact, which seemed to cause an uproar in the community. But, as far as where Ceely went or what she did after release – we may never know.

We also know that Ceely Rose died in 1934 at the Lima State Hospital after having been admitted there in 1915. What we don’t know is where Ceely was after her discharge … or what hospital she was admitted to later, when, or even why that happened. And, we know she remained at the hospital between being transferred there for just shy of twenty years. And again, there’s no clue as to why.

When it comes to Ceely Rose, there are still some mysteries. It’s not a whodunnit … we know Ceely poisoned her family with Rough On Rats (Arsenic). We know it was because she was fascinated with Guy and believed the two of them should be together. After Guy complained about Ceely’s fascination, complaining to his parents – they in turn spoke with Ceely’s parents who forbid her to have anything to do with him. So, in Ceely’s mind, it was her parents who were standing in the way of her and Guy’s (non-existent) romance. Therefore, by removing them, this would enable Ceely to see Guy again.

After the trial, one further fact came to light that solidified everything, even if after-the-fact. Shortly before her family had started to get sick, Ceely appeared on the doorstep of the Berry home holding a pie in her hands. The pie was for Guy’s mother and father, but, she stressed, not Guy. When she handed over the pie, she made a half-hearted apology for being too attentive toward Guy and she wanted them to know there were no hard feelings.

The pie, however, looked a bit off. It was slightly the wrong color and it had pock-marks all over the top. As this was several days after Guy had complained to his parents about Ceely, this gesture, in and of itself, seemed odd. The slight discoloration of the pie and its pock marks seemed to cause further alarm. Mr. Berry graciously accepted the pie, but threw it directly into the garbage. It wasn’t until after the trial and conviction of Ceely for the murder of her father that Mr. Berry remembered the pie situation and said something about it. He wanted to know (as did several others) if Ceely had also tried to kill him and his wife?

The Legend of Ceely Rose

Today, the name Ceely Rose might not be as recognizable as names like Jack the Ripper or Lizzie Borden, but the Legend of Ceely has certainly endured, at least to some extent.

A large part of this is owed to the writer Louis Bromfield. He had grown up in the Pleasant Valley area and after he published his novel, The Rains Came, in 1937 – he used the proceeds of that book to start creating a farm for him to live on which he named Malabar Farm. Part of the land he now owned included the mill and property that had once belonged to the Rose Family. 

Malabar Farm – The Big House

When he began writing a book entitled Pleasant Valley, he devoted the fourth chapter to the story of Ceely Rose, although he did change a few names and alter a few facts. For example, Guy Berry was renamed Hugh Flemming. Some of the details that had been changed, either deliberately or via shoddy research include facts like stating the Rose family was from Tennessee, as opposed to Pike County, Ohio. In the book, Hugh (aka Guy) actually begins to court Ceely, although that likely never happened in real life. Tracy Davis, likewise renamed, was said to have been a family friend from Tennessee, as opposed to the daughter of a nearby resident. 

Beyond this and a few other minor details, Louis Bromfield got the spirit of the story pretty close to accurate.

Today, the area where the Rose mill once stood is said, by professional and amateur ghost hunters, to be haunted and a few crudely-edited YouTube videos sorta-kinda give this impression as well.

Yet, others tell a version of the story that relies more on legendary storytelling than historical fact. For example, in one of the legendary stories I read, Ceely claims that she got the idea of poisoning her parents by seeing her mother and father putting Rough On Rats in their basement. This causes the rats to leave for an unspecified amount of time, but the rats would always come back. Ceely believed that feeding her parents the Rough on Rats, they, too would disappear for a time, but would eventually come back and in the meantime, this left her free to marry Guy. While this is some interesting logic, and it makes for great storytelling, none of this is supported by what public records still exist.

In another legendary tale, Ceely isn’t as much of an imbecile as she made other people think. For her, life was just easier when people thought you were stupid, and when people thought you weren’t bright enough to do certain chores, Maw and Paw wouldn’t ask you to do them. This, likewise, isn’t supported by available records, but does point Ceely in a much more diabolical light.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell for certain everything that happened. When interviewed or questioned, Ceely often told whomever she was speaking to what they wanted to hear, or what she wanted them to know – which may or may not have been true. This was also a time before certain laws about recording births and deaths were established, and likewise there was no reason to keep other forms of records, either.

There was also a conscious decision from their relatives, both David’s “Rose” side of the family, as well as Rebecca’s “Easter” (her maiden name) side to deliberately cut them from any and all family histories and genealogies. They claimed they didn’t want the younger kids to know what Ceely had done. The adults were all aware of Ceelie’s arrest and confessions, but children didn’t need to know these things. 

However, I have to wonder whether or not that seed had been planted long before David and Rebecca sold their farm in Pike County and headed north. There are no remaining records or anything to indicate that the Roses spoke about their family in the southern part of the state, and there are no indications that the Roses and Easters of Pike County ever referenced David and Rebecca and Walter, let alone Ceely either – even before her horrible crime.

The odd way that David and Rebecca sold their farm to Annie only to buy it back half a year later … and the lack of information about Annie’s death or what her husband, John Long did certainly suggest something may have happened. The fact that Annie and John’s son, John Jr. went to live with John’s relatives as opposed to being taken in by David and Rebecca may also be suggestive of something. But what? There are no clues. (At least, none that I am aware of.)

For me, it’s that aspect of this story that is the most fascinating because there isn’t even a hint to the mystery’s solution. If, that is, there is a mystery there at all.

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