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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.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Murdered his Mother.

Little Murders:
Murdered his Mother.
 
National Police Gazette, Feb. 2, 1889
Elmer Sharkey, still wearing his night clothes, ran to his neighbor’s house, the morning of Saturday, January 11, 1889, calling for help. His house had been broken into and his mother had been murdered in her bed. Elmer, distraught over the death of his widowed mother, Caroline Sharkey, persuaded county officials in Eaton, Ohio, to offer a reward of $1,000 for the apprehension of her killer.

As soon as the reward was announced, Herman Hughes, a well-known young man of Eaton, had himself appointed special officer, and put Elmer Sharkey under arrest for the murder. Sharkey denied the charge and remained stolid until after his mother’s funeral the following Monday, when he finally broke down. Hughes had a talk with him after the funeral and Sharkey confessed to killing his mother, though he had not remembered the details until after her burial.
 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Bloody Century.

October 2014 marked the fifth anniversary of weekly posts on Murder by Gaslight (and last week marked our 1,000,000th pageview) to celebrate we are pleased to announce the forthcoming release of a new book, The Bloody Century, by Robert Wilhelm. The book contains fifty true stories of murder compiled and refined from the posts on Murder by Gaslight and represents the best of the first five years or the blog.

The Bloody Century— it may seem arbitrary to label the nineteenth as America’s “bloody century” when all of her centuries have seen a fair amount of blood, but a murderous atmosphere pervaded nineteenth century America unlike any before or since. For the most part, these are not stories of hardened criminals for whom murder was a way of life, the killers were ordinary Americans, of every class and occupation, who had concluded that their lot in life could be improved by the death of someone in their circle.
 
It was an era of second chances; while some traveled west to start a new life, others looked for their second chance through violence. Harvard professor John White Webster thought he could relieve his debts by killing his creditor. Frankie Silver and Roxalana Druse murdered their husbands to escape abuse, while Henry Green and Adolph Luetgert got rid of their inconvenient wives. Jealousy drove Daniel McFarland to murder his rival, and Laura Fair to murder her lover. Greed drove the Knapp brothers to plot the murder of their rich uncle.
 
Then there were the murders committed for no reason at all. While still in his early teens Jesse Pomeroy tortured and killed two young children and could not explain why. Thomas Piper murdered two young women before senselessly killing a five-year-old girl in a church belfry. Theo Durrant, who also did his dirty work in a church belfry, murdered and mutilated two young women from the Christian Endeavor Society which he led. Lydia Sherman and Sarah Jane Robinson poisoned their husbands and children in murder sprees that went on for years. And of course, the infamous H. H. Holmes systematically tortured and killed an estimated 230 men, women, and children.   
 
The Bloody Century tells all their stories, sticking closely to the facts, but with a nod to the rumors as well. The book is profusely illustrated with portraits and murder scenes from nineteenth century pamphlets, newspapers and magazines, and it includes ballad lyrics, poems and verses composed at the time of the murders.
 
The days of our 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.
 
The Bloody Century will be available some time in the coming month. If you would like more information or advance notice of the books release, please email info@murderbygaslight.com
 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Guest Blogger: ExecutedToday


It is always a pleasure to present a guest post from our friends at  ExecutedToday.com who have just competed their seventh year of daily execution reports.   Here is the story of Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh who killed at least one husband and was hanged while sitting in her rocking chair, originally posted on ExecutedToday.com.

1846: Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh, in her rocking chair

Originally posted January 24th, 2013  by Headsman

On this date in 1846, a 46-year-old woman lamed from a fall got noosed in her rocking chair in Fulton, N.Y.

Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh had been widowed at 34 with four children, when her first husband died of dyspepsia and exposure. “There is no foundation,” the prisoner explained, “for the report that I had in any way hastened his death, nor did such a thing ever enter my mind.”

She remarried shortly thereafter to John Van Valkenburgh, apparently a violent drunk, whose depredations eventually led Elizabeth to get rid of him by spiking his tea with arsenic. “To this act I was prompted by no living soul,” she said in her confession. “I consulted with no one on the subject, nor was any individual privy to it.” She may have been keen to clear any public suspicion from her oldest children — they were old enough to try to get mom to move out of the house with them and offer to help take care of the younger kids. She suffered a fall from a barn’s hayloft as she was hiding out, which crippled her leg.

The key original documents from her trial, including the death sentence and the rejection of clemency (a petition to which 10 of Valkenburgh’s 12 jurors subscribed) are preserved here.

Oh, and one other thing. On the eve of her hanging, the condemned murderess produced a germane revision to her aforementioned confession, recalling that there may actually have been some foundation for the report that she also hastened her first husband’s death.
With respect to my first husband I should have stated that about a year before his death I mixed arsenic, which I purchased several months previously at Mr. Saddler’s in Johnstown, with some rum which he had in a jug, of which he drunk once, and by which he was made very sick and vomited, but it did not prevent his going to work the next day and continuing to work afterwards, until the next June. His feet and the lower part of his legs became numb after drinking this, which continued until his death, and his digestion was also impaired.

I always had a very ungovernable temper, and was so provoked by his going to Mr. Terrill’s bar where he had determined to go and I had threatened that if he did go he should never go to another bar, and as he did go nothwithstanding this, I put in the arsenic as I have said.
Right.

Because of the her impaired mobility, the condemned poisoner was carried in her rocking chair to the gallows, and stayed right in it for the whole procedure. They noosed her up sitting in the rocker, and dropped the platform to hang her as she rocked away in it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unsolved.

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

Mary Rogers

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

Amasa Sprague

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Professor Strunk.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fanaticism and Murder.

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


Fanaticism and Murder.

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

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

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Miss Elizabeth Petty.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

More Scenes from the Burdell Murder.

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

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


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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Long Island Murders.

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Fatal Jealousy.

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