Chief McDowell has been working with the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial to honor a fallen and possibly forgotten member of Providence’s law enforcement past. It was a murder case that made headlines in papers from Decatur, Illinois to Fredrick, Maryland, and it happened right here in Providence, KY.
At around 6 p.m. on February 4, 1896, Providence Town Marshall William Smiley, formerly of Earlington, Kentucky was making his rounds. Smiley had only been appointed and taken office some three weeks earlier. He wore a new uniform that had been presented to him by the citizens of the town in honor of his excellent service since taking office.
That afternoon Marshall Smiley and a deputy named Head had encountered three drunken men causing a disturbance. They quickly took the men into custody and delivered them to “Police Judge” J.C. Taff so the case could be handled and the men wouldn’t have to spend the night in lockup.
On the way back from Judge Taff’s, Smiley and Head encountered the son and brother of the men he had just arrested. He was described as a “country-man”. He was five foot four, 155 pounds with black hair and a ruddy complexion.
He immediately began cursing the law officers, who threatened to arrest him too. Deputy Head took the man by the arm, but he pulled away, drew a gun and fired five shots.
Reports vary as to whether all five shots hit Smiley or just one, but the effect was the same. One of the bullets struck his spinal column and he was killed instantly.
The shooter fled, leading law enforcement on a three day chase through the countryside, eventually escaping into the Clear Creek flats. A special train was dispatched to Earlington to bring back blood hounds.
Three days later the killer turned himself into Charles P. Whittinghill, a farmer who lived three miles outside of Providence. Reports were that he was weak from a loss of blood and that there was a lynch mob closing in on him. He was moved to the Dixon and extra security was placed around the jail to keep the lynch mob out.
After two hung juries, the killer was finally convicted on the third attempt. He served six years in prison before being paroled.
The killer’s name was James “Jim” Hughes, and he was my great grandfather.
There is something almost fitting that 117 years later that the chance to help memorialize Marshall Smiley would fall into my hands. It’s almost like I’ve been handed the chance to help set things straight.
Part of the process of getting a fallen officer into the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Washington is tracking down the survivors or defendants of the officer. Almost a 120 years after the fact, that is not an easy task.
Chief McDowell is asking that anyone related to Marshall William Smiley, or anyone who may have information on the fate of the three children he left behind, please contact the Providence police department at 270-667-2022.
J-E News Editor
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