LA PORTE 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sheriff Van Pelt received six dollars for his
The trail of David
Scott is recorded in the LaPorte County Circuit Court House vault:
Book 5, page