Saturday, October 29, 2011

Haunting Homicides

The nineteenth century was a golden age of spiritualism, so it’s not surprising that many murder stories from the 1800s have accompanying ghost stories.

In some cases the supernatural was an integral part of the story:
  • After her death, the spirit of Zona Heaster Shue appeared to her mother in a series of dreams.  This prompted Mrs. Heaster to request the body be exhumed, revealing that her daughter had been murdered.
  • Peter DeGraff was attempting to communicate with the spirit of Ellen Smith at the time of his arrest for her murder.
Other times the ghost appeared very soon after the murder:
  • The ghost of Louise Luetgert haunted her husband, Adolph, in prison after he was arrested for killing her and dissolving her corpse in boiling potash. She haunted Adolph until his death, then she haunted his sausage factory.
Some nineteenth century murder sites continue to be haunted by killers and/or victims:
  • In the house where Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered—now a Fall River, Massachusetts, bed and breakfast—guests still report strange visions and weird sounds.
  • The Sprague Mansion in Cranston, Rhode Island, home of Amasa Sprague who was murdered in 1843, is allegedly haunted. It is uncertain whether the ghost is Amasa Sprague, or John Gordon, the man who was falsly accused of, and executed for, his murder.
  • Savin Rock in West Haven, Connecticut is haunted by the ghost of Jennie Cramer whose poisoned body was found there in 1881.
  • The body of Guilelma Sands was found in the Manhattan Well on January 2, 1800. Throughout the century people reported eerie sights and sounds coming from the well. Though the well is long gone, at the Manhattan Bistro, 129 Spring St., where the well once stood, Guilelma has been known to throw bottles off the shelf.
Sometimes the ghost stories seem to be anticlimactic addendums to otherwise interesting stories:
  • No one seems to care that the ghost of Helen Jewett still walks the streets of Manhattan or that Mary Rogers haunts the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, though both murders are unforgettable.
  • Then there is Lavinia Fisher. Since everything else about her legend is false, of course she has a ghost story. She still haunts the old jail in Charleston, South Carolina—her spirit, no doubt, disturbed by all of the false accusations of murder.

There must be dozens of other tales from the spirit world accompanying the homicides at Murder by Gaslight, but I will leave them to someone else. I prefer the world of flesh and blood.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Deed to Make Mankind Shudder.

Little Murders
(From Bangor Daily Whig And Courier, Augusta, Maine, February 28, 1881)

A Deed to Make Mankind Shudder

A Young Man Kills His Mother.
By Striking her on the Head With A Hammer.

He First Freezes the Body,
Then Cuts it Into Pieces.
And Tries to Burn It.

The Unnatural Son is Arrested.
He Confessed All—No Motive Assigned for the Hellish Deed.

Augusta, Me., Feb. 27, One of the most atrocious murders ever recorded in the annals of crime, has occurred near Weeks’ Mills, China, a beautiful little village twelve miles from Augusta. For cold-blooded wickedness and apathetic indifference, the murder will rank alongside any criminal whose foul deeds have made mankind shudder. One week ago Saturday, a young man named Charles Merrill killed his mother in the barn near the house, by striking her on the head with a hammer. He concealed the body in the hay mow until ti wsa frozen and then cut it into pieces. Part of these he burned as well as possible in the stove and fire place, throwing the charred remains into the manure heap.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guest Blogger: Anthony Vaver of Early American Crime

Murder by Gaslight is pleased to welcome guest blogger Anthony Vaver of Early American Crime, a blog that documents murder, thievery and other criminal behavior in America’s colonial period. Anthony is the author of the new book Bound with an Iron Chain, which tells the fascinating story of America’s forgotten settlers: the fifty thousand convicts transported from England into servitude in the colonies. The book is available at Amazon.

Today, Anthony will be sharing with us the story of Charles O’Donnel, a particularly vile murderer whose narrative bridges the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Charles O’Donnel: His Life and Confession

By Anthony Vaver
On the side of a road in the middle of nowhere Mrs. Shokey begged for her life with “many bitter cries and tears,” but Charles O’Donnel remained unmoved. The unexpected meeting of the two neighbors presented O’Donnel with the opportunity to follow through on his previous threat: that he would kill Shokey if his daughter’s illness did not improve.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Barclay Peakes

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Barclay Peakes.

"A young and beautiful girl was shot in the head by an assassin, within a short distance of Mount Holly, N. J., in the spring of 1887. The girl’s name was Mary C. Anderson, who was living with a relative on a farm at Newbold’s Corner. She and Barclay Peakes were very much together, and on the evening of the crime she left her house to meet Peakes. She was afterwards found by the roadside and Peakes’ revolver by her side. Cause, jealousy."

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