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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Unwritten Law.

Little Murders
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.

Her curiosity got the best of her, and sometime later Mrs. Meehan came back and asked McBride what he wanted to say. He told her that he loved her. Mrs. Meehan went into a paroxysm of indignation saying she planned to telegraph her husband and tell him of the insult. McBride apologized profusely and begged her not to tell her husband. Then, attempting to explain his actions, and to persuade Mrs. Meehan to keep quiet, he said he knew that a strange man visited the house when her husband was away, and he even knew the signal he used to let her know he was there. To demonstrate, McBride went outside and shook a small tree near the house. This accusation only made Mrs. Meehan angrier and McBride was compelled to leave the house that night.

Though he had been born in the north, Robert McBride was well aware that he had violated “the unwritten law” of southern etiquette, he had insulted another man’s wife. He went to Atlanta and explained the situation to his friend, Dr. Thomas Longino, asking him to intercede on his behalf with Mr. Meehan. McBride said he would do anything, even sell all his holdings and leave Newnan, if Meehan would accept his apology. At the same time, knowing his life was in danger, McBride finalized his will and wrote a letter explaining his actions, which he gave to Dr. Longino for publication in the event of his murder. Dr. Longino suggested that he travel to Savanah until the matter cooled down.
 
Scene of the Killing.
As 4:35, the afternoon of August 14, Robert McBride was waiting on the platform when the train carrying Patrick Meehan arrived in Atlanta. Meehan recognized McBride instantly when he stepped off the train and, with a pistol in each hand, he went up behind Meehan and without a word fired one shot into his temple and one in his neck. A third bullet grazed the shoulder of Mr. C. S. Reid, who had been talking to McBride at the time. McBride fell to the ground and moaned, “Lord have mercy.” He died soon after.

Meehan walked casually down the platform and was quickly arrested by a patrolman. “All right,” said Meehan when he was apprehended, “I did the shooting, but I was justifiable.”

Public sentiment quickly turned against Meehan. Though he denied shooting McBride from behind, eye witnesses at the depot said otherwise. Reid said McBride never saw the man who shot him.

But by the time of Meehan’s trial the following December, public opinion had changed and most now believed that Meehan had done the right thing in shooting the man who had insulted his wife. The jury took only eight minutes to deliberate and when they returned a verdict of not guilty, presiding Judge Clark reportedly rubbed his hands in glee and said, “It is grand; it is grand.” When the verdict was read, more than a thousand spectators who filled the courtroom, erupted in loud applause.
 

Sources:

"Cheered His Acquittal." Patriot 18 Dec 1893.
"Knew He Must Die." National Police Gazette 2 Sep 1893.
"Loved Another Man's Wife.." Daily Inter Ocean 15 Aug 1893.
"Made Quick Work." Daily Journal and Journal and Tribune 17 Dec 1893
"Said he Loved Her." Atlanta Constitution 15 Aug 1893.
"The Atlanta Tragedy." Columbus Daily Enquirer 16 Aug 1893.
"'The Unwritten Law'" State 15 Aug 1893.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Portraits of the Nicely Brothers.

After a recent post about the Nicely Brothers, who were hanged for the coldblooded murder of Herman Umberger in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, I was contacted by Rick Carbone who told me he had some old photographs of the Nicelys. Rick was kind enough to share these portraits of Josiah G. “Joseph” Nicely and David C. Nicely:
Josiah G. “Joseph” Nicely
David C. Nicely
It was common at the time, to sell photographs, mounted on card stock, as souvenirs of sensational murders. These portraits were produced in Indiana, Pennsylvania, near the site of the Umberger murder. They were obviously the models for the drawings below, published in the Somerset Herald at the time of the hangings - it is interesting to note that the artist did not exaggerate Joe’s mustache.


More on the Nicelys here: The Nicely Brothers.
More on murder portraits here: Souvenirs of Murder.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lottie Volner and Jack Tinker.

Little Murders

The Murder of Lottie Volner
George and Lottie Volner ran a bakery and restaurant together in Rockville, Indiana, until one day in 1883, a customer named Charles Rutledge got a little too familiar with Lottie and George took him to the back room for a beating, Rutledge drew a revolver and shot him dead. After that, Lottie Volner ran the place alone.

Mrs. Volner hired a man named John C. Henning, also known as “Jack Tinker” to help tend to the place, allowing him to sleep in the barn. Soon he was sleeping in the house, and in October 1885, he asked her to marry him. The newspapers variously described Henning as “a trifling worthless fellow,” “a drunkard, considered insane,” and “among the lowest grade of deadbeats.” In spite of all that, Lottie Volner agreed to marry him and Henning obtained a marriage license.

But Lottie had another, unnamed, suitor who persuaded not to marry Henning. On October 24, Henning went to see Lottie and found her sewing with her friend, Miss Oliver. What happened next is unclear, either Henning asked Lottie again to marry him and she laughed in his face, or he told her to go upstairs and get him a bucket of beer and she told him to get it himself. In either case, an incensed Henning pulled out his revolver and started firing wildly. One shot hit Miss Oliver in the foot, another three went into Lottie. Henning fled the restaurant and Lottie Volner died a few minutes later.

The news spread quickly through Rockville and soon an angry mob was searching for Henning. When they found him hiding in a clump of weeds behind the restaurant, there were calls to hang him on the spot, but cooler heads prevailed and Henning was taken to jail. John Henning was tried and found guilty, and the mob got their hanging, under color of law, on May 27, 1886.

Sources:

"A Tough Choice." The National Police Gazette 14 Nov 1885.
"An Indiana Hanging." Dallas Morning News 28 May 1886.
"Cold-Blooded Murder by a Disappointed Lover." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 26 Oct 1885.
"Shocking Crime at Rockville." Saginaw News 28 Oct 1885.
"Shot By Her Paramour." Plain Dealer 27 Oct 1885.
"Will Hang." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 6 Feb 1886.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Murder of Pet Halsted.


Oliver "Pet" Halsted
Oliver Spencer Halsted Jr., better known as Pet, was a political gadfly in the Lincoln administration. Coming from a prominent family of New Jersey politicians, Pet Halsted was a political insider, both in Washington and back home in Newark. Like so many in his profession, Pet Halted was also a man of unbridled lust and in 1871 he became romantically involved with one of his legal clients. His rival for her affections, a charcoal peddler, was not impressed by Pet’s credentials and was ready to fight to the death for his lady.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Murderous Massachusetts.


Massachusetts, settled by Puritans, has long considered itself a model of morality and civilized behavior. But in spite of its lofty posturing, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the scene of a surprising number of gruesome and sensational murders in the nineteenth century. Here is a chronological list:




Captain Joseph White-A Most Extraordinary Case

In 1830, John and Joseph Knapp hired Richard Crowninshield to murder their great uncle Capt. Joseph White. They very nearly got away with their scheme, but the great Daniel Webster secured their convictions.

The Sleepwalking Defense

In 1845, Maria Bickford was found in murdered in her room, her throat cut from ear to ear. Albert Tirrell, charged with the crime pled not-guilty because he had been sleepwalking at the time.

Dr. George Parkman - "The Pedestrian"

Harvard professor, John Webster, murdered and dismembered his creditor, George Parkman, in 1849, shocking the residents of Boston and fascinating newspaper readers across Ameri

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Avenging Her Honor.

Little Murders
Stephen L. Pettus stepped off the Fulton ferry boat from Brooklyn, the morning of November 22, 1889 and was walking up Fulton Street when he was accosted by a nervously distraught woman. The two had angry words, then he brushed her away and continued walking. Without hesitation, the woman raised a revolver and fired five shots into Pettus’s back, killing him instantly. She was standing near the body when a police officer arrived.

“Did you do that?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she replied, “he had ruined me and dishonored my family."

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Northwood Murderer.



Franklin B. Evans
When senseless a murder occurred with no obvious suspects, a community’s worst fear was that some transient had drifted into town, done his dirty work and left without a trace. The roads of rural America, in the ninetieth century, were filled with tramps; some were honest men looking for work in hard economic times, others were aimless ne’er-do-wells, running from or heading toward trouble. When these men turned to murder they were likely to get away without capture and were prone to kill again. But every now and then a wandering killer was caught and his whole bloody itinerary made public. Such was the case of Franklin B. Evans, known as the Northwood Murderer.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Scenes from the Murder of Mary E. Hill.

On November 22, 1868, the body of Mrs. Mary E. Hill was found on the ground outside of her Philadelphia residence. It did not take the police long to realize that she had been beaten to death and her corpse thrown out of a second story window. Following the verdict of the coroner’s jury, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper published a full page of illustrations depicting the people, places, and events involved in the crime.

Murder by Gaslight has already covered this case in detail here: Cheating the Gallows. Following is a pictorial summary of the murder, using Frank Leslie’s illustrations.

About four years before the murder, Mary Hill’s daughter Camilla married George Twitchell and moved to Philadelphia where Twitchell started a produce business.
George S. Twitchell
Camilla Hill Twitchell 




















Friday, May 1, 2015

Shot His Wife's Paramour.

Little Murders
Lemuel Willis told his wife he had business to take care of in the town of Carlisle, Indiana, ten miles away from their home in Sullivan, Indiana. On September 1, 1893, she took him to the station in their buggy and waved goodbye as the train left the station, believing that Lem would be gone overnight. Two friends of Lem Willis were waiting with a buggy at the Carlisle depot and the three hurried back to Sullivan. Willis believed that his wife was being unfaithful and he intended to catch her in the act.

Arriving at his home about 11:00 that night, Willis rushed upstairs, burst into the bedroom, and sure enough, he found his wife in bed with his friend W. C. Hultz. Willis drew his revolver and started firing. Hultz caught a bullet in the side before jumping out the open bedroom window. The fall broke his arm, but the wound was not fatal and Hultz got away that night.

The next day Willis began divorce proceedings and the divorce decree was granted without opposition from his wife. He also filed a law suit against W. C. Hultz seeking $25,000 damages for the “debauchery of his wife.” Hultz had been nursed back to health by his sister and when the suit was filed he decided it would be a good time to move to Chicago.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Souvenirs of Murder.

Luminous-Lint, a website devoted to history, evolution and analysis of photography has a great on-line exhibition of 19th century British and American murder photographs: Murder Most Foul: A Selection of Nineteenth Century Murder Cases. These portraits of killers and their victims were sold to the public as souvenirs of the murders. Here are some photos from the exhibition, pertaining to murders already covered at Murder by Gaslight, including a young Lizzie Borden: 


Josie Langmaid
 

Jennie Cramer
Found Drifting with the Tide
 
Rose Clark Ambler
 

Harry Hayward, Claus Blixt, Adry Hayward,
Catherine Ging
The Minneapolis Svengali
 

Lizzie Borden
Lizzie Borden Took an Axe...Or Did She?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

John True Gordon.

John True Gordon
John True Gordon was convicted of one of Maine’s most gruesome crimes, the axe murder of his brother Almon, his brother’s wife Emma, and their infant daughter, Millie. Gordon denied any knowledge of the crime and maintained his innocence through two trials. When the courts found him guilty, John True Gordon attempted to cheat the gallows by stabbing himself in the heart. The result was Maine’s most gruesome execution.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles.

The infamous Lizzie Borden now has her own television series and for the next several weeks she will be terrorizing her hometown, Fall River, Massachusetts. Set in the months after her acquittal for murdering her father and stepmother, Lifetime’s The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, unlike their made for TV move, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, is a self-proclaimed work of fiction. Apparently Lizzie Borden has become a generic villain, like Jesse James or Jack the Ripper, capable of adventures of her own, beyond the bounds of history. The series does not attempt to portray actual events, and those not attuned to turn-of-the-century fashion will probably not notice the anachronisms (a room full of cops and no mustaches?) so is it really necessary to point out the inaccuracies? Of course it is.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Medford Mystery.

Little Murders

Scene of the Debbins murder.
Walter R. Debbins was shot twice in the back, in broad daylight, on Highland Street in Medford, Massachusetts, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 27, 1897. Though no one saw the murder or heard the gunshots, there was enough traffic on Highland Street that afternoon for the police to precisely pinpoint the time of the shooting to between 1:00 and 1:05. But that was all they could pinpoint; everything else about the crime was shrouded in mystery that grew more dense with each new revelation.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Murder. Fifth Act in a Protracted Tragedy.

Little Murders
 
(From Macon Weekly Telegraph, Macon, Georgia, October 2, 1868)


Murder. 
Fifth Act in a Protracted Tragedy—
Killing of I. C. Willis.

 
From a note from our friend Capt. J. R. Pace, of Rogersville, we learn that on Sunday evening last, Mr. I. C. Willis, who it will be remembered killed the notorious Bill Sizemore, about a year a go in Hawkins county, was himself murdered on Clinch, in said county, by a man named Burton, between whom and Willis, there has been an old grudge. The full particulars of the murder are not given. Willis was shot first in the side. The wound not producing instant death, he asked that he might be permitted to see his wife, but Burton did not spare him. He then shot him in the head killing him instantly. Willis did not fire a shot. The shooting was done while both were on horseback.

This murder calls up a long train of homicides. In 1864, an old and highly esteemed citizen of Russellville (Mr. Cain) was killed by a young Federal soldier, a citizen of the same county, named Bewley. A short time afterwards Bewley was killed by one of the sons of old man Cain. But a short time was left for young Cain to live. He fell victim to the murderous hand of a friend of Bewley’s, Bill Sizemore, who shortly after the killing of young Cain, completed the list of his murders by brutally murdering Lieut. Thurman, of Hawkins county. Sizemore did not long live to gloat over his deeds of blood. The avenger was on his path, and in a very short time Sizemore was sent to eternity by a bullet from the pistol of I. C. Willis. Willis now is murdered, and we may well, in horror, exclaim: Where will the terrible tragedy end?—Knoxville Press.

 


"Murder. Fifth Act in a Protracted Tragedy - Killing of L. C. Willis." Macon Weekly Telegraph 2 Oct 1868.



Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Nicely Brothers.


Brothers Joe and Dave Nicely were the prime suspects in the robbery and murder of Herman Umberger in his home in Jennertown, Pennsylvania on February 27, 1889. They were arrested, identified by eye witnesses, convicted and condemned to death. But the Nicelys maintained their innocence and tried every means possible—legal and otherwise— to avoid punishment, including: two legal appeals, two pardon board appearances, a direct appeal to the governor, two jailbreaks, conspiracy to suborn witnesses, framing of other suspects, and feigning insanity. None of it worked.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Triple Murder in Michigan.

William Major returned from a trip to Romeo, Michigan, to his home in Mount Vernon, Michigan, on December 27, 1890, to find that his daughter and young granddaughter had come for a visit. Major, a well-to-do farmer, fifty years old, had come home in a cheerful mood and spent the evening conversing with his wife and daughter before the family went to bed. But Major could not sleep; something had unsettled his mind to the point of rage, and he needed to take action.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Murderous Pennsylvania.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was the site of quite a few brutal and sensational 19th century murders. While many of the crimes occurred in secluded rural areas, the city of Philadelphia saw some of the worst. Here is Murder by Gaslight’s chronological list of Pennsylvania murders:




“…cut off in her youthful bloom”

Polly Williams was last seen alive on August 13, 1810, on her way to see her fiancé. Her battered body was found at the foot of a cliff in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.



The Cuban Con Artist

In May 1831, Cuban exile, Lino Espos y Mina begged a meal from William and Lucretia Chapman in Andalusia, Pennsylvania. A month later William had died of arsenic poisoning and Lino and Lucretia were married. .


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Caught in the Act.

Little Murders

Caught in the Act.



Edward Newton Rowell and Johnson L Lynch had been neighbors in Utica, New York. Both were successful family men; Rowell a partner in a box manufacturing company and Lynch an attorney. In 1881, the firm of Palmer and Rowell relocated their offices and Newton Rowell moved with his wife and two children to Batavia, New York.

Mrs. Rowell was a beautiful and flirtatious blonde, eight years younger than her husband. The gossip in Utica said that Mrs. Rowell was seeing other men behind her husband’s back; Johnson Lynch among them. Their affair did not end when the Rowells moved away. Newton Rowell suspected his wife of cheating and had a plan to catch her.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

“Thus She Passed Away.”


In 1872 George Wheeler met and married May Tillson in Boston. He made a home for May and her younger sister Della, first in New York, then in California. Along the way George fell in love with young Della and when she planned marry someone else he was faced with a dilemma: he could not marry her himself and he could not bear to see her wed to another. The solution he chose pleased no one.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Insurance and Arsenic.

Little Murders
 
Frankie Morris Loveland
In 1884, Kansas attorney A. A. Hurd took out a $5,000 policy with the Mutual Life Insurance Company, on his mother-in-law, Mrs. Nancy Poinsett, naming his wife Frankie as beneficiary. Frankie Hurd liked this idea so much that, on a visit to Kansas City, she stopped at the Equitable Insurance office and took out another $10,000 policy on her mother’s life. It was reported that during the same trip she bought a supply of arsenic.

Soon after, Frankie and her husband were divorced, and she took the name Frankie Morris. Her mother, who was also estranged from her current husband, J. M. Poinsett, came to live with Frankie in Chanute, Kansas. On November 5, 1884, Mrs. Poinsett died from a sudden and painful illness; she was buried the following day. The circumstances of the death were so suspicious that both insurance companies refused to pay the policy claims. Frankie sued them, with her former husband A.A. Hurd handling the case.

The County Attorney was also suspicious, and began an investigation. Mrs. Poinsett’s body was disinterred and delivered to Professor Baily, a chemist at the State University at Lawrence, for analysis. He found crystals of arsenic in her stomach and signs of arsenic poisoning throughout the body. A witness claimed that Frankie gave her mother a large dose of arsenic in a glass of beer, while they were celebrating the election victory of Grover Cleveland. The chemist believed that Mrs. Poinsett had also been given smaller doses, before and after this.

Frankie was arrested in July, 1885; the matter was brought quickly to trial, and Frankie Morris was convicted of first degree murder. Before her arrest, Frankie had been engaged to be married to a commercial traveler from Wichita, named H. D. Loveland. He had left is wife and family for Frankie. The night of her conviction, probate judge H. F. Cory was called to marry them, in the presence of witnesses, including her ex-husband A. A. Hurd. Frankie Loveland was then taken to jail. Meanwhile, her attorneys filed an appeal for a new trial, citing, in addition to “the usual law points,” a charge that the verdict was obtained by jury tampering and witness suborning.

Frankie Morris Loveland was granted a new trial, primarily due to prejudicial statements made by the County Attorney outside of court. The second trial ended in a conviction and it was also successfully appealed. While the defense was alleging a conspiracy against their client, the prosecution, for the third trial, had amended their indictment, to include Frankie, A. A. Hurd, and J. M. Poinsett, the murdered woman’s husband in a conspiracy to commit murder and insurance fraud.

On November 17, 1885 the case was called, but postponed until December 7. On December 3, the prosecution declared nollo prosequi – the case against Frankie would be dropped and she would be set free. Two of their witnesses had left the state and the prosecution no longer had the evidence needed to win the case. While the state dropped the case against Frankie, the insurance companies stood firm, and it was reported that they had no intention of honoring her insurance claims.


"Another Chance for Her Life." New York Herald 10 Sep 1885.
"Arsenic in the Body." New Haven Register 8 Jul 1885.
"As Bad as a Bender." Kansas City Times 7 Jul 1885.
"He Believes Her Innocent." Kansas City Times 16 Aug 1885.
"Her Third Trial for Matricide." New York Herald 17 Nov 1885
"Proved His Love." Daily Illinois State Register 12 Aug 1885.
"The Frankie Morris Case." Rocky Mountain News 9 Dec 1885.
"This Wicked World." National Police Gazette 12 Dec 1885.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Remarkable Murder Trial in Florida.

Little Murders
 
(From St. Albans Messenger , St. Albans, Vermont, October 22, 1875)


Remarkable Murder Trial in Florida.
 
 
A somewhat remarkable murder trial has just ended at St. Augustine, Fla., with the conviction and sentence to death or Mary Ann Keech, alias Newton, and her nephew, William Newton. Three yeas ago, Mary Ann and her husband Henry Keech, then living in Wisconsin, after a quarter or a century of married life quarreled and were divorced, when Keech to escape carrying out a decree of the court settling certain property on Mrs. Keech skedaddled to Florida, where he has since lived with a woman name Ellen Hunt, who passed as his wife. Last May, Mary Ann, learning his whereabouts, induced her nephew, William Norton, by promise of a share of the spoils, to go to Florida and murder Keech and the woman Hunt and obtain the title deeds which the Wisconsin court had decreed her. William went, and while out fishing with Keech shot him, mashed his head with a rock and, to made sure, cut his throat; then going to the house put there pistol balls through the woman Hunt’s head, and getting the desired papers fled. The murder was soon discovered and young Newton captured.

And now comes the estrange part of the affair. Keech, the victim, turned out not to be dead, and recovered to testify against his murderer; a letter which the murderer had written informing his aunt of his success, and which the officers mailed for him without opening it, brought the projectress of the murder to Florida, and another letter, as acidentally got hold of by the officers and opened proved the guilty part of the woman, and she and her nephew were, last week, convicted and condemned to be hanged, while to complete the confusion of this intricate tangle of crimes, the grand jury has sent a true bill against Keech, the half-murdered man, for living in concubinage with Ellen Hunt. The woman’s counsel have appealed to the supreme court, but there is no probability that the appeal will be allowed. The murderess is a burley woman, with a countenance that does not belie her nature. She received her sentence with the most stolid indifference, gazing at the judge with a defiant look, and seemingly anxious to get upon the platform and wring his neck.






"Remarkable Murder Trial in Florida." Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, October 22, 1875



Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Night of Debauchery.

Little Murders

A Night of Debauchery.


In 1880, Mrs. Anna Hayes was the landlady of a house at 396 State Street in Chicago. The newspapers referred to it as a “house of ill-fame,” but it was not a brothel, it was a house of assignation, renting rooms to prostitutes. On Sunday, November 7, 1880, Eva Lloyd rented room 6 on the top floor; one week for $3.00. Eva did not have the money but she had a revolver worth $4.00, and Mrs. Hayes took that as security.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Queen of the Demimonde.



Kate Townsend
In the years following the Civil War, Basin Street in New Orleans was the center of the most notorious red-light district in America, and the house at No. 40 Basin Street, run by Miss Kate Townsend, was the most elegant brothel in the country. When she was fatally stabbed in her bedroom in 1883, Kate Townsend’s death was mourned by sporting men from coast to coast, but, in accordance with Miss Kate’s wishes, no man was allowed to attend her funeral.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another Murder in Cincinnati--“Hell’s Half Acre.”

Little Murders
 
(From Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, November 12, 1858)


Another Murder in Cincinnati--
“Hell’s Half Acre.”
 
 
Between the hours of two and three o’clock yesterday morning, another man was brutally murdered in a low doggery, called the Toledo House, on the levee, between Walnut and Vine streets, a miserable quarter known as “Hell’s Half Acre,” one of the worst localities in the city. The name of the victim was Michael Burke, an Irishman, about twenty-one years old, a deck-hand on the river boats, and recently employed on the steamer Prairie Rose; and suspected murderer one James Burns, proprietor of the “Toledo, who has long been regarded, and is known to the police, as a vicious character, and has frequently been imprisoned for different misdemeanors.
 
Circumstances of the Murder.
 
The circumstances of the murder are enveloped in mystery, and the only light, beyond the fact of the crime itself, is thrown upon the case by the evidence before the Coroner’s jury. It appears that tow men lodging over the doggery were awakened, about two o’clock, by cries of “murder!” and throwing up the window they saw the body of deceased lying on the sidewalk and Burns concealing a knife in a wood-pile near by. B. then caught hold of the body and was about dragging it to the river, which, on account of its height, was but a few feet distant, to remove, no doubt, all traces of the crime, when they hallooed at him and accused him of the murder.
 
B. made no answer, but let go of the body, and entering the house, brought a bucket of water and poured it upon the corpse, and then dragged it with the assistance of his wife, into the house. A few minutes after B. re-appeared and walked toward Walnut street, when he met a man who asked him what was the matter and the meaning of those cries. B. said some person had been hurt at his house, and that he was going after a physician. Burns was not seen after this, but the weapon, a large butcher-knife, covered with blood, was found in the place where it had been hidden.
 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Kittery Crime.

Little Murders
 

The Kittery Crime.

Mary Barrows
Thomas Barrows was found dead in his home in Kittery, Maine, on November14, 1883.  He was lying in his bed with six bullet wounds in his arms, legs and head. His wife, Mary, told the coroner that Thomas had committed suicide. The coroner was faced with two immediate mysteries; if Thomas Barrows had committed suicide, why did he wound himself five times before firing the shot to the head that killed him? And how had he shot himself six times with the five barrel revolver found near the bed? Closer examination determined that three of the shots to his arms and legs were fired from a distance, one to his hip was close range, the shot to the head was also from close range but probably went through his hand first—explaining the six wounds, but essentially ruling out suicide. The coroner’s jury ruled the case murder, but lacking a motive, could not determine a suspect.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"She Died in Defense of Her Honor."

Tillie Smith
When the strangled body of Tillie Smith was found on the grounds of Centenary Collegiate Institute, where she worked as a domestic servant, the police of Hackettstown, New Jersey, began an extensive secret investigation. The absence of official information drove the press and public to create their own narrative of Tillie’s death. “She died in defense of her honor,” was public belief, and a monument was erected with this statement carved in stone. The press spun a web of circumstantial evidence around James Titus, janitor of the Institute, as the man who raped and murdered Tillie Smith. The public story soon became the official story, but there is a good possibility that none of it was true.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A New Year's Murder.

RHODE ISLAND INEQUITY
Amasa Sprague
The body of Amasa Sprague was found shot and beaten on the road between his factory and his mansion on New Year’s Day, 1844, and suspicion immediately fell on three members of Sragueville’s Irish community. Nicholas Gordon was known to hold a grudge against Amasa Sprague; John and William Gordon would do whatever their older brother asked, but it was a conspiracy theory based more on bigotry and class warfare than hard evidence. The arrest of three immigrants would strain the already tense relations between Rhode Island’s English and Irish communities and begin an official injustice that was not rectified until 2011.

Date:
 December 31, 1843
Location:
 Spragueville, Rhode Island
Victim:
 Amasa Sprague
Cause of Death:
 Beating, Gunshot
Accused:
 John,William, and Nicholas Gordon

Read the complete story, "Rhode Island Inequity," 
in the new book
The Bloody Century

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Maggie Estars

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Maggie Estars.

"Maggie Estars was the keeper of a low resort at Fort Worth, Texas, and was accused of the crime of killing a man of the same place by the name of A. T. Truett. Truett went to the woman’s place of business, and quarreled with her. He endeavored to escape through the front door, when the woman picked up a fire shovel, and just as he was going out of the door, hit him on the head with it, and from the effects of which he died."









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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Horace Millen.


On April 22, 1874, the body of four-year-old Horace Millen was found in a clambake pit on Savin Hill Beach in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It was the second murder committed by fourteen-year-old Jesse Pomeroy.

This drawing, published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on May 9, 1874, depicts an informal shrine to Horace Millen set up at the site of the murder by some Dorchester residents.

 Read the story of Jesse Pomeroy, "Boston Boy Fiend" in The Bloody Century.


The Bloody Century

Friday, December 12, 2014

Praise for The Bloody Century

Unlike other countries in the nineteenth century, the murder rate skyrocketed in the United States, and this wide statistical gap remains to this day. No one has chronicled the resulting tales of murder in nineteenth-century America as thoroughly as Robert Wilhelm has in his blog Murder By Gaslight, and in his book The Bloody Century he revisits the most compelling murder cases from this era. Wilhelm puts each murderer back on trial with a detailed investigation into the available evidence drawn from the newspapers, trial reports, and murder ballads that saturated the reading market. The result is an arresting portrait of the dark-side of American life, when the country became a “Homicidal Nation” and the intrigue of murderous deeds captivated the nation.
--- Anthony Vaver, Author of Early American Criminals and Bound with an Iron Chain


I've been a fan of Robert Wilhelm's "Murder by Gaslight" blog for years and I'm so pleased that readers are being treated to the very best of his posts in this interesting and entertaining collection.  There's something here for everyone - tragedy and comedy, open-and-shut cases and wrongful convictions, rich and poor, city and country, and more.  Readers will delight in the period engravings, the emphasis on how the cases influenced popular culture, and the extensive research that provides for further reading.  The Bloody Century is a welcome and lively companion to Judith Flanders' recent The Invention of Murder, with a decidedly American flavor.
--- James M. Schmidt, Author of Galveston and the Civil War and Notre Dame and the Civil War



The Bloody Century

By Robert Wilhelm

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Worst Woman on Earth.



When two bodies were found in a hayloft on Paul Halliday’s farm in the town of Mukakating, in New York’s Catskill Mountains, his young Gypsy wife, Lizzie, became the prime suspect in their murders. It was not the first time Lizzie Halliday was accused of murder and it would not be the last. In court she would tear her clothes and babble incoherently; in captivity she was a danger to herself and everyone around her. Though she exhibited all the signs of a woman who was violently insane, many believed that Lizzie was merely a gifted actress. But no one disagreed when the press crowned Lizzie Halliday, “Worst woman on earth.”

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Slayback Homicide.

Little Murders:

The Slayback Homicide.

Alonzo W. Slayback and John A. Cockrell were two of the most respected men in St. Louis; Slayback was a prominent attorney and politician, and Cockerell the managing editor of the Post-Dispatch. Both were members of the Elks Club and reportedly had been amiable, if not close friends. But hey had their differences, Slayback had been a colonel in the Confederate army and Cockrell a Union colonel under General Sherman, and in the fall of 1882 they took opposite sides in a local election. Slayback’s law partner, James Broadhead was running for congress and the Post-Dispatch was publishing editorials against Broadhead and Slayback, one of which called Col. Slayback a coward.

The night of September 30, 1882, Alonzo Slayback was at the Elks Club, loudly railing against the Post-Dispatch and calling James Cockrell a blackmailer. Cockrell overheard the remarks and later that evening he got Slayback alone in the library-room to ask what he meant by the charges. According to Cockrell, the two had words and Slayback said to him, “I tell you that if the Post-Dispatch ever attacks me or assails my character, I will go to your office and kill you.” Cockrell explained the he, personally, had never written a line against Slayback and “entertained only friendly feelings for him.” Slayback cooled down, and after further conversation they shook hands, went into another room and drank together, then parted cordially.

But Col. Slayback was still angry, and at a political meeting said that he intended to denounce the Post-Dispatch from the stump during the congressional campaign. In response, the Post-Dispatch published the contents of a letter that was damaging to Slayback’s reputation.

A little after five pm on October 13, Col. Slayback went to the office of the Post-Dispatch to confront Cockrell. Slayback and his associate, Mr. Clopton, entered Cockrell’s office accompanied by Mr. McGuffin and Mr. Cole of the Post-Dispatch. Exactly what happened next is uncertain. Mr. Clopton said that Slayback had gone, unarmed, to the office, intending to slap Cockrell’s face and demand an apology. As Slayback was hanging up his coat, Cockrell grabbed a pistol from his desk and fired at Slayback, killing him.

Cockrell told a different story. Slayback entered the office and said, “Well I am here.” Seeing the pistol on Cockrell’s desk he said, “Is that for me?” Cockrell said it wasn’t but grabbed it from the desk as Slayback drew his own revolver. Cockrell fired when Slayback cocked his pistol and pointed it at Cockrell’s chest. In one telling of the story, Cockrell would have been killed if Mr. McGuffin hadn’t interposed his thumb between the hammer and the cap of Slayback’s pistol. McGuffin later produced the pistol, a pearl handled, British bulldog revolver, at the inquest, but Clopton denied that it was Slayback’s, and maintained that they had gone to the office unarmed.

John Cockrell was arrested for second-degree murder and released on $10,000 bail. Col. Slayback’s funereal was the largest seen in St. Louis to date, with thousands of people in the procession which included one hundred and forty-two carriages and about fifty buggies. There was a massive outpouring of sympathy for Slayback’s family and the affair prompted several editorials against the prevalence of handguns in American society.

When the grand jury met the following month, murder charges against John Cockrell were dropped and the matter ended.
 

Sources:

"Mourning Multitude ." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 16 Oct 1882.
"Murder at St. Louis." Daily Illinois State Journal 14 Oct 1882.
"Murder in the Sanctum." The National Police Gazette 28 Oct 1882.
"The Slayback Murder." Daily Illinois State Register 26 Nov 1882.
"The St. Louis Homicide." New York Herald 19 Oct 1882.
"St. Louis Tragedy." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 15 Oct 1882.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Now Available! The Bloody Century

New book...

 


Buy it Now! at Amazon.

A murderous atmosphere pervaded nineteenth century America unlike anything seen before or since. Lurid murder stories dominated newspaper headlines, and as if responding to the need for sensational copy, Americans everywhere began to see murder as a solution to their problems. The Bloody Century retells their stories -- some still famous, some long buried, all endlessly fascinating.
The Bloody Century is a collection of true stories of ordinary Americans, driven by desperation, greed, jealousy or an irrational bloodlust, to take the life of someone around them. The book includes facts, motives, circumstances and outcomes, narrating fifty of the most intriguing murder cases of nineteenth century America. Richly illustrated with scenes and portraits originally published at the time of the murders, and including songs and poems written to commemorate the crimes, The Bloody Century invokes a fitting atmosphere for Victorian homicide. 
The days of America’s distant past, the time of gaslights and horse drawn carriages, are often viewed as quaint and sentimental, but a closer look reveals passions, fears, and motives that are timeless and universal, and a population inured to violence, capable of monstrous acts. A visit to The Bloody Century may well give us insight into our own.


"I've been a fan of Robert Wilhelm's "Murder by Gaslight" blog for years and I'm so pleased that readers are being treated to the very best of his posts in this interesting and entertaining collection.  There's something here for everyone - tragedy and comedy, open-and-shut cases and wrongful convictions, rich and poor, city and country, and more.  Readers will delight in the period engravings, the emphasis on how the cases influenced popular culture, and the extensive research that provides for further reading.  The Bloody Century is a welcome and lively companion to Judith Flanders' recent  The Invention of Murder, with a decidedly American flavor."
--- James M. Schmidt, Author of Galveston and the Civil War and Notre Dame and the Civil War

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Murder or Suicide?

Little Murders
 
(From Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, November 12, 1878)

Murder or Suicide?
 
The Mystery of the Dead Body Found in the Woods Still Unsolved.
 
The case of Joseph Straka, whose dead body was found in the woods, is still unraveled. Indeed, the mystery surrounding it seems to deepen. The post mortem examination was made yesterday by Professor Holliday and that revealed nothing definite.

The Coroner was to have held an inquest to-day but has postponed it until to-morrow because he cannot yet find the solution of the problem but hopes to by further investigation.

All sorts of theories have been made up, both for murder and suicide, but there is nothing to fasten to. The belief that Straka was murdered seems to be gaining ground but the difficulty in the way of that theory is to find a motive.