It was November 20, 1955 in the small Florida town of Tavernier, on the Florida Keys. Conklyn Meriwether was eating his lunch at his in-laws’ home when suddenly he spoke to his son of just seven years evil words that quickly formed into an atrocious act of horror. He arose, walked to his car and grabbed his hatchet. He returned and the bloodbath began.
First, he attacked his brother-in law, Paul Mills, a mere teenager of 16 years. The youth survived the assault, but with a fractured skull and a four-inch gash on his head, neck and arm. He then went after his father-in-law, Paul’s 55-year-old pa, Charles, who initially survived the multiple skull fractures delivered by the crazed lunatic behind the axe—but who would, days later, succumb to his injuries.
Then it was his paralysis-stricken, immobile mother-in-law Ellen Mills’ turn, fearfully stuck in her wheelchair, unable to thwart the steel blows raining down upon her. She was the first to die, perishing instantly.
The attacks eventually ended, with Meriwether throwing the bloodied hatchet into a nearby bush. The officers arrived, finding him pacing back and forth in front of the bungalow in which the crimes took place. He was taken into custody. His wife, Ruth, who along with her three children was with Conklyn when the rampage began, had fled.
Before the amnesia-afflicted Conklyn Meriwether brutally murdered his paralyzed, wheelchair-bound mother-in-law and before he smashed his 55-year-old father-in-law’s skull in, and before he tore a gaping wound into his teenaged brother-in-law and even before he said to his seven-year-old son, “now, would you like to see me kill everybody?”, Conklyn Meriwether was a pretty good baseball player.
Though he never played in the major leagues—he appeared on the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster in 1946, but did not get into a game—the six-foot, 210-pound future killer held his own against those whom he played. He spent 15 seasons in the minor leagues, including four in the New York Yankees farm system. He hit .307 in his career and displayed great power, slugging 280 home runs—an average of nearly 20 a season.
He could even twirl the pill with great acumen—he started out his career as a pitcher, one who would enter the ballgame doing cartwheels towards the mound—winning as many as 13 games in a season.
In 1951, the 33-year-old slugger walloped 44 home runs, while batting .327. “Conk,” as he was known, hit 33 home runs the next year and 42 the next. Despite his successes, the man was aging—and following the 1954 season, after he tallied 1,463 hits and 268 doubles and a slugging percentage over .550 in his career, Meriwether was out of baseball.
Perhaps he was missing the game especially so on that late-autumn day. Perhaps, the ballplayer-turned-carpenter felt he could still swing a mighty stick, but lacking a bat he reached for the hatchet instead. Or perhaps, the husky Conklyn Wells Meriwether—a crazy name to fit a certifiably crazy man—was just nuts.
After the World War II veteran was taken into custody, investigators and family members and neighbors tried to piece together what just happened.
Though reports conflicted—some claimed Ellen was attacked first, then the father-in-law, then Paul, what unfolded was a murderous tragedy, one in which three people were attacked by an ax-wielding man.
That much they knew. But why? Meriwether’s wife said he was prone to fits of rage. His mental stability was in question.
Despite his potential cerebral disturbance, Meriwether, held without bond, was charged with first-degree murder in the attack on Mrs. Mills and attempted murder in the attack on the other two victims. When Mr. Mills passed, the charges were upped to two counts of first-degree murder. Meriwether waited in the Key West jail for his time in court.
At the behest of his sister, Mae Gibbs, in December 1944 a commission of two doctors and a layman was called to investigate the mental condition of the killer. A sane man could not do what he had done, it was thought. In his mind there was a glitch, an error, a miswiring of the synapses.
A month later, Judge Raymond R. Lord heard the findings. The sanity commission, after examining Meriwether and developing its report on the homicidal man, declared him insane and Lord had him committed to the State Mental Institution at Chattahoochee, warding off a possible death sentence.
The Protestant Conklyn Meriwether was born on July 18, 1918 in Island Grove, Florida. He would gain fame as a star minor league baseball player and infamy as an axe-wielding murderer. The criminally insane man, despite his horrid crimes, fought off the penalty of death and was paroled in 1975. He lived to be 78 years old, dying on August 11, 1996 in Bartow, Florida.
Bedingfield, Gary. “Those Who Served.” Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime. Baseball in Wartime, 7 Feb. 2008. Web. 12 Feb. 2012.
“Consider Mental Quark Cause of Tragedy.” The Times-News [Hendersonville] 21 Nov. 1955: Four. Print.
“Ex-Ballplayer Who Allegedly Killed 2 Is Declared Insane.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune 19 Jan. 1956, sec. 2: 13. Print.
“Hatchet Killer to Be Examined.” Sarasota Journal 20 Dec. 1955: 2. Print.
“MERIWETHER-L Archives.” Rootsweb. Ancestry.com, 19 Nov. 2006. Web. 12 Feb. 2012.
Pietrusza, David, and John Thorn. Baseball’s Canadian-American League. McFarland, 2005. Google. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.
“2nd Victim of Tragedy on Key Dies.” The Miami Daily News 6 Dec. 1955: 2A. Print.
“Uses Hatchet to Kill His Mother in Law.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal 21 Nov. 1955: 2. Print.