One radio report - not on this station - referred to those events as the worst examples of school violence in American history. Some commentators blamed the murders on modern times.
They seemed to say that something like that could never have happened in the good old days when we were a simpler people with traditional values, unsullied by the mass media.
Well, just about all of that is dead wrong. The worst school violence in American history took place eighty-two years ago this week right here in Michigan, on May 18, 1927, in the largely rural town of Bath, about ten miles from Lansing.
The events of that day were so shocking and incomprehensible that they seem to have been have been almost blotted out of collective memory, in an act of self-protective mass amnesia. Indeed, many lifelong Michigan residents have never heard of what happened at Bath, or have only the foggiest notion.
That may change now, thanks to a just-published excellent new book by Arnie Bernstein, called Bath Massacre: America‘s First School Bombing. It is a story of tragedy, heroism and poignant suffering. And it is a spellbinding study of one of the most mysterious mass murderers in American history, Andrew Kehoe.
Kehoe was a 55-year-old farmer who worked in his fields in a suit and tie, something just as bizarre then as it would be now. He had a sickly wife, Nellie, and had trouble making a go of it.
He had a bizarre personality, given to flashes of temper. But he was very handy and was an expert electrician, and the school trustees were grateful when he volunteered to do maintenance work on the gleaming new Bath Consolidated School.
What he was in fact doing was meticulously packing the school with dynamite and another explosive called pyrotol. At 8:45 that fatal morning, there was a blast that could be heard for miles.
Meanwhile, Kehoe had calmly blown up and burned down his own farm, carefully tying up his horses to make sure they would burn to death. He murdered his wife. Then he drove to the school, called the superintendent over to his car - and blew both men to eternity, along with one little boy who had managed to escape the wreckage of the school.
Back at the farm, Kehoe left a hand-lettered wooden sign that read: Criminals are made, not born.
He also left behind forty-five corpses, three times as many as at Columbine. To this day, nobody really knows why he did it. The standard theory is that Kehoe was upset over taxes and was about to lose his home. But Bernstein’s book, which deserves to be made into a movie, establishes that this was simply not true.
Instead, Andrew Kehoe seems to have been a quintessential psychopath. Years after his death, a radio villain would ask, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?“ Sometimes, not even the Shadow knows.