Two Questions about the Bath School Bombing

A native of Chicago, Arnie Bernstein is a nonfiction writer who authored the books The Hoofs and Guns of the Storm: Chicago’s Civil War Connections and Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100 Years of Chicago and the Movies—as well as Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing. He was also awarded a Puffin Foundation Grant and Midwest Regional History Publishing Honors.

Recently, Arnie was gracious enough to answer two questions about his book describing the 1927 Bath school tragedy:

Question #1: In the book, you describe at least two persons who defend the bomber Andrew Kehoe. These supporters do not argue that Kehoe was innocent, but rather that he did not intend to detonate the explosives while the children were in the school. They insinuate that Kehoe's plan was to bomb the building at another time--perhaps during a night meeting of administrators and parents. Your research indicates that this did not appear to be Kehoe's plan.

Do you believe residents gave much credence to the idea that Kehoe's explosives detonated early or late? Would not Kehoe's final act of murder involving the car bomb that killed victims, including children, in front of the school strongly refute any claim that Kehoe just had bad timing?

Author’s Response: Kehoe meant the bomb to go off at exactly the time it did. The almost simultaneous fire that quickly engulfed his home, as well as his other actions that morning all are strong indicators that he meant to do what he did at the time it all happened. The only failure in this phase of his plan was that the dynamite planted beneath the Bath Consolidated School main building failed to go off.

Kehoe’s suicide bombing was meticulously planned out, from the packing of his truck with shrapnel and explosives to his final words to Superintendent Huyck. I think that the people who wanted to believe Kehoe’s bombs went off late had a natural human reaction. It’s genuinely hard to fathom why someone would want to kill so many children for such senseless reasons.

Question #2: I was also curious about your impressions of the sign that Kehoe left at the remains of his farmhouse: "Criminals are made not born."

With the message, it almost seems like he realizes his actions are wrong, but is being forced into the crimes--would you agree?

This seems different from the VA Tech and Columbine killers where they do not seem to think that there is anything wrong with their actions (although there are similarities in the shared belief that society forced them to make such unreasonable choices).

Author’s Response: The words on Kehoe’s sign were indicative of a psychopathic logic that refuses to take responsibility for horrendous actions. It was very easy for him to blame others, as it was for Cho, Klebold and Harris. It makes no sense to rational people, but in the twisted psychology of someone like Kehoe, blaming others for his horrific actions is natural and perfectly understandable.

I used a quote from Clarence Darrow in the book, from his summation in the trail of the “thrill killers” Leopold and Loeb: “They did not reason; they could not reason; they committed the most foolish, most unprovoked, most purposeless, most causeless act that any two boys ever committed…They killed…because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped...”

That explanation (such that it is) accurately describes who Kehoe was, why he did what he did, and why he refused to take any blame or responsibility for his crime.

You can read more of my previous posts on the Bath school incident as well as my thoughts on Arnie’s book here.

The author’s website contains lots of photos and additional information about the incident and his book.

Thanks again to Arnie for taking time to speak with me.


copswife said...

So, do you know the author? How did it come about that you interviewed him?

Erin said...

Very cool to have an interview! And fascinating but terrifying topic.

JennyMac said...

Love that you got to chat with him! And what a topic.

Slamdunk said...

CW: I read Arnie's book and contacted him with questions--have never met him. He is well versed in the material as I think it took longer for me to compose my amateurish questions compared to his comprehensive responses.

A few years ago, I had a question about one of the articles assigned for a criminal justice class. The professor did not know the answer and showed no interest in addressing it.

Since the author of the article was an academic, I found his email address easily, and asked the question to him directly. He responded the same day with an answer and after exchanging additional emails, he allowed me to interview him by phone about the topic.

After that experience, I have learned that most authors are very approachable and more than willing to answer legitimate questions about their work from the "little people" like me.

Obviously, if I had a question for Stephen King, I probably could not use this approach, but email is very non-intrusive as an author can reply when they have a chance or just ignore it. Even if the questions are not answered, at least I know I gave it a try.

mrs. fuzz said...

Very cool of him to grant an interview. These are sad and scary topics, but very interesting to learn about.