Tag Archives: Big Harpe

The Murder of Mr. Bradbury

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Probably one of the first serial killers of the United States was the Harpe brothers (Micajah, or Big Harpe and Wiley or Little Harpe) whose reign of terror from 1797 to 1799 included the murder of at least 39 men, women, and children in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois. Many of the murders were very brutal. The Roane County connection with the Harpe Brothers was their murder of Mr. Bradbury (his first name is not known for certain) about 1798 in what became known as Bradbury Ridge between Poplar Springs and the Buttermilk Road area in East Roane County. It is not known how he was murdered or where he is buried. There is a rock located on Bradbury Ridge in which his last name was carved. It was still visible in the 1980s. Another murder had ties to Roane County. The brothers attempted to find and kill Hugh Dunlap who moved to Roane County in 1810, but they ended up killing another man thinking it was Dunlap. It is said the area where Mr. Bradbury was murdered is haunted. There have been many stories of the ghost of Mr. Bradbury being seen on the ridge. One story told by Mrs. L.P. Hensley, was as followed, “Aunt Vinnie Miller who came from Poplar Springs Valley to Eblen Cave Road to the grist mill. On their way back, near what is now Bradbury Church, something got on the running gears of their wagon and spooked the horses. Whatever it was didn’t get off until they were over the ridge.” This would have happened before 1882 as her father, Absalom Miller died that year. The brothers were tracked to Kentucky, where in August 1799, Micajah Harpe was shot and killed by a posse. His brother, Wiley Harpe escaped but was later caught and hanged in 1804.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the community, November 2016.