Friday, January 8, 2016

Farm Hand, Fisherman and Arsonist

Norman David Crain was born on 13 July 1899 in Cornland, Illinois, to David and Beatrice Elnora "Nora" (Turley) Crain. They had been married three years and Norman was their second child. The young family lived on a farm David Crain owned in 1900. David's mother lived with them.

Ten years later David Crain had died and Nora moved with her young boys to East Sharon Township, Illinois. She didn't work and, according to the census, she lived off her own income. By 1918 Norman's brother, Eugene, had married and had a young son. In 1920 Norman lived in Vandalia, Illinois, with his mother and a woman named May, who was listed as Nora's daughter-in-law. Norman worked as a laborer at a paper mill.

In 1921 Nora married Asa Greer and Norman apparently struck out on his own and life got just a little bit interesting. On 27 July 1931 Norman was fishing along the banks of the Kaskaskia river. Nearby two families were having a Sunday afternoon picnic, enjoying the fine weather. Two young girls stepped into the river to go wading. Suddenly they disappeared. One of the fathers plunged into the river and was able to save one girl. Twenty minutes later, Norman recovered the other girl's body.

In 1937 Norman Crain and two other men were indicted on arson charges and bound over for trial. Bail was set at $2,500 for each man. Norman posted bail and was released from jail until his trial. In a signed confession Norman and his accomplice stated that prominent Vandalia farmer, John Howell, bribed them to torch one of his houses. Howell denied the accusation. The two men had failed in two attempts when neighbors rushed to the scene of the fire and doused the flames. For their third attempt Howell supposedly provided gasoline to sprinkle in the attic. This time they were successful. Charges were dropped against the two alleged arsonists after a jury found John Howell not guilty.

24 November 1937 Decatur Review; courtesy of

In 1940 Norman lived with a woman enumerated in the census as his wife named Frances Crain and worked as a laborer for the Works Progress Administration. Frances was born Fannie Wilburn Woods on 12 April 1888 in Giles County, Virginia. She had married Roy Edward Tinsley in 1908 and they had three daughters before moving to Ohio and then to Illinois, following construction work where Roy operated a crane. Sometime after 1933 he abandoned his family, leaving for work one day and never returning.

In 1958 Norman's brother, committed suicide. It was believed he was despondent over the death of his wife a few month's before following a long illness. Eugene left a large estate of over $100,000 and apparently changed his will not long before his death. In it he left everything to his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Norman and his mother, Nora, filed suit seeking to overturn the will. They claimed that Eugene was not of a sound mind when he changed the will. Their lawsuit did not prevail.

Norman suffered a heart attack while shopping at Montgomery Ward in Pana, Illinois, on 22 December 1960. He was declared dead on arrival when the ambulance arrived at the local hospital. His mother survived him and made clear in his obituary that he had never married.

Norman David Crain obituary; courtesy of
member loisbranch

Norman and Frances did not remain together and Frances eventually moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, to be near one of her daughters. She died in 1972. I am not related to anyone in this story, but am connected in a slight way to Fannie Wilburn (Woods) Tinsley. Her husband, and the father of her three children, had married my second cousin twice removed, Connie A Padgett, in 1899. They had a daughter named Annie before Roy Edward Tinsley disappeared.

The Padgett family. Connie is standing in the back row fourth from the
left; courtesy of

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