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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Little Murders

Up until now Murder by Gaslight has been documenting just the major American murders of the 19th century—stories with a beginning, a middle and an ending determined by a court of law. Sometimes, as with the murders of Captain Joseph White and Philip Barton Key they have set new legal precedent; and sometimes, as with the case of Lizzie Borden, the stories have become a part of our culture.

But the 19th century was long and bloody not every murder was so well recorded. A murder story may appear in only one newspaper article, never to be resolved. It could be the story of a murder/suicide that begins and ends in one telling, it could be a crime that remains forever unsolved, or it could be a story whose outcome has been lost to history.

Beginning today, Murder by Gaslight will occasionally feature murder stories that were complete in one newspaper article. While there are many more big murders to come, we would like to pay homage to the “Little Murders.”

This story from The Republican Compiler, Gettysburg, PA, April 20, 1846 (quoting The Cincinnati Commercial) tells the exciting but tragic story of Thomas Shannon’s murder in Yazoo, Mississippi. We can only hope that the fiend Waite got what was coming.

The Republican Compiler, Gettysburg, PA., Monday, April 20, 1846

A Cruel and Revolting Murder

A fiend named Waite is to be tried in a few days in Mississippi, for the murder of Thomas Shannon, formerly of New Albany, Ind. The Cincinnati Commercial relates the following particulars of the murder.

“The circumstances attending Mr. Shannon’s murder have never been made public; but the annals of crime cannot present a more cruel fate than he suffered. His family connexions—a widowed mother residing in New Albany, also brothers and sisters there, and in Jeffersonville and this city—are all highly respectable and well to live. Mr. Shannon had resided some two or three years in Mississippi, in the Yazoo country, some sixty miles east of Helena, Ark. He had amassed considerable property, and at the time of his murder he had converted it into money, preparatory to returning to New Albany, to comfort his mother in her declining age, and settle down in his birthplace. He had been married to a confiding and interesting lady of Mississippi only two months! On the day of his murder a man living in the neighborhood, (who had worked for him,) requested Mr. Shannon, through a third person, to call at his house on particular business; he did so, not dreaming of the foul intent which he was so soon to encounter. He entered this fiend’s house unarmed; the door was closed, and three men simultaneously, drew their bowie knives on him! Finding himself thus assailed he clenched in with the ruffians, (he was a man of great strength,) and throwing one against the other, he kept them from stabbing him vitally for three quarters of an hour ; but at each turn he was cut and hacked by the weapons constantly aiming at his heart. While this desperate struggle was progressing, the alarm was given but too late, before assistance came one of the villains succeeded in severing his hand from the arm, at the wrist, when he could no longer resist successfully and fell fainting by exertion, pain from his numerous gashes, and loss of blood, to the floor, where each plunged his knife into his body, and all three fled. Just as he fell Mrs. Shannon having heard the alarm at her residence—came running terrified into the room. Seeing the situation of her husband she seated herself upon the floor, and drew his head into her lap—while from his severed arm and unnumbered wounds the crimson gore was streaming; wiping it from his mouth and eyes she heard the dreadful particulars of his cruel fate as life ebbed away. Shannon lived some fifteen minutes—the anguish of those two hearts during that time may be conjectured but it can never be told.”

3 comments :

Undine says:
January 9, 2011 at 7:53 AM

These long-forgotten "little murders" can be fascinating. When I go through old newspapers, it always drives me nuts to come across a story like this, without being able to find any information about what happened next!

Robert Wilhelm says:
January 9, 2011 at 5:47 PM

It's incredible what you can find, but sometimes you have to imagine how it ended.

Anonymous says:
January 23, 2011 at 2:33 AM

Great site - and these "little murders" are a good idea and look to be interesting.

And now for the fun part, playing detective... it sounds to me like the wife's story is suspect - the husband fought off his attackers for the better part of an hour before she decided to check it out? I'd be curious to see who she later married and if he was a possible attacker. Of course it is possible that the journalist just embellished things, and that is why it seems a bit strange...

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