Jury had interesting response in Duvall case
By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
In November of 1921, the community of Olive Hill was rocked by a brutal murder. Dr. Harvey L. Biggs, a beloved local physician – credited by some with saving their lives “during a world-wide epidemic” – was shot three times with a single-barrel shotgun by Charles Duvall.
Biggs, described in the press as handsome, engaging, and politically connected, was a friend of Duvall’s daughter. Duvall, however, didn’t like Biggs “keeping company” with the girl. So, on the night of November 21, he confronted the doctor – who had just finished dinner and was on his way back to the office with a patient
According to the Carter County Herald, “Dr. Biggs had a number of lady friends; among them was a daughter of Duvall and he objected to them keeping company. In brief, that caused the murderer to perpetrate the hideous crime.”
It wasn’t just a simple outburst of passion, though. Duvall used a single-shot shotgun to kill Biggs, firing three shots into Biggs and reloading after each. He was, in fact, loading for a fourth shot when town marshall Tony Stevens pulled his gun on Duvall and ordered him to fire again “at his own peril.” Duvall complied, but it was too late for Biggs.
Biggs was likely dead after the first shot, which exposed his heart and a portion of his left lung. Nonetheless, Duvall continued to methodically reload and fire, shooting Biggs a second time in the back of head and neck, and a third time in the hip. It wasn’t his first run-in with Biggs over his daughter, though. Duvall made it clear he “did not want him to be an escort for his daughter,” and threatened Biggs several times before the shooting.
Brutal, undoubtedly. But clear cut. Duvall was caught in the act, by an officer of the law, after making public threats against his victim.
It wasn’t just Duvall who was fond of threats, either. Others in his circle apparently were as well. Some friends or family members were reported to have written a letter to a witness in the case, threatening him if he testified. Not just any witness, either. Judge Albert J. Counts was a witness at the inquest held over Biggs’ body.
“The letter was threatening him in some violent manner stating in one place that the friends of Duvall were giving him his choice as to how to drop out of this, which seems to state that should he fail to drop out he would be taken out probably by some violent manner.”
Despite this, though, Duvall’s trial date was set and moved forward, with much press scrutiny.
On December 22, the paper reported, jurors were selected, with the trial commencing the next day.
After being caught red-handed, and threats to the witnesses, it seems like it should have been an open-and-shut case against Duvall. That wasn’t what happened, though.
During that trial it came out that, “Dr. Biggs had wronged the daughter of the defendant,” who, “recited in detail her relations with Dr. Biggs,” making “everything very plain,” including how she had “paid the price that all young ladies should weigh daily and meditate on.”
After just 35 minutes of deliberation the jury acquitted Duvall of the murder, accepting his defense that “he shot Biggs because he had blackened the reputation of his daughter.”
Editor’s Note: This is the 39th in a series of articles drawn from historical newspaper clippings in the collection of the late Jack Fultz.