FLINT — A hundred years ago in rural Steuben County, 29-year-old Nora Coleman shot her mother in the back of the head with a shotgun.
Coleman’s brutal crime followed years of torment at the hands of her mother, Sepharna Gleason, according to research by author Janis Thornton.
“The Liberation of Nora Coleman” appears in the second chapter of Thornton’s soon-to-be-released book — “No Place Like Murder: True Crime in the Midwest.” It is a collection of 20 stories about historic crimes that happened in Indiana 1869 through 1950.
Some of the crimes remain fresh in local lore but the Gleason murder may be new to many Steuben County natives. Thornton found it splashed across the pages of the Steuben Republican while doing online research.
“I specifically wanted to do stories that were older,” she said. The most recent tale she tells is from the 1950s.
“I didn’t want to offend anyone,” Thornton said. She chose crimes in which those involved had passed on so permissions would not be needed and wounds would not be reopened.
“I started working on this so long ago,” said Thornton. She read about the killing of Mayor Henry Cole while combing microfilm in Kokomo. Then she came across the dastardly Jesse McClure, who she says is one of the two worst characters in the book.
Thornton is a Tipton native whose career focused on communications and journalism, notably with Purdue University and the Frankfort Times. After living 21 years in California, Thornton now works for the Elwood Chamber of Commerce and does extensive writing and research.
“No Place Like Murder” is a manifestation of Thornton’s love for local history and fascination with mysteries and true crime.
“This book reaffirms my appreciation for true crime writing in an unexpected way,” says a foreward by author Larry D. Sweazy, Noblesville. “Lizzie Borden, Leopold and Loeb, and the Boston Strangler are legendary; they have received the Hollywood treatment (more than once) and are forever imprinted in our popular culture. Janis Thornton, on the other hand, brings us stories that are mostly unknown outside the small towns where the crimes occurred.”
The release date is Sept. 30. “No Place Like Murder: True Crime in the Midwest” can be preordered on Amazon for $19.99. Carnegie Public Library of Steuben County will have it available to check out.
The Gleason family farm where the murder occurred Feb. 6, 1918, is gone. It was located on Flint Road, on the northern edge of the town of Flint, west of the Pigeon Creek bridge.
On Aug. 30, Thornton visited Steuben County and Flint Cemetery.
“It took me a little while to find Mrs. Gleason (in the cemetery),” Thornton said. “I never found Nora. I’m not sure she had (a grave marker).”
She visited graves associated with many of the stories in “No Place Like Murder.” From her travels, she created “My road trip with the dead,” a series of 15 blogs being released throughout the month of September on her web site at janis-thornton.com.
Thornton is a member of the national and Indianapolis chapter of Sisters in Crime, the Authors Guild, Indianapolis Writers Center and the historical society in Tipton.
Her first books were released by an independent publisher in Columbus, Ohio, then she had three works with Arcadia Publishing. “Too Good a Girl,” the story of the unsolved murder of one of her high school classmates in 1965, is her most compelling piece so far, she said.
“No Place Like Murder” will be published by Indiana University Press.
While some of the killers discovered by Thornton were ruthless, Nora, though she paid her dues for her crime, had her reasons.
She had begun a new life with her husband, Ward, on a homestead near her mother’s. Sepharna, long divorced, relied on Nora’s help but according to the story was not a loving parent.
Nora did not attend her mother’s funeral and according to newspaper articles, appeared indifferent in court before Judge Daniel M. Link.
At the time, the trial was a sensational one.
“Thus closes one of the most distressing tragedies in the history of Steuben County,” reported the March 6, 1918, edition of the Steuben Republican. “Mr. Coleman is considered a fine young man and had the sympathy of nearly everyone, and the young woman herself was of such a peaceful disposition that all who knew her are shocked by the tragic climax of her life.”