November 10, 1805
Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia)
Abel Clemmons (alt. spelling: Clemmens, Clemons, Clemens) kills his pregnant wife and their eight children whose ages ranged from 1 to 12
Clemmons had been noted in “a gloomy melancholy mood” for several weeks leading up to the murders. Months before, Clemmons had been wrestling with the notion that his family would be better off dead, though he pushed the ideas aside. He prepared to move his wife and children to Ohio near other family members in an effort to distract himself from such through, though when he realized his mother would not be moving with them, he slipped further into his mental deterioration. Further adding to his worries was his wife, Barbara, who was “far advanced in pregnancy.” Clemmons had heard Miami County, Ohio was known to have a high rate of childbirth-related deaths.
Clemmons had contemplated the murder for some time before he acted on his impulses. At one point, while staring at his sleeping wife and planning her murder, she woke to find him looking at her. She asked what was the matter, though he brushed it off saying he was admiring her beauty as she slept.
On the evening of Sunday, November 10 (some sources cite the date as November 8), Clemmons orchestrated his plan. He dispatched of each member of his family with a blow to the head with an axe. After his arrest, he confessed, “They all died easy, except my two little girls, Betsy and Parthenia; the struggles of whom, added to the already indescribable horrors and tortures of my mind. . . . After their struggles had ceased, I took some pains in placing them strait in bed – locking their hands, and closing their eyes. . . . a tremulous and convulsive horror struck my guilty soul.”
Clemmons’ brother Isaac came to the house to collect the family and discovered the scene. Isaac and Abel’s mother pleaded for Abel to flee, which he did. His mother also pleaded for him not to kill himself as well, though Abel attempted to while he was in hiding, longing for the “womb of untreated night.” Eventually, hunger and thirst overcame him and he returned to his mother’s house. He was apprehended by his relatives and brought to trial.
Clemmons attempted a plea of insanity, but at the time, insanity was not considered an excuse for murder. He was hanged on June 20, 1806, and reportedly “met death with a smile.”
Newport Mercury. August 9, 1806
Via Newspaper Archive
- Cohen, Daniel A. “Homicidal compulsion and the conditions of freedom: the social and psychological origins of familicide in America’s early republic.” Journal of Social History, 1995. Accessed: November 10, 2018. https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Homicidal+compulsion+and+the+conditions+of+freedom%3a+the+social+and…-a017149965
- The Balance, and Columbian Repository Vol. V. Hudson: Sampson, Chittenden & Croswell, 1806
- Newport Mercury [Newport, Rhode Island]. August 9, 1806
- “Horrible Murder Near Clarksburg, Virginia.” Virginia Argus. November 23, 1805. Archived: http://archive.is/vIbY4