The question of who burned the Army ROTC building at Kent State two nights before the May 4, 1970, killings has always been one of the Kent Affair’s unsolved mysteries. That act of arson, as I wrote in my book, Four Dead in Ohio, was “the one act of violence that resulted in the calling-out of the National Guard. If there had not been a fire, the Guardsmen would not have come onto the campus and the students might not have been killed on May 4.”
Until now only one person, a high school student named George Walter Harrington, who was visiting his brother Jim that night, has been positively linked to the fire. We now know the identity of two other men. One of them outed himself in an online video supporting a Kickstarter campaign to complete an authorized documentary of Devo, the New Wave group that formed after several of its members witnessed the May 4, 1970 shootings. "Jerry Casale, the son of a Kent State English professor, and Bob Mothersbaugh of Akron were two of Devo's founding members."
In the preview tape, Mothersbaugh actually admitted on tape: “I helped burn the ROTC building down.” The confession can be heard at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1409838010/authorized-devo-documentary-film/posts/278030.
Mothersbaugh has never been mentioned before in any previous account of the tragedy. He did not elaborate on his role, or about the roles of others who tried alongside of him.
Mothersbaugh is not the only name that has recently surfaced. A not-yet-published book, “Fortney Road,” by Jeff C. Stevenson, about a Christian cult, devotes an entire chapter to the late Thomas "Aquinas" Miller, a drug addict who was not a student at Kent at the time, but who was nevertheless one of the most visible protestors that weekend.
Miller was prominently featured in a Life Magazine photo as the protestor who lost it after the shootings and dipped a black flag in the blood of the slain Jeffrey Miller and sprayed it on other students. Chapter 13 of the manuscript, which quotes what Tom told his younger brother John, reports that on May 4 Tom admitted he, along with two of his companions provoked the soldiers and that Tom Miller even screamed “at the top of my lungs: “Shoot me! I’m a helpless woman. I’m a child! Shoot me! I was referring to the My Lai massacre.”
The brother, John Miller, also quotes Tom as saying “he was among the group that set the ROTC building on fire.” The manuscript does not come out and say who accompanied Tom on the night of May 2, 1970, but it makes clear that on May 4 Miller was joined at the hip with two of his closest friends and fellow members of the “Kent Krazies,” Alan Canfora and Tom Grace. Canfora and Grace were also friends of Jim Harrington. Both Canfora and Grace were wounded by the National Guard. Miller, who later converted to the Christian cult, felt he was the one who deserved to die.
The revelation raises renewed questions about whether Canfora and/or Grace also were involved in the arson. Canfora, in particular, appears to be still covering up other crimes and testified falsely about his role that weekend. At the 1975 wrongful death and injury trial, Canfora testified falsely under oath that he was not even present at the building that night. However, he has since admitted he was, and in a 1979 interview for the Burr, the school yearbook, Canfora proudly told reporter Eric Kosnac that he was "in the thick of things” that weekend and was surprised he was only indicted for second degree rioting.
This blog is written by William A. Gordon, a Kent State alumnus and the author of "Four Dead in Ohio" and three other books. It offers commentary on the still unfolding developments in the Kent State shooting case.
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William A. Gordon
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