The Truth... What is it?





The Blind Coroner and other Oddities of Bygone Days

Throughout all of human history, up until about 1950, scientific evidence was scarce. And society depended upon the ability of people to know how to get at the truth by way of widespread and almost instinctual skills of "reading" body language, tones of voice, and "how" stories were told. People from those times would be shocked at modern Americans struggling to discern "truth" as lies swirl around, seemingly invisibly. Scientific, measured and concrete evidence rules popular, modern thinking. "Subjectivity," having served mankind well for 10s of thousands of years, is relegated to the low levels by our modern worship of the "scientific". Too bad....

In 1939, Sumter mayor F. B. Creech received an inquiry from Believe It or Not, Inc. Mr. Creech responded by letter of 14 July 1939:

"Gentlemen:"

"I received your letter of June 14th asking for verification of some statements, and in reply, beg to state that the information you have seems to be correct. The names of the officers are as follows:
 

  • The Coroner- Mr. J. Scott Cain
  • The Master in Equity- Mr. Hugh C. Haynesworth
  • The Chief of Rural Police- Mr. W. J. Seale
  • The Superintendent of County Schools- Mr. W. O. Cain
  • The City Health Officer- Dr. G. R. Kitchen

Some of these men might be sensitive about the use of this information, and I would, therefore, respectfully request that my name not be used in connection with the matter.

Yours truly
F. B. Creech, Mayor"


The Believe It or Not people from New York had inquired about the veracity of the following true facts:

 

JOHN SCOTT CAIN (1883-1964)
Born in either Priviteer or Indiantown, S. C., J. Scott Cain began to lose his eyesight as a young man. By the time he became coroner, he was "black blind". He was married and had one child who died at age 16 of Downs Syndrome, 2 years following the death of his wife and near the end of his first decade in the Coroner's office.

He was elected Corner of Sumter County, S. C. 6 November 1928 and served through 1960 (Guignard R. DuBose was elected 8 November 1960)...serving 32 years! Remember or be aware: these were before the days of real scientific, forensic investigations.

How could a blind man be successful in a job often very difficult for a sighted person? Mr. Cain was no pushover. He could be profane with the best of them, if need be. Old timers who knew him say that, more than hardly any other citizen, he knew more about the people and things going on in Sumter County than almost anyone else. He was able to interview and direct law enforcement investigators with decisive authority. But, more so, he had a tremendous memory combined with a great knowledge of the people of his county. As above noted, subjective reasoning was hugely useful in those days; and people didn't move from place to place as they do now. I remember even in the late 1950s that almost all citizens in Sumter could be categorized as being locals, or from Shaw Field (Air Force Base), or "from off somewhere". In the 20s and 30s, natives could immediately discern local South Carolinians from Georgians and North Carolinians by subtle differences in speech sounds and word usage. It is said that, if Mr. Cain knew the exact location that he got into a car with someone, he could direct them to any location in the county. So, in his determinative proceedings as coroner, his mind captured the details of a case in a sure way that we who depend on written details and computer logs would find difficult to believe. His determinations were, thereby, persuasive. Since his personal life was devoid of wealth or especially extraordinary social influence, we must accept that the quality of his discharge of office is what kept him "in" for 33 years.

When I began a pathology residency in 1970, initially in forensic pathology, there was a fight going on in South Carolina to supplant the statewide elective coroners system with a statewide medical examiners system. Unfortunately, the proponents of the latter derisively held up the case of J. Scott Cain...the blind coroner...as a worst example of the ignorant electorate gone mad [Mr. Cain was deceased by then]. Most forensic pathologists 50 years old or older in the U. S. have vaguely "heard tell" of a blind coroner somewhere. Now you know!

But, here is more of the story. When Mr. Cain's wife died in 1936, you had a blind man alone in his home. The South was still reeling from the great depression. So, Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Bernshouse merged their family's need with that of Mr. Cain and moved in with Mr. Cain in a sharing of what each had. A son, Wilbert Bernshouse, grew up in this environment. Wilbert would become one of the most influential and successful scoutmasters in the history of Boy Scouts of America in South Carolina, troop 336 out of Trinity Methodist Church, Sumter, S. C.

My mother, a nurse, went by the Bernshouse residence nearly every day to change nephrostomy bandages on Mrs. Bernshouse. Mr. Cain would sometimes be there sitting in the front porch swing. If so, he'd always want me and my sister to run over and sit with him on the swing. One after the other, while talking with us, we knew what to expect: he'd delicately feel our faces & heads to "see how much we'd changed since last time".

 

AND NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORY

More Blind Coroners


Mr. Jamison Cain of Arlington, Va. provided me with some copies of letters from his uncle's, Mr. Scott Cain's, files from or about other blind coroners:

  • The Coroner: an elected official charged to view and investigate and assign cause and manner of death....rumored to be blind. TRUE! Mr. Cain was totally blind when elected coroner in 1927 at age 44, retiring 33 years later.
  • The Master in Equity: an elected official charged to hear and decide/judge disputes over property...rumored to be deaf. TRUE! Mr. Haynesworth was deaf.
  • The Chief of Rural Police: an elected official charged to chase down and catch the criminal...rumored to have a wooden leg. TRUE! Mr. Seale was a one-legged man who had a cork leg.
  • The Superintendent of County Schools: an appointed official charged with the oversight of the education of the young...rumored to be an automobile mechanic. TRUE! Mr. Cain, a Clemson grad., was one of the best car mechanics in the history of Sumter.
  • The City Health Officer: an appointed official charged with the assuring the quality of community health for the citizens...rumored to be a horse doctor. TRUE! Dr. Kitchens was an active veterinarian.
  • dated 21 July 1929, from S. C. Attorney General John M. Daniel: a letter advising Mr. Scott Cain that there was no law in South Carolina precluding a blind man from holding any elective office.
  • dated 26 July 1928, from Dillon County, S. C. Judge of Probate, Joe Cabell Davis: a letter attesting that, "Mr. B. F. Gasque a blind man has been coroner of Dillon County for a period of 15 years and has given entire satisfaction and has made a very efficient officer. Will state further that he is running again this year without opposition."
  • dated 31 May 1928, from Atlanta, Georgia, The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, B. S. Barker, "We wish to advise that Mr. Paul Donehoo, an attorney in our city is blind and is at the present coroner."
  • 21 July 1928, from Cherokee County, S. C. Superintendent of Education, B. L. Hoke, "This is to certify that Mr. Beuford Moore...has been serving as Coroner of his county during the past three years, and that he is very efficient on the job. Mr. Moore is totally blind but he gets there and the investigation and performs his duties in a creditable way. There is not a man in the county that I think could do better."
  • dated 11 July 1928, from Coroner of York Co., S. C., Paul G. McCorkle, his letter explaining the practical application of the law respecting coroners and their use of the coroner's jury and inquest to find out how a deceased came to his death. "I have been totally blind...for the past 23 years. I have been coroner for more than eight years."



 

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[posted: 27 Nov. 2000; 1st addition 10 Feb. 2001; latest small additions 12 May 2014]