Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Butler Fratricide.

The Murder of Henry Butler - Portrait of his Killer.
On October 6, 1879, Henry Butler went to visit his younger brother, Robert, at the King farm outside of Bradford, Pennsylvania, where Robert boarded. The brothers exchanged warm greetings, they had not seen each other in four years. They made plans to visit a third brother in Hornellsville, New York, then all three would go together to see their father. But first, they would have a night on the town.

Henry and Robert, together with Robert’s roommate, William King, went into Bradford and stopped at several drinking establishments. They had a few drinks at Howard’s then went to the Theatre Comique where they continued drinking until midnight. From there they went to Drumgool’s and drank until 2 a.m.

Henry Butler was known to have a mean disposition when drinking and that side of his personality came out as their night was ending at Drumgool’s. Another patron, Jack Laden, sang a ditty that, for some reason, greatly offended Henry. Henry threw a punch at Laden, Robert stepped in to break up the fight, and Drumgool threw them all out of the bar.

Henry was still angry and as they were walking home he turned his anger on Robert. Outside of the St. James Hotel, they came to blows, and this time, Robert suffered some punishment. William King stopped the fight and the brothers went home separately.

Henry and William King arrived home first and King tried to send Henry to bed to avoid any more trouble, but when Robert arrived the arguing resumed. Robert ordered Henry out of the house, then he went to the house of his neighbor, Todd Wickwire, and asked to borrow his pistol. Robert assured him that he would do no harm with it, so at 4 a.m. Wickwire loaned his 38 caliber revolver to his drunken neighbor.

As Robert was returning home he met Henry near the barn and they began scuffling again. They fought for several minutes before Robert pointed the revolver at his brother’s chest and pulled the trigger. William King came out of the house just as Henry, lying on the ground, was breathing his last. “Goodbye, Bill,” Henry said, “the Lord have mercy on me.”

Robert helped King carry the body to the house. The neighbors were alerted and one was dispatched to notify the police. When the officers arrived Robert Butler was in remorse, unable to believe what he had done. “I have killed my brother,” he said, “what am I to do?”

At Robert's trial the following April, his attorney argued for justifiable homicide. He had borrowed the revolver, not to murder his brother but out of fear for his own life. The jury found Robert Butler guilty of second-degree murder and the judge sentenced him to eight years in solitary confinement at the Western Pennsylvania Penitentiary.   


"Another Murder." Mckean County Miner 9 Oct 1879.
"Brutal Murder." Kane Weekly Blade 16 Oct 1879.
"Crimes and criminals." Indianapolis Sentinel 3 Apr 1880.
"On Trial for Murder." Mckean County Miner 1 Apr 1880.80.
"The Butler Fratricide." National Police Gazette 25 Oct 1879.


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