Date: November 23, 1885
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Victim: Emma Taylor Smith
Cause of Death: Gunshot
Accused: Samuel R. Smith
Emma Taylor Smith was beautiful girl of eighteen, with black hair and dark eyes. She was believed to be Spanish or a Creole from Louisiana but she was born and raised in Cleveland Ohio; both of her parents were mixed-race. Emma’s father had served two years in the State Penitentiary for burglary and larceny, and Emma herself had a brush with the law when at age thirteen, she accused an ex-policeman named Hoban of attempting a criminal assault on her.
She met Samuel Smith in 1883 when she was fifteen years old, working as a waitress at Miller’s restaurant in Cleveland, and the two were immediately attracted to each other. Smith made and sold enameled letters for fancy signs and appeared to be earning good wages, but Emma’s mother was against the relationship because Smith was eight years older than her daughter. Two weeks after Emma’s sixteenth birthday, Samuel Smith called at the house, ostensibly to take Emma to a dance, but while Mrs. Taylor was distracted, they loaded Emma’s trunk onto a wagon and eloped. A few days later Mrs. Tayler received a letter from Emma, mailed in Buffalo, New York, explaining that she and Samuel were married and it would be useless to look for them.
Samuel and Emma Smith then traveled to Chicago and while they moved quite often, they paid their bills and appeared to be a stable and loving couple. In November 1885, they were living in an apartment on West Monroe Street. The night of Saturday, November 23, the landlady heard an explosion come from their apartment and sent her husband up to investigate. Without opening the door, Samuel explained that he had been loading a shotgun that he kept for hunting and one of the shells accidentally exploded, but had done no damage. The landlord accepted the explanation then, but the next day, when no one answered his knocks he suspected trouble and forced open the door. He found the body of Emma Smith lying on floor with a pillow covering her face. He lifted the pillow to discover that the top of her head had been blown off. The murder weapon, Smith’s shotgun, was lying across the bed. Smith had changed out of his bloodstained clothes, washed his hands and left.
To Emma, Bickford enclosed a lock of his hair because “Our eyes shall never again behold each other’s face.” He told her he was on his “dying couch” implying that he was committing suicide.
Mrs. Taylor, who had come to Chicago to claim her daughter’s remains, knew nothing of J. S. H. Bickford and had no knowledge that Emma was engaged to anyone before meeting Smith. The police and reporters were not able to track down Bickford in Chicago or Cleveland and it was believed that the name may have been fictitious.
A coroner’s inquest was held and a warrant was issued for Samuel Smith’s arrest for the murder of Emma Smith. Though Smith had left the city and the police had no idea where he went, they were confident that he would be captured when they released this very detailed description throughout the country:
Department of Police,
Chicago, November 23, 1885
Arrest for murder Samuel R. Smith. He is about twenty-seven years of age, five feet seven inches high, medium build, 145 to 150 pounds weight, dark brown hair which he combs low on his forehead and is slightly sprinkled with gray; has a tumor on top of his head and very receding forehead; scar through right eyebrow; small brown mustache, sometimes dyed black and curled up at ends; small, piercing eyes; talks rapidly; medium pale face; wore when he left here, dark, bottle-green suit with silver stripes, dark overcoat, small, leaf scarf pin with diamond in center, and high silk hat made by Chicago hatter. Address all information to F. Ebersold, General Superintendent Police.
Soon after, he sent his wife back to Erie, saying he planned to close his affairs in Cleveland and move to Buffalo; he would send for her when he was established there. In Erie she received a letter saying he was bound for New York City where he was to ship out as a sailor on an ocean vessel. He said he would return in nine months and live with her again. A year later she met a member of his family who told her that Smith had drowned in mid-ocean.
She told reporters, “I heard nothing more of him until I read in the Leader of the murder he committed. He is a shrewd rascal, and I hope the authorities will capture him. Often he has taken a knife from his pocket and declared that he was determined to have money, even if he had to shed blood to get it. His boast was that there were no detectives smart enough to catch him.”
Reporters also learned some particulars on the dead woman and her relationship with Smith in Chicago. The ruling passion of Emma’s life had been her wardrobe. The couple lived very frugally in every other aspect of their life so that Emma would have money for the clothing she desired. It was reported that on the Thursday before the murder she had demanded that Smith buy her a new silk dress and told him not to come home without it.
She needed to dress well because she had decided to try her hand at entertaining and joined a West Side theatre troupe for a performance called “Lawn Tennis.” She proudly showed Smith some complicated dance steps she had learned for the show, but he was not impressed. The thought of her leaving him for the theatre, coupled with his jealousy over J. S. H. Bickford became unbearable for Smith resulting in Emma’s murder.
But the murder had not been a sudden impulse; reporters determined that Smith had purchased a train ticket before the murder. After shooting Emma, Smith visited some men who owed him money, collected what he could, then by a roundabout route went to the train depot. Hours before the body was discovered Smith was in a sleeping car travelling though Canada. His final destination was unknown.
He closed the letter this way:
Place our souls, O God, together,
Sit me at my own’s sweet feet
As there never was before me,
Love and cherish her for me.
S. R. Smith.
Samuel R. Smith’s body never turned up in Chesapeake Bay. Many believed he was too much a coward to kill himself. In fact there is no evidence that Smith was ever seen again, alive or dead. Very likely he made good his boast “that there were no detectives smart enough to catch him.”P.S. –You will find my body in the river—or in Chesapeake Bay rather. So fare thee well, all of my enemies.