Fallsburg Urban Legends
Old Man Clearwater
Between 1920 and 1933, the manufacturing, transportation, and sale of alcohol were made illegal in the United States in a time called the Prohibition Era. This brought about bootleggers and moonshiners, the producers and distributors of illegal alcohol, often made in the backwoods and hollows of Appalachia. One such moonshiner was James Collinsworth (188?-19??), a local farmer during the 1910’s and 1920’s in Fallsburg. James Collinsworth was a quiet man that usually kept to himself, but he was the main distributor in the area for moonshine and was known locally as ‘Clearwater’. The location of his moonshine still was unknown, and people tended to stay out of his business. The sheriff in the town was on his payroll, as were the local officers of the Bureau of Prohibition.
There were, however, a few men in Fallsburg that wanted part of Collinsworth’s business. Good men, for the most part, but they tended to get into things they shouldn’t get into from time to time. The men watched Collinsworth and found where his still was located and waited until he left. They stole majority of James Collinsworth’s new batch of moonshine, even going so far as to sell what they didn’t drink. Their bragging was their downfall, as word got back to Clearwater that someone was selling his moonshine cheaper than he was. However, the Collinsworth family had a way of dealing trouble.
Clearwater tainted the next batch of moonshine that was cooked, and sat it out for the men to find. They gave the moonshine, which had an eerie green color to it, a taste test, and quickly became ill. Reports from locals say that the men developed boils and bruising across their skin, bleeding from their eyes, nose, and ears, and became extremely violent and aggressive. The men approached the nearby Miller house and set upon it like a pack of wild animals, killing Robert Miller (1879-1922) and his family. Locals believed that the Miller family was targeted due to rumors of Robert Miller being an informant to the Bureau of Prohibition.
James “Clearwater” Collinsworth was never suspected as having an intentional part in the murder of the Miller family, but the Bureau of Prohibition was no longer able to keep things quiet about the moonshine business in Fallsburg once word got out that a family had been murdered by bootleggers. The officers went after Clearwater and his moonshine business, but he escaped into the hills of eastern Kentucky in 1922, never to be seen or heard from again. It was never known when James “Clearwater” Collinsworth was born, but when the Bureau of Prohibition began investigating him, they posted that they were looking for a “large, wild man in his mid 30’s”, presumably placing his birth sometime in the 1880’s. Rumors circulated late into the 1960s when an old moonshine still is discovered in the hills around Fallsburg that Clearwater’s still alive and cooking moonshine, but no definite proof of Clearwater still being alive was ever found. Even today, local moonshiners refuse to speak about who provides their product.
In the 1920 and 1930s, Fallsburg was the economic center for Lawrence County. The booming lumber industry and farmland around the area provided plenty of goods to sell and ship out through the nearby Fuller Railroad Station. The Blackwood family of Fallsburg owned one such farm, starting out as a subsistence farm during World War I, and became one of the largest providers of corn in the state by 1925. The patriarch of the family, Monroe Blackwood (1870-1932), had built up his wealth by providing corn not only to be sold in the open market but for local bootleggers as well, as corn mash is a key ingredient in the production of moonshine.
Everything was not perfect in Fallsburg, however. Starting in 1922 and lasting until 1934, a series of gruesome murders had occurred, including the murder of the Miller and Richmond families. The first attack, known locally as the “Miller Massacre”, occurred in 1922 and was believed to have been committed by local bootleggers with suspicions of Robert Miller being an informant to the Bureau of Prohibition. Between 1922 and 1929, five more individuals were found violently murdered in the Fallsburg area.
The second family attack occurred on the night of June 5th, 1931, when the Richmond family was slain as they slept. The first victim was believed to be Victoria Richmond (1915-1931), daughter of Thomas and Penelope Richmond. Victoria was found in bed, cause of death strangulation based on bruising found around her throat. The second victim, Thomas Richmond (1889-1931), was found in his bed with a gunshot to the heart from a pistol at point-blank range. The body of Penelope Richmond (1894-1931), born Penelope Blackwood and younger sister of Monroe Blackwood, was found in a field on the Richmond farm, murdered by the assailant with a hayfork to the back.
On the evening of June 5th, 1932, the body of Monroe Blackwood was discovered by his son, Adam Blackwood (1891-1954), upon returning from the local railroad depot after delivering corn to be shipped out. The body of Monroe Blackwood was found at the top of the stairs in the Blackwood house, and cause of death was determined to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound from the rifle found on the stairs beneath him. Adam Blackwood last saw his father alive that morning as the corn was being loaded for transport, and it’s believed Monroe Blackwood committed suicide shortly after Adam left. Monroe Blackwood’s suicide happened a year to the day since the death of his sister, brother-in-law, and niece.
The suicide of Monroe Blackwood came as a surprise to the rest of the Blackwood family and the people of Fallsburg. The murders of the Richmond family remained unsolved and believed to have been connected to the murder of the Miller family until the discovery of Monroe Blackwood’s suicide note and murder confession, along with the body of Christine Blackwood (1917-1934), grand-daughter of Monroe Blackwood, on the night of September 21st, 1934. Christine Blackwood’s body was found in her bedroom in the Blackwood farm by her mother, Sarah Blackwood (1894-1967), after hearing a rifle shot. Sarah Blackwood discovered her daughter on the floor, assuming she committed suicide due to the rifle laying on the floor beside her, and found what she thought was Christine’s suicide note until she realized the note was dated June 5th, 1932, and signed “M. Blackwood”. Upon examination by the coroner, the ‘suicide’ was deemed a murder as the gunshot came from behind Christine, an act physically impossible without someone standing behind her and pulling the trigger. Adam Blackwood was originally suspected of committing the murder, but was later cleared due to lack of evidence. The case remains unsolved.
Monroe Blackwood’s suicide note reads as follows:
“June 5 1932
By now you know that I have taken my life. Because of all the terrible things I have done, I know that I will never see Heaven, nor be forgiven. I’m unable to cast Satan away, I pace these floors fighting off the voices inside my head, for me to find peace I must confess to you my sins. I have written this note in hope that someday people will understand that I was forced to commit these crimes by the dark forces that reside here. I must be losing my mind, because the portraits of our family, who were also my victims, seem to look at me as if they know my secrets.
I killed your cousin Victoria one night as she lay asleep in her bed, her voice stopped for eternity, the voices telling me to take her life as a sacrifice to the dark force that torments my soul. Your beautiful aunt Penelope cut down in the prime of her life by a farmer’s hayfork. Then, the last thing I remember is the sight of your uncle Thomas, begging for his life as my pistol fired into his heart, silencing him forever.
I have committed many murders in this small town. You or no other has suspected me due to my good name. My spirit will linger in this house and I will defend it until the end of time, as I will you, and protect your soul from future transgressions. My spirit will give you life in death.