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  1. #1
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    MD - One 60-year-old Maryland mystery leads to another...

    One Sixty-Year-Old Maryland mystery leads to another...

    There is a cemetery for black people not far from my home, and I learned that there is a man buried there who was born in 1896 and who served in the US Army during World War I (1918). His name is Benjamin "Ben" Stewart, and he was killed by a hit and run driver some time in 1944 or 1945. The time span of his death was the best estimate from a woman who was in early elementary school at the time. She remembers that the police never found the driver, and that they did not clean up the blood on the road where Ben died. She had to walk past it every day on her way to and from school.

    Because Ben does not have a marker on his grave, and because he was a US Army Veteran, I decided to request that the Veterans Administration provide a headstone marker for him. I have a summary of his World War One service, and his exact birth date from that record, but I do not have his exact date of death - a requirement for ordering a VA marker. Thus began some extensive research which has so far been unfruitful.

    The Social Security Death Index on line only goes back to about 1951. Maryland Vital Records has no death record of a Benjamin or Ben Stewart. Coroners Inquest records only go back to the early 1950's. Police records do not exist that far back. Church records for the time do not mention Ben, other than to list him as being buried in St. Simon's Cemetery (no dates).

    I was recently at the main county public library hoping to get some information from newspaper archives on Ben's death. Unfortunately their microfilm files for most of the larger papers (Washington Post, Washington Star, and Baltimore Sun) only go back to the mid 1950's when the library was built. There was one weekly local county paper, however, which went back to about 1942. That paper had no news about the incident and no obituary or funeral notice. In fact it had hardly any mention about events in the southern part of the county where Ben's death occurred.

    Although it was called the "Prince Georges Post", it was really only concerned with news and notices of concern to residents of a few areas of the county. And most of the news was about the white people in the county.

    I am still looking for Ben's death date, but have run into another story while doing my research.

    In scanning through the pages of the Prince Georges Post, I ran across a very interesting story about a police investigation into a woman's death. It appeared in the edition which ran on Thursday, February 8, 1945. The story only ran once and no mention was ever made to it in subsequent editions. The reason? Police considered it an open and shut case. Solved in a matter of days. Or was it? Read the following story (directly quoted) and see how many questions this "solved" case brings to your mind.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    WOMAN FOUND DEAD IN WOODS NEAR MARYLAND UNIVERSITY

    Prince Georges Police this week thought they were confronted with a first-class murder mystery, but after medical authorities had made an exhaustive examination it was found the victim had apparently died from natural causes.

    Nancy Brown, attractive thirty-three-year-old brunette, was found dead in the woods about two miles from the University of Maryland grounds. According to the police, the woman had wandered into the woods, collapsed and died of exposure.

    Dr. James I. Boyd, County Medical Examiner, and Coroner Magruder Macdonald, of the district, performed an autopsy at Gasch's Funeral Home. Boyd said later he expected to issue a certificate of death on the basis of a post mortem examination and results of an analysis of the woman's organs made by the Maryland State chemist. The final certificate will not be issued, he explained, until minor tests have been completed, but he does not expect these will alter the verdict.

    According to Dr. Boyd, there was evidence of alcohol in the brain, but there did not appear to be enough to cause death. A head wound and lacerations on the legs were not of a fatal nature. The marks on her legs could have been made by twigs as she wandered in the woods, the examiner declared.

    The woman's brother, A. F. Brown of Washington, told officials she suffered a severe head cut recently and was treated at Gallinger Hospital. She told her brother Saturday the wound was hurting her and made her ill.

    Two men, including the driver of a bloodstained taxicab abandoned about a mile from where the body was found Monday afternoon, were released by Prince Georges police after questioning. The taxi driver said his cab broke down and he left it for the company to tow away. The other man, reported to be an acquaintance of the dead woman, satisfied investigators he knew nothing about her death.

  2. #2
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    Hmmm, very interesting

    Seems to me that would make February 8th aproox. the day that Ben died. Wonder if they questioned the Taxi Cab driver as to why there was blood on his car...did these guys know the LE?

    Was the girl raped? Did they do a medical exam like that on her? Probably not released, huh?

    What were the two doing in that area?

    Whay didn't it raise any flags that one knew her?

    Is there a cover up?

    Sounds like someone is getting away with murder...

    Give a litle more on your thoughts on this, as you have done the research.

    BTW, I'm a native Marylander. Work in Maryland, live in WV. This caught my attention from the get go because of the location and because I too have a soft spot for war vets and them being recognized for their valor. Also, old cemetarys have always fascinated me. I enjoy going to the graves and looking at the names and dates and thinking of the people they once were. Just to have them remembered...I hope someone stumbles across mine many, many years from now and makes up their own little thoughts of who I might have been.

    What you did for Ben is very admirable. Bless your kind soul. Very good kharma on you!

  3. #3
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    If the head wound is the one she recived before her death then it seems possible that she had died from maybe the head injury, but since there was an autopsy done then I would think the examiner would have found evidence of a head injury (concussion, etc.) Was there more that one head injury, maybe the one her brother referred to and one that killed her. Maybe one the 2 men questioned were responsible for.

  4. #4
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    That research is impressive. My heart goes out to Ben and his family. How tragic and sad.

    A couple of things came to my mind right after reading your post:

    The location that she was found--was she walking through a wooded area on her way somewhere--did she have any legitimate reason for being there of her own accord?
    Did she have a vehicle that was abandoned nearby?
    Did it appear to be an abduction or did she tell family members she was going somewhere that would have led her to or through the wooded area?
    The injuries appear to be indicative that medical care was needed and for some reason not sought could have been the result of the hit and run....But was she the driver or was she a passenger?

    What interesting thought provoking scenarios. Ben deserves to have the truth about his death made known along with a proper burial.

    Some things that might shed light---if there's any way to find out what her profession was if any and would it have taken her near the woods. Did other family members (ie husband) have any injuries? Where was she last seen?
    Would her head injury have caused her to become confused/lost before she died? Was it in fact the cause of her death? Any other circumstances surrounding her death such as ligatures etc?

    Also, the only bit of info I can offer on finding Ben's death date would be to research his family history if that's an option and maybe he did have family somewhere that would know and were notified. Take heart though every time I feel like I run up against a brick wall, seems like something unfolds in time. Keep searching....

  5. #5
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    Richard,

    I did some digging today and could come up with nothing on Mr. Stewart. Does his military record list any next-of-kin information? It may be possible to trace family through one of the many genealogical sites, such as Ancestry.com. A family member may be able to provide the information you seek. It also seems quite strange that the church doesn't have more information-would a check of county records in regard to the cematery yield any information? I know that many cemateries are required to record location and dates of burials. How accurate do you feel the information surounding his death is?
    Another, seperate avenue may be to contact the local VFW for help in cutting through the red tape. The recent revival of the movement to expunge the records of the black sailors convicted in the Port Chicago Mutiny has brought new attention to the forgotten black heroes of World Wars 1 and 2. Certainly, a letter to your government officials, even to the Secretary of the military branch he served with, would seem to be in order.
    As a former combat veteran myself, I feel it is time for these men and women to get the respect they deserve from the country they fought, and in many cases died for.

  6. #6
    tennessee is offline Blew out my flipflop. Stepped on a pop top . . .
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    A closed head injury could result in death at a later date. However, I would think that someone would notice the symptoms and get the injured treatment right away. Even back then. This is why the doctors always tell friends/family to wake a person that has received a concussion every hour and talk to them.

    I really think that this case was solved too quickly and that perhaps these two men should have been looked at a little more closely.

  7. #7
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    More on Ben...

    Ben Stewart's death by a hit and run driver was related to me by a woman, now in her sixties. She felt that the date was 1944 or 1945, and based it on her memory of about what grade she was in school at the time. He was well known in the small farming community and was from a good sized family. I have spoken with a woman who is a great neice of Ben, but unfortunately she does not have any information about him, since he died before her birth. She did know his brother, Boston Stewart.

    I became interested in this small cemetery some years ago, when some friends and I planted some shrubbery around its perimeter. The Cemetery dates back to pre Civil War times when slaves were buried there, and it was taken over by St. Simon's Church about 1902 when that congregation of black people separated from St. Thomas Episcopal Church. In the 1970's both churches recombined and the old St. Simon's church was torn down. Burials, however, have continued to take place in the old St. Simons Cemetery. The Cemetery is located some distance into a woods and there is no building or water, or electricty to it. Only about a fourth of the graves in it were marked and a recent effort was made to locate and mark other graves with small stones bearing no inscription, since it is not known who is buried in most of the previously unmarked graves.

    In researching the names of known persons buried, I learned that several of those men served in the Army. Three graves have now been marked with bronze markers from the Veterans Administration. There are a few others, like Ben's grave, which remain unmarked due to lack of a death date.

    A large fire in July 1973 destroyed many individual Army records at the National Personnel Records in St. Louis, MO. Maryland (and many other states) had compiled a book listing all Marylanders who served during World War I. In that book, I was able to find the veterans buried in this little cemetery, along with birth dates and specifics about their service, such as home town, enlistment dates, units served with, overseas travel, muster out date, etc. Unless a soldier died while serving, his death date is not listed.

    An interesting thing about this Maryland book is that a small "c" after the person's name incicates him to be "colored". Although such an indication today would be cause for indignation and lawsuits, that is the way records were kept and published in the past. When doing historical and geneological research - as in this case - it actually helped to identify the particular veterans buried in St. Simons.

    Ben would have been about 48 or 49 years old at the time of his death. Most likely, he was engaged in farming, quite possibly growing tobacco, which was the main cash crop here until recent years.

    I intend to continue looking for more information about Ben and his death, possibly in older issues of the Baltimore Sun or Washington Post. The answers will come, but only if the questions are asked.

  8. #8
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    Regarding Nancy Brown...

    Nancy Brown's death in February 1945 is not related in any way that I know of to the death of Ben Stewart. I simply ran across her story when looking for information on Ben.

    This case was reported as "solved" in the first mention of it by the newspaper. I honestly do not know any more about it than what I printed in my first post, when I quoted the entire news article.

    In reading it my mind was reeling with questions. Such basics as: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How were only touched upon in the story. I was particularly struck by the Medical Examiner stating that he would release his final report after the Chemist completed some minor tests, but did not expect the "verdict" to change. Like saying, "My mind is made up, please don't attempt to confuse me with the facts."

    Each sentence in the story leads to more questions. A blood stained taxi cab abandoned near the place where her body was found? Was it her blood? How did the blood get in or on it? Did she ride in that cab? Etc etc.

    What was she doing in the woods? How was she dressed? When did she die? Alcohol in the brain tissues? Nature of head injury? And certainly all of the many questions that have been mentioned here.

    And who was this male acquaintance? "Don't know anything? Well, sorry to have been a bother. Off with you then."

    Maybe it was simply another era and you believed what the police told you. After all, they were the experts in matters like this. But maybe this is why we don't read about as many unsolved deaths from years past. Either they were reported as solved immediately, or (as in Ben Stewart's case) weren't even considered newsworthy enough to report locally.

  9. #9
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    Someone earlier mentioned ancestry.com, at their website is a message board, that may be a start to post on there about him or at rootsweb.com. heres a link, hope it might help. You might also want to check under a different spelling like Stuart. In researching my husband's family we found that his mothers family had 2 different spellings of their last name, once we found that out our research was easier.
    http://boards.ancestry.com/mbexec/script/main/rw

  10. #10
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    Richard, the Washington Post goes all the way back to the 1800s if you go to the Rockville library. I'll put this on my "to do" list next time I go there.


  11. #11
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    Newspaper Archives...

    Quote Originally Posted by marylandmissing
    Richard, the Washington Post goes all the way back to the 1800s if you go to the Rockville library. I'll put this on my "to do" list next time I go there.
    I have seen older archives of the Washington Post at other libraries, but the one in Hyattsville only went back to the mid 1950's. It would be very interesting to see if the Washington Post had anything on either Ben Stewart or on Nancy Brown.

    I would think it more likely that a story could be found in the Washington Post on Nancy Brown, since we know the exact date - her body was discovered on Monday afternoon, February 5, 1945. Since her brother lived in DC, and since College Park is so close to DC, I would think it newsworthy. Whether or not there would be any more information than was contained in the Prince Georges Post, is another matter.

    If Obituaries and Funeral Notices are also searched, more information might be found. While researching another very old case, I once obtained a foreign death certificate for a person who was murdered overseas and transported back to Washington DC for the funeral. By contacting the cemetery, I reached someone who checked their records, located and sent me a copy of the death certificate, along with the autopsy report.

    Although Croom, Maryland (where Ben Stewart lived and died) is almost a suburb of Washington DC today, back in 1945 it would have been considered "way down in Southern Maryland". I would think it a better possibility that the Baltimore Sun might have run a story on Ben, because the Sun was a popular paper here in those days. I have seen articles in the old Sun papers which covered local Southern Maryland stories.

  12. #12
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    Ben Stewart's date of death...

    I have not yet been able to pinpoint Ben Stewart's actual date of death, although I recently spoke with another person who remembered it well. She said that she thought it was earlier than 1944 - Maybe in 1942 or 43. She confirmed that it was "during the war". So I will keep looking.

  13. #13
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    Richard, I'm a newbie here and this may be way off base, but is it possible that a funeral home in your area may have some info on Ben? I'm in a small town too and our funeral home businesses have been handed down from generation to generation. We even have one in town that "accepted" the bodies of the blacks. Maybe the case in your area?

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by LButler
    Richard, I'm a newbie here and this may be way off base, but is it possible that a funeral home in your area may have some info on Ben? I'm in a small town too and our funeral home businesses have been handed down from generation to generation. We even have one in town that "accepted" the bodies of the blacks. Maybe the case in your area?
    You make a very good point. And yes, there were and still are funeral homes which have mainly black clientele. In this case, there was a Diggs Brothers Funeral home in Upper Marlboro, which MAY have prepared the body of Ben Stewart. Unfortunately, by the time I began my search for information a few years ago, that home had already gone out of business, and I could locate no records for it. The current funeral home which prepares most of the funerals in St. Simon's Cemetery does not have records going back that far, evidently. I made a few inquiries, but got nothing from them.

    Record keeping back in the 1940's does not seem to be quite what it is today. I could find no Death certificate in the state archives, no police report, no coroners report, and nothing in church records regarding Mr. Stewart. I have his birth date and summary of Military Service thanks to a book published after WW I which listed all Maryland Med who served in the Armed Forces during that war.

  15. #15
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    This story caught my attention, and as I read through the Nancy Brown part of the post, I realized that the story ran on the exact date that my dad was born. Kinda creepy, cause not too many crimes from the 40's are talked about on here. Anyway, I definitely think the cab driver and the other man were involved in her death somehow. They most likely talked their way out of it. Do you possibly know how Nancy received the severe head wound before she died?


    Happiness...consists in giving, and in serving others.
    - Henry Drummond

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