Date: June 3, 1873
Location: New York, New York
Victim: Mansfield Walworth
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Frank Walworth
Reuben Walworth was an up and coming young attorney when he married Maria Avery of Plattsburg, New York. They settled in at Pine Grove, outside of Saratoga Springs, which would become the Walworth estate. Maria died in1848 leaving Reuben a widower with five children. Two years later, on a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, he met a thirty-nine-year-old widow named Sarah Hardin. After only one meeting he proposed to her and she accepted. That is when the trouble began.
Sarah and her children, two sons and a daughter, moved in with Reuben’s family at Pine Grove. Reuben’s youngest son, nineteen year old Mansfield, became infatuated with Sarah’s daughter Ellen, also nineteen, and they began courting in secret. In 1852 Mansfield and Ellen revealed their romance and were married in a lavish ceremony at Pine Grove.
The marriage had always been tumultuous and Mansfield Walworth was an abusive husband. He spent extended periods away from his wife and had affairs with other women. At the time of Reuben’s death, Mansfield and Ellen were separated; she had taken their children back to Kentucky. They tried several times to reconcile, in Kentucky and at Pine Grove, and though they always began with the best of intentions, the meetings invariably would end with Mansfield beating Ellen over some perceived insult or jealousy. And Ellen, bruised and often pregnant, would leave him once more.
|Ellen Hardin Walworth|
Frank Walworth assumed the role of protector for his mother, who was now living at Pine Grove. Though Mansfield could no longer physically abuse Ellen, he would send her abusive and threatening letters. Frank was able to intercept these letters before they could disturb his mother. But Frank had his own problems; he was subject to spells where he would lie stiff and pallid, his face unnaturally “convulsed.” He became absentminded and forgetful and would sometimes cry out in his sleep.
Frank never forgave his father for the way he treated Ellen. During a chance meeting with his father in Saratoga Frank told him if he did not leave Ellen alone he would shoot him.
“There are bounds,” Frank told him, “which I will not allow any man to go beyond with impunity, especially when my mother is being insulted.”On June 2, 1873, Frank intercepted another letter from his father to his mother. In it Mansfield accused Ellen of turning his children against him. He said that unless she convinced him that she had not taught their children to hate him he would kill her and himself. This was the last straw for Frank; he took the train to New York City and went to the boarding house where his father was living. His father was out so he left a note with the landlady:
“I want to settle some family matters. Call at the Sturtevant House. If I am not there I will leave word with the clerk. Frank Walworth.”Mansfield did not return until midnight so did not go to the Sturtevant House until six o’clock the next morning. The bellman escorted Mansfield to room 267 where his son was waiting for him. After the door was shut, guests in adjoining rooms heard shouting, then four gunshots fired in quick succession. Frank walked out of the room and went quickly to the front desk; he told the clerk that he had shot his father and wanted a policeman.
Frank Walworth’s trial was a sensation in an era when murders always generated headlines in New York City. His fellow inmates in the Tombs prison included other famous murderers such as Edward Stokes and William Sharkey, whose stories had been followed in daily papers throughout America. All of the Walworth family’s dirty linen—though hardly a secret in Saratoga—would be exposed by the New York press.
There was no question that Frank Walworth had murdered his father; what was at issue was whether the murder was in self-defense, and whether or not Frank Walworth was insane at the time. There was some debate over the extent that Mansfield Walworth’s letters constituted direct threats and the judge hesitated to include them. He finally allowed all to be read except those that were “entirely too filthy to be repeated.” If nothing else, the letters made the trial as much about Mansfield’s behavior as about Frank’s.
The defense brought out evidence of Frank Walworth’s deteriorating mental health. They examined an expert witness who declared that Frank Walworth was epileptic. The prosecution countered with their own experts who asserted that Frank was not having a fit when he committed murder.
This would be the first murder case tried under a new state law that distinguished between first and second degree murder—both were intentional murder but first degree required “deliberation and premeditation.” The jury took advantage of the new law and found Frank Walworth guilty of second degree murder. It meant life in prison rather than execution.
Verdict: Guilty of second degree murder
Frank Walworth was taken first to Sing Sing prison then within the first year he was transferred to Auburn Prison; fellow inmates there included murderers, Kate Stoddard and Henrietta Robinson. In 1877, after four years in prison, Frank was pardoned by newly elected Governor Lucius Robinson who, as a lawyer, had served before Chancellor Walworth. Frank returned to Pine Grove where he lived until his death in 1886 from a lung condition contracted in prison.
The death of her husband had been liberating for Ellen Hardin Walworth; she became an author, a lawyer and an educator. She was one of the founders of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Another of her sons, Clarence Augustus Walworth, wrote The Walworths of America, a history of the Walworth family which makes no mention of the murder.
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