MY KENTUCKY: Gen. Denhardt’s Date with Death

By Sam Terry
Managing Editor
Jobe Publishing, Inc.

Henry Denhardt

“The harvest moon was shinin’
on the streets of Shelbyville,
When Gen. Henry Denhardt met his fate.
The Garr boys was a waitin’
They was out to shoot to kill,
Death and Gen. Denhardt had a date.”

Brig. Gen. Henry H. Denhardt of Bowling Green, a former Lt. Governor of Kentucky and Adjutant General, was to have started his second trial for the murder of his fiancée on September 21, 1937 but about 12 hours earlier the brothers of Verna Garr Taylor killed him in front of the Armstrong Hotel in downtown Shelbyville, Kentucky.

A colorful character, Denhardt testified that he and Verna, “the prettiest woman in two counties” (Henry and Oldham) were out for a drive “in the cool of the evening” when his car stalled and his battery ran down. While waiting for help to get the car running, Verna walked down the road to fetch her glove, Denhardt claimed.

The mechanics and the farmer whose driveway Denhardt’s car was in reported they heard two shots fired. In due time, Verna’s body was found about 200 yards away, shot in the heart. Nearby was Denhardt’s revolver which he claimed he’d not fired in months.

Verna Garr Taylor, “the prettiest woman in two counties.”

Denhardt insisted Verna had committed suicide because he was trying to break off their relationship. Verna’s adult daughters disputed the notion and testified that Verna was ending the engagement and Denhardt had claimed that if he couldn’t have her, no one else would either. Paraffin tests of Verna and Henry’s hands, however, showed that Verna had not fired a gun recently and Denhardt had.

In the first trial held in New Castle, Verna’s brothers sat with their eyes fixed on Dehardt. The jury returned to report they were deadlocked and a new trial was to begin September 21.

Denhardt and his defense attorney, the illustrious Rodes K. Myers of Bowling Green (who was later Lt. Governor of Kentucky) were approaching the Armstrong Hotel when Myers spotted the Garr brothers and warned Denhardt of them. As Denhardt reached the entrance of the hotel, shots rang out, striking Denhardt in the head and back. Fearful for his own life, Myers cried out, “don’t shoot me, I’m a lawyer!”

Jack, Roy, and E.S. Garr surrendered and Roy claimed he fired all seven shots while his gun held only five bullets. Two bullets were fired by E.S. Garr who was described as a “shell-shocked” veteran and according to his family “suffers from extreme nervousness.” E.S. Garr was voluntarily committed to an asylum while Jack and Roy were indicted for murder. The brothers claimed self-defense because they saw Denhardt reaching in his pocket.

The jury heard arguments about “the right to draw” and a family’s right to avenge wrongdoing. Before the jury got the case, the judge dismissed the charges against Jack Garr, leaving only Roy charged with murder. Kentucky Attorney General Hubert Meredith was serving as special prosecutor in the case and told the jury, “Roy Garr shot Gen. Denhardt not in self-defense, or because he was crazy at the moment. It was because he had to avenge the death of his sister.”

Roy’s defense attorney, Ballard Clark, didn’t object to the claim and told the jury, “He shot a mad dog. I say he had a right to.” Co-counsel for the defense told the jury, “Send that man (Roy Garr) back home to his sick wife and old mother and the sun will shine bright again in my old Kentucky home. It isn’t a shame that Kentuckians are quick on the draw. It’s an honor sometimes.”

The jury deliberated for an hour and 15 minutes, acquitting Roy Garr of any wrongdoing.

Gen. Denhardt is buried in Fairview Cemetery in Bowling Green where he lived at 1034 Laurel Avenue.

Denhardt’s gravemarker in Fairview Cemetery in Bowling Green.

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