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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.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Now Available! The Bloody Century

New book...

 


Buy it Now! at Amazon.

A murderous atmosphere pervaded nineteenth century America unlike anything seen before or since. Lurid murder stories dominated newspaper headlines, and as if responding to the need for sensational copy, Americans everywhere began to see murder as a solution to their problems. The Bloody Century retells their stories -- some still famous, some long buried, all endlessly fascinating.
The Bloody Century is a collection of true stories of ordinary Americans, driven by desperation, greed, jealousy or an irrational bloodlust, to take the life of someone around them. The book includes facts, motives, circumstances and outcomes, narrating fifty of the most intriguing murder cases of nineteenth century America. Richly illustrated with scenes and portraits originally published at the time of the murders, and including songs and poems written to commemorate the crimes, The Bloody Century invokes a fitting atmosphere for Victorian homicide. 
The days of America’s distant past, the time of gaslights and horse drawn carriages, are often viewed as quaint and sentimental, but a closer look reveals passions, fears, and motives that are timeless and universal, and a population inured to violence, capable of monstrous acts. A visit to The Bloody Century may well give us insight into our own.


"I've been a fan of Robert Wilhelm's "Murder by Gaslight" blog for years and I'm so pleased that readers are being treated to the very best of his posts in this interesting and entertaining collection.  There's something here for everyone - tragedy and comedy, open-and-shut cases and wrongful convictions, rich and poor, city and country, and more.  Readers will delight in the period engravings, the emphasis on how the cases influenced popular culture, and the extensive research that provides for further reading.  The Bloody Century is a welcome and lively companion to Judith Flanders' recent  The Invention of Murder, with a decidedly American flavor."
--- James M. Schmidt, Author of Galveston and the Civil War and Notre Dame and the Civil War

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Murder or Suicide?

Little Murders
 
(From Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, November 12, 1878)

Murder or Suicide?
 
The Mystery of the Dead Body Found in the Woods Still Unsolved.
 
The case of Joseph Straka, whose dead body was found in the woods, is still unraveled. Indeed, the mystery surrounding it seems to deepen. The post mortem examination was made yesterday by Professor Holliday and that revealed nothing definite.

The Coroner was to have held an inquest to-day but has postponed it until to-morrow because he cannot yet find the solution of the problem but hopes to by further investigation.

All sorts of theories have been made up, both for murder and suicide, but there is nothing to fasten to. The belief that Straka was murdered seems to be gaining ground but the difficulty in the way of that theory is to find a motive.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Murdered his Mother.

Little Murders:
Murdered his Mother.
 
National Police Gazette, Feb. 2, 1889
Elmer Sharkey, still wearing his night clothes, ran to his neighbor’s house, the morning of Saturday, January 11, 1889, calling for help. His house had been broken into and his mother had been murdered in her bed. Elmer, distraught over the death of his widowed mother, Caroline Sharkey, persuaded county officials in Eaton, Ohio, to offer a reward of $1,000 for the apprehension of her killer.

As soon as the reward was announced, Herman Hughes, a well-known young man of Eaton, had himself appointed special officer, and put Elmer Sharkey under arrest for the murder. Sharkey denied the charge and remained stolid until after his mother’s funeral the following Monday, when he finally broke down. Hughes had a talk with him after the funeral and Sharkey confessed to killing his mother, though he had not remembered the details until after her burial.
 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Bloody Century.

October 2014 marked the fifth anniversary of weekly posts on Murder by Gaslight (and last week marked our 1,000,000th pageview) to celebrate we are pleased to announce the forthcoming release of a new book, The Bloody Century, by Robert Wilhelm. The book contains fifty true stories of murder compiled and refined from the posts on Murder by Gaslight and represents the best of the first five years or the blog.

The Bloody Century— it may seem arbitrary to label the nineteenth as America’s “bloody century” when all of her centuries have seen a fair amount of blood, but a murderous atmosphere pervaded nineteenth century America unlike any before or since. For the most part, these are not stories of hardened criminals for whom murder was a way of life, the killers were ordinary Americans, of every class and occupation, who had concluded that their lot in life could be improved by the death of someone in their circle.
 
It was an era of second chances; while some traveled west to start a new life, others looked for their second chance through violence. Harvard professor John White Webster thought he could relieve his debts by killing his creditor. Frankie Silver and Roxalana Druse murdered their husbands to escape abuse, while Henry Green and Adolph Luetgert got rid of their inconvenient wives. Jealousy drove Daniel McFarland to murder his rival, and Laura Fair to murder her lover. Greed drove the Knapp brothers to plot the murder of their rich uncle.
 
Then there were the murders committed for no reason at all. While still in his early teens Jesse Pomeroy tortured and killed two young children and could not explain why. Thomas Piper murdered two young women before senselessly killing a five-year-old girl in a church belfry. Theo Durrant, who also did his dirty work in a church belfry, murdered and mutilated two young women from the Christian Endeavor Society which he led. Lydia Sherman and Sarah Jane Robinson poisoned their husbands and children in murder sprees that went on for years. And of course, the infamous H. H. Holmes systematically tortured and killed an estimated 230 men, women, and children.   
 
The Bloody Century tells all their stories, sticking closely to the facts, but with a nod to the rumors as well. The book is profusely illustrated with portraits and murder scenes from nineteenth century pamphlets, newspapers and magazines, and it includes ballad lyrics, poems and verses composed at the time of the murders.
 
The days of our distant past, the time of gaslights and horse drawn carriages, are often viewed as quaint and sentimental, but a closer look reveals passions, fears, and motives that are timeless and universal, and a population inured to violence, capable of monstrous acts. A visit to the bloody century may well give us insight into our own.
 
The Bloody Century will be available some time in the coming month. If you would like more information or advance notice of the books release, please email info@murderbygaslight.com
 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Guest Blogger: ExecutedToday


It is always a pleasure to present a guest post from our friends at  ExecutedToday.com who have just competed their seventh year of daily execution reports.   Here is the story of Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh who killed at least one husband and was hanged while sitting in her rocking chair, originally posted on ExecutedToday.com.

1846: Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh, in her rocking chair

Originally posted January 24th, 2013  by Headsman

On this date in 1846, a 46-year-old woman lamed from a fall got noosed in her rocking chair in Fulton, N.Y.

Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh had been widowed at 34 with four children, when her first husband died of dyspepsia and exposure. “There is no foundation,” the prisoner explained, “for the report that I had in any way hastened his death, nor did such a thing ever enter my mind.”

She remarried shortly thereafter to John Van Valkenburgh, apparently a violent drunk, whose depredations eventually led Elizabeth to get rid of him by spiking his tea with arsenic. “To this act I was prompted by no living soul,” she said in her confession. “I consulted with no one on the subject, nor was any individual privy to it.” She may have been keen to clear any public suspicion from her oldest children — they were old enough to try to get mom to move out of the house with them and offer to help take care of the younger kids. She suffered a fall from a barn’s hayloft as she was hiding out, which crippled her leg.

The key original documents from her trial, including the death sentence and the rejection of clemency (a petition to which 10 of Valkenburgh’s 12 jurors subscribed) are preserved here.

Oh, and one other thing. On the eve of her hanging, the condemned murderess produced a germane revision to her aforementioned confession, recalling that there may actually have been some foundation for the report that she also hastened her first husband’s death.
With respect to my first husband I should have stated that about a year before his death I mixed arsenic, which I purchased several months previously at Mr. Saddler’s in Johnstown, with some rum which he had in a jug, of which he drunk once, and by which he was made very sick and vomited, but it did not prevent his going to work the next day and continuing to work afterwards, until the next June. His feet and the lower part of his legs became numb after drinking this, which continued until his death, and his digestion was also impaired.

I always had a very ungovernable temper, and was so provoked by his going to Mr. Terrill’s bar where he had determined to go and I had threatened that if he did go he should never go to another bar, and as he did go nothwithstanding this, I put in the arsenic as I have said.
Right.

Because of the her impaired mobility, the condemned poisoner was carried in her rocking chair to the gallows, and stayed right in it for the whole procedure. They noosed her up sitting in the rocker, and dropped the platform to hang her as she rocked away in it.