The Indiana Hero -1820
In 1819, when the State of Indiana was still frontier country, Amasa Fuller, a prominent and popular citizen of Lawrenceburg, was courting a young lady of that town. While Fuller was away on business, the young lady’s heart was stolen by a younger man, named Palmer Warren. Fuller returned to find that his true love had agreed to marry her new suitor. When Warren refused to fight a duel with Fuller, Fuller shot him in cold blood. But Amasa Fuller was so popular in Lawrenceburg that, when a ballad was written about the murder, the young lady was cast as the villain, and Fuller was “The Indiana Hero.”
The Veiled Murderess -1853
In 1854, a woman calling herself Henrietta Robinson stood trial in Troy, New York, for poisoning a neighbor and his sister-in-law. Despite the judge’s admonitions, she sat through the trial with her face covered by a black veil, hiding her appearance from the throngs of spectators who had come to watch. Everything about the defendant was a mystery—her motive for murder, her behavior before and after the crime, and even her true identity. It was well known that “Henrietta Robinson” was an assumed name, but who she really was has never been determined.
Dan Sickles, congressman from New York, was married to the most beautiful woman in Washington but his other interests, including his mistresses, often kept him away from home. Feeling lonely and abandoned, his lonely young wife, Teresa, found comfort in the arms of Philip Barton Key. When Sickles learned of their affair, he armed himself and confronted Key on the street. Blinded by rage he shot and killed his wife’s lover. Was it premeditated murder or temporary insanity?
On the afternoon of November 25, 1869 Daniel McFarland walked into the office of the New York Tribune and there shot and killed Albert Richardson, a Tribune editor. Richardson had planned to marry Daniel McFarland’s ex-wife, Abby. The facts of the murder were irrefutable, but the trial that followed focused instead on the behavior of Abby McFarland. Was her adultery an attack on the sanctity of marriage that drove Daniel McFarland to murderous insanity? Or had she been justified in leaving a drunken, abusive husband, running to the safety of another man’s arms?
A Woman Scorned -1873
William Goodrich paid a visit to the lodging of his brother Charles, on Degraw Street in Brooklyn, on March 21, 1873. Getting no response at the door William entered the house to search for his brother, and found Charles in the basement, lying dead on the floor, neatly posed, as if laid out by an undertaker. Charles had been shot in the head. On the floor near the wound lay a revolver, and near the gun was Charles’s hand, suggesting suicide. But William Goodrich knew his brother too well to believe this. “You never did this yourself!” he said, “This is murder! Not suicide!”
The Walworth Patricide -1873
The name Walworth was an old and venerable one in the state of New York. William Walworth arrived there from London in 1689; during the American Revolution, Benjamin Walworth fought in the Battle of White Plains; Reuben Hyde Walworth, in 1828, was named Chancellor of New York, the state’s highest judicial office. But in 1873 the name Walworth was forever tarnished when Frank Walworth murdered his father Mansfield Walworth.
A Matter of Honor -1883
In the autumn of 1882, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Nicholas L. Dukes learned that his fiancée, Lizzie Nutt, had been intimate with other men. An honorable man would have confronted his betrothed and ended their engagement face-to-face. Dukes chose to break the engagement in a letter written to Lizzie’s father, Civil War hero and Cashier of the Pennsylvania State Treasury, Captain A. C. Nutt. The resulting conflict was so divisive and violent that it would take two murders and two controversial trial verdicts to restore honor to Uniontown.
Professor Strunk -1886
In 1885, Professor Ira G. Strunk was a model citizen of New Albany, Indiana. He was the Principal of the New Albany Business College, a member of the Episcopal Church, and a happily married man with two young daughters. His wife Myra sang in the church choir, under the direction of Strunk’s friend, Charles V. Hoover. But behind Strunk’s back, the relationship of Myra and Charles went far beyond choir practice. Although the affair was common knowledge in New Albany, Ira Strunk was oblivious until he, quite literally, read about it in the newspaper. A small item in the gossip column of the local paper rocked Strunk’s world and set him on a course that could only end in murder.
The Nicely Brothers. -1889
Brothers Joe and Dave Nicely were the prime suspects in the robbery and murder of Herman Umberger in his home in Jennertown, Pennsylvania on February 27, 1889. They were arrested, identified by eye witnesses, convicted and condemned to death. But the Nicelys maintained their innocence and tried every means possible—legal and otherwise— to avoid punishment
The Worst Woman on Earth -1893
When two bodies were found in a hayloft on Paul Halliday’s farm in the town of Mukakating, in New York’s Catskill Mountains, his young Gypsy wife, Lizzie, became the prime suspect in their murders. It was not the first time Lizzie Halliday was accused of murder and it would not be the last. In court she would tear her clothes and babble incoherently; in captivity she was a danger to herself and everyone around her. Though she exhibited all the signs of a woman who was violently insane, many believed that Lizzie was merely a gifted actress. But no one disagreed when the press crowned Lizzie Halliday, “Worst woman on earth.”
On April 16, 1897, cashier Joseph A. Stickney was murdered during a daring daylight robbery of the Great Falls National Bank in Somersworth, New Hampshire. The frenzied investigation that followed, crossed state and national borders resulting in the arrests of Joseph Kelley, a resident of Somersworth with peculiar habits. Joseph E. Kelley confessed to the murder, leaving the court to decide whether his actions were driven by a mental disorder, whether he was feigning mental disability, or whether Kelley had in fact made a contract with the devil.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Insanity has always been a popular murder defense. Sometimes the insanity plea is painfully appropriate, other times it is the last refuge of a scoundrel.