Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Weschseter Tragedy Revived.

Little Murders
(From The World. New York, New York, November 18, 1885.)
Sudden Death of a Man Whose Name was
Connected with a Brutal Murder.
When the announcement was made in Kensico, Westchester County, yesterday that Wesley Stillison had been found dead in his bed there were many inquiries as to whether he had committed suicide. His sudden death recalled the particulars of a terrible murder committed in that village three years ago, in which Stillison's name was unpleasantly connected.

Stillison was the stepfather of Mrs. Mary Montfort, whose husband, Albert Montfort, kept a country store in the edge of the village. Montfort had some money, while Stillison was a shiftless fellow. Mrs. Montfort and her husband did not agree. Her brother Charles J. Reynolds, now in Sing Sing Prison, took sides with her against her husband. Affairs were approaching a domestic crisis when, one morning in August, 1882, Montfort was found murdered in his store.

Stillison was the discoverer of this crime. Montfort had been called from his bed, and when he opened the door he was struck in the head with an axe, knocked down and his head was chopped to pieces. Mrs. Montfort had gone away the day before.The store was robbed of about $300, as near as could be estimated.

Coroner Schirmer’s investigation led him to suspect Stillison and Reynolds, his stepson, and he placed Stillison under surveillance and arrested Reynolds. An axe was found in the bushes covered with hair and blood. Reynolds was locked up and the Coroner informed Stillison that he believed he was guilty. Reynolds had been indicted for burglary and pleaded guilty to the surprise of the prosecuting officer, and was sent to Sing Sing for seven years. Stillison then commenced a suit for $2,000 damages against Coroner Schirmer. The trial fully sustained the suspicion expressed by the Coroner, and the ease was thrown out of court. Since that time . Stillison has been moody and restive. The District-Attorney has been weighing the evidence and collecting such as he could with a view to lay the facts before the Grand Jury.

Death has now put an end to further proceedings, but there is a suspicion that Stillison's death was not due to natural causes and Coroner Purdy will hold an Inquest.

The World. New York, New York, November 18, 1885.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Unfortunate Organization

Phrenology, the theory that a person’s character is determined by the size and shape of his head, was quite popular in America during the 1850s. A phrenological analysis of Reuben Dunbar in 1851 found him to be excessive in Destructiveness, Combativeness, Aqusitiveness, Secretiveness and Firmness, while being deficient in Self-esteem and Philoprogenitiveness.  He had “an unfortunate organization” in which his moral faculties were not sufficiently large to balance his animal propensities. While the phrenologist professed scientific objectivity in the analysis of Dunbar’s head, she may have been  somewhat influenced the fact that, at the time, Reuben Dunbar was charged with murdering his two young stepbrothers to protect his inheritance.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Murder by Candlelight

Just three years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the first settlers put down roots in what would later become Essex County, Massachusetts. If the legends are true, that the Plymouth colonists lived in harmony with one another and at peace with the natives, the same cannot be said of Essex. From the earliest days, life in Essex County reads like an adventure book filled with Indian fighters, highwaymen, pirates and witches. My new book, Murder and Mayhem in Essex County, published by The History Press, tells the stories of these nefarious characters and relates the dark side of Massachusetts history, north of Boston.
Like Murder by Gaslight, Murder and Mayhem in Essex County abounds with murderous deeds and bad behavior, but the stories begin about 200 years earlier— murder by candlelight. The book covers the period between the first murder in the Puritan settlements of Essex County, and the first execution of an Essex murderer by electric chair; 1636 – 1900. While founded as a new world of Christian righteousness, and priding itself on civility and the rule of law, Essex County’s history is as bloody and barbaric as that of any part of America.
Here is just a sample of the stories in the book:

  • In 1637 William Schooler and John Williams were hanged together for Essex County crimes. Schooler raped and murdered a young woman and Williams broke jail and killed his cellmate.
  • In 1691, Elizabeth Emerson murdered her twin bastard infants; six years later her sister, Hannah Emerson Duston escaped Indian captivity by scalping ten of her captors.
  • Essex County had a long history of witchcraft that neither began nor ended in Salem.
  • The shores of Essex were plagued by piracy, including the terrorism of Rachel Wall, New England’s only female pirate.
  • In 1795, Pomp, an African slave, dispatched his cruel master with an axe blow to the head.
  • Highwayman Richard Crowninshield was hired to murder Captain Joseph White, by White’s two nephews, in 1830.
  • In 1885, a successful inventor shot his business partner in cold blood, then pled insanity.
  • An aspiring young singer was murdered by an obsessed ex-lover in 1894.
  • In 1900, a dismembered corpse was found, stuffed into three feed bags, floating in a pond.

Essex is one of the oldest counties in America. In the 277 years between the first settlement and the turn of the twentieth century, murder and mayhem were never far from the lives of its citizens. Establishing a new country in a harsh land sometimes calls for harsh measures, but we can take pride in the fact that, more often than not, justice prevailed.

For more information on Murder and Mayhem in Essex County, go to

Anyone interested in reviewing the book, please contact

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thomas A. Reese.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:
Thomas A. Reese.

"In May, 1888, Thomas A. Reese shot and nearly killed his wife in Kokoma, Ind. He also shot and killed a man by the name of Charles Marx. He had only been married three weeks when the tragedy occurred. One afternoon he saw Marx meet his wife on the street, and accompany her to a spot just West of the City, where he had followed them, and unseen, watched, and at length fired upon them. Two shots struck the woman, wounding her, while Marx was killed."

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