Andrew Philip Kehoe (February 1, 1872 – May 18, 1927) was an American farmer and treasurer of his township school board, notable as a mass murderer for killing his wife and 43 other people (including 38 children), and injuring 58 people by setting off bombs in the Bath School disaster on May 18, 1927. He committed suicide near the school by detonating dynamite in his truck, causing an explosion which killed several other people and wounded more. He had earlier set off incendiary devices in his house and farm, destroying all the buildings, as well as killing two horses and other animals.
Kehoe was born in Tecumseh, Michigan, among the younger of a family of 13 children. His parents were Philip Kehoe (1833–1915) and Mary (McGovern) Kehoe (1835–1890). After his mother died, his father remarried; reportedly, Kehoe often argued with his stepmother. When Kehoe was 14 the family’s stove exploded as she was attempting to light it. The oil fuel soaked her, and she caught fire. He watched his stepmother burn for a few moments before throwing water from a bucket on her; due to the oil-based nature of the fire, the water exacerbated the flames. She later died from her injuries. Allegations were made that the stove had been tampered with.
Kehoe attended Tecumseh High School and Michigan State College (later Michigan State University), where he studied electrical engineering. There he met his future wife, Ellen “Nellie” Price, the daughter of a wealthy Lansing family.
After college, Kehoe went west, working for several years as an electrician in St. Louis, Missouri. During this period, in 1911, he suffered a severe head injury in a fall.
After his return to Michigan, he married Nellie Price in 1912 and in 1919 the couple bought a 185-acre (750,000 m2) farm outside the village of Bath from Nellie’s aunt for $12,000. He paid $6,000 in cash and took out a $6,000 mortgage.
Kehoe was regarded by his neighbors as a highly intelligent man who grew impatient and angry with those who disagreed with him. Neighbors recalled that Kehoe was always neat, dressed meticulously, and was known to change his shirt at midday or whenever it became even slightly dirty. Neighbors also recounted how Kehoe was cruel to his farm animals, having once beaten a horse to death.
At first the Kehoes belonged to the Catholic church in Bath, but he refused to pay the church’s parish assessment of members, and prevented his wife from attending.
Kehoe’s neighbors thought he preferred mechanical tinkering to farming. His neighbor M. J. “Monty” Ellsworth wrote in his account of the disaster,
He never farmed it as other farmers do and he tried to do everything with his tractor. He was in the height of his glory when fixing machinery or tinkering. He was always trying new methods in his work, for instance, hitching two mowers behind his tractor. This method did not work at different times and he would just leave the hay standing. He also put four sections of drag and two rollers at once behind his tractor. He spent so much time tinkering that he didn’t prosper
With a reputation for thrift, Kehoe was elected treasurer of the Bath Consolidated School board in 1924. While on the board, Kehoe fought for lower taxes and was often at cross purposes with other board members, voting against them and calling for adjournment when he didn’t get his way. He repeatedly accused superintendent Emory Huyck of financial mismanagement.
While on the school board, Kehoe was appointed as the Bath Township Clerk in 1925 for a short period. In the spring 1926 election, he was defeated for the position, and was angered by his public defeat. His neighbor Ellsworth thought Kehoe started planning his “murderous revenge” against the community at that time. His neighbor, A. McMullen, noticed that Kehoe stopped working altogether on his farm in his last year, and thought he might be planning suicide.
During this time, Nellie Kehoe was chronically ill with tuberculosis, and had frequent hospital stays. At the time, before antibiotics, there was no effective treatment or cure for the disease. By the time of the Bath School disaster, Kehoe had ceased making mortgage and homeowner’s insurance payments. The mortgage lender had begun foreclosure proceedings against the farm
The Bath School disaster is the name given to a series of explosions detonated by Kehoe on May 18, 1927, in Bath Township, Michigan, which killed 45 people (including Kehoe) and injured at least 58. Most of the victims were children in the second to sixth grades (7–12 years of age) attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history.
Between May 16, when she returned home from a hospital stay, and the morning of May 18, Kehoe killed his wife. He moved her body to a farm building before setting off incendiary explosions in their house and farm buildings. About the same time, he had arranged timed explosions in the new school building. The materials in the north wing exploded as planned, killing many students and some adults inside. Kehoe had set a timed detonator to ignite dynamite and hundreds of pounds of pyrotol at the school, which he had secretly bought and planted in the basement of both wings over the course of many months. The second 500 pounds (230 kg) of explosives in the south wing, did not detonate, so that part of the school was not destroyed.
As rescuers started gathering at the school, Kehoe drove up, stopped, and in a struggle with the school superintendent, detonated dynamite inside his shrapnel-filled truck, killing himself and Superintendent Huyck, as well as killing and injuring several others (including a boy who had survived the school bomb).During the rescue efforts, searchers discovered the additional 500 pounds (230 kg) of unexploded dynamite and pyrotol planted throughout the basement of the school’s south wing. These explosives, connected to an alarm clock that was supposed to act as the detonator, had been set for the same time as the other explosion.
Sign on Andrew Kehoe’s fence
After the bombings, investigators found a wooden sign wired to the farm’s fence with Kehoe’s last message, “Criminals are made, not born”, stenciled on it. When investigators were done taking an inventory of the Kehoes’ estate, they estimated that, prior to its destruction, sale of the unused equipment and materials on the farm would have yielded enough money to pay off the Kehoes’ mortgage.
One of his sisters claimed Kehoe’s remains and arranged for burial without ceremony in an unmarked grave at Mount Rest Cemetery in St. Johns, Michigan.The Price family claimed Nellie’s remains and had her body buried in Lansing, under her maiden name.