Andrew Kehoe: The Man Behind The Murders
The year 2022 will mark the 95th anniversary of the Bath School Massacre of 1927. Most Mid-Michiganders know the story of this bloodbath.....but what did we ever really know about the man behind this mass murder? What was his life like up to that point?
The perpetrator was Andrew Philip Kehoe, born February 1, 1872 in Tecumseh and was one of thirteen children born to Philip and Mary Kehoe. He was an above-average student at Tecumseh High School where he excelled in his physics class and later attended Michigan State University (known then as Michigan State College) where he took courses in electrical engineering.
According to the book “Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer”, Andrew was considered “special” and was primed by his father to be the long-hoped for male heir to the family farm. Andrew was well aware of his position in the family and it went to his head. He was great. He was privileged. He could do no wrong. He would be in charge...and in command of the family fortune.
This bout with his egomania led him to believe he was much more significant than others around him, and anyone who disputed this was his enemy. Furthering affecting his mental state was the passing of his mother, who died in 1890 when Andrew was 18 years old.
In 1911, Andrew worked in Iowa and later in St. Louis, where he fell during a job and severely injured his head, putting him into a coma for two weeks. After recuperating, he returned to Michigan and moved back to the family farm. He learned that while he was away, his father had re-married a woman named Frances Wilder. This did not set well with Andrew and he immediately resented and disliked her.
It wasn't long afterward that Frances was 'coincidentally' killed in an explosion in her kitchen. Nobody suspected Andrew at the time, but after the Bath incident, questions were raised.
His brilliance for electrical engineering was becoming secretly overshadowed by his deteriorating mental health. He admitted to killing his stepsister's cat, shooting a neighbor's dog, and beat one of his own horses to death because “he wouldn't pull”. He even told a fellow farmer, “when I got through with the animal, he was dead.”
Other townsfolk noticed bits of odd Kehoe behavior: while other farmers dressed in conventional farmer clothes - like overalls - Kehoe would dress in a complete suit while working and plowing his fields. In the mid-1920s, Kehoe was behind in mortgage payments and farmers were taking big losses thanks to declining crop prices. His wife's failing health meant more high medical bills as well. In an attempt for more money, in 1924 he ran for - and was elected - school board treasurer. He hoped in this position he could possibly keep school taxes (and his own) down to a minimum.
While employed at the school, he became mortal enemies with the superintendent, Emory Huyck. When Kehoe's attempts to keep Huyck out of school meetings failed, he pulled stunts like withholding Huyck's paychecks, cut his annual raises, and cut vacation days. Kehoe was not re-elected, which fueled his anger further.
All the explosives in the school were ready by the morning of May 18, 1927. That day, he killed his sick wife, then went out to the barn, tied the animals' legs together so they couldn't run away, and set his whole farm on fire.
At 9:45 a.m., Bath Consolidated School exploded. 38 students and six adults were killed.
Part of Kehoe's plan was to kill superintendent Huyck. When he saw Huyck cradling a dead child in his arms, he realized he had to do something. Kehoe was standing alongside his truck when he waved Huyck over to talk. A few minutes after Kehoe and Huyck conversed, his truck bombs went off, killing them both.
No one suspected Kehoe of all these deeds until the next day when they discovered the burnt bodies of his wife Nellie and their farm animals. Nellie's remains had been placed by Kehoe in a wheelbarrow.
What was left of Andrew Kehoe was buried in a pauper's grave in Mount Rest Cemetery in St. Johns. He was 55 years old.
His wife Nellie was buried under her maiden name (Ellen Agnes Price) in Mount Hope Cemetery, Lansing.
A teacher had approached Kehoe in 1927 and asked if she could treat her students to a fun day at his farm by having a picnic. He said, sure, but she should do it “right away”. Some days after the explosion, a Bath resident was asked why Kehoe would suggest immediacy. He answered, “I suppose he wanted the children to have a little fun before he killed them."