Murder or Suicide, An Unanswered Question

by James Rada, Jr.

Elmer K. Buhrman hadn’t heard from his son, Melvin Cletus Buhrman, over the weekend of January 19-21, 1923. It was unusual because Melvin’s house in Foxville didn’t have running water. He had to visit his father’s house regularly to fill buckets and bottles with water.

Elmer walked the 500 feet between the two houses and knocked on the door. When there was no answer, he tried the doorknob. The door was locked. He used his key to enter the house, thinking he would fill up the buckets with water to help Cletus.

Inside, he found Cletus sprawled on the floor dead from a shot through the chest. Elmer ran back to his house and called the police and a doctor. Dr. E. C. Kefauver drove up from Thurmont and examined the body.

Dr. Kefauver deduced that Buhrman had pressed the butt of a 20-guage shotgun against the wall and the barrel against his chest. Then he had used a stick to pull the trigger. Death was instantaneous.

Melvin had last been seen Friday afternoon on January 19, so he died somewhere between that time and the time Elmer found his son.

For the doctor, it was a clear case of suicide. Justice Robert Cadow didn’t even call for an inquest in the case.

However, rumors soon spread through Foxville. “While no evidence indicating that the young man had been murdered had been brought to light, persons living in the neighborhood of his home declare considerable mystery surrounds the circumstances of his death and the tragedy has been the sole theme of conversation in the mountain town since the body was found,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

The fact that Elmer hadn’t heard the killing shot when he lived so close to his son made people suspicious.

Although Melvin was found in a locked room, doubters pointed out that a key was found on the ground outside of the house. The killer could have entered the home, killed Melvin, and locked the door behind him.

Despite the rumors, States Attorney Aaron R. Sanders said that no investigation of murder had been performed or even asked for. Sheriff James Jones was asked why he hadn’t investigated the death. He said the same thing that Anders had.             

Officials seemed to believe the suicide resulted from domestic problems. “It is thought that worry over his domestic affairs caused him to end his life,” the Frederick News reported.

Melvin had been living alone for the previous three weeks after his wife, Lillian, left him with their two children. He had married his wife six years earlier when she was just 13 years old.

The Frederick News reported, “Friday morning Buhrman went there [to his in-laws’ home] and choked his wife severely during a quarrel, in which he is said to have threatened her life if she did not return.” Lillian broke away from her husband, ran into the house, and locked herself inside.

While this supported the suicide story, it also provided a motive for anyone in Lillian’s family to have killed Melvin.

Melvin was buried in the Mount Moriah Lutheran Church Cemetery in Foxville. Meanwhile, the rumors lingered, although it never reached a point where the Buhrmans asked for an investigation or the sheriff felt the need to investigate.

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