By David Sibray. On the morning of March 18, 1932, Harry Powers dropped through the gallows at the West Virginia Penitentiary and swung for 11 minutes before being pronounced dead. His body hung lifeless, his lips still, never revealing his thoughts about the murders with which he had been charged.
Who was Harry Powers? Aside from being one of the first men in modern history to be labeled a “serial killer”? His barbarity has inspired much speculation. The 1953 novel “Night of the Hunter,” which took place in the nearby Ohio Valley, and the 1955 film of the same name, starring Shelley Winters and Robert Mitchum, were based on the Powers tale. As recently as 2013, Jayne Anne Phillips in her novel “Quiet Dell” examined the case anew.
Harry F. Powers was born “Herman Drenth” in the Netherlands in 1892. In 1910, at age 18, he emigrated with his family to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and, fourteen years later, at age 32, and allegedly after having lived overseas, he moved to Quiet Dell, near Clarksburg, West Virginia, under the name Harry Powers.
There he began to assume the character of an Oklahoma oil-stock promoter, the first of several aliases he adopted over time. A year later, after having responded to her advertisement in “Lonely Hearts Magazine,” he married Luella Strother, who owned a farm and nearby grocery store in the Quiet Dale area.
But Power’s taste for lonely-hearts correspondence wasn’t satiated when he met Strother. He began to take out personal advertisements, posting false information in an attempt to capture the attention of lonely, wealthy women. Many wrote Powers in response. According to the U.S. Post Office, letters poured into Clarksburg at a rate of 10 to 20 per day. At about this time, Powers built a garage and basement behind his home.
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