Saturday, December 2, 2023

Tom and Catherine.

The morning of February 5, 1895, Dr. John E Rader was found murdered in the house of Mrs. Catherine McQuinn in Jackson, Kentucky. Catherine told police they were drinking whiskey with her paramour Tom Smith and when Tom passed out, Dr. Rader assaulted her. She shot him in self-defense. 

Catherine could have committed the murder; she was a rough, course woman with a bad reputation. But the police were inclined to suspect her lover, “Bad Tom” Smith. He had been indicted for murder seven times before but escaped justice when crucial witnesses disappeared. This time, however, his luck ran out. Both Tom and Catherine were convicted of first-degree murder.

Read the full story here: "Bad Tom" Smith.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

A Fatal Frolic.

James L. Daniels returned to Hillman, Alabama, from a trip to Birmingham, the night of December 26, 1890. While he was there, he purchased a hideous mask and thought it would be a good joke to put on the mask and frighten the family of his brother-in-law, Joe Tarpley. He knocked on their door and Tarpley answered. Not knowing it was Daniels, Tarpley told the masked man to go away. Instead, Daniels barged into the house. Thinking his home was invaded by a masked burglar, Tarpley grabbed his Winchester rifle and shot his brother-in-law dead. Daniels left behind a wife, who was Tarpley’s sister, and five children.

“A Fatal Frolic,” National Police Gazette, January 17, 1891.
“Fate of a Practical Joker,” Aberdeen Weekly News, February 20, 1891.
“State News,” Blount County News-Dispatch, January 1, 1891.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

A Fan's Obsession.

James M. Dougherty was a telegraph lineman in Brooklyn who studied meteorology, electricity, astronomy, and other sciences in his spare time. He dabbled in a little of everything until 1887 when he saw actress Mary Anderson and she became his sole obsession. He followed her wherever she performed and became convinced that a group of evil conspirators was keeping him from his true love. In 1889, the police arrested Dougherty for stalking Mary Anderson. Doctors pronounced him insane and sent him to the King’s County Insane Asylum in Brooklyn. Dougherty escaped from the asylum, only to return two weeks later with two loaded revolvers to murder one of his doctors.

Read the full story here: Lunatic Dougherty.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Love and Lunacy.

In 1874, Charley McGill had a steady job as a cabinet maker, living in Columbus, Ohio, with a wife and a child. He was standing on the street with his friend, Elliot Hymrod when two young ladies passed by. Hymrod proposed that they follow the ladies, and McGill agreed. One of the ladies, Mary Kelly, caught McGill’s eye, and he struck up an acquaintance with her that grew into “desperate, infatuated love.”

In his new condition, McGill’s home life became an unbearable burden. He left Columbus accompanied by Mary Kelly. They went first to Toledo, then settled in Cleveland where, though not married, they lived together as man and wife.

It was reported that Mary Kelly was a virtuous girl before meeting McGill, and McGill had a history of leading young girls astray. Newspaper accounts implied that while they were living in Cleveland, he was Mary’s pimp, and they were living off her earnings as a prostitute. McGill would later vehemently deny this. 

In any case, neither of them had a legitimate job, and they were on the verge of starvation. After an angry quarrel, Mary moved out. McGill was devastated, and he spent the next four weeks searching for her. He finally found her by leaving a “decoy letter” for her at the Cleveland Post Office, and when she went to pick it up, on December 2, 1877, he confronted her. She was living at a house of ill repute kept by Laura Lane. Mary invited McGill to see her there that night.

McGill pawned an overcoat he borrowed from Elliot Hymrod and used the cash to buy a seven-shot revolver and a box of cartridges. He planned to see Mary and convince her to come back to him. If she refused, he would threaten to shoot himself. But that is not how it transpired. McGill explained to the police what happened that night:

“I then went and laid on the bed with Mary, and after a few words, I put my arms around her body and, with my right hand, took the revolver from my pocket and, putting the muzzle to her ear, fired, whereupon she said, ‘forgive me Charley send for the priest.’ I continued to shoot her in the right cheek until the seven charges were emptied into her head. Finding that she was dead, I got up, sat on a chair, and put three more charges in the revolver. And laying her arm, which lay across the region of her heart, to one side, I put the muzzle as near Mary’s heart as I knew how and fired two shots; with the third load I shot her through the temple, making ten shots in all.”

He went downstairs and told one of the women to get a policeman and take him to prison. McGill was very cool and calm as he confessed to the police, but that night in jail, he had trouble sleeping.

“I could not sleep. Every time I would fall into a doze I heard her calling ‘Charley! Charley!’ and was compelled to get up and walk about in my cell.”

At the inquest, Charley McGill pleaded guilty, but when the case went to trial in February 1878, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorney told the court that the “peculiar atrocity of the deed” indicated insanity. He also introduced testimony that McGill had a history of somnambulism and, as a child, had received several knocks on his head. It was not enough for the jury, who found McGill guilty after five hours of deliberation. He was sentenced to hang on June 26, 1878.

They appealed the verdict, and on the day he was to hang, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in McGill’s favor, granting him a new trial on technical grounds. But the second trial held that October ended the same way. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang on February 13, 1879.

As the execution day approached, a delegation from Cleveland urged Governor Bishop to commute the sentence to life in prison. The Governor refused, and the hanging occurred as planned. McGill’s last words on the gallows were, “Don’t make any mistake on that rope.”

“The Cleveland Murder,” Columbus Evening Dispatch., December 3, 1877.
“Commutation Asked,” Chicago daily tribune., February 7, 1879.
“Crime,” The Cincinnati Commercial, December 3, 1877.
“The Gallows,” Chicago Daily News, February 13, 1879.
“Guilty of Murder,” Chicago daily tribune., October 27, 1878.
“Jealousy's Victims,” Inter Ocean, December 3, 1877.
“Love and Lunacy,” Weekly Globe-Democrat., December 6, 1877.
“McGill as a Lover,” Cleveland Leader., December 11, 1877.
“The Murder,” Cleveland Leader., December 4, 1877.
“The Murderer McGill,” Plain Dealer, December 8, 1877.
“The Murderer of Mary Kelly Convicted,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, March 1, 1878.
“No Commutation,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, February 10, 1879.
“Overruled,” Chicago daily tribune., March 3, 1878.
“Sentanced to be Hung,” Evansville Daily Courier., November 1, 1878.
“The Supreme Sacrifice,” Plain Dealer, February 13, 1879.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Special Guests.

As Murder by Gaslight celebrates its fourteenth anniversary, I would like to take a moment to celebrate the contributions of our guest bloggers. Over the years, thirteen authors and bloggers have provided posts relating to nineteenth century American murder. Some document crimes in their locality, or even their own family, others draw on expertise on high-profile cases. They each exhibit the level of research that has always been a hallmark of Murder by Gaslight. Thanks again to all of you! 

Here, in chronological order are Murder by Gaslight’s guest posts:
Scandalous Women Elizabeth Kerri Mahon - May 7, 2011

Author and blogger, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, shared the story of Mary Ellen Plesant, one of several dozen brazen ladies— famous and infamous—profiled in her fascinating book Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History's Most Notorious Women.

Mary Ellen Pleasant and the ‘House of Mystery’
Scandalous Women Cheri Farnsworth - July 16, 2011

Cheri Farnsworth   writes about murder and hauntings in Northern New York State. She shared this story from her book Murder and Mayhem in Jefferson County.

The “Watertown Trunk Murder” – Hounsfield, 1908’
"Headsman" - Executed Today

Since 2011, Headsman, the enigmatic blogger at has shared execution tales of five 19th Century American murders:

1858: Marion Ira Stout, for loving his sister - 9/10/2011
1887: William Jackson Marion, who’d be pardoned 100 years later - 5/11/2013
1897: Ernest and Alexis Blanc, brothers in blood - 4/12/2014
1846: Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh, in her rocking chair - 11/1/2014
Six Men Hanged - 2/25/2020
Bound by an Iron Chain Anthony Vaver - October 8, 2011

Anthony Vaver is an author and blogger (Early American Crime) who writes about crime, criminals, and punishments from America's past. This story is from his book Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America.

Charles O’Donnel: His Life and Confession
Galveston and the Civil War James Schmidt - March 9, 2013

James Schmidt has written several books about the American Civil War, including Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom This story is a break from the battlefield, but not from violence - a fascinating tale of murder in Connecticut from the 1850s.

"Murdered by a Maniac" Guest Post by James Schmidt
The Mad Sculptor Harold Schechter - February 19, 2014

Harold Schecter, the master of historical true crime, included Murder by Gaslight in his blog tour promoting the book The Mad Sculptor. He gave a synopsis of the book and described his writing process.

The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, The Model, and the Murder that Shook The Nation
Thomas Watkins Kyle Dalton - November 11, 2019

Historian Kyle Dalton works at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and maintains the website British Tars: 1740-1790. He shared the story of the assassination of Captain Watkins

Assassination of Captain Watkins
Olive Peany Undine - December 16, 2019

Undine, "Blogger of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Remarkably lifelike," plies her trade at Strange Company. She related the murder of Olive Peany, an ambitious but hard to please Ohio girl.

Olive Peany
Abraham Bowen Borden Shelley Dziedzic - January 18, 2020

Shelley Dziedzic blogs at Lizzie Borden Warps & Wefts, the prime source for accurate information on the Borden murders. Her post tells the story of a gruesome murder/suicide from another branch of the Borden family tree.

Murder in the Well
Goffle Road Murders Don Everett Smith Jr. - March 14, 2020

Don Everett Smith revisited the 1850 Van Winkle killings, expanding on his book, The Goffle Road Murders of Passaic County.

Revisiting the Goffle Road Murders
Howard and Nina Brown 

Howard and Nina Brown run, a discussion group for all things related to Jack the Ripper. They provided two posts on Ameer Ben Ali, arrested for the murder of Carrie Brown, considered by some to be an American victim of Jack the Ripper.
Ameer Ben Ali & an Actor's Tale.- October 17, 2020
The Rescue of Ameer Ben Ali.- February 6, 2021
Jesse Pomeroy Donna Wells - April 16, 2022

Donna Wells, a former archivist with the Boston Police Department, shared an old photograph she found, believed to be a portrait of Jesse Pomeroy, who, at age 14, who murdered two children in Boston.

 Rare Photo of America's Youngest Serial Killer.
Jesse Pomeroy Bob Moody - May 6, 2022

Bob Moody, a retired radio personality, chronicled the murder of his great-great-granduncle, Tom Moody, in his book, The Terror of Indiana; Bent Jones & The Moody-Tolliver Feud. His post relates the events leading to the feud and the murder.

The Moody-Tolliver Feud.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Jacob S. Harden.

Reverend Jacob S. Harden felt he had been roped into an unhappy marriage by Louisa Dorland and her conniving parents. His new wife threatened his promising career and put a damper on his active social life as well. When the young bride passed away mysteriously, Harden acted like a guilty man but professed innocence almost to the end.

Read the full story here: The Confession of Jacob Harden.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Rum and the Knife.

On November 14, 1877, the Lynches of South Boston were expecting a visit from Mrs. Lynch’s sister, Bridget Frances Kenneally. Mr. and Mrs. Lynch were sitting in the kitchen at around 6:30 when the door suddenly flew open, and Bridget fell flat on her face across the threshold. They thought she had fainted, so they carried her to the sofa and attempted to revive her but were unsuccessful. Bridget appeared to be dying, so the Lynches sent for a physician and a Catholic priest, but she died before either arrived, without uttering a word or giving the slightest clue as to the cause.

Bridget was wearing a thick jacket of dark material, and they noticed a little blood in it but thought she had cut herself in the fall. When they opened the front of her dress, they discovered that Bridget had been stabbed three times in the base of the sternum, and at least one plunge of the knife had punctured her heart.

When the police arrived about half an hour later, they were faced with a mystery. Bridget Kenneally was a respectable Irish lady, about 30 years old. She was employed as a coat baster at the Continental Clothing House. She boarded alone in South Boston and was described by her friends as “an estimable young lady in every way.” The crime appeared to be completely random.

The officers arrested on suspicion an old rum-drinking junk dealer named Peter Mahoney, who was drinking in John J. Teevan’s saloon directly across the street. The day before the murder, the Fitzgerald family, who lived on the floor below the Lynches, were holding a christening party. The Fitzgeralds were known to be rather disorderly, and the party became very noisy. Peter Mahoney, who was married to Mrs. Fitzgerald’s sister, attended and became extremely intoxicated. He got into an argument with Mrs. Fitzgerald, and when she hit him on the head with a stove-lifter, he left, swearing he would come back and kill her.

Drunk again the following evening, Mahoney was seen threatening some children with a knife and had gotten into a fight with a man. When arrested, the police found a large, two-bladed jack knife on his person, with a fresh blood spot on one of the blades. Mahoney had served time in the penitentiary as a common drunk. He was a violent man,  but there was no indication that Mahoney ever had any difficulty with Bridget Kenneally. He had either mistaken Bridget for his sister-in-law or was so angry and crazed with drink that he did not know what he was doing.

The police took Mahoney to jail on suspicion and waited for him to sober up. In the meantime, they investigated the possibility that Bridget had been keeping company with a man with whom she quarreled and who may have been the murderer. This investigation did not pan out; everything pointed to Mahoney as the killer.

At his arraignment the next day, Peter Mahoney pled not guilty to the murder of Bridget Kenneally. But at his trial, the following March, Mahoney retracted his plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree. The court accepted his plea and sentenced him to life in the state prison. 

“Cowardly Murder of a Young Woman in South Boston,” Boston Daily Advertiser, November 15, 1877.
“A Drunken Passion,” New York Herald, November 18, 1877.
“A Life Sentence,” Lowell Daily Citizen and News, March 19, 1878.
“Massachusetts,” Woonsocket Patriot and Rhode Island State Register, November 29, 1877.
“Rum and the Knife,” Illustrated Police News, November 24, 1877.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Remains of Schilling.

In 1874, a feud within Cincinnati’s German community led to the brutal murder and illegal cremation of Herman Schilling. The case would also serve as a stepping stone for Lafcadio Hearn, a young aspiring journalist and illustrator on his way to international literary renown.

Read the full story here: The Tanyard Murder.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

A Fiend and a Shotgun.

On the morning of April 25, 1896, Alfred “Pete” Egbert, of Rockville, Indiana, went suddenly and inexplicably insane. He murdered his neighbor, Mrs. Haske (or Hasche), with an axe, then took a shotgun and killed two of her children as they ate breakfast in their kitchen. Egbert’s shotgun took two more victims before a large, heavily armed posse surrounded him in the fairgrounds outside of town.

Read the full story here: The Rockville Tragedy.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

A Murdered Mother.

The morning of January 12, 1889, 22-year-old Elmer L. Sharkey ran to the home of his neighbor, John Clare. A noise on the stairway frightened Sharkey, who jumped out of the second-story window. He thought a burglar was in the house and ran for help.

Sharkey and Clare returned to the Sharkey farmhouse, two and a half miles north of Cincinnati, Ohio. They found his mother, Caroline Sharkey, lying in bed in a pool of blood. Her arm was broken, and the back of her head was “crushed to a jelly.” The murder weapon lay on the floor nearby—a wooden maul with iron rings on each end, used for splitting rails. Caroline Sharkey, age 46, was a widow living with her son on her 130-acre farm. Sharkey stuck the burglar story, though nothing was taken from the house.

News of the murder spread quickly, generating tremendous excitement in the region. Suspicion fell on Elmer Sharkey. Although he offered a $1,000 reward for the capture of his mother’s killer, he seemed utterly indifferent to his mother’s fate, showing little emotion.

Sharkey became restless and uneasy. After his mother’s funeral on January 14, he called his uncle and cousins together to talk about the murder. Then, in the presence of a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sharkey admitted that he killed his mother but did not know why he did it. Fearing a lynch mob, the police arrested Sharkey and quickly took him to jail.

The following April, Sharkey was tried for the first-degree murder of Caroline Sharkey. The motive given by the prosecution was Sharkey’s desire to inherit his mother’s 130-acre farm and to remove her objection to his proposed marriage. 

For his defense, Sharkey pled insanity. In addition to Sharkey’s strange behavior after the murder, the defense attorneys cited massive evidence of insanity in Sharkey’s family history. His mother had been in an insane asylum and twice had tried to commit suicide—once by jumping down a well and once by hanging herself. Her sister Sarah had also been in an asylum and had two insane children. Her uncle, John Risnger had attempted suicide by butting his head against a building. His sister Malinda had strange spells of suspected insanity, as did her brothers William and Levi. William’s daughter suffered from epilepsy, and several more of Elmer’s mother’s relatives were considered insane.

On his father’s side, his father Henry was epileptic and had attempted suicide, his uncle Michael had two insane children and a feeble-minded son, his uncle Noah had two epileptic daughters, and his aunt had two children who committed suicide.

However, the “insanity dodge,” as one newspaper called it, was unsuccessful. The jury found Elmer Sharkey guilty of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to hang on September 13.

Sharkey was granted a stay of execution while his attorney prepared an appeal. The state Supreme Court granted a new trial due to errors in the first trial, and in April 1890, he was retried for the murder of his mother. Once again, Sharkey was found guilty and sentenced to hang. 

As his execution drew near, Sharkey claimed he had no recollection of what happened the night of the murder. He claimed his confession had been forced through threats of lynching.

Despite another appeal and a petition to commute his sentence to life in prison, Sharkey could not escape the gallows. Shortly after midnight on December 18, 1890, Elmer Sharkey was hanged in the annex of the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.

His last words were, “I will answer to God for what I have done and forgive all.”

“The Boy Murderer,” Evening Post., April 9, 1890.
“Convicted of the Murder of his Mother,” Evening Post, May 2, 1889.
“Elmer Sharkey Convicted,” Democratic Northwest., May 16, 1889.
“Found Murdered in Her Bed,” Cleveland Leader AND MORNING HERALD., January 13, 1889.
“Got a NEw Trial,” Lexington Herald Leader, November 20, 1889.
“Her Skull was Crushed,” National Police Gazette, February 2, 1889.
“Killed By Her Son,” Plain Dealer, January 15, 1889.
“A Murdered Mother,” Evening Post., January 14, 1889.
“Murderer Sharkey to Hang,” Ccourier-Post, May 22, 1889.
“News Article,” Erie Morning Dispatch, April 1, 1890.
“News Of The State,” Plain Dealer, February 26, 1890.
“Respited,” The Dayton Herald, November 20, 1889.
“Sharkey Must Go,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, July 25, 1890.
“A Stay of Execution Granted ,” The Piqua Daily Call, August 3, 1889.
“Two Murderers Hang,” The Daily Interocean, December 19, 1890.
“A Young Fiend,” Cleveland Leader AND MORNING HERALD., January 15, 1889.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Political Protection.

William Farrell, Patrick Muldoon, and “Tonce” Joy played cards in Muldoon’s Cincinnati saloon on November 30, 1896. They were secretly colluding to cheat a fourth man. After skinning their victim, Joy’s job was to steer him away, but when he returned for his share, his partners wouldn’t pay. A fight ensued, a pistol fired, and “Tonce” Joy stagged out of Muldoon’s saloon to die. Farrell and Muldoon were politically connected, and after their arrests, a policeman named James Welton came forward with another story. He claimed that Joy, drunk and abusive, grabbed his revolver during a scuffle, and it accidentally fired. Regardless of which account was true, the DA did not have enough evidence to prosecute anyone.

Read the full story here: Who Shot "Tonce" Joy?

Saturday, September 16, 2023

The Modern Cain and Abel.

Read the full story here: Cain and Abel.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Harry and Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Beecher married Henry King Jr. (known as Harry) in October 1886. Harry wanted to keep the marriage a secret from his father, a wealthy Chicago clothing wholesaler, so they lived under assumed names. The marriage was not a happy one, and the couple often fought. They separated for a while but could not stand to be apart. When Henry Sr. learned of the marriage, he offered Elizabeth $1,500 to give up all claims upon his son. Though her attorney advised her to take the money, Elizabeth stayed with Harry in Chicago.

In 1888, Harry moved to Omaha, promising to send Elizabeth money and bring her along when he was settled in business. The money stopped coming, so Elizabeth followed him to Omaha, only to learn he had married another woman. She and Henry spoke briefly in the parlor of the Paxton Hotel, then, as he turned to walk away, Elizabeth shot him four times in the back. Public sympathy was on Elizabeth’s side, and when the case went to trial, the jury deliberated for only thirty-five minutes before finding her not guilty.

Read the full story here: "I Have Shot my Husband."

Saturday, September 2, 2023

The Groton Tragedy.

Joseph Crue returned from work to his farm in Groton, near Ayer, Massachusetts, about 8:00 on the evening ofvening of January 18, 1880. He was surprised to find all the doors locked and curtains closed. His wife, Maria, should have been inside, but there was no response when he knocked on the door. He found the hatchway to the cellar partly opened, so he entered that way. He lit a lamp in the kitchen and searched the dark house for his wife. He found her lying dead in the bedroom, shot three times in the face and once in the chest.

He ran to his neighbor, who notified the police. The Deputy-Sheriff arrived with officers who attempted to trace the murderer. A tramp in the vicinity that afternoon stopped at the house of the Crues’ neighbors, the Bradleys,  and at several other places asking for water. Under the pretense of buying a farm, he inquired about the Crue place. A young man named Henry Hewin called at Crues’ at about 2:15 on an errand, and Mrs. Crue told him she had a caller who wanted to buy their farm. Around 3:00, Miss Jennie Carr called and found the door locked and the curtains closed. A strange man came to the door, and when she inquired about Mrs. Crue, he told her she had gone to town. 

The Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and found that the pistol shots to her face had been fired so close as to burn her eyebrows and skin. His examination determined that Maria Crue had been raped. She was still wearing a thimble on her finger, so she must have been sewing when attacked. The Examiner would later conclude that she was shot first, then her body dragged to the bedroom where she was raped after death.

Suspicion fell on Stearns Kentall Abbott, who had been applying for a job at a nearby woodworking shop. The previous November, Abbott was released from New Hampshire State Prison, where he had been serving time for larceny. He had also served time for robbery and forgery in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Abbott had been boarding in Cambridge and hastily departed, leaving behind a hat and a pair of shoes. Detective Jones of Cambridge and Inspector Richardson of Boston arrived in Ayer with photographs of six or seven “noted rogues,” including Stearns Abbott. The Bradleys both identified Abbott as the man they had seen that afternoon, and Mrs. Bradley recognized the Abbott’s hat. Jennie Carr and Henry Hewin also picked out Abbott from the photographs.

The community was understandably outraged by the murder, and the Ayer Police commenced a manhunt for Stearns Abbott. The Selectmen of Ayer offered a reward of $300 for the arrest and conviction of the guilty party and put Detective Hill of the Salem Police in charge of the case. They sent Abbott’s photograph to police departments throughout New England. Ayer Chief of Police, Samuel Reed, commenced his own investigation, though the town had not given him any authority in the case. 

On January 28, a man named Charles Ford Chamberlin stopped at the farm of B. F. Cilley of East Weare, New Hampshire, looking for work. Cilley told him he could stay the night, but he was suspicious of the stranger. Abbott’s photograph was posted at the depot, and viewing it convinced Cilley that the man who came to his house was the fugitive. He telegraphed Ayer, and Chief Reed, accompanied by officers from Manchester, New Hampshire, arrived in East Weare the following day. A large crowd was waiting at the station in Ayer when Reed returned with his prisoner on January 30. At the preliminary proceedings in Ayer, Abbott pled not guilty; afterward, the authorities took him to jail in Lowell. 

The fact that Reed was not officially acting for Groton or Ayer, raised the question of who will pay his expenses and who will be liable for the $300 reward that the East Weare farmer expected. Not everyone was happy with Reed’s methods, and some were suspicious of his motives. There were bad feelings toward him extending back to his tenure as deputy under the former High Sheriff when Reed was an unpopular and inefficient officer. Adverse opinions of Chief Reed were said to drive a growing sympathy for Stearns Abbott. A newspaper editor and a prominent minister set up a subscription fund to hire ex-District Attorney George Stevens for Abbott’s defense.

The courtroom was “packed to suffocation” when Abbott’s trial began in Cambridge in December 1880. The defense offered evidence of another man at the Crue residence that day. They also tried to introduce testimony that Mrs. Crue’s reputation had been bad when she lived in Lexington and that she and her husband had been fighting prior to the murder. The judge disallowed it. Many considered the evidence against Abbott to be thin and circumstantial, but despite able representation by Attorney Stevens, the jury found Abbott guilty of first-degree murder after deliberating less than two hours.

Stearns Abbott was sentenced to hang on April 22. His attorney filed an exception on the gounds of the excluded testimony but Abbott was not granted a new trial. By that time, public opinion was strong against the verdict.  A great body of pettioners, headed by abolitionist and civil rights activist, Wendell Phillips, called for a commutation of the sentence. The Governor granted Abbott a respite until June 3, 1881 for further study of the case. Before signing the death warrant, Governor Long sat with Abbott in his cell for three hours, trying to reach the truth of the crime. Then, three days before the scheduled hanging, he commuted Abbott’s sentence to life in prison.

In 1895, after serving fourteen years of his sentence, Abbott petitioned the Governor for a pardon. His request was denied. Finally, in 1911, after thirty years in prison, the Governor pardoned Stearns Abbott, and on April 27, Abbot left Charlestown State Prison a free man. He never wavered in his assertion of innocence.

“Abbott Arrested,” Boston Post, January 31, 1880.
“Abbott Convicted,” The Boston Globe, December 19, 1880.
“Arrested,” Fall River Daily Evening News, January 30, 1880.
“The Ayer Murder,” The Boston Globe, December 18, 1880.
“Commuted,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 1881.
“Criminal,” Boston Post, December 20, 1880.
“For his Life,” The Boston Globe, December 12, 1880.
“The Groton Murder,” Boston Evening Transcript, January 22, 1880.
“The Groton Murder,” The Boston Globe, February 6, 1880.
“The Groton Tragedy,” Boston Post, January 23, 1880.
“Is He Innocent?,” Illustrated Police News, July 6, 1895.
“The Murder at Groton,” The Boston Globe, January 23, 1880.
“New England News,” Boston Evening Transcirpt, February 5, 1880.
“News Article,” Daily Kennebec journal. [microfilm reel], April 19, 1881.
“No Pardons Today,” The Boston Globe, November 28, 1895.
“On Trial for Murder,” Weekly Easteen Argus, December 16, 1880.
“Ravished and Murdered,” Chicago daily tribune., January 19, 1880.
“S. K. Abbott,” The Boston Globe, January 31, 1880.
“Saved From the Gallows By Prayer,” Boston Morning Journal, April 28, 1911.
“Stearns K. Abbott,” The Fall River Daily Herald, January 23, 1880.
“Telegraph Brevities,” The Evansville Journal, January 31, 1880.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Morbid and Melancholy.

Cora Marston.

On September 1, 1865, Dr. Carlos Marston, his wife Susannah, and their adopted daughter Cora were found shot to death in their bedrooms. Susannah Marston was said to have a “morbid and melancholy disposition” and suffered for years with depression. Her behavior was increasingly erratic and on that morning she snapped. Susannah drugged her husband and Cora with chloroform then shot them both. She then lay down beside Carlos and shot herself.

Read the full story here: The Dedham Tragedy.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

A Courtroom Melee.

In November 1889, Henry Miller, of Brownsburg, Virginia, went to the home of Dr. Zachariah Walker to pick up a prescription. The doctor was not available, so his wife Bettie prepared the medicine. While alone with Bettie Walker, Miller could not control himself. He tried to kiss her, “offering other indignities which were repulsed." When Dr Walker learned of this he grabbed his shotgun intending to kill Henry Miller on sight. But before Walker could act Miller brought charges against him.

Both families were prominent and well respected but on the day of the hearing neither showed any sign of civility. As tensions mounted, the full courtroom erupted into a general melee. Guns and knives were drawn and by the end of the battle Zachariah Walker, Bettie Walker and Henry Miller were all dead, and three others were seriously wounded.

Read the full story here: Disorder in Court.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Bartholomew Burke's Murder.

On July 18, 1856, the naked body of Bartholomew Burke was found on the floor of the New York tailor shop where he worked. His skull was fractured, and his throat slashed; the floor and walls were covered with blood. Despite a large reward offered for information, the police found no motive for the murder and no suspects to arrest. Bartholomew Burke’s murder remains one of the city’s great unsolved crimes.

Read the full story here: Horrible and Mysterious Murder.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

A Youthful Patricide.

16-year-old Herbert Warren woke to the sound of his parents fighting at 2 a.m. on June 13, 1890. His father, J. Frank Warren, was frequently out of town, traveling for the Oswego Wagon Company, but he was abusive and often violent toward his wife when he was home. Herbert looked forward to the domestic peace of his father’s long absences.

Yesterday had been strange; Frank told the family he would be gone for ten days but returned the same night. He handed his wife a letter he had written to her. It was tender and remorseful, promising that Frank would change his ways. The bickering and quarreling between his parents had gone on throughout Herbert’s life. The fights were loud and very public; the family moved several times to protect their reputation before settling in Elmira, New York. Mrs. Warren thanked Frank for his new-found kindness and promised to do whatever she could to make their household happy.

They talked for hours, but by 2:00, they were fighting again. Their problems stemmed from Frank’s philandering, and he could not fix them that easily. Mrs. Warren knew that Frank stayed with other women during his long absences. She found love letters sent to Frank by other women, and when she confronted him, he turned violent.

Herbert had a cheap 32-caliber revolver. When he heard his father threatening his mother that morning, he grabbed it and ran into their room. As his father raised his fist to strike his mother, Herbert fired a shot into his chest. Frank died almost immediately. Herbert gave himself up quietly to the police.

The trial of Herbert Warren for the murder of Frank Warren began the following December. The most compelling testimony came from Mrs. Warren, who testified in a slow and stilted voice and wavered as if on the verge of fainting. She related years of violence from her husband, whom The New York World characterized as “sanctimonious, perfidious, hypocritical, and abusive.” During spells of mad anger, he would choke and beat her. He threatened to kill her and their son.

The proceedings in court were extremely contentious, and the judge had to warn the attorneys against clashes of personality. One sarcastic remark by the defense attorney cost him $50 for contempt of court.

But generally, the judge was sympathetic to the defense. In his instructions to the jury, he said he did not believe the charge of first-degree murder was appropriate in this case. When they returned a verdict of not guilty, the judge made no move to suppress the cheering that erupted in the courtroom. He praised the jury for their judgment.

“"Not Guilty.",” The San Francisco Examiner, January 4, 1891.
“About a Simple Matter,” Nashville Banner, June 13, 1890.
“Bonds That Gall,” The Fort Scott Weekly Tribune, January 29, 1891.
“A Boy on Trial for Murdering His Father,” sun., December 30, 1890.
“Fined One of the Counsel,” sun., January 4, 1891.
“Herbert Warren Acquitted,” sun., January 4, 1891.
“KIlled His Father,” The evening world, June 13, 1890.
“A Mother's Sacrifice,” evening world., January 3, 1891.
“Shot Dead by His Son ,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 1890.
“Shot His Father to Help His Mother,” New York Herald, June 14, 1890.
“A Youthful Patriccide,” The Holyoke Daily Transcrip, June 13, 1890.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Anna Wheeler's Killer.

18-year-old Mildred Brewster left her parents' farm to make her own way in Montpelier, Vermont. She met and fell in love with a young man in her boarding house who seduced Mildred but did not return her affections. When Mildred learned that he was engaged to Annie Wheeler, she bought a revolver to take her rival's life as well as her own. She succeeded in killing Annie Wheeler but failed her suicide attempt. At her trial for premeditated murder, Mildred pled insanity.

Read the full story here: Insane Jealousy

Saturday, July 22, 2023

"With My Knife I Cut Her Throat."

Jesse Pomeroy was 14 years old in 1874 when he stabbed and killed 10-year-old Katie Curran in South Boston. Less than a month later he stabbed and mutilated 4-year-old Horace Millen. Prior to the murders, Jesse had been sentenced to the reformatory for torturing and sexually abusing several other children but was released on probation. After conviction for murder, Jesse Pomeroy would spend his next 53 years in prison.

Read the full story here: Jesse Pomeroy - "Boston Boy Fiend."