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Saturday, August 27, 2016

“Happy Bob.”

Little Murders

Robert "Happy Bob" Van Brunt
Robert Van Brunt was born in England in 1863. He barely knew his father, who was a member of the Queen’s Scots Guards. His mother died when he was ten was ten-years-old, and from then on he was raised by his grandmother. She took him to Canada in 1878, and they settled in Toronto where he began a career as a tailor.

When a religious revivalist named Hammond held a series of meetings in Toronto, Van Brunt attended and became so enthusiastically converted that he would join Hammond on stage and speak to the assembled crowds. Hammond left Toronto, Van Brunt lost his job and became so discouraged that he attempted suicide. When he the Salvation Army arrived in town he joined their ranks and was given the ironic nickname of “Happy Bob.”

Van Brunt’s luck seemed to be changing; he left the Salvation Army and was planning to marry, but before the ceremony, he was taken sick with congestion of the brain and the engagement was broken off. Alone and unemployed, he attempted suicide once more and failed again. This cycle would repeat, and by some accounts, “Happy Bob” had been engaged to as many as fifteen young girls and attempted suicide five times.

He was saved by religion once again when he became a successful revivalist, taking his message across the border to the United States. In Castile, New York, he rejoined the Salvation Army, this time as a lieutenant. He was still known as “Happy Bob,” but now had a reputation of being quick-tempered and very excitable.

Eva Roy
In Castile, Van Brunt boarded with the family of Simon Roy, who were also Salvationists. Roy had been married twice and had two sons, Will and Fred, with his first wife, and a daughter, Eva, with his second. Eva was a pretty girl of sixteen, and though she was seven years younger, Van Brunt became infatuated with her. They began courting, he more seriously than she. Around the first of October, 1886, Van Brunt asked Eva to marry him, but it was more of a threat than a proposal. He said if she would not marry him and married anyone else, he would shoot her on the spot. She never intended to marry him, but Eva agreed out of fear.

Van Brunt was aware that Eva was very close to her half-brother, Will. He once said, jokingly Eva thought, “This half-brother thing is all very funny. I am dangerously jealous.” But deep down, he was jealous of their relationship.

Will was planning to take a train that left at an early hour on October 7, 1886, and Eva agreed to sit up with him until it was time to leave. Around 1:00 a.m. Van Brunt awoke and heard them talking. He dressed and went downstairs and told Eva to go to bed as her mother always required her to do at a certain hour. “Ah,” said Eva, “that was only to apply when you were with me.” Then she whispered something to Will. Van Brunt, who sincerely believed that he and Eva were engaged to be married, was blinded by jealousy and lost control. He drew a revolver from his pocket and shot Will Roy in the chest from seven feet away, killing him. After the shooting Van Brunt quietly informed Fred Roy what had happened and made no attempt to escape as he was taken to jail.

As his trial was beginning in February 1887 Van Brunt was still calm and resigned to his fate. He told reporters, “Of course I’m sorry it is done, not that I cared for him, but it’s his sister who is the greatest sufferer. I loved her dearly and I killed Roy because I felt he was making trouble between us. I was jealous when I shot him, and I shot to kill. I told Eva that I would die for her, and now I am going to do it. I expect to hang for this and I am not going to worry or grow thin over spilled milk.”
Robert Van Brunt was tried for first-degree murder. There was no question of his guilt, but his attorney fought for a lesser degree of murder. The defense was insanity but the arguments did not sway the jury. Van Brunt was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang.

His attorney stuck with him during the appeal process which lasted more than a year. Several things changed during that period. Van Brunt, who had been an avid Protestant Revivalist, converted to Catholicism. Public sympathy turned in his favor, opposing the hanging. Eva Roy, who had testified against Van Brunt at his trial, was now his supporter. She traveled to Albany to personally plead with the Governor for Van Brunt’s life. He listened politely but refused to interfere. When she returned, she caused a scene at the jailhouse when she was refused admittance to see Van Brunt.

The morning of April 13, 1888, Robert Van Brunt, dressed in a white shroud at his own request, accompanied by Fathers Leddy and Vanderpoel, mounted the scaffold steps, kissing his crucifix and swinging his beads.  The trap was sprung at seventeen minutes past ten o’clock and “Happy Bob” Van Brunt went to meet his maker.


Sources:
"A Murderer's Love." New York Herald 13 Oct 1886.
"A Murderous Salvationist." Evening Star 7 Oct 1886.
"A Salvation Soldier to Hang." Bismarck Tribune 20 Feb 1887.
"Happy Bob Hanged." Springfield Republican 14 Apr 1888.
"He Expects To Hang." Trenton Evening Times 15 Feb 1887.
"Robert Van Brunt." National Police Gazette 30 Oct 1886.
"The Gallows Tree." New York Herald 14 Apr 1888.
"The Penalty Paid." St. Albans Daily Messenger 13 Apr 1888.
"Through New-York State." New York Tribune 8 Oct 1886.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Murderous North Carolina.

North Carolina's greatest murders have found their way into enduring American folk songs - not always accurate but always engaging.

Poor 'Omie - The Murder of Naomi Wise -1807

The haunting folk ballad “Omie Wise” has kept the story of Naomi Wise’s murder alive for more than two hundred years. According to legend, Naomi Wise, a poor but beautiful orphan girl, was courted by Jonathan Lewis, son of a wealthy farmer. His mother persuaded him to stop the courtship but not before Naomi became pregnant with Jonathan’s child. To avoid marriage and scandal, Jonathan Lewis drowned Naomi Wise in Deep River. That is the traditional tale of Naomi Wise, but how much of it is true?

The Ballad of Frankie Silver -1831

Charlie and Frankie Silver were the ideal young married couple, so the legend goes; he was strong and handsome, she was kind and beautiful. They lived an idyllic life, with their baby daughter, in a little cabin in the woods of Burke County, North Carolina. But things changed quickly when Frankie learned that Charlie had been seeing other women. Allegedly, one night in December 1831, she methodically and brutally murdered Charlie in his sleep. That is the legend of Frankie Silver, the reality is even darker. Frankie had endured physical abuse from Charlie throughout their marriage until, on that December night, she fought back to save her own life. Frankie Silver’s subsequent execution was a tragic miscarriage of justice.

Hang Down Your Head Tom Dula -1866

The stories behind murder ballads are never as pretty as the songs. The story behind “Tom Dooley” – the 1866 murder of Laura Foster by Tom Dula in Elkville, North Carolina – is particularly ugly. Tom Dula was having an affair with Mrs. Ann Foster Melton and when her cousin Pauline Foster came to work at the Melton home, Tom Dula had her too. They had another cousin, Laura Foster, and Tom took her to bed as well. One member of this group contracted syphilis and soon they were all infected. Tom blamed Laura and threatened revenge. Laura Foster’s body was found in a shallow grave and Tom Dula had left for Tennessee. Might have gotten away, “Hadn’t been for Grayson.”

Poor Ellen Smith -1892

The morning of July 21, 1892 the body of Ellen Smith was found behind the Zinzendorf Hotel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She had been shot through the heart. The story of Ellen Smith’s murder is a classic tale of seduction and betrayal. A beautiful but innocent young woman strays from the path of righteousness for a faithless lover who soon becomes her killer. It is the stuff of Victorian cautionary literature and mountain murder ballads.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Murder of Chong Ong.

Little Murders

The murderer identified.
The basement of the building on the corner of Spring and Wooster Streets in New York City, housed the Restaurant Cubana, run by a former cigarmaker named Antonio Soloa. It was very popular among the Cubans and others in the neighborhood looking for a good inexpensive meal—Soloa’s specialty was ham fried with spice and garlic and served with vegetables.

On November 2, 1885, Thomas Daly, a produce vendor, entered the Restaurant Cubana to see if Soloa needed any provision and found him lying dead on the floor of the restaurant in a pool of blood. He fled from the place but went back down with Wooster Street coal dealer James Caughlin. Butchered, was how they described the body to the police. His face and the right side of his temple had been crushed, his shirt had been slashed open and his chest stabbed through his undershirt. Blood had spurted high enough to stain the ceiling. A closer examination revealed nine stabs to the chest, severing two ribs. A knife with a ten inch blade, bent and bloody, lay on the floor near the body. The coroner later discovered that one of the stabs had severed Soloa’s heart.

In Soloa’s bedroom, his trunk had been rummaged by someone with bloody fingers. The police found a cheap leather pocketbook empty on the floor. Theft was believed to be the motive.

But Antonio Soloa was a complicated man and the police changed their assessment when they learned that, although he had come to New York from Cuba, Soloa was actually Chinese. His real name was Chong Ong. This fact, together with the severity of the attack, led police to believe that the true motive was revenge and that the murder was committed by highbinders, the hitmen of Chinese secret societies.

The victim was living alone at the time of the murder, but had previously lived for five years with a German woman named Susie Vestreg. She said that he had saved several hundred dollars and she believed that he was murdered for his money. Regardless of his heritage, it was clear that Antonio Soloa saw himself as Cuban, not Chinese. He had taken a Spanish name, wore western clothes and had worked as a cigarmaker prior to opening a Cuban restaurant. None of this impressed the police. To the police and the press he was Chong Ong victim of Chinese revenge. The Chinese consulate in New York provided resources to find the killer and defrayed the cost of burying Chong Ong in the Chinese section of Evergreen Cemetery. 

The investigation took another turn when William Schimper, who owned a store across Wooster Street from Restaurant Cubana, went to the police with his hired boy, George Manz. Manz told police that he had been outside, around fifteen minutes before the body was discovered and saw a tall Cuban man with a scar on his face run up the stairs followed by Chong Ong. The Cuban drew a big knife, thrust it into Ong’s breast, and seemed to have difficulty drawing it out. Then the Cuban ran down to the basement again, Ong turned to follow him but fell headlong down the stairs. After overcoming his fear, George Manz told his employer what he saw and they went together to the police.

Detective Sergeant Haley, who was assigned to the case, took Manz to several factories in the city where Cubans were known to be employed, but Manz recognized none of them. The police now had the co-operation of the Spanish Consulate as well who provided information about Cubans in the city and vessels leaving the city for the West Indies. Haley talked to a group of Cuban insurrectionists at their lodge room on the west side of the city. There he saw a group photograph of the lodge members; he obtained a copy and showed it to George Manz. “That is the man,” Manz said, pointing to a face in the picture, “and if you get him you will find he has an ugly scar on his cheek.”

Haley learned that the man’s name was Augustine Rebell and he worked at a Brooklyn cigar factory. He did, indeed, have a large white scar down the side of his face, that had been inflicted a year earlier by an Irishwoman with whom he was living. He later spent some time in the Tombs for assaulting her. Rebell was arrested and taken to police headquarters, George Manz was brought to the station where he identified Rebell in person as the man who murdered Chong Ong.

Inspector Thomas Byrnes, Chief of Detectives, praised Haley’s work but suspected that Rebell would have a good alibi ready and conviction would be difficult. Rebell denied any knowledge of Chong Ong’s murder. He had been at the factory that day and was credited on the books with making 100 cigars that day. His foreman, however, said Rebell could have made that many in half a day. The police claimed that they had additional evidence that could not be used in court because the witnesses were afraid to let it be known that they assisted the police.

Two cigarmakers came forward and, through an interpreter, told police that the murder had been a continuation of a fight between Rebell and Ong a week earlier, over money Rebell owed Ong. They said it was an open secret among cigarmakers that Rebell was the killer but no one was ready to betray him because he had friends among the Cuban revolutionists.

The Cuban community in New York rallied around Rebell, securing counsel and making sure all his needs were met while incarcerated. His employer, Mr. Jarequi, called Rebell a man of excellent character and said the scar on Rebell’s face was the only reason for his arrest. Some claimed that Rebell was not the man in the phototograph. Many of his friends and coworkers also spoke well of Rebell. Jarequi and other workers at the cigar factory were ready to testify that Rebell was at the factory all day.

It is not clear how the matter was finally resolved. The district attorney probably decided that there was not enough evidence against Rebell to prosecute him. No one was ever tried for the murder of Chong Ong, alias Antonio Soloa.


Sources:
"A Cuban Arrested  for Murders." Boston Daily Globe 21 Nov 1885.
"A Real Boy Detective." National Police Gazette 5 Dec 1885.
"A Trail of Blood." Boston Herald 3 Nov 1885.
"Betrayed by a Scar." New York Herald 21 Nov 1885.
"By a Boy's Evidence." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 22 Nov 1885.
"Did He Slay Soloa? ." New York Herald 4 Dec 1885.
"Did Rebell Kill Solao?." New York Herald 29 Nov 1885.
"He is not the Assassin." The Evening Bulletin 30 Nov 1885.
"New Clew to Chong Ong's Murderer." New York Tribune 4 Nov 1885.
"No Mourners For Chong Ong." New York Tribune 6 Nov 1885.
"Novel Theory of Chong Ong's Death." New York Tribune 5 Nov 1885.
"Roubles or Revenge, Which?." Evansville Courier and Press 6 Nov 1885.
"The Murder Of Chong Ong." New York Tribune 21 Nov 1885.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Our Current Record of Rowdyism and Murder.

`
Little Murders
(From New York Herald, New York, New York, June 19, 1873)

Our Current Record of Rowdyism and Murder.

Four murders signalize the opening of the present week. A sad commentary, truly, on our boasted civilization! Four brutal, inexcusable, fiendish murders are added to the list of deeds of blood that disgrace our criminal calendar. The week opened with an affray between brothers-in-law in a tenement house, during which one of the parties undertook to explain matters to the other with a hatchet. On the same evening a man was fatally stabbed in a drunken affray in a liquor store. After midnight the proprietor of another drinking saloon was desperately wounded by a knife at the hand of a man to whom he refused liquor. But the saddest case of all was the murder of Mrs. Gillen, at the age of eighteen years, by her husband, a worthy representative of the corner loafer class. This last mentioned tragedy is of such an atrocious character that it calls for grave reflection. A beautiful young girl, employed at a store, forms the acquaintance of a good-looking but dissipated young man, whose principal occupation seems to have been loafing. She foolishly consents to marry this wretch, contrary to the wishes of her father, and quickly ascertaining her terrible mistake, leaves her worthless husband and takes refuge with her parents. The husband killed her for this on Sunday night.

We cannot speak too often of this frightful epoch of murder which seems to be now at its zenith in this city. It is useless to argue more on the inefficiency of the law on this subject. When murderers become the especial protégés of the Court and every obstacle is thrown before the wheels of justice we can only wait patiently until such a monstrous outrage to civilization is removed from the statute book. The last session of the State Legislature was spent in purely political schemes, and nothing was done to secure the speedy punishment of assassins. Once in the Tombs the murderer finds numerous advocates, and the plain, unvarnished story of his cowardly crime, when it is place before the jury, becomes a tangled labyrinth of sophistry and irredeemable nonsense. When the jury find him guilty convenient judges and technical errors give him another lease on life. Trial after trial may take place until the public forgets the crime, and the execution takes place when the very object for which it is intended is no longer in the memory of the people.

But in the murder of this girl-wife the pernicious element of corner loaferism comes in to prominence. There is a class of young men—we may call them boys—in this city, whose principal occupation consists of profanity, drunkenness and, occasionally, murder. Unhappily this class is very large, and is constantly increased by willing recruits. Parents are too often to blame for the existence of such wretches, as they make poor attempts to curb nascent depravity. The police willingly, or in despite of themselves, allow a gang of ruffians to fester into crime at every prominent corner. The marriage law is so lax in its provisions that any weak-minded girl may be persuaded into wedding one of these scoundrels. The natural result of such a marriage is shown by Sunday night’s tragedy. The remedy for disgraceful conditions of affairs in society is plain. A criminal law, unencumbered with vexatious delays and miserable subterfuges; stern uncompromising action on the part of the police toward corner loafers, and a more rigid enforcement of the laws should protect the sacred institution of matrimony, will be found efficient checks the present avalanche of murder in this city.




"Our Current Record of Rowdyism and Murder." New York Herald, June 19,1873.



Saturday, July 30, 2016

Two Shots, a Shriek.

Little Murders
“A dark, mean little bedroom, a woman, half-undressed, dirty and pale, and blear-eyed from long excesses, a male companion, leaning over her with a revolver at her head, two shots, a shriek, an ugly hole under the ear, and the vice and crime of Boston had added another murder to its long score.” The Boston Herald’s vivid description of the murder of Josephine Brown on Christmas Eve, 1891, served to underscore her sad and dismal life. Married and divorced by age twenty, Josephine’s family blamed her for the failed marriage and turned her away. Left to fend for herself, Josephine Brown spent the next twenty years as a prostitute.

Joe, as she was known on the street, had been working in a brothel run by Mrs. Mary Ann Fisher on Pitt Street, in Boston’s West End. The house had recently closed down with the arrest of Mrs. Fisher, and Joe was working as a street walker. The demise of Mrs. Fisher’s house meant more than the loss of shelter, it left Joe without protection from the potential violence of her profession, and without anyone to keep her away from whiskey, which, when she was left on her own, became Joe’s consuming passion.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Murderous Ohio.

The Buckeye State has been the scene of some especially gruesome homicides:


The Tanyard Murder -1874

In 1874, a feud within Cincinnati’s German community would lead to the brutal murder and illegal cremation of Herman Schilling, a worker at H. Frieberg’s tanyard. Andreas Egner wanted revenge for catching Shilling in bed with his 15-year-old daughter. But Shilling had other enemies as well and his killer could just as easily been George Rufer who believed Shilling had cost him his job at the tannery. The murder of Herman Shilling—one of the most gruesome in Cincinnati’s history—would also serve as a stepping stone for an aspiring young reporter on his way to international literary renown.

Murder among the Shantyboats -1883

Colonies of shantyboats on the Ohio River were densely populated and the boats were often the homes of unsavory characters — conditions ripe for violence and murder.

The Courthouse Riots. -1883

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

The Sailor and the Spiritualist -1886

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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Edward S. “Ned” Stokes.

This recently acquired carte de visite of playboy, Edward S. “Ned” Stokes, completes the set of principals in the 1872 murder of Jim Fisk, America’s most flamboyant and best-loved robber-baron. Though hardly in the same class financially, Fisk and Stokes were great friends up until Stokes stole Fisk’s mistress, Josie Mansfield, considered by some to be the most beautiful woman in the country. Not content to steal his girl, Stokes attempted to blackmail Fisk with his love letters to Josie. When that failed, Stokes sued Fisk for $200,000 in profits he felt he was owed from a business venture. This failed as well. Frustrated at losing the lawsuit, Stoke ambushed Fisk on the stairs of the Grand Central Hotel in New York City and shot him dead.

Read about it here: Jubilee Jim






Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Tale of Deepest Crime.

Little Murders
(From Wheeling Register, Wheeling West Virginia, November 28, 1883)



A Tale of Deepest Crime.



The Mystery Surrounding a Murder
Which Resulted in Four Other Tragedies
Made Clear After Many Years.

Seymour, Ind., November 27—Yesterday there arrived in Medora, a town situated nineteen miles from this place, a woman giving her name as Eliza Kemp. She is now engaged as an agent of dress patterns. Seventeen years ago there occurred in Seymour one of the most blood curdling and mysterious murders ever committed in this part of Indiana. There were subsequently three other murders committed, caused directly by the first murder. For the past seventeen years these murders were entirely Surrounded by the Deepest Mystery, and not until the present time, when the testimony of Liza Kemp was given, was the true history of the crime known. A history of the crime, briefly given, is as follows. On the night of January 3, 1866, Moore Woodmansee, a wealthy merchant of Medora, came to Seymour, on his way to Cincinnati. He had $2,000 in cash, with which he was to purchase goods. He registered at the Rader House for the night, and was assigned to room No. 7. He was missed form his room, and his disappearance was, for over nine months, a mystery, when, in October, his body was found in White River, his head was cut off, but the examination by several doctors who treated Wooodmansee during life
Gave a General Verdict
that it was the remains of Woodmansee. The Rader House was ransacked for supplemental evidence of the suspected murder. After removing the carpet in room 7, blood stains were found on the floor, and attempts of scrubbing stains from the stairway were discovered. Gordon Kinney an employee of the hotel was suspected of knowing of the murder. When the excitement caused by the finding of the body was at its highest, an unknown man called Kinney from his door one night, and as he opened the door was shot and instantly killed. Soon the unfruitful efforts to find the murderers were abandoned. Again, a man named Eben Wheeler was mortally wounded and when told he had to die, Wheeler made a confession, stating that on the night of Woodmansee’s murder two men had taken from the Rader stable the horse and spring wagon.
In the Morning They Returned.
The bottom of the wagon was covered with blood. It was afterwards taken out and a new one put in instead. Rader was arrested for the murder, but acquitted, and again the affair was a dark mystery.

On the night of the murder a dance was being held in the dining rooms of the Rader House. Toward the close of the dance Sam Long and A. W. Flynn, both gamblers and hard cases, left. It was well known that Flynn and Woodmansee had had a difficulty and were engaged in a law suit. Flynn had threatened to kill him and his partner, Sam Long, said the case should never come to trial. It was also proven that they had followed him to Seymour. After the murder these men returned to Medora. Every time, during the many years, that new evidence or news concerning the Woodmansee murder was reported, it was followed by a meeting of these men
Suspicion Began to Point Strongly Towards Them.
Flynn threatened to shoot one Emery, who has talked about him but Emery shot first and instantly killed Flynn. Sam Long the partner, immediately disappeared and Alden E Rodman, a suspected accomplice was one night taken by unknown mob and hung. Thus, from knowing of the murder of Woodmansee, Gordon Kinney was murdered, Reuben Wheeler was mortally wounded, A. W. Flynn was shot and instantly killed, and A. E. Rodman was hung. Over seventeen years passed away, and the mystery of one murder had grown into the mystery of five still unsolved.

Yesterday, as before stated, Eliza Kemp arrived in Medora. The Woodmansee murder is no longer a mystery. For Eliza Kemp is no other than the Eliza Kemp who occupied Room 8, next to Woodmansee’s room in the Rader House on that fateful night . She said “On that night I was
Suddenly Awakened by a Noise
in Room 7. In a second I was fully awake, and realized that some one in the next room was begging for his life. I heard “Sam, kill the d—n s— of b—“ Then a blow followed by a heavy fall, and a moan or two. Then one said: “He’s dead, d—n him.” They then agreed to take his body, cut the head off and throw the body in the river. I left Seymour early in the morning and have not told what I have heard. I am going to Kansas in a few days, or would not now tell what I do, because my life had been threatened time and again by anonymous letters and in other ways.” Five of the six supposed to have been connected with this murder have been killed and Sam Long, the only remaining left in 1866 and has never since been seen or hear of. Thus, after seventeen years of mystery the murder did will out.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

He Emptied his Gun.

Little Murders
Clara Arnold, of Indianapolis, Indiana, had left her husband John and after several months of living apart sued for divorce on the grounds of ill-treatment. John Arnold countered by alleging that his wife had “evil associations” and too close a companionship with John W. Poe. Arnold had threatened his estranged wife with violence and she sent for Poe to stay with her for protection. Her sister Mollie and her husband were also staying with her on the night of December 8, 1889.

Around 10:00 that night the street door burst open and John Arnold entered brandishing a revolver. He fired two shots at John Poe, then turned to his wife shouting, “Clara, I told you I was going to kill you! I can’t stand it any longer! Get ready to die.” He fired three shots at her, one bullet hit her in the left breast and lodged near the lung, another hit her left leg near the pelvis. He then turned the gun on himself.

John Poe had been exceptionally lucky. One bullet had broken two teeth and cut his tongue, the other, deflected by his overcoat, inflicted a superficial wound under his arm. When the police found John Arnold lying on the floor they thought he had succeeded in killing himself, but he had been playing possum. He had a minor flesh wound in his arm. The wound was dressed and he was taken to jail.

Sources:

"He Emptied His Gun." National Police Gazette 28 Dec 1889.
"Made Mad by Jealousy." Kansas City Times 9 Dec 1889.
"Shot His Wife." St. Louis Republic 9 Dec 1889.
"Shot to Death." Indianapolis Sun 28 Dec 1889.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Murderous California.

In the early 1800s, California was a region filled with outlaws, drifters, and gold-seekers, with too many murders to document. By the end of the century, though, the Golden State began to see some eastern style murders.

The Woman in Black. -1870

A prominent California legislator was sitting with his wife and son on board the Oakland-San Francisco ferryboat El Capitain the evening of November 3, 1870. They did not notice the woman, dressed entirely in black, wearing a broad brimmed black hat with a black veil covering her face, as she approached them. From the folds of her dress the woman pulled a derringer and shot the man in the chest. The family recognized the woman in black then; it was Laura Fair and she was finally ending her tumultuous affair with Alexander P. Crittenden.

"Thus She Passed Away." -1880

George Wheeler fell in love with his wife's younger sister Della. 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.

The School-girl Murder. -1886

14-Year-old Mamie Kelly, murdered by the boy next door.

Theo Durrant - The Demon of the Belfry -1895

Theo Durrant, Superintendent of Sunday School at San Francisco’s Emanuel Baptist Church, was seen entering the church with Blanche Lamont on April 3, 1895, the day she disappeared. Though several people had seen them together that day, Durant was not a suspect in her disappearance. But when Minnie Williams, another girl he had courted, was found murdered and mutilated in the church library and the corpse of Blanch Lamont was found in the bell tower, the innocent Sunday school teacher was recast as “The Demon of the Belfrey.”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Domestic Tragedy.

Little Murders

Annie Schau rushed from her home in Erie, Pennsylvania, on December 18, 1886, and ran to the neighbors screaming, “I am shot and Minnie is shot dead.” The neighbor ran to Annie’s house and saw her father, Christian Schau, running through the backyard with a smoking revolver in hand. Inside the house, Annie’s 22-year-old sister Minnie lay dead, shot through the heart. The girls’ mother was wild with grief, surrounded by her other six children mourning piteously.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Murder in a Saloon.

`
Little Murders
(From New York Herald,  New York, New York, May 8, 1876)

Murder in a Saloon.
A Cripple Beaten to Death with his Own Crutch.

Port Jervis, N. Y., May 7 1876.
.
Much excitement has been occasioned at Beach Ridge, near Stevensville, Sullivan County, by the perpetration of a murder in that usually quiet and law abiding community. The facts of the tragedy ae substantially as follows:--On Saturday James Morgan became engaged in an altercation with one James O’Hallen, the proprietor of an unlicensed drinking saloon. Morgan is a cripple, and during the trouble he
RAISED HIS CRUTCH
and struck O’Hallen a heavy blow with it. O’Hallen snatched the instrument from Morgan and knocked him down and left the saloon. Soon after, however, he returned and beat the still unconscious man until he was dead, The murderer then started to leave the village, but was arrested and imprisoned. There are said to be facts that will prove the murder to have been premeditated by O’Hallen for some time, and  the matter is to be thoroughly investigated.




"Murder in a Saloon." New York Herald, 8 May 1876.



Saturday, June 4, 2016

Chicago Tragedy.

Little Murders


Oscar Grundman and his wife Annie were living unhappily in a Chicago tenement in 1891. Annie’s excessive drinking had been a continual source of trouble for her husband. He complained that she spent all of his hard-earned wages and neglected her domestic duties; he was running out of patience.

That September Oscar Grundman had Annie arrested and wanted to have her sent to the Washingtonian Home, an institution for the treatment of alcoholism. The judge dismissed her case, however, and sent her back home. After that, Annie lived in fear of her husband and locked him out of the house.



On September 15, Oscar persuaded a neighbor boy to knock on Annie’s door and tell her the police wanted to see her. When she came to the door he struck her on the head with a hatchet. Oscar ran away, escaping arrest, leaving Annie with a serious scalp wound. At the hospital, she was told that her thick hair had probably saved her life.



A week later, Oscar called on Annie again. This time, believing he had come to reconcile, she let him in. “Annie,” he said to her, loud enough for the other tenants to hear, “I have determined that we must part. We can’t live together happily. I have put our children in good hands. Now we must say goodbye.



Annie protested, pleading with him not to leave her. But leaving her was not what Oscar had in mind. The neighbors heard him say, “It’s no use Annie, we must die. Don’t scream. It will soon be over, Annie, and we will be happier than now.”



Oscar pulled out his revolver then and shot Annie once in the head, then turning the pistol on himself, fired a second shot. The neighbors heard the gunshots and heard two bodies fall to the ground. They forced their way into the room and found the unhappy couple lying dead, their blood mingling in pools around their bodies.

Sources:
"Chicago Tragedy." Elkhart Daily Review 23 Sep 1891.
"Double Tragedy in Chicago." National Police Gazette 17 Oct 1891.
"Murder and Suicide." Daily Inter Ocean 23 Sep 1891.
"Struck with a Hatchet." Daily Inter Ocean 16 Sep 1891.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Murderous New Hampshire.

"Live Free or Die" is the motto of the great state of New Hampshire. Everyone has their own interpretation of those words, here are a few of the worst:


The Northwood Murderer. -1852

When a drifter came to town and committed murder, he was likely to get away without capture and was 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 the Northwood Murderer.

The Smuttynose Murders -1873

Life on Smuttynose Island, in the Isles of Shoales,off the coast of New Hampshire, was hard in the 1870's. The winter months were bitter cold and the winter storms were devastating. Maren Hontvet, her sister Karen Christensen, and their sister-in-law Anethe Christensen dreaded the loneliness and isolation of the island when the men of the house were away fishing. The night of March 6, 1873, with the men away, the women were prepared to be alone in the cold house, but nothing could have prepared them for the arrival, by rowboat, of a deranged axe murderer.

Josie Langmaid-"The Murdered Maiden Student" -1875

On October 4, 1875, 17-year-old Josie Langmaid was absent from school – The Pembroke Academy in Pembroke, New Hampshire. When her parents learned that Josie never arrived at school, they organized a search party. At 9:00 that night they found the mutilated body of Josie Langmaid in the woods near the academy. The following morning they found her head, half a mile from where the body had been. The gruesome discovery tore the community of Pembroke apart.

The New Hampshire Horror. -1883

After his wife left him in November, 1883, Thomas Samon began a weekend of drunken debauchery in Laconia, New Hampshire, with Jane Ford, the wife of his landlord. But when the beer ran out Saturday morning, events turned unexpectedly violent, ending in a horrible triple murder.

Cain and Abel. -1890

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

Murder in the Vale of Tempe -1891

George Abbott was a young child when he began his career as a thief and by his thirtieth birthday he had spent a third of his life in jail. When he left prison he changed his name and tried to change his evil ways, traveling and taking honest employment. While working as a farmhand in Hanover, New Hampshire he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Christie Warden. When Christie did not return his love Abbot went back to his old ways and took it at gunpoint in the shady hollow known as the Vale of Tempe.

A Contract With the Devil -1897

On April 16, 1897, cashier Joseph A. Stickney was murdered during a daring daylight robbery of the Great Falls National Bank in Somersworth, New Hampshire. The frenzied investigation that followed, crossed state and national borders resulting in the arrests of Joseph Kelley, a resident of Somersworth with peculiar habits. Joseph E. Kelley confessed to the murder, leaving the court to decide whether his actions were driven by a mental disorder, whether he was feigning mental disability, or whether Kelley had in fact made a contract with the devil.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

“The Irish Giant”


Ned O’Baldwin was a heavyweight contender in the bareknuckle era of the 1860s and 1870s when a bout would continue until one man was knocked unconscious or the police arrived to shut the whole show down. Aptly dubbed “The Irish Giant,” O’Baldwin was 6’ 5”, weighed 200 lbs., and hailed from Lismore, Ireland. O’Baldwin is considered by some to be the greatest heavyweight boxer prior to John L. Sullivan, but outside the ring he was known for a violent temper which often landed him in court. He was once jailed for armed robbery after threatening to bludgeon a stakeholder.

Even for a championship contender, prizefighting as a source of income was less than reliable, so O’Baldwin partnered with a man named Michael Finnell to open a liquor store and saloon at 45 West Street in New York City. Apparently, the liquor business was not reliable either and on September 27, 1875, the partners met in the store for a vigorous business discussion. Only two men were present so it impossible to know exactly what transpired, but it was alleged that O’Baldwin was ready to sell out and leave the business and Finnell was not agreeable to this plan. The argument escalated, turned violent, and two shots were fired, attracting attention to the store.

Those who came to see what had happened found the Irish Giant on the floor, bleeding to death with a gunshot wound to the abdomen and another to the chest. The shooter was nowhere to be found. They quickly carried O’Baldwin to the hospital where he died the following day.

Those in the sporting community greatly mourned the big man’s death, but the New York press was not shedding any tears. Some editorials implied that Finnell’s action may have actually benefitted the community. The New York Herald was appalled by this advocacy of vigilante justice and, without wasting any sympathy on the dead boxer, wrote:

All large cities abound with people whose death might, in one point of view, be deemed a public benefit. If the haunts of thieves and burglars, or the streets or parts of streets given to lewd uses which make them the peril and often the ruin of young men, were blasted by lightning or engulfed by an earthquake, the moral atmosphere would, no doubt, be purified, but it by no means follows that the destruction of the vicious classes by human agency would be for the public advantage.

When the news of O’Baldwin’s death reached Finnell, he realized he either had to leave the city or turn himself in. He contacted a lawyer, and went to the police station claiming that he had acted in self-defense—not a bad plea given O’Baldwin’s size and reputed temper.  Michael Finnell was tried for first-degree murder the following February and was found not guilty for the murder of the Irish Giant.

Sources:
"Equal Justice to the High and the Low." New York Herald 2 Oct 1875.
Boxing Forum 24: Ned O'Baldwin, the Irish Giant.
"Ned O'Baldwin's Murderer "Not Guilty"." Daily Critic 19 Feb 1876.
"New York." Boston Journal 28 Sep 1875.
Jo Sports: O'BALDWIN, NED CABINET CARD ("THE IRISH GIANT").
"The Slayer of O'Baldwin." New York Herald 1 Oct 1875.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Two Murderers Murder Each Other.

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Little Murders
(From Trenton State Gazette, Trenton, New Jersey, May 2, 1871)

Two Murderers Murder Each Other.

One of the most remarkable personal rencontres ever recorded in the annals of this city occurred on Tuesday last, resulting in the instant death of the notorious William E. Rose, and the equally notorious Jesse Robinson. Rose shot Robinson fatally through the body and then ran. The dead man (as it were) pursued, without heeding the icy hand of death upon his vitals or the dread eternity, upon whose very brink he reeled, and, with his last agonies of exertion, emptied his revolver at his enemy, inflicting wounds which proved instantly fatal, after which he himself almost instantly expired. Since the event this community breathes freer, as many citizens of Jefferson were considerably apprehensive of violence from one or the other of these men. Several suits brought against them in the name of the state of Texas will abate on account of their death. The findings in the case of Robinson were disapproved by General Reynolds and he was set at liberty. The findings in the case of Rose were either not acted on by General Reynolds or else President Grant dodged the responsibility of ordering the execution of the sentence. - Jefferson (Texas) Radical, April 8.




"Two Murderers Murder Each Other." Trenton State Gazette, 2 May 1871.



Saturday, May 7, 2016

Stranglers.


Strangulation is the most intimate form of murder, the killer takes the life of his victim with his bare hands. Perhaps this is why it is used so often to dispatch loved ones and family members.

Here, in chronological order, is the Murder by Gaslight strangers hall of fame:


Sarah Cornell was found hanging in a barn in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Was it murder or suicide?     
Mary Runkle's “cup of affliction,” was filled with tragic deaths of four family members and the suspicion that she was responsible.

An Unfortunate Organization. - 1845
A phrenologist determined that Reuben Dunbar had “an unfortunate organization” in which his moral faculties were not sufficiently large to balance his animal propensities. The diagnosis may have been influence by the fact that Dunbar had been convicted of strangling his two young stepbrothers.
After Dr. Harvey Burdell was found in his office strangled and stabbed fifteen times, 31 Bond Street was shown for what it was—a hotbed of greed, lust, intrigue and depravity.
“Little Mary Mohrman,” as she was known by all, was described as “one of those sunny-haired, bright-eyed, sylvan-like children, whose innocence, one would think, could soften the hardest soul.” This sentiment would be tested and proven horribly false.
When a drifter came to town and committed murder, he was likely to get away without capture and was 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 the Northwood Murderer.
A feud within Cincinnati’s German community would lead to the brutal murder and illegal cremation of Herman Schilling.
Sarah Meservey was strangled to death in her home in Tenant’s Harbor, Maine. Was Nathan Hart falsely accused?     
When George Wheeler's mistress 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.


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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Boy Murderer.

11-year-old John Wesley Elkins (who went by Wesley) got out of bed around 2 a.m. on July 24, 1889, went outside the family’s Iowa farmhouse and down to the road to make sure no one coming. On his way back to the house he stopped at the corncrib a picked up a club—a heavy piece of a wooden flail—and brought it back to his bedroom. Wesley took down an old muzzle-loading rifle that was hanging on the kitchen wall, loaded the rifle, then went into the room where his father, stepmother, and infant half-sister were sleeping. He put the barrel of the gun near his father’s head and pulled the trigger. Knowing he did not have time to reload the rifle, Wesley went to his room and got the club. Then as his stepmother was leaning over his father, trying to understand what had happened, he beat her to death with the club.

Wesley took the infant, splattered with blood, out of the room, and cleaned and dressed her. Then he hitched up the buggy and started for his grandfather’s house, stopping on the way to tell the neighbors that an assassin had murdered his parents; he had taken the baby and fled for their lives.
The neighbor went to the Elkins’s house where they found the bodies of 45-year-old Mr. Elkins and his 25-year-old wife. Mr. Elkin’s head had been blown to pieces, and Mrs. Elkin’s head was beaten to a jelly. They sent for the police where were immediately skeptical of the Wesley’s story.

Wesley Elkins, around the time of the murder
Under questioning in Mason City, Iowa, Wesley quickly broke down and told the police the whole story. His reasons, however, did not seem to fit the severity of the crime. Wesley had been unhappy at having to care for his half-sister so often and wanted to set out on his own.  He had run away from home several times but each time was brought back. He thought his only way out was killing his parents. Wesley was slight of stature—four feet eight inches tall, weighing 73 pounds—and had never caused trouble. He was intelligent and well-spoken as he calmly told his story. Some believed Wesley incapable of such a deed and thought he was covering for someone else.

John Wesley Elkins was indicted for first-degree murder. At his trial the following January,
Wesley Elkins, after his release.
Wesley pleaded guilty and told his story once again. Judge Hoyt sentenced him to life at hard labor in Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Wesley was believed to be the youngest person to date to be sent to prison in America, and his life sentenced prompted heated arguments. Some felt that no 11-year-old boy belonged in prison regardless of the crime, others felt that Wesley should be sent to the gallows.


Wesley Elkins used his time wisely while at Anamosa. He worked at the prison library and at the chapel and became proficient with the written and spoken word. In 1902, twelve years into Wesley’s sentence, after bitter debate Governor Cummins issued him parole papers. Wesley left the prison a free man.

Following his release, Wesley led a full life. He first settled in St. Paul, Minnesota where he worked on the railroad. Then in 1922, he married a Hawaiian woman in Honolulu. Eventually, he became a farmer in San Bernardino, California, where he resided until his death in 1961.



Sources:
"A Boy Murderer." Evening Star 27 Jul 1889.
"A Brilliant Beginning." National Police Gazette 9 Nov 1889.
"A Young Fiends' Confession.." New York Herald 20 Oct 1889.
"Double Murder by a Boy." New York Herald 27 Jul 1889.
"Murdered his Father and Mother." Daily Illinois State Register 27 Jul 1889.
Anamosa State Penitentiary: The Strange Case of Wesley Elkins.
"To Prison For Life." Kalamazoo Gazette 23 Jan 1890.
"Wesley Elkins." Wheeling Register 13 Jan 1890.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Compelled to Die.

Little Murders
In the autumn of 1889, Mrs. Nathaniel Strang, of Moserville, Michigan, began to exhibit signs of insanity. The extent of her condition came to light on November 18 when she tried to kill herself and her eighteen-year-old daughter Maud with aconite, a poisonous herb, because she feared that murderers were after them. A doctor was called in time to save both women.

In spite of this incident, Nathaniel left his wife and daughter alone again two days later. This time, Mrs. Strang poured two tumblers of Paris green, a compound used to kill rats and insects. She drank one herself, then pointing a revolver at Maud’s head, forced her to drink the other.

When Nathaniel returned home, Mrs. Strang told him what she had done. Nathaniel quickly summoned the doctor once again, but it was too late, the poison had already begun working. Mrs. Strang died in agony at midnight. Maud, who had watched her mother’s horrible death, begged the physician to save her life, but there was nothing he could do. She died an hour later.

Sources:

"A Horrible Suicide." New Haven Register 21 Nov 1889.
"A Mother's Crime." New Castle Weekly News 27 Nov 1889.
"A Mother's Terrible Deed." Michigan Argus 29 Nov 1889.
"Compelled to Die." National Police Gazette 7 Dec 1889.