In the Line of Duty: Hugh Gillette

Constable Hugh Gillette, Keewaydin Cemetery, Keewaydin

Turning onto the grounds of Keewaydin Cemetery, I was immediately greeted with the large obelisk marking the resting place of a young murder victim whose body was discovered a short distance from this location, on the Centre County side of the Susquehanna’s West Branch. While Clara Price is buried in this sacred plot of land the location of her murder is marked with a monument sitting along Route 879, a monument which is often mistaken to be her final resting place. Note: More about Clara Price can be found here: A Killing in Karthaus.

This trip brought me back to this remote location in search of another notable person who rests within the grounds of the Keewaydin Cemetery. A constable while alive, his death has been forgotten by most – had I not accidentally stumbled upon a newspaper article about his death, I would have never recognized the man as a law official who died in the line of duty.

“What are you doing?” my father asked as I slowly drove along the roadway passing through the cemetery.

“Counting stones,” I answered. Although Keewaydin Cemetery is not a large cemetery, I was thankful I been sent directions – I did not want to stay out in the extreme cold which had overtaken the region in the past couple days.

Arriving at the spot, I got out of the vehicle – the grass crunched underfoot as I carefully made my way to the small marker just yards from the roadway. I paused before the stone, which makes no mention of his profession or his cause of death. A Snow Shoe constable, Hugh Gillette is among those officers who lost their life while in the line of duty. Note: While the family name is Gillette, newspapers at the time spelled it Gillett, without the “e” at the end of the name. Also, newspapers state he was sixty when he was killed, but his stone states he was fifty-eight at the time of his death.

Hugh H. Gillette was born September 29, 1865 in Covington, Tioga County, the youngest son of Samuel and Sarah Gillette. When he was just ten months old, the family moved to Mansfield, where he spent his childhood and teenage years. At the age of twenty-two, Gillette moved to Clearfield County, where he settled near Kylertown, remaining there until his mid-forties, when he moved to Snow Shoe around 1910.

A carpenter by trade, Gillette also served as the constable for the Snow Shoe community. It was while performing his duties as a constable that Gillette would meet his end.

On April 3, 1924, Gillette went to the home of Stanley Shall, also recorded as Shaw, to serve a warrant on him for not sending his children to school. At the Shall house that morning were a handful of men, including Harry Auman. Note: Auman is addressed as Harry in most newspaper articles but a handful of articles refer to him as Frank.

Exactly what happened is not clear, but an altercation took place between Gillette and Auman. There were three slightly different versions of that fateful day that were recorded in the newspapers.

1) At the time of Gillette’s death, this is the version newspapers across the state picked up and reprinted. When Gillette arrived at Shall’s house, there were a number of men gathered around. While trying to serve the warrant, Gillette and Shall got into a scuffle. At some point, Auman and two other unnamed men joined the fight on the side of Shall. During the fight, Auman struck Gillette in the head with the metal end of a pickaxe, fracturing Gillette’s skull.

2) The May 3, 1924 edition of The Democratic Watchman (Bellefonte, Pa) claims the scuffle started when Gillette accused Auman of allowing Shall to escape into the surrounding woods as Gillette approached. Gillette struck Auman and ran from the porch. When Gillette followed, Auman grabbed the pickaxe and struck the constable in the head.

3) A third version of what happened that day appeared in the May 23, 1924 edition of The Democratic Watchman, which held Auman’s version of what happened. According to the Watchman, when Gillette arrived at the Shall house, he discovered Shall was not at home, but Auman was at the house. Gillette went onto the porch and lit a cigar. Auman came out of the house and demanded Gillette give him a smoke. Gillette then struck Auman – for no reason – in the face with a pair of handcuffs and chased him off the porch. Auman then grabbed the pickaxe and struck Gillette.

All three versions of what happened that day ends with Constable Gillette was transported to the hospital at Lock Haven, where he remained until his death on April 29. Auman, Shall and two other men were immediately arrested. Auman was denied bail and held for murder while the other three were never charged and let go.

From the beginning, Auman claimed he only struck Gillette as a means of self-defense. Due to Gillette striking him in the face and continually beating on him, Auman felt he needed to defend himself. That was the reason he grabbed the pickaxe and struck the Gillette in the back of the head. Auman initially plead “guilty,” to the murder of Gillette. However, Auman changed his plea to “innocent,” as his court date approached.

The defense team brought forward a couple witnesses who backed Auman’s claim. Interestingly, the witnesses were either members of the Shall family or their neighbors. All of the defense’s witnesses saw Gillette strike Auman, but none of them saw Auman strike the deadly blow. The jury found Auman “not guilty” for the murder of Hugh Gillette, much to the surprise of the court. Auman was released with a $2000 bond to the court stating he would stay out of trouble for the next two years.

Services were held for Gillette in the Lutheran Church in Snow Shoe, followed by burial in the Keewaydin Cemetery. He left behind a wife, two sons and three daughters.

The cold wind started blowing harder as I left him resting among his relations and headed towards the warmth of the vehicle. Exactly what happened that fateful day has been lost over the years as his death has been mostly forgotten. But I found comfort knowing his sacrifice in the line of duty would never be forgotten.

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