Saturday, January 28, 2012

Was it Murder?

Little Murders
(From The Evening Statesman. Marshall, Michigan, February 12, 1887.)


The death of Bart Garfield said to be surrounded by Mysterious Circumstances.

Referring to the death of the late Bert Garfield, mention of which has previously been made in these columns, the Bellevue Gazette says: "Suspicions have been mentioned of foul play, and the reasons given thereof; still we hardly think grounds exist on which to base such views. It is said that after his injuries he partially regained consciousness, and indistinctly uttered something about "poker" and "lantern." It is also claimed that when found his cap, gloves and overshoes were missing, and it is hardly probable that he would have been on top of the train in that condition. Reports are also current of trouble between him and the engineer and other train hands, and that the engineer on one trip would not allow him to enter the cab compelling him to ride in the cold on top of the cars. The wound (or fracture of his skull) is said to have been such as one as would have been caused by a blow from a hammer or small blunt instrument,—possibly the end of a poker,— and not such as would have probably been received had he fallen from the top of the train and struck on the hard, frozen ground. Bert's experience as a railroad brakeman was short. Less than three months ago he left a good home with his parents on their farm in Convis, and pushed out into the world to battle for himself among its vicissitudes. Now he fills an early grave."

This morning a reporter of the STATESMAN interviewed a gentleman of this city who has known the Garfield family for years and he stated that in his opinion Bert Garfield was murdered and that the relatives of the deceased also entertained the same opinion. The authorities should investigate this matter.

The Evening Statesman. Marshall, Michigan, February 12, 1887.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Mysteries of Pearl Bryan

Someone with a knowledge of American murder ballads would likely notice a serious omission at Murder by Gaslight—the 1896 murder of Pearl Bryan that inspired three distinct ballads, each with several variations. The reason I haven’t yet posted on the death of Pearl Bryan is that I have written a book on that murder and was hoping to publish the book before the post.  But at the moment, I have no idea when that might happen.
In the meantime, an article I wrote some time ago on the death of Pearl Bryan was recently published by the magazine, Kentucky Explorer, and I have decided to reprint the article here. “Pearl Bryan: Headless Corpse Found on Northern Ky. Farm” –originally titled “The Mysteries of Pearl Bryan”—explores some of the unanswered questions in a case that today is usually presented as open-and-shut. It is longer than the average post, but it is a complicated story and still just the tip of the iceberg.
And here is a version of one of the ballads, “Pearl Bryan” recorded in 1926 by Burnett & Rutherford:

"Pearl Bryan" -
Burnett & Rutherford

 The Mysteries of Pearl Bryan

When the headless corpse of a young pregnant woman was found on John Locke’s farm in the Highlands near Ft. Thomas, on February 1, 1896, the shock was felt far beyond the Ohio Valley.  For the rest of that winter and most of the spring the Ft. Thomas Tragedy unfolded in daily newspapers across America and, for a time, rivaled the murder of Lizzie Borden’s parents, four years earlier, for the dubious distinction of “Crime of the Century.”  The woman was Pearl Bryan, from the little town of Greencastle, Indiana and the mystery of how she had come to Kentucky, and there met such a gruesome fate, seemed as unfathomable as it was incomprehensible.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Veiled Murderess.

In 1854, a woman calling herself Henrietta Robinson stood trial in Troy, New York, for poisoning a neighbor and his sister-in-law. Despite the judge’s admonitions, she sat through the trial with her face covered by a black veil, hiding her appearance from the throngs of spectators who had come to watch. Everything about the defendant was a mystery—her motive for murder, her behavior before and after the crime, and even her true identity. It was well known that “Henrietta Robinson” was an assumed name, but who she really was has never been determined.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Alfred Taylor

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:
Alfred Taylor.
In July, 1888, Alfred Taylor of Lapeer, N. Y., killed Melville Frieze of Richford, in same State. Taylor had a wife, while Frieze was a single man. They lived for a while near each other and Taylor became jealous of Frieze’s attention to his wife. Taylor and a companion who had been out hunting and who had a loaded rifle in his hands, were sitting a grocery store at Hartford Mills, when Frieze entered the store. He jumped up and snatching the rifle out of his companion’s hand, fired at Frieze. The bullet struck his victim in the breast, just above the heart, and passed through his body. The wound was mortal, and death followed a few hours later.

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