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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unsolved.

The most fascinating murder cases of the 19th Century are the ones that remain unsolved. Their stories have inspired writers and criminologists and seem to bring out the amateur sleuth in everyone. Every new theory brings a new round of debate but leads us no closer to resolution. Here are the Murder by Gaslight cases that will remain forever unsolved:



Mary Rogers

The body of New York cigar store clerk, Mary Rogers, was found strangled on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River. Police were at a loss but the newspapers published several theories, with multiple suspects, none of which proved true. This unsolved murder was the inspiration for  Edgar Allan Poe's classic detective story, "The Mystery of Marie Roget."

Amasa Sprague

When Rhode Island industrialist, Amasa Sprague was found shot and beaten to death on New Year’s day, 1844, police suspected the Gordon brothers, Irish immigrants with a grudge against Sprague, and John Gordon was executed for the crime. It has since been proven that John Gordon was innocent and he was posthumously pardoned in 2011. Who really killed Amasa Sprague remains a mystery.
 

Benjamin Nathan

The brutal murder of wealthy stockbroker Benjamin Nathan in his own home, resembles a classic “looked-room” mystery, but without a master detective to solve it. Suspects ranged from family members and servants to nationally known professional criminals. Speculation went on for years but no one knows who killed Benjamin Nathan.
.

Sarah Meservey

Sarah Meservey was found strangled to death in her home in the isolated town of Tenant’s Harbor, Maine. Her neighbor, Nathan Hart, was found guilty of the murder on evidence so circumstantial that many in town refused to accept the verdict. The controversy continues to this day and the Hart-Meservey murder remains “Maine’s most unusual unsolved murder case.”

Rose Ambler

Walking home from her fiancĂ©’s house one night, Rose Ambler was stabbed and beaten to death by an unknown assailant.  The motive was unclear; she had not been robbed or raped. Rose’s complicated romantic life provided several suspects but all had airtight alibis. Speculation continued for years but no one was ever tried for Rose Ambler’s murder.

Carrie Brown

When the mutilated body of aging prostitute, Carrie Brown, was found in a New York City hotel room, the press compared the murder to those of Jack the Ripper. To quell hysteria, the police quickly arrested an Algerian named Ameer Bin Ali. But someone had tampered with the evidence and Ali was ruled innocent. It has never been determined who killed Carrie Brown.

Andrew and Abby Borden

Most people today believe that Lizzie Borden killed her father and stepmother in a vicious daylight axe murder. In 1892 there was not enough evidence to convict her, and given the same evidence, she would probably be acquitted today as well. In the years that followed, dozens of theories have been published attempting to either prove or disprove Lizzie’s guilt and a plethora of alternative suspects have emerged. Who actually swung the axe remains unknown.

Lucy Pollard

Lucy Pollard was the victim of a brazen daytime axe murder in her home in Lunenburg County Virginia. Three African American women were nearly hanged on the testimony of an unreliable witness. They were freed when he was proven to be a liar, but the real killer of Lucy Pollard was never found.


 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Professor Strunk.

Prof. Ira G. Strunk
 
In 1885, Professor Ira G. Strunk was a model citizen of New Albany, Indiana. He was the Principal of the New Albany Business College, a member of the Episcopal Church, and a happily married man with two young daughters. His wife Myra sang in the church choir, under the direction of Strunk’s friend, Charles V. Hoover. But behind Strunk’s back, the relationship of Myra and Charles went far beyond choir practice. Although the affair was common knowledge in New Albany, Ira Strunk was oblivious until he, quite literally, read about it in the newspaper. A small item in the gossip column of the local paper rocked Strunk’s world and set him on a course that could only end in murder.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fanaticism and Murder.

Little Murders
(From Centinel of Freedom (originally published in The Troy Times), May 10, 1859)


Fanaticism and Murder.

The Quiet Sabbath was broken in upon yesterday by the commission of a horrid murder, in the town of Sandlake, about fourteen miles from Troy, of a daughter by her father and only surviving parent, a man about 60 years of age named John Belding. The scene of the homicide is about four miles East of Sliter’s tavern, and near the steam saw mill on Sandlake road. The parties lived in a little house, in which the father earned a livelihood for himself and daughter by following the trade of a shoemaker. The daughter’s name as Christina. She is about nineteen years of age, and is described by the neighbors as a quiet and well-behaved girl. She had been unwell for some time, and, it is said, had been under the care of a female doctress residing in Berlin, in this county, named Weaver. Her mind, it appears, was somewhat affected, but whether from religious excitement or from some other cause, we are unable to say. She labored under the impression that the devil had possessed her, and used to pray very frequently for deliverance from his grasp. A day or two before he murder, the old man and daughter went over to the house of David Horton who resided opposite the Beldings, when Christina said she had taken medicine of Mrs. Weaver, and it made her feel as if “the devil was in her, and she would scratch him off; but that she had thrown the medicine away, and drove the devil away too.” The old man had not done much work recently, as it affected the  girl’s head, and it is supposed that in consequence of his care of her, want of sleep, &c., his own mind had become temporarily affected, and while under the delusion that “Dena,” as he calls her, was the devil, he killed her.

The account which Belding gives of the affair is, that he saw the devil lying on the bed and he struck it in the face. The girl, it appears, was lying down in the back room. Belding followed her from that room to the front room, in which the murder was committed with a shoemaker’s hammer. Her skull was completely smashed to pieces. Portions of the hair were scattered about the room, and pieces of the skull were lying over the floor. Her face too was considerably bruised and disfigured, but no marks of violence were discovered on the other parts of her body. Belding says he thought she was the devil—that she appeared to him to be four times as large as “Dena”—and from his previous and subsequent conduct there can scarcely be a doubt that the old man imagines he had a fight with the devil, or he he expresses it, with “three devils, and he had all he could do to kill them.” They lived alone in the house.

It is supposed the murder was committed about 12 ½ o’clock yesterday afternoon. The first person who discovered the murder was Nicholas Ryermiller, who first saw the old man outside the house.—He appeared very much excited and told Ryermiller that he had “killed the devil, and it was lying in there”—point to his house. Ryermiller looked in and discovered the dead body of the daughter.—He asked the old man if it was not “Dena” that he had killed? Belding replies that he did not think it was. Belding’s hands and shirt sleeves were covered with blood. Ryermiller testified before the Coroner’s jury that the father and daughter had lived with him about six months, previously to their residing in the house were the murder was committed and that they always appeared happy together, and, as the witness expressed it “never had any crazy times.” Christina was a quiet, good girl.

Coroner Madden, of this city, was notified of the murder and at six o’clock last evening proceeded to the scene of the tragedy. He found the neighborhood in great excitement. Belding was raving like a maniac when the Coroner arrived.

The Grand Jury sit today. The evidence in the case will be handed over to them for their action at once. They will probably authorize a commission to investigate the sanity of the murderer, and if he is declared insane, will send him to the Lunatic Asylum; or they will indict him for murder, as in their opinion the evidence warrants.

The neighbors give both Belding and the daughter a good character. The old man was sober and industrious, and his delusion was the result of some cause other than drink. Dr. Barber of Poesteakill, believes it to have been cause by his incessant care and attention to his sick daughter.
 

"Fanaticism and Murder." Centinel of Freedom 10 May 1859.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Miss Elizabeth Petty.

In 1893, Miss Elizabeth Petty lived alone in a three-story frame house in Newark, New Jersey. She was a reclusive sixty-five year old spinster, known for her eccentricities and believed to be worth a considerable fortune. Her father had been a prosperous sea captain who died when she was a young child. When her mother died in 1878, Miss Petty inherited the house along with railroad and bank bonds worth an estimated $30,000 - $40,000. Miss Petty had been a school teacher but she gradually went insane and had to retire when her students began making fun of her behavior.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

More Scenes from the Burdell Murder.

The 1857 stabbing of Dr. Harvey Burdell, one of New York City’s most sensational murders, occurred just in time to save Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper from bankruptcy. The weekly paper featured lurid illustrations from the murder in several issues and sold enough copies to keep the paper afloat.

Murder by Gaslight has already posted the story of the Burdell murder (The Bond Street Tragedy) as well as a collection of illustrations from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (Scenes form the Burdell Murder). This set of illustrations portrays the murder itself, as theorized by the post-mortem physicians. The paper came out shortly after the lengthy inquest which indicted Emma Cunningham and John Eckel for the murder of Harvey Burdell. In the pictures the assassin is depicted as a man but he does not resemble John Eckel.


Scene No.1. The assassin approached from behind as Burdell sat at his writing desk. He stabbed over Burdell’s right shoulder and plunged the dagger into his chest, leaving a considerable amount of blood on the floor near the chair.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Long Island Murders.

A series of violent home invasions in and around Brookville, Long Island in November 1883 and the  months that followed left two people dead and four more seriously injured. The normally serene farming community was thrown into a state of confusion with at least a dozen false arrests, two perjured eye-witnesses, a false confession, lynch mobs, a jail break, and for a time, two independent and equally valid lines of inquiry that could not be reconciled.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Fatal Jealousy.

Little Murders 
Deidrich Steffens, a bottler of lager beer, was making a delivery on Park Avenue in Brooklyn, the afternoon of April 17, 1883, when he was called to by John Cordes, a wholesale grocery dealer. Cordes was standing in front of the grocery store of Steffens’s friend, Diedrich Mahnken, and as Steffens crossed the street, Mahnken emerged from his store brandishing a “British bull dog” revolver. Without a word Mahnken fired five shots into Deidrich Steffens—four to the head, one to the chest.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Love, Lust and Murder.

Little Murders
(From The New York Herald, March 29, 1871)


Love, Lust and Murder.

Mysterious Affair Near Chillicothe, Ohio—Murder or Suicide—Sad Ending of a Disgraceful Liaison.

A special reporter from Chillicothe, Ohio, to-night brings intelligence of a the preliminary examination of John S. Blackburn, charged with the murder of Mary Jane Lovell in Ross county, last week. The case is one of the most mysterious and dramatic on record. Blackburn took the young woman riding along a lonely country road terminating at a ford where two streams merge and then go brawling among wild forbidding cliffs. Here, in a lonely glen, so unfrequented even by domestic animals that the ground was covered with a dense undergrowth of hardy shrubs, Blackburn stated that the girl swallowed poison and flung away the bottle, and by incessant importunity made his kinsman go and seek her dead body. It was found, an inquest held and a post-mortem made, but the actual cause of death remains undetected, as the stomach and its contents were sent to this city for analysis. The evidence to-day clearly proved the criminal intimacy, and disclosed a sickening correspondence, in which Blackburn gave unbridled expression to the most consuming lust. He makes appointments with the girl and stimulates her to promptness with glowing descriptions of their mutual pleasure and hints at rich presents as her reward. These promises are not made good, for she asks for money and nowhere acknowledges receiving any.

The popular construction of the case was that the pair went to the glen, eight miles away from home, to take poison together through sheer despair; but it now turns out that the girl never manifested the least unhappiness; on the contrary she was in high spirits when last seen alive, and was in excellent health. Blackburn will undoubtedly be committed to jail to-morrow for the murder of the girl. In court he wears a downcast, stolid look and is evidently suffering intensely, mentally and physically. What give the case intense interest her is the fact that Blackburn is a brother to Major C. H. Blackburn, ex-Prosecuting Attorney of Hamilton county and at one time very popular in this city.


 

"Love, Lust and Murder." New York Herald 29 Mar 1871

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Murder among the Shantyboats.


Colonies of shantyboats around cities the on the banks of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers provided cheap housing for low income workers and unemployed transients. Shantyboats were just what the name suggests, handmade one-room shacks floating in the river. The colonies were densely populated, the boats were crowded, and they were often the homes of unsavory characters—conditions ripe for violence and murder.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Judge Lynch in Pennsylvania.

Little Murders 

Joseph Snyder murdering Jacob Geogle and wife - Judge Lynch meets out death to the scoundrel in a summary manner
Portraits: 1. Joseph Snyder - 2. Alice Geogle, whom Snyder attempted to rape.

In 1880, Jacob and Annie Geogle lived with their three children in the town of Santee’s Mills near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Jacob worked as a miner in an iron ore mine and to supplement his meager income, the Geogles took in a boarder—27-year-old Joseph Snyder, also a miner. Snyder became infatuated with the Geogle’s oldest daughter Alice and expressed his desire to marry her but Alice was only 14-years-old and she did not return Joseph Snyder’s love. Her parents were appalled at the idea and would have thrown Snyder out but he owed them two months’ rent and they needed the money.

Snyder began sneaking into Alice’s room late at night and making improper advances that she had, so far, been able to fend off. When she told her parents of Snyder's behavior they were livid and on December 26 they confronted him. After a bitter argument they told Snyder that when he got his next paycheck he must pay his board and leave.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Inartistic Murder.

Inartistic Murder.
 
A marked difference between science and art, that has escaped the attention of writers upon intellectual development as manifested in human handiwork, is that while science is all embracing, art confines itself largely to trivialities. Science is continually announcing endeavors and successes so vast that the ordinary eye needs to be about as far distant as the moon in order to take them in, whereas art is often satisfied with efforts so tiny and vague that only the feeblest mind can see anything in them. We have artistic door knobs, fire shovels and spittoons in bewildering abundance, but he who yearns to see art reach forth in a grandly sympathetic way and supplement human action in the greater phases of live must take it out in yearning. For instance, there is murder. No one will deny that taking of human life is a deed of momentous import to the killer and the killed; yet what has modern art done for murder? Nothing, except to make sickening and inaccurate pictures of an occasional sanguinary taking off. After twenty-five centuries of art development there is no absolutely new method of slaughter except that of shooting, and of two murders reported yesterday one was committed with a bedpost and the other with a poker! To the truly artistic mind many sightly substitutes for these commonplace weapons suggest themselves. The persons whose lives were doomed might have been killed with equal success and almost as much celerity by being compelled to stare at blue china, or listen to certain musical compositions, or try to make themselves comfortable in artistic chairs, or be confined in a room decorated entirely of Japanese fans, but these means are not at the command of every one. Art will not have done its duty by murder until it has devised tasteful and cheap appliances with which to help a man out of the world. An aesthetic flatiron, or a decorative bootjack, or a gracefully turned club with a tasteful obituary suggestion engraved upon it in early English letter might be made cheap enough to be within the means of the poorest, and any public spirited rumseller should be willing to have within reach of his customers an antique dagger with “Hark, from the Tombs!” etched upon its blade. Let art awake to a sense of its responsibilities to the more important departments of human effort.

"Inartistic Murder." New York Herald 4 Jan 1882.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Courthouse Riots.


When William Berner was tried in 1884 for the cold-blooded murder of his boss, William Kirk, the people of Cincinnati expected a hanging. When the verdict returned was only manslaughter, the city was outraged. It was the last straw, breaching the limits of tolerance after years of political corruption, driving an angry populace into the streets for three days of violence that took fifty-four lives and left public buildings in rubble -- an uprising known as The Courthouse Riots.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Fearful Fratricide.

Little Murders
The Rogers family were early settlers in Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, having fought a bloody battle with Indians to secure their homestead. They never lost their frontier zeal for violence as a tool for solving problems, even for family disputes which, apparently, were frequent and quite intense. In the 1880s, Willis Rogers had eight children, five boys and three girls. In the heat of an argument, Willis’s brother shot and killed one of the boys. To make amends, the brother willed his entire estate to Willis. He died soon after leaving Willis Rogers a very wealthy man.

When Willis died in 1883 he left the fortune to his sons Samuel and Robert, for some reason disinheriting his other two surviving sons, William and Thomas. William, who was an attorney in St. Louis, and Thomas, who was a farmer of “high standing,” had no intention of taking the matter lying down and made plans to contest the will. On September 27, they met at the old Rogers’s mansion on Indian Creek, with their brother Samuel, president of the Farmer’s Bank in Carlisle, and executor of the will, along with several other attorneys.

As they took depositions for the lawsuit, tempers were on edge and the tension in the room was palpable. During a wordy exchange, Samuel believed that one of his brothers had moved to draw a weapon, so he drew his own revolver and fired a shot. It was reported that William and Thomas then pulled out their pistols and began firing. As the lawyers hurriedly left the room, Samuel’s son entered with his gun drawn, and “… all blazed away until smoke made it impossible to do creditable work.”

When the smoke cleared, Samuel emerged unscathed but William and Thomas were fatally wounded—William shot in the right knee and abdomen, and Thomas in the left arm and right temple.  On his arrest, Samuel maintained that his brothers had drawn on him first, but the attorneys present claimed that Samuel, who had emptied his pistol, was the only man to fire. It is safe to say that Robert Rogers, the brother who had not attended the meeting, was the only man to benefit from this negotiation.

Sources:

"[Kentucky; Blue Lick Springs; Willis Rogert; Willis]." Springfield Republican 2 Oct 1883: 4.
"A Fearful Fratricidal Crime ." Jackson Citizen Patriot 28 Sep 1883: 1.
"Cold Lead as a Surragate." National Police Gazette 20 Oct 1883

Saturday, July 26, 2014

John Greenwell.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

John Greenwell.

"Crook, burglar, and finally murderer, is the man who was ultimately convicted of the murder of Lyman S. Weeks of Brooklyn, N.Y., into whose house he had broken with the intention of robbery, on the evening of March 13, 1887. Weeks hearing noises below, descended to the dining room and was immediately shot and killed by Greenwell, who had as accomplice his pal named Dutch Miller, who was also arrested."









Defenders and offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Shrewd Rascal.



Samuel Smith and his wife Emma appeared to the world as a happy and affectionate young couple. She was pretty and vivacious with a dazzling wardrobe and he energetic, with a winning personality. But beneath the surface was a hidden turmoil that did not come to light until Emma was found dead in their apartment, her head blown apart by a shotgun blast, with Samuel nowhere to be found.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The “Rough on Rats” Murder.

Little Murders
(From The Kalamazoo Gazette, February 20, 1884)


The “Rough on Rats” Murder.

A Woman Found Guilty of Murder in the First Degree—Her Husband Awaiting Trial.

Muskegon, Mich., Feb. 19—The Jury in the case of Mrs. Korun Larson, after being out eighteen hours, brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree.. She poisoned John Guild on the first of August last with “Rough on Rats.” Her husband awaits trial on the same charge. She was remanded for sentence until March 3.

The Larsons lived on a farm owned by Guild, who was a single man, sixty years of age. In 1883 he deeded the farm to Mrs. Larson on condition that she should furnish a home during life. On the first of August in that year Guild died suddenly, and the contents of his stomach being analyzed, ten and a half grains of arsenic was found. During the trial a neighbor of the Larsons testified to having purchased a package of “Rough on Rats” for Mrs. Larson, a few days before the death of Guild. It was also shown that the Larsons paid a number of bills that they owed and had considerable money after Guild’s death, and that not a dollar of several hundred that Guild was known to have in his possession a day or two previous to his death could be found by his friends.


 


"The "Rough On Rats" Murder." Kalamazoo Gazette 20 Feb 1884: 1.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Mariticide and Uxoricide.

In the years before divorce was common, mariticide—the murder of one’s husband, and uxoricide—the murder of one’s wife, were often seen as the only way out of an abusive or loveless marriage, especially of one was interested in retaining the spouse’s fortune. Here is Murder by Gaslight’s list of mariticides and uxoricides:




Elsie Whipple


Elsie Whipple wanted to run off with her servant, Jesse Strang, but all of her money was controlled by her husband John. She persuaded Jesse to shoot him.


Reverend Henry Budge




Priscilla Budge was constantly fighting with her husband, Reverend Henry Budge. When she was found in bed with her throat cut, the Reverend became the prime suspect.

 

George Swearingen


George Swearingen murdered his wife Mary by pushing her off a horse. He wanted to marry his mistress, Rachel Cunningham.

.

Mary Sheedy


To end her tumultuous marriage, Mary Sheedy enlisted the help of her hair dresser, “Monday” McFarland to murder her husband John.


Lydia Sherman


Lydia Sherman poisoned three husbands (and several other family members) primarily for financial gain.


Minnie Wallace Walkup


Minnie Wallace was sixteen years old when she married forty-eight year old James Walkup. A month later he died of arsenic poisoning. Her second husband died the same way.


Emma Cunningham


Emma Cunningham may or may not have been married to Dr. Harvey Burdell and she may or may not have strangled and stabbed him to death.
.

Lucretia Chapman


Lucretia Chapman conspired with her Latin lover Lino Mina to murder her husband William.



Henry Green


Henry Green was infatuated with Mary Ann Wyatt and they married in haste. But when Henry’s mother did not approve he poisoned his new bride.




Frankie Silver


After enduring years of abuse, Frankie Silver snapped and took an axe to her husband Charlie.




 
 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Determined on Murder.

Little Murders
(From The National Police Gazette, October 16,1886)


Determined on Murder. 
Bent on Murder.
James M’Cambrick, After trying several ways of killing Mrs. Cline,
finally succeeds by throwing her out of the window.
About two o’clock the morning of Sept. 26, James McCambrick came to his house on Morgan street, Chicago, and engaged in a quarrel with the woman living with him as his wife. After threatening to shoot her he poured oil on her linen and said he would burn her alive. He then reached for his revolver, and, failing to find it, seized the woman and threw her from an open window to the ground, eighteen feet below. The woman’s back was broken by the fall. She will die. Mrs. Cline was married to her husband two years ago, and until last year lived with him on Cottage Grove avenue. He then became so cruel that she was driven to McCambrick, who offered her shelter. McCambrick is a rather good-looking fellow, but is a brute when under the influence of liquor. Mrs. Cline is a pretty woman, twenty-three years of age.





The National Police Gazette, October 16,1886.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Wrong Victim.

Little Murders
 
Matt Rollinger.
Matt Rollinger and his wife Abbie separated in the fall of 1895 and Matt moved out of their home on Mohawk Street in Chicago. Though Abbie allowed Matt to visit their three children, in her mind the separation was final and by Christmas had rented out a room in the house to Fred Mueller, a bicycle maker from Germany. Mueller had been in the house less than one day when he gave his landlady a new tablecloth as a Christmas present. During the winter months Mueller took Mrs. Rollinger to masquerade balls and other entertainments.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Sailor and the Spiritualist.


Alfred and Althadine Smith had been married for more than twenty years but over time their lives had grown apart. He became a Great Lakes sailor interested more in drinking and carousing than in raising a family; she became a professional clairvoyant. When Alfred’s neglect turned to physical abuse and Althadine filed for divorce, she had the foresight to send the children away and bring in a friend for support and protection, but her clairvoyance failed when she was unable to predict the tragic consequence of letting Alfred stay just one more night.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Unique Murder in Missouri.

Little Murders
(From The Cincinnati Daily Enquirer , January 2, 1871)


Unique Murder in Missouri.

Diabolical Treachery.

On Tuesday morning a young man named brown killed one Dean, near New Market, Platte County, under the following atrocious circumstances:

About two months ago Dean and Brown had quarreled, but shortly after made it up, and apparently became friends again. On Monday night there was a dance at New Market, at the house of a man by the name of Smith. Brown and Dean both came to the dance riding one mule. During the night Dean borrowed Brown’s knife, for what purpose he did not state. The dance lasted until daybreak, when Dean and Brown both left Smith’s, seemingly good friends.

Now, right here is where this case proves to be one of premeditation and cold blooded murder; Dean, apparently to give Brown the best place on the mule, compelled, him to ride on the saddle while he rode behind. A little distance from Smith’s he stabbed Brown through the back, killing him almost instantly. Brown was about twenty-one years of age, and a single man. Dean is described as being slender built, about six feet high, sharp feature, and very large, prominent teeth. In features he is rather repulsive. He is twenty-five or twenty-six years of age, and unmarried. The murderer is still at large. Let our detectives up this way look out for him.





"Unique Murder in Missouri." Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, 2 Jan 1871: 2.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Getting Away With Murder.

American justice is largely fair and impartial, but it is not perfect; sometimes mistakes are made. It is always disturbing when an innocent person is unjustly punished, but it is far more common for a guilty party to be set free. When the crime in question is murder, this result can be equally disturbing.

In the nineteenth century (as now) accused murderers were tried in the court of public opinion before ever entering a court of law, and sometimes the verdicts did not agree. Whether through prejudice, money and influence, legal maneuvering, or simply lack of evidence a defendant is set free when the community “knows” he is guilty. Here are a few notable defendants who, very likely, got away with murder:


Richard Robinson

Helen Jewett, a high-end New York City prostitute was murdered in her bed by an axe wielding killer. Though it was fairly clear that Helen was murdered her ex-lover Richard Robinson, the jury found him not guilty. The judged was prejudiced against the testimony of prostitutes, and it was rumored that Robinson bribed at least one juror.

Minnie Wallace Walkup

James Reeves Walkup died of arsenic poisoning less than a year after his marriage to sixteen-year-old Minnie Wallace. Minnie was tried for his murder but her charm and beauty drove witnesses to perjury and jurymen to acquittal. Her second husband died under similar circumstances.

Jimmie Malley, Walter Malley, Blanche Douglas

Jenny Cramer was almost certainly raped by Jimmie Malley then murdered by him with the help of his cousin Walter and Walter’s girlfriend Blanch Douglas. Walter’s father, Edward Malley, the richest man in New Haven, Connecticut, paid for the defense that won their acquittal.

Ned Stokes

Ned Stokes, with premeditation, shot Jim Fisk in the Grand Central Hotel. Any question of his guilt disappeared when Fisk, on his deathbed, identified Stokes as the shooter. But stokes had political connections and after three trials was found guilty of manslaughter and served only six years.

Daniel Edgar Sickles

Dan Sickles shot his wife’s lover, Phillip Barton Key, in front of eye witnesses. Sickles did not deny the murder, but his attorney argued that his wife’s infidelity had driven Sickles temporarily insane. Sickles was set free in the first successful use of the temporary insanity plea in America.

Albert J. Tirrell

Albert Tiirell was acquitted for the charge of murdering Maria Bickford on the grounds that he was sleepwalking at the time and not responsible for his actions. While the “sleepwalking defense” never caught on as a legal ploy, in 1849 it was enough to free Albert Tirrell.

Lizzie Borden

Most people today believe that Lizzie Borden killed her father and stepmother in a vicious daylight axe murder. But in 1893 there was not enough evidence to convict her, and given the same evidence, she would probably be acquitted today as well. Either way, someone got away with murdering Andrew and Abby Borden.

 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

John J. Delaney

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:
John J. Delaney.

"John J. Delaney is only 17 years of age and is a self-confessed murderer. On June 3d, 1887, Mary Jane Cox was found dead in the kitchen of the house where she worked in Brooklyn, and in the pocket of her dress was found a bottle one-third filled with a preparation of arsenic. Delaney afterwards confessed that he had purchased the poison and given it to Mary, with the intention of getting rid of her, and telling her it was a harmless preparation which would do her good."









Defenders and offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Murder at Bloomingdale.

Harvey Keith
While boating on Max Lake in Bloomingdale, Michigan in August 1885, Frank Lackey and his companions saw what they thought was a dead sheep floating in the water. Closer inspection revealed that it was the body of a man, wearing only a white shirt and a pair of socks. The body was soon identified as Harvey Keith who had been missing for several days. With no signs of violence on the head or upper body, the death would probably have been ruled a suicide except that the man’s genitals had been cut off.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Modern Macbeth Murder Case.

Little Murders
(From New York Tribune, March 26, 1877)

 


A Modern Macbeth Murder Case.
 

An old man named Thomas J. Poyntz, living at Bay Shore, was found dead in a bed at the house of Nathaniel Evans, near Thompson’s Station on the Long Island Railroad, Jan. 29, with a deep wound in the left side, apparently inflicted with a carpenter’s gouge. Evans was a cabinetmaker and upholsterer, and apt to be in possession of such a tool. This, with other circumstances, excited strong suspicion against him. After an investigation by Coroner Preston of Amityville, in which it was shown that Evans and Poyntz—possibly Kennedy and others—had been carousing on the day previous. Evans was held for the murder, although there was doubt of his guilt, and there seemed to be a probability that the Grand Jury would refuse to find an indictment against him. There has been a suspicion, strengthened by the actions of the woman herself, that Evans’s wife knew more about Poynitz’s death than Evans himself—who, according to the evidence at the inquest, was very drunk on the night of the occurrence, and probably incapable of committing the deed. The Grand Jury, which has just adjourned, indicted both husband and wife for murder in the first degree. The impression is strong that though Evans may have a guilty knowledge of the crime, his wife is the principal criminal. They are both now in the County Jail at Riverhead awaiting trial at the next term of the Oyer and Terminer, which will be held in April. This is the first indictment for murder in the first degree found by a Suffolk County Grand Jury since Nichols Behan for the Wickham murder 22 years ago.



"A Modern Macbeth Murder Case." New York Tribune 26 Mar 1877: 8.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Cain and Abel.


Hiram Sawtell
Like the Biblical brothers Cain and Abel, the Sawtell brothers of Boston took divergent paths through life. While Hiram settled down and raised a family, supported by his successful fruit business, Isaac was doing time in Charlestown prison. And as with the Bible’s first murderer, Isaac’s jealousy of his brother became unbearable. Upon his release from prison, he lured Hiram from his family and killed him in cold blood.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Gambler Shot Dead.

Little Murders
 
(From The National Police Gazette January 13, 1894)


A Gambler Shot Dead.
 
 
City Attorney James Butler shot and killed a gambler known as Seven Up Jim O’leary, at Ada Huntley’s house of ill-fame in St. Louis, Mo. At 4 o’clock the other morning.



"A Gambler Shot Dead." The National Police Gazette 13 Jan 1894.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Elmer D. Morrill.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:


Elmer D. Morrill.

“In the early part of 1887, the good city of Lewiston, Maine, was thrown into considerable excitement by the discovery of a young woman dead on the street, with her newly born babe beside her. Upon investigation by the police, Elmer D. Morrill was arrested for the crime of murdering her, and the grand jury found an indictment against him for murder. The cause of the murder was at first considerably shrouded in mystery; but subsequent events pointed to the above individual.”
 


Defenders and offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.