LaPorte County's First Murder

The first murder in LaPorte County occurred in Kankakee Township during the winter of 1838. The victim was young man by the name of Joshua M. Copland. He was murdered by 19-year-old David Scott.

Joshua M. Copland lived on his father’s farm in Kankakee Township. In the fall of 1838, he received word that his mother's father had died and left an inheritance for him. As soon as the fall work was finished, he prepared to travel to Virginia where his grandfather had lived.

David Scott, who was employed at the farm by Joshua’s father, agreed to travel with him as far as Ohio. Scott’s mother was living in Ohio. On Joshua’s return trip from Virginia, he agreed to stop in Ohio and Scott would then return to LaPorte County with him. 

After stopping in Ohio, Joshua traveled alone to his grandfather’s farm in Virginia. Once there, he received approximately six hundred dollars in gold and silver from the inheritance.

As Joshua returned home, he stopped again in Ohio where David Scott joined him, and the two continued home.

Joshua and David Scott stopped about a mile from the Copland farm to water their horses near the old Austin farm just west of Rolling Prairie. As Joshua was breaking the ice off of a pond to let the horses drink, David Scott shot Joshua in the back of the head, killing him. He then took Joshua’s inheritance and fled toward LaPorte.

Jebediah Austin heard the shot nearby at about 6:30 PM and went to investigate. He discovered Joshua Copland’s body. Jebediah then walked through the woods to Joseph Stanton’s house on Michigan Road. The two of them returned and took Joshua’s body home to his family.

Jebediah Austin and Joseph Stanton then organized a posse of neighbors and tracked Scott in a light snow that was on the ground. The trail Scott was leaving was easy to follow because Scott’s horse was missing a shoe.

Besides Austin and Stanton, the posse included William Ireland, Jacob Miller, Jacob Wagner, John Bush, and his sons Isaac, David and Abram. When they neared LaPorte tracking Scott, they stopped and told Sheriff Sutton Van Pelt of the murder. Sheriff Van Pelt gathered up a few more men and they all continued to follow Scott’s trail.

Scott’s tracks lead the Sheriff’s Posse to James Andrews house who lived off of Joliet Road. As the Posse approached, James Andrews met them and told them that the Scott boy had passed by a short time earlier.

The Sheriff and his Posse continued on Scott’s trail until they overtook him at Pottinger Lake off of Joliet Road about a mile south of the County Home.

David Scott was taken back to LaPorte and placed in the LaPorte County Jail until his trial where he was convicted in LaPorte County Circuit Court. His sentence for the crime was death by hanging.

On June 15, 1839 LaPorte County Sheriff Sutton Van Pelt was ordered by the court to carry out the sentencing. On this day Sheriff Van Pelt hung David Scott from a public gallows until he was dead.

Sheriff Van Pelt received six dollars for his services.

The trail of David Scott is recorded in the LaPorte County Circuit Court House vault: Book 5, page 217.

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