West Virginia Murder
Nell Rand and E. R. Bailey?
By J. JoAnn Plymale
It just may have been
the perfect murder, or maybe the perfect cover up. That
is how it seemed over fifty years ago, on that chilly night in 1947,
on lovers lane, behind a fashionable country club, in the prosperous
Appalachian town of Beckley, in Southern West Virginia.
Nell dropped out of Big
Creek High school in the 10th grade and landed a job as a waitress
in the nearby county of Welch, about 10 miles from Coal Wood. Always
insecure, and vulnerable she was seeking affirmation and fun. She
secretly longed for intimacy, which led to dangerous liaisons.
Nellie Mae Combs was
barely 16 years old when she ran off and married the son of a prominent
official at a McDowell County coal company. Surviving members of
the family do not even recall the name of the young man,or anything
else about him. When the news came out, his family promptly sent
him away and never to be heard from again.
It is a period in Nell
Comb's life that faded quietly away with time.
Nell's sister, Helen,
can only remember stories about the impromptu wedding, she can't
even remember if the marriage was annulled or even if there was
a divorce. It was just simply dropped and not talked about again.
There were numerous events
in Nell's life that could explain her apparent vulnerability, but
at the age of 20, the bright, attractive young lady had already
earned a reputation that young men found appealing. It was a stigma
that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Five years later, after
her first marriage, Nell married Kenneth K. Rand. He was 35 and
she was 21.
The stories about her
in the little town of Beckley, WV have grown with time, it all depends
on who you talk to.
There are those who say
she was like the Blanche Dubouis of Tennessee in the movie, A
Street Car Named Desire, which premiered in New York City, 1947,
only a month after her death.
Some say Nell sought
out young boys at the roller rink, or waited for star football players
after a game. Later still, as the gossip spins, it was a series
of affairs with some of Beckley's most prominent men, lawyers, doctors,
,judges, merchants, and policemen. A former sheriff confided that
she "slept well," and had men lined up for a fling with
It is no secret why her
murder was never brought to justice -- there were too many reputations
at stake. Many families would be horrified if it ever came out that
their ancestors, dead or living, daddy's, uncles or brothers, were
involved with Nell. One thing is certain, there was a cover up.
You could probably get
away with just about anything back then in that small West Virginia
town -- from stealing from the bank, falsifying records, political
kickbacks -- locals a way of forgetting or looking another way.
But they never
forget about sex, it will bring you down quicker than anything.
The topic of the murder
of Nell Rand was poison back then in 1947, and it still is today.
There is not much information
available on the unsolved crime but when you find someone who is
willing to speak about it, you usually only get bits and pieces
of many different versions of the stories.
We may never know what
exactly happened to Nell Rand and E. R. Bailey that night on lovers
lane, but there has always been speculation on who the real murderer
was. According to some, it
was her husband who often caught her with other men. Many believe
he happened upon on them together, that night and shot them dead.
One man was arrested
for the crime, but released for a lack of evidence.
It has been 55 years
since the murder and nobody has ever been brought to justice for
the 2 people so abruptly cheated out of their futures.
Watch for the book coming
out in May 2003, by Reverend Tabscott, son of the chief investigator
of the case.
If you have information
on this case or would like to discuss it further please contact:
J. JoAnn Plymale.
Jackie JoAnn Plymale -2002