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Onondaga County; Unsolved Murder: The Bizarre and Tragic Life of Dr. Harvey Kendall

May 17, 1882. A body is found in a meadow, next to the cemetery that serves the Onondaga County Poor House. The man had been shot between the eyes from close range with a pistol.

Tom Powell, a farm hand at the Poor House was looking out the window at what he thought were a group of crows. Upon further observation Powell realized that it was actually a man lying on the ground, dressed in black. When Powell and his boss went to investigate, they found a man with a bullet hole between his eyes, and his eyes were swollen shut. Miraculously he was still alive and gibbering to himself. The only thing he said that made sense was, "My name is Dr. Harvey Kendall." He wouldn't name his attacker and the doctor died later that night.

Dr. Kendall was a member of a local military company, and he was widely believed to be the "quickest gun" in the county. What's even more startling than his murder was the other profession that he was so intensely interested in. In fact, his involvement in this other work activity may have been what led him to his death. The tools of that trade were found near him after he was shot. A colleague of his testified that Kendall "had a kind of mania for body snatching". Harvey's wife pleaded with him to give up grave robbing and he said he would, but he wanted to dig one last time so that he could profit from the medical college, which paid upwards of $50.00 for the corpses of the freshly dead. Dr. Kendall was not alone in his endeavors. There were several bands of these grave robbing "ghouls" and Syracuse was a hot bed for these activities during the late 1800s.

The local papers covered the story. “Doesn’t a body-snatcher ever lose his courage?” a reporter asked an informant.

“Well, I confess a resurrectionist feels a little ticklish at times. The worst part is when the coffin lid is broken in. Perhaps the moon will come out from behind a cloud and shine down full into the face in the coffin. I tell you, that is the time that a man’s nerve is tried.”

But wait, this story gets even more bizarre. Dr. Harvey Kendall was also a member of the "league of Body Snatchers." An old friend of Dr. Kendall's, Orville Manzer, recounted his initiation into the league, which happened in the attic of Kendall's parents' home.

"Everyone opened a vein in an arm with a knife and poured a small amount of blood and whiskey into a human skull, from which everyone drank."

He continued with his tale: "At that point, one of the men grabbed a meat hook and went to one of the barrels. He brought up from the pickle the head and shoulders of the corpse of a young woman. I nearly fainted from fright. The other barrels were similarly filled.”

As to the killing of Harvey Kendall, the police were baffled. A coroner's trial was held but no one was ever charged with Kendall's murder.

~ As a writer I have taken fictional license to include this interesting factual case into a story I am writing: The Uber Ghost- A True Story. ~

Will the murderer of Dr. Harvey Kendall be revealed? To be published this summer.

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