Monday, May 16, 2016

Unemployed Father Kills His Eight Children, Sets House On Fire, Shoots Himself, 1951

“Ralph Gragg Slays His Eight Children And Then Kills Self,” from the Statesville Landmark, May 3, 1951
Gragg Injured in Accident at Saw Mill Last November and Had Been Unable to Work Since
Lenoir, May 3—Eight children were killed last night by their father in their home at Collettsville, 10 miles north of Lenoir.
The father, 36-year-old Ralph Gragg, then set fire to the house and killed himself with a shotgun. Gragg was injured in an accident last November in a sawmill and had been unable to work since.
The children ranged from 15 to 3 years of age. Their mother had been living away from home for the last month.
Neighbors told Sheriff George Greer the house “lit up all of a sudden” about 8 o’clock last night. Shortly thereafter the bodies of Gragg and his eight children were found. Gragg’s body was found in a hall beside a five-gallon can and a shotgun.
The coroner, Marshall Kincaid, said there would be no inquest. He said the skulls of the children had been fractured.
Mother Views Charred Bodies
The mother, in her thirties, viewed the charred bodies of her children—six girls and two boys—in horror. All of them were burned beyond recognition. Officers, in identifying them, went mostly by their sizes.
Her voice broken with sobs, Mrs. Gragg told Coroner Kincaid that “he threatened to do this before—that’s why I had to leave them. I was afraid of him.” She said her husband had bought kerosene about two months ago, apparently laying his plans for the tragedy at that time, the coroner reported.
The coroner reconstructed the events of last night from stories given by neighbors in the Blue Mountain community. One neighbor, Wesley Setzer, lives only about 200 yards from the site where the one and one-half story dwelling stood in a valley.
Neighbor Heard Shouts
Setzer told the coroner that he had heard shouts and muffled noises in the Gragg home but he thought perhaps they were caused by children. The coroner quoted other neighbors as saying the children were “terribly scared” of the father and often were punished.
The coroner said that Gragg apparently had used a club, an axe or some similar object to knock several of the children into unconsciousness before shooting them.
The coroner said Gragg “went from room to room, killing the children and closing each door behind him.” He added that after the two smaller children had been killed, the father went out the back door with a lighted flashlight in his hand.
Then All Was Quiet
“Neighbors said he stood on the front porch for a few minutes and then the flashlight went out,” Kincaid went on. “Just a minute or two later, the house was covered by the flash of fire.”
There were no outcries from the blazing building, indicating all the trapped victims were unconscious.
Relatives of Mrs. Gragg were making funeral plans for the eight children and the father, whose bodies were at two Lenoir funeral homes. They all will be buried at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Mountain View Baptist church cemetery.

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