Somewhere in the vicinity of Riffle Run, the bones of Hugh Ocheltree are slowly dissolving into the soil. Memory of this victim of a senseless, brutal act of murder has faded, and soon, even the moldering bones of the son of Oley H. Ocheltree will no longer mark his final resting place, wherever that may be.
Oley Hays Ocheltree was a well known resident of Orlando during its heyday. Oley, or O. H. which he was sometimes called, was a quiet and efficient clerk in Charley Knight’s store during the 1920s and early 1930s. He and his family lived in Orlando and rented the former M. A. and Lizzie Rush home, which had been the Rush Hotel in the previous decade. The Rush house was located near St. Michael’s Catholic Church along the right of way of the Coal and Coke Railroad line.
Above to the left is Oley Ocheltree and his sister Effie (who married the veterinarian Ord Conrad).
Click on the map to enlarge it.
Rumors continued to be rampant about the disappearance of Hugh Ocheltree and certain names of suspects were repeated over and over. After a search of the Riffle Run neighborhood that turned up no evidence of foul play or the body of Hugh Ocheltree, the search came to a stand-still.
There is No Corpus Delicti
To prove a crime of murder, it is generally essential to have the body of the alleged murder victim, known as the corpus delicti. Despite the efforts of law enforcement to locate the corpus delicti by a search of the surrounding country and the river, the search came up empty.
The Game of Leapfrog Leads to Murder
The statement given by Lipps, implicating himself and others with the death of Hugh Ocheltree, was essentially the same story that Lipps had told the law enforcement officers in 1931 and 1932. The written confession seemed to be sufficient to prompt the prosecuting attorney to proceed to formal charges of murder against the individuals named in the statement. Mabel (Posey) Henline, who lived in the area of Riffle Run, however, recalls that Riley Lipps had the reputation that “he would say anything, about anybody to get himself out of trouble.”
Another puzzling lapse by the prosecuting attorney is the lack of trial preparation. The prosecuting attorney failed to determine whether the Mack Riffle who was selected for the first trial had an alibi for the time of the murder. After the trial of Riffle for the murder of Hugh Ocheltree had commenced, it was proven by sworn depositions to the satisfaction of the court that the defendant had been working in Akron, Ohio for the Colonial Furniture Upholstery Company at the time the murder supposedly was committed. The prosecuting attorney’s failure to ascertain this crucial fact before setting the trial for Mack Riffle was a critical mistake and doomed the prosecution of all of the persons indicted for the murder of Hugh Ocheltree. It is no surprise that Judge Jake Fisher tossed all of the indictments out of court. No further indictments were returned against any of the persons originally indicted, or against anyone else.
. . . . · One theory pursued by this retrospective article suggested that witnesses were intimidated and consequently were frightened to come forward to give evidence. The article reported that in 1931, shortly after the murder, a woman from Burnsville (no name given) had been told an account of the murder by a female witness to the act. The Burnsville woman reported that she had been told that four men were involved in the murder and there were four women who witnessed the event. However, when questioned by law enforcement officers, the Burnsville woman suddenly denied all knowledge of the matter. The newspaper article reported that the woman had been paid a visit by one of the men said to have been involved in the affair. When questioned by law enforcement whether he had paid a visit to this woman, the man acknowledged the visit, but only out of concern “to prevent any harm coming to her.”
. . . . · The Gazette article also reported that a resident of nearby McCauley Run reported that a resident of Riffle Run at the time laughed off the suggestion of murder and said that it was just gossip by women and that Ocheltree had gone to South America and that his papers had been “fixed up by Lafe Mick and Morgan Riffle.” The 1952 newspaper article reported that this theory was followed up by law enforcement officials in 1931 who had interviewed Lafayette ‘Lafe’ Mick, a well respected Burnsville school teacher, and Morgan Riffle, a well-known farmer of Triplett Run, and both denied anything of the sort.
On the left is Morgan Riffle, on the right is Lafe Mick.
. . . . · The 1952 newspaper article also reported that in early 1932 Glenn Ocheltree had visited Doctor Stanton Trimble in Burnsville to secure sleeping potions because of his inability to sleep. Law enforcement officials had inquired of Doctor Trimble if this were so and he confirmed the visits by Ocheltree and the medicines prescribed. When confronted with this information, Glenn Ocheltree denied seeking medical services from Doctor Trimble.
. . . . · The article also quoted Alvin Jake Graff who reportedly had approached Glenn Ocheltree two months after the murder of his cousin and informed him that he (Glenn) was being accused of the murder. Glenn was said to have “turned red in the face and acted as if he were going to faint.” This reaction of Glenn Ocheltree was confirmed by Mack Ratliff of Dutch who overheard the conversation.
. . . . · The article also reported that Ollie Blake, a nearby farmer, had reported in 1931 that threats were being made against potential witnesses and that “there would be another separation or someone killed in the neighborhood.” Blake suggested that Hugh Ocheltree had been courting Glenn Ocheltree’s wife.
. . . . · Dr. Ord Conrad also was quoted to have remarked that the day after the killing that Eva Riffle had said someone had been killed at the Glenn Ocheltree house and that there “was a lot of blood on the floor.”
. . . . · Mr. and Mrs. Ray Kittle of Weston were quoted to have visited a female patient from Riffle Run in a Weston Hospital at about the time of the murder. When the subject of the Ocheltree murder came up in conversation the patient inquired about “what could be done to a person who knew about a murder and wouldn’t tell it?” After being told that the police would arrest such a person, she remarked that “she supposed she would be arrested after she got out of the hospital.”
. . . . · Case Brown was quoted concerning a conversation he had had with Troy Wine and Riley “Mutt” Lipps while at a church sing in July 1933. Brown stated that Lipps had been intoxicated and had acknowledged a role in the murder and the disposal of Hugh Ocheltree’s body. Lipps also named the other culprits involved, Brown said.
. . . . · The 1952 Gazette article summarized the body of evidence of the crime which was available and concluded that the prosecuting attorney of Braxton County was “cautious” and that he delayed the trial for over a year hoping that additional evidence would be uncovered and that the delay proved fatal to the success of the prosecution.
David, this is just wonderful. Your thoroughness and attention to detail are much appreciated by family. Thanks to you, we now know more than we’ve ever known about an incident that must surely have affected our family deeply, but which they rarely spoke about. My children and I realize there’s nothing to be done, but having been in the dark for so long about what happened, we’re feeling ….well, sad for the family who lived through it, frustrated by the state of crime detection at the time, and – despite the fact that we didn’t have the opportunity to know him – a little angry at the absence of justice. (The Gazette thought the prosecutor was being “cautious”? That seems charitable, given the circumstances.) Thanks again for your diligence and your interest. Someday, you’ll have to tell me how you tracked us down :-) .
Comment by Ruby Riffle
The first time I heard of the Hugh Ocheltree murder was the day after he disappeared. Audrey Riffle, Eva Riffle and I were walking from the Riffle Run area to Orlando to attend a Sunday School convention. Glenn Ocheltree was supposed to go with us but for some reason he did not go. As we were passing a house on the way over the hill to Road Run, Eva stopped at a house and went inside and talked with a woman. She stayed for a few minutes and then we went on to Orlando. When we came back from Orlando by the same route we heard that Hugh Ocheltree was missing and believed to have been murdered. I recall the law enforcement people dragging the river for Ocheltree’s body. There was a ‘swirl hole’ in the river near the United Brethren Church which was full of brush which had accumulated from floods. It was hard work for the people diving in search of a body.
Comment by Kathleen (Conley) Conrad
I was about seven years old at the time of the disappearance of Hugh Ocheltree. My family lived on Long Run, which was but a short distance from Riffle Run. My family heard that the law was searching the river in the area of the United Brethren Church for a body. My family went to the area where the divers were searching the river and watched the activity.
Comment by Dale Barnett
When I was a small boy, I used to go to the Oley Ocheltree home at Orlando and play with Fred Ocheltree who was the youngest son of Oley Ocheltree. I remember Fred as being tall and slender. Fred was killed during the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. I remember seeing Hugh Ocheltree who was much older than his brother Fred. Hugh seemed to be a quiet, loner type person.
To the right: Fred Ocheltree
Comment by Kathleen Conrad
James Riffle operated a general store at the mouth of Riffle Run at the time of the death of Hugh Ocheltree. At that time, Riffle was somewhat elderly. His wife was Marietta (Ocheltree) Riffle, aunt of both Hugh Ocheltree and Glenn Ocheltree. A few years after the ill-fated murder trial dismissed charges against the alleged perpetrators, James Riffle’s health failed and he lay on his death bed. Concerned that a death-bed statement might be made by Riffle, certain persons alleged to have been involved in the death of Hugh Ocheltree took turns sitting with Riffle in an apparent attempt to thwart any such death-bed statement.
Comment by Mabel Henline
I lived with my mother Ollie (Posey) Blake on Wolf Pen Run, near Riffle Run, in 1931 when Hugh Ocheltree turned up missing. Riley Lipps was known to be an unreliable tattle-teller. Lipps led the law on wild-goose chases all over the Riffle Run country. showing them first one place and then another as to where Hugh Ocheltree was buried or dumped in the river.
Comment by Ruby Riffle
Oley Ocheltree searched for years after the death of his son for someone to come forward and reveal the truth of his son’s disappearance. Close to twenty years after Hugh disappeared, Oley visited the Hub Conley home on Long Run seeking information about his son’s death.
Comment by Sergeant J. W. Jeffries, WVSPD, Retired
When I attended the State Police Academy approximately forty years ago, Captain Harold Ray was an instructor of the state police cadets. Captain Ray was involved in the investigation of the murder of Hugh Ocheltree and spoke of the case. Captain Ray said that there were several suspects and that the suspects conspired with one another to cover up information about the crime. Captain Ray mentioned that he had received information that the body of Hugh Ocheltree was dumped in a well on Clover Fork but a search the well in question turned up empty. Captain Ray further discussed that the suspects worked together to make sure there would be no deathbed confession by any of those involved. If one of the parties became ill and approached death, the other parties would come and sit with the ill person until he passed away. Captain Ray did not name the suspects.
Comment by Lovie (Riffle) Bush
I recall that after Hugh Ocheltree disappeared the law came to every house on Riffle Run seeking information about the missing man. My father, Newton Riffle, and my brother Arthur Riffle, were both summoned to appear in court, as were most every person on Riffle Run.
Comment by Waitman Collins
It was common knowledge that the people involved in the disappearance of Hugh Ocheltree were concerned about ‘death-bed’ confessions. Anyone who might know something about the Hugh Ocheltree matter had ‘visitors’ while they lay on their death beds in order to prevent the conscience of the dying person to make a death-bed confession.
Oley Ocheltree during the mid 1930s worked for my father, J. L. Collins, in his Collins Store in Burnsville. Oley always ate his lunch at my home which was next door to the store when he was working. I remember him as a quiet fellow.