Joseph Aaron Usher (portrait, ~1820); Joseph Aaron Usher Jr’s father; heritage Native American and Irish
“I did not know there was a murder mystery in my mother’s family,” Nancy Panoch writes.
Neither did I!
Joseph Usher was the great-uncle of my mother; his younger brother William was my mom’s great-grandfather, making Nancy Panoch a distant cousin. I met Nancy at a Barnes and Noble book signing, bought a signed copy of “Accountable,” and learned more about my ancestors. GREAT story–of love and family, mystery and murder, and details of a 1903 trial that is still studied by law students today.
“Not long ago,”Nancy writes, “In the process of exploring my American Indian ancestry, I stumbled on information about that murder and asked for more. … in trying to defend the man who committed the crime, this story grabbed hold of me with a passion I could not let go until I finished writing … becoming an author never occurred to me until this story of love, betrayal and murder took hold of me … I have been working on my ACCOUNTABLE: THE JOSEPH USHER STORY for five years. I looked up the word ‘guilt’ and ‘accountable’ came up. I knew immediately what the name of my book would be because Joseph Usher was accountable for this murder.”
In May of 1903, a hired hand is murdered in the night, in a bed in the house on the dairy farm of Joseph Usher and his family on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nancy Panoch introduces the reader to Joseph, his second wife, and his two youngest sons by his first wife. Otto, at 16, is a sturdy and reliable worker on the farm, a good role model for his 9-year-old brother. The woman of the house is Lucy, a very young woman Joseph had married some time after the death of his first wife. Lucy shows some signs of mental instability.
**Buy the ebook for $3.99 by clicking on this link: Accountable by Nancy Panoch
William Garrity is a farm hand and a good friend, when he’s not drunk. On May 26, Garrity, staying at the Usher home following a drinking bout, is killed. At first, it seems as if he died of natural causes, but then a bullet wound is discovered.
Most of the book “Accountable” is a record of the trial, with detailed testimony over a prolonged period. Circumstantial evidence puts Joseph Usher in jail for a few years (he’s released on good behavior).
With a successful motion for a new trial, further developments stretch on into 1909. Young Otto takes on the role of running the family business and keeping the family together. Tense relations between the Ushers and Lucy’s family soften.
The primary mystery is the motive. Was it really Joseph who shot Garrity? Why would he? If he didn’t pull the trigger, who did?
All the character witnesses asserted Joseph was a good, upstanding man, not someone who’d commit premeditated murder.
— From a review by Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English. Read the complete and unedited review here in the Fort Meyers Florida Weekly.
The paperback is out of print, but you can find copies at bookfinder.com.
This book is written about my Great Grandfather and Great Great Grandfather. It is a fascinating story that was not discussed in our family, and when I learned that this sad story was being written – I can honestly say that I had no knowledge of the events that took place some 110 years ago! I always knew my father’s family to be hard working, devoted, God fearing people – who never hesitated to lend a neighbor or friend a helping hand, and I can only imagine the hardship and isolation that this ordeal caused the whole family at that time. My ancestors were no-nonsense folk who did not partake in idle gossip or openly discuss any type of scandal. I can now understand why that happened to be the case. I knew my Great Grandfather Otto, who is one of the central characters in this tale. He was a man with a great deal of wisdom that most probably was gained by battling the challenges that life presents. He was just a young man when his father was tried for the murder of Bill Garrity. I can only imagine how that horrible experience forced him to age beyond his years. This book is a testament to what a good man he was and remained throughout his life of beyond 90 years.
Jan. 26, 2014 – The Gazette BOOK REVIEW
Joseph Usher novel details rarely discussed Cedar Rapids family story
When farmhand William Garrity was murdered outside of Cedar Rapids in 1903, the story made headlines. But citizens didn’t know the true story of what happened that night – or its far-reaching implications – until now.
Author Nancy Panoch is the great-granddaughter of Joseph Usher, who stood trial for the murder of William Garrity. In her self-published book “Accountable: The Joseph Usher Story” she explores this rarely-discussed chapter in her family history.
Panoch does her best to tell the story like a historical episode of Law and Order. She takes the time to explore each character and provide engaging details of life in Cedar Rapids in 1903, including a wonderful account of Joseph Usher’s milk route. Perhaps most moving are the connections between the Usher family and their stoic neighbors: Panoch is certainly at her best when illuminating the love and support of this small farming community.
However, “Accountable” seems to be intended more as a document of Panoch’s family history than a story for general readers. When the trial of Joseph Usher begins, Panoch shifts away from her narrative style and instead chooses to include nearly every statement offered before the court, including the complete opening and closing statements, scores of witness testimonies and all 14 points of instruction offered to the jury.
While these details would certainly be appreciated by family members, focusing on the highlights would have made for a more cohesive narrative.
Panoch also mentions a number of interesting sources – such as sketches completed by a Gazette artist of the farm and Garrity’s room – but she fails to include them in the text. These illustrations, as well as a family tree, would have provided a welcome foundation.
“Accountable: The Joseph Usher Story” is a true labor of love, sure to inspire renewed interest in the history of Cedar Rapids – and of our own families.
About the Author
Until a few years ago I did not know there was a murder mystery in my mother’s family. In the process of exploring my American Indian ancestry, I stumbled on information about that murder and asked for more. With this knowledge, and in trying to defend the man who committed the crime, this story grabbed hold of me with a passion I could not let go until I finished writing. My two brothers, sister and I grew up on our parent’s family farm in Chickasaw County, located in Northeast Iowa. A river, the Wapsipinicon, runs through the back side of our farm. This region is rich in Native American artifacts. As we played in the Wapsie and climbed on the Indian mounds on the banks of the river, little did I realize the connection I had to the Native American heritage. After graduating from the New Hampton High School in 1963, I attended La James Beauty College in Mason City, Iowa. In the fall of 1964 I married Ron Panoch. My first beauty salon began when Susie was two months old. Susie was six, Karen four and Gary three when we moved into our new home in Ionia Iowa, where I operated my second salon from our home for 17 years. In 1986, Ron, Gary — a senior in high school, and I moved to Punta Gorda in South West Florida. When I look back, I wrote reports and took minutes for eight-hour board meetings for the Iowa and Florida Cosmetology Associations, however becoming an author never occurred to me until this story of love, betrayal and murder took hold of me. My father passed away seven years ago. My mother, who is 92, is my love and I see to her needs. She is comfortable in her own home close to ours. Our family ties to Iowa will always be strong, however Florida is our home now and we enjoy the warm weather. Our children live on the East Coast of Florida and we have four beautiful grandchildren. I have been working on my ACCOUNTABLE: THE JOSEPH USHER STORY for five years. I looked up the word ‘guilt’ and ‘accountable’ came up. I knew immediately what the name of my book would be because Joseph Usher was accountable for this murder. As you step back with me into another time, trying to figure out “who done it,” you will admire Otto, the sixteen-year-old, and nine-year-old Walter. Otto displayed maturity and courage with every task placed upon him. I wrote this book with love in my heart. I feel that with a clearer understanding of what happened all those years ago there will be healing for those of us related to these characters.