The first legal hanging in Gibson County, Indiana, took place on November 22, 1872, of a careless boy named Thomas Camp (“Kemp” by some early reports) l, ruined by an insupportable debt.
From the St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat of August 12, 1871, channeling a story published two days previous in the Evansville, Ind., Journal:
Great excitement prevailed in Haubstadt yesterday over the discovery of a murder that was perpetrated about two miles west of that place on Monday, the 31st of July. Persons arriving on the noon train yesterday, brought word of the affair, and a reporter for the Journal went up to investigate the case. From the confession of the murderer at the inquest, and from other evidence before the Coroner, the follwoing appears to be the story, for the full relation of which our reporter is indebted to the courtesy of Mr. Michael Ulsomer[?] of Haubstadt and others who were present at the inquest.
Some time during July the murderer, whose name is Kemp, bought a pair of ponies from a man named Bilderbeck, both being residents of Lynnville, Warrick county. Kemp was to pay for the ponies when he received a sum of money, which he represented was due him from a third person who was known to Bilderbeck as a reliable man.
A few days afterwards Bilderbeck […] the pretended debtor, and asked him about the debt […] he denied any indebtedness to Kemp whatever.
Bilderbeck as soon as possible […] Kemp and reproaching him with his dishonesty, threatened him with a prosecution for false pretenses if his debt was not at once paid or secured.
Kemp was very much alarmed at the threat of prosecution, and to conciliate Bilderbeck told him that he would try to get some money from a relative, named Chas. Monroe, whom he said lived near Stacers, a few miles south of Haubstadt, and representing that he would be more likely to get the money if Bilderbeck went with him, he induced him to accompany him. When they arrived at Haubstadt, Kemp called upon a son of the man whom he claimed as a relative, and it is said was discouraged in the project to get money from that source. He concealed this circumstance from Bilderbeck, and feigned to proceed on his journey. When the two left Haubstadt it was getting quite dark. Kemp took the road leading westward instead of southward, and when about two miles west of Haubstadt he pleaded fatigue as an excuse for going no further that night, he being on foot, while Bilderbeck was mounted on a mare. He also told Bilderbeck that Monroe kept savage dogs, and it would be dangerous to approach the house at night. Thus persuaded, Bilderbeck dismounted, and both lay down under a tree. Kemp says he watched until Bilderbeck was asleep, when he arose stealthily, and with a heaby club about two feet long, beat Bilderbeck about the head until he was dead. When the first blow was struck, Bilderbeck partly raised up, when a second blow stunned him, and the blows he continued until the victim’s life was battered out.
Having killed him, he set about concealing the crime, and to that end, he dragged the body further into the woods, and stripping it of the clothing, threw it into the bushy top of a fallen tree, throwing the shoes and pants in with it, and hanging the hat and shirt on a tree, took the coat with him, and, mounting the mare, rode off toward Poseyville, Posey county, where he traded the mare off for a horse, and returned to Lynnville, taking the murdered man’s saddle and coat with him.
When Bilderbeck’s absence was remarked, people naturally looked to Kemp to account for it, and he answered that the last he saw of him was that he drove off in a buggy with two other men when they were in the neighborhood of Poseyville. People were not well satisfied with the answer, but did not openly accuse him until some one discovered that he was in possession of Bilderbeck’s saddle and coat. This coming to the knowledge of Bilderbeck’s brother he at once demanded an explanation of Kemp, who still persisted in saying that he knew nothing of him, but on closer questioning acknowledged that he knew where the mare was, and after considerable urging and in the face of what looked ominously like a disposition to lynch him, he agreed to go with the brother and show him where the mare could be found.
They started in a hack, accompanied by a couple of neighbors, and arrived at Haubstadt about daylight yesterday, when, for the first time, the facts became known. On the way to Haubstadt Kemp’s story was considerably varied, and he admitted that Bilderbeck was dead, but denied having killed him, saying that he was killed by two members of a gang to which he belonged, and he named two persons whose reputation was such as to give some color of truth to the story.
At Haubstadt, where they stopped for breakfast, it is aid he admitted that he had killed Bilderbeck, but begged the man to whom he confessed not to reveal it, as he was sure the people would kill him, and his fear did not seem to be ill grounded when the story ran about among the people. His confession was not then made known, and he proceeded to the place where he traded off the mare, where a deputy sheriff of Posey county appeared, and taking Kemp aside, told him if he would confess and turn State’s evidence, it would be better for him. He then made a complete confession, volunteered to show where the body was concealed, and at once proceeded with the officers and attendants to where he had thrown it, and where the remains were found, the flesh having been devoured by the buzzards, except a little that still clung to the bones of the legs.
It will naturally be supposed that the witnesses of this were almost beside themselves with horror and indignation, but no violence was offered the wretch.
The party returned to Haubstadt with the remains. The inquest was held, the wretched Kemp, trembling with fear, made a full confession, during which the indignation of the people rose to a fearful hight [sic], but was wisely restrained, even the brother of the murdered man assisting to keep down the indignation.
Mr. Bilderbeck, the brother of the murdered man, afterwards confessed that it was with the greatest difficulty he resisted an impulse to shoot the murderer on the spot, although he could not countenance any interference by others.
At the close of the inquest the murderer was conveyed to Fort Branch, three miles distance, for examination before a justice, whence he was sent to Princeton to jail.
It is said that great excitement prevails in the neighborhood of Lynnville, where Bilderbeck lived, and where he leaves a wife and three children. He was about thirty-one years old, a farmer, and was much respected.
Kemp is only about nineteen years old, although he is married. He is small in stature and slight build, light complexion, and sandy-haired, smooth-faced, and said to be of tolerably fair countenance. He told a gentleman that he never thought of murder until he came to Haubstadt and found that his chance to get the money from Monroe was slim, when believing that he was in danger of going to the penitentiary for the fraud, he determined to kill Bilderbeck and thus get rid of his evidence.
The story, taken all together, is one of the most shocking that has occurred in thes parts, and ranks with the murder of Miss Carson and Lizzie Sawyer for brutality.
From the Terre Haute, Ind., Daily Wabash Express, April 22, 1872.
Camp, the murderer of Bilderbeck, who escaped from the Gibson county jail some time since, is now in jail, on a charge of horse-stealing, at Owensboro, Kentucky, and will be returned to his old quarters on this side of the Ohio.
From the Indianapolis Sentinel, July 26, 1872.
The trial of Thomas Camp for the murder of Belderbech [sic], is in progress at Princeton. The defense set up is insanity.
From the Indianapolis Sentinel, July 29, 1872.
The trial of Thomas Camp, for the murder of Haubstadt, was concluded at Princeton on Friday, the jury returning a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree.
From the Indianapolis Sentinel, August 23, 1872.
Mrs. Camp, mother of Thomas Camp (the murderer of Bilderbeck, who is now under sentence to be hung on the 4th of October), died at her residence in Warrick county on the 11th. Her death was caused by the shock to her system on learning of the sentence of her son. She was a highly respected, Christian lady.
From the Indianapolis Sentinel, November 25, 1872.
Princeton, Ind., November 22, 1872. — The execution of Thomas Camp for the murder of John R. Bilderbeck in August, 1871, took place here to-day. Early in the morning the Sheriff informed Camp that there was no hope of commutation of his sentence, the Governor having refused to stay the execution. For the first time the prisoner seemed to realize his terrible position. Turning to the Sheriff he said, with a faltering voice, “I suppose it must be so.” Being asked at what o’clock he would like the execution to take place, he said, “I am not particular; just use your own pleasure.” The hour chosen was 2 o’clock. At 1 the representatives of the press, and those persons to whom the Sheriff had given passes, were admitted to the jail yard. An enclosure had been erected around the yard to guard the terrible scene to be enacted from the public gaze. The clergymen in attendance, the Rev. John McMaster and the Rev. D.B. Baharree [sic: it’s T.G. Beharrel/Beharrell], together with a few others, were permitted to enter the jail for a short conversation with Camp. The latter we found standing in the doorway of his cell, nervously adjusting the white cottong loves with which he had been provided. He was clad in a full suit of black. His brother-in-law was with him, and had taken the prisoner’s directions for the disposal of his worldly effects, and his last messages to friends and relatives. At 1:50 the sheriff, the clergymen and physicians in attendance, and the reporters, formed the procession to accompany the doomed man to the scaffold. There was no hesitation in his tread. He stepped upon the planks like one who wished to be relieved from a long suspense. The boyish innocence of his face made it almost impossible to believe that he was the hardened wretch which the evidence in the trial proved him to be. At either side of him were the ministers.
ON THE SCAFFOLD.
The Rev. Mr. McMaster read in a clearly audible voice a portion of the fifty-first Psalm. An earnest prayer was then offered by the Rev. Baharrel, the prisoner kneeling, and following the services with calmness and attention. Immediately upon their conclusion, Camp stepped to the front of one platform, and said, with visible emotion:
My friends, I will speak a few words. I am now going to leave you. I confessed to a crime of which I am not guilty. I was there when the deed was committed. I hope to meet you all in heaven, where I hope to meet my mother.
At one minute past 2 Camp placed himself in front of the drop. His limbs were bound, and the usual black-cap drawn over his face. The fatal noose was adjusted, Camp stepped upon the trap, and a moment later he was dangling in the air. For about four minutes there was a slight contraction of the arms and legs, and two minutes later there was another trembling of the body. In about fifteen minutes the physicians pronounced pulsation to have ceased, and the body was lowered in the coffin. The face was calm and peaceful, and looked as if Camp had died without great suffering. The face was calm and peaceful, and looked as if Camp had died without great suffering. The remains were given to friends, and will be taken to Warrick county for burial. Camp had barely passed his twenty-first birthday. A few months before the crime for which he was hung was committed, he was married to a young wife, a person of unblemished character. Camp’s mother died of a broken heart in a month after his sentence was pronounced. Eighteen months ago he was himself a respectable, well-to-do young man, the owner of a good farm left to him by his father. But he fell into evil associations, and as a consequence lies in a murderer’s coffin. It is generally believed that he was not the only guilty party in the Bilderbeck murder. There are others who are being watched, and Camp’s partners in the crime may yet be brought to punishment.
Camp detailed his implausible non-confession in greater detail shortly prior to his execution; you can read about the alleged gang that made him murder his creditor in this two-parter posted to ancestry.com: part 1 | part 2
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