The Blind Coroner and other Oddities of
Throughout all of human history, up until about
1950, scientific evidence was scarce. And society depended upon the ability of people to know
how to get at the truth by way of widespread and almost instinctual skills of "reading" body
language, tones of voice, and "how" stories were told. People from those times would be
shocked at modern Americans struggling to discern "truth" as lies swirl around, seemingly
invisibly. Scientific, measured and concrete evidence rules popular, modern thinking.
"Subjectivity," having served mankind well for 10s of thousands of years, is relegated to the
low levels by our modern worship of the "scientific". Too bad....
In 1939, Sumter mayor F. B. Creech received an
inquiry from Believe It or Not, Inc. Mr. Creech responded by letter of 14 July
your letter of June 14th asking for verification of some statements, and in reply, beg to state
that the information you have seems to be correct. The names of the officers are as
The Master in
Equity- Mr. Hugh C. Haynesworth
The Chief of
Rural Police- Mr. W. J. Seale
Superintendent of County Schools- Mr. W. O. Cain
The City Health
Officer- Dr. G. R. Kitchen
Some of these men might be sensitive about the use
of this information, and I would, therefore, respectfully request that my name not be used in
connection with the matter.
F. B. Creech, Mayor"
The Believe It or Not people from New York had inquired about the
veracity of the following true facts:
SCOTT CAIN (1883-1964)
Born in either Priviteer or Indiantown, S. C.,
J. Scott Cain began to lose his eyesight as a young man. By the time he became coroner, he was
"black blind". He was married and had one child who died at age 16 of Downs Syndrome, 2 years
following the death of his wife and near the end of his first decade in the Coroner's
He was elected Corner of Sumter County, S. C. 6
November 1928 and served through 1960 (Guignard R. DuBose was elected 8 November
1960)...serving 32 years! Remember or be aware: these were before the days of real scientific, forensic investigations.
How could a blind man be successful in a job often
very difficult for a sighted person? Mr. Cain was no pushover. He could be profane with the
best of them, if need be. Old timers who knew him say that, more than hardly any other
citizen, he knew more about the people and things going on in Sumter County than almost anyone else. He was able to
interview and direct law enforcement investigators with decisive authority. But, more so, he
had a tremendous memory combined with a great knowledge of the people of his county. As above
noted, subjective reasoning was hugely useful in those days; and people didn't move from
place to place as they do now. I remember even in the late 1950s that almost all citizens in
Sumter could be categorized as being locals, or from Shaw Field (Air Force Base), or "from
off somewhere". In the 20s and 30s, natives could immediately discern local South Carolinians
from Georgians and North Carolinians by subtle differences in speech sounds and word usage.
It is said that, if Mr. Cain knew the exact location that he got into a car with someone, he
could direct them to any location in the county. So, in his determinative proceedings as
coroner, his mind captured the details of a case in a sure way that we who depend on written
details and computer logs would find difficult to believe. His determinations were, thereby,
persuasive. Since his personal life was devoid of wealth or especially extraordinary social
influence, we must accept that the quality of his discharge of office is what kept him "in"
for 33 years.
When I began a pathology residency in 1970,
initially in forensic pathology, there was a fight going on in South Carolina to supplant the
statewide elective coroners system with a statewide medical examiners system. Unfortunately,
the proponents of the latter derisively held up the case of J. Scott Cain...the blind
coroner...as a worst example of the ignorant electorate gone mad [Mr. Cain was deceased by
then]. Most forensic pathologists 50 years old or older in the U. S. have vaguely "heard
tell" of a blind coroner somewhere. Now you know!
But, here is more of the story. When Mr. Cain's
wife died in 1936, you had a blind man alone in his home. The South was still reeling from
the great depression. So, Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Bernshouse merged their family's need with that
of Mr. Cain and moved in with Mr. Cain in a sharing of what each had. A son, Wilbert
Bernshouse, grew up in this environment. Wilbert would become one of the most influential and
successful scoutmasters in the history of Boy Scouts of America in South Carolina, troop 336
out of Trinity Methodist Church, Sumter, S. C.
My mother, a nurse, went by the Bernshouse
residence nearly every day to change nephrostomy bandages on Mrs. Bernshouse. Mr. Cain would
sometimes be there sitting in the front porch swing. If so, he'd always want me and my sister
to run over and sit with him on the swing. One after the other, while talking with us, we
knew what to expect: he'd delicately feel our faces & heads to "see how much we'd changed
since last time".
AND NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORY
More Blind Coroners
Mr. Jamison Cain of Arlington, Va. provided me with some copies of
letters from his uncle's, Mr. Scott Cain's, files from or about other blind
Coroner: an elected official charged to view and investigate and assign cause
and manner of death....rumored to be blind. TRUE! Mr. Cain was totally blind when
elected coroner in 1927 at age 44, retiring 33 years later.
Master in Equity: an elected official charged to hear and decide/judge
disputes over property...rumored to be deaf. TRUE! Mr. Haynesworth was
Chief of Rural Police: an elected official charged to chase down and catch the
criminal...rumored to have a wooden leg. TRUE! Mr. Seale was a one-legged man who had a
Superintendent of County Schools: an appointed official charged with the
oversight of the education of the young...rumored to be an automobile mechanic. TRUE!
Mr. Cain, a Clemson grad., was one of the best car mechanics in the history of
Health Officer: an appointed official charged with the assuring the quality of
community health for the citizens...rumored to be a horse doctor. TRUE! Dr. Kitchens
was an active veterinarian.
July 1929, from S. C. Attorney General John M. Daniel: a letter advising Mr.
Scott Cain that there was no law in South Carolina precluding a blind man from holding
any elective office.
July 1928, from Dillon County, S. C. Judge of Probate, Joe Cabell Davis: a
letter attesting that, "Mr. B. F. Gasque a blind man has been coroner of Dillon County
for a period of 15 years and has given entire satisfaction and has made a very
efficient officer. Will state further that he is running again this year without
May 1928, from Atlanta, Georgia, The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce executive
vice president, B. S. Barker, "We wish to advise that Mr. Paul Donehoo, an attorney in
our city is blind and is at the present coroner."
1928, from Cherokee County, S. C. Superintendent of Education, B. L. Hoke,
"This is to certify that Mr. Beuford Moore...has been serving as Coroner of his county
during the past three years, and that he is very efficient on the job. Mr. Moore is
totally blind but he gets there and the investigation and performs his duties in a
creditable way. There is not a man in the county that I think could do
July 1928, from Coroner of York Co., S. C., Paul G. McCorkle, his letter
explaining the practical application of the law respecting coroners and their use of
the coroner's jury and inquest to find out how a deceased came to his death. "I have
been totally blind...for the past 23 years. I have been coroner for more than eight
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