In a Bible at my grandfather’s house I came across a newspaper clipping. I have no idea who the man in the story was, and what relationship—if any—he had to my family. For some reason strange reason, though, my grandparents felt compelled to hold onto the clipping for over 50 years.
I’m holding onto it, too, because now it is connected to my family, through me. It’s also something amusing to read, if only for the writing style, and the way it treats the subject of a man’s death.
PADUCAH, Dec. 12—After 17 years of battles with the law, Melvin Karman Kelsey was buried this morning with no friends to mourn him or even claim his body.
The 41 year old Texan, who died beneath the crumbling wall of a downtown Paducah building when an explosion demolished it Friday, was buried in the county cemetery at Lone Oak.
There was no service. Expense of the burial will be borne by McCracken county.
Kelsey’s wife, Hazel, who lives in Kerryville, Texas, did not claim the body. She asked instead that the county bury him here.
For Kelsey, who had been on one police blotter or another since 1934, it was a sad end. Only a couple of months ago he and two companions under indictment for burglary, escaped after a running gun battle with two detectives in San Antonio.
When he was pulled from beneath the heap of brick and rubble that killed him, he didn’t have a penny in his pockets. He didn’t even have any identification, although Social Security cards in his pocket would have enabled him to establish any of three identities.
He finally was identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington by fingerprints taken by Capt. Lyle Molloy of the Paducah Police Department.
Major Tilghman Tade, chief of detectives, said this morning he is trying to learn where Kelsey was staying in Paducah. There may be some belongings or burglary tools that police would like to have, he said.
Officers are working on the possibility of picking up four companions of Kelsey, although it is considered unlikely they stayed here after the explosion.
I can’t find any information online about Mr. Kelsey. He seems to have faded from memory, save for this yellowed clipping concerning his sad fate. Nonetheless, here are some interesting facts and questions.
- Lone Oak is the town where my grandparents lived, a kind of suburb to Paducah, and where I was born. I’m sure the local connection is part of why it was saved.
- What kind of explosion brought down the building? Was it planned demolition, or something else?
- Why would the Paducah PD send off his fingerprints to the FBI? I’m guessing it was his multiple identities, but how would they know that? He could’ve just stolen the Social Security cards along with wallets.
- For that matter, why wasn’t this treated as an accidental death? He could have been a homeless man taking shelter in an abandoned building.
- I’ve extrapolated the article’s date to be 1951, based on the years listed for Mr. Kelsey’s career. Curiously enough, 1951 is the year that work began on Paducah’s nuclear facility, leading to the city rechristening itself “The Atomic City”.
- Paducah was trying desperately to recover from a devastating flood in 1937, and was willing to do whatever was needed to bring jobs and cash back to the economy. It wrangled a deal to be a nuclear site; that wasn’t too difficult, since Vice President Alben Barkley was from Paducah (and is buried in the same cemetery as my grandparents).
- Of course, now Paducah is the site of some controversial nuclear cover-ups.
- Could this be a Kiss Me Deadly scenario? Did Kelsey and his companions steal something bigger than themselves?
- If so, was it recovered? Or did my grandfather know something about it. Did he know Kelsey somehow, and let him and his gang hide out in Lone Oak?
I’ll need to think about this. I’m certainly open to your suggestions.