In May of 1927, at the height of the Prohibition Era, twenty-six year-old Mary Catherine Kamer wed thirty-eight year-old Joseph O’Neill in Jeffersonville. O’Neill had immigrated to Jeffersonville from Ireland where he became the business partner of August Kamer, Mary’s father. Less than a year later on April 19, 1928, Jeffersonville’s Evening News reported that O’Neill and August Kamer faced federal charges for liquor law violations when they were caught operating a still in Floyd County, Indiana. O’Neill pled guilty and served six months. Mary must have been pregnant with her first child at that time. The 1930 US Census shows the couple living with Mary’s parents and two small children: Patrick, age three, and Charles, age one. More children arrived later, compounding the problems of the troubled family.
This stop is located on the site where, on Christmas Eve in 1936, Joseph O’Neill shot his wife Mary Catherine in the head at the O’Neill Tavern at the corner of Court and Pearl Streets in Jeffersonville, according to Mary Catherine’s death certificate. Just a few weeks later, Jeffersonville residents fled before the rising waters of the Great Flood of 1937. Court proceedings halted, and many records washed away.
When the papers again had time to report on the O’Neills in the fall of 1937, their children’s lives had already been deeply disrupted for the better part of a year, perhaps living with relatives while the courts deliberated their fates. With their mother dead and their father sentenced to prison for murder, the O’Neill children were left to the mercy of the courts.
As the children of Catholic parents, they were deemed suitable candidates for St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Vincennes, Indiana (personal communication from Duffy O’Neill, descendant of Patrick). The O’Neill children of Jeffersonville, Clark County, listed on the 1940 US Census as living in St. Vincent’s Orphanage include Patrick, age twelve; age Jo Anne, age nine; and John Francis, age seven. Charles and Mary Catherine may have lived with a Knox County Catholic family at that time.