Yesterday's News

Telephoned confession appeared to solve killing

By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
January 30, 2005

Last Sunday, while listening to a sermon on repentance, I got to thinking about James Bushrod and concluded his heart wanted to repent -- but his brain talked him out of it.

In January of 1980 the 53-year-old Henderson native was a long-time resident of Sacramento, Calif. Bushrod was dying of cancer and heart disease when he telephoned the California Highway Patrol and confessed to a murder that had taken place in Henderson 27 years earlier.

That taped statement gave new life to a murder investigation that was as cold as the bones of William L. Arwood, the 42-year-old Nashville truck driver who was shot dead outside South Side Liquor Store on Aug. 9, 1953. The bar was just outside the city limits back then, but nowadays the address would be 1415 S. Green St.

Arwood was a racist, which is what got him shot. According to a 1953 account in The Gleaner, Bushrod had come in the white entrance of the bar, which had a partition down the middle to segregate the races. "The Tennessee man resented the colored man's presence in the white section and used unsavory terms in telling of his displeasure," The Gleaner reported.

Bartender George Hancock asked Bushrod "to go on over to your side and everything will be all right." Bushrod complied. But several minutes later he was sticking his head in the white entrance and calling to Arwood:

"Come on out here, you -- and I'll take care of you."

Arwood stepped outside and was felled by two shots, one of which hit him right above his heart. He sat down heavily on the curb and died about 10 minutes later. His assailant ran around the corner and escaped in a car driven by another black man.

Authorities came up empty in their search for the shooter. It wasn't until Bushrod's 1980 phone call to the California Highway Patrol, as well as a similar call to the Sacramento Police Department, that they got their first break in the case.

But it just wasn't that easy, according to Kentucky State Police Det. Bill Gooch, who investigated the case in 1980. Gooch listened to a copy of the CHP taped confession. "He wanted to set the record straight. He said, 'I was the one who did it.'" But when Bushrod was later contacted by police, he denied ever making the call, although he matched the physical description of the shooter and had given the CHP his name, phone number and address.

Gooch worked the case with Det. David Hosick of the Henderson Police Department, who matched the confession with Arwood's murder. Together Gooch and Hosick telephoned Bushrod in California.

"He said if he made such a call he must have been very sick that day and not realized what he was doing," Gooch said. Bushrod even offered to take a lie detector test to refute the allegation he had made the confession.

That prompted police to try to corroborate the original statement. They tracked down Arwood's companion in the bar, an Illinois man named Clarence "Peanuts" Ray. "He told us what he knew and it wasn't a whole lot that we didn't already know," said KSP Lt. Terril Stephens. "We got a little additional information, but most of it was verifying what we knew from newspaper accounts."

Gooch, who is now retired from the KSP, said Ray didn't exactly bend over backward to be helpful. Gooch had obtained a mug shot of Bushrod, taken about the time of the shooting, but Ray "wouldn't even look at it," Gooch said recently.

Nothing ever came of the investigation, Gooch noted, although he "spent quite a bit of time" working it. "I called (Bushrod) and talked to him several times. He said he didn't do it. But I think he did."

140 years ago

Navigation on the Ohio River shut down for at least a week in January 1865 because of ice, according to an item in the Henderson Reporter.

"The river is yet filled with masses of floating ice, is considerably lower than it has been, and still falling. It is to be hoped that navigation will be resumed in a day or two."

120 years ago

The Henderson Bicycle Club conducted an election and named David Banks Jr. president, according to an 1885 item in the Reporter. Other officers were H.S. Rudy, V.F. Mayer, W.H. Stites and W.F. Redman.

"There are about 15 members now, and others expect to join in the spring. It is very probable that a number of them will attend the grand tournament at Memphis."

75 years ago

About 2,000 people gathered to watch after fire broke out at the Sam Mayer department store on North Main Street, which damaged four buildings, according to a 1930 article in The Gleaner.

Volunteer firefighter Stapp Minton miraculously escaped serious injury when the south wall of the building collapsed, dropping him two stories. Oliver Pardon and another on-looker were unhurt "although tons of bricks showered around them."

50 years ago

The flu hit local schools hard in January 1955, with more than 1,000 students absent from classes, according to an article in The Gleaner. Henderson County High School had 117 absent, while Barret Manual Training High School had 162 sick at home.

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS