This column connects former sheriffs across two states, and re-tells the story of a man who was murdered in Litchfield in 1939 while sitting in his easy chair, shot by an enemy he never knew he had.
A while back, Jim Moore of Hillsboro brought a file into the newspaper office of historical note.
It included a photo of former Montgomery County Sheriff Leo Gilliland, who served as the county's head law enforcement officer from 1938-1942. The file also contained a letter from a sheriff in Indiana, and a 1944 magazine story about one of the more unusual murders in Montgomery County history, one that Sheriff Gilliland investigated and solved in 1939.
The letter was dated March 1, 1985, from Jasper County, IN, Sheriff Terry L. Gilliland, grandson of the former Montgomery County Sheriff, and was addressed to Moore, who served as sheriff here from 1982-1986. With the letter, the Indiana Sheriff Gilliland was supplying Sheriff Moore with a photo of his grandfather, Sheriff Leo Gilliland, to be used in a historic display that Moore was working on.
Jasper County, IN, is a county in northwest Indiana of about 36,000, current Sheriff Patrick Williamson said during a telephone interview last week. He reported that Terry Gilliland was sheriff there from 1979-1986, and was surprised to learn that his grandfather had been a sheriff here.
"Seriously?" Sheriff Williamson exclaimed. "My grandfather was a sheriff, too!"
Back to the 1939 murder. In 1985, Sheriff Gilliland also provided Sheriff Moore with the copy of a story, "Mystery of the Moonlight Assassin" from a 1944 issue of Current Detective magazine. Research from the newspaper archives helped fill in the story.
On Oct. 21, 1939, Litchfield resident George McNeece sat down in his living room to read the newspaper when he was shot in the head and killed. McNeece was a handyman who worked at Austin-Shrader in Litchfield. At the time of the murder, his wife, his housekeeper and her son were at home.
The fatal blast, though, came through a window from outside the house.
At first, Sheriff Leo Gilliland had few leads. There were some obscure footprints, and someone had seen a man with a shotgun walking through the railroad yard, but that was about it.
A break in the case came within a few days when McNeece's 33-year-old housekeeper got a call from 73-year-old Litchfield farmer Henry Seago, who asked her if she would reconsider his offer to become his wife. That led Sheriff Gilliland to the Seago farm, where a new 12-gauge shotgun was recovered, and Seago eventually confessed to the crime.
"Kindly, neighborly, law-abiding George McNeece, ignorant of the fact that he had a mortal enemy, had been shot to death in his home on Oct. 21, 1939," author George Beltz wrote in the 1944 detective magazine.
Although Seago had confessed to the crime and even pled guilty in court, court-appointed attorneys requested a sanity hearing. The defendant was found unfit and eventually sentenced "to the state hospital for the criminally insane," according to the magazine.
Sheriff Leo Gilliland, by the way, died early and unexpectedly in 1960. He was 59 years old.