Johnson Vandyke Grigsby
Johnson Vandyke Grigsby was born in Shelby County, Kentucky near the town of Simpsonville on February 20, 1886 (Social Security says February of 1888, and he said March of 1885 but the census says February of 1886), one of twelve children of Thomas and Melissa Grigsby. The family moved across the Ohio River into Indiana after 1900, and settled in Kokomo.According to family history, "Van", an African American, got into a fight with James Brown over a gambling debt in a saloon in Anderson IN (Madison). According to the transcript of the trial, Mr Brown and Van were playing poker and started fighting. Curses and racial slurs were uttered, and Mr Brown pulled a knife on Van. Van left the bar, went home and got his own knife. Mr. Brown saw Van coming up the street back to the bar. He picked up a chair and threw it at Van, who dodged it, and then lunged at Mr Brown with his knife and stabbed him to death. Supposedly, the lawyer told Van to plead guilty to second degree murder in order to escape the electric chair. It worked, but from August 1908 to December 1974, he stayed in continuous custody in the Indiana State Prison in LaPorte County. He spent almost fifty years in the ward for the criminally insane until a doctor finally examined him and said that he wasn't crazy. When he was finally freed, it was noted that he had been incarcerated when the Wright Brothers were flying and folks drove Model Ts; by the time he got out, man had walked on the moon. What I heard, was when he did finally get out, although he had tried to keep up with current events while in prison, he was so totally lost, he rarely ventured further than his front porch. He hated automobiles, couldn't figure them out--he preferred horses. He died in a nursing home in Michigan City, Indiana on May 18, 1987.