January 10, 1909
Reverend John Carmichael is found fatally wounded days after killing and dismembering a man
On January 5, Rev. Carmichael told his wife and children he had business to attend in a church in Rattle Run, Michigan. Later the same day, the church was found to have been a scene of violence. Blood was splattered across the floor, communion table, pews, and pulpit, and scraps of clothing soaked in blood were strewn across the building. Also found were dismembered human remains in the church’s stove.
As there was no sign of the reverend, it was suspected he was the victim in the stove. This theory was bolstered when Carmichael’s wife identified a fragment of bloody trousers as belonging to her husband.
The only arrest made was that of a man named Frank Smith, who rented a room to a carpenter named Gideon Browning who was conspicuously missing. His whereabouts were quickly discovered, however: as authorities sifted through the ashes and other cremated remains in the stove they found a set of false teeth which were known to have belonged to Browning.
Authorities tracked Carmichael’s movements from Rattle Run to Carthage, Illinois, some 570 miles (920 km) southwest. There they found Carmichael, unconscious from a self-inflicted wound to his throat. It was estimated Carmichael had cut himself 90 minutes before authorities arrived. He was treated for his injuries but died from blood loss and exposure to the elements, without regaining consciousness.
Carmichael left behind a 10-page letter confessing to Browning’s murder. In the document, described by the Morning Register as “blood-curdling and fantastical,” Carmichael claimed he had killed Browning while under hypnotism administered by the victim.
According to the letter, Carmichael had met with Browning on the road at which point the latter asked the reverend to conduct a wedding ceremony. Browning was unaccompanied but assured Carmichael his bride and other companions would soon arrive, and the men went to the church. Inside, Browning sat “where gleams of light shone on his face and eyes were so brilliant that I thrilled through and through with the queerest sort of feeling.” Browning then announced he could command Carmichael to raise his hands against his will, whereupon Carmichael began to feel his hands rise.
“By this time I was in a cold sweat,” Carmichael continued in his letter. “I then leaned over to see if any one might be coming up the road, when he laughed again, and I saw he was holding a weapon of some sort up his sleeve. Instantly I made a grab for it and got the hatchet from him and asked him what he meant to do with it, and he said, ‘I’ll show you,’ and from his overcoat pocket he drew out a knife with each hand. He came at me striking with both hands, while I backed across the church. There was a desperate struggle in which I used the hatchet until he lay quiet. I cannot tell all that happened after that.
“When my eyes fell upon one of those knives, I flew into a rage and again began to cut him, when he woke up and grabbed me again. Then for a while I used the hatchet until I was sure he was dead. Then I saw that the fire was hot enough to make the stove pipe red nearly to the elbow, so I grabbed him up by the feet and dragged him down there and cut him to pieces, putting in each part as it was dismembered.”
The letter concluded with, “I am tired of trying to hide, though I have succeeded in eluding the detectives so far. If you get this while I am yet alive, come and get me. I shall not be far from Carthage, Illinois.”
Robinson, John. “Michigan murder: the 1909 gruesome discovery in Rattle Run Church.” WFMK. October 2, 2018. Accessed: January 7, 2021. https://99wfmk.com/rattle-run-2018/
Street, Arthur L. Street’s Pandex of the News. Quarterly Edition. January, February, March, 1909. Chicago: The Pandex Company, 1909. Digitized: https://books.google.com/books?id=Dbk5AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA59&lpg=PA59&dq=carmichael+%22gideon+browning%22+january+7&source=bl&ots=Lzi7b5uVxv&sig=ACfU3U2F212vAurxNZa1tz6cMJmxF5JpGg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjz6uq-8YjuAhXOK80KHUNBCaIQ6AEwCXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=carmichael%20%22gideon%20browning%22%20january%207&f=true
“Son’s Fate Causes Death.” Polk County News. March 11, 1909
“Confesses Murder; Cuts His Throat.” The San Francisco Call. January 12, 1909
“That Tragedy Of The Church.” Morning Register [Eugene, Oregon]. January 12, 1909
“Carmichael’s Letter To Wife Shows Premediation.” Port Huron Daily Times. January 12, 1909
“Confesses Murder; Cuts His Throat.” San Francisco Call. January 12, 1909
“Identification Impossible.” El Paso Morning Times. January 8, 1909
“Carmichael Mystery Involves Carpenter.” El Paso Morning Times. January 8, 1909
“Dead Man Browning; Carmichael Missing.” Stockton Daily Evening Records. January 8, 1909
“Minsisted Fugitive Not Murdered?” The Hartford Courant. January 8, 1909
“Police Search For Clergyman Believed Dead.” The Pittsburgh Post. January 8, 1909