12. John Milton Elliott was gunned down by a fellow judge outside his own Kentucky courthouse
According to the New York Times, this assassination was a crime that “could scarcely have taken place in any region calling itself civilized except Kentucky or some other Southern state”. It was 1879, and so the Civil War was still fresh in the minds of the New York journalists. However, it’s likely that the killing of John Elliot Milton could have happened anywhere in the United States. After all, the causes of the crime: courtroom drama, a family grudge and insanity were hardly restricted to the State of Kentucky alone.
Elliot was a well-respected lawyer who represented Kentucky in the House of Representatives from 1853 until 1857. After serving in the First Confederate Congress during the Civil War, he moved to Bath County and used his expertise to work on the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Unsurprisingly, his work made him enemies, even if the abuse he got was largely verbal rather than physical. All this changed in the spring of 1879, however. On March 26, he came across the brother of a lady who Elliot had ruled against. That family blamed him for her woes and they wanted revenge.
The assassin, a man by the name of Colonel Thomas Buford, was a judge himself. He was also a Civil War veteran and no stranger to violence. Which is why he didn’t hesitate when he saw Elliot leave the courthouse that day. He shot him at point-blank range with a shotgun. Elliot had no chance. A statue was erected in his honor and Elliot County, Kentucky, is reputedly named in honor of the judge who was killed for serving justice.
At his trial, Colonel Buford revealed that his sister had been ordered to pay off a $20,000 debt. Unable to do so, she lost the family property and died a broken woman. Buford swore to her on her deathbed that he would kill the judge that ruled against her. He also claimed that he was clinically insane when he assassinated Elliot. The jury agreed – albeit narrowly. Buford would die on a Kentucky asylum five years later.