The following story is not a happy one for the holidays.
Back on December 20, 1915, in Girard an unfortunate event occurred at the restaurant belonging to H. O. Phelps on First Street near the 14th Street Bridge. Phelps had an altercation that led to a shooting – and a death – during the week of Christmas. The family of Frank Herman had to bury their loved one in Girard Cemetery the next day.
Phelps, the proprietor of the restaurant, spent a night in jail in the county facility in Seale after being arrested by the Girard City Marshall. A trial was set for the very next day, but was delayed a week after Russell County Judge Weaver listened to lawyers representing both sides in the case. Phelps was released on $3,000 bond. He spent the Christmas holiday with his family.
Herman, who had been drinking before he went to Phelps’ restaurant, ordered food and then refused to pay for the order. Phelps insisted Herman pay. Herman threw off his coat as he prepared to fight over the matter. When he made a motion that made Phelps believe he was reaching for a weapon, Phelps grabbed his own and fired. His shot hit Herman in the chest and he died in the restaurant almost immediately, according to witnesses to the event. Herman did not spend the Christmas holiday with his family unless there were others of his kin interred in the Girard Cemetery.
The final decision on the case was made on Wednesday, January 5, 1916, after another delay due to the court’s holiday schedule. The articles about the event and resulting trial appeared in the December 23, 1915 and January 6, 1916 editions of The Phenix-Girard Journal. Those two articles follow:
Frank Herman Instantly Killed, Was shot by H.O. Phelps at the Latter’s Restaurant in Upper Girard Monday Evening
Frank Herman, a well-known young man of Girard, was shot and instantly killed by H. O. Phelps at the latter’s restaurant on First street, near the upper bridge, about 5:30 o’clock Monday afternoon.
It was stated by eye witnesses that Herman, who was drinking at the time, went to the Phelps place and bought something, and then refused to pay for it. The proprietor insisted on his paying, when, it is said, Herman threw off his coat and wanted to fight, at the same time making a motion to draw a weapon from his hip pocket; when he did this, Phelps, then had a pistol, fired once, the bullet entering Herman’s breast and he fell to the floor, and died almost instantly.
City Marshal Oaks arrested Phelps and placed him in jail, where he remained until Tuesday, when he was taken before Judge Weaver for a preliminary trial, he being represented by Hon. W. E. Morgan, C. F. McLaughlin and F. M. deGraffenried, while the state was represented by Solicitor B. dcG. Waddell.
After discussing the matter, it was decided to postpone the trial until next Tuesday, Phelps being allowed to make bond in the sum of $3,000 for his appearance at that time. He made the. bond and was released.
Herman had served time in the Alabama penitentiary for a felony, having been charged with the. murder of Bud Newman, an old man, this offense occurring on October 9, 1908, and for which he drew a sentence of ten years, and was later released from the penitentiary by executive clemency. The offense described occurred in lower Girard, near; the school house on top of the hill.
Frank Herman was a young man, having been but little over 30 years of age. He had relatives in both the Twin Cities and in Columbus, and other than these he is survived by his mother, Mrs. Mary Jane Herman and three sisters, Mrs. C, Bassette, Mrs. Thos. Monk and Miss Nellie Herman, all of Girard.
The funeral was held at the Herring & Knight’s chapel in Columbus at 3 o’clock Tuesday afternoon,- being conducted by Rev. R. S. Woods of the Methodist church, the interment being in Girard cemetery.
THE CASE AGAINST PHELPS DISMISSED
The case of manslaughter in the first degree against H. O. Phelps, who was charged with killing Frank Herman on Monday evening, December 20th, was dismissed by Judge Weaver fat the preliminary hearing given Phelps yesterday at the city hall in Girard.
Phelps, who was under a bond of $3,000, was represented by Messrs. W. Earl Morgan, of Girard, F. M. deGraffenried of Seale, and C. F. McLaughlin of Columbus, while the state’s interests were in the hands of County Solicitor Waddell, of Seale.
The evidence given at the trial was to the effect that Phelps acted in self-defense.
Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.