family history

Omaha Ax Murders Part I: The Murder of Harvey Boyd

Halloween is a just a few weeks away! I’ve been busy decorating, planning my Halloween costumes, and watching all the horror movies available on Netflix. So today’s post in written with the coming holiday in mind.

Many people have heard of the Villisca Ax Murders which happened 10 June 1912 in Villisca, Iowa, about an hour and a half away from Omaha. It’s a place I visited  with my mother a handful of years ago while on a genealogy trip in the area and left the home feeling slightly disturbed. It’s such an eerie location and the home is set up as it appeared to investigators the morning the bodies were discovered.

However, little more than a decade later, there was another string of ax murders that took place in Omaha. And it was a history I knew nothing about until just Thursday morning at the historical society, when I stumbled upon an article someone had written titled “Omaha Ax Murders”. I was intrigued to say the least because I had never known something like that to have happened in my hometown. I left the historical society and couldn’t wait to dig into the Historic Omaha World Herald database available through Omaha Public Library’s website. And this is what I found. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a bit of the story each Friday.

The Murder of Harvey Boyd

Photo from Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald.) – August 2, 1928 edition

On Sunday, 1 July 1928, eight year old Harvey Boyd ran out of his mother’s home at 5th and J Street in East Omaha, now Carter Lake, to go two blocks to buy a scooter that had caught his eye in a second-hand shop. But he never purchased the scooter. He never arrived at the store. And he did not return home.

Thus began a month-long search by the people of East Omaha for Harvey Boyd. Woods were searched, ponds were dredged. Harvey’s older brother Michael, a member of the Boy Scouts as well as his friends and police officers from nearby Council Bluffs gave their time, yet Harvey was not found. Numerous sources claimed to have  spotted Harvey in downtown Omaha, with one newsboy claiming that he saw Harvey sleeping outside the First Evangelical Church on Eighteenth and Cuming Streets five days after he first went missing. But searches of the area turned up nothing.

But two weeks after he first vanished, the search efforts for Harvey were renewed once more. When his widowed mother, Mary Boyd, received word that someone had sighted a boy fitting Harvey’s description, again in the area of Seventeenth and Cuming Streets, and also Twenty-fifth and Cuming. Persons claiming to have spotted the boy said that he had been in the area all day and was acting “queerly”.

With multiple sources claiming to have seen Harvey, and Mrs. Boyd believing her son to alive, a Boyd Benefit was held on Thursday, July 26th to raise funds for the continuing search. The Norden concert band of Omaha donated their time and music and played before a social gathering of two hundred and fifty people who turned out to show their support for missing Harvey and the Boyd family.

A week later, Harvey’s body was found.



Photo from Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald.) – August 2, 1928

On the morning of August 2nd, Harvey’s body was found in a patch of sunflowers, about 40 feet north of Avenue H, half a mile from the Boyd home. He was only yards away from where family and community friends had searched only a month earlier. His body was so badly decomposed that he had to be identified by his clothing. Dr. S. McClenghen, the physician who examined Harvey’s body, stated:

From Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald.) – August 2, 1928

The physician was quick to rule out that it would have been impossible for Harvey to have harmed himself in this way. McClenghen also ruled out the possibilty that Harvey was struck by a passing automobile and that the driver tossed his body into the ditch to hide the evidence. The question remained: who murdered Harvey Boyd?


Photo from Omaha World-Herald (Published as Morning World-Herald.) – Saturday, August 4, 1928

On Independence Day, three days after Harvey first disappeared, police arrested Clarence Lukehart, 21, of 220 East 5th Street, East Omaha, after he admitted to a criminal assault against eight year old Lorraine Elder of 503 Locust Street, East Omaha. The girl positively identified Lukehart as the man who gave her seven cents and lured her into his father’s basement where the assault occurred. However, Lukehart was not initially questioned about Harvey’s disappearance.

Two days after the grisly discovery of Harvey’s body, Clarence Lukehart, who was serving a twelve-year sentence at the Iowa Reformatory located in Anamosa for his assault on Lorraine, was questioned about Harvey’s disappearance and murder. Investigators did not at first disclose that Harvey’s body had been discovered, and Lukehart denied that he had any knowledge of the boy’s disappearance. Lukehart claimed that he first heard that Harvey was missing around 4:30pm on July 1st. Lukehart stated that he had spent the afternoon in his car, watching bathers at Carter Lake. He had arrived home where his mother told him that Harvey had been missing since 3 pm that day. However, Mrs. Boyd did not spread the alarm of a missing Harvey until seven that evening.

After five hours of questioning, Lukehart confessed to the murder of Harvey Boyd. Lukehart repeatedly denied having killed Harvey, at one point shouting, “I didn’t murder that boy!” It was then investigators showed Lukehart a photograph of Harvey’s decomposed body. Lukehart began to cry and mumbled that he sometimes would “forget things when I have a spell.” Investigators asked Lukehart if he was insane, to which he replied, “Yes, I think I am.” He also asked, “If I can make them believe I was insane, will I be hung for it?” Lukehart then described in detail what had happened. How he had come upon Harvey, how he had attacked Harvey, how Harvey had begun to cry, and how he had first tried choking Harvey to silence his cries before reaching for a rock.

Following Lukehart’s confession, he was tried and he admitted guilt in court. His defense team brought testimony from the state’s alienist, now called psychologist or psychiatrist, who deemed that Lukehart had the mind of a 10 year old and acted impulsively and without any control over himself. Addtionally, two other physicians declared that Lukehart was “a moron, a moral pervert, and possessed of a child’s mind.”

Lukehart was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Harvey Boyd. He showed little emotion upon judgement, and on Thursday, October 4th, Lukehart began his life sentence at the Ft. Madison Penitentiary in Iowa. Although his family protested Lukehart’s innocence, none of his family came to say goodbye.

Harvey Boyd was laid to rest in Mt. Hope cemetery in Omaha. He was buried in a small white casket, no more than three feet long. Boy Scouts, including Harvey’s older brothers were his pallbearers. Five hundred students from Harvey’s school Sacred Heart, gathered at 8am to hear mass. And his mother took a silver crucifix from his casket before he was interred and flowers were heaped upon the mounded earth of his grave.

But this was only the beginning of a much darker story.

“East Omaha Man Held for Mistreating Girl” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Morning World-Herald.) – July 4, 1928

“Harvey Boyd, 8, Missing 5 Days; No Clues Obtained” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald.) – July 6, 1928

“Missin – Belie – Astray -” (Newspaper badly damaged and cannot read remaining title) Omaha World-Herald (Published as Morning World-Herald.) – July 7, 1928

“Renew Boyd Search” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald.) – July 19, 1928

“Band at Boyd Social” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Morning World-Herald.) – July 25, 1928

“Boyd Benefit is Held” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Morning World-Herald.) – July 27, 1928

“Harvey Boyd Found Murdered” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald.) – August 2, 1928

“Lukehart Admits Killing Boyd Boy; Claims is Insane” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Morning World-Herald.) – Saturday, August 4, 1928

“Judge Sentences Lukehart to Life Term for Murder” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Morning World-Herald.) – September 11, 1928

“Lukehart Begins Term” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald) – October 5, 1928

“Harvey Boyd at Rest in Mt. Hope Cemetery” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald.) – August 4, 1928

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