Saturday, December 31, 2011

He Knew Too Much.

Winfield Scott Goss was a chemical experimenter with a well-known fondness for intoxicating spirits. When his workshop, in a cottage outside of Baltimore, exploded in February 1872, no one doubted that the badly charred corpse found inside was his. No one, that is, but the four insurance companies who had sold policies on Goss’s life totaling $25,000. They had many questions, and Goss’s friend and brother-in-law William Udderzook had all the answers. But rather than quelling their doubts, Udderzook’s “plausible stories” only fueled them—he seemed to know too much.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Bloody Christmas Eve

Little Murders
(From The Galveston Daily News, Galveston Texas, December 26, 1885.)


Another Chapter of Crime form the State Capital That Makes the Blood Run Cold.

Austin, December 25—Of all the murders that have been committed within the annals of Austin those of last night (Christmas eve) stand out in bold relief. Just one year ago this month the first of the series of murders was committed and since that time the assassins have


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thrown Out the Window.

The body of Mary E. Hill was found lying outside her Philadelphia home, by her maid returning from church the night of November 22, 1868. She had evidently been killed in her dining room by blows to the head with a fireplace poker, she was then dragged into the sitting room, then Mrs. Hill was thrown out the second story window. Though two people were tried for this murder and one was sentenced to be hanged, there would be no execution.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cherry Scott

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Cherry Scott.
"Cherry Scott is a mulatto woman, who killed her mother, and was brought to Dallas, Texas, from the Indian Territory where the crime was committed. Her mother, herself, a married brother, his wife and two other children all lived together in Fannin County, and were employed in raising a crop. The sister-in-law would not work and this made Cherry Scott angry, and therefore when she was told to do some work she refused, ordering the sister-in-law to do it. A quarrel ensued and the mother sided with the daughter-in-law. This so angered Cherry, the next morning, while the mother lay in bed, Cherry approached her bed with a rifle and shot her dead."

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Six Capsules

Helen Potts, a nineteen year old student at Miss Comstock’s School in New York City, decided not to join her roommates when they went to hear a concert. Helen was feeling ill, but she had a remedy prescribed by her boyfriend, a medical student named Carlyle Harris. When the girls returned, Helen told them of the wonderful dreams she had been having about Carlyle. But she also complained of numbness throughout her body; before long she could not move and her breathing was labored. The dreams soon vanished, giving way to nightmare, revealing a world filled with deceit, betrayal and ultimately murder.

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.

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.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Becker Tells All

Little Murders
(from The Renwick Times, Renwick Iowa, March 3, 1899.)


Kills His Wife with a Hatchet and Burns Her Body.

August A. Becker, the Chicago wife murderer made a second confession to the police Tuesday night. In a detailed statement to Inspector Hant he told of a crime so revolting that for some time even the police officials refused to believe it.

In the presence of Chief of Police Kipley, Inspector Hant, Captain Lavin and Assistant State’s Attorney Pearson the burly sausage maker broke down and said he had killed his wife by striking her on the head with a hatchet in the kitchen of his home. He then cut the body to pieces and boiled it in a large kettle. After watching the disintegration of the remains for several hours, and when nothing remained that resembled a human body, Becker says he took what remained and burned it in a red-hot stove, the fire having been prepared by him. The bones which would not burn, he buried on the prairie near his house.

Becker asserts the crime was not premeditated, but that he quarreled with his wife, and in the heat of passion he struck her on the head with the hatchet. Only one blow was needed to cause the death and after that had been struck the sausage maker says he thought of the way to dispose of the remains of his wife in order to destroy all chance of detection.

August A. Becker killed his wife Jan. 27, but was not arrested for the murder until after he had married a 17-year-old girl named Ida Sutterlin. When Becker brought his wife home it caused gossip which reached the ears of the police, and finally led to Becker’s arrest. At first Becker denied having killed his wife, stating that she had left him and gone to Milwaukee. Under pressure he finally made a false confession in which he said that he had pushed his wife into the lake at the foot of the Randolph Street pier. This was not believed, and until Tuesday night the true story of how Becker killed his wife was not known.

The Renwick Times, Renwick Iowa, March 3, 1899.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Indiana Hero

In 1819, when the State of Indiana was still frontier country, Amasa Fuller, a prominent and popular citizen of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, was courting a young lady of that town. While Fuller was away on business, the young lady’s heart was stolen by a younger man, named Palmer Warren.  When Fuller returned to find that his true love had agreed to marry her new suitor, he challenged Palmer Warrant to a duel. Warren refused to fight so Fuller shot him in cold blood. Though guilty of murder, Amasa Fuller was so popular in Lawrenceburg that, when a ballad was written about the murder, the young lady was cast as the villain, and Fuller was “The Indiana Hero.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Guest Blogger: ExecutedToday

I always like to start the morning with a visit to  to see who was launched into eternity on this day in history. Then, no matter how bad the day gets, I can take comfort in knowing that at least I’m not that guy.

Murder by Gaslight is pleased to welcome as guest blogger, the Headsman of ExecutedToday. He will be sharing the story behind the 1858 execution of Marion Ira Stout, a particularly inept and unlucky murderer from Rochester, New York:

1858: Marion Ira Stout, for loving his sister

Originally posted October 22nd, 2008  by Headsman

It’s the sesquicentennial of a then-sensational, now-forgotten hanging in Rochester, N.Y.

At dawn on December 20, 1857, the city had awoken to the discovery of a mangled corpse by the Genesee River’s High Falls … and more than enough evidence to have the corpse’s killers in hand by tea time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Boston Barrel Tragedy

1872 was an eventful year for Boston, Massachusetts. That year the city hosted the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival, lasting 18 days and drawing thousands of visitors. The Boston Red Stockings won the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players Championship. The Great Boston Fire devastated 65 acres of downtown real estate. And the dismembered body of Abijah Ellis was found stuffed inside two barrels, floating in the Charles River.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Is Holmes Hatch?

Herman Webster Mudgett, alias Dr. H. H. Holmes, confessed to killing 27 men, women, and children, but lawmen estimated that his actual total was as high as 230 murders. This is not enough for some people; there appears to be a movement afoot, to pin every unsolved murder of the 19th century on Dr. Holmes. Some amateur detectives are now attempting to “prove” that H. H. Holmes was also Jack the Ripper, though there is no evidence that Holmes ever left North America, and the modus operandi of the two men could not be more different (the ripper killed with a quick slash to the throat; Holmes preferred slow torture from a distance). It is also rumored that someone is trying to connect Holmes to the murder of Lizzie Borden’s parents.

Apparently, accusing Holmes of murders he did not commit, is not a new phenomenon. This article from The Fort Wayne Journal, September 1, 1895, tells of a  theory from Colorado, that Clark W. Hatch, who murdered his uncle there, was actually H. H. Holmes. The theory was effectively refuted by Yankee common sense.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Sheriff’s Mistress

In the summer of 1827, George Swearingen was a hardworking, upstanding, young family man.  He and his lovely wife, Mary, had a new baby daughter. Working as clerk and deputy to his uncle, the sheriff of Washington County, Maryland, George was being groomed to take his uncle’s job.  Everything was going George Swearingen’s way; then he met Rachel Cunningham. In September the following year, George and Rachel were fugitives, running from the charge of murdering Mary Swearingen.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Edward Hovey

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Edward Hovey.

Edward Hovey was hanged in New York City on October 19, 1883, for the murder of his sister-in-law. The murder was unprovoked and he deserved his doom. He called at his sister-in-law’s house and after quarreling with her, shot her down in cold blood. He was so completely broken down before his execution, that he had to be dosed with whiskey, while a morphine injection was also given him.

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

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Great Trunk Mystery

The afternoon of August 26, 1871 a porter at the Hudson River Railroad Depot in Manhattan, noticed a disgusting odor emanating from a trunk bound for Chicago. He notified the baggage master, who ordered his men to open the trunk and find the source of the smell. They lifted the lid, removed a blanket, and found the body of a pretty, young woman, with golden hair, jammed into the trunk, naked, in a fetal position. The trunk had no address, and no one knew who had left it. The police seemed powerless to solve the “Great Trunk Mystery”

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Murder Most Foul

Little Murders

Well, it had to come out eventually. I try to avoid clich├ęs like “murder most foul” but here it is in the Adams Sentinel, February 7, 1842. But  it was a particularly foul murder; James E. Lanier not only killed his two little sons, their mother, and their grandmother, but enlisted his father’s slaves to help him do it.

"Murder Most Foul – By a statement in the Danville Reporter, we learn the following particulars of murder more horrible than any we have yet chronicled:

From the verdict of the Coroner’s jury, it appears that on the night of Wednesday, the 22d of December, one James E. Lanier, living near White Oak Mountain, in the county of Pinsylvania, Va. Accompanied by three negro men belonging to his father, whom he had procured to aid him in his murderous design, proceeded to the residence of his victims and murdered four persons, to wit—Betsy Fleeman, Eliza Fleeman, her daughter, and two small boys, children of said Eliza. Two of the murdred person were deliberately beheaded—one of the other two the brains were beaten out with an axe. The two boys slain were sons of the murderer. After dispatching the victims, Lanier piled their dead bodies in the middle of the floor, covered them with straw, and set fire to it and the house.

One of the boys killed, about four years of age, terrified at the death of his mother and grand mother, clasped the murderous father by the knee, and begged him to spare his life, but the words of his request were scarcely uttered, before his head was severed form his body by a single blow."

Adams Sentinel, Gettysburg, PA, February 7, 1842

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fillipe Guestoni

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Fillipe Guestoni.

On the morning of June 11, 1888, several pistol shots were heard in the apartments of Mr. & Mrs. Mari in New York. It appeared that Fillipe Guestoni, who had formerly been a partner of Mari, had become infatuated with Mrs. Mari and was violently jealous of her husband, whom he wished her to abandon. He had had many violent scenes with her and had been warned by the husband to cease his visits. On the above morning, he broke into her apartments while she lay in bed, shot her three times and then sent a bullet crashing into his own brain.

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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guest Blogger: Cheri Farnsworth

   Murder by Gaslight is pleased to welcome guest blogger Cheri Farnsworth. Cheri has been a longtime friend of Murder by Gaslight; last year we reviewed her book Murder and Mayhem in St. Lawrence County and today she will be sharing a story from her latest book.

Following is a chapter from Cheri Farnsworth’s Murder & Mayhem in Jefferson County (History Press 2011). The book is a compilation of ten of the most sensational, historical murder cases from that Northern New York region. You may purchase the book online at and or directly from the publisher at For more information about Farnsworth’s other titles, like Alphabet Killer, Adirondack Enigma, and The Big Book of New York Ghost Stories (history as you’ve never seen it), visit 

 The “Watertown Trunk Murder” – Hounsfield, 1908

Jammed within the narrow confines of a trunk, with her head mashed to jelly, one ear gone and her body mutilated until recognition was almost impossible, the body of Mrs. Sarah Brennan, wife of Patrick Brennan, of Brownville, was found Monday afternoon in a back kitchen at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Farmer of that village. ~ Watertown Re-Union, 29 Apr. 1908

In October of 1907, Mary Farmer hatched an elaborate plan to criminally acquire the property of her neighbors so that her young babe, Peter, would one day have something of value that she believed she and James Farmer could never provide otherwise. (Heaven forbid that they should have to work for their material possessions like the rest of us.) The fact that a cold-blooded murder might become necessary for her to meet her objective was but a trivial detail the soon-to-be murderess would worry about when the time came. That time was the morning of April 23 when Sarah Brennan paid a visit to Mary Farmer. Neighbors heard the women arguing, and it was the last anyone ever heard from, or saw, Mrs. Brennan alive. One can only surmise that the victim had finally learned of the plot to steal her house and home right out from under them. For that, she had to be silenced…now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Duel Day

From the Bowery Boys:
Happy Duel Day 2011: When Vice Presidents attack!

207 years ago today, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Though the two men obviously did not like each other much, they made a pretty good legal team. In 1800, just four years before the duel, they worked together to win an acquittal for Levi Weeks for the murder of Gulielma Sands - The Manhattan Well Mystery.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bill the Ripper

No wonder we never found Jack the Ripper, we should have been looking for Bill; or so says the Boston Daily Globe, on July 20, 1889.

The one enduring fact of the Whitechapel murders in London in 1888 is that “Ripper” in the headline sells newspapers. The name “Jack the Ripper” comes from the signature on several letters sent to the London police, allegedly from the killer. In fact, most knowledgeable investigators believe these letters are frauds and the killer never identified himself. In the great tradition of British journalistic ethics, a reporter sent the forged letters, signed “Jack the Ripper,” for the sake of the story. It was a media gamble that has been paying off for more than a hundred years.

On both sides of the Atlantic, in the years following the Whitechapel murders, any unsolved murder of a woman, by slashing, was tied, or at least compared, to Jack the Ripper. Most notably, in 1891 the New York City press nearly sent the city into a frenzy by speculating that the murder of Carrie Brown was the work of London’s Jack the Ripper. This incredibly unlikely story was revived in the very popular Discovery Channel documentary, “Jack the Ripper in America.”

The Globe story—one short paragraph—states that a man named William Brodie was arrested and confessed to the London police. Brodie is not mentioned today as a Jack the Ripper suspect. If anyone has more information, please let me know.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ebenezer Stanyard

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Ebenezer Stanyard.

Ebenezer Stanyard was hung at Youngstown, Ohio, for the murder of a woman by the name of Alice Hancox. The cause of the murder was very much shrouded in mystery, but the proof of his guilt was overwhelming. The affair created quite a sensation in Youngstown, and on the day of his execution the excitement was still greater.

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

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Exoneration of John Gordon

Update 6/29/2011
On June 29, 2011, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an official proclamation granting a full pardon to John Gordon, who was executed in 1845 for the murder of Amasa Sprague. Details here:

Justice delayed no longer justice denied after pardon

Update 6/23/2011
The motion to pardon John Gordon for the murder of Amasa Sprague has passed the Rhode Island Senate 33-3. It's now up to the governor. Read about it here:

Measure pardoning Irish immigrant John Gordon in 19th-century murder goes to R.I. governor

A motion has been submitted to the Judiciary Committee of the Rhode Island House requesting the pardon/exoneration of John Gordon for the murder of Amasa Sprague—a crime he, almost certainly, did not commit. The progress of this motion can be followed here: The Exoneration of John Gordon. The site also includes detailed information on the original trial and the people involved in the case. We wish them the best of luck with the motion.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Ungrateful Fiend

Little Murders
(From Titusville Mornign Herald, Titusville, PA, February 11, 1873)


He Asks for Bread, and then Murders the Man who was Willing to Minister to His Wants.

The murder of Mr. John Flanders at his residence, near Brocton, on Saturday morning last, brief mention of which was made in our yesterday’s columns, proves to have been one of the most cold-blooded and diabolical deeds of villainy which has ever blackened the pages of modern history. The circumstances of the case are briefly told. About half-past eight o’clock on the morning of last Saturday a man called at the residence of Mrs. Anderson, who resides in a small brown house on the Lake Shore road one mile north of the village of Brocton, and a few rods east of Slippery Rock Creek, and

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Grizzly Bear Tragedy

It's Bloody Murder Monday at YesterYear Once More. The story of a stabbing at the Grizzly Bear saloon, on the San Francisco Waterfront, in June 1893: Brutal Murder on the Water Front

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hong Di

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Hong Di.

This Chinese murderer deliberately attempted to murder a whole family, and succeeded in killing one person. He was employed as a cook by a wealthy ranchman of St. Johns, Cal. While the wife, two daughters and a friend were seated at the supper table, the Chinaman entered from behind with a Winchester rifle in hand, and without a word, commenced firing upon the party, killing the wife instantly and wounding the friend. The daughters escaped injury. The motive for the crime is unknown.

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

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Trial & Conviction of Richard Johnson

Little Murders

This one has the potential to become a big murder and I will dig deeper when time allows. But for now all I have is the front page of an 1828 murder pamphlet and a brief summary of the crime.

Uncorrected text from the pamphlet:

“A correct copy of the trial & conviction of Richard Johnson for the murder of Ursula Newman, on the 20th Nov. 1828, by shooting her with a pistol loaded with buck shot or slugs, nine of which entered her body; together with the charge of the court, and the confession of the prisoner of his entention to have added suicide to the horrid and appalling murder for which he is to suffer an ignomenious death, and his letter to a friend in Philadelphia previous to his conviction. New-York, printed and sold wholesale and retail, by Christian Brown, No. 211 Water-street, N. York”

Summary of the crime from The Annals of Murder:

“Johnson had been living with Mrs. Newman for several years. He had urged her to marry him, and, although she had had a child by him, she refused to wed him, nor would she even acknowledge that the child was his. Apparently distracted by this and business worries, Johnson shot and killed her. He was hanged on Blackwell’s (now Welfare) Island at the same time as Catherine Cashier.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Terrible Tragedy in New Jersey

Little Murders

Murder of a Husband and Wife.—We learn from the Patterson (N. J.) Guardian, extra, that that community has been thrown into great excitement in consequence of the murder, on Monday week of two persons, residing three miles from Paterson. The victims are John S. Van Winkle and his wife, an aged couple, and long residents of the county. The atrocious deed was accomplished, as there appears no doubt, by one John Johnson, a laboring farmer. The Guardian says:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Van B. Baker

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Van B. Baker.

Mrs. McWha and her daughter, Mrs. Eliza Baker, lived at Holliday Cove, W. Va. At about half-past three on a Monday afternoon, two female friends called upon hem. They rang the door-bell; it not being answered, one of the women went around to the back door and pushed it in, but it was immediately slammed in her face and bolted. The blinds were all down. The next day, not receiving any replies to repeated calls at the house, it was broken into and the two women vere found murdered. They had been stabbed, then washed and put to bed in their night clothes. Trunks were broken open and rifled. Baker was arrested for the crime.

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another Unsolved Axe Murder

From Lizzie Borden: Warps & Wefts:
Another Unsolved Axe Murder

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Thayer Brothers

The year 1825 was a momentous one for Buffalo, New York. The Erie Canal opened, connecting Lake Erie to the Hudson River, a celebration honoring the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution was held in Buffalo, and the city held its first and only public hanging. At least 20,000 witnesses gathered in Niagara Square to watch thee brothers—Nelson, Israel, and Isaac Thayer—hang from the same gallows.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Confession of Manuel P. Garcia

In January 2011, I posted a story on the 1821 murder of Peter Lagaordette by Manual Phillip Garcia from the Torch Light and Public Advertiser, Hagerstown, Maryland. At the time I doubted that I could find any additional information, but I have since found a picture and summary of a pamphlet on the murder printed and sold in 1821. Here is the summary from The Annals of Murder by Thomas M. McDade:
In an empty house in Portsmouth, Virginia, the police found the butchered body, the head, hands and feet partially burned in the fireplace. In an early use of laundry marks, the initials “P.L.” and “M.P.G” helped identify the people involved. Lagoardette had been courting a girl in Baltimore; Castillano was himself interested in her. The three men all were criminal characters.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Kerri Mahon of Scandalous Women

Murder by Gaslight is pleased to welcome guest blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon of Scandalous Women She will be sharing the story of Mary Ellen Pleasant, one of several dozen brazen ladies— famous and infamous—profiled in her fascinating new book Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History's Most Notorious Women

Mary Ellen Pleasant and the ‘House of Mystery’

Mary Ellen Pleasant’s (1814-1904) is one of the most enigmatic women of the 19th century American West and that’s exactly the way she wanted it. During her long life, she was an entrepreneur, abolitionist, Mother of the Civil Rights Movement in California, confidante of the rich and crazy, but was she also a murderer? What actually happened that rainy night in October 1892 at 1661 Octavia Street when Thomas Bell died? Did he fall, did he jump or was pushed down stair? A coroner’s inquest ruled that his death was accidental, and he was buried in a grave in a plot owned by Mary Ellen. At the time of Bell’s death, neither his widow, nor his children, nor the San Francisco police raised questions about foul play. So how did the myth begin that Mary Ellen Pleasant was somehow responsible for his death?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Graham Tragedy.

Evangelist, temperance leader, author and publisher Emma Molloy opened her home to the lost and lonely the way others took in stray cats. She had an adopted daughter and two foster daughters and she found a job on her newspaper for George Graham an ex-convict she had met while preaching at a prison. But when George Graham and Emma Molloy’s foster daughter, Cora Lee, decided to marry, the result would be a murder, a lynching, and scandal for the entire family.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Druse Butchery

December 1884, William Druse of Herkimer County, New York, was brutally murdered, dismembered, and burned, his ashes and bones dumped in a swamp. Evidence strongly pointed to his wife Mrs. Roxalana Druze murdering William; finally breaking after twenty years of physical abuse. She was sentenced to die and her hanging was protested many who opposed hanging women. Women’s rights groups called the trial unfair because Roxy did not have the same rights as her jury. More to the point though, there is a good chance she was not guilty of a hanging offense

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Handsome Harry" Carlton

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Henry Carlton.

On the morning of Oct. 29, 1888 Policeman James Brennan was shot dead in New York City by the above named individual, who also went by the nick-name of Handsome Harry. He and a companion met a waiter in a saloon on Third Ave. The waiter was under the influence of liquor. When leaving the saloon. Handsome Harry followed him and when in a secluded spot in a side street, attempted to rob him. His call brought the Policeman to his assistance, and in his attempt to arrest the rascal, he was shot dead. Carlton enjoyed a bad reputation as a crook and desperate character.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Murder in the Vale of Tempe

George Abbott was a young child when he began his career as a thief and by his thirtieth birthday he had spent a third of his life in jail. When he left prison he changed his name and tried to change his evil ways, traveling and taking honest employment. While working as a farmhand in Hanover, New Hampshire he fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, Christie Warden. When Christie did not return his love Abbot went back to his old ways and took it at gunpoint in the shady hollow known as the Vale of Tempe.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Meeks Family Murder

Nellie Meeks
The morning of May 11, 1894, 6-year-old Nellie Meeks knocked on the door of Mrs. John Carter in Linn County, Missouri. Mrs. Carter was shocked by the little girl’s appearance; her clothes were torn, her face was covered with dirt and blood and she had a deep gash in her forehead. Her speech was barely coherent as she told Mrs. Carter that her parents and younger sisters had been murdered the night before. She had managed to escape because the killers thought she was dead.  When her story was verified it became one of the most sensational crimes in Missouri history.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shocking Tragedy in Gratiot County

Little Murders
Shocking Tragedy in Gratiot County
Democratic Expounder, Marshall, MI, March 28, 1861

One of the most frightful and inhuman transactions which it has ever been our lot to record was enacted last week in the village of Ithaca, Gratiot county about twenty miles north of this place. The result of the horrible transaction—which was the murder of three persons, a man, aged about forty-five and two girls of about seventeen years—was discovered on Friday of last week, and in consequence of which that village was thrown into the highest state of excitement.