In August of 1931, police arrested a Quiet Dell, West Virginia shopkeeper named Harry Powers on suspicion of murder. Powers had been exchanging love letters with an Illinois widow who had responded to a “lonely hearts” ad he had posted under the pseudonym Cornelius O. Pierson, and the widow was now missing. Police searching his garage found blood stains and a noose, prompting them to excavate a drainage ditch near Powers’ yard. In the ditch were found the bodies of the widow, her three children, and another woman who had answered Powers’ personal ad.
News of the sensational murders quickly swept the country (Powers was called “The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell”), and West Virginia song publishers Leighton D. Davies and A.H. Grow were quick to capitalize with a murder ballad, “The Crime At Quiet Dell”. In an apparent attempt to convince fellow West Virginians their venture was not purely exploitative, they wrote:
… it was not written to appeal to the morbid fancies of some at all, but altogether to the contrary. (The scene has been carefully viewed, and every possible detail of the gruesome crime learned on the ground first hand). It is designed to put right the idea that some people in other states may possibly entertain, that West Virginia is not a good State.
The ballad was published and performed live on West Virginia radio stations prior to Powers’ trial, to the great consternation of his lawyer. Powers was unsurprisingly convicted and hanged for his crimes on March 19, 1932.
More on “The Crime at Quiet Dell” can be read in Donald Lee Nelson’s article in the Winter 1972 issue of JEMF Quarterly, which also contains a complete reproduction of the original sheet music (above) from the Southern Folklife Collection Sheet Music and Song Lyrics Collection.