Samantha Perry Mug

It was a typical day on the picket line on Jan. 16, 1990. Insults were hurled and rocks thrown as members of the United Mine Workers of America continued an ongoing protest against the non-union Bailey Energy mine. Around 8:30 a.m. the atmosphere changed. Gunfire erupted. When the smoke cleared, one man was dead and two were injured.

John McCoy, 42, of Welch, a UMWA member, died as a result of gunshot wounds to his neck and chest areas. Also injured were Steve Morgan, who suffered a gunshot wound to his right thigh, and Darrell Morgan, who was shot in his abdomen and hand.

The dramatic escalation in violence on the cold winter morning was a surprise to many who had been monitoring the strike for months.

“I’ve been on several picket lines just to keep law and order and never had this happen,” former West Virginia State Police trooper Steve Cox told me in a story about the case in 2011. “I wouldn’t exactly call it friendly – there was maybe fussin’ a little bit – but it was not really aggressive.”

•••

The McDowell County picket line murders were one of many homicides featured in a weekly Daily Telegraph cold case series published in 2011.

The idea started small but soon grew. We profiled cases from the spring of that year through August.

Initially I was keeping track of the number. I soon lost count.

Victims in the cases were mothers, fathers, couples, community members. All were senselessly murdered. All left loved ones behind.

The first story I wrote in the series was about a homicide at Pinnacle Rock. I interviewed the wife of the victim and the lead investigator on the case. Even now, I recall the rain and dreary conditions on the day they came to my office.

Less than halfway through the interview the wife began crying. I excused myself to get a box of tissues.

Tears continued during the afternoon. At that moment I started to understand the pain of those who have lost loved ones to nameless, faceless killers.

•••

The picket line murder has yet to be solved. But it is also one with many layers of intrigue.

Retired trooper Cox was the officer on scene the day of the fatal shooting. Initial violence that day began with rocks thrown at three vehicles carrying non-union miners to the site.

Rocks were thrown at the first two vehicles as they passed the picket lines at the mouth of the hollow near Jake’s Store, Cox said in 2011.

As the third vehicle passed, shots were fired. “I heard something,” Cox said. “I thought it was firecrackers. I said, ‘What are you doing throwing firecrackers …?’ ”

The driver of the truck stopped and soon gunfire erupted.

•••

A few months ago, I was contacted by Virginia State Police officials about a new initiative by the department to bring a renewed scrutiny on unsolved murders and missing person cases in the Commonwealth.

We began the series a few weeks later.

While I normally like to keep a continued spotlight on these cases when a series begins, we made an exception this year and took a break during the holiday season.

I was not sure if readers wanted to learn details of a grisly crime as they were unwrapping gifts and drinking hot chocolate around the Christmas tree.

Today’s story marks the fourth in the series.

•••

Details of these cases are not always easy for friends, loved ones and family members to read.

Especially family members.

I am well aware that the ink on this newsprint and the characters on a computer monitor can transcend through the pages and rip the figurative band-aid off a wound that’s been healing for decades.

But I also believe it is important to share these details.

Victims deserve to be remembered.

And their stories should be told.

•••

At slain coal miner John McCoy’s funeral on Jan. 19, 1990, hundreds of UMWA members, dressed in camouflage, came to pay their final respects and show solidarity. The shooting death was described by District 28 spokesman Gene Carroll as “cold-blooded murder.”

“It’s a great tragedy,” Carroll said in a Jan. 22, 1990, Daily Telegraph story. “The fact is the man had a couple of children and a family he cared about. It was murder, nothing but cold-blooded murder.

“It’s a terrible thing,” Carroll continued. “It’s a sad day for all of us. If the resolution to bloodshed is with more bloodshed then there is no solution.”

Contact Samantha Perry at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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