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Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Slayback Homicide.

Little Murders:

The Slayback Homicide.

Alonzo W. Slayback and John A. Cockrell were two of the most respected men in St. Louis; Slayback was a prominent attorney and politician, and Cockerell the managing editor of the Post-Dispatch. Both were members of the Elks Club and reportedly had been amiable, if not close friends. But hey had their differences, Slayback had been a colonel in the Confederate army and Cockrell a Union colonel under General Sherman, and in the fall of 1882 they took opposite sides in a local election. Slayback’s law partner, James Broadhead was running for congress and the Post-Dispatch was publishing editorials against Broadhead and Slayback, one of which called Col. Slayback a coward.

The night of September 30, 1882, Alonzo Slayback was at the Elks Club, loudly railing against the Post-Dispatch and calling James Cockrell a blackmailer. Cockrell overheard the remarks and later that evening he got Slayback alone in the library-room to ask what he meant by the charges. According to Cockrell, the two had words and Slayback said to him, “I tell you that if the Post-Dispatch ever attacks me or assails my character, I will go to your office and kill you.” Cockrell explained the he, personally, had never written a line against Slayback and “entertained only friendly feelings for him.” Slayback cooled down, and after further conversation they shook hands, went into another room and drank together, then parted cordially.

But Col. Slayback was still angry, and at a political meeting said that he intended to denounce the Post-Dispatch from the stump during the congressional campaign. In response, the Post-Dispatch published the contents of a letter that was damaging to Slayback’s reputation.

A little after five pm on October 13, Col. Slayback went to the office of the Post-Dispatch to confront Cockrell. Slayback and his associate, Mr. Clopton, entered Cockrell’s office accompanied by Mr. McGuffin and Mr. Cole of the Post-Dispatch. Exactly what happened next is uncertain. Mr. Clopton said that Slayback had gone, unarmed, to the office, intending to slap Cockrell’s face and demand an apology. As Slayback was hanging up his coat, Cockrell grabbed a pistol from his desk and fired at Slayback, killing him.

Cockrell told a different story. Slayback entered the office and said, “Well I am here.” Seeing the pistol on Cockrell’s desk he said, “Is that for me?” Cockrell said it wasn’t but grabbed it from the desk as Slayback drew his own revolver. Cockrell fired when Slayback cocked his pistol and pointed it at Cockrell’s chest. In one telling of the story, Cockrell would have been killed if Mr. McGuffin hadn’t interposed his thumb between the hammer and the cap of Slayback’s pistol. McGuffin later produced the pistol, a pearl handled, British bulldog revolver, at the inquest, but Clopton denied that it was Slayback’s, and maintained that they had gone to the office unarmed.

John Cockrell was arrested for second-degree murder and released on $10,000 bail. Col. Slayback’s funereal was the largest seen in St. Louis to date, with thousands of people in the procession which included one hundred and forty-two carriages and about fifty buggies. There was a massive outpouring of sympathy for Slayback’s family and the affair prompted several editorials against the prevalence of handguns in American society.

When the grand jury met the following month, murder charges against John Cockrell were dropped and the matter ended.


"Mourning Multitude ." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 16 Oct 1882.
"Murder at St. Louis." Daily Illinois State Journal 14 Oct 1882.
"Murder in the Sanctum." The National Police Gazette 28 Oct 1882.
"The Slayback Murder." Daily Illinois State Register 26 Nov 1882.
"The St. Louis Homicide." New York Herald 19 Oct 1882.
"St. Louis Tragedy." Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 15 Oct 1882.


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