Christian County

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”

--Jesus Christ

By Bill Clutter An excerpt of his book COAL TAR: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed Are Killing US with Cancer

"This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right. A wonderful read"—Scott Turow.

To place an order visit

The Christian County Courthouse where the CIPS case was tried.

From his Sermon on the Mount on a hill by the Sea of Galilee in Palestine, the carpenter from Nazareth introduced to the world--brutalized by the inhumanity of invading armies whose soldiers enslaved the survivors they conquered—a new doctrine of forgiveness for sins and compassion for others.

Renouncing the most violent teachings of the Old Testament of his Jewish faith, which preached revenge over one’s enemies, Jesus Christ told his followers: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Thus, came the Christian phrase we know today, “turn the other cheek.”

Scholar Walter Wink explains in his book Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, that back-handing slaps to the face was a common practice of Roman soldiers as a way of expressing their authority over the subjects they conquered.

A pacifist, Christ denounced war and violence.

The Bible tells the story of Jesus leaving Galilee near the northern border of present-day Israel after delivering his Sermon on the Mount and traveling to the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon near the southern border of present-day Lebanon. It was said that Jesus performed miracles there.

These ancient cities had been at the center of a thriving civilization of sailors, the Phoenicians, with the port city of Tyre as their capital. The ingenuity of Phoenicians in ship building enabled them to live in communities made rich by trading with coastal communities at the far reaches of the Mediterranean Sea.

During the Bronze Age, the Phoenicians developed a purple dye that was extracted from the fluid of murex snails; this dye became known as Tyrian Purple, also called Royal Purple or Imperial Purple. The dye of Royal Robes was prized by Phoenician emperors. It was said that it took 10,000 shells to color one imperial robe. Extracting purple dye from Murex snails became obsolete in 1856 when coal tar dyes were invented that year in London, England.

Some 332 years before Christ, the Phoenicians were driven out of Tyre by the Macedonian army of Alexander the Great, intent on taking this prized method of extracting purple dye. Alexander’s army constructed a causeway of rocks to reach the island fortress of Tyre, the greatest engineering feat ever accomplished by an army.

The Greeks originated the concepts of democracy.  Philosophers like Aristotle, founder of the Lyceum, an auditorium for debate, influenced America’s Founding Fathers, who commissioned buildings in the neoclassical, or Greek Revival style architecture, emulating the Acropolis in Athens. In medicine, the Greek physician Hippocrates is credited with the Hippocratic Oath, by which medical students today are taught “First do no harm.”

The Phoenicians salvaged their civilization by sailing west, establishing a new capital at Carthage (in the modern nation of Tunisia) on the Mediterranean Sea, that was later sacked and conquered by the Romans. The Romans also occupied the Holy Land at the time Christ was preaching a new religion of redemption.

The one thing that provoked Jesus, more than anything else, was greed. When he saw it happening in the Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem during Passover, he was moved to anger. The sight of it upset him so.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” --Matthew 21:12-13.

Jesus decried the sale of doves to those too poor to purchase lambs to slaughter for sacrificial ceremonies. They could ill afford such offerings to God when they had hungry children to feed.

For the love of money is the root of all evil.” –Timothy 6:10.

Jesus was a criminal in the eyes of the law for speaking such truths, and he was tried and convicted of sedition and blasphemy.

Crucifixion was the method preferred by the Roman Empire for the execution of criminals, and for those who opposed their authority-- a cruel and unusual punishment.

Jesus was stoic as he dragged the cross weighing down on his bent back up to a hill called Calvary, where he was crucified. Nailed to the cross he carried; Jesus was hung next to two thieves who were also sentenced to die for their crimes.

For those who were crucified, it was the weight of one’s body that eventually caused asphyxiation, when the muscles, weakened by fatigue and exhaustion, could no longer move the lungs to breathe. A contributing cause of death was from Roman soldiers, who often impaled their victims with spears, as they did to Jesus. Exposed to the elements, the hot sun blistered their skin by day, and when night came, the cold caused them to shiver, chilled to the bone--death was merciful.

The teachings of Christ would inspire an attorney from India, Mahatma Gandhi, to lead a non-violent resistance against the British Empire, after which, in 1947, India won its independence from the enslavement of colonial rule.

In America, Martin Luther King Jr. would lead a non-violent revolution to end segregation. After his home was bombed in 1956 by white supremacists, King’s supporters gathered and urged him to seek vengeance. Instead, King preached the teachings of Christ, leading his followers—descendants of slaves--to defy the authority of segregationists through non-violent acts of civil disobedience.

King had also been moved by what Rosa Parks had done in Montgomery, Alabama the year before. She refused to sit at the back of the bus relegated for “Negroes”. Instead, she took her seat among the Whites and defied the authorities to arrest her, which they did. Such simple acts like sitting at a pharmacy lunch counter where “Colored” were not allowed provoked angry reactions. Many who defied this authority were spit upon and beaten, while others were crucified in a different way-- their voices silenced from asphyxiation, gasping for their last breath, and becoming Strange Fruit hanging from the branches of Southern trees.

The first Christian martyr was Saint Stephen. He was stoned to death in Jerusalem 34 years after the Crucifixion of Christ.

The Eastern Orthodox Church was among the first established churches of Christianity; it formed in Jerusalem and spread to the Greek-speaking regions of the Roman Empire and, later on, into Russia.

Sixty-four years after the death of Christ, as the Christian religion was robustly growing, the Roman Emperor Nero, famous for fiddling while Rome burned, tried to rid the world of Christians, who were persecuted unmercifully.

“Nero charged and tortured some people hated for their evil practices—the ‘Christians’. First those who confessed to being Christians were arrested. Then put to death. They were covered in the skins of wild animals, torn to death by dogs, crucified or set on fire. Nero opened up his own gardens for this spectacle and gave a show in the arena,” wrote Tacitus, a Roman historian.

For another 250 years, Christians were rounded up and fed to wild beasts as a sporting event, where the expression originated—being fed to the lions.

These acts of bigotry, defined as “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself,” were barbaric.

The pagans who ruled over Rome were eventually replaced by a new religion—the Catholic Church. It took 312 years after the Crucifixion of Christ for this to happen. The transformation was complete when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to become a Christian. Constantine commissioned the building of the Basilica of Saint Peter to replace the Circus Maximus, where Nero had terrorized Christians.

The Pope would rule over a new Holy Roman Empire.

The Christian religion fractured in 1517, when Martin Luther challenged papal authority and began the Protestant Reformation, creating the Lutheran Church in Germany. Two decades later, in 1536, King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and created the Church of England after the Pope refused to grant him an annulment. Henry VIII married 7 more wives, divorcing some and killing others, and served as both the head of State and head of Church. Protestants and Catholics, divided by religious beliefs, killed each other by the thousands, though professing a shared belief in the teachings of Christ.

Many of the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower to Massachusetts Bay Colony were of the Puritan faith, a religious sect that was persecuted by the Church of England. So were other sects, like the Quakers, who settled in the colony of Pennsylvania. Between 1660 and 1685, nearly 15,000 Quakers were jailed in England. Many other immigrants, like the Mennonites, who broke away from the Lutheran Church in Germany, would settle in America seeking the freedom to practice their religion without persecution.

In the United States of America, there are three counties named Christian County.

Kentucky formed the first Christian County in 1797, with Hopkinsville as the county seat in the far western part of the state. Christian County was where Jefferson Davis was born, a year before Abraham Lincoln.

In 1839, settlers who migrated to Central Illinois there from Hopkinsville, Kentucky created a new county, which they named Christian County. The new county was created by taking parts of four other counties-- Sangamon, Macon, Shelby, and Montgomery. Two decades later, Missouri became the third state to name one of its counties Christian County.

Taylorville became the seat of Illinois’ Christian County, named after Colonel John Taylor, one of the early settlers of nearby Springfield who served as Sangamon County’s first sheriff.

Abraham Lincoln, made frequent appearances in the first Christian County courthouse, as he traveled the circuit on horseback from his law office in Springfield, a distance of thirty miles. The courthouse there was crudely constructed of logs. The courtroom was raised above the dirt that became mud when it rained, with gaps between the floorboards. One day, while pleading his client’s case, Lincoln was interrupted by a drift of squealing pigs rooting beneath the floorboards. Lincoln paused, looked at the judge, and asked for a “writ of quietness.”

Lincoln’s sense of humor was legendary. After court, Lincoln entertained the townsfolk with his stories and jokes. He also used humor to great effect with juries, not to mention the power of his logical mind.

The population of Taylorville quickly doubled after the first railroad was built in 1869, when the tracks of the Wabash Railroad were laid. The route, originating in St. Louis, went north to Decatur, where Lincoln’s family had lived when they first arrived in Illinois. From Decatur, trains were routed to either Chicago or Detroit.

The population of Taylorville grew even larger after the B&O Railroad laid tracks, connecting the town to the state capitol, Springfield, and with a route east to Baltimore.

The main employment in Christian County during those early years was farming. Where once massive herds of buffalo created traces, or natural trails, through the prairie, now the lands produced bountiful yields of corn, which Native Americans had been growing for centuries and introduced to the Pilgrims.

Farmers became prosperous shipping bushels of corn by rail, only later to be gouged by the robber barons of the railroads through price-fixing. This monopoly of rail transportation led to government regulation of ratemaking when Congress created the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1887. The railroads were the first industry to be regulated by the federal government.

The year before, in 1886, the first coal mine shaft in Taylorville was dug just east of the B&O tracks, between Main and Market Streets, leading to the discovery of a vast seam of coal beneath the surface of Christian County. By 1890, Taylorville had grown to a population of 2,839 people. The Peabody Coal Company became the largest employer in Christian County, as the company opened new mines in nearby Hewittville, Tovey, Langleyville, and Kincaid.

Coal mining peaked in Christian County during the booming economy of the Roaring Twenties. This was the era of Ford Model T’s, Prohibition, and Flapper Girls, who boldly set new fashion trends with bobbed hair styles and skirts above the knee. The liberation of women was scandalous to church goers, who had pushed for Prohibition. It took effect in 1920, with the passage of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. That same year, women were granted the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.

The infamous Shelton gang came up from East St. Louis to Christian County the following summer to stage a daring hold-up of the Kincaid Trust and Savings Company in August 1921. Three bandits robbed the bank of $95,000 that had been deposited by the Peabody Coal Company for its payroll; miners were paid in cash in those days. The money had arrived from Chicago aboard the Chicago Midland Railroad sealed in packages. As the money was being transferred to the bank at 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday, one of the gangsters pistol-whipped Cashier C.F. Jones, while another snuck up behind Deputy Sheriff Jerome Lockhard and simultaneously removed his two revolvers from the holsters on his hip.

A decade later, as farms were being foreclosed and unemployment soared during the Great Depression, bank robbers like John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde would become famous, as an epidemic of bank robberies plagued the nation.

Immigrants flooded into America from Italy, from what had been the Holy Roman Empire. From the late 1880s until the Great Depression, Italians were the largest group of immigrants entering the country, and many settled in Christian County to work in the coal mines. Italian Catholics, like the previous wave of Irish and German Catholics who immigrated to America, were persecuted by bigots.

In 1891, a mob led by the Ku Klux Klan conducted a mass lynching of eleven Italian immigrants in New Orleans. In a rush to arrest the unknown assassin of their police chief, police jailed the men who had been stereotyped as “criminals” because of their nationality. One of the leaders of the lynch mob, John M. Parker, was later elected governor of Louisiana, as a Democrat.

The following year, in 1892, the Citizen Gas, Light and Fuel Company formed to build a manufactured gas plant near the depot of the Wabash Railroad; which later became the route of the Wabash Cannonball. In 1903, the company merged, becoming the Taylorville Gas and Electric Company.

June 1899 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

In 1913, the City of Taylorville purchased a 55-acre tract of undeveloped land from Elizabeth Manners, following the death of her husband; becoming Manners Park. The Taylorville Chautauqua Auditorium was built in 1916, as the park’s centerpiece, and became a focal point for mass events that were popular at the time featuring some of the nation’s most famous celebrities. President William Howard Taft spoke there. As did, three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Ann Sullivan and her student, Helen Keller, who broke barriers for the disabled as the first deaf-blind person to earn a college degree, moving audiences at the Taylorville Chautauqua with their inspiring story. Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, with a large national following, preached for Prohibition and decried the growth of government regulation. He was pals with John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon who became the world’s first billionaire, as owner of Standard Oil. Critics accused Sunday of being a mouth-piece for big business.

A Sanborn map, used by the insurance industry in the early 1900s, shows a diagram of the Central Illinois Public Service Co. coal gasification plant. The circle is the gas holder that was excavated by CIPS in 1987.

Manners Park had two baseball diamonds, where Little League tournaments were played, within site of the Wabash depot. When they saw the smoke of the steam engine from the northbound train approaching, the children would stop in mid-pitch, throw down their bats, and run toward the tracks to cheer the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team in route to play their arch rival, the Chicago Cubs.

In 1934, fans lined the tracks and cheered wildly as the team train passed through Taylorville on its way to Detroit to play the Tigers in the World Series. By this time, the old gas plant on Webster Street was shuttered. After 40 years of operation, the plant, now owned by Central Illinois Public Service Company (CIPS), was closed in 1932.

The 1934 World Series Champions were known as the Gashouse Gang, a nickname given to the players because their gritty play left their uniforms soiled with dirt, resembling the work clothes of gas plant workers. Dizzy Dean, who won 30 games that season, was voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for his pitching performance in the Cardinals’ 1934 World Series win.

Other Cardinals’ baseball legends--like Branch Rickey, who, as manager, pioneered the system of farm teams; Rogers Hornsby, who won two Triple Crowns for batting and led the Cardinals to win the 1926 World Series; and Stan Musial (“Stan the Man” as he was called by fans), whose batting average over 22 seasons was an impressive .331 and helped win three World Series Championships in 1942, 1944, and 1946--all tipped their hats to the children of Taylorville.

As many as 50,000 coal gasification plants produced coal gas in the United States. They were operated by both municipal and private utility companies; by factories and foundries; by rail yards with Pintsch plants; by military bases; and even by the U.S. Department of Mines and Minerals. By the time of the stock market crash in 1929, which was the peak of coal gasification, over 4,600 communities in America had manufactured gas plants. When they were abandoned, all were polluted with coal tar.

"This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right. A wonderful read.”

--Scott Turow FREE TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS: The author will make a digital version available free of charge to any teacher or student who wants to use the story for classroom use. Those interested should send an email with the word EDUCATION in the subject line to

To pre-order copies of the book go to: Release date scheduled for September 2020. Copyright © 2020 by Bill Clutter Published by Investigating Innocence Media | Springfield, Illinois. Cover and book design by Polly Danforth | Morning Star Design

About The Author

Louisville Private investigator Bill Clutter started his career in Springfield, Illinois. By the time the lawsuit went to trial, seven children from Taylorville were diagnosed with neuroblastoma, four would die. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the families against CIPS. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld that verdict in 2002. After Clutter narrowly lost the senate race, his investigation helped free three innocent men from death row and he went on to start in 2001 what is now the Illinois Innocence Project. He was credited, among others, by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn when Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011. He moved to Louisville in 2013 to continue work on capital cases and started a national organization called Investigating Innocence, which help free three people, David Camm, from Indiana; Curt Lovelace, a former state prosecutor from Illinois, who was team captain of the Fighting Illini football team that won the Citrus Bowl in 1990; and Rodney Lincoln from Missouri, who spent 36 years in prison.

HOW TO GET A COPY OF THE BOOK: The paperback edition will be released in time for Christmas 2020. Before the book is released to the public, the author will send a digital version of the book to those who make a tax-deductible donation of $25 or more to help Investigating Innocence free more people from prison. Go to