Recap: E13 William Goebel

“There is not enough money in this land to bribe, buy, or muzzle or intimidate me.”

A bizarre cross between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, William Goebel was the governor of Kentucky for four days before his assassination by an unknown assailant on February 3, 1899.

At the time, Kentucky was the most violent state in the country and struggled with economic instability and ideological division. Even thirty, forty years after the end of the Civil War, families were split across the Confederate and Union line and there was surmounting tension between the rich and poor. Everyone carried a gun and people were murdered left and right.

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy MacKenzie reopen the 117 year old cold case on the murder of the 34th Kentucky Governor William Goebel.


Politicians bicker about the Democratic and Republican parties, two men fight over whether African Americans have the right to vote and William Goebel’s political opinions are juxtaposed with those of modern day presidential election candidates Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

William Goebel, the son of German immigrants, grows up poor and works to help his family. His father, a former Union soldier, works long hours at the railroad for meager wages and is barely ever home.

After attending Cincinnati College of Law, Goebel apprentices at the law firm of John W. Stevenson, where his work ethic and close relationship with the founder eventually leads to his being named partner and executor of Stevenson’s estate.

Remembering his roots, William Goebel represents overworked, underpaid railroad laborers and their families against Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N), a railroad company monopoly and abusive employer. He wins case after case, building a positive reputation amongst the common man and making serious enemies out of every rich businessman in the railroad industry.

When State senator James W. Bryan leaves his seat mid-term, Goebel runs for the open seat, his platforms pushing the same issues he fought for as a lawyer but on a larger scale. He wins by fifty-six votes.

In his first bill as senator, Goebel reduces road tolls, which is a win for the common man. This and his pursuit of the appeals court judge seat, incites the anger of John Sanford, Theodore Hallam and Harvey Meyers – rich powerful men who managed Kentucky politics without even holding office. They effectively block his nomination for the latter but cannot stop him from exposing the bribery and blackmail tactics used by railroad industry lobbyists.

Goebel imposes taxes on the railroads, which the industry claims it cannot afford. During the Depression of 1893, L&N cut wages and raised rents in company-owned towns. The workers go on strike and Goebel takes their case against L&N once more, which is ruled in their favor.

Enraged, John Sanford anonymously publishes insulting public information about Goebel in local newspapers.  Goebel responds in kind and then transfers three bank accounts he had control of – City of Covington, the County of Covington, and Covington Schools – from the bank Sanford ran to Frank Helm's First National Bank of Covington. Sanford couldn’t be more furious and resolves to kill Goebel or be killed.

On April 11th, 1895, William Goebel, Attorney General Jack Hendricks and President of First National Bank Frank Helm run into John Sanford who is armed with a gun. Shots are fired with Sanford taking a bullet to the head from Goebel’s gun. Goebel escapes injury and immediately goes to the police.

The ensuing trial sought to determine whether Goebel killed Sanford in self-defense or if it was a pre-arranged duel and/or murder. If found guilty, Goebel would be barred from holding public office, effectively ending his career. Sanford’s lawyer cross examines the witnesses Jack Hendricks and Frank Helm. Sanford’s widow accuses Goebel of murder.

How does William Goebel get out of this sticky situation? And with John Sanford out of the picture, who ultimately kills him?

Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, a Parcast Network podcast drama series.