Media Accounts and the Coroner's Inquest
Cleveland's African-American Community
by Mary Demmy
in April of 1912 began ominously. The sinking of the Titanic dominated the papers
with tales of tragedy, heroism, families destroyed and fortunes lost to the
northern Atlantic. President Taft and former President Roosevelt were viciously
fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. Due to the unseasonably cold,
rainy weather in Detroit, the baseball season's opening game between the Tigers
and the Cleveland Naps had been canceled. In Cleveland, school children were
being paid ten cents for every hundred flies they turned into the board of health,
much to the consternation of some of their mothers. The city was preparing to
fertilize some vacant lots, which were going to be turned into local "truck
farms" encouraged by the "back to the soil movement" with the
express purpose of helping cut down on the cost of living.
Cleveland, the sixth city, was expanding rapidly and attracting waves of immigrants from both Europe and other parts of the United States. Over the decades since the Civil War, African-Americans were increasingly attracted to the perceived opportunities which northern cities such as Cleveland held for them. Although the population of black communities grew in number, the percentage of Cleveland's black population stayed relatively steady, between 1 and 2% of the total population. In 1910 there were 8,500 blacks in Cleveland, which equaled 1.52% of the population.
April 17, 1912 was a cold gray day. The thermometer barely reached 40 degrees as Inez Williams, a 25-year-old black woman, left work, fastened her hat with a large pin and wrapped her coat tightly about her. It was a little after 6:00 p.m. when she reached Blee Court, a tiny one block downtown street where the north side was lined with frame boarding houses.
She passed the back entrance to the auto garage, which fronted on Chester Avenue, and crossed to 1117 Blee only to find that her boyfriend Louis Hallick, a forty year old bellboy captain at the Hollenden Hotel, had not arrived for their date. Unfortunately, she did not decide to head back home to her room at 46th and Scovill, but headed over to her cousin, Mrs. Hattie Davis, who shared three rooms with her husband a few blocks away on 12th Street. Inez thought she would wait there for Louis to pick her up.
She arrived at the Davis' rooms close to 6:30, and said she would visit with them and give Louis until about 7:00 p.m. before she would leave for home. Louis arrived close to 7:00 and they stayed for a half-hour having a few whiskey and gingerales with their host, Harry Davis. Louis was in a foul temper and Harry heard him mutter to Inez that they would both be dead inside 24 hours.
Meanwhile, Edith Morris, a friend and neighbor of Inez, was visiting with her mother up in their Scovill neighborhood. She decided to go downtown to meet up with Inez. On her way, she ran into Ludlough Burns at the street corner of 33rd and Central and even though he was feeling a little sick, she convinced him to take the Cedar Street car with her downtown. She told him she was going to meet Inez and then planned on coming right back. When they arrived at Mr. Hallick's room at Blee Court, the door was ajar and Louis' coat was lying across the bed, so they decided to wait a few minutes.
Louis and Inez arrived in a few minutes and Edith asked her if she was going home. Inez told her she would go, but asked if they would wait a few minutes in the room, while she and Louis went to get a bite from a restaurant. Ludlough and Edith stayed on Blee Court as Louis and Inez headed over to Walnut & 12th Street to Ben Won Ting's. They ordered ham and eggs. Inez took a moment to talk to another black gentleman in the restaurant. This infuriated Louis and he slapped Inez across the mouth, causing her to fall down the stairs of the restaurant. They never got to finish their ham and eggs.
When they got back to Blee Court, Inez was crying and her face was covered in blood. She told Edith that Louis had struck her in the restaurant and asked her if she would go back and get her hat that she left behind. While Edith went after the hat, Ludlough asked Louis where he could get some water to clean up the blood on her face. Inez asked him not to leave and stated that she was afraid of Louis. Even as he promised not to hurt her, Louis was drawing his hand back as if to strike her and Ludlough stepped in. Louis stated that he would not hit her and when Inez stopped crying, Ludlough left to get a pitcher of water. As he went up the stairs, the door slammed and a few moments later, he heard a shot.
Ludlough returned and knocked on the door. Louis asked him what he wanted and Ludlough told him that he had a pitcher of water for Inez. Louis asked him to get away from the door. At this point, Edith returned with Inez's hat. Ludlough shouted down the stairs to her not to come up and told her that he thought that Louis might have shot Inez. Ludlough returned to the door with Inez's hat, knocked and said he had come back for his coat, which he had left in the room. Louis did not let him in but instead brought his coat out to him. As Ludlough returned Inez's hat, he asked Louis if he had shot her. Not surprisingly, Louis claimed that everything was all right and that he had merely tried to frighten Inez.
Ludlough escorted Edith home on the Scovill car. She was very upset and pleaded with Ludlough to go back and see if Inez had been hurt. Wisely, Ludlough decided not to go alone to confront an angry drunken man with a loaded gun. Ludlough acted like a true gentleman; he had been feeling sick but decided to escort his single lady friend downtown and back. Now, after seeing Edith safely home, he found himself embroiled in this sad domestic drama. He stopped at the Elks Club and found a fellow to accompany him on his mission. They proceeded back downtown to the Hollenden Hotel and found Louis' roommate, Mr. Hughes, to help them out. When the three of them returned to Blee Court, the door was locked and Louis answered weakly, but was unable to get up to unlock the door.
At this point, Ludlough thought it was better to get a patrolman than have them force the door. He found an officer on 9th Street and brought him back. When the officer broke open the door, both Louis and Inez lay on the bed. Inez was already dead with a gunshot wound to her chest. Louis had also shot himself in the chest and was barely alive. They were taken to Lakeside Hospital.
Media Accounts and the Coroner's Inquest