Saturday, July 4, 2020

The School-girl Murder.

Mamie Kelly
Fourteen-year-old Mamie Kelly of San Francisco, had a crush on the boy next door, nineteen-year-old Aleck Goldenson. Though Aleck was the kind of boy who appeals to teenaged girls—an artist and a bit of a hoodlum—her family had no use for him at all. In spite of this, Mamie took every opportunity be near him. Aleck first enjoyed her attention, then tolerated it, then actively tried to put a stop to it. He ended their relationship for good one day in November 1886, when he met Mamie on the street and shot her in the face.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Scene of the Murder of Mabel H. Young.

On Sunday, May 23, 1875, Thomas W. Piper, sexton of the Warren Avenue Baptist Church in Boston, lured 5-year-old Mabel Young to the church belfry on the pretext of looking at pigeons. There he crushed her skull with a cricket bat. Piper was captured after he was seen leaping from the belfry. In custody he confessed to a series of murders and violent sexual assaults.

Read the full story here: The Boston Belfry Tragedy.

“The Belfrey Tragedy -- Scene of the Murder pf Mabel H. Young,” Daily Graphic, May 27, 1875.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Bessie Little Mystery.

A swimmer in the Miami River outside of Dayton, Ohio, discovered the body of a young woman floating in the water on September 3, 1896. The coroner found nothing to indicate violence; the cause of death was believed to be suicide and the unidentified body was hastily buried.

When he heard of the body in the river, Dayton Police Chief Thomas Farrell believed he knew who she was, and he had reason to believe that she had been murdered. Farrell had the woman’s body disinterred and soon after she was identified as 23-year-old Bessie Little by her adopted parents and by her dentist who kept detailed records of his patients’ teeth. The coroner still could not determine the cause of death and the body was reburied.

Her parents said they did not report Bessie missing because she had left home several weeks earlier to look for work; she was living in a Dayton boarding house run by Mrs. Freese. The full story was, the Little’s had kicked Bessie out of their house when they learned she had been intimate with her boyfriend 20-year-old Albert Frantz. They told her not to return unless he agreed to marry her. 

Mrs. Freese verified that Bessie had been staying at her boarding house and that Albert Frantz had been paying her weekly rent. She said that the last time she saw Bessie was on August 27, when Bessie told her she was going for a buggy ride with Frantz. The following day Frantz came to the house asking for Bessie and Mrs. Freese told Franz she never came after seeing him. Frantz said she was mistaken about the buggy ride; he had not seen Bessie the night before. He then paid Bessie’s next week’s rent in advance.

Bessie Little and Albert Frantz were from different economic backgrounds. As a baby, Bessie had been an orphan at the Miami County Children’s Home; Peter Little and his wife adopted her when she was two-years-old. But the Little’s adopted parents were poor and as soon as she was old enough they put Bessie to work as a domestic servant. Albert Frantz worked as a stenographer for the Mathias Planing Mill Co. He came from a wealthy family; the youngest of five children he was spoiled by his parents and siblings. Those who knew Frantz well described him as “cruel and cunning” but Bessie was infatuated by him.

Shortly before her death, Bessie consulted a physician and some believed that she had been pregnant or had even undergone an abortion. In any case, her parents knew enough about her relations with Frantz to bar her from the house until she either broke them off or married him. Among her belongings, police found an unmailed letter addressed to the father of Albert Frantz, begging him to force a marriage. It had been easy for Frantz to seduce Bessie but he had no intention of marrying her.

Frantz maintained that he had not been with Bessie on the night of her disappearance but Chief Farrell did not believe him and kept Frantz in custody pending the outcome of the coroner’s investigation. Farrell had been able to identify the body because he knew Bessie Little had been thrown in the river even before the body was found. Frantz, with a relative, had gone to see Rev. Teeter for advice, telling him that Bessie had killed herself and he had thrown her body into the river. He wanted to know how the law would view the situation, so Rev. Teeter referred him to Judge J.W. Kreitzer. They attempted to keep the matter secret, but the story leaked out. Judge Kreitzer, acting as Frantz legal counsel would not confirm or deny the story, but Chief Farrell heard it and when the body was discovered in the Miami River, Farrell knew who it was.

Farrell was convinced that Albert Frantz murdered Bessie Little, but Frantz still denied seeing Bessie that night and there was no evidence to directly link him to her death. Then on September 5, someone found a freshly dried pool of blood along with two decorative combs identified as belonging to Bessie, on the Stillwater Bridge about half a mile from the spot where the body was found. There were also buggy tire tracks believed to be connected to the blood.

This was enough to justify digging up the body once more. This time the coroner’s close examination discovered two gunshot wounds in the right ear and although the bullets had been shattered by bone, enough lead was recovered for two 32-caliber bullets. The head was then severed from the body and preserved in a jar; the body was reburied. 

Ferrell went to the home of Albert Frantz to try to compare his buggy’s tires to the prints left on the bridge, only to find that the Frantz’s stable had burned down the day after Bessie was last seen. The horse was killed and the buggy completely destroyed.

Frantz now changed his story. He and Bessie had been riding in his buggy and Bessie had been somewhat despondent. When he wasn’t looking, she drew a revolver and shot herself. Panicked and afraid the story would not be believed, he threw Bessie’s body off the bridge. The obvious flaw in this story was that two shots were fired into her head. The post-mortem examination showed two entry wounds and people living near the bridge recalled hearing cries of “Murder!” that night, followed by two gunshots.  

The revolver was still missing, and Chief Farrell was determined to find it. Believing that it had been thrown off the bridge along with the body, he mounted an all-out search of the river below. He obtained twelve powerful magnets, weighing three pounds each, and using two rowboats, dragged them along the bottom of the river trying to attract the gun. When this failed he hired Ben Graham, a professional diver who agreed to work for expenses. A.E. Pate, a champion swimmer also volunteered his services. 

While the river search proved fruitless, Farrell learned that Frantz had purchased a revolver at Dodd’s gun shop in Dayton three weeks before Bessie disappeared. He also learned that while courting Bessie Frantz was also engaged to another woman. With this possible motive, the prosecutors felt they had enough circumstantial evidence to try Albert Frantz for the murder of Bessie Little.

More than a hundred witnesses testified at the trial which began on December 14, 1896. Frantz still maintained that Bessie had shot herself. The prosecution brought out Bessie’s severed head to show the jurors the two entry wounds. Several physicians testified as to the possibility that Bessie had shot herself twice in the head. The defense’s doctors saying it was possible, the prosecution’s saying it was not. The defense did not claim that Frantz had been temporarily insane, but just in case, the prosecution had six doctors examine Frantz and testify that he was perfectly sane. 

Though the evidence was circumstantial it was enough for the jury to convict Albert Frantz of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to death. On November 19, 1897, after all possible appeals failed, Albert Frantz became the fourth man to die in Ohio’s electric chair. He professed his innocence to the end.

Originally posted on June 2, 2018.


“A Bullet in Her Head,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 1896.
“The Death Penalty,” The Dayton Herald, November 19, 1897.
“Devil's Deed,” Kentucky Post, September 7, 1896.
“Frantz's Fight For His Life,” Kentucky Post, December 14, 1896.
“Frantz's Revolver,” The Dayton Herald, December 18, 1896.
“Franz has Another Story,” Plain Dealer, September 11, 1896.
“His Love For Another ,” Kentucky Post, September 10, 1896.
“Is it Murder?,” Kentucky Post, September 5, 1896.
“Located,” Kentucky Post, September 12, 1896.
“Murder or Suicide?,” National Police Gazette, January 16, 1897, 6.
“One Link,” Kentucky Post, September 5, 1896.
“Sentenced Frantz,” Aberdeen Daily News, January 27, 1897.
“She Was Murdered,” Plain Dealer, September 6, 1896.
“Two Stories Of A Crime,” Plain Dealer, December 17, 1896.
“A Woman's Death,” Cleveland Leader, September 4, 1896

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Bridgeport Tragedy.

Ellen Lucas of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was to be married on October 3, 1874. The typically happy 18-year-old was somewhat anxious, the evening of October 2, repeatedly looking at the clock as she hastily ate supper. Ellen changed her clothes and left the house at 7:00, telling her mother that she would not be gone long. Mrs. Lucas watched her daughter walk to the corner where she met her fiancĂ©, James E. Lattin. 

Ellen never came home that night, and early the next morning, her family and friends began a search for her. The search ended when two workmen found her body, face down in a stream in a secluded spot called The Cedars, near Berkshire Pond in Northern Bridgeport.

At first, suicide was suspected, but the water in the stream was only a few inches deep, and Ellen had shown no signs of depression and had been enthusiastically preparing for her wedding. A hasty postmortem examination verified that she had not drowned, and the only mark of violence on the body was a small bruise on her forehead. The doctors also discovered that Ellen had been six months pregnant. Foul play was suspected, and James Lattin became the prime suspect.

26-year-old James Lattin was a tall and good-looking butcher’s clerk with a terrible reputation in Bridgeport. He had been married once before when he was nineteen and his bride fifteen. The marriage lasted three months, and the wife filed for divorce. He was convicted of theft and had served a term in the New Haven Jail. He became engaged once again to a young woman who died mysteriously shortly before their wedding day. A gruesome story told by several people in Bridgeport said that Lattin had, at least once, cut the paws off a dog and dipped the stumps in turpentine to see the dog squirm and hear him howl.

Ellen’s parents had objected to the marriage, but Ellen was deeply in love with Lattin. It was likely that her parents knew of Ellen’s pregnancy, and despite their opposition, they hastened the wedding day.

Investigators learned that Lattin had purchased poison from a Bridgeport druggist on September 29. They found strychnine in an old shoe in the stable where Lattin kept his horse. With this new information, the police exhumed Ellen’s body and gave the stomach to a chemist for analysis, but he found no traces of poison. The stomach did contain grains of sand and vegetable matter consistent with the stream where her body was found. 

Lattin said that he had not been with Ellen that night but had been on board the schooner Josephine which was captained by his cousin. His alibi did not hold. At the inquest, a Miss Bassett testified to seeing him with Ellen earlier that evening near the train depot and heard Ellen say to say, “Now, you’ll be there, won’t you? If you are not there, you know what the consequences will be.” 
At 7:00 he was seen going toward Ellen’s house, at 8:30 he was seen alone in Bridgeport by Ellen’s two sisters. A crewmember of the Josephine testified that Lattin had slept on the schooner but had not come aboard until late that night.

A woman named Mattie Smith testified at the inquest that Lattin had asked her if she knew of any medicine to produce abortion; he did not want to marry, because he had some other girl he was paying attention to. He said he was engaged to a girl who was with child, and he wanted to get rid of it.

Though the cause of death was still unknown, the coroner’s jury ruled that Ellen Lucas had died by violence at the hands of James E. Lattin.

The murder generated great excitement in Bridgeport, and it was reported that the murder scene was visited by hundreds of people daily. When the trial began on February 23, crowds gathered early at the courthouse. By 10:00, the courtroom, as well as halls and stairways, were packed with spectators. The sheriff barred the front door with two long ladders to prevent any more from entering and detailed two extra police officers to maintain order in the hallways.

Believing that a fair jury trial in Bridgeport was impossible, Lattin’s attorneys took advantage of a statute recently adopted in Connecticut and elected to be tried by two judges instead of a jury.

The trial heard by Judges Beardsley and Sanford went on for two weeks. After the final arguments, the judges deliberated and returned a verdict of second-degree murder. Judge Sanford explained their reasoning in great detail. While the judges were satisfied that Lattin killed Ellen Lucas, the circumstantial evidence did not meet the standard of proof required for first-degree murder. They sentenced James E. Lattin to State Prison for the term of his natural life.

The Samford Advocate summarized the crime this way:
“The details of this diabolical crime place Lattin in the light of a merciless brute who, feigning love (a commodity of which his soul is incapable) to this unfortunate girl, gained her confidence, and having accomplished his unholy purposes, enticed her, in the midst of her trials, to an out-of-the-way ravine, and deliberately took her life—committing a double murder.”


“The Bridgeport Mystery,” Herald, October 11, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” Hartford Daily Courant, October 7, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” New-York daily tribune, October 14, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” Hartford Daily Courant, October 16, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” Daily Graphic, October 28, 1874.
“Coroer's Verdict,” Alexandria Gazette, October 10, 1874.
“The Ellen Lucas Murder,” Herald, February 24, 1875.
“A Girl Murdered on the Eve of her Marriage,” Providence Evening Press, February 24, 1875.
“The Lattin Verdict,” Bridgeport Standard, March 9, 1875.
“Lattin, the Bridgeport Murderer,” Waterbury Daily American, November 12, 1874.
“The Murder of Miss Ellen Lucas at Bridgeport, Connecticut,” Daily Graphic, November 20, 1874.
“Murder or Suicide,” Commercial Advertiser, October 5, 1874.
“A Mysterious Murder,” Daily Inter Ocean, October 17, 1874.
“News Article,” Stamford Advocate, October 23, 1874.
“News Article,” Waterbury Daily American, October 29, 1874.
“News Article,” Stamford Advocate, November 20, 1874.
“Probable Murder,” Columbian Register, October 10, 1874.
“A Sad Story,” Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, February 27, 1875.
“Trial of Jakes E. Lattin,” Bridgeport Standard, February 23, 1875.
“Trial of James E. Lattin,” Bridgeport Standard, March 5, 1875.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Execution of Emil Lowenstein.

Emil Lowenstein was a barber in Brooklyn, NY who had persuaded his neighbor, John Weston, a one-armed Civil War veteran, to withdraw his life savings and travel upstate with him. The body of John Weston was found in a ravine in Watervliet, NY, soon after Lowenstein returned to Brooklyn, flush with cash.

Lowenstein denied being in Watervliet with Weston and professed innocence to the end. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and on April 10, 1874, the sheriff cut the rope to drop the counterweight and launch Emil Lowenstein into eternity.

Read the full story here: The Brooklyn Barber.

“Scenes at the Execution of Emil Lowenstein,” Daily Graphic, April 11, 1874.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

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, May 23, 2020

Judge Lynch in Pennsylvania.

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, May 16, 2020

The Notorious Mrs. Clem.

The sensational murders of successful businessman, Jacob Young and his wife in Indianapolis, in 1868, exposed a web of financial fraud involving some of the most influential men in the city. Circumstantial evidence soon pointed to Mrs. Nancy E. Clem, mastermind of the fraudulent scheme, as the perpetrator of the murders. The notorious Mrs. Clem, however, proved remarkably hard to convict.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Wakemanite Murder.

In 1855 a religious sect known as the Wakemanites met regularly at the home of Samuel Sly in New Haven, Connecticut. The Wakemanites were follower of Mrs. Rhoda Wakeman who had been chosen by the Lord to prepare the faithful for the return of Christ and the new Millennium.

69-year-old Rhoda Wakeman had previously lived in Greenfield, Connecticut with an abusive husband. Some 30 years earlier, Mr. Wakeman had beaten her so badly that, according to Mrs. Wakeman, he killed her. Two angels stood beside her and when they touched her with their bright swords she rose from the cloud of death and went to heaven.  She saw Christ, in his crown of thorns and with nails in his hands and he spoke peace to her soul. She saw God sitting upon his throne in all his glory surrounded by angels in white robes. Then a spirit took her to earth where she saw her dead body lying on the floor and she knew she had come back to this wicked world to live again. She had been dead for seven hours but rose again. From that point on she would communicate directly with God as she pursued her task of preparing the world for the second coming. 

When her husband died, she moved to New Haven where she was known as Widow Wakeman. She lived with her half-brother, Samuel Sly (aka Elder Sly), and gathered followers who met at his house to hear her message. They called themselves Wakemanites and called their leader The Prophetess. While the Wakemanites never numbered more than a dozen or so, they were true believers and devoted servants of The Prophetess.

In December 1855, Mrs. Wakeman began suffering from severe bodily pains. She knew exactly what caused the pains; one of her followers had stopped coming to meetings because he had become possed by an evil spirit. This evil spirt was not only a source of pain for The Prophetess but was also a great obstacle to the immediate commencement of the millennium. Moreover, if she should die as a result, her death would be followed by the general judgement and destruction of the world without any millennium.

The Wakemanites understood the urgency and set about to rid Mathews of his evil spirt. One of the followers, Polly Sanford, was Justus Mathews’ brother; she went with her husband, Almeron Sanford to discuss the matter with Mathews and convince him to come to a meeting on Sunday, December 23. The group had been praying and singing since 2:00 that afternoon and Mathews arrived some time after 9:00 pm. He expressed a desire to be relieved of the evil spirit which afflicted him, and through him, afflicted others, especially The Prophetess. 

Polly Sanford tied a handkerchief over his eyes to diminish the power of the spirit and to prevent Mathews from enchanting anyone with his eyes. She tied his hands behind his back, “as they would the devil.” Then she left him alone and went upstairs to pray with the others. The meeting went on until 2:00 am and Mathews was visited at intervals by one or more of the company to beseech him to give up the evil one. They told him it would be better that he should die than that Mrs. Wakeman should be afflicted unto death and the world destroyed. He reportedly expressed a willingness to die. Eventually they all went home without checking any further on Mathews.

Justus Mathews never came home that night and the next morning his son went looking for him. He went to Sly’s house and when no one answered the door he broke it open. He found his father lying on the floor with pools of blood surrounding his head. His throat had been cut from ear to ear and his head nearly severed from his body. A small rope was found on the floor and marks on his wrists showed that he had been bound and his abdomen was covered with puncture wounds as if he had been stabbed with a table fork. The boy immediately raised the alarm.

Later that day a coroner’s jury was convened and many of those at the meeting gave evidence. They testified to the belief that if Mrs. Wakeman should die the world would be destroyed. They believed that Justus Mathews had killed himself to be rid of the evil spirit. Several Walemanites were arrested and charged with committing or in some way being accessory to the crime—Israel Wooding, Almeron and Polly Sanford, Abigail Sables, Thankful S. Hersey, Widow Wakeman, Samuel Sly, and Josiah Jackson.

On Wednesday, Samuel Sly confessed to the murder. He said his sister had been so distressed by the bad spirit in Mathews that he knew something must be done to remove it. As people were preparing to leave, Sly went into the front room where Mathews was sitting and locked the door. He struck the blindfolded man in the temple with a two-foot club of hazel wood knocking him to the floor, then struck him several more times with the club. He took out his pocketknife with its two-inch blade, commenced to cutting Mathews’ throat. Then he mutilated the corpse with a fork. 

He went to Thankful Hersey, who had a room in the house, and she brought him a basin of water to wash off the blood. They tore up his bloody shirt and burned it in Miss Hersey’s stove. He broke the club into three pieces and threw it along with his knife, into the privy vault.

That April, Samuel Sly, Widow Wakeman, and Thankful Hersey were tried for the murder of Justus W. Mathews. None of the Wakemanites who testified had wavered in their belief that Mathews had been possessed by an evil spirit and had to die to save the world. The verdict was not guilty on the ground of insanity and the defendants were sent to the Insane Retreat in Hartford, Connecticut.

This was not the last murder connected to the Wakemanites, here is the story of Justus Mathew's maniac nephew: Murdered by a Maniac

“Effects of Fanaticism,” Examiner and Chronicle, January 3, 1856.
“Horrible Ignorance and Superstition,” Portland Weekly Advertiser, January 1, 1856.
“A Most Horrible Murder! One of the isms.,” National Aegis, January 2, 1856.
“The New Haven Tragedy,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, January 12, 1856.
“The Wakemanites,” Manchester Daily Mirror, April 24, 1856.
“The Wakemanites,” New York Evangelist, April 24, 1856.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Late Miss Jennie E. Cramer.

This card, with a portrait and poem of murder victim Jennie Cramer was given away free to advertise Reed's Gilt Edge Tonic.

Source:  Brown University Library.

Read about the murder of Jennie Cramer here:

Found Drifting with the Tide

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Unwritten Law.

Robert McBride was the wealthy operator of a cotton seed oil mill in Newnan, Georgia. He had come to Georgia from New Jersey, and quickly entered the vigorous business life of Newnan, with interests in several mills and factories. In 1893, he was a quiet and gentlemanly, 44 year-old bachelor, living in a boarding house run by Patrick Meehan and his wife.

Meehan was a successful traveling salesman for a Louisville, Kentucky, whisky distiller, whose job kept him in the road for long periods. In August 1893, Meehan was in New York City, and Robert McBride decided to use this opportunity to express his affection for Mrs. Meehan; his feelings for her had been steadily growing during the two years he spent under her roof. When they were alone on the front veranda, McBride told Mrs. Meehan that he wished to have a confidential conversation with her. Mrs. Meehan was taken aback and told Meehan that if he had anything confidential to say he should write it down and send it to Mr. Meehan, and she left the porch.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Trial of Daniel E. Sickles.

Daniel E. Sickles is best known today as a Union General who lost a leg in the Battle of Gettysburg, but before the war he had gained national notoriety as the U.S. Congressman who murdered  Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key, in Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. At his trial in April 1859, Sickles was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity—the first successful use of this defense in the United States. The excitement generated by the trial of Daniel Sickles can be seen in this illustration from the centerfold of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 9, 1859.

Read the story of the murder here:

Dan Sickles's Temporary Insanity

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Horrible and Mysterious Murder.

Employees of Samuel Joyce’s tailor shop at 378 Broadway, in New York City, were surprised to find the door of the shop locked when they arrived on the morning of July 18, 1856. Bartholomew Burke, the porter, slept in the shop and had never before failed to rise early and unlock the door. As the clerk stood outside puzzled at the situation, he caught sight of a faint bloodstain on the door handle. Fearing foul play, he ran for a police officer.

Seeing the blood on the handle, the officer wasted no time before kicking in the locked door. What he found inside was a nightmare scene—the floor and walls were covered with blood, and in a corner, near the washbasin was the naked body of Bartholomew Burke, slashed and horribly mangled.  His throat had been cut nearly from ear to ear, and on the right side of his forehead was a fracture about six inches in length. On the floor near the body was a large pressing iron which probably delivered the head wound. On the dead man's cot was a sword scabbard and on a case twenty feet away was the sword itself, wrapped in a bloody cloth. Also, on the floor was a pair of large tailor’s shears which may have been used by Burke trying to fight off his attacker. He was lying on his back with his arms up and fists clenched. There were signs of a severe struggle that must have lasted at least ten minutes.

The motive of the murder was a complete mystery. The first thought was that Burke had fought to defend his employer’s merchandise, but a quick inventory showed that nothing from the shop had been taken. A gold watch that Burke usually wore and the keys to the shop were missing but nothing else. Burke was known to have saved $900, but that remained safely in a bank account. Robbery was ruled out as a motive for the murder.

Bartholomew (aka Patrick) Burke was an Irish immigrant in his early 30s who had worked in the tailor shop for about five years. He was a quiet man with few close friends and was not known to have ever had a disagreement with anyone.  His one vice was a fondness for drink. Dr. Erasmus D. Hudson, whose office was on the same floor as the tailor shop, had once convinced Burke to take a pledge of sobriety, but he would still occasionally go out on a drunken spree. After one such episode, the doctor treated Burke who was in a state bordering on delirium tremens. 

The shop was in a three-story building on the corner of Broadway and White Street. On the first floor was a saddle maker, on the second, were the tailor shop and doctor’s office, and on the third was the residence of John Cabellos and family. In the basement of the building was a saloon where Burke had been drinking the night his murder.

About 9:30 that night, Burke was seen in the saloon drinking with an unknown man. Burke purchased a pot of beer—the third quart he had bought that night—and the two men left with the beer. A woman who sold apples at a stand on Broadway and White saw Burke through a window of the tailor shop at about 11:30, conversing with another man whom she did not recognize. She was the last person, other than the killer, to see him alive.

Evidence at the Coroner’s inquest, held two days after the body was found, was vague and sometimes contradictory. Though the struggle must have been loud and prolonged, no one in the Cabello household in the apartment above had heard a thing. The Cabellos’ servant girl, Harora Leahy, had seen a man knocking on the tailor shop door at about 9:30 but had not seen his face. She heard nothing after that. 

George Benjamin Hooker had heard loud talking from the tailor shop on Tuesday or Wednesday preceding the murder. Through the window, he saw Burke talking with a coworker,  August Reiche (both of whom he recognized and knew by name). Reiche was angry and hit the counter with his fist. Samuel Adams had seen the same thing from his window on White Street, but also could not state whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr. Watson, foreman at Joyce’s shop, had been talking with Burke on Wednesday, remonstrating him about keeping bad company. He said Reiche was not in the store that evening. Bartholomew Burke’s cousin, Thomas Burke, had also seen him on Wednesday night at the bar, drinking with the owner, the bartender and a strange man. He said his cousin had told him that August Reiche was his best friend and his family had always been kind to him. Reiche himself testified that he had not been at the shop any evening that week, had never had angry words with Burke or shaken his fist at him.

William Mars, who tended bar in the basement saloon, said that about 11:00 on the night of the murder, a man came into the bar, called for a drink, and refused to pay for it. He eventually paid but picked up a sixteen-inch knife used for cutting ham in the bar and flourished it in a threatening manner. He left the saloon, still in possession of the knife.

It was never clear whether Burke was killed by the mysterious man seen by various witnesses or even whether they all saw the same man. With no identifiable suspect and no convincing story of the murder, the Coroner’s jury ruled that Bartholomew Burke was murdered by a person or persons unknown. The mayor of New York offered a reward of $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Burke’s killer, but the reward was never collected. The murder of Bartholomew Burke remains one of the city’s great unsolved crimes.

“A Bloody and Atrocious Murder,” Centinel of Freedom, July 22, 1856.
“The Broadway Murder,” The New York Times, July 23, 1856.
“The Broadway Murder Continuation of the Coroner's Investigation the Assassin Still at Large,” New York Herald, July 22, 1856.
Crapsey, Edward, The Nether Side of New York (: Sheldon & Co., 1872.
), 171
“Five Hundred Dollars Reward,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 23, 1856.
“Horrible and Mysterious Murder in Broadway,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, August 2, 1856.
“The Late Murder in Broadway,” New-York Tribune, July 21, 1856.
“News Article,” Daily True American, August 2, 1856.
“A Pleasant Condition of Affairs,” Daily True American, May 16, 1857.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Murder Told in Pictures.

Robert Hoey told police that as he was coming home from work in the early hours of March 15, 1898, he literally tripped over the body of a dead woman in the courtyard of the tenement where he lived at No. 27 Monroe Street in New York City. An autopsy revealed that the woman had been strangled to death and the police believed that the body had been dragged to the courtyard known in the neighborhood as “Hogan’s Alley.” She was about thirty-five years of age, with light complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. As she lay in the morgue several people claimed to identify the woman but in each case the identity proved false.

Mrs. Downing, housekeeper at 27 Monroe, said she had seen a group of men standing in the courtyard at around 2 o’clock that morning. Hoey changed his story then, and said he and two friends, wagon driver Thomas Cosgrove and mandolin player Charles Weston, had seen their friend John Brown leaning over the body. Brown was a “deep water” sailor whom the press would refer to as “Sailor” Brown. None of them knew who the woman was.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Love and Arsenic.

Elizabeth Ragan
As Arthur Ragan lay dying of a stomach ailment, in Piqua, Ohio, on April 3, 1855, his wife, Elizabeth took the physician aside and told him she believed her husband had poisoned himself. She said she thought the cream of tartar he had been taking for his stomach was actually arsenic. Mr. Ragan died that day, and a post-mortem examination proved his wife correct, he had died of arsenic poisoning. However, there were reasons to believe that Arthur Ragan had not committed suicide, and suspicion fell on Elizabeth as his murderer.

After Ragan’s death the postmaster of Colesville, Ohio, came forward with a highly incriminating letter. The previous December, the letter had, by mistake, been given to a man named Murray. When Murray read it and realized it was not for him, he returned it to the post office. The letter had been intended for James Mowrey, and the postmaster made sure it was delivered correctly, but the contents had been so disturbing that he first made a copy which he turned over to the police:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Slaughter Ends a Wedding Feast.

Trinidad Romer was a wealthy, young Mexican living in Douglasville, Texas, a few miles southwest of Abilene. He was in love with the daughter Julius Larinski, a Polish settler, but her affections were fixed on another man. Miss Larinski was enamored with Nathan Sorowski, another Polish immigrant, who had little to offer other than his love.

Mr. Larinski preferred the wealthy Mexican and told Romer that if he could arrange to put Sorowski out of the way, he would give him his daughter’s hand in marriage. Not long after this, Nathan Sorowski disappeared from Douglasville without a trace.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Revisiting the Goffle Road Murders.

This week’s guest post revisits the Goffle Road Murders posted here several years ago. Don Everett Smith Jr., who literally wrote the book on this crime (The Goffle Road Murders of Passaic County (History Press, 2011)), expands on the story of the murders and subsequent execution of the killer.

Don lives in Central Pennsylvania with his wife and cats and tortoise, Flash. He has published works at Tombstone Stories Publishing and comic books at Pinion Comics. Don also hosts his podcast "Conversations of the Strange" where he interviews horror and paranormal creators and icons. 

Revisiting the Goffle Road Murders 
By Don Everett Smith Jr.  


It was on June 4th, 2011 that “Murder by Gaslight” posted an article about the 1850 murders of John and Jane Van Winkle in, what is now, Hawthorne, New Jersey. The post was entitled, “Terrible Tragedy in New Jersey.” 

The blog posted the text of an article from The Republican Compiler from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which was dated January 28th, 1850.   

I had come across this same article when I researched a book about the Van Winkles entitled THE GOFFLE ROAD MURDERS OF PASSAIC COUNTY: THE 1850 VAN WINKLE KILLINGS. It was published in 2011 from The History Press (now part of Arcadia Publishing).

When I finished my research on the Van Winkle murders, I thought that I had found everything there was about the subject. 

In the following years, my wife and I moved out of New Jersey and into central Pennsylvania. I was able to pick up extra work as a freelance writer and I began writing articles about local Pennsylvania history. I discovered thanks to an increased interest in local history and genealogy (not just in Pennsylvania but all over), more and more newspapers and political records were uploaded to the internet. 

Curious to see what was out there regarding the Van Winkles, I did a simple search and found more information.  

I reached out to the kind people at “Murder by Gaslight” and they allowed me to put together an article which featured the new information I discovered. 


What is now Hawthorne was once part of a larger town called Manchester. John and Jane Van Winkle owned over 212 acres and Van Winkle served as a judge of the common pleas in Passaic County and a grist miller. 

It was just after 1 a.m., on January 9th, 1850, when the Van Winkles were in bed. Their former ranch hand, a Liverpool native named John Jonston crept into their sleeping quarters. 

He struck Mrs. Van Winkle in the face - twice - with a hatchet which awakened the Judge. He immediately leapt from the bed and struggled with Jonston. 

The attacker had a large knife and struck the older man in the stomach and ripped open his abdomen thus exposing his intestines.  

“Murder! Murder!” Van Winkle screamed as Jonston rushed out of the room. He ran up a flight of stairs and down a ladder. Upon hitting the ground he ran to what is now called Rock Road in Godwinville (today Glen Rock, New Jersey). He hoped to grab a train and head to New York City and anonymity. 

However, thanks to a light snowfall, a group of neighbors tracked his footprints and captured him.
Jonston “was taken in custody and tied at once” to prevent him from escaping. 

“Members of the party remarked about the blood on his back, [Jonston] said he had been killing hogs, and the blood came from them as he carried them in from the place where they were killed. The blood was so fresh on his shirt that [a] woman squeezed it out upon her hand,” was said.

Jonston was brought back to the Judge’s homestead.

“Mr. Van Winkle, who was dying, looked on the man, while holding his bowels from falling through a ghastly wound in the abdomen, and had still strength enough left to say, ‘Yes, it was he’,” a newspaper recorded in the January 16th, 1850 edition of The Paterson Intelligencer.

Jonston denied it and was taken into custody by Passaic County Sheriff Nathaniel Lane, a tall man who had taken part in the Underground Railroad.  

Van Winkle would linger until about 6 p.m. that night when he passed from his injuries. Jane had died instantly of her wounds earlier that morning. 

The court appointed Socrates Tuttle to defend Jonston. With such damning evidence, Jonston was convicted and executed on April 30th, 1850. He had the dubious double honor of being the first murderer and the first man executed in Passaic County.    

A reporter from the Newark Daily Advertiser described Jonston’s last word in the May 1st, 1850 edition:
 “[T]he years 1830 and 1850 would be long remembered: that he arrived here from Liverpool in 1830, and that in regard to his present position he was not guilty of the crime for which he was about to suffer, but that he forgave all the world.”

Local newspaper sources described how after Lane “made final adjustments to the machine, he pulled the cap over Jonston’s face and placed the rope around his neck. “In less than a minute,” Lane threw the lever, “and the victim swung in the air.” Jonston “struggled...somewhat for a few minutes, raised himself up with a spasmodic, muscular action a few times, and [after] about five minutes…all signs of life left him.”

It was added that “after hanging for half an hour, he was ‘black about the hands as an African.’ Jonston’s coffin was brought to him, and ‘all that was left of Jonston, was gently lowered into his narrow bed’.”

As for the Van Winkle estate, the house, where the judge and his wife were murdered, still stands in the heart of Hawthorne, New Jersey. The exterior looks very much like it did back in the 1850s.
The part of the house where the Van Winkles lived was closed off. In fact, The New York Times recorded on Aug. 15, 1882 that it, “was locked and barred” for over 32 years. It went on to describe that “vines had grown so thickly around the doors and windows.” 

However, the more salacious aspect of the article mentioned that “no one seeming disposed to lease the valuable and beautiful property on account of the stories prevalent about its being the abode of unearthly visitants.”  


To give a complete picture of the execution, a writer for the New York Daily Herald described, in the May 1st, 1850 issue, that the “morning was clear and beautiful, the sun rising on the hills of Paterson in all its majesty, shedding its radiant beams of glory as it had often done before.”  

However the residents felt a “gloom manifest...intermixed with a kind of pleasing unsettled expectation that something desparate or terrible was about to take place” as “Dutch farmers were pouring into town from all quarters from many miles distant.”  

“Everybody appeared to be anxious to witness a man pay the extreme penalty of the law by the forfeiture of his life on the gallows,” the writer said.  

The report described that the “beaus and the belles were dressed up in their Sunday-go-to-meetings.” 
The jail yard was surrounded by a 15 foot high fence, as well as members of the Jefferson Blues were on hand to help keep the peace as they made “quite an imposing appearance.”  The yard would hold an estimated 2,000 residents.  

In the center was the gruesome structure. When The Goffle Road Murders was written, I did not have access to the articles that gave a fuller description of the gallows themselves. 

“The gallows was made by two strong supports and a beam on the top, through the center of which was the rope and pulley. The weights being made to drop on the cutting a small rope, and, in reverse, the man goes up,” the writer described.  

What is interesting about this, is that it resembled the gallows built to execute Antoine LeBlanc in Morristown, New Jersey in 1833. 

This is technically called the “upright jerker” method of execution. Most gallows used a trapdoor method of the criminal dropping to his death. However, the upright jerk method involves a weight tied to a rope, fed up through a pulley system and tied to the noose connected around the neck of the condemned. 

When the weight drops, it jerks the criminal straight up. Ideally this method would break the neck of the criminal quickly.  

Thanks to a quick search online, and some direction by writer and historian Robert Damon Schneck, I was able to find this drawing here.  

However, due to the fuzziness of it, I have decided to reproduce it. 

It was mentioned in my book that there were crowds and jeers, but in this article, it described several women wanting to get a closer look at the gallows. However, Lane refused. 

At the same time this occurred, the crowd began to get restless. It was reported that persons shouted, “Bring him out!” while another person shouted, “Let’s have it over - we want to see him up!”  

At 11 a.m., a shed that held over 150 people collapsed due to overload. 

“Luckily no bones were broken, (it was) only barked shins and scratched faces,” the article said. 
Before Jonston was led out, William E. Robinson, a correspondent for The New York Tribune spoke to Jonston. Under the pseudonym “Richelieu,” he described how “a few minutes before (Jonston) was led out I visited his cell.”  

“He was quite calm, and persisted in asserting his innocence,” Robinson said.   
Within the half hour, Jonston came out dressed “in a white muslin dress, in the Turkish costume; the bottom of the pantaloons, his sleeves and neck were tied with black ribbon.” 
All the other sources, as did the “Herald” writer, mentioned that his arms were strapped to his body with a leather belt.  

The Herald reporter was able to visit with Jonston the night before: 
“Our reporter visited the prisoner in his cell. The unfortunate and miserable creature was, at this time, dressed for execution; he appeared to be calm and collected, and walked backwards and forwards, holding in one hand a pocket handkerchief. He is a man of small stature, about 5 feet 5 inches, stout made, with rather a mild, smiling cast of countenance, dark hair and eyes, English expression, an Englishman by birth, aged 35 years.”

The reporter and Jonston “conversed freely.” 

“He said his parents were dead, and that he had a brother in England, but he did not wish him to know his fate; he said he was satisfied and pleased to leave this world, as he made his peace with his God,” the writer said.  

As Jonston stood on the gallows, Cornelius Van Winkle, “the son of the murdered man (and woman), placed himself, in order to watch every movement of the culprit.” Just pure speculation here, but “every movement” could mean “twitch” or “struggle”. 

Cornelius had hoped to “hear if (Jonston) made any confession, as it was expected he would at last, when under the gallows, confess his guilt.” 

It was just after 1 p.m. when prayers were said, Bible passages were read and Jonston made his final statement. 
“I have only to express a few words, gentlemen. April 30, 1850, will long be remembered. It is not my duty to say much. I have been judged guilty of the crime. I forgive the whole world; I have no fault to God. I know I must die and I die in faith and in hope to be forgiven of all the sins I have been guilty. I am innocent of this; and I have nothing to say that is my situation. I have made my peace with my God. I am innocent; I have no interest in saying so; I know I am going to die, therefore I have no interest,” Jonston said in a low tone. 

He continued. 
“All have behaved well and clever to me since I came here to this place. I am freely willing to part from this world; it is a pleasure to me in my situation. I cannot say anything more in my situation that I know of, and I hope, by the blessing of the Almighty, that my peace is made with him. I don’t wish my friends to know about it, but they will not believe it, without they hear it from someone who knows the circumstances. After my trial, I saw there was no hope. I am ready to die and meet my God. Amen.”

Allow for some facts to be restated - it was on Jan. 9th, 1850, tracks were left in the snow leading away from the Van Winkle homestead after the attack. The tracks were followed and they lead straight to Jonston at a train station in (what was) Godwinville. He had with him a shirt covered in blood. Remember that blood was so thick, a woman was able to ring it out like a dish cloth after washing a sink full of dinner dishes.  

It could only be imagined how poor Cornelius Van Winkle felt upon this condescending denial. Cornelius proved himself a man of restraint for not rushing the gallows at the “I forgive the whole world” and throttling the Liverpoolman himself.  

Apparently even the Reverend on scene didn’t believe Jonston either.  

“Rev. Mr. Hornblower most earnestly requested him to make a confession; that if he had any hope, he must confess his sins, and if he wished for salvation hereafter, he must not die with a lie on his lips,” the reporter said.  

Jonston again denied his part in the death of the Van Winkles.  

At this point Lane “adjusted the rope about (Jonston’s) neck; but upon endeavoring to attach it to the upper rope, (Lane) found it too short.”  

“Here an awful suspense took place, of near ten minutes, before a bench could be procured; and a deathlike silence pervaded the whole assemblage,” the writer said.  

The bench was placed on the platform “and the culprit stepped on it, making him of sufficient height.” The rope was adjusted, the white cap Jonston had on top of his head was placed upon his face. 

“The (previously mentioned small) rope cut, and, in an instant, the murderer was suspended in the air, by the neck, an awful spectacle and warning to all who take the life of a fellow being unlawfully,” as was recorded. “The culprit...gave several convulsive movements of the legs and body, and all was over.”  

His time of death was about 1:20 p.m. and he hung there until 2 p.m. 


It is discussed in The Goffle Road Murders what occurred with the remains of the judge and his wife and their estate. 

However, an interesting fact was discovered about relics associated with the Van Winkle murders. In an article in The Morning Call (of Paterson, New Jersey) dated May 4th, 1911, “curious visitors” were attracted to a “collection of horrors at (the) Prosecutor’s Offices.”  

“It is just becoming known that the court house has a chamber of horrors as gruesome as any of the subterranean compartments and pits described by Poe in his talks of mysterious murders,” a Call reporter said. “The store-room of everything that is likely to cause one to shudder with fear, forms part of the prosecutor’s headquarters in the county building.”  

The writer described a “cabinet with large glass doors (which exhibits) such things as hangman’s nooses, skulls of murdered people, shot guns, revolvers, knives which were used in slaying people, lock-picks, files, dark lanterns, baseball bats, stuffed clubs, forks, razors , and innumerable other implements used in battles for life and death.” 

It was said that all of this was “evidence of work done in the line of suppressing crime in Passaic county.”  

Counting Jonston, five men were hung for murder between 1850 and 1906. Eventually, death penalties were carried out in Trenton, New Jersey via electric chair. In the previously mentioned cabinet, photographs and the nooses used in the last four hangings were on display.  

 “Under the above exhibit is the knife used by (John Jonston), who paid the death penalty for the murder of Judge John Van Winkle and his wife,” the writer said.  

He added, “The knife which he (Jonston) used was given into the custody of William G. Gourley when he was prosecutor, by Nathaniel Lane, son of the late Sheriff Lane.”  

The rest of the article goes on to discuss other items related to crimes, killings and murder. 
Granted this article is almost 110 years old, it could only be speculated as to what has happened to the items mentioned here. In all candor, an opportunity has not availed itself as of now, to investigate the location or existence of the knife.  

However, this article is proof that with some patience and research some amazing things can be uncovered. I, for one, will remain positive.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Secession Murder Case.

Samuel Merritt and Cornelius Salmon were walking down Prince Street in New York City on May
31, 1861, and as they approached a lager beer saloon, Salmon suggested that they stop for a glass of beer. Merritt agreed, and they went into the saloon which was in the basement of a house owned by John Immen.  The owner’s son Edward was tending the bar and poured the men two glasses as they took seats at a table.

A little after 4:00, John M. Swain, who lived in the house above the saloon, stopped in for a drink, and Salmon invited him to join them at the table. They had a pleasant conversation until the subject of politics came up. 

The issue of the day was the secession of the southern states, and Swain was a strong supporter of the secessionists. Merritt, who staunchly supported the Union angrily disagreed. Swain said that the Union should be dissolved, and there should be two confederacies, one southern and one northern. The argument became heated, and Swain said he would like to have the American flag trampled upon. Merritt, who could take no more, said “United States or nothing” and demanded that Swain say it too. Swain refused.

There were only four men in the saloon at that time, and none of the witnesses could say for sure how it transpired, but Merritt had a pistol in his hand and fired a shot into Swain’s chest, killing him instantly. Merritt laid the pistol on the table, then he and Salmon left the saloon and went separate ways. 

The police were called the scene and got the story from Edward Immen. Patrolman Sullivan arrested Cornelius Salmon, and at about 6:45 that evening, Samuel Merritt went to the Eighth Precinct station and turned himself in. By that evening, a coroner’s jury determined that John M. Swain had come to his death by a pistol shot wound at the hands of Samuel H. Merritt. Merritt declared he was not guilty and said the pistol had belonged to Swain.

Merritt’s trial for murder began on January 28, 1862. There was no doubt that Merritt pulled the trigger, but the trial focused more on Swain’s seccessionist views. As the Philadelphia Inquirer said, “the only question to be determined by the jury is what amount of guilt attaches itself to a man who unintentionally kills a ‘traitor?’”

The jury found Samuel Merritt guilty of manslaughter in the third degree and recommended mercy. He was given the minimum sentence of two years in State Prison.

“Murder in the Eighth Ward,” World, June 1, 1861.
“The Murder of John M. Swain,” The New York Times, June 2, 1861.
“Murder of John Swain,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 8, 1861.
“News Article,” Herald, January 30, 1862.
“Our New York Letter,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 28, 1862.
“The Secession Murder Case,” Herald, January 29, 1862.
“Verdict in the Eighth Ward Murder,” World, June 3, 1861.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Crazy John Daley.

John Daley rushed from his house on Chouteau Avenue, St. Louis, bleeding profusely from the neck, at around 11:00 the night of May 11, 1883. He surrendered himself to Officer Jones, saying that he had just murdered his wife. Officer Jones summoned a patrol wagon to take Daley to the Four Courts, then went to Daley’s house to see about his wife.

Daley, a 55-year-old machinist, lived in a two-room house on Chouteau Avenue, with his 35-year-old wife, Eliza, and eight children, ranging in age from 5 months to 12 years. Inside the house Officer Jones found Eliza lying on the bed, her skull crushed and her throat cut. He found a rusty axe with blood on both ends of the blade. It appeared that Daley had first struck her head with the butt of the axe, then cut her throat, finishing the job with a knife.

There were no signs of a struggle. Eliza Daley was in her nightclothes, her shoes, and stockings by the side of the bed. The incident woke none of the children; the youngest lay by her mother’s side with blood on her head.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Nellie C. Bailey.

Nellie C. Bailey.
William Dodson led a drive of 2300 head of sheep from Kansas through Indian Territory to their new home in Texas in October 1883. A mile behind them the owner of the new ranch, a widower named Clement Bothemly, and his sister Bertha traveled in a wagon outfitted with bedrooms. Pulled by two yoke of oxen, the wagon was so large that observers compared it to a railroad car. The night of October 7, Dodson heard Miss Bothemly calling from a distance and ran to see what was wrong. She took him to the wagon and led him inside where Clement lay dead from a gunshot wound to the head. 

He killed himself, she told Dodson. Clement had been suffering from rheumatism, and the pain had become unbearable. He had been taking large doses of morphine, but even that had not alleviated the pain. Bertha had been awakened by the gunshot and found her brother lying dead. 

They realized that they would have to dig a grave and bury him on the trail. A wagon heading for Kansas had passed them several hours earlier, and Dodson rode to them to ask for assistance. The men came back with him, and they buried Clement Bothemly near Skeleton Ranch. After a brief ceremony, Bertha and Dodson continued on the drive.