The Murder of Velma Lutes

Submitted by Marguerite Howard.

Wheeling Intelligencer - Tuesday, February 6, 1945


Marshall Prosecutor Has Filed No Charge in Death of Velma Lutes, 17, Inquest May Be Open This Afternoon

After an investigation, which had been pressed unremittingly for almost 24 hours, after the body of a 17-year-old girl was found strangled to death in a Moundsville east end two-roomed house early Monday, Prosecutor J. K. Chase said last night no formal charge had been filed. The dead girl's roommate was found lying unconscious on the floor at the foot of her bed.

However, two eastern Moundsville boys who said they discovered the crime shortly after midnight on Monday morning, were being held without bail as material witnesses in the Marshall county jail.

The youths were identified as John Henderson, 17, of Olive ave., a frequent visitor at the small house occupied by the two girls on Maple avenue in the East End, and Jack Stern, 21, of eastern Seventh st., who sent in the call that sent police to the scene shortly before one o'clock Monday evening.

The dead girl was identified as Velma Lutes, said to be a daughter of Sullivan Lutes of Moundsville, while her roommate is Mrs. Louise Peters Burton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Willard "Red" Peters of eastern Moundsville. She was rushed to Glendale hospital in a comatose condition, but recovered sufficiently to answer a few questions early yesterday morning. Her husband is said to be serving in the army.

Delays Questioning

Prosecutor J. K. Chase has refused to reveal whether she had identified her assailants, and said that his plan to question her last night had been abandoned in order that she might gain strength for the ordeal. It was feared she may have suffered a fractured skull when she struck her head on the cement floor of the tiny house, after apparently being knocked down.

Question Story

Chase said it appeared that some facts of the case served to cast a shadow of doubt on the tale told by the pair at the jail of going to the house after their automobile broke down a short distance away, and finding the two girls immediately before calling the police.

It appeared that they had been there before during the day on Sunday, but that they said they had left at noon and had not returned until about midnight.

Meanwhile, County Coroner O. C. Titus said that no jury had as yet been empaneled to hold an inquest in the slaying, and that no action in the matter was likely before late today.

The body was resting at the Grisell funeral home and at a late hour last night no inquiry had been received from relatives.

Had Been No Struggle

Investigating officers declared they found nothing in the small house that would indicate there had been a struggle. It was believed that Mrs. Burton had apparently been struck and felled first. Shen she is questioned an effort may be made to determine that fact.

Should such prove the case it would mean that the Lutes girl had been strangled after the other girl was unconscious.

No neighbors in the vicinity had heard any disturbance from the building.

Velma Lutes was employed at the Kleeson factory and it was understood that Mrs. Burton was to have taken employment there yesterday.

Wheeling Intelligencer - Wednesday, February 7, 1945


Coroner's Jury Recessed Subject to Call in Death Of Moundsville Girl - Developments Await Recovery of
Louise Burton at Hospital - Will Be Important Witness for State in Tragedy

J. K. Chase, Marshall county prosecutor, said late Tuesday that he expects to file formal charges of murder in the death of pretty Velma Mae Lutes, whose strangled body was found in her tiny two-room home in eastern Moundsville Monday morning, "as soon as the inquest is completed."

He added that the inquiry will be staged as soon as Mrs. Louise Peters Burton, roommate of the slain girl, has sufficiently recovered to testify. She was attacked and knocked unconscious, presumably just before the Lutes girl was strangled. Attending physicians have indicated that she might be ready for discharge from the institution by this afternoon or Thursday.

Chase said that "from the present state of the evidence, I feel certain that the coroner's jury can make no other finding than that Velma Lutes was murdered and that the crime was committed by persons whose identity is known."

He refused to state whether the suspected parties are now in custody, nor would he comment on whether the Burton girl has revealed the identity of her assailant.

Jury Views Body

Meanwhile, the Coroner O. C. Titus had empaneled a jury which had viewed the slain girl's body at the Grisell funeral home, Moundsville, yesterday afternoon and then adjourned until called by the prosecutor to hear further evidence and enter their findings.

A. P. Hammond was foreman of the jury, which included S. E. Doty, E. B. Cecil, J. R. Kimberly, J. J. Holland and C. E. Meyer as members.

Boys Still Held

Still held without bond at the county jail were John Henderson, 17 year-old "steady boy-friend" of the Lutes girl, and Jack Stern, 21, described as a frequent visitor at the house.

Authorities refused to state whether they had discovered any loopholes in the story told by the boys of going to the girls house just after Sunday midnight and finding the dead and unconscious occupants, but indicated that the accounts were recieving careful study.

Was Moundsville Native

Velma Mae Lutes was a daughter of Sullivan Lutes of Moundsville and the late Bertha Lutes. She was born in Moundsville and had spent most of her life there. She attended the First Christian Church.

Surviving in addition to the father are two brothers, Joseph Lutes of Moundsville and Albert Lutes of Taylors Ridge; three sisters: Mrs. Emma Farnsworth of McMechen; Mrs. Theodore Minor and Miss Anna Lutes, both of Powhatan; and two aunts: Mrs. Harry Gilmore of this city and Mrs. Donna Wood of McKeesport, Pa. She was preceded in death by her mother and two brothers, George and James Lutes.

The body will remain at the Grisell funeral home until arrangements for funeral services are completed.

Wheeling Intelligencer - Thursday, February 8, 1945


Testimony of Louise Burton Heard by Jurors at Hospital-Both Henderson and Stern Testify At Coroner's Investigation

John W. Henderson, 17 and Wilbert Eugene Stern, 21, both of Moundsville, last night were served with warrants sworn out by Prosecutor J. K. Chase charging them with murder of Velma Lutes.

The warrants were served at approximately 9 o'clock and followed an inquest conducted Wednesday by Dr. O. S. Titus, Marshall county coroner.

The climax of the inquest came when the coroner's jury was taken to the Reynolds Memorial hospital, Glendale, where they heard a dramatic story from Mrs. Louise Peters Burton, as she lay upon her bed in the hospital.

Following the submission of evidence the coroner's jury returned the following verdict:

"That Velma Mae Lutes came to her death by strangulation by the hand of John W. Henderson, known also by the name of "Woody" Henderson, at her place of residence at 23 Maple ave., rear, city."

The coroner's jury was composed of A. P. Hammond, foreman, S. E. Doty, E. B. Cecil, J. R. Kimberly, J. J. Holland and C. E. Meyer.

Mrs. Burton Testifies

Mrs. Burton, 22, whose husband is in the armed service, from her bed at the hospital, testified at the inquest that last Sunday evening at about 7 o'clock she had been asleep upon the floor in her home. She was awakened by Jack Stern who was upon the floor beside her. She stated she moved away when Stern attempted some advances. She push him away.

She said that at that time Henderson was standing beside the bed on which Velma lutes was lying.

As she pushed Stern away, Mrs. Burton said he slapped her. She told him she believed she was going to be sick and did vomit on the floor. She stated Stern struck her again and she struck her head on the floor and lost consciousness. She remembered nothing more until she reached the hospital, but did remember seeing the colored glass in the ambulance in one lucid moment.

Both Boys Testify

Both boys testified at the inquest yesterday before the jury went to the hospital. They admitted having spent Saturday night at the Burton home with the two girls and left Sunday about noon. When they left they insisted they would return at the usual time, placed by Stern at between 7 and 29 minutes of 8, and the other as between 7 and 8.

Before they left it was stated by Stern that Henderson had an argument with Velma Lutes and had dictated a letter to her to be sent to a boy friend in service in which she had stated she no longer cared for him and added, "I am in love with Henderson."

Before the boys left the Lutes girl tore it up. In the argument over this Henderson had called the Lutes girl some rather hard names.

The testimony indicated that after leaving the Burton home the boys had gone eight or nine beer places in town and had drinks.

Henderson Went Home

Henderson then stated that at about 7 p. m. he went home to get something to eat and then again met Stern and visited other beer places where they continued to drink. Then Henderson said they tried to get to Highland hall, just outside of Moundsville, but that their car went into the ditch. Unable to extricate it, they then went to the Burton home, found the bodies and called the police.

Henderson admitted going into the house and taking hold of Velma Lutes as she lay in bed and shook her. He stated he "thought she was shamming." He stated at this time that Stern was trying to revive the Burton girl on the floor.

Testimony of the two boys differed as to who entered the house first and as to whether the lights were on or off.

Stern said that both girls were afraid of Henderson, particularly when he was drinking. On two previous occasions he said Henderson had choked the Lutes girl. Once Stern said, he had made him let go while upon the other occasion Henderson had voluntarily released her.

Physicial Condition

It was brought out at the inquest that Velma Lutes had told Henderson she was pregnant, but the autopsy did not indicate that condition. The uterus and stomach were removed for analysis.

Henderson testified that he was much in love with the girl and denied that he had threatened to kill her.

Stern contradicted and said that Henderson had made such threats.

Marks On One Hand

Dr. D. S. Benson testified to examining the dead girl's body and to finding tooth marks on her lower lip and a small cut on the forehead. One large mark was found upon one side of the throat and four smaller marks on the other side. Indicating she had been grasped by one hand.

He stated that he was called at about 12:15 o'clock Monday morning and that apparently the girl had been dead several hours, since rigor mortis had set in.

The first witness called at the inquest was Patrolman G. F. Knight of Moundsville, who told of visiting the scene and the position of the girls.

State Trooper W. L. Wright testified that the correct names of the boys were Wilbert Eugene Stern and John W. Henderson.

Other evidence produced was to the effect that the boys had been visiting the girls for two months or longer, and particularly spend the weekends with them.

Question Stern

The jury returned the verdict at approximately 6:45 p. m. last evening.

Following the inquest Stern was taken back to the Reynolds hospital and again questioned by Prosecutor Chase in the presence of Mrs. Burton.

After his return to the jail warrants were served upon both Henderson and Stern charging them with murder, while Stern was served with an additional warrant charging felonious assault on Mrs. Louise Burgon.

Funeral of Victim

Private funeral services for Miss Lutes will be held this afternoon at 2 o'clock from the Grisell funeral home. Rev. J. H. Carson will officiate. Burial will be in Mount Rose cemetery at Moundsville.

Wheeling Intelligencer - Friday, February 9, 1943


Marshall County Authorities Plan to Await Louise Burton's Discharge From Hospital

Formal arraignment of John Henderson and Jack Stern on charges of murder arising from the stranglation death of 17-year-old Velma Mae Lutes at Moundsville last Sunday probably will be deferred until Mrs. Louise Peters Burton, roommate of the slain girl whose testimony was responsible for their being charged with the death, is able to leave Glendale hospital.

Marshall County Prosecutor J. K. Chase said Thursday that he anticipates the pair will waive preliminary hearing and await grand jury action when that body convenes next Tuesday.

Mrs. Burton, who suffered a skull fracture when allegedly struck by Stern at about the time Miss Lutes is believed to have been slain, was reported in good condition at the hospital late last night. Stern is also facing a charge of felonious assault as the result of the attack on her.

Both Henderson and Stern are being held without bond at the county jail, following execution of warrants just outside the jail on Wednesday evening, a few hours after a coroner's jury had accused Henderson of the Lutes girl slaying.

Submitted by Donna Mollaun.

Wheeling News Register, Wheeling, WV - Sunday Morning, February 11, 1945
Part Four, Local News, Vol. LV. No. 140


Slain Girl Is Victim of Unkind Fate by Arthur J. Miller

“Velma Lutes was a nice girl who never had a chance.” This opinion expressed by Justice of the Peace W. E. Clayton, summarizes the general sentiment in Moundsville regarding the 18- year-old victim of the murder there last Sunday evening. From earliest childhood her environment was abnormal, and an unkind Fate led- (unreadable word) last to Mt. Rose cemetery with the marks of a strangler’s on her throat.

“I liked Velma Lutes” is an expression frequently heard, and the statement is made with evident sincerity and not merely as a concession to one who is dead. All who came in contact with the slain girl agree that she was attractive and of a pleasant, generous disposition.

(unreadable) childhood, according to (unreadable) given before Justice Clay-(unreadable) about ten years ago. Velma and her brothers and sisters did not even have enough to eat, to (unreadable) nothing of proper clothing and other comforts enjoyed by the average American child.

Parents Separated

As related in a News-Register reporter, by Squire Clayton, the Lutes family lived at that time on Wolf Run in a hut owned by Velma’s father, Sullivan Lutes. Gross neglect was alleged by a welfare investigator and Lutes was brought into Clayton’s court. Aft- (unreadable or missing line)

Later, Velma’s mother left her husband and came to Moundsville with the children, three boys and two girls. They lived near the intersection of Highland & Linden Avenues, in a small frame shack also owned by the father. Mrs. Lutes, as recalled by Squire Clayton, made a very haphazard living for a few years, then died. In defense of Sullivan Lutes, however, it should be said that he has suffered from at least two severe physical afflictions for a considerable period or years.

To Child Shelter

Two of Velma’s brothers died of tuberculosis. After her mother’s death, she, her sister and one brother, were given a home by a family residing at Roberts Ridge. In 1942, this arrangement was terminated, and the boy went to live with his father, while Velma and her sister were placed in the Marshall County Child Shelter at No. 11 Oak avenue. According to the Shelter records, Velma was 16 years of age on October 16, 1942.

On September 21, 1942, after she had been in the Shelter about six months, Velma was given a home in the family of Rev. Early, but did not remain there long. Later, she worked at various places around Moundsville. No charge of any kind was ever brought against her except that on one occasion she and another girl ran away. Mrs. Elsie Dakan, who is in charge of the Child Shelter, says that Velma was a nice child and caused no trouble.

Henderson Life Story

The story of a broken home also looms large in the life of John “Woody” Henderson, who is held in the Marshall county jail on a charge of having murdered Velma by choking her to death in a little cottage in the rear of 23 Maple avenue.

Facts relating to the young Henderson’s life were related by Mrs. Nellie Moffitt, his aunt with whom he had recently been living at (unreadable number) Olive avenue.

The accused youth was born she said, in Wetzel county, Before his birth his father and mother separated, and were later divorced. Most of young Henderson’s life has been spent at Moundsville, where he attended grade school and high school.

Hit By Automobile

Although under age, Mrs. Moffitt said, he enlisted in the Navy, but after about nine months, service was given a medical discharge because of severe chronic headaches. As an explanation of these headaches, Mrs. Moffitt recalled that the youth who is now accused of murder, was struck by an automobile while riding a bicycle some years ago near the Moundsville post office.

As to his whereabouts on the fatal evening, Mrs. Moffitt says that Henderson was at her house from a little after 4 o’clock until (unreadable one digit number) or after, then went to the home of his grandmother, Mrs. Lizzie McCoy on Seventh Street, and after remaining there until about 7:30 went to the place at which his mother, Mrs. Flossie McCardle, is employed on Twelfth street. It can be established, she says, that he was at his mother’s place of employment at 8:15.

Stern An Epileptic

Mrs. John R. Wade, grandmother of Wilbert “Jack” Stern, was seen at her home on Annadale street, near the cattle barn. Mrs. Wade gave some interesting facts regarding her grandson, who was the admitted boy friend of Louise Peters Burton, and is alleged by the state to have been present at the murder cottage on last Sunday evening together with Henderson, Velma Lutes and the Burton girl. Stern, Mrs. Wade says, has epileptic fits, and has had them for a considerable time. This statement is confirmed by others in Moundsville. He was in the Army for a few months, but was given a medical discharge.

Blames Mrs. Burton

As related by the grandmother, young Stern is the son of Andrew Stern, and is one of a large family of children. He was born and brought up in Moundsville, and attended the grade and high schools. Since his discharge from the Army, Mrs. Wade said he has been working in a war plant.

In the opinion of Mrs. Wade, Mrs. Louise Peters Burton is largely responsible for the tragic happening of the last Sunday night. “I blame Mrs. Burton for what happened,” said Mrs. Wade. “She has a husband in the Navy and yet she took up with another man and also probably influenced the Lutes girl.”

Burton Girl’s History

Mr. and Mrs. Willard Peters parents of Louise Peters Burton, live on First street, Moundsville. Mr. Peters, who is a man of good reputation and well liked, said that he had no knowledge of the crime or the events leading up to it other than what he read in the newspapers.

Louise was born in Moundsville, her father said, and attended both grade and high school. For some years, the family lived in Glendale, but later moved back to Moundsville. Louise’s home life was normal and happy, he said, and she later married Corbett Burton, who is now in the United States navy.

Father Kept From Funeral

One of the most interesting individuals connected with the tragedy is Sullivan Lutes, father of Velma, who is a violin enthusiast, and lives with his son in the little frame house which he owns at Highland and Linden.

When seen by a News-Register (line missing) he appeared deeply distressed by the murder of his daughter, and voiced strong hope that the murderer would be convicted and punished.

He expressed great regret that he had been prevented from attending Velma’s funeral. “They told me,” he said, “that she was to be buried Friday, but they buried her on Thursday.”

Velma’s funeral was private on Thursday afternoon and she was laid to rest in Mt. Rose cemetery.

His violins, of which he has three, are Lutes’ most prized possessions. One of them, he believes, is a genuine Stradivarius, and it has all the earmarks of a fine instrument.

He and his son, who appears to be about 16 years of age., live alone in their small house, and the evidence of men’s housekeeping is abundant.

Velma Not Beaten

A story circulating in Moundsville to the effect that the body of Velma Lutes was covered with bruises as though she had been severely beaten, was refuted by Dr. O. C. Titus, Marshall County Coroner.

“As immediately noted by Dr. Benson when he was called,” said Coroner Titus, “Velma’s throat bore the imprint of four fingers on one side and a thumb on the other. Her lower lip was somewhat lacerated, as though she has bitten it in her death struggle. There was also a slight puncture, very shallow, on her forehead at the hair line. Other than that her body was entirely unmarked.”

Coroner Titus said that while Velma may have told Henderson that she was an expectant mother, she could not have known of such a condition, as it was not apparent upon medical examination. However, he said, an assertion by her to that effect could have furnished a murder motive.

Prosecutor Convinced

Prosecuting Attorney J. (unreadable part of name) Chase expressed the belief that the state has a convincing case against Henderson, who is alleged to have returned to the Maple avenue cottage on Sunday evening and to have strangled the Lutes girl. So far, the prosecutor said, the only defense advanced has been the story told by Henderson and Stern at the inquest in the office (line missing) exact time of the Lutes girl’s death has not been fixed, but is known approximately.

He pointed out that Louise Peters Burton, who is in the Glendale hospital suffering from a light fracture presumably received a short time before the strangling of Velma Lutes, contradicts the story of the two young men, and places them at the scene of the crime. “While young in years, commented the prosecutor, these four were old in worldly experience.”

(line missing) which the murder was committed is a low structure, built partly underground. It is in the rear of a residence at 23 Maple avenue occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Noon.

No Other Boy Friends

It has not been claimed by anyone that either Velma Lutes or Mrs. Burton had any Moundsville boy friends other than Henderson and Stern. As one official expressed it, “there appears to have been no competition.” This, if true, would eliminate any theory of a jealous rival.

Mrs. Flossy McCardle, mother of young Henderson, refused to discuss the case. She said, however, that her son’s movements on the fatal evening could be accounted for, and also that injury to his hand and his disarranged clothing would be fully explained at the proper time.

(Photos Included with this article)

1. Mrs. Flossie McCardle with the following caption: MOTHER OF ACCUSED YOUTH - Mrs. Flossie McCardle, shown above, is the mother of John “Woody” Henderson, from whose father she divorced. Mrs. McCardle believes her son to be innocent, and will assist in his defense.

2. Mrs. Louise Peters Burton (an attractive woman who has a beautiful smile in the photo) with the following caption: MRS. LOUISE PETERS BURTON - Mrs. Burton, girl friend of Wilbert “Jack” Stern, is key figure in murder of Velma Lutes, as she asserts that John “Woody” Henderson and Stern were at the cottage occupied by her and the Lutes girl about the time at which the crime is thought to have been committed. Mrs. Burton received a fractured skull, presumably just before the murder, and is (unreadable) Glendale hospital.

3. Photo of Velma Lutes in a bathing suit, smiling. (a beautiful woman) with the following caption: (line missing) of Moundsville last Sunday evening in connection with which her boy friend, John “Woody” Henderson, and Wilbert “Jack” Stern are being held.

4. Photo of the murder site which looks like an another building in a home’s backyard. Caption reads: MURDER COTTAGE -Low two-room structure in the rear of 23 Maple avenue, Moundsville, in which Velma Lutes, Mrs. Louise Peters Burton, John “Woody” Henderson, and Wilbert “Jack” Stern had been meeting for some time previous to the murder of the Lutes girl there last Sunday evening.

5. Photo of “Jack” Stern with a frightened expression. Caption reads: WILBERT “JACK” STERN-Pal of John “Woody” Henderson, and boy friend of Mrs. Louise Peters Burton. He is in the Marshall county jail on charges connected with the killing of Velma Lutes and the injury of Mrs. Lousie Peters Burton last Sunday evening in Moundsville. 6. Photo of “Woody” Henderson in a suit & tie with the following caption: JOHN “WOODY” HENDERSON-Boy Friend of Velma Lutes, who is charged by the state with having murdered Miss Lutes by choking her to death last Sunday evening in a little cottage in the rear of 23 Maple avenue, Moundsville.

Submitted by Dee Fox.

The Charleston Gazette - Nov 20, 1945

The court by a 3-2 decision, with Judges Jo N. Kenna and James B. Riley noting they would have granted an appeal, refused to review a Marshall county circuit court action in which John Willard Henderson, 18, of Moundsville, was sentenced to five to 18 years in prison for the slaying of Velma Lutes.

Henderson was convicted of second degree murder. Miss Lutes was strangled to death last February at her Moundsville home. Another youth was acused {sic} of the malicious wounding of Mrs. Louise Burton, but has not yet been brought to trial.