Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Murder of Chong Ong.

Little Murders
(From New York Herald-Tribune, New York, New York, November 21, 1885)

The Murder of Chong Ong.
A Cuban Charged with the Crime.

Arrested on the Testimony of a Boy who Saw the Chinaman Stabbed.
A tall Cuban, whose dark skin showed that he had negro blood in his veins, was locked up at Police Headquarters yesterday, charged with the murder of Chong Ong, the Chinaman who kept a restaurant at Spring and Wooster sts., under the name of Antonio Solao. The arrest of the Cuban was based on evidence which was kept secret by the police after the discovery of the murder, which occurred on November 2. The police were first informed of the crime by a vender who found the mutilated body of Chong Ong lying on the floor of the basement restaurant. It was believed that the Chinaman had been killed by a thief who also was a Chinaman. For a time the police were not able to ascertain that there had been any witnesses of the crime, and the indications were that Ong was murdered in the basement. On the evening of the murder, however, Captain McDonnell was informed that George Manz, a boy who was employee in the store of William Schimper & Co. at No. 138 Wooster st., had been a witness of the murder and could identify the murderer.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Black-McKaig Homicide.

As children, Harry and Myra Black were playmates with William McKaig, but as adults McKaig did not view the Blacks as his equals—the McKaigs were wealthy, the Blacks were not. As events transpired, their relationships grew to resemble a melodrama where the rich but unscrupulously evil villain seduces and ruins the innocent maiden. Her betrayal is avenged by her equally upright brother. But will his goodness be pure enough to save him from the gallows?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

William Agnew.

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

William Agnew.

"Of all the cold blooded villains, this is one of the worst. Wm. Agnew lived in Palyra, N. Y. [sic] He went home with his wife one night from a ball, and after some angry words, picked up a rocking chair and dealt her several blows on the head, crushing in her skull. He then carried her up-stairs to bed and she died that night. He slept in the same room with the murdered woman and remained about the house for several days until the body was discovered."

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

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Murdered by a Maniac”
Guest Post by James Schmidt

I am pleased to welcome guest blogger, James M. Schmidt to Murder by Gaslight. James writes about the American Civil War is the author of several books, including Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom. An article of his was recently published in The New York Times for their “Disunion” series on the Civil War. James also blogs about the Civil War from a medical point of view at Civil War Medicine (and Writing).

Today James will be taking a break from the battlefield, but not from violence, as he relates a fascinating tale of murder in Connecticut from the 1850s:


Murdered by a Maniac

by James M. Schmidt
The epitaph on a headstone in Sperry Cemetery in Bethany, Connecticut, bears witness to a horrible crime committed on New Year’s Day 1856:

In Memory of
Ichabod Umberfield
who was murdered by a maniac
Jan’y 1, 1856

The grim prose is actually only a hint of a week’s worth of violence and madness that began on Christmas Eve 1855 and took three innocent lives.  It offers a trail of treasure in primary material and engaging stories for anyone who takes the time to investigate the tale.  It also crosses multiple subjects of interest to people who enjoy studying the 1800s: cults, Spiritualism, mental illness, journalism, court proceedings, incarceration, class distinctions, and much more.

Mr. Umberfield was murdered by Charles Sanford, who had also killed another man, Enoch Sperry, earlier that day.  News of the grisly killings was reported throughout the area and then across the country.  Typical was this notice in the Hartford Daily Courant on January 3, 1856:

Terrible Affair with a Maniac
Two Men Murdered!

The father of Hon. N. D. Sperry, Secretary of State, and a farmer, named Ichabod Umberfield, were cruelly and savagely killed by a lunatic named Charles Sanford, in the town of Woodbridge, on Tuesday… He seems to have accidently encountered Mr. Sperry, in his sleigh, about a half mile from the main road, on what is called the Shunpike, about 11 o'clock A. M.; to have made an assault on Mr. Sperry; dragged him from his sleigh … Mr. Sperry was struck first on the right temple with the head of the axe; then another blow just above the right ear, both of which produced fractures of the skull. He was then struck with the edge of the axe on the neck, the blow entering just under the chin, which it wounded and nearly severed his head from his body.

Sanford was apparently driven mad by the murder of a relative a week earlier, and that is an even more interesting story!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Massachusetts Borgia.

The Order of Pilgrim Fathers was a Massachusetts social group whose chief purpose was to provide cheap life insurance for working-class men and women. In the summer of 1886 the Order became suspicious of one of their members, Mrs. Sarah Jane Robinson, whose son William was on his death bed just six months after the death of her daughter Lizzie. When officers of the Order of Pilgrim Fathers expressed their concerns to the Chief of Police, they learned that Mrs. Robinson was already under investigation for the death of her nephew just a few weeks earlier. In each case the cause of death was arsenic poisoning and when the full tally of Mrs. Robinson’s poison murders was revealed, the press would dub her “The Massachusetts Borgia.”