XENIA — The winner of this year’s “I Found It In the Archives Contest” was honored Thursday at the Greene County Commissioners meeting. Amber McKenzie of North Lewisburg won the contest with her entry entitled, “The Dark Side of My Family History,” after public voting chose her essay out of the field of five finalists.
After uncovering information labeling her second great-grandfather William Otenbarger “the Osborn child murderer,” McKenzie traveled to the Greene County Records and Archives Center to see if she could uncover more information. What she found there painted a dark picture arising from her family’s history.
“The court records told me that my ancestor was being tried for murdering his three year old stepdaughter, Lizzie Shearer,” McKenzie wrote in her essay. “He hit her in the head with a hatchet. He stated that it was an accident and she ran up behind him as he was chopping kindling.”
McKenzie wrote that witnesses testified that there was no kindling on the property and later that day he used corncobs to start a fire, not wood.
“There were also many witness accounts of previous abuse of the little girl at the hands of my ancestor,” she wrote. “Many neighbors had seen him hurting her and had heard his parents speak of the abuse. His parents denied saying anything about the abuse in court and William’s wife, the mother of the child did not testify.”
McKenzie found that others did testify against Otenbarger during his trial: “Neighbors had seen him dragging her across his yard, throw her into the front door on two different occasions and roughly pull her off a fencepost to the ground. The doctor who examined her also noticed old and new bruises all over her body.”
After a long trial, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. She later found that her relative received a pardon for perfect behavior in prison after serving 12 years of his sentence.
“There’s something unpleasant in everyone’s family history,” McKenzie wrote in conclusion in her winning essay. “William’s immediate family may have stood by him, but his descendants do not. As researchers, we take on the task of finding and passing on our family’s history. As I pass down the good things other ancestors of mine have done, I’ll also pass on William’s story. The crimes he committed against a defenseless child will not be forgotten.”
Reach Nathan Pilling at 937-502-4498 or on Twitter @XDGNatePilling.
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