Recap: E14 William Goebel Pt. 2: "Boss Bill"

"I never got anything in my life that was worth having without a hard fight, and I am always willing to make the best fight I can for anything I believe worth having.  I believe the governorship of Kentucky is worth fighting for... I want merely to thank you for the nomination.” – William Goebel

Even after William Goebel shot John Sanford dead in 1896, the senator still had plenty of enemies to contend with. Having made his fortune representing the common folk in lawsuits against railroads and corporations, men like railroad monopoly owner Milton H. Smith and wealthy lawyer Theodore Hallam, absolutely hated him. His highly controversial Election Law did not win him any friends either, nor does breaking his alliance with William Stone, a fellow Democratic candidate for Governor of Kentucky, to secure his nomination by the Party.

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy MacKenzie guide listeners through the political climate of the time and Goebel’s homicide investigation.


Concerned about rumors of an assassination attempt, William Goebel’s aides try to convince the senator not to attend the election committee debate. He goes anyways. Colonel Lillard inspects the building where the debate is being held, leaving Goebel and Colonel Chinn outside. Colonel Chinn attempts to strike up conversation when Goebel is shot.

The episode flashes back to the courtroom where William Goebel is on trial for the murder of John Sanford. A Democratic judge and jury conveniently find Goebel not-guilty and clear him of all charges. He also beats Sanford’s widow and her lawyer Theodore Hallam in court when they subsequently try suing for damages.

In 1898, William Goebel pushes a self-serving legislative bill, known as the “Goebel Election Law.” The law is met with heavy bi-partisan opposition and is vetoed by the then Governor William Bradley. Even so, the Goebel Election Law still passes.

The following year, Goebel runs for the Governor of Kentucky against fellow Democratic Party members William J. Stone and Parker Watkins “P. Wat” Hardin. Hardin, whose campaign is funded by L&N Railroad, does not have the support of the anti-L&N, anti-trust Democratic voters like Goebel and Stone. To eliminate the competition between Goebel and Stone, the Democratic Party intends to nominate P. Wat Hardin.

Goebel strikes a deal with Stone to prevent Hardin from stealing the nomination. Goebel promises to drop out of the race and encourage his delegates to vote for Stone. At the Democratic Convention, Judge David Redwine pushes delegates to support the anti-monopoly Chinn Bill and uphold the Goebel Election Law and the McCord Railroad Bill. The convention turns into utter chaos, especially with the arrival of one hundred L&N Railroad lobbyists. Redwine tries to leave and one of the attendees threatens to shoot him.

When singing doesn’t work to calm the rioters down, the police are brought in to establish order. Despite turmoil in the room, Judge Redwine is able to get the McCord Bill on the Democratic Party’s official platform, which the even the railroad industry endorsed P. Wat Hardin would have to adopt.

Still, the delegates are loyal and will only vote for one of the three candidates. Goebel proposes taking a vote; the candidate with the least amount of delegates drops out of the race. After breaking his alliance with Stone and forcing him out of the running, Goebel is nominated the Democrat Party’s candidate for Governor of Kentucky.

In the general election, Goebel runs against Republican William S. Taylor and Independent John Y. Brown. Taylor wins the election but is suspected of “voter fraud” and “military intimidation of voters.” A committee of mostly Democrats launches an investigation. Angered by this, armed Republican mountain men march on the state capital to stir up trouble and the streets become dangerous.

In the midst of this tense climate, Goebel walks to the State Capitol Building with his two bodyguards and is shot – the bullet puncturing his lung. Goebel is declared the new Governor of Kentucky while he undergoes treatment at the Capitol Hotel. Taylor calls out the Republican militia and flees to London, Kentucky. The armed Republican guard physically prevents the Legislature from convening to certify Goebel’s win.

Martial law in Kentucky is declared and the Legislature finally convenes, swearing Goebel into office while he lies dying in a hospital bed. After only being in office for four days, Goebel dies on February 3, 1900.

Taylor flees to the state of Indiana and when he is charged with conspiracy to murder, he refuses to return to Kentucky for the trial. Yet, no one goes after him and he is never arrested or tried.

During the investigation, police determine that the bullet that killed Governor Goebel was shot from Caleb Power’s office. Motivated by the likelihood that he would lose his job under Goebel’s governorship, Power is accused of blackmailing a man named Jim Howard into murdering him.

Three of Power’s aides testify that he brought armed men to the capital to kill William Goebel, including a mentally challenged stenographer named Henry Youtsey, but they did not know who fired the fatal shot. The court finds Jim Howard, Henry Youtsey and Caleb Powers guilty.

Two of the three men are imprisoned and one is sentenced to death, but all are eventually pardoned because foul play was suspected during their trials.

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories hosts Carter and Wenndy remind listeners that not everyone who had motive to kill William Goebel was investigated. Wealthy lawyer Theodore Hallam, railroad magnate Milton H. Smith, betrayed political ally William Stone or an agent of William S. Taylor could have orchestrated his assassination.

Who do you think murdered the 33rd Governor of Kentucky? Weigh into our twitter poll, @ParcastNetwork with your theory.