This episode focuses on the tragic death of Lucille H (Cain) Mitchell and the people impacted by her untimely death. Inspired by an episode of Kindred Spirits where they discover the story of John Mitchell and his wife Lucille. I uncover the details of her death, the struggle for John as a tuberculosis patient at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, and the "criminal" that perhaps got away with manslaughter. The genealogy of the Mitchell family, as well as the criminal in this case, are detailed in this first episode of The Criminal Genealogist.
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Sources used for this episode, mainly from Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com.
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Today's case was inspired by an episode of Kindred Spirits, which is a show hosted by Amy Bruni and Adam Berry on the Travel Channel (and Discovery Plus). It follows them as they investigate homes and buildings that are suspected of being haunted. Now while this isn't a paranormal podcast, this story captured me because of the history and the people involved. What I love about their show is the history and research they do on the property, the building, and the land, as well as the history of the area. I know they do this on all these types of shows, but they do a great job of really telling someone's story. As a professional genealogist, I thrive on the history and details from these shows and wanted to jump in and do my own research.
In this episode from Season 3 (Episode 5), they visited the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, KY located in Jefferson County. The original sanatorium opened in 1910 as a two-story hospital to accommodate 40 to 50 tuberculosis patients. The outbreak in the area required the need for new buildings to be constructed so small wood buildings were built over the years, but the need for constant repair and more room for patients prompted the construction of the current building. Construction started in March of 1924 and was completed and opened on October 17, 1926. The building is 5 stories tall, 180,000 SF with 500 beds, and housed 1000s of people over the years. After the discovery of an antibiotic to fight TB in 1943, the cases started to dwindle and in 1961, Waverly Hills closed its doors. Any remaining patients were transferred to a smaller facility to continue treatments. The building was reopened in 1962 as Woodhaven Geriatric Center and closed by the state in 1982. I believe it also housed mental patients during this time, one source stated the top floor of Waverly Hills was for the mentally disabled patients. Now it serves as a tourist attraction for paranormal investigators.
During the episode of Kindred Spirits, they discover a story about a patient named John T Mitchell. As they told the story based on their research, it was stated John's wife, Lucille was killed by a man "she had taken up with" in September 1946. The man, Charles Chester Cureton was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter. The article they quoted stated that John had been at Waverly Hills for the last 3 years for TB treatment and had to go back for more treatments so he would have to ask the state to care for his 7 children. He was allegedly in room 424 where the paranormal action was occurring. They also stated that John died in 1959 of TB and implied he died at Waverly Hills, or that is how I took it.
So here is what my research found. I think the most important thing to clarify and clear up is that Lucille Mitchell was not taking up with a man. She had actually filed for divorce in January of that same year, 1946, from John Mitchell. The case number was 292784 according to a local newspaper, the Courier-Journal, in their issue dated January 16, 1946, in the section listing suites filed. We don't know the circumstances of their life so we can't speculate, but they were separated and in the process of divorce. I am sure with 7 children and him in Waverly Hills, it made it hard for the process to get completed. Another thing implied on the show was that he died at Waverly; this is not true. More on that later.
Before I get into the genealogy of this family, let's talk about what happened to Lucille Mitchell in the early morning hours of September 14, 1946. According to a newspaper article from The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), Mrs. Mitchell had gone out that night with Mrs. Elsie Young and they arrived home around 2:30 in the morning. Mrs. Young was staying the night with Mrs. Mitchell so she was there when Charles C Cureton came knocking shortly after asking Mrs. Mitchell to come out with him. She recalled he said his name was Bill. Another woman living in the home, Mrs. Ruth Sands, said that Charles had come to the house earlier in the night looking for Mrs. Mitchell and when he found out she wasn't there, he asked Mrs. Sands out. Mrs. Sands told the police that Mr. Cureton had been to the house a few days prior and hit Mrs. Mitchell on the arm. The police confirmed bruising on her arm. Mr. Cureton was arrested for Manslaughter the next day and said that he and Mrs. Mitchell were coming home around 3:45 am from a cafe and he slapped her with the palm of his hand. He stated she later fell but appeared to be ok so he left her on the lawn and went home. He said they had been dating for the last 6 months. Lucille was found by her neighbor, Mrs. Sadie Rankins, in Mrs. Rankins's front yard. She told police she had heard an argument and some groans outside sometime after 3 am; Mr. Cureton denied there was any argument. (commentary here).
The article also states that Mrs. Mitchell was living with 5 of her children at the time of her death, ranging from 18 years old (married daughter) to 10 years old. Her two youngest children, ages 5 and 7 at the time, were living with grandparents. Just for reference the address that Mrs. Mitchell was living at was the same one she lived with Mr. Mitchell. This is important later.
It also stated that John told them that he has been at Waverly Hills Sanatorium for treatments for the last 3 years. Another article states that he told them he had to go BACK for treatments, so it is unclear if he was just home because of her death or had been back home prior. He also states he would have to ask the state to care for his children as they indicated in the show.
The manslaughter case did go to trial after the Grand Jury indicted Charles Cureton in October 1946 and in December of 1946, a jury acquitted Mr. Cureton of Manslaughter. Unfortunately, those were all the details of the trial I could find online. Still hoping to get the case file from Jefferson County, but did not have it prior to recording this episode.
I'm focusing on Lucille and John for this episode since the "criminal" was acquitted and honestly, I think their story is more interesting. However, I did want to add that Mr. Cureton went on to get married several times after his acquittal (and prior) (at least 5 or 6 times that I found, at least 3 ending in divorce and 2 in death). Interestingly, he was married on Oct 11, 1946, just a month after Mrs. Mitchell's death! (commentary here)
Get this though....his wife's surname name was Mattingly. The same surname of the current owners of the Waverly Hills Sanatorium! What are the odds??? Anyway, I digress. Charles had a son the next August 1947 with his new wife. Overall he had 3 sons (2 with her, 1 previously) according to his obit that survived him; he died in 1991, age 73 while living in FL with his 5th or 6th wife Norma whom he had married just a few years prior in March 1989. And apparently, his nickname was "Bill" as the witness had stated he called himself the night of Lucille's death. Now that makes more sense. He was a retired truck driver and served in the Army in WWII. I did find that in 1956 he was charged in a hit and run where a 6-year-old boy was hit. Charles said he didn't realize he had hit anything. No further details on the outcome of that, but my assumption is he served no time for that. Charles could indeed be his own episode but onto the Genealogy of the Mitchell's
John Tandy Mitchell was born April 28, 1904, in Carroll County, KY to James Luther Mitchell (though he is listed in the 1920 census as Robert?) and Daisy May Tilley. He was one of 6 kids, having 3 sisters and 2 brothers.
Lucille Hycianth Cain was born 03 AUG 1912 in Brandenburg, Meade, Kentucky to William R Cain and Lillian Bessie Prather. She had 2 younger siblings Mildred and Robert and a 1/2 brother James Curl. Lucille's dad died in 1918 when she was 6 years old and her siblings were 4 and 1. Her mom remarried Ben Curl three years later in 1921. We know that Lucille died in 1946 and on her death certificate it states she had a cerebral hemorrhage, likely from either a blow to the head or when she fell she hit it.
John and Lucille were married on June 4, 1927, in Indiana just over the state line from where they lived in Louisville, KY. John was 23 and the marriage record states she is 17, which is shocking enough but the marriage record says she was born in 1910....nope, she was born in 1912 according to vital records and census records so she would have been 15!
John and Lucille had 7 children born from 1928 to 1941.
Lily Mae, James William, Robert Tandy, Oma Jean, Melvin D, Barbara Rose, and John Keith. John Keith, the baby of the family died just a couple of months ago in April 2021 but his obituary states that he is survived by one brother, Melvin D Mitchell.
As stated previously, Lucille filed for divorce in January of 1946.
After Lucille's death, it was assumed that the children either went to State care or with family, but it may have been more likely that they lived with their dad. Yes, he stated that he had to go back for treatment, but this was 1946. The antibiotic to treat TB had been out 3 years by then so my guess is he was treated and able to come back home. Remember that address where Lucille was living at the time of their death? 2413 Columbia? Well John T Mitchell is living at that same address after Lucille's death, which was the house they lived in together as well. There are no records online to indicate the children ever went to state care or guardianship established with someone else either. This doesn't mean it didn't happen but there is no indication that occurred and clearly, John was back in that same home.
John remarried in 1949 to Laura Buckman; his address on the marriage license is listed as 2413 Columbia in Louisville, KY. After marriage, he resided at Laura's home. They were married 10 years before he died at the age of 55 in 1959. His cause of death? cerebral hemorrhage, just like Lucille but obviously his was not caused the same way. At least that we know of...it doesn't state what it was due to so we can only guess. It also states Active Tuberculous and Active Duodenal Ulcer. His wife Laura was the informant. He had been ill for a week prior to his death and was in the SS Mary & Elizabeth hospital, which is still in Louisville.
His obituary states that he was an Okolona Cobbler. You're probably asking what is that. Well, Okolona is a location in KY, and where he lived, it's basically a burb in Louisville. The Cobbler part for those who don't know means he was a shoe repairman and owned his own shoe shop. He was survived by his father, his 7 children, and 5 siblings, along with his stepchildren and 22 grandchildren!
I initially decided to pursue this story because I wanted to go to Waverly and talk to John's spirit to give John peace and let him know how his kids did after Lucille died. But ultimately I discovered that he and his kids appeared to have survived the tragedy but also had fulfilling lives. The death of your mom at such a young age is not something you ever forget and I can only imagine the pain the whole situation brought them. Hopefully, the remaining child and all the descendants of those children only have good stories of their grandmother, even though they never got the chance to meet her.
Until next time, keep finding those skeletons in your family trees!