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Domestic Terror – The 1927 Bath Michigan School Bombing

On a spring day on May 18, 1927, a defeated school board member set off a chain of explosions in Bath Township, Michigan. The resulting carnage destroyed his farm and demolished the Bath Consolidated School. The blast at the school killed 38 elementary school children and six adults and injured at least 58 others. The Bath, Michigan, school bombing is deemed a domestic terror incident, remains the top school massacre in United States history and is ranked 11th deadliest in the world. 

Although there were no accompanying claims of responsibility, it is widely believed that this tragedy was the act of one man: Andrew Kehoe. His motivation for this heinous act has never been fully elaborated upon; however, it can be assumed that his motives stemmed from a combination of simmering rage and mounting frustrations about taxes for the new school building and against his fellow members on the Bath School Board.

Who was Andrew Philip Kehoe?

Andrew Kehoe – Photographer unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Philip Kehoe was born on February 1, 1872, in Tecumseh, Michigan, to John Henry and Mary (née Patton) Kehoe. He was one of five children born to the couple; his siblings included three brothers, Ernest, Albert, and Ralph, and one sister named Mabel. Kehoe studied electrical engineering at Michigan Agricultural College in East Lansing.

The first hint that something may be amiss with Kehoe occurred in 1911. Kehoe’s stepmother was killed in a violent cooking explosion. At the time, no one accused her stepson of starting the horrific fire, but after the explosions, some questioned if she was his first human victim.

Kehoe married in 1912 and relocated to Bath Township, north of Lansing, to buy a farm. Although he was a farmer, he dressed like a businessman. While his neighbors tended to their crops in filthy coveralls, the pretentious Kehoe plowed and tilled his fields and rode his thundering tractor across his dusty fields in delicate business dress.

Kehoe was known for doing free favors for his neighbors, but he was also in a bad temper. He allegedly shot a neighbor’s dog for barking at him. He also killed a horse for failing to pull a load. 

In 1924, he was elected to the Bath school board. He was treasurer for one year and served for three years. He was averse to spending money on anything other than “essential equipment.” Kehoe despised paying taxes and sought to reduce his property taxes. Despite his efforts, his taxes climbed from $122.60 in 1922 to $198 in 1926.

Kehoe’s Scheme To Purchase And Planting Of School Explosives

unknown photographer – it looks like there might be some type of label or credit in the bottom right hand corner of the photo but if writing is there it is unreadable/illegible Uploaded by The Mystery Man at en. wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kehoe’s troubles multiplied. His farm failed, he was heavily in debt, and his wife fell ill with tuberculosis. In addition, Kehoe’s farm was due to be sold at a sheriff’s sale. “If it hadn’t been for that school tax, I might have paid off the mortgage,” he said to the process server. 

Facing certain bankruptcy, Kehoe spent months planning revenge on the town he believed had done him wrong.

On March 2, 1927, Kehoe visited the county assessor involved with his tax case to turn in some financial papers. Kehoe appeared distraught and told the assessor that he “had a lot of dynamite on his place.”

Kehoe May Have Spent Months Preparing for Mass Murder

It’s been said that Kehoe spent months preparing for the school explosion, beginning by amassing hundreds of pounds of dynamite and pyrotol—a surplus munition made available to American farmers for agricultural purposes after its use in World War I. It’s been reported that he then snuck through the depths of the Bath Consolidated School every night, using his position as board treasurer and the unofficial handyman to wrap a thousand pounds of explosives in wire mesh and plastering them into the basement ceiling.

He attached the explosives to hot-shot batteries with electrical cables and connected the entire contraption to a timing mechanism timed to detonate on May 18, 1927.

Kehoe Kills Wife And Blows Up His Farm

Kehoe House and Barn – unknown, no credit in original source, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Kehoe farm was just a couple of miles from the school. Kehoe killed his wife with a violent blow to the head. Afterward, he lined the buildings on his property with “enough dynamite to blow up the county,” which he planned to set off right before the school explosions. He hobbled the legs of his two horses with wire to ensure none could escape the impending inferno.

Detonation at the Bath Consolidated School

The morning of May 18, 1927, dawned as usual for Bath Township, Michigan citizens. The weather was warm and breezy, with only scattered clouds. At precisely 9:45 a.m., however, an enormous explosion rocked the town at 9:45 a.m., precisely as Kehoe had intended.

Fortunately, not all of the explosives were detonated, and fewer than half of the devices planted at the school exploded due to the blast’s shock, defective wiring, or weak batteries. Nevertheless, although “only” half of the building was destroyed, 38 pupils and six adults were murdered.

Kehoe’s Final Act – Murder/Suicide

Soon after the explosion, as parents and rescue workers searched through the rubble for children, Kehoe wanted to ensure that the focus of his rage, superintendent Huyck, did not survive the day. 

Kehoe had found his target while driving practically carelessly but with devouring focus. Huyck was standing there on the sidewalk, just there. Kehoe didn’t see anyone else. He leaned far to his right and drew his truck to a halt, calling out to the superintendent. Huyck appeared to respond by taking a step toward the truck and then facing the school. It was a school to which he had committed his life.

Kehoe’s orgy of rage, guilt, and self-loathing climaxed and released in one final and massive engorgement of energy as he detonated the loud explosion. It came out of nowhere, sharp, smashing, and with incredible strength. Fire erupted beneath Kehoe’s truck and the automobiles parked along the roadway.

A belt of scorching fire rushed along the whole length of the machines, firing the vehicle tops as it went, and a massive ball of smoke erupted high into the blue sky from the ruins of the Kehoe truck. Shrapnel, machine pieces, and chunks of flesh were hurled in all directions and into the woods, causing death, destruction, and panic everywhere they went.

Kehoe discharged the bombs he had jerry-rigged onto his vehicle, blasting both men with shrapnel and taking the lives of three bystanders, including one student, and two townspeople, by detonating dynamite in his pickup truck.

Their bodies, bystanders said, were “virtually shredded.”

Recovery of the Victims and Aftermath of the Bath School Disaster

Bath Clean Up –
See page for author
, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bath authorities didn’t immediately identify Kehoe as the bomber.  As a former school board member, it was inconceivable. The day after the blast, a deputy sheriff at the Kehoe farm found the “blackened remains” of a body. It was unidentifiable. A stack of unpaid hospital bills had been placed atop the corpse. And the charred remains of two horses were discovered in the ashes of a barn.

Suddenly, it was clear that Kehoe was a deranged murderer, though he left no suicide note or detailed letter explaining his evil deeds. 

An inquest determined that dynamite was put in the school’s basement by Andrew Kehoe, a disgruntled school board member. He took revenge on Bath’s people by targeting their children since he was resentful of the more significant taxes required for the school’s construction and the looming foreclosure on his property.

The burning of the Bath Consolidated School made national headlines with Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic journey. In the headlines of May 19, 1927, New York Times shouted, “Maniac Blows Up School… Had Protested High Taxes.” Michigan Governor Fred Green established the Bath Relief Fund, and people from all across the country expressed their sympathy and gave financial assistance.

Michigan U.S. Senator James Couzens generously contributed to the fund and provided funds to help construct the school. Bath looked to the future on August 18, 1928, when it dedicated the James Couzens Agricultural School to its “living young.” Girl with a Cat, a statue sculpted by University of Michigan artist Carleton W. Angell and purchased with pennies contributed by Michigan children, was also dedicated.

The Bath School Disaster is the deadliest mass murder at an American school, with 44 dead. The bombings comprised the most lethal act of mass murder in a school setting in U.S. history.

The final act of this horrific crime was a hand-stenciled sign nailed to a fencepost of the Kehoe farm that offered a strange explanation for his crimes. It said: “CRIMINALS ARE MADE, NOT BORN.”

Sources & Books About The Bath Michigan School Bombing

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Maniac: The Bath School Disaster and the Birth of the Modern Mass Killer

Mayday. The History of a Village Holocaust. Bath, Michigan

Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing

Life is Fragile: One Girl’s Story of the Bath School Disaster

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