Circus News

A Very Cold Case: Circus Performer’s Mysterious Death in 1906 Has Ties to Cincinnati

As Dawn Tucker jogged her usual route in Staunton, Virginia’s Thornrose Cemetery, she heard a voice say, “Turn around.”

Tucker did, but no one was there. Her gaze fell upon a tombstone she’d jogged past countless times before but hadn’t noticed. It read:

Eva Clark

DIED

Oct. 1, 1906,

Aged 25 years

Beneath the straightforward engraving was an intriguing inscription: “Erected 1923 by friends with Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.”

“I was instantly fascinated,” said Tucker, 36, of Flagstaff, Arizona. “First, because I’d had that kind of ghostly experience, and then because the stone was erected by a circus and it had taken 17 years to put it up.”

So Tucker, an artist by trade, started doing research and happened to connect with another woman who also wanted to learn more about the woman buried beneath the mysterious tombstone.

Two years later, they’ve pieced together a tale of intrigue and murder that ties back to Cincinnati.

“Her life was so much more interesting than her death,” said Aíne Murphy Norris, 34, who is leaving behind a job teaching English and American literature at Pensacola State College in Florida to return to her home state of Virginia.

“She was a big deal in the entertainment industry, but all I had heard about her from this kind of lore was her death. My goal was to figure out what happened in her life.”

Here’s the story they’ve unearthed:

Eva Clark was born Eva Kelley, daughter to circus and vaudeville entertainers Lee Howard Kelley and Alice Howard. The early 1900s were rife with anti-Irish sentiment, so the family eschewed their given surname and went by “Howard” instead.

Eva’s exact date and location of birth aren’t known, but her home base was Cincinnati. Her parents performed with the Clements & Russell Railroad Show in 1890, when their daughter was younger than 10…

Read the Full Article at The Enquirer