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21Country: Museum collection of human bones a reminder of Wabash’s darkest crime

WABASH, Ind. (WPTA21) - The Wabash County Historical Museum is a resource dedicated to teaching families about the area’s rich history.

Known as the first electrically lit city in the U.S, interesting circus ties which include an elephant’s rampage through town, and the home to a famous illustrator behind the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, to name a few.

But in a few boxes tucked away in the museum’s basement, are human remains — a reminder of a violent and dark past.

Archivist TJ Honeycutt said of the skeleton, “folklore-wise at least, are believed to be the bones of a spree killer from the 1850’s”.

He’s talking about John Hubbard.

The Canadian made his way south, getting a job on the canal with his wife and son in Richvalley.

The three moved into a cabin with a large family, sharing the cramped quarters.

In October of 1854, Aaron French, his wife and five kids, vanished.

Hubbard quashed questions on their disappearance quickly, with a simple explanation.

“In the 1850’s, in Indiana there was so much movement headed west and south and north,” Honeycutt told us, “that when the landlord showed up and said, ‘Where are the seven folks who used to live here?’ They just said they got land in Iowa and just left.”

Hubbard and his family invited in another roommate.

He too disappeared.

But authorities began to suspect foul play, when a body was found in the canal nearby the home.

In March of 1855, Hubbard was arrested in that death investigation.

And that was only the beginning of the horror police would soon uncover.

“The sheriff overheard him ask his wife, how the family in the basement was doing,” Honeycutt shared. “They sent a coroner’s jury out and dug in his basement and found the seven people who were living there prior.”

“The probable murder weapon? A hammer,” he added. “All of the victims were found with broken skulls.”

On the museum’s main floor, remnants of the crime remain.

Newspaper articles, the lock, key, and handcuffs that kept Hubbard restrained, and even the murder weapon.

“He was eventually sentenced to die by hanging,” Honeycutt said. “At the time, there wasn’t a state structure so they did it on the courthouse lawn.”

The Wabash newspaper, openly against the death penalty, penned a powerful headline that speaks volumes of the era.

It read, “Do not come to Wabash”.

“Our rival town at the time, Peru, Indiana,” the archivist told us, “the headline in their main paper said, ‘Wabash goes over to barbarism’.”

Worth noting, despite Hubbard’s deadly sentence, he had the best defense lawyer at the time: Congressman John U. Pettit.

Though the bones can’t be confirmed as Hubbard’s with absolute certainty, a newspaper article from 1954 suggests they were used at Wabash High School for teaching purposes.

A bust of his head is also on display, made from drawings and renderings from those who had seen him in person.

Hubbard’s wife was also arrested, and sentenced to life in prison for her role in the crime.

In the 1900’s, she granted an interview with a reporter, but declined to speak about the French murders.

A well preserved memorial for the victims remains in Richvalley, now on private property, near where the crime took place.

Only brought into the open for rare occasions, the bones of John Hubbard remain stored safe and secured, hidden from the public.

“In general, it’s well outside our mission and current programming to display the human remains,” Honeycutt explained, “or really draw any more attention to the serial killer story that is already there.”

The Wabash County Historical Museum will soon be decorated for Halloween.

If you’re interested in planning a trip this fall, you can find more information on their website here.

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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