The Bizarre, Accidental Death Of Clement Vallandigham

In July of 1871, former congressman Clement Vallandigham was working as a lawyer in Lebanon, Ohio, defending Thomas McGehan, who was accused of killing a man named Tom Myers during a saloon brawl. One night at the outset of the trial, Vallandigham sought to test out his defense, which suggested that McGehan hadn’t shot Myers, but that Myers had accidentally shot himself while drawing his own pistol. After conducting some ballistics tests that night, Vallandigham and his companions started back to the hotel, when one of them encouraged him to discharge the three shots left in the pistol. “What for?,” said Vallandigham. “To prevent any accident. You might shoot yourself,” said his friend. “No danger of that. I have carried and practiced with pistols too long to be afraid to have a loaded one in my pocket,” replied Vallandigham. Indeed, the pistol in his pocket didn’t go off — not right then anyway. The men made it back to the hotel, whereupon Vallandigham set the loaded pistol down on a table next to an unloaded pistol that had been used earlier in court. Vallandigham then sought to demonstrate for some fellow lawyers how Myers could have accidentally shot himself while drawing his pistol. He lifted the loaded pistol from the table, put it into his pocket, drew it back out, and left it pointed at his abdomen. “There,” he said, “that’s the way Myers held it.” Then his hand touched the trigger and there was a flash. He had accidentally fatally shot himself. Needless to say, Thomas McGehan was soon acquitted and set free.