Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Land of Undiscovered Murders.

In the 1880s, the state of Connecticut experienced a rash of unrelated, unsolved murders which baffled local constabularies, amazed the nation, and amused neighboring New York City.

In an era when sensational murders were followed in the daily papers as if they were serialized mystery stories, avid readers could not help but notice how many of these juicy murders took place in Connecticut and it was just as obvious how many of these murders remained unsolved. A murder story should end with an execution or at least a conviction and this was not happening in Connecticut. Eventually newspapers in other states would run headlines such as “Another Connecticut Murder” as if to warn readers not to become too invested in a story without a decent ending.

Puck, a national magazine of politics and humor who published the picture above in 1883, blamed the officials in Connecticut’s incompetent legal system who managed to twist the most obvious clues into baffling mysteries. “It is our firm belief,” said Puck, “that if a man were to walk into the most frequented street of a Connecticut town, in broad daylight, among a gaping crowd of villagers, and chop a well-known resident into fine-cut with a meat-axe, it would be considered and treated as a mysterious murder.”

The New York Tribune contrasted Connecticut to another or New York’s neighbor’s, New Jersey. The term “Jersey Justice” had come to mean the rapid progression from arrest to execution, even if it occasionally meant stringing up the wrong man. Connecticut, known as “the land of steady habits,” represented the other extreme, following a slow and steady course in prosecuting crime, even if no one was ever punished. New York, of course, had found the happy medium.

Looking at these cases a hundred and thirty years later it seem that money and influence—factors only hinted at then—played a role in keeping the murders unsolved. In at least two high profile Connecticut murders the obvious suspects were wealthy and prominent citizens. After their acquittal the cases were not reopened to find the “real killer.”

In the picture above, four of the gravestones tormenting the constables are readily identifiable as famous Connecticut murders:
  • Jennie Cramer – Found raped and poisoned on the beach, was last seen in the company of Walter and Jimme Malley, son and cousin of New Haven’s richest man, along with Walter’s prostitute girlfriend. The three were tried and acquitted.
  • Mary Stannard— Stabbed and poisoned. Her pastor and employer, Reverend Herbert Hayden was tried and released after his trial ended in a hung jury. No one was ever convicted of her murder.
  • Rose Ambler— Beaten and stabbed near her boyfriend’s house. The case had a wealth of clues and a number of suspects but none of the facts seemed to fit together. No one was ever tried for the murder.
  • Henry Schulte – Axe murder of a wealthy recluse. His servant, William Bucholtz was convicted after two mistrials.


"Land of Undiscovered murders." Puck 19 Sep 1883.
"Connecticut Justice." New York Tribune 4 Oct 1883: 4.


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