The Death of Bernard Friley

clippings transcribed by Steve Green

This piece was composed by J. W. Day who at the time lived down the street from where Friley was killed.

THE DEATH OF BERNARD FRILEY. Ballad text copied from manuscript version handwritten in pencil on a sheet of notebook paper.  Below title: "by J. W. Day."  A note near the top of the page says "murdered Jan 22 1934."

Using the date above as a lead, I searched the Ashland Daily Independent and found several accounts relating to the death of Bernard Friley. On Tuesday evening, January 23, 1934, the newspaper's front page carried a story headlined "Find Body of Bernard Friley in Ditch Here." Friley, aged 34 at the time of his death, was a local man who lived on 45th Street in Ashland. He was found in a ditch on Halbert Street at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, January 22 "with a gaping hole in the right side of his head." John McPeak, the boy who found the body, and Howard Alley dragged Friley's body from the ditch up to the street and then notified the police. A few hours later, the police picked up Henry "Candy" Bond for questioning. Suspicion fell on Bond when it was discovered that he had bloodstains on his shoes, a handkerchief, and a jacket he was wearing. Bond denied knowing anything about Friley's death. However, it came out that both Friley and Bond were to have gone on trial together on a breaking and entering charge, and Friley was expected to testify against Bond. Two detectives assigned to the case determined that Bond was the last person seen with Friley, but beyond that they could not connect him directly to the killing. No weapon was found near the scene where Friley's body was discovered, but officers expressed the opinion that a blow with a scout axe had killed Friley, based on the triangular shape of the wound. A coroner's inquest was held to determine the exact cause of death. Meanwhile the Ashland police admitted to being baffled by the case and said it was "one of the most puzzling cases that has confronted them in many years." Friley reportedly had been employed as a laborer on CWA projects, and was survived by a wife. No other information about the victim was given in Tuesday's paper.

On Wednesday however, Bond was ordered by the coroner's jury to be held in conjunction with the murder. More than a dozen witnesses gave testimony before the coroner and jury. According to Sam Smith at whose home Friley, Bond, and two other men had imbibed several drinks Monday evening, Bond and Friley left together shortly after eight o'clock. Mrs. Smith said she had watched the men walking away from the Smith home, and that Friley fell twice, presumably from drunkenness, with Bond having to help him up. Apparently, it was only a short distance from the place Mrs. Smith last saw Bond and Friley together to the spot where Friley's body was later found. The newspaper reminded readers that no witnesses had actually seen Bond commit any crime.

Johnny McPeak, who found the body, was fourteen years old. McPeak apparently heard a gurgling sound in the ditch caused by Friley lying face down in a shallow pool of water. McPeak summoned Bartha Ferguson and another man, and a third person, Howard Alley, helped pull the body from the ditch. 

The coroner's jury returned a verdict that Friley died by having been struck with a blunt instrument by Henry Bond. At noon on Wednesday, no formal charges had been made against Bond, but he was taken to the county jail in Catlettsburg to be arraigned before a judge the following day. Friley's body was to be taken to the Friley home that evening, with the funeral following the next afternoon, Thursday. Bernard Friley was buried in the Ashland Cemetery.

On Thursday evening, the Ashland Independent reported that two other men had been arrested in connection to the Friley murder case. Willard "Rags" Beam and William Pigman were being held for questioning by detectives. Meanwhile, Henry Bond's hearing before Judge P. H. Vincent was to be in the county court in Catlettsburg on Friday.

After announcing on Tuesday that the murder would be one of the hardest they ever had to solve, Ashland police declared on Thursday that they about had the case wrapped up, "having only to clear up a few minor details." Police indicated that they had recovered the "death weapon," but instead of naming it they said only that it would be displayed at the hearing on Friday. Officers seemed confident that the motive behind Friley's death was that Bond wished to prevent him from appearing as a state witness in circuit court relating to the robbery of C. C. Wheeler's store a few weeks earlier. Both men had been indicted on robbery charges.

On Friday it was announced that Bond's hearing would not occur until Monday as the state needed a little more time to prepare its case against him. As it was, there was no bond for Bond and the suspect was lodged in the county jail over the weekend. The other men, Beam and Pigman, were likewise held by police as material witnesses.

I was unable to locate subsequent articles relating to the case so did not learn Henry Bond's fate, nor that of the other two men, Beam and Pigman. Neither did I discover what the "death weapon" was that was held by the police.

[NOTE: After writing the above, Teresa Martin Klaiber kindly provided me with clippings and other documents revealing follow-up information. Bond was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in the pentitentiary at Frankfort.]

The ballad.

The fact that Friley had been drinking prior to his death provided an easy theme for J. W. Day in composing this song. It will be remembered that Day's earlier piece "The Rowan County Troubles" ended with the temperance message "In the bottom of a whiskey glass, the lurking devil dwells...." "The Death of Bernard Friley" has Day remarking pointedly, "The poor man's death was caused by drink / Thousands go that way...." Here then was another victim.

Day may have been inspired by news items appearing in the Ashland paper within a few days of the Friley case, notably a front page story on January 29th indicating that a proposal to repeal the Kentucky prohibition law had been submitted to Governor Ruby Lafoon (two days later local police raided several Ashland beer joints and seized more than fifty gallons of illegal whiskey).

On February 1st a story appeared saying that local police had received a tip that the famous outlaw, Pretty Boy Floyd, had been spotted in the area. I find this twist intriguing because the text of J. W. Day's Bernard Friley song fits perfectly to the tune of another song now well-ensconced in American tradition, "Pretty Boy Floyd." Admittedly, there is no evidence that this was the tune used by Day, and it's possible that the Pretty Boy Floyd song was actually penned by Woody Guthrie at some later date (after Floyd had been captured). However, there are some remarkable internal similarities between the two songs. "Pretty Boy Floyd" opens with the line "Twas in the town of Shawnee..." while Day's piece starts "It was in the town of Ashland...." The text of the Bernard Friley song flows along perfectly to the tune that Woody Guthrie used in singing "Pretty Boy Floyd." Perhaps this similarity is only coincidence.

In retrospect, the case for a relationship between the Pretty Boy Floyd ballad and Day's Bernard Friley song is superceded by parallels to "The Ashland Tragedy" that contained almost identical wording. The second verse of "The Ashland Tragedy" ran this way:

It was in the town of Ashland
All on that dreadful night
A horrible crime committed [sic]
And soon was brought to light.

Compare this with Day's first two lines in "The Death of Bernard Friley":

It was in the town of Ashland
A murder come to light
The death of Bernard Friley
T'was done on Monday night.

We can be certain that J. W. Day would have been familiar with the “Ashland Tragedy” ballad (said by some to have been composed by Elijah Adams). In fact, in the 1930s, R. D. Murphy of Council, Virginia, told folk song collector Dorothy Scarborough that he learned the song "The Ashland Tragedy" forty years earlier from a printed broadside he bought for ten cents from J. W. Day. However, other than the two lines highlighted above, there are no real textual connections between "The Ashland Tragedy" and "The Death of Bernard Friley."

It is worth noting that J. W. Day's text was a fairly accurate account of the facts of the Friley case. The murder did occur on Monday night, the 22nd of January. In the next to last stanza, Day indicates that "His assassin is in prison / A-waiting for a trial." This places Day composing the piece after Bond's arrest and before his hearing—a fairly specific window of time in which we see J. W. Day responding to a local newsworthy event by composing a ballad based on the facts as reported in the papers and also on local knowledge—it was not reported in the papers, for instance, that Friley was survived by an aunt. Only his wife was mentioned.

The degree to which Jean Thomas felt at liberty to dramatize things is reflected by her presentation of "The Death of Bernard Friley" in Ballad Makin' in the Mountains of Kentucky (135-136) where she introduced the song this way:

"Jilson tapped a foot a sighed wearily, 'Try as a body will to pint out the wickedness of the world, meanness goes on. Time was when there was a sayin'—leastwise in the mountains— "Book learnin' will putt an end to crime and misery. But," he shifted in his chair, "even down in the level land, nigh the foothills, they're carryin' on worse than ever. They tell me a young feller by the name of Bernard Friley was stobbed and clubbed plum to death. I've made up a warnin' piece about it.'" (italics added) [1]

Thomas changed Day's opening line from "It was in the town of Ashland..." to "It was down in the level land..." to use one of her favorite phrases. More revealing than her introduction to the piece are her comments following the ballad text.

"As I went my way at sunset ... the words of the last stanza of Jilson's song pounded through my thoughts:

Young man, I pray take warning,
Shun the moonshine den,
The Commonwealth will get you,
And land you in the pen.

Could it be that even Jilson Setters, like the times, was changing! "Moonshine den" ... "get you" ..."land you in the pen." How strange these words and phrases sounded on the lips of the Singin' Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow. My heart cried out loudly, jealously against the invasion even of words into his fine, pretty world! Jilson's world of balladry peopled with lords and ladies, knights and squires, castles and kings. And then the reassurance of his own words echoed through my troubled thoughts. "I don't aim to make up no more such warnin' pieces ... let the young folks turn their hand to such." [2]

From the above remarks we see just how much Jean Thomas had invested in her characterization of Jilson Setters, how romanticized her notions were of balladry and how distant she was from the reality of the topical ballad maker's art. It's as if she had brainwashed herself. She was actually relieved to hear that Jilson Setters planned to write no more ballads! She would rather that he abandon ballad-making than to be reminded that he read the newspapers and listened to twentieth century gossip and used colloquialisms of the day. In other words, she wished him to remain a relic of her imaginary world rather than allow him free expression of his own personality and culture.

As a footnote, the Ashland Independent ran a human interest story about Jean Thomas in 1969 in which the nearly complete text of "The Death of Bernard Friley" was included. It was presented as an example of the type of topical songs composed by Jilson Setters. The newspaper ostensibly copied the text from Jean Thomas' Ballad Makin' book (with the "level land" first line), however, one verse was accidentally truncated and another verse left out completely.

[1] Thomas, Jean.  Ballad Makin' in the Mountains of Kentucky (135-136)

[2] Thomas, Jean.  Ballad Makin' in the Mountains of Kentucky (137)

Ashland Daily Independent ~ January 23, 1934

Find Body of Bernard Friday in Ditch Here

Local Man Believed to Have Been Murdered

Bond Questioned

Henry Bond Quizzed; Police Baffled

With a gaping hole in the right side of his head, the body of Bernard Friley, 34, of 534 45th St., was found in a ditch on Halbert Street at 8:30 o’clock last night by John McPeak who with Howard Alley pulled the body out of the ditch into the street and then notified the police.

A few hours after the finding of Friley’s body, Henry “Candy” Bond, a resident of 45th St., was taken into custody for questioning in connection with Friley’s death.

Suspicion was directed toward Bond, chief of police Charles F. Howard, who is directing the investigation, said today, when it was discovered that there were blood stains on his shoes and on a handkerchief and a dark grey jacket which he was wearing.

Is Questioned

After his arrest, Bond was questioned for some time by Chief Howard and other officers, but he denied knowing anything about Friley’s death and denied having anything to do with it.

Chief Howard said that Friley and Bond were to have gone on trial today in Circuit Court on charges of breaking and entering. He also said that Friley was to have appeared as a witness against Bond.

Detectives John Hall and Claude Hayes, who have been investigating the case today, reported that so far as they have been able to learn Bond was the last person seen with Friley, but they have found nothing that would connect him with Friday’s slaying.

The officers made a thorough search of the vicinity where Friley’s body was found and have been unable to find any trace of the weapon used by the slayer. The officers expressed the opinion that he was slain by a scout axe as there was a triangular shaped hole in the right side of his skull.

Bond was to be questioned at length this afternoon by the police in an effort to learn just how much, if anything, he knows about how Friley met his death.

To Hold Inquest

Coroner E. C. McGehee was scheduled to hold an inquest at the Clark Funeral Home this afternoon at two o’clock to determine how Friley came to his death.

Police admit that they are completely baffled and will have a hard time solving this murder mystery. They said that it is one of the most puzzling cases that has confronted them in many years.

Officers who worked on the case last night and who arrested Bond were Patrolmen Pennington, Brewer and Lane, Lieutenant Gearhart and Deputy Sheriff Joe Apple and Sam Berry.

Friley, who had been employed as a laborer on CWA projects here, is survived by his wife, Mrs. Emma Friley.

No arrangements for the funeral service have been made.

Ashland Daily Independent ~ January 24, 1934

Jury Orders Bond Held in Friley Death

Witnesses Say Bond Last Man with Victim

To Get Hearing

Prisoner to Be Taken to County Jail

Henry “Candy” Bond, who was arrested in connection with the killing of Bernard Friley, 34, who was found with his head battered in with a blunt instrument early Monday night, was ordered held for murder by a coroner’s jury impaneled by Coroner E. C. McGehee yesterday afternoon.

More than a dozen witnesses testified before the coroner and the jury.

Sam Smith, at whose home Friley, Bond and two other men are said to have visited and had several drinks of liquor, testified that Bond left his home sometime after eight o’clock Monday evening to take Friley home. He said that was the last time he saw Friley alive.

At Smith Home

Mrs. Smith, wife of Sam, said that she saw Bond and Friley leave her home and that she watched them until they got out of sight. She testified that she saw Friley fall twice and saw Bond pick him up. She also said that it was only a short distance from where they disappeared from her view that Friley’s body was found lying in a ditch.

The majority of the witnesses who testified said that Bond was the last man they saw with Friley, but there was no eyewitness testimony offered at the inquest of the actual killing and none to show that the actual killing was done by Bond.

Friley’s body was found by Johnny McPeak, a 14-year-old boy, who said he was attracted to the ditch by a gurgling sound which Friley was making because of the fact that he was lying face downward in a ditch in which there was a shallow pool of water.

The McPeak boy summoned [Bartha?] Ferguson and another man and they with Howard Alley pulled the body out of the ditch and notified the police.

Verdict Returned

The verdict returned by the coroner’s jury was to the effect that Friley came to his death by being struck with a blunt instrument at the hands of Henry Bond.

At noon today no formal charge had been made against Bond, but he was to be taken to the county jail at Catlettsburg this afternoon where he will be formally arraigned before Judge P. H. Vincent in county court tomorrow morning.

Friley, a CWA worker, is survived by his wife. The funeral service will be held from the residence, 530 45th St., on Thursday afternoon at two o’clock with Rev. P. E. Thornberg, pastor of the centenary M. E. Church, in charge, Burial will follow in the Ashland Cemetery.

The body is to be taken to the funeral home late this evening.

Ashland Daily Independent ~ January 25, 1934

Two more arrests were made by police yesterday afternoon in connection with the death of Bernard Friley early Monday, chief of police Charles F. Howard announced today.

Willard “Rags” Beam and William Pigman were arrested by Detectives Hayes and Hall, Chief Howard said, and are being held in the city jail here for investigation and as material witnesses in the case.

Henry “Candy” Bond, who was arrested on the night that Friley’s body, with his head crushed in, was found in a ditch on 45th St., is to be given a hearing before Judge P. H. Vincent in county court at Catlettsburg tomorrow.

Bond was ordered held by a jury impaneled by Coroner E. C. McGehee Tuesday afternoon. The jury returned a verdict stating that Friley came to his death by being struck with a heavy blunt instrument in the hands of Bond.

Case About Solved

Police intimated today that they had almost solved the case, having only to clear up a few minor details. However, they refused to elaborate on that statement, preferring, they said, to wait until the hearing tomorrow.

It is understood that the police have the “death weapon” in their possession and this will probably be displayed at the hearing.

The police have been ceaseless in their efforts to solve the murder since a few minutes after the body of Friley was found by Johnny McPeak, a 14-year-old boy who was attracted to the ditch by a gurgling sound.

Police have expressed the opinion that Friley was slain to prevent him from appearing as a state witness in circuit court in a robbery case. He and Bond, the police say, had been indicted in connection with the robbery of C. C. Wheeler’s store several weeks ago.

Ashland Daily Independent ~ January 26, 1934

Bond Hearing to Be Monday

To Be Held Before Judge P. H. Vincent

Henry “Candy” Bond, held in the county jail at Catlettsburg in connection with the death of Bernard Friley, 34, whose body was found in a ditch on Keys Creek Monday night, is to be given a hearing before Judge P. H. Vincent in county court Monday afternoon at 1:30 o’clock.

Bond was taken before Judge Vincent yesterday afternoon for arraignment, but the state was not quite ready to proceed and the case was passed over until Monday.

The prisoner was ordered held in Friley’s death by a jury impaneled by coroner E. C. McGehee Tuesday afternoon, after hearing evidence of witnesses at an inquest held at the Clark Funeral Home.

No bond has been set for the prisoner and he was returned to the county jail to await his hearing Monday.

Two other men, William “Rags” Beam and William Pigman, are being held as material witnesses in the death of Friley. They were arrested by Ashland police Tuesday night.

Ashland Daily Independent ~ January 30, 1934

Bond is Held to Grand Jury

On Murder Charge; Bond is Fixed at $7500

Catlettsburg: Henry (Candy) Bond of 45th St., Ashland, was bound over to the action of the Boyd County grand jury under bond of 7 thousand 500 dollars yesterday afternoon by County Judge Pat H. Vincent following an examining trial on a charge of willful murder. Bond had not executed bond this morning and was still in the county jail.

Bond was arrested late in the evening of January 23rd for the alleged murder of Bernard Friley.

Ashland Daily Independent ~ April 13, 1934


Found Guilty of Manslaughter


3 Other Prison Sentences Meted

Catlettsburg. April 13–Henry (Candy) Bond of Ashland, on trial in Boyd circuit court on a charge of willful murder in connection with the death of Bernard Friley, was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury yesterday afternoon and his punishment fixed at four years in the state penitentiary at Frankfort. The verdict was returned at 5:15 after the jury had deliberated for three hours

Friley died last January 22, a short time after his body was found in a drainage ditch along Halbert St., Ashland. Death was caused by a severe head injury, which police, who investigated the case, believed was inflicted by a small axe or other sharp instrument. Bond was said to have been the last person seen with Friley on the evening the body was found.

Three other penitentiary sentences were returned by circuit court juries yesterday afternoon in cases where defendants entered pleas of guilty.

rest of story not transcribed…


Last Update: August 26, 2011