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Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Devil in Essex County.

In honor of Halloween, I am switching, this week, from nineteenth century murder to seventeenth century witchcraft. Everyone knows of the mass hysteria surrounding the Salem witch trials in 1692, but as this excerpt from my book, Murder and Mayhem in Essex County, points out, fear of witchcraft, in Massachusetts, did not begin or end with the witch trials, and accusations of demonic possession spread far beyond the borders of Salem.


The Devil in Essex County.

    Without a doubt the most nefarious events ever to take place in Essex County, Massachusetts, were the trials and executions of twenty women and men, and the imprisonment of dozens more, between 1692 and 1693, for practicing witchcraft. The witch trials in Salem have become synonymous with mass hysteria and injustice, and have left an indelible stain on the reputation of Salem, Massachusetts. The notion of accusing and punishing witches has become so tightly bound to Salem as to leave the impression that it was an isolated incident, a brief moment of insanity limited to that place and time, ending as suddenly as it began.  In fact, accusations of witchcraft had a long history in Essex County, which neither began nor ended in Salem.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Murder in McDowell.

Little Murders


Stephen Effler
On January 6, 1881, a traveler named Sowers stopped at the home of Stephen Effler and his wife and was invited to stay for supper. The Efflers lived near McDowell, North Carolina, in a wild gorge in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so remote that no wheeled vehicle could pass within a mile. During the meal, Effler and his wife, got into a terrible argument and she told him she planned to leave him and return to her mother the following day. By the time Sowers left, the fighting had ceased, and Mrs. Effler seemed to be in good health.

Some time later Effler went to his grandfather’s house and told him that his wife was very ill. His grandfather alerted the neighbors, and they went to see how Mrs. Effler was doing. “Very ill” was an understatement, they found Mrs. Effler lying dead with her three-month-old baby sleeping on her breast. Her neck had been broken, her right shoulder dislocated, and she had wounds and bruises all over her body. Effler was arrested, and a coroner’s jury summoned. Their conclusion was “that the deceased came to her from wounds inflicted by some weapon in the hands of her husband.”

Saturday, October 17, 2015

An Ancient Mystery Solved.

Little Murders
(From New York Tribune, November 29, 1883)


An Ancient Mystery Solved.
 The Perpetrator of One Murder, Which Led to Four Others, Discovered.

Seymour, Ind., Nov. 28. – An old murder mystery, resulting in four other tragedies, has just been cleared up. Moore Woodmansee, a wealthy merchant of Medora, nineteen miles from here, came to Seymour, January 3, 1866, on his way to Cincinnati. He had $2,000 with which to purchase goods. He was missed from his room at the Roder House, and the cause of his disappearance was a mystery until October, when his body was found in White River, with the head cut off. Gordon Kinney, an employee of the hotel, was suspected of the crime. When the excitement caused by the finding of the body was at its highest, an unknown man called Kinney from his door one night; as the latter opened the door he was shot and instantly killed.

In 1872 Reuben Wheeler was mortally wounded. When told he had to die, Wheeler made a confession, saying that on the night of Woodmansee’s murder two men had taken from the Roder stable the horse and spring-wagon. In the morning they returned. The bottom of the wagon was covered with blood. It was afterward taken out and new boards substituted. Roder was arrested for the murder, but acquitted; and again the affair was a dark mystery.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Unrequited Love.

Little Murders

Andrew J. Gillen
When he was a young law student, Andrew J. Gillen was mentored by Michael Sigerson, Assistant Corporation Lawyer for New York City. Gillen was a troubled youth whose family had disowned him over his “habits of dissipation,” and appreciated Sigerson’s help and hospitality. He would often visit Sigerson’s home on Lewis Street, where he lived with his widowed mother, his brother John and his sister Mary.

The mentoring continued for several years and over that time Gillen fell in love with Mary Sigerson. She was thirty-years-old, brunette, short and somewhat stout, quiet and reserved, educated as a teacher, but did not feel robust enough to follow that occupation. Though she was described as “not particularly handsome,” Gillen was infatuated with Mary and, after passing the bar, he continued to visit the Sigerson home to see her.

Andrew Gillen was a fine looking young man with light hair and blue eyes, but he was only twenty-three and Mary did not take his advances seriously. Undeterred, Gillen persisted until his conduct became too annoying to tolerate. Mary and her mother requested that he cease his visits.

Devastated, Gillen sent Mary a note, appealing for an opportunity to win her affections. Mary sent a note back, agreeing to see him once more. She told her mother that she would dismiss Gillen after a few minutes. When he arrived, he was allowed into the family sitting-room on the second floor, and Mrs. Sigerson went in and out of the room several times, to make her presence known.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The North Carolina Tragedy.


The Reverend George Washington Carawan, prominent and powerful North Carolina Baptist minister was a man of violent temper and strong animal passions, more apt to inspire terror than piety in those around him. The sorrows he begat in his relationships would follow him to the courtroom for the last savage act in Carawan’s tragedy.