Saturday, December 29, 2012

August Detlaf.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

August Detlaf.

"John Phillips and Skip Larking of Chicago, Ills., were shot and instantly killed on the evening of July 29, 1888, by August Detlaf, who is a Pole. The two men were on their way home from a ball game. The murder was a most unprovoked one and occurred in a general row among a number of Poles, precipitated by some jesting remarks made by Phillips and Larkin. During the affray, Detlaf appeared on the scene suddenly, with a 44 caliber revolver and deliberately shot the two men alluded to."


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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Alabama Lynching.

Little Murders
(From The Davenport Daily Leader, Davenport, Iowa, January 1, 1893)

Alabama Lynching.
Two Murders Strung Up by a Mob.

Not given a chance for prayer.
Unlike Most Southern Lynchings the Victims This Time Were White Men and Had Murdered a Tax Collector and Robbed Him of $2,000 in Cash—Both Men Confessed Their Crime—How the Mob Entered the Jail.
Greenville, Ala., Dec. 31. – About midnight Thursday night two strangers went to the residence of Jailer Hill Bargainer and, arousing him, told him they had a prisoner to put in jail. Bargainer went with them to the jail and upon reaching that place was met by 100 armed and masked men, who, with pistols pointed at his head, demanded the keys of the jail. He gave the up and the cells of the John Hipp and Charles Kelley, murderers of Tax Collector C. J. Armstrong of Butler county were opened. Both men were taken out in their nightclothing. Ropes were place about their necks and they were hurried to the court house near by and hanged, not even being given time to pray. The mob then quietly dispersed. The verdict of the coroner’s jury was that the men were hanged by unknown Persons.

The Murder of Armstrong.

On Dec. 17 last, Tax Collector Armstrong while collecting taxes in Butler county was waylaid, murdered and robbed at Panther Creek bridge, the murderers getting $2,000. Rewards amounting to $1.500 were offered for the arrest of the murderers and great indignation existed among citizens. A week ago John Hipp, a noted desperado, was arrested for the murder after a desperate fight with the sheriff’s posse, in which Hipp was seriously wounded. Last Monday Charles Kelly was arrested in Monroe county, Ky, as Hipp’s accomplice. The confession of the gang made the evidence convincing. Both were white men.

The Davenport Daily Leader, Davenport, Iowa, January 1, 1893

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A House Divided.

Tensions in the Ware household outside of Berlin, New Jersey, were near the breaking point. On August 16, 1870 they snapped, when a dispute over a milk pan turned mother against daughter, brother against sister, and drove John C. Ware to turn a shotgun on his father.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Nels Olsen Holong

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Nels Olsen Holong.

"Nels Olsen Hulong is another one filling the long list of murderers.  The crime was committed at Fergus Falls, Minn., and the victim was a woman named Lillie Field. The case was at the time the sensation of that part of the country, and the evidence was so plain that it only took the jury twenty minutes to find the fatal verdict."

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Murder of Patrick H. Dwyer

Little Murders
(From The New York Times, New York, NY, January 26, 1883.)

The Murder of Patrick H. Dwyer

Recorder Smyth’s Charge—The Jury Locked up for the Night.

The trial of Charles H. Warren, a contortionist, for the murder of Patrick H. Dwyer, proprietor of a pool room at No. 108 Bowery, in a dispute arising out of the refusal of the former to engage in a game of pool on the night of Sept. 21 last, was resumed in the Court of General Sessions yesterday. The deceased saloon keeper received a shot in the back, which proved fatal. Warren, who is an extraordinary freak of nature, amused the court officers during the long hours in which the jurors were deliberating on his case by his wonderful actions, dislocating the various joins of his body at will and resetting them with a sharp click, disagreeably suggestive of the operating room. The defense was that Warren fired in self-defense, Dwyer having attempted to shoot him. The case on both sides having closed on Wednesday evening, Recorder Smyth, on the opening of court yesterday, commenced his charge to the jury, and occupied an hour and a quarter in his delivery. His Honor charged that if the jury believed that before firing of the fatal shot Warren had time for premeditation and formation of a design to kill, his offense, if any was murder in the first degree. If he showed no premeditation, his offense would be murder in the second degree. He withdrew the offense of manslaughter in the first and second degrees form their consideration as inapplicable to the case at issue, and defined the law in relation to manslaughter in the third and fourth degrees. If, he said, Warren believed that Dwyer intended to kill him or to do him serious bodily harm, he had the right to take the life of the latter. It was no longer the law of the State, the court explained, that a man should retire before an armed assailant, when to do so would expose his life or person to danger. He had a perfect right, in the defense of his person or life, if unable to escape in safety from his antagonist, to stand his ground, and, if necessary, take the life of his assailant. He would be justified, too, in governing himself according to appearances. If he was menaced with a pistol—even though it should afterwards transpire that the weapon was not loaded—he had the right to act upon appearances, and take the life of his assailant. His Honor charged the jury to take into consideration the evidence of the defendant’s previous good character, and if they had any reasonable doubt of the guilt of the defendant it was their duty to give him the benefit of that doubt and acquit.

The jury retired at 12:50 P. M. and at 10 last night, not having agreed upon a verdict, was locked up for the night.

(From The New York Times, New York, NY, January 27, 1883.)

The Warren Jury Disagrees
The jury in the case of Charles H. Warren, the contortionist, on trial for the murder of Patrick H. Dwyer, proprietor of a saloon at No. 108 Bowery, whom he shot in a dispute arising from a refusal of the defendant to play a game of pool, entered the Court of General Sessions yesterday morning, after having been locked up all night, and had the evidence of one of the witnesses of the prosecution read to them. They returned to their room and on coming into court again at 2 P. M., informed Recorder Smyth that they found it impossible to agree upon a verdict. As they had been together 25 hours and could arrive at no conclusion, the Recorder said he did not feel justified in detaining them any longer, and discharged them from the further consideration of the case. The jury stood nine for acquittal, and three for conviction of some grade of murder. Warren was then taken back to the Tombs. His counsel will endeavor to procure his release on bail.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Baltimore Sorrow.

William James and Denwood Hinds of Baltimore were close friends who had served together in the Fifth Maryland Regiment. The friendship would have remained strong if William’s sister, Lizzie James, had not become hopelessly infatuated with Denwood Hinds. Lizzie’s love set off a chain of events that not only ended her brother’s friendship with Denwood, but resulted in her own death and the murder of her father.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Brutal Murder in Middletown.

On September 24, 1843, Lucien Hall murdered Mrs. Lavinia Bacon in Middletown, Connecticut.  I am planning a more detailed post on this murder, but for now, here is a great picture and summary reprinted from the 1844 edition of Confessions, Trials, and Biographical Sketches of the Most Cold Blooded Murderers by George N. Thomson:

Brutal Murder in Middletown.

A brutal murder was committed at Middletown on the person of Mrs. Bacon, by a man named Hall who was one of three taken up on suspicion. Hall confessed himself to be the murderer at the trial, and said he could not let the innocent suffer. He says he entered the house and took some money from a desk, before Mrs. Bacon discovered him. She entered the room where he was, he knocked her down with a chair, and beat her to death. He stabbed her with a large butcher knife several times while she was struggling to save her life. The murder was committed about 11 o’clock, A. M. The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to be hung on the 20th of June 1844.


Thomson, George N, Confessions, trials, and biographical sketches of the most cold blooded murderers, who have been executed in this country from its first settlement down to the present time ... Hartford: S. Andrus and Son, 1844.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Serial Murderer in the Regiment?

Check out my guest post at Civil War Medicine (and Writing) on Samuel E. Calhoun, who was either a psychopathic killer or the subject of a tall tale.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Joe Doran.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Joe Doran.

"Joe Doran was sentenced to a term of sixty years in the penitentiary, for murdering his father-in-law, at a place called Lamar. Owing to the man’s laziness and refusal to support his wife and two children, she left him and went to live with her father. The husband being denied the privilege of even seeing the children became angry, purchased a revolver, and deliberately shot down the father and his wife. He was tried and subsequently received the above sentence."

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

Saturday, November 3, 2012

" though he had shot her.”

Mary Pomeroy was the organist at the Prospect Avenue Presbyterian Church in Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1874 she was a beautiful young woman and an accomplished musician with a sterling reputation. Mary was renowned for her purity and virtue until she was seduced and abandoned by her pastor, the Reverend John Glendenning. She died soon after giving birth; her doctor said the cause of death was “a broken heart.” While Mary was technically not murdered, the people of Jersey City saw no difference. One newspaper story said of Reverend Glendenning: “He is as truly the murderer of Mary Pomeroy as though he had shot her.”

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Death in the Family.

Family murders are always the most tragic and inexplicable. Whether the motive is greed, jealousy, or pent up animosity the killer is driven to a state of animal rage (or in the case of Lydia Sherman, single-minded determination) that knows no mercy. Here, in chronological order, is a list of murders where two or more family members were killed by the same hand.

The Lester Brothers, 1850 – Reuben Dunbar clubbed and strangled his two young stepbrothers out of fear they would inherit property he believed was rightfully his.
Lydia Sherman, 1864 – Over the course of seven years, Lydia Sherman poisoned three husbands, five children and two stepchildren.
The Deering Family, 1866 – In a plan to rob his employer, Antoine Probst murdered six members of the Deering Family—including four children—with an axe and a hammer.
The Christensens, 1873 –There have been several theories concerning the axe murder of Karen Anne Christensen and her sister-in-law, Anethe Matea Chretensen on Smuttynose Island, but the most likely killer was the man executed by the state, Louis Wagner.
The Woolfolk Family, 1887 – Thomas Woolfolk was convicted of the axe murder of nine members of his family ranging in age from 18 months to 84 years.
The Bordens, 1892—America’s most famous unsolved crime. Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the brutal axe murder of her father, Andrew Borden and her stepmother, Abby Borden.
The Meeks Family, 1894 – Four members of the Meeks family where shot and beaten to death as they were traveling on the road. Only six-year-old Nellie Meeks lived to tell the tale.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mysteries Cleared Up

Little Murders

This headline from the Davenport Daily Leader, December 9, 1894 references two sensational murder cases. The second case, the murder of Catherine Ging in Minneapolis, has already been covered in detail in this post: The Minneapolis Svengali.
Here is the "Packing Box Victim at Chicago:"
(From The Davenport Daily Leader, Davenport, Iowa, December 9, 1894.)

Mysteries Cleared Up
Two Sensational Murder Cases Made Plain.
Packing Box Victim at Chicago.
He was Killed by His Assistant, Jordan, According to a Confession Made by a Man Who Agreed to Help Dispose of the Body—Confession of Adry Hayward Clears Up the Murder of Miss Catherine Ging at Minneapolis.

Chicago, Dec. 8 – The mystery surrounding the murder of A. D. Barnes, the janitor of the Hiawatha building, whose remains were found in a packing box near Sixty-third street, has been solved. Two men and a woman were arrested. One, named Jordan, was Barnes’s assistant. The other was known as Jersey and sometimes did odd jobs about the place. The woman in the case is the wife of another janitor and from appearance was intimate with Barnes. She says that Jordan and Barnes often quarreled about her. The mystery was solved, however, by a confession, and Jersey was the man who confessed. To police officials he told the following story:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mrs. Martin Steinhauser.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Mrs. Martin Steinhauser.

"In the early part of 1888, Mrs. Martin Steinhauser was convicted of murder in Palmyra, Wis., the victim being her husband. The shooting was done at night, after the couple had retired. It appeared she had a lover by the name of Henry Rohrmason, who lived in the house with them. They conspired to rid themselves of the husband, and he also was convicted as an accomplice. She maintained that her husband continually abused her, and on the night in question he attempted to shoot her. In endeavoring to take the pistol away, it exploded, killing him. The evidence proved the contrary, and she received a life sentence."

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

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Matter of Honor.

In the autumn of 1882, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Nicholas L. Dukes learned that his fiancĂ©e, Lizzie Nutt, had been intimate with other men. An honorable man would have confronted his betrothed and ended their engagement face-to-face. Dukes chose to break the engagement in a letter written to Lizzie’s father, Civil War hero and Cashier of the Pennsylvania State Treasury, Captain A. C. Nutt. The resulting conflict was so divisive and violent that it would take two murders and two controversial trial verdicts to restore honor to Uniontown.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Five Surprising Facts about Salem Witchcraft.

Visit The History Press Blog to read my guest post, Five Surprising Facts about Salem Witchcraft.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

For Murdering his Mother.

Little Murders
(From The Boston Daily Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, January 1, 1886)

For Murdering his Mother.
Opening of the Trial of James F. Hodgdon at Bath.

Bath, December 31—The trial of James F. Hogdon of this city for the murder of his mother, Mrs. Esther L. Hodgdon, who was shot on the morning of May 7 last, and who died from the wounds on the 18th of the same month was commenced in the Supreme Judicial Court this afternoon, Judge Virgin, justice presiding. The prisoner was indicted for murder at the August term of the court. By request of his counsel, who held that Hodgdon was insane when the crime was committed, Judge Walton ordered him to the insane asylum till this term.

The prisoner was brought into court today, looking much thinner than when he was previously arraigned. In a firm and loud voice he pleaded not guilty. County Attorney Baker and Attorney-General Baker are counsel for the government; William E. Hogan and George E. Hughes of this city for the prisoner.  Nine of the jury had been accepted when the list became exhausted. Three of the jurors challenged were recalled and the jury competed.

After the opening of the case for the government by County Attorney Baker, Walter F. Brookings testified that he was about 100 feet from the scene of the shooting when he heard the pistol shots; he saw the father of the prisoner rush from his house and cry “Murder! Police!” went into the house. He saw Mrs. Hodgdon in bed. Blood was flowing from a wound in her forehead. The prisoner stood at the food of the bed and held in his hand a pistol. Ira Hodgdon, the father of the prisoner, followed me into the room and stood in the doorway. He said to his son: “James what have you been doing?” The prisoner replied: “I’ve killed her, it is too bad.” It was between 5 and 6 o’clock in the morning when the shooting took place; was present when the police made the arrest; heard the prisoner say that he would protect himself; he was then in his room; saw him the next day after the shooting in the police station; he was greatly excited and complained of a bad feeling in his head. Court adjourned at 6 o’clock till 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.

The Boston Daily Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, January 1, 1886

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Oregon Hamilton.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Oregon Hamilton.

"In the month of May, 1888, Oregon Hamilton of Newaygo, Mich., was convicted of murder in the second degree. He is a widower and the crime for which he was convicted was in whipping his nineteen months old daughter to death. The case excited the inhabitants of this small town, and the verdict met with general approval, as the case was one of horrible cruelty, and if the inhabitants could have taken summary punishment in their own hands, the wretch could have saved the county the cost of a trial."

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Poisoners are the most dispassionate of murderers, killing their victims at a distance, sometimes over long periods of time. In the days when the deadliest of poisons were readily available and difficult to detect, they were used to eliminate unwanted spouses and paramours, and to hide indiscretions. Poison was the preferred tool of a particular type of serial killer. And a poisoner had a better than even chance of getting away with it.

Here, in chronological order, is the Murder by Gaslight poisoners hall of fame:

Lucretia and her Cuban lover were accused of putting arsenic in her husband’s chicken soup.
Cult leader Mathias was accused of killing his most ardent follower with poisoned blackberries.

Henry G. Green - 1845
Eight days after their wedding, Henry poisoned his wife Mary. His mother did not approve of the bride.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Alfred Packer, Man-eater.

From Harper's Weekly, 1874
In February of 1874, a group of six men led by Alfred Packer, ventured into the San Juan Mountains in Colorado territory in search of gold. That April, Packer arrived alone at the Los Pinos Indian Agency, somewhat wild looking, but remarkably healthy for someone who had endured two month of brutal winter weather in the mountains. Packer claimed that he had taken ill, his men had abandoned him and he had traveled alone to the Agency. But when confronted with evidence that suggested his story was false, Packer made a full confession. He had survived the San Juan winter by eating his companions.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cruel Boys Who Become Murderers.

Little Murders
(From The Palo Alto Reporter, Emmetsburg, Iowa, June 30, 1877.
- quoting The Cincinnati Commercial)

Cruel Boys Who Become Murderers.

It is set down as a veritable fact and a warning to boys that George W. Fletcher, a murderer and repeater who was hanged in Philadelphia on the 11th for a very cowardly murder, began his vicious career at the early age of 11, by cutting off the tails of pigs for amusement. The inference is that boys who begin life in that manner will end it as Fletcher ended his. And the inference is not much out of the way. The wanton killing of innocent birds and the torture of domestic animals for amusement cultivates a hardness of heart and an indifference that soon qualifies a man for any criminal act. No doubt if all the dogs to whose tails Fletcher tied tin canisters, and all the cats that he illuminated with turpentine, and all the pigs whose tails he cut off, could rise in judgment against him, the verdict that he was served right would be unanimous. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals should issue a tract setting forth Fletcher’s career as an awful example. - Cincinnati Commercial

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mrs. Wm. Huntermark.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Mrs. Wm. Huntermark.

"This is a portrait of Mrs. William Huntermark, the devilish female, who brutally murdered one of Baltimore’s most respectable citizens, Mr. Charles Ensor, an old man of 65 years. Mr. Ensor had been gunning, and fatigued he sat down on a stone on Mrs. Huntermark’s premises. She had been making many bold threats of killing the first trespasser on her husband’s domains. Procuring a navy revolver, she proceeded to where Mr. Ensor was, and suddenly seizing his gun, wrenched it from his hands and then deliberately shot him twice, wounding him fatally."

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Balance of Probabilities.

The morning of December 11, 1859, eleven-year-old Priscilla Budge carried a cup of tea to her mother’s bedroom, where she found her mother, lying on the bed with her throat cut. Mrs. Budge was known to be mentally unstable and her husband, the Reverend Henry Budge, immediately declared that his wife’s death must have been suicide. The coroner’s jury agreed and Mrs. Budge was soon buried—a quick conclusion to an unpleasant event. But as it turned out, it was not the conclusion, just the opening argument of a debate that would go on for years.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Bender Family Album.

The Benders were a family of serial killers living in Kansas in the 1870s where they ran a general store and restaurant out of their home. While travelers were eating their meals, the Bender men would hit them from behind with sledgehammers. The bodies were stripped of all valuables then shoved down a trapdoor into the basement for later burial in the yard. They abandoned the house before their acts were discovered, leaving behind the bodies of ten victims.

The story of the Bloody Benders was originally posted on Murder by Gaslight on November 6, 2010. I recently came across a book entitled History, Romance and Philosophy of Great American Crimes and Criminals with some fascinating depictions of the Bender family, along with a floor plan of their house and an illustration of how the murders were done.  So as an addendum to the original post, here is the Bender Family Album:

The elders of the Bender family. Old John was also known as William Bender, his wife was better known as “Ma” Bender. Thomas and Katie were the other members of the family, but it is unclear exactly how the four were related. Most accounts say that Katie and Thomas were son and daughter of Old John and his wife. Others say Katie was Ma’s daughter and  Katie and Thomas, aka John Gebhardt, were husband and wife.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Borden Murders, 120 Years Unsolved.

120 years ago today, August, 4, 1892, the bodies of Andrew Jackson Borden and Abby Durfee Borden were found brutally hacked to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts home. The prime suspect of this brazen, daylight axe murder was Andrew’s daughter and Abby’s stepdaughter, Lizzie Borden. When a jury found Lizzie not guilty the following June, it raised a question that has been hotly debated ever since: did Lizzie Borden get away with murder?

The Borden murder was one of the first posted on Murder by Gaslight, and the question of her guilt has been the  subject, directly or indirectly, of several more:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Fire in the Swamp.

The morning of June 9, 1874, a two-story house burned to the ground in a section of Rutland, Vermont known as the “swamp.”  Amid the rubble was the badly burned but recognizable corpse of Mrs. Ann E. Freese; she had been stabbed in the throat before the fire started. Finding her killer promised to be daunting since Mrs. Freese’s house was a well-known brothel with men coming and going at all hours. But circumstances quickly pointed to John Phair, a local ne’er-do-well whose relationship with Mrs. Freese was closer than that of a paying customer and who had conveniently left town the morning of the fire.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Murder Pamphlets.

Americans have always loved a good murder story. The first book published in Boston, in 1675, was The Wicked Man’s Portion, a sermon about two men who were executed for murdering their master, and for at least the next two and a quarter centuries the public’s desire to read about killing was satisfied by cheap, sensational, paperbound murder pamphlets. The earliest examples, following a tradition that began in England, were one page broadsides sold at the murderer’s hanging, containing sermons relating to the crime or the transcribed confession of the condemned man. They were often decorated with images of coffins or the hanging man, and their sale was justified on the grounds that they served as a warning against living an immoral life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Three Wounds - The Rest of the Story.

The Boston Daily Globe followed the story in the previous post, “Three Wounds” for two more days.  It turns out the Willard Nesbit was, in fact, the missing Dedham bridegroom, and on August 13, 1892, the Globe printed a picture of Nesbit’s disappointed bride-to-be, Miss Bridget Hanlon. Nesbit did recover from his wounds, but it was not a case of assault or attempted murder; for whatever reason, Nesbit’s wounds were self-inflicted.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Three Wounds.

Little Murders
(Two possibly related stories from The Boston Daily Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, August  12, 1892.)

Three Wounds.

Willard Nesbitt Was Cut in the Breast.

He Was Found in Medford in an Unconscious State.

He Remembers Nothing of the Occurrence.

Doctors Fear that he Will Not Recover.

Is He the Man Who Disappeared from Dedham?

Medford, Mass., Aug. 11. – Willard Nesbitt of Dedham was found in the yard of the Medford House here this evening with three stiletto wounds in his breast, from which his death may result.

The manner in which he received his wounds is a profound mystery, as the man himself either cannot or will not account for them.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Weight of Grief.

Fanny Windley Hyde
Fanny Windley began working in the factories of Brooklyn at age ten. When she was fifteen, Fanny was “seduced” by her forty-five-year-old employer, George W. Watson. Watson’s unwanted attention continued for the next two years, even after Fanny's marriage. Then one day, on the stairway of the factory, she countered Watson’s lewd advances with a gunshot to the head. There was no question that Fanny Windley Hyde killed George W. Watson; it would be up to the jury to decide whether this act was first degree murder, or if Fanny was “under a weight of grief that could not be resisted.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The 50 Best American History Blogs

Murder by Gaslight is proud to be included in Online Colleges' list of 50 Best American History Blogs:

The 50 Best American History Blogs

Saturday, June 30, 2012

More Murders in Maine.

Here are the murders that were left out of the post “Murders in Maine” on 6/2/2012. Insert the text of this post between paragraphs two and three of the previous post to get the entire article published in the Boston Daily Globe on July 9, 1888.

Little Murders
(From The Boston Daily GlobeBoston, Massachusetts, July 9, 1888.)

Murders in Maine.

At the State prison at Thomaston more than 30 Maine murderers are imprisoned, nearly all for life. Here are Mrs. Mary Barrows and Oscar Blaney, her son-in-law, the woman who plotted her husband’s death and the boy who was her tool. Here is Thomas J. Libby, the Scarboro man who killed his mistress in bed at a Portland hotel. Here is old Joe Preble, the Androscoggin county wife murderer, who had been behind Thomaston’s walls since 1861. Charles E. Prescott, who hauled his victim’s body up and down the streets of Portland in a cart, is now in the last stages of consumption, and strenuous efforts are being made for his pardon.

On the scaffold in this old stone building Wagner, the Isle of Sholes murderer, Clifton Harris, who killed the two old women in Auburn, and Gordon, the Thorndike murder, expiated their crimes with their lives. Of these, the murder for which Clifton Harris was hanged was most awful in its detail. More than 20 years ago two old ladies lived alone in a little house in the outskirts of Auburn. It was a wild and stormy night in the dead of winter when the crime was committed. Late the next day a neighbor, thinking the absence of all signs of life about the little dwelling to be something unusual, entered the house. The sight was most horrible. There in the little bedroom lay the dead bodies of the two old ladies. One of them had been strangled to death and ravished while dying. To say that the community was wild with excitement is nothing. Men, women and children thirsted for the life of the assassin. In less than a week

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Saugerties Bard.

Sketch by Johyn Hughes Kerbert
Before the Civil War, a prolific balladeer named Henry S. Backus roamed the Catskills in New York State singing original songs about current events. Better known as The Saugerties Bard, he wandered from town to town singing about explosions, fires, prize fights, riots, and of course, murders.

Travelling in a broken-down wagon festooned with American flags and bells, he would enter a town, usually accompanied by a procession of barking dogs, and begin playing popular songs on flute or fiddle to the gathering crowd. He would sing his original songs then sell printed copies for a penny.

Henry Backus had been a school teacher with a wife and five daughters. When his wife died he began drinking heavily and became “rabid” with religion ending up in an insane asylum in Hudson, New York. By 1850 he was back in Saugerties and beginning his career in entertainment. 

In 1941, 87-year-old Johyn Hughes Kerbert, drew a sketch of Backus from memory. He remembered the Saugerties Bard as “rather short, stocky, well built, long grey hair and beard, grey suit, a ‘Grant Hat’ and a wooden leg.”

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Brooklyn Barber.

A farmhand walking through an oat field in Watervliet, New York on August 7, 1873, came across the corpse of a one-armed man at the top of a ravine. Decomposition had set in and the man’s facial features were all but obliterated by the sun. A razor found on the ground near the body inclined the coroner to think the death was a suicide, but a closer examination revealed that, in addition to having his throat cut, the man had been shot nine times in the head and chest. There was nothing on the body to indicate the identity of the man except for a business card from a barbershop in Brooklyn, 150 miles south of Watervliet.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Joseph Sherer.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:
Joseph Sherer.

"Two human forms, one that of a young man, the other that of a girl, the latter cold in death, the former in death’s agonies, each weltering in blood, that had streamed from deadly wounds; a revolver empty and harmless, now that its fatal work was done. This was the ghastly sight that met Police Captain Davidson of Albany, N. Y., on the night of June 16, 1888, when one of the doors leading into a bedroom on the second floor of an eating house on William Street, had been broken open. The man’s name was Joseph Sherer, and the woman’s Lizzie McCarthy. Investigation revealed the fact that Sherer shot Lizzie, who was his sweetheart, because she refused to marry him, and then shot himself."

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

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Murders in Maine.

This article on murders in the State of Maine appeared in The Boston Daily Globe on July 9, 1888. It was quite long, so I edited out six or seven gruesome Maine murders, leaving only the two stories that the author compares to those of Poe and De Quincey.  I may post the rest at a later date.

Little Murders
(From The Boston Daily GlobeBoston, Massachusetts, July 9, 1888.)

Murders in Maine.

A State of Very Many Awful Crimes.

Tragedies That Rival in Horror the Tales of Edgar Allen Poe.

More than Thirty Murderers Now Behind the Bars of Thomaston.

Lewiston, Me., July 8.—It certainly seems as if there were more murders committed in Maine than in any other State in the Union. Every few weeks the papers are called on to describe one. It was but three months or so ago that Chase shot Mrs. Stevens in the streets of Portland  and then tried to kill himself. Then came the killing of old Mrs. Gould at Saccarappa, and then the butchery of the old farmer at Wiscasset by the boy. And now the postal-car murder at Bangor is followed by the tragedy at Monson.

The story of the many murders in Maine in the past 20 years is a most peculiar one. It is especially peculiar in this respect—that out of the scores of tragedies hardly one has been the result of drink. In some few instances the murderers have been drinking men, but they were sober when the crime was committed. Another peculiar feature of the story of capital crime in Maine is that almost every murder is marked by some striking and novel feature, something unusual in the motive or in the manner of the crime. Edgar Allan Poe could not have told a more gruesome story than that of the Watson murder in the town of Parkman, and De Quincey, before writing his famous essay on “Murder as a Fine Art,” might have talked with profit to the never-to-be-detected assassin of Tax Collector Elliot of Glenburn.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Love and Law.

The tragic love affair between Charles Kring and Dora Broemser ended in one maddened instant—he asked her to leave her husband, she refused, he shot her dead. The prosecution of Charles Kring for the crime of murder lasted eight years, included six trials and required a ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Dan Driscoll.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:
Dan Driscoll
Dan Driscoll.

Dan Driscoll was without doubt one of the most notorious criminals of his day. He was the recognized leader of the notorious Whyo Gang of the 6th Ward of New York, and he has probably figured in more shooting scrapes and brawls than any ruffian of his age. He was born in the 6th Ward and was never out of it unless in prison. His aptitude for crime became evident at an early age and as he grew older he became more hardened. He always carried a pistol, which he at last used with fatal result, having killed a woman named Breezy Garrity, although it was his intention to kill a pal by the name of McCarty. For this he was hung in the Tombs in February 1888.

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

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Car-Hook Tragedy

The night of April 26, 1871, while stepping off a Manhattan horse-car, Avery Putnam was struck from behind and killed by William Foster wielding an iron car-hook. This cowardly and unprovoked attack outraged the people of New York but before its ultimate resolution, outrage over “The Car-Hook Tragedy” would be overshadowed by a bitter public debate on the morality of the death penalty, and allegations of threat and bribery to prevent Foster’s execution.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Forty Years Suspected of Murder.

Little Murders
(From Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, Fitchburg, Massachusetts, November 9, 1885.)

Forty Years Suspected of Murder.

Jonas L. Parker, a resident and tax-collector of Manchester, N. H., was enticed from his home one dark night in March, 1845, and murdered. His body was found the next day near some woods on the outskirts of town, the throat cut and a deep gash in the hip. A shoe knife and razor lay by his side, left by the murderer, who hoped to leave the impression of suicide. A watch and about $2000 were found in the victim’s pockets. The case attracted wide attention and for four years no evidence was found to implicate anybody. Finally in 1849 it leaked out that Parker had visited Saco, Me., a few days before his murder with the object of buying a hotel. There he met Henry T. Wentworth, to whom he explained his visit and showed a large sum of money he had about him. So Henry T. Wentworth, his brother Asa and his wife were arrested on suspicion and tried at Saco in February 1849. For lack of evidence the judge dismissed the case. Suspicious and slight circumstantial evidence, however continued to accumulate, and in May, 1850, the Wentworths were again arrested and taken to Manchester for trial. Gen. Butler and Franklin Pierce, afterwards president of the United States, appeared for the defendants. The trial lasted 12 days. The accused were again acquitted and since then the matter has rested, the Wentworth family being suspected all the same of having done the deed.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


For several days there had been no activity on the Deering farm, just south of the city of Philadelphia, so on April 11, 1866, their neighbor, Mr. Ware, went over to see what was wrong. He found the house empty, but in the barn, he saw a human foot protruding from the hay. Ware ran for help, and together they uncovered the brutally mutilated bodies of Christopher Deering, his wife Julia, four of their children—ranging in age from eight years to fourteen months—and Elizabeth Dolan, a visiting cousin. Outside the barn they found the body of Cornelius Cary, seventeen-year-old hired hand, similarly mutilated.

The following day, the headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer bore the single word: “Horror!”.