Tribune-Courier Guest Columnist
Marshall County’s past is full of many mysteries. One such intriguing mystery is the tragic murder of Irby J. Hurt of Hardin. Hurt was an ideal citizen of the county. He was a member of the Baptist Church, choir leader, and teacher of Sunday School. His murder shocked the entire county and eighty one years later the case has yet to be solved.
On the morning of August 7, 1930, Mr. Irby Hurt began the day like so many others before when he made the walk to his janitorial job at the Bank of Hardin. When Hurt arrived, he picked up his broom and began to sweep the floors like he had done so many times. While he was sweeping, two men came from behind the counter and held Hurt at gun point. The two men demanded that Hurt open the safe, but Hurt did not have the combination. Minutes later, Hurt was forced to leave the bank with the two men. Hurt was last seen alive around 6:45 a.m.
Around 8 a.m., one of the citizens of Hardin noticed that the bank door was wide open. He walked into the bank and he discovered that it was unattended. Shortly after, Mr. D.E. Booker, bank cashier, arrived at work and noticed that Hurt was not there. He began to ask some of the townspeople about the whereabouts of Mr. Hurt, who was supposed to be cleaning the bank. A few of the citizens claimed that they saw Hurt leave the bank with two strangers and walk south behind a row of houses into the Clark’s River Bottoms. Many weren’t alarmed because they figured Hurt, who was an avid fisherman, had finished his job early and went fishing. Hours passed and Hurt didn’t return. Mr. Booker and others began to worry.
Mrs. Hurt contacted the Marshall County Sheriff’s office and Sheriff Louis Lilly organized a search. Eventually two detectives were brought in from Louisville who began using bloodhounds to search for Hurt. The hounds followed a trail to the county line to Dexter where they began to run around in circles. The detectives assumed that Hurt got into a car where the hounds lost his trail.
Sheriff Lilly and the detectives continued to search the area, but to no success. It was like Hurt just disappeared into thin air. Then in early October, a badly decomposed body was found in the swampy bottoms of Dexter, about one mile south of Hardin. Officials, using dental records, identified the body as that of Mr. Irby Hurt who had disappeared almost two months earlier. There was a bullet hole present in his skull just behind the left ear. Officials believed that Hurt was the victim of two potential bank robbers who led him to the bottoms, made him kneel on the ground and shot him in the back of the head.
Several people in the town were questioned and terror filled the already shaken community of Hardin. Some men began carrying a weapon for protection. Women refused to go out at night alone. Children were told not to wander far from home. Blinds were pulled early and doors were even locked in the peaceful community. Officials and citizens tried everything to break the case and bring those responsible to justice. However, no one could identify the two men seen with Irby Hurt on the morning of August 7 and the case quickly went cold. The Bank of Hardin eventually closed in 1934, but many amateur detectives in the city of Hardin continued to search the area to find any possible clue that might help solve this baffling case.
In July 1948, the case heated up once again. Mr. Albert Lee, a local merchant in Hardin, was walking along the Dexter bottoms when he discovered a rusted pistol approximately fifteen feet from where Hurt’s body was found sixteen years earlier. Mr. Lee immediately made his way to the Marshall County Courthouse and presented the gun to Sheriff Walker Myers. Sheriff Myers was shocked with the discovery and he began investigating the gun. He opened the chamber and found that the gun had five unfired shells and one used cartridge in it. Sheriff Myers was certain it was the gun that killed Hurt. The serial number on the gun had been filed away, but Sheriff Myers discovered a number on a tiny spot beneath the barrel. The number (40391) was sent to the Shapleigh Hardware Company in St. Louis, Missouri to be traced. Sheriff Myers learned the gun had been sold by the Simmons Hardware Company in 1912. The name of the original owner was traced back to a resident in Puryear, Tennessee. Without delay, Sheriff Myers made the trip to Puryear. Once arriving, Sheriff Myers discovered that the original owner of the pistol had moved to Hardin in 1912 and died in 1916----- fourteen years before the murder of Irby Hurt. Once back in Marshall County, Sheriff Myers began questioning the citizens of Hardin about the identifying the owner of the gun, but no one had ever seen the gun before. With no other leads, the case was once again stalled. To this day, no one knows who killed Irby Hurt.
Paducah Sun-Democrat. July, 13, 1948.
Paducah Sun-Democrat. 1962.
Tribune-Courier. September 25, 1996.