Date: November 10, 1886
Location: San Francisco, California
Victim: Mary Elizabeth "Mamie" Kelly
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Alexander Goldenson
According to a statement Aleck Goldenson wrote at the time of his arrest, he had met Mamie Kelly two years earlier when his family moved in to their house on Hayes Street in San Francisco. She was twelve then and he was seventeen. Mamie dropped a bracelet over the fence between her yard and his, and he picked it up for her. She later told him she had deliberately dropped it so she could get acquainted with him. After that she saw him quite frequently and he invited her in to see his artwork. Aleck would also visit at Mamie’s house and he gave her a silk handkerchief and other presents. Mamie lived with her grandmother and when she learned of their relationship she forbade Mamie from seeing Aleck.
The more her family tried to keep her away from Aleck Goldenson the more determined Mamie became. She told Aleck she loved him and wanted him to take her away and marry her. When Aleck refused Mamie threatened to kill herself. Aleck realized that matters had gotten out of hand and he wrote her a four page letter telling her not to come to his house or speak to him again.
At the same time Aleck was seeing women closer to his own age. Mamie saw him kissing one of them and she was heartbroken. She sent him a note:
Is everything going to be like this? You are treating me mean. Dear Aleck, I don't know what to do. You nearly broke my heart when you kissed that girl last night. I could not sleep all night. Excuse bad writing, as I am afraid my grandmother is coming up soon. Dear, Aleck, I will follow you until I die. I will die an old maid if I don't get you and you know it. Please come back to your own Mamie Kelly once more. From your once loving sweetheart,
P.S.- I want to have a talk with you. Please answer soon
They met on the street soon after; Mamie was coming from school, Aleck from a saloon. Here is what happened, according to Goldenson’s statement:
…she started to abuse me, calling me a d—d Jew, that I was trying to fool her. I said, ‘Mamie, I told you long ago that I would not have you for a ton of gold.’ She called me a d—d Jew again, and I pulled out my revolver and shot her.
The police verified the murder and found the revolver where Goldenson had thrown it outside City Hall. Goldenson wrote a long statement detailing his relationship with Mamie Kelly and the events preceding the murder. The note allegedly written by Mamie Kelly was found in his pocket, but Mamie’s grandmother and her teacher both said it was not in her handwriting.
The police wasted no time indicting Goldenson, a coroner’s jury was assembled who found that the murder was done with malice aforethought, without cause, and charged him with “cold-blooded murder.” News of the murder had spread throughout San Francisco, and as the hearing proceeded, as many as 10,000 people gathered around City Hall, calling for “lynch law.” Police officers, with drawn clubs, finally broke up the crowd, arresting six for inciting a riot. Goldenson was whisked to County Jail.
Trial: February 20, 1886
Goldenson’s family hired attorney Eugene N. Deuprey to represent Aleck. Deuprey filed motions with the court asserting the indictment against his client was illegal since he was not notified in time to prepare a case or call witnesses. He also moved for a change of venue because the public was prejudiced against him. When Judge Murphy denied both motions, Deuprey moved that the court form a commission to take depositions of witnesses living in Russia and in New York State, who could testify that the Goldenson family had a history of “mental unsoundness.” The judge said he would take the matter under advisement but would not delay the trial.
When the trial began on February 20, Deuprey was not present in the courtroom. An associate of his moved for a continuance because the defendant’s attorneys were occupied with another trial. Judge Murphy denied the motion and was determined to start the trial. Against the wishes of the defendant’s family he appointed Goldenson new attorneys for the trial. When the new attorneys protested that Deuprey and Goldenson’s relatives refused to give them information the judge replied:
I have given the matter a great deal of thought. If the defendant’s relatives refuse to give necessary information to the attorneys appointed by the Court, the Court is not responsible. Call the jury.By the end of the jury selection, Judge Murphy may have been sorry he hadn’t ruled for a change of venue. It took fifteen days and more than three hundred examination to find twelve impartial jurors. At the twelfth selection the defense had run out of preemptory challenges and the judge swore in Mr. J. Butler who “had formed an opinion as to Goldenson’s guilt, which would require very strong evidence to remove.” He also expressed opposition to the “insanity dodge.”
The trial lasted four weeks, but included very little testimony beyond what was in the Coroner’s inquest. The defense brought in a doctor to evaluate Goldenson’s sanity, but without the cooperation of the family they could not effectively pursue an insanity defense. The case was given to the jury on March 28. According to the New York Tribune, “The jury on the first ballot was unanimous for the death penalty, but the stayed out fifty minutes and took a quiet smoke before they came in.”
Verdict: Guilty of first degree murder
After the verdict, Deuprey rejoined the case and he and the court appointed attorneys filed several motions for a new trial and all were denied. The case was appealed to the California Supreme Court but the verdict was upheld. Alexander Goldenson was sentenced to hang on September 14, 1888.
While awaiting execution Goldenson exhibited hostile behavior. He was rude and abrasive to his jailers and others who came to see him. He would listen politely to evangelists and even sing hymns with them then when they left he would cruelly mimic them to the enjoyment of the other prisoners. After a visiting sheriff from Wisconsin was subjected to vile epithets from Goldenson, he was put in a “dark cell.” That night groans were heard from the cell and when it was opened the jailers found that Goldenson had cut his wrists with a penknife. The wounds were not deep enough to suggest suicide but they did get him out of the dark cell and into one where he could be watched more closely. Twice he was found to be in possession of morphine provided by visiting friends.
As his execution date approached, Goldenson began to mellow. On his cell wall was a photograph of Mamie Kelly in her confirmation dress; he declared that she was his only love. He said that his original statement was false and the murder was not premeditated. He called it a “minute” crime. It happened so quickly that he was confused by it ever since.
More than six hundred people were on hand in the jail on September 14 with many more standing in the street outside. An extra hundred policemen were on duty to preserve order. The night before his hanging, Goldenson was converted to Catholicism by Father Fassanott and it seemed to have a calming effect on the condemned man. At noon Goldenson was led to the gallows. In his left hand he held a picture of Mamie Kelly, tied with a silk string to his wrist so it would not fall to the ground when he let go. In his right hand he held an American flag. He stood in front of the scaffold and spoke to the crowd in a clear, unwavering voice:
“I wish to say a few words before I die. I have often reiterated that Mamie was my first and only love. I say now she was. I hope to be forgiven by her and all. I hope I will go to heaven. I think you for all your kindness to me, good-bye.”With one hand, Goldenson, himself, put the noose around his neck and the black cap was drawn over his head. At12:08 the trap was sprung and Goldenson died still holding the picture of his young victim.