One of the wonderful things about death certificates is that not only do they provide the date and place of death, but they also provide the cause of death. It can be extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to learn a cause of death without a death certificate, especially if it is one of the mundane ones that are named in so many of them: “Arteriosclerosis,” for example, or “Coronary occlusion.” I transcribed the word “hemorrhage” so many times that I no longer had to double-check how many Ms, how many Rs, or where the heck the second H goes.
But when I got to the death certificate of Ray Nelson, my great-great-great-uncle, the brother of my great-great-great-grandmother Minnie (Nelson) Hoyt—and the grandson of Timothy Soper—I was surprised to see the cause of death listed as “Concussion of brain from being hit in forehead with brick (Homicidal).” That piqued my interest, and so as soon as I got the chance I went to the Chronicling America website and began to look up newspaper articles. I figured that anyone who got a homicidal brick to the head would undoubtedly have made the papers. Though there was less than I expected, I did find two articles. The first article gave the information that Ray Nelson (denoting his first name as “Orren,” while I had “Otis” in my database) had died at the home of my 3great-grandmother, giving her address—which I previously did not have—and that the brick had hit him near the intersection of Eighth and Olive streets.
Orren Ray Nelson died at the home of his sister, Mrs. E. E. Hoyt, 712 Powell street, Monday. On the Saturday night previous he was hit by a brick thrown by some one at Eighth and Olive streets, which caused his death.
This, of course, is all very useful information, but it still leave a lot of questions, such as why a brick was flying at the corner of Eighth and Olive streets. Was someone just standing there throwing bricks? Was someone targeting him? After some more searching I found the second article, which turned out to be in the same edition of the newspaper on a different page. This article answered a few more questions. It turned out that a couple of parties were having a brick fight. A brick fight? Hmm.
KINZIE CHARGED WITH KILLING NELSONWhen a coroner’s inquest was held Wednesday over the case of Orren R. Nelson, who was killed Saturday night by being struck by a brick, testimony was introduced that put new light into the matter and resulted in the arrest of J. E. Kinzie, his wife Dorothy and Bert A. Jensen. It developed that the Kinzie’s and Jensen were involved in a row, during the course of which bricks were thrown by both sides. At the hearing proof was adduced to show that it was Kinzie who threw the brick that caused Nelson’s death and he was held to the criminal court on a charge of manslaughter. His wife and Jensen were not held.
So, now we know to an extent how a brick happened to be flying through the air near Eighth and Olive streets, but I still have some questions. Was Ray Nelson participating in the brick fight? Was he trying to stop it? Was he an extremely unfortunate passerby at the wrong moment? Perhaps I will find still more articles, once I stumble upon the right search terms. (The limitations of OCR were quite glaring during this research. Finding the second article took some creativity.) I can’t help but think that a brick fight resulting in manslaughter would be an unusual enough occurrence to merit at least a couple more articles. Right now there is plenty of mystery to keep me engaged.
"Kinzie Charged With Killing Nelson," The St. Joseph Observer, 8 Feb 1919, p. 7, col. 4; digital images, Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 24 Oct 2016), Image provided by State Historical Society of Missouri; Columbia, MO.
"Local Matters of General Interest," The St. Joseph Observer, 8 Feb 1919, p. 5, col. 4; digital images, Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 24 Oct 2016), Image provided by State Historical Society of Missouri; Columbia, MO.
Missouri Missouri State Board of Health, death certificate 4793 (1919), Ray Nelson; digital image, Missouri Office of the Secretary of State, Missouri State Library, and Missouri State Archives, "Missouri Death Certificates, 1910-1965," Missouri Digital Heritage (http://www.sos.mo.gov/mdh/ : accessed 14 Oct 2016).