The Deaths of David and Romie Hodell

Files from the Harry Spooner Archive

Fremont District Library

 

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The October Group would like to express our extreme gratitude to the Fremont District Library, the Newaygo County Society of History and Genealogy, and in particular Sandy Peavey, for allowing us to reproduce these documents and return this fascinating and tragic story to light.

 

In the Early 20th Century, Charles Dudgeon sold his farm near Holton and moved his family to a large parcel of land in Goodwell Township. Although the land itself was little more than scrub and swamp, the sheer size of the family's holdings and the fact that they were no longer able to freely graze their livestock on it created hard feelings between the new arrivals and their neighbors. The Dudgeon family themselves were also reported to be difficult to deal with. Horrific stories, including tales of incest and murdered babies, began to arise.

 

In 1920, Charles Dudgeon died at age 68, and was buried (2) in Goodwell Cemetery. His daughter Meda (also known as Meady) married Romie Hodell and they settled into a hardscrabble existence in Wilcox Township. During the winter of 1922 Romie's father David came to visit his son and daughter in law. By all accounts the elder Hodell was frail and in ill health, and died shortly after his arrival. Although the original cause of death was listed as apoplexy, Meda and her mother Alice were later charged with murder. David Hodell was buried in the Ashland Cemetery but he did not rest peacefully.

 

Disliked by many of the neighbors and jealous of another man's affections for Meda, Romie himself was found dead later that year, beaten and hanging in his rented barn. Two alleged suicide notes were found, one in an envelope and one on a calendar, and Romie's body was buried next to his father in law.

 

The Dudgeon family became the focus of an investigation into Romie's death, as well as the death of David Hodell. However, this was not an investigation as we know of one today. A vigilante mob attacked Meda's brothers Lee and Herman, torturing them until they confessed to Romie's murder. State troopers dispatched from Lansing dragged Meda and her mother from their jail cells in the middle of the night, dressed themselves up as ghosts, and forced confessions of David's murder from the two terrified women. During the trial their home was burned to the ground.

 

Eventually, several members of the family were convicted but all were overturned by a higher court. All the convictions, that is, except for Meda's. Meda remained in prison for over 30 years not because of a preponderance of evidence, not because her appeal had failed, but because her appeal was filed one day too late.

 

Was David Hodell's death really murder, or was it by natural cause? Did Romie Hodell commit suicide, wild with jealousy and despondent over what he saw as his failing marriage, or was he murdered, perhaps by Lee and Herman Dudgeon or as I believe, by others not part of the Dudgeon family? We will never know the real truth of what happened, but perhaps by bringing this story to a broader audience I can offer some slight peace to the memory of those involved.

 

The following pages have been taken from the archives of the Harry Spooner collection held in the Local History Room of the Fremont District Library. My recommendation is that you start with "The David and Romie Hodell Murders", written by Lee W. Keippel. This document is a retelling of accounts Mr. Keippel heard as a child from his grandparents and their friends, and while I am unable to substantiate some events it nonetheless provides the reader with an excellent overview of the story. In no way is this meant to disparage Mr. Keippel or his excellent account, rather it is simply an acknowledgement that some parts cannot be proven and could be considered more folklore than fact.

 

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