|West Virginia State Hospital
for the Insane-Weston, WV
July 10, 1884
Source: WV History on View
On October 7, 1881, what started as a normal Friday night at the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane at Weston (now known as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum) would turn deadly for one inmate. Blaine Starry, an inmate from Jefferson County, WV, was in his room for the night—Room No. 6, to be precise. He was alone, but his room was separated from another patient room by means of a mere flimsy partition that didn’t even reach the ceiling. In the adjoining room were John Rose and an unnamed roommate. John Rose, described as an inoffensive elderly gentleman, was from Point Pleasant.
For whatever reason, Starry, in possession of what one newspaper article called a ‘club,’ climbed over the low partition into Rose’s room and beat the man to death. He severely wounded the roommate as well before guards could subdue him. Starry was said to be a powerful man, wielding his weapon with terrific force, so I can imagine how violent and brutal the death of Mr. Rose truly was. And, unfortunately, it would become just one in a string of brutal killings committed by asylum patients against their fellow inmates. And, like, so many other deaths of this nature, may have been preventable—at least in the eyes of one citizen from Wheeling, WV.
Going by just the name ‘W.,’ a gentleman wrote several letters to the editor of the local Wheeling Daily Register newspaper about the incident. He states that although the murder was discussed freely around the town of Weston the next morning, the local papers didn’t cover it. Even the Wheeling paper failed to mention the rumors of a coroner’s jury. Would this tragic death simply be played off as just an unfortunate accident, or would someone be to blame for Rose’s demise?
Obviously, if the events took place as described, then Starry would obviously be guilty of the crime, but could the administration and staff at the hospital helped prevent it? It seems likely, as W. goes on to mention the rooms the male patients were in were both too small AND the partitions, being designed for the female patients, were too low. Was there neglect on part of the current superintendent? Perhaps.
Back in April of that same year, a board had voted to replace Dr. Camden, long time superintendent of the asylum with a new, inexperienced doctor named Dr. W.J. Bland. This decision was apparently upsetting to, well, just about everyone. It is said the patients, upon hearing the news, screamed and cried and carried on. The general public was outraged as well, and sent in letters of support, petitions, and prayers in order to keep Dr. Camden instated. But, on May 15th, 1881, Dr. Camden was out and Dr. Bland was in, without any reason ever being given as to why the switch was made.
The mysterious W. of the editorial mentions that there’s no way that the new superintendent could know what was going on with the patients. Unlike Dr. Camden who made it a point to walk the wards multiple times a day and speak with the patients, Dr. Bland maybe visited the wards once every 2 to 3 WEEKS. He also failed to keep up correspondence with friends and family of the patients, missing out on valuable insight into their behavior and state of mind. Also…just where were all the funds set aside for the improvement of the hospital going exactly?
These are all fair concerns and questions, and so many years later, we’ll probably never know the full truth. Unfortunately, I could not find any death certificates or any additional information at all on John Rose. I was able to finally track down Blaine Starry in the WV Vital Statistics Death Certificates database. It seems as if Mr. Starry passed away from unknown causes at the asylum on February 6, 1891. He was 44 years old, and had been diagnosed with ‘insanity’ since he was a teenager. He was buried in the hospital cemetery.
Want MORE tales from the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum? Check out my page:
The Weekly Register (:Point Pleasant, WV). 13 April 1881. Page 2
South Branch Intelligencer (Romney, WV). 21 October 1881. Page 4
The Daily Register (Wheeling, WV). 12 October 1881. Page 1
The Daily Register (Wheeling, WV). 19 October 1881. Page 1
The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer. 12 October 1881. Page 4
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