Friday, September 16, 2016

Elbin Lee McDougal, Bigamist

Thomas Albert Witt was born on 22 December 1877 in Putnam, West Virginia, to Elles Robert Witt and Emily Alice Billups. His paternal grandmother was Elizabeth "Betsey" (Beard) Witt, who was the granddaughter of my five times great grandfathers, Adam Beard (1725-1777) and Robert Mitchell (1714-1799).

Thomas grew up in Putnam County and became a farmer like his father. At the age of 33, he married Cora Bell (Martin) McDougal on 1 February 1911 and the couple had eight known children during the course of their marriage.

Cora Bell had been married previously to Elbin Lee MeDougal. They had five children between 1899 and 1909. Elbin worked as a sawyer, likely at a saw mill. The 1910 census which listed the McDougal family was taken on 7 May. However, just a couple of weeks earlier, on 20 April 1910, Elbin, using the name John L. McDougal, married Nancy Bennett on 20 April in Lexington, Kentucky. I'm not sure when he left Cora Bell and the children for good, but she was free to marry again in 1911.

Apparently, Elbin was more than a bit of a ladies' man and enjoyed being married. So much so he was married to three different women at the same time. I'm not sure how the women found out about each other, but eventually Elbin was convicted of bigamy and served time in jail. I will let The Big Sandy News article tell the story:


Ecker McDugal, Alias McKensie, charged with having three wives

ROANOKE, Va., Mar. 7 -- Described in letters from Louisa, Ky., as a ladies' man and active in church work, formerly of Ivorydale, Ohio, Edker McKinsey, 30 years old, said to be in the employ of the N. & W., was arrested here today on a warrent charging bigamy.

The arrest was made on information from Lawrence county, Ky., charging that McKinsey is Albin L. McDugal, who escaped from the Lawrence county jail, at Louisa, several years ago. According to information from Louisa, McDugal married Edna May Austin in Lawrence county, Ky., in August 1911 when he had a wife, who was Miss Nancy Bennett, living in Lawrence county, O., near Ironton, whom he is charged with having married Apr. 20, 1910.

Under the name of McKinsey the man arrested today married Mrs. Fannie Groves, a widowed daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Overstreet of Roanoke. -- Cincinnati Enquirer.

This much married and badly "wanted" man is now in the Lawrence county jail here. Sheriff Stone had been on his trail for some time, and when he was arrested in Roanoke the officer set about to bring him back to this county. The prisoner had an examining trial in Roanoke, however, and was released on bail. McDugal did not remain in Roanoke, but broke bail and fled.

Sheriff Stone was informed of this, and knowing that the man had relatives in Charleston, W. Va., so informed the detectives. McDugal was seen to get off the train in Charleston and was trailed to the residence of one of his kin. Two of his relatives occupied adjoining houses. The buildings were surrounded, and when the fugitive emerged from his hiding plance he was arrested. Sheriff Stone was informed of this and immediately went to Charleston for his man. McDugal at first demurred to coming back to Kentucky without a requisition, but finally consented to waive this formaility, and he and the Sheriff arrived here Monday night.[1]

Snippet of an article entitled "Circuit Court Hard at Work," The Big Sandy
17 April 1914; courtesy of the Library of Congress

On 16 April 1914 Elbin Lee McDougal pled guilty to the charges of bigamy for which the penalty was three to nine years confinement in the penitentiary.  His three wives attended the trial. His children by his marriage to Cora Bell Martin worked to get McDougal released from prison.

He married Minnie (Dawson) Fielder on 13 October 1918 in Mason County, West Virginia. She was a divorcee with four known children. This marriage did not work either. When the 1940 census was enumerated, Minnie lived with a daughter and told the enumerator she was a widow.

Elbin Lee McDougal; courtesy of FAG volunteer,
Bonnie Schermer

Elbin Lee McDougal died on 25 March 1943 at a hospital in Charleston, the city where he lived with his son, Osborne. He was interred at Spring Hill Cemetery in Charleston.

His wives were:

Cora Belle (Martin) McDougal Witt (1880-1957)
Nancy Bennett (about 1890-unknown)
Lilly Mae Austin (1890-1963)
Frances "Fannie" Freeman (Overstreet) Groves McDougal Terry (1884-1955)
Minnie (Dawson) Fielder McDougal (1879-1943)

[1] The Big Sandy News, Louisa, Larence County, Kentucky, March 13, 1914, page 1

Links are to Find A Grave


  1. It takes all sorts! He seems, at least, to have been good to his children.

    1. He must have been good to his children for them to work for his release and he lived with one just before he die

  2. I sometimes find the best stories in remote corners of my family tree, as this one was hidden in yours. My other thought is--looks like Fannie liked to marry also. Or if all those husbands died--maybe she was a black widow?

    1. My direct ancestors are pretty boring...but the people they married! Fannie bears more investigation that's for sure. There may be another story there.

  3. The black sheep are always the most fun to research!