Bath School Disaster
The Bath School disaster, also known as the Bath School massacre, was a series of violent attacks perpetrated by Andrew Kehoe on May 18, 1927, in Bath Township, Michigan, United States. The attacks killed 38 elementary school children and 6 adults and injured at least 58 other people. Prior to his timed explosives going off at the Bath Consolidated School building, Kehoe had murdered his wife, Nellie Price Kehoe, and firebombed his farm. Arriving at the site of the school explosion, Kehoe died when he detonated explosives concealed in his truck.
Kehoe, the 55-year-old school board treasurer, was angered by increased taxes and his defeat in the April 5, 1926, election for township clerk. He was thought by locals to have planned his "murderous revenge" after that public defeat. Kehoe had a reputation for difficulty on the school board and in personal dealings. In addition, he was notified in June 1926 that his mortgage was going to be foreclosed upon. For much of the next year until May 1927, Kehoe purchased explosives. He secretly hid them on his property and under the school.
On May 18, 1927, Kehoe then set off almost simultaneous explosions at his farmstead and at the Bath Consolidated School. His devices destroyed the farm's buildings and ripped through the north wing of the Bath Consolidated School building. As rescuers began working at the school, Kehoe drove up to the schoolyard and detonated dynamite inside his shrapnel-filled truck. The truck explosion killed Kehoe plus four other people, and also injured bystanders. During the rescue and recovery efforts, searchers discovered an additional 500 pounds (230 kg) of unexploded dynamite and pyrotol in the south wing of the school that had been set to go off at the same time as the initial explosions in the north wing; Kehoe had apparently intended to destroy the entire school and kill everyone in it.
Bath Township is a civil township located 10 miles (16 km) northeast of the city of Lansing in the US state of Michigan. The township covers 31 square miles (80 km2) and the small unincorporated village of Bath is within its borders. The township itself is within Clinton County, Michigan, an area of some 566 square miles (1,470 km2). In the early 1920s, the area was primarily agricultural. After years of debate, Bath Township voters approved the creation of the Bath Consolidated School district in 1922, along with an increase in township property taxes to pay for a new school. When the school opened, it had 236 students enrolled in grades 1 to grade 12. The school's creation was controversial, but Monty Ellsworth wrote in his book about the disaster that consolidated schools had great advantages over the smaller rural schools they replaced. All landowners within the township area had to pay higher ad valorem property taxes. At the time of the bombing, the unincorporated village had about 300 adult residents.
Andrew Philip Kehoe was born in Tecumseh, Michigan, on February 1, 1872, into a family of 13 children and attended the local high school. After graduating, Kehoe studied electrical engineering at Michigan State College in East Lansing and moved to St. Louis, where he worked as an electrician for several years. Sometime during this period he suffered a head injury in a fall and was semi-conscious or in a coma for a period of several weeks. He later returned to Michigan and his father's farm.
After his mother's death, Kehoe's father Philip married a much younger widow, Frances Wilder, and a daughter was born. On September 17, 1911, as his stepmother attempted to light the family's oil stove, it exploded and set her on fire. Kehoe threw a bucket of water on her, but the fire was oil-based and his action spread the flames more rapidly, which engulfed and immolated her body. The injuries were fatal and she died the next day. Some of Kehoe's later neighbors in Bath believed that he had caused the stove explosion.
Kehoe married Ellen "Nellie" Price in 1912 at the age of 40. Seven years later, they moved to a farm outside Bath. Kehoe was said to be dependable, doing favors and volunteer work for his neighbors. He was also described as being notoriously impatient with any disagreement, and he had shot and killed a neighbor's dog that had come on his property and annoyed him by barking. He had beaten one of his horses to death when it did not perform to his expectations.
Kehoe had a reputation for frugality and was elected in 1924 as a trustee on the school board for three years and treasurer for one year. He argued strongly for lower taxes, and later superintendent of the board M. W. Keys said that he "fought the expenditure of money for the most necessary equipment". Kehoe was considered difficult to work with, often voting against the rest of the board, wanting his own way, and arguing with the township financial authorities. He protested that he paid too much in taxes and tried to get the valuation of his property reduced so he would pay less. In 1922, the Bath Township school tax was $12.26 on a thousand dollars valuation (with the valuation on Kehoe's farm being ten thousand dollars). In 1923 the school board raised the tax to $18.80 per thousand dollar valuation and in 1926 the taxes went up to $19.80. This meant that Kehoe's tax liability went from $122.60 in 1922 to $198.00 in 1926. In June 1926 Kehoe was notified that the widow of his wife's uncle, who held the mortgage on his property, had begun foreclosure proceedings Following the disaster Sheriff Fox, who had served the foreclosure notice, reported that Kehoe had muttered "If it hadn't been for that $300 school tax. I might have paid off this mortgage." Mrs. Price, the mortgage holder, also reported that Kehoe had stated "If I can't live in that house, no one else will." when she had mentioned foreclosure to him.
Kehoe was appointed in 1925 to temporarily fill the position of town clerk, but he was defeated in the April 1926 election. This public rejection by the community angered him. Ellsworth wrote that he thought that this defeat was the reason why Kehoe had planned his "murderous revenge"; using the bombings to destroy the Bath Consolidated School and kill the community's children and many of its members. In Bath Massacre, Arnie Bernstein cites Robert D. Hare's Psychopathy Checklist and says that Andrew Kehoe "fits the profile all too well".
Kehoe's neighbor A. McMullen noted that Kehoe had stopped working on his farm altogether for most of the preceding year, and he had speculated that Kehoe might be planning suicide. Kehoe had given him one of his horses about April 1927, but McMullen returned it for this reason. It was discovered later that Kehoe had cut all his wire fences as part of his preparations to destroy his
farm, girdling young shade trees to kill them and cutting off his grapevine plants before putting them back on their stumps to hide the damage. He gathered lumber and other materials and put them in the tool shed which he later destroyed with an incendiary bomb.
By the time of the bombing, Nellie Kehoe had become chronically ill with what resembled tuberculosis, for which there was no effective treatment or cure at the time. Her frequent hospital stays may have contributed to the family's debt. Kehoe had ceased making mortgage and homeowner's insurance payments months earlier.
Purchase and planting of school explosives
There is no clear indication of when Kehoe conceived the idea of massacring the schoolchildren and townspeople, but Ellsworth, who was a neighbor, thought that Kehoe conceived his plan after being defeated in the April 5, 1926, township clerk election. The general consensus of the townspeople was that he had worked on his plan at least since the previous August. Bath School Board member M. W. Keyes was quoted by The New York Times:
I have no doubt that he made his plans last Fall  to blow up the school ... He was an experienced electrician and the board employed him in November to make some repairs on the school lighting system. He had ample opportunity then to plant the explosives and lay the wires for touching it off.
Kehoe had free access to the school building during the summer vacation of 1926. From mid-1926, he began buying more than a ton of pyrotol, an incendiary explosive used by farmers during the era for excavation and burning debris. In November 1926, he drove to Lansing and bought two boxes of dynamite at a sporting goods store. Dynamite was also commonly used on farms, so his purchase of small amounts of explosives at different stores and on different dates did not raise any suspicions. Neighbors reported hearing explosions set off on the farm, with one calling him "the dynamite farmer". Following the disaster, it was reported that Michigan State Police investigators had discovered that a considerable amount of dynamite had been stolen from a bridge construction site and that Andrew Kehoe was suspected of the theft. Investigators also recovered a container of gasoline in the school's basement. The container was rigged with a tube and investigators speculated that Kehoe had planned that the gasoline fumes would ignite from a spark scattering burning gasoline throughout the basement. In the undamaged section of the school, it was found that Kehoe had concealed the explosives in six lengths of eavestrough pipe, three bamboo fishing rods, and what were described as "windmill rods" that were placed in the basement ceiling.
Kehoe purchased a .30-caliber Winchester bolt-action rifle in December 1926, according to the testimony of Lieutenant Lyle Morse, a Michigan State Police investigator with the Department of Public Safety.