Henderson County, Kentucky History

Irate Husband Slays Wife And Self

Henderson Gleaner and Journal
Henderson, Kentucky, Wednesday, December 4,1957

Woman Dies as she prepares to go to funeral

Wife shot to death and then turned the weapon on himself a little after noon yesterday at the home of her parents. Both were dead on arrival at Methodist hospital. They were parents of 13 children.

Dead are John Louis Van Vactor, 48, and his wife Melivina, 47. The tragedy occurred at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor Courtney, 216 Kreil`s Avenue.

The couple had been estranged two weeks, police were told and she and their 12-year-old daughter, Mildred, were staying at the home of her parents. Van Vactor had been living at a Seventh street address, police said.

Capt. Clifford Hooper was in charge of the investigation. Capt. Denver Overfield and Officer Elmer Grossman were the first to arrive at the scene of the shooting. The officers found the woman at the back northeast corner of the house, outside, already covered with a quilt. The man was in front of the house.

Gun Fired Nine Times

The weapon responsible for dealing out double death was a .22 caliber pistol. Hooper said it was apparently new and it contained nine freshly fired empty shells. Van Vactor, according to the Courtney's, had made two trips to their home yesterday morning prior to the tragic visit. He and his wife were dividing their community property, such as household furniture and kitchen utensils. He had made no threats during the earlier visits.

Mr. and Mrs. Taylor Courtney and his brother, Tom Courtney, told the officers that they were in the living room a little after noon, preparing to attend the funeral of another brother, Lon Courtney, held yesterday afternoon at the Otis A. Benton and Son Chapel, when they heard VanVactor at the front door. As he entered, he asked if they were ready to go to the funeral. Then, to his wife, he said: "Come out here, I've got that pressure cooker for you." "Oh, did you bring that?" she replied.

Father Sees Daughter Fall

As she followed her husband from the room, they heard her scream. As they went to the front door, they saw her rush around the house to the rear. Mr. Courtney went out the back and arrived almost in time to see his daughter go down under the rain of four bullets from the gun. No one actually saw Van Vactor shoot himself.

Mrs. Courtney said, as she went to the front door, Van Vactor pointed the gun momentarily at her. She cried; "Oh, Lord, no!"
She told the officers that she believed he meant to kill all of them. He did not fire at his mother-in-law. It was reported that he purchased the pistol yesterday morning at the local store. The coroner's office said there were witnesses and it obviously was a case of murder and suicide.

Hit By Four Bullets

Deputy Coroner Atmur Stokes said she was shot four times in the left side of the back, the right shoulder, and the hip and just above the right elbow. He shot himself through the throat, the bullet coming out the back after apparently severing the spinal cord. The bodies of the victims were taken to the Otis A. Benton and Son Chapel.

The two were taken to Methodist hospital by ambulance, but were not taken from it. They were dead on arrival.

The article also had two pictures of the two officers pointing at the spot where Melvina died and where John died. The caption under the picture:

Here's where two died violently yesterday at 216 Kreil`s Avenue. At the top Capt Denver Overfield (Left) and Officer Elmer Grossman examine spot where John Louis Van Vactor slew himself and (below) Overfield looks at the bloodied pillow where Mr. Van Vactor died under a hail of bullets from her husband's revolver.

Reprinted with permission
Submitter: Glynda Sawyer

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS