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The Barney Doyle Family Murders of 1883


Bernard ‘Barney’ Doyle was born in 1843 in Roscommon, Ireland. I don’t know exactly when he immigrated to the United States, but in 1869 he married Katherine Flatley in Harrison County, West Virginia. He and Katherine moved to Doddridge County shortly after 1870. Their first child, Barney, was stillborn on February 17, 1872. They had a daughter, Mary Katherine, born on October 10, 1873 and another daughter, Anna, born in 1876.


Misfortune struck again in 1877, when Barney’s wife, Katherine, died while giving birth to their fourth child. The baby most likely died at the same time, or else shortly after that, because only Barney and the two daughters, Mary and Anna, were listed in the 1880 census.


My interest in the Doyle family sprang from a story in Hardesty’s 1883 History of Doddridge County, which read:



Was one of the most brutal crimes ever committed within the confines of the Virginias, and has few parallels in criminal history. The horrid deed was committed about ten o’clock on Wednesday evening, April 4, 1883. Bernard Doyle and his two little daughters, Mary and Anna, aged respectively ten and eight years, were the victims. Doyle was engaged in the grocery business, and was supposed to have a considerable sum of money in his possession.


“On the above named evening Hattie Weekly and her mother, who lived nearby, heard the noise of a scuffle in Doyle’s house. They approached near, but were afraid to enter, so hastened on to the house of Amos Bee, and related what they had heard. Alonzo Bee, a son of the farmer, hastened to the Doyle residence, where upon entering, the horrible sight of three human beings weltering in their own gore met his gaze. He at once gave the alarm, and a large crowd collected at the scene. The victims of the cruel butchery were still breathing. Doyle was lying on the floor of the kitchen, Mary was lying on the floor of the same room, while Anna was lying upon the bed. Drs. McCalley, Charter and Brennan were called, and did all in their power to save the victims. Anna died about one o’clock Thursday morning, and the father at three, but Mary became conscious at nine and finally recovered.


“Sheriff McMillan, Constable Knight and Justice Cheuvront were soon upon the scene, and at once caused the arrest of one William Kinney. He was placed in jail to await an examination. The case was given to Detective Haggerty of Clarksburg, who soon after caused the arrest of another William Kinney and both are now in the Clarksburg Jail awaiting the action of the court.”


As I tried to find more information about the trial of the two William Kinneys, I found the following article in the December 13, 1883 issue of Wheeling Daily Intelligencer describing what one reporter found when he visited West Union:


“December 12—Dropping in on this quiet old town, almost midway between Grafton and Parkersburg, yesterday morning shortly after 9 o'clock, I stopped at the depot to greet an acquaintance when my attention was attracted by a striking figure. A long, lank, roughly dressed and rough looking man was lounging awkwardly on a chair without a back, not speaking to any of the crowd about him, but unconcernedly chewing tobacco. His high cheekbones, unshaven face, keen, deep set eyes, receding forehead and long narrow head, would attract attention anywhere. Shortly he rose, and I saw that he was handcuffed. He must be six feet and a quarter in stature; wiry but far from graceful, with noticeably large feet and hands, and a peculiar beastly expression—such is Big Bill Kinney, the murderer, for this was he. Behind him, on a wooden bench against the wall, their hands fettered together, sat Little Bill Kinney and Aaron Swiger, two other murderers, unlike Bill and unlike each other in everything but the striking brutality of expression.


“I found the feeling in the community in relation to the two Kinneys much represented in current reports. There was a deep and implacable resentment against them and the other criminals who have recently done so much—more than the world at large has even heard hinted—to

give this community a bad name. But I doubt whether the feeling was at any time hot enough to have made lynching a possibility. The citizens, as a class, are law abiding people and though they have been sorely tried, I find a commendable disposition to leave vengeance to the law. If this fails to do justice, who could blame human nature for appealing to the higher law, Nature's first law, for self preservation? A community of human beings who can see such a crime committed, and suffer from its effects upon the general good name as they have done; who can see a  bright, pretty little child of ten years, with cruel scars upon her face, and remember the sweet child of six who was murdered in cold blood without a pretence of provocation; who can recall the atrocious murder of Barney Doyle and his child, the most atrocious, perhaps, that has ever blotted the fair name of the state,—and then see the self confessed murderer let off with a verdict of murder In the second degree—people, I say, who can stand all this and let the law take its course, can never be censured for want of self-control.


“But the people here know both the Kinneys are guilty, and they believe the law will do them justice. Little Bill has been tried on the indictment for the murder of Barney Doyle, and found guilty of murder in the second degree, and the jury in Big Bill’s case failed to agree. But Little Bill is yet to be tried for the slaughter of  Annie Doyle, and Big Bill again for that of Barney, and the best citizens have an abiding faith that they will be convicted. It this faith should prove to be unfounded, the result would not be easy to foretell. There is a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.


“The trial of Big Bill was the most dramatic which ever took place in the state. When he himself was on the stand, Col. Ben Wilson took the ax with which Doyle was killed, and gave it to the prisoner. The giant trembled and grew pale when he felt that bloody weapon again in his bands, and his confusion and terror when Col. Wilson insisted upon his going through the motion of striking down a man with an ax amounted to confession. Said he, weakly, while his bloodless lips shivered, ‘I--I—never struck a man with—an —ax in my—my life!’,


“Perhaps, after all, letting the cowardly wretch live a little longer is not mercy.


“Big Bill's conduct on the stand was not the only act of his which virtually amounted to confession. When he was arrested and confined to jail, he heard allusions made to some large tracks on the creek bank, which did not fit Little Bill's boots. He at once proceeded to cut his boots into small bits and throw them into a waste pipe This was in itself damaging evidence, and the fact that he was allowed to do it illustrates how bunglingly the investigation of the crime was at first conducted, The men were not even searched, it is alleged, for twenty-four hours after their arrest, and were allowed to communicate freely with relatives and friends with no official surveillance…...


“I talked last night to little Mary Doyle, who was frightfully wounded and left for dead in the burning house when her father and younger sister were murdered. With her hat on she showed no signs of her injuries. But her forehead has a cruel scar and there is another on the back of her bead. She is 10 years old, and unusually bright and womanly for her age. She does not like to talk of the murder, and it annoys her to be regarded as object of curiosity. Her conduct as a  witness in the case was marvelous….


“Had it not been for the earnestness of Dr. Henry Brannon, of this place, Mary would have died of her injuries, or of her treatment by surgeons. Dr. Brannon was first called, dressed her wounds and pronounced them not necessarily fatal.  The next day an expert surgeon was brought in and insisted that only by trephining could the child's life be saved. Dr. Brannon protested, and fought off the surgeon until Mary regained consciousness, and her recovery was steady.


“Detective Haggerty had a sort of fatherly supervision over the little girl, who seemed to regard him as her natural guardian. He did not arrive here until the day after the murders when he found the investigation of the affair in a very mixed condition. He brought order out of chaos, and did much to bring the Kinneys to justice—or part way to Justice. I believe with most

of the people here that they will yet get their deserts, and that the evidence before

the jury was sufficient to convince any honest, reasonable being of their guilt.”


The Verdict

Little Bill Kinney served ten years in the penitentiary for his part in the murders. Big Bill Kinney was found guilty of double homicide in his first trial in Doddridge County, but appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial with a different venue. In November 1885, in Ritchie County, Big Bill Kinney was acquitted of all charges and released from custody a free man. So it would appear that the people’s faith in the justice system was sorely misplaced.  


Mary Doyle became the ward of John J. McManaway after her father’s murder. In 1901 she married Patrick Saunders, a cigar maker from Clarksburg, and had three sons. Mary died in 1956 and is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Clarksburg, a footnote in an unpleasant chapter of Doddridge County’s history.

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