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Murder in Paradise

Always interested in researching historical events in hopes of gaining new insight and understanding.

“Hogs running loose on the Ridge belonged to anyone, but as law and order came, they were the cause of several killings and endless lawsuits. Judge Riddle of Davidson Co. threw many such cases out of court declaring that Paradisers must fight it out among themselves.”(1). Such was one description of a “remote spur of the Cumberland Mountains…, called Paradise Ridge, Tennessee, and christened Joelton in the early part of the twentieth century. The bucolic setting was named after two brothers with the last name Paradise who, sometime after 1815, “crossed the mountains from North Carolina,” and began to establish the area. The beauty of the rural location that is now Joelton seems a juxtaposition to the early reputation as wild and lawless with local characters like Rattlesnake Bill and the winding section of SR 431 known as Devil’s Elbow.

(1) Ashworth, Herbert Ray, ed. "Family Gatherings." Compiled by Kathryn F. Henneberg. "Ansearchin" News27 (June/July 1980): 71.

“It was 9:30 o’clock on the night of March 23 that Squire E.A (E.H.). Simpson walked out of his door to fetch a pail of water and saw about a mile east of his dwelling, in the twenty-fourth district of Davidson County, a broad tongue of flame darting up in the blackness that enveloped the spot where a few hours before had stood the home of Jacob Ade,” reported the Tennessean on October 20, 1897. Squire Simpson’s property was close in proximity to the approximately four-hundred-acre Jacob Ade family farm. According to newspaper reports, Simpson was the first to see and respond to the blaze, and another neighbor Archie Thomas was the second at the scene. While the foundational facts of the article seem plausible, some of the accounts attributed to Squire Simpson reads like poorly crafted fiction with the aim to sell newspapers and then the articles for syndication in newspapers throughout the United States.

Nashville was preparing for the opening of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition to recognize the one-hundredth anniversary of Tennessee statehood when the headline Killed and then Cremated appeared in The Nashville American on Thursday, March 26, 1897. This article and similar articles were syndicated across the United States. Words like happy and humble were used by the journalist to describe the L-shaped, five-room home where the bodies of Johan Jacob Ade, 57, his wife Paulina, 50, both natives of Germany, their daughter Lizzie, 18, and a young neighbor Rosa Moirer, 10, died. The victims were found in a room adjacent to the kitchen that was described as a sitting room that may have doubled as the bedroom of Jacob and Paulina Ade and the room had an exterior door that opened to a side porch. Neighbors speculated that there was a knock at the door, that Jacob Ade answered it and was immediately killed and this began the melee. (2) However, the killers may have been waiting for him upon his return from Nashville around dusk and then led him into the house at gun or knifepoint. The sound of gunfire at that time of the evening would have alerted some neighbors in advance of the intention to kill everyone in the Ade house.

(2) “The Neighbors are of One Opinion”, The Nashville American, March 25, 1897

The following day, an additional search of the ashes exposed the badly charred body of Ade's son Henry, 13, among the ashes. Rosa Ade, 25, a middle daughter of Jacob and Paulina Ade, had married two months earlier and was living in Nashville with her husband, Lawrence Hehir, and her youngest sibling who was about 10, Dora Pauline. Two other Ade daughters, Anna 23, and Emma 27 escaped death because they were living and working in Nashville.

The fire that would have been described as an unfortunate accident quickly turned to whispers about the murder when it was realized that Rosa Moirer’s body was mostly intact but was missing part of her skull by what appeared to be an object like an ax. According to an article on the crime in The Nashville American March 26, 1897, the bodies of all of the victims were buried on what was the Ade property and this area was later marked by a large, granite-style tombstone that stands today to acknowledge the victims and the crime.

Speculation about the killers and the motive ran wild throughout Middle Tennessee, especially in Davidson and Cheatham County because the Ade property bordered Cheatham County. Newspapers were hungry for each morsel of information about the sensational and seemingly senseless crime. Salacious headlines like “Tramps Burned a House and BloodHounds are in Pursuit” and “Killed and Then Cremated”. Robbery soon became the common and strongest motive for the crime. This theory was based on local knowledge that Jacob Ade was at the bank in Nashville the day of his death to withdraw approximately two-hundred dollars to loan to a neighbor, Tom Williams. (3) Part of Rosa Ade Hehir’s statement that was recounted by The Nashville American was that the money was exchanged at the Nashville courthouse. Then her father dined with her, his new son-in-law Lawrence Hehir, and presumably young Dora Ade at the Hehir home on McClemore Street in Nashville. Jacob Ade would have been traveling by horsepower as he made his way the ten or so miles back to the farm with the final mile a trek along a branch of Clarksville Road that led to the Ade farm.

(3) “Jacob Ade Was in Nashville Monday”, The Nashville American, March 25, 1897.

By all accounts, Jacob Ade was allied with the local German immigrant community and was both industrious and generous. Integrated around the German community was also a community of Italian immigrants. Roughly ten years earlier, Jacob Ade hired twenty-two-year-old Aleck Gholma as a farmhand and the 1880 Census lists Aleck Cholma, a native of Italy, as living at the farm. He was a self-made man who was “considered rich by the truck gardeners and small farmers among whom he lived... A roll of money partially burned was found in an oyster can in the ruins.” as quoted in an article from The Butte Weekly Miner.

Most of Jacob Ade’s wealth appears to have been in the value of his land, his livestock, and grain. An inventory of the items remaining at the farm was performed by the administrator of the estate Lawrence Hehir who was recently married to Rosa Ade. According to the inventory, the items remaining at the farm included “2 mules, 2 cows, 2 horses, 2 heifers, 53 chickens, 6 geese, 1 cider mill, 2 wheat cradles, 4 plows, 15 bins corn, 8 tons of loose hay, 1 farm bell, 26 pigs, 1 hay baler, 1 sow pig, 3 pitchforks, 1 hay rake, 2 mowing blades, 1 saw, 1 cultivator, 1 (2) horse wagon, 1 express wagon, 150 bundles of fodder, 1 sulky plow, 1 set harness, 1 set saddle & bridle and 58/1000 or 558/1000 dollars in coin. I found he had $25 in the bank which was the property of his daughter, Rosa Hehir. The within is a true and perfect inventory of all the goods and chattels, rights and credits of the estate of Jacob Ade deceased which have come to my hands, knowledge, or possession to the best of my belief.”

There is no mention in the inventory of the shepherd dog that was given to Jacob Ade by his neighbor and later one of the accused in the crime, Ed Anderson. “At the time the tragedy occurred, considerable mention was made of a shepherd dog, the only survivor of the crime.” per the article In the Ade Case that appeared in The Tennessean on April 4th, 1897. The shepherd dog was of lineage from two wild dogs who “had taken up together in a cave up the Cumberland River...both were in a wild state, having been away from civilization so long that they had entirely forgotten the teaching of domesticity, and were as fierce as wolves.” Hunters found the den, drove the male dog away, and killed the female to get to the pups. One pup who was said in the same article to have “inherited the fierceness of his ancestry, came into possession of Ed Anderson who gifted it to Jacob Ade. If so and in a day and time where dogs were kept outside, he would have either been restrained, indicating more than one participant in the crime, or familiar with the perpetrators.

Three days after the tragic event, an $1150 reward was offered to the “Apprehender of the Murderers…” which is approximately $35000 by the standard of 2019. This sum was a fortune for most people, and it did influence some people to make false accusations to receive the reward. For example, consider the case of George Newland who died of Tuberculosis in the Davidson County jail at the age of twenty-five and he was buried in the county potters field. Jointly indicted with Thomas O’Brien, George Newland was short on education and common sense and did time in the penitentiary for cattle theft, a crime that he denied to his cellmate Joe Tassey until he slipped into unconsciousness and died. (4) This is in league with a younger brother, Bridge Newland, and a younger sister, Mrs. Bettie Hancock, who remembered circa 1901 that their brother George was one of the murderers.

(4) “To Prove an Alibi”, The Tennessean, November 24, 1901.

The stories of the Newland siblings prompted Squire Simpson and the local mail carrier to remember that they’d seen Newland in the area on the day of the crime. Soon after, a host of individuals remembered either seeing Newland or O’Brien in the area the day of the crime and with cash sometime later. Newland grew up in the area, married one week before the murders, and at least six witnesses, including an attorney, testified that they were with him north of Nashville in Springfield at the time of the crime. Once told, it would have been difficult for the witnesses to recant their stories but by 1902 it was widely known that the oyster tin of burned money and coin was found amongst the charred ruins of the Ade home.

After the death of George Newland, Thomas O’Brien was acquitted due to circumstantial evidence, and the testimony of all other defendants since the trials began shortly after the crime in 1897. All defendants were left to collect their lives and live with the stigma of once having been considered a participant in what was considered a genocide. In this instance, the Sheriff of Davidson county, J.D. Sharp, and his deputies, appear to have perpetrated another form of genocide by destroying lives as they desperately tried to pin the crime on any viable or inviable candidate to appease the public.

Rosa Moirer’s father Henry Moirer, while still in mourning for the death of his daughter, along with locals Lee Hunter, Jim Elliott, and Ed Anderson due to a dispute with Jacob Ade about the ownership of some hogs, was accused, arrested, and tried for the ghastly crime. Before his arrest but aware that he was a suspect, an angry Henry Moirer “threatened Deputy Sheriff Sam Borum’s life...if that officer came about his house.”(5) The Tennessean reported the drama of the arrest as the Cheatham County Constable rode to the Moirer property in the evening to read aloud the subpoena. As Henry Moirer walked toward the front gate of his property to hear the details of the subpoena, Sam Borum sprung out from behind a stack of wood planks near the path and “covered him with a .45 calibre Winchester rifle.” Henry Moirer exclaimed “Damn you, it’s a good thing you came this way,” meaning he believed he was prepared for a violent confrontation with two shotguns and a rifle ready for use. After the acquittal of the four men due to insufficient evidence and motive, the Henry Moirer family packed up and moved to Texas.

(5) “Grand Jury Investigates”, The Tennessean, October 26, 1897

The history of the State of Tennessee is riddled with violent arguments like the one about the hogs mentioned in the introductory paragraph of this article. Much is made of the “good ole days’ but cast your eyes upon the front page of any newspaper of the era and homicide seems to have been woven into the fabric of daily life.

What became known as the Cane Creek Massacre, or the Mormon Massacre, occurred on August 10, 1884, in Lewis County, Tennessee near Hohenwald. Heightened tensions which culminated in the death of five men in just one of the many documented episodes of violence against Church of Latter Days Saints missionaries. Mormon missionaries had fanned out across Middle Tennessee as part of the Mormon Southern Mission that began around 1834 through 1848 but began again in earnest as the missionaries increased their proselytizing in 1870. “There was also being circulated all over the country at the time and probably in Tennessee “A Handbook On Mormonism”...as part of the preaching of the Mormon restored Gospel.

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“Feeling was bitter and strong prejudice will always exist against the so-called Mormon Religion.” is a synopsis of the feelings of the local community in Lewis County, Tennessee and is the first-hand account of the massacre by Katie Cooper in 1938 as transcribed by Mrs. Lillie L. Skelton as appeared in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly Vol XVII March 1958. To the same degree, Katie Cooper could have included the entirety of the State of Tennessee. Continuing her reminisces of the events preceding the massacre “The writer certainly has nothing against any Mormon personally and the good people of Lewis Cunty had naught against these elders and had they not undertaken to teach and practice polygamy all would have passed along smoothly, and no innocent blood would ever have been shed.” Katie Cooper describes a group of fifteen well-educated and well-dressed Mormon missionaries who came to Lewis County to explain to the residents that it is “alright to have a dozen or so wives and many other things too repulsive to mention in a real civilized neighborhood…seems that these preachers sought a remote place for their exploitations such as the headwaters of Cane Creek in Lewis County at that time.”

Another example of Mormon violence is the murder of John Dempsey on August 15, 1900, in Logan County, West Virginia. The 41-year-old Dempsey, a Mormon, left his home astride a mule to seek medical help for his wife and infant daughter. He was shot and killed near his property that bordered the property of Thomas Clark, a Campbellite preacher.

“...Jacob Ade, a Mormon...” appeared as the intro to several syndicated articles that appeared across the United States in the days after the murders in March of 1897. As a Christian and a kind and generous man, it is likely that Jacob Ade housed one or more of the Mormon missionaries that came through Paradise Ridge and the environs during the waning days of the Mormon Southern Mission. Further, Jacob Ade would have stood on principle to his right to live as he chose and as he believed, whether or not he merely housed the Mormons to create a local rumor or whether he did, in fact, convert to Mormonism. In doing so, he signed his death warrant and that of the others in the home on March 23, 1897, as at least two persons came to eradicate Jacob Ade and his seed and his influence in yet another episode of the Mormon violence of the epoch.

Inquiring minds may want to know that the surviving Ade daughter Emma moved to Texas where she married Charles Seibert in a Christian ceremony. The Seiberts built a life in Lafayette, Arkansas, and Emma died and was buried there in 1940. Research indicates that Anna Ade married a man with the last name Reid and remained in Nashville until her death around 1940. The youngest daughter Paula Pauline Ade married Charles Stewart in Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee in May 1906.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Sharon R Hill