A West Virginia Murder
Who killed Nell Rand and E. R. Bailey?
By J. JoAnn Plymale
It just may have been the perfect murder, or maybe the perfect cover up. That is how it seemed over fifty years ago, on that chilly night in 1947, on lovers lane, behind a fashionable country club, in the prosperous Appalachian town of Beckley, in Southern West Virginia.
Nell dropped out of Big Creek High school in the 10th grade and landed a job as a waitress in the nearby county of Welch, about 10 miles from Coal Wood. Always insecure, and vulnerable she was seeking affirmation and fun. She secretly longed for intimacy, which led to dangerous liaisons.
Nellie Mae Combs was barely 16 years old when she ran off and married the son of a prominent official at a McDowell County coal company. Surviving members of the family do not even recall the name of the young man,or anything else about him. When the news came out, his family promptly sent him away and never to be heard from again.
It is a period in Nell Comb's life that faded quietly away with time.
Nell's sister, Helen, can only remember stories about the impromptu wedding, she can't even remember if the marriage was annulled or even if there was a divorce. It was just simply dropped and not talked about again.
There were numerous events in Nell's life that could explain her apparent vulnerability, but at the age of 20, the bright, attractive young lady had already earned a reputation that young men found appealing. It was a stigma that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Five years later, after her first marriage, Nell married Kenneth K. Rand. He was 35 and she was 21.
The stories about her in the little town of Beckley, WV have grown with time, it all depends on who you talk to.
There are those who say she was like the Blanche Dubouis of Tennessee in the movie, A Street Car Named Desire, which premiered in New York City, 1947, only a month after her death.
Some say Nell sought out young boys at the roller rink, or waited for star football players after a game. Later still, as the gossip spins, it was a series of affairs with some of Beckley's most prominent men, lawyers, doctors, ,judges, merchants, and policemen. A former sheriff confided that she "slept well," and had men lined up for a fling with her.
It is no secret why her murder was never brought to justice -- there were too many reputations at stake. Many families would be horrified if it ever came out that their ancestors, dead or living, daddy's, uncles or brothers, were involved with Nell. One thing is certain, there was a cover up.
You could probably get away with just about anything back then in that small West Virginia town -- from stealing from the bank, falsifying records, political kickbacks -- locals a way of forgetting or looking another way. But they never forget about sex, it will bring you down quicker than anything.
The topic of the murder of Nell Rand was poison back then in 1947, and it still is today.
There is not much information available on the unsolved crime but when you find someone who is willing to speak about it, you usually only get bits and pieces of many different versions of the stories.
We may never know what exactly happened to Nell Rand and E. R. Bailey that night on lovers lane, but there has always been speculation on who the real murderer was. According to some, it was her husband who often caught her with other men. Many believe he happened upon on them together, that night and shot them dead.
One man was arrested for the crime, but released for a lack of evidence.
It has been 55 years since the murder and nobody has ever been brought to justice for the 2 people so abruptly cheated out of their futures.
Watch for the book coming out in May 2003, by Reverend Tabscott, son of the chief investigator of the case.
If you have information on this case or would like to discuss it further please contact: J. JoAnn Plymale.
Copyright Jackie JoAnn Plymale -2002