Bucket Brigade Murder

At one point in Dayton History, we did not have a paid fire department, but a “Bucket Brigade.” Volunteers essentially stood in line and passed buckets of water from one to another to put out a fire, and in later years, to fill the hand pumped engine that spurted water onto the fire – an early model of the present day fire truck. Early Dayton employed this technique, with a team of volunteer fire fighters and fire wardens.

On the morning of September 10, 1893, a fire alarm rang out and as normal, the entire town lined up to see. Charles Greene, one of the city’s fire wardens, had the duty of organizing the team to line up in order to fight the fire. In the midst of this madness, Greene noticed that one of the volunteers, Matthew Thompson, was not lined up properly, standing a distance away from the group. Greene yelled for Thompson to get in line. As Thompson refused, the two men began to argue, culminating in Greene first knocking Thompson’s hat off with a splinter of wood he had nearby, then after more words were exchanged, smacking him on the head with the piece of wood.

Thompson promised Greene he would get even, but let it go at that time. The next morning, still seeking some sort of retaliation against his new enemy, Thompson asked around, seeing if anyone knew where Greene was, swearing he would have justice for the misdeed.

Word got around town, and reached Greene later in the day. He was not worried, however, and brushed off the comments and warnings from the others in town and went about his day as normal. Meanwhile, Thompson was out getting drunk and stewing, getting angrier by the minute. Perhaps by some of his friends or fellows in the bar, Thompson reached a point of high anger and decided he needed to take action.

His first stop was to see a magistrate, to demand a warrant against Greene for Assault and Battery. The magistrate put him off, telling him to try to resolve his issue face-to-face before pursuing legal action. Thompson argued with the magistrate, declaring he would not sleep until he had “put Greene asleep.”
Not getting the warrant, Thompson went to another magistrate, who also tried to get him to resolve the issue with Greene before legal action was taken. Seeing that Thompson would not be put off, he said he would only issue the warrant if the fees were paid in full first. Thompson left and procured the money and returned, demanding the warrant be issued.

During that time, Greene had been notified of Thompson’s actions and intents, and came into the court house to confront him. During this confrontation, Thompson asked Greene why he struck him, to which Greene replied that he struck him in the line of duty, and if he had to do it all over again, he would strike him again, perhaps harder.

This caused much more tension between the two as they argued. Witnesses noted that the argument appeared to dwindle, as both men seemed to be no longer interested in the argument at hand. Turning to leave, Greene never saw what was coming.

The moment he turned his back, Thompson, perhaps on impulse, picked up a hickory stick sitting nearby and hit Greene as hard as he could on the right side of his head.

Greene was swiftly taken to receive medical attention, which included revival and a call to a surgeon. Treatment determined that his skull had not been fractured, but he had received a severe concussion. Unfortunately, the worst case scenario for concussions ensued, with vomiting and excruciating pain preceding his death. An autopsy revealed considerable bleeding, from which no operation could have saved him.

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