A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The River: Hearing from ‘Doc’ Hawley about the murder in the Crew’s Mess on the Delta Queen

The riverboat captain is a storyteller, and Captain Don Sanders will be sharing the stories of his long association with the river — from discovery to a way of love and life. The is a part of a long and continuing story.

By Capt. Don Sanders
Special to NKyTribune

As heard straight from the “doctor,” Captain Clarke C. “Doc” Hawley:

The murder in the Crew’s Mess was not over the beautiful chambermaid, Miss Ida Mae Farrell, as was previously rumored, but was due to a dispute in a crap game.

The DELTA QUEEN’s First Mate, Captain Clarke “Little Doc” Hawley was on watch in the pilothouse sometime around midnight on the Upper Ohio River, when a call came from Chief Engineer Cal Benefiel that Chef Matthew Floyd had been “cut” in the Crew’s Mess and kitchen located below-decks in the aft hold of the steamboat.

Delta Queen’s First Mate, Capt. Clarke ‘Little Doc’ Hawley

Cap’n Doc, thinking that the circular meat slicer had whacked another finger, grabbed a box of Band-Aids, a bottle of Mercurochrome, and took immediate leave to the scene of the “accident.”

As he approached the steps going from the Main Deck to the Hold, forward of the Engine Room, the Mate was surprised to see a dark puddle of what he thought was red paddlewheel paint the deckhands must have spilled. But as soon as Doc got to the lower level, he discovered Chef Floyd lying in a puddle of blood and bleeding profusely.

Captain Hawley had, before the DELTA QUEEN left Cincinnati, persuaded a certain Doctor Hudson and his wife to be aboard the steamboat during the cruise as the ship’s physician traveling at the expense of the Greene Line Steamers, Inc. – including the couple’s bar tab. Dr. Hudson was, at the time the Chef lay bleeding-out on the hard deck, upstairs, in the Orleans Room dining with Mrs. Letha Greene, owner of the Greene Line and the DELTA QUEEN.

A call came from Chief Engineer Cal Benefiel that Chef Matthew Floyd had been “cut” in the Crew’s Mess and kitchen located below-decks in the aft hold of the steamboat. 

Captain Hawley immediately sought Dr. Hudson and explained what had happened to the hapless chef. Mrs. Greene also inquired about the condition of Chef Floyd, whom she knew very well, only learning that the situation looked grim for the steamboat’s chief employee in the kitchen.

Captain Hawley guided Doc Hudson to where the Chef lay on the deck, and the physician, observing the condition of the man, reported that Chef Floyd had not much longer to live. Miss Ida Mae Farrell, a black chambermaid of exceptional beauty, standing close-by watching, who may have witnessed the whole grim spectacle, lent the use of her pocketbook mirror which the physician held close to the dying man’s nostrils. When the mirror quit fogging as the Chef exhaled his last breath, Dr. Hudson pronounced him dead and announced to Captain Hawley, “You know you have a murderer aboard….”

Ironically, the crewman who dispatched the Chef was the DELTA QUEEN’s butcher, as the boat in those days, carried whole meat carcasses that required the services of a crewman skilled in the use of sharp knives and cleavers. Eddie Noonan was such a man trained in the butchering and dismembering of sides of beef and hogs, a skill that also applied to the dispatching of a fellow human being if the circumstance warranted.
 

Miss Ida Mae Farrell, a black chambermaid of exceptional beauty, standing close-by watching, who may have witnessed the whole grim spectacle, lent the use of her pocketbook mirror which the physician held close to the dying man’s nostrils.

Shortly after the deadly deed had been committed and the Lower Hold was awash in the confusion of the cutting, bleeding, shouting, and crying, the butcher retreated to his room and hid there.  On the outside of the perpetrator’s tiny cubicle, a hasp bolted to the door, allowed the occupant to secure the area with a lock when he was away. Chief Cal, hearing that the butcher concealed himself inside, stuck a screwdriver he was conveniently carrying in his overalls into the hasp shackle, thereby imprisoning the alleged offender inside his quarters until the DELTA QUEEN landed at Marietta, Ohio where the police placed Mr. Noonan into their custody.

At the butcher’s trial, enough crew members, present during the demise of the luckless Chef Floyd, testified that Noonan acted in self-defense; so he was sentenced to just a year-and-a-day in the state penitentiary for his crime.

Soon after the former butcher served his time and was released, the DELTA QUEEN lay tied-up at the Cincinnati Public Landing where Captain Hawley was on the bow splicing a line. Unexpectedly, a voice behind him inquired, “Hey, Little Mate… you need an experienced hand?” It was Mr. Noonan looking to get back aboard, but Cap’n Doc lied, in a most gracious and unoffensive manner, saying there were no open positions on the boat and all the jobs filled. Hearing that, the former butcher walked away and was never seen again aboard the DELTA QUEEN.

Captain Don Sanders is a river man. He has been a riverboat captain with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and with Rising Star Casino. He learned to fly an airplane before he learned to drive a “machine” and became a captain in the USAF. He is an adventurer, a historian, and a storyteller. Now, he is a columnist for the NKyTribune and will share his stories of growing up in Covington and his stories of the river. Hang on for the ride — the river never looked so good.

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4 Comments

  1. Connie Bays says:

    Wow! I am definitely learning that early riverboat life was not what I had pictured in my mind! I am really enjoying this series of stories. The writing is excellent! The stories keep me on the edge of my seat!, holding my attention to the end! What a great storyteller!

  2. Kevin Roche says:

    Interesting!
    When did this happen?

  3. Pete OConnell says:

    As always Captain the tails are revitting and educational.
    Keep them coming.

  4. Dan Decker says:

    I was wondering when the Matthew Floyd murder took place?

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