Date: October 17, 1870
Location: Cumberland, Maryland
Victim: William W. McKaig, Jr.
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Harry Crawford Black
William McKaig and Harry Black were little more than children when they left their homes in Cumberland, Maryland to join the Confederate Army. McKaig rose to the rank of colonel while Black became a prisoner of war. Following the Civil War, William McKaig returned to Cumberland and took the helm of the family’s iron business. Harry Black took a job as clerk with the Franklin Coal Company; a job that kept him away from Cumberland for three weeks at a time.
During the war years Myra Black had blossomed into beautiful young woman, attracting the attention of William McKaig upon his return to Cumberland. He began a very public courtship with Myra and the Black family had no reason to believe that his intentions were anything but honorable. But McKaig abused their trust and seduced Myra Black. He then used the threat of exposure to make keep her under his domination.
In 1866 William McKaig married a Miss Hughes, of Jefferson County Virginia, a woman more suitable to someone in his social station, but he continued his illicit intercourse with Myra Black in secret. When another man proposed marriage to Myra, McKaig put a stop to the marriage by revealing to the groom that he had seduced Myra and ruined her in the eyes of the world. McKaig’s sexual relationship with Myra Black continued until the spring of 1870 when she became pregnant.
Myra was sent away to have the baby and in June 1870, her father, Harrison Black, confronted William McKaig at a public fairground. McKaig not only denied seducing Myra Black but declared that she was a strumpet and had been a prostitute “from her earliest girlhood.” This was too much for Harrison Black; he took out his pistol and shot McKaig, hitting him in the arm.
The family was able to keep all of this news from Harry Black during his brief and infrequent visits back to Cumberland. When he was home on Saturday, October 15, 1870, Harry was out with his friend Henshaw, who happened to ask if Harry’s father had been indicted yet. Harry knew his father was in trouble but could not get a straight answer from his parents so he asked Henshaw to explain. Henshaw told him what had happened at the fairground and the next day Harry went to his mother, demanding the whole story.
Monday morning Harry Black met William McKaig on Baltimore Street, the principal thoroughfare of Cumberland and shot him three times in view of at least twenty witnesses. When the deed was done he said:
“That’s what you get for ruining my sister and for trying to send my father to the penitentiary, and I have got another shot for any damned scoundrel who says I’ve done what was wrong.”
Public sentiment in Cumberland was so strongly in Harry Black’s favor that the State of Maryland did not believe that they could find an impartial jury in Allegheny County and had the trial moved to Frederick County. Impartialities aside, the state felt that they had an open and shut case of first degree murder against Harry Black. Understandably angry, he had armed himself and intentionally gone to meet William McKaig then shot and killed him in front of numerous witnesses.
But the strongest defense came in Voorhees’s closing argument when he championed Harry Black’s good character. Prior to this case, Black had never been in trouble; never done anything even slightly questionable. During the testimony, even witnesses bringing evidence against him confirmed Harry Black’s good character. Voorhees asked how any such person could voluntarily be guilty of such a crime:
“Can the mark of Cain rest upon the brow of such a one? Can the ineffaceable hand of bloody guilt be there? Such an assertion is a perversion of all laws of human nature. The tree shall be known by its fruits; the thorn and the thistle do not bear delicious figs, and the life of innocence and peace does not bloom and ripen of a sudden into a harvest of atrocious crime.”Voorhees spoke for three and a half hours and at the end of his oration he was applauded by the gallery. The jury then took the case and after deliberating a little more than an hour returned a verdict of not guilty.
Verdict: Not Guilty
When the verdict was announced the room erupted with a deafening cheer and Harry Black was taken from the courtroom by a throng of well-wishers. He joined his weeping mother and returned to Cumberland.
It has been reported that sometime later, Myra Black committed suicide.