|Orrin De Wolf|
Date: January 14, 1845
Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
Victim: William Stiles
Cause of Death: Strangulation
Accused: Orrin DeWolf
Conditions in the household of William and Eliza Ann were far from stable. Orrin De Wolf would later recall that Eliza Ann had told him that she was not fond of her husband. She had married him for his property and out of spite against her family, but now she wished to be rid of him. One night in November, for reasons never fully explained, Stiles told his wife to get into bed with De Wolf. She hesitated at first then complied. De Wolf told her he had a "bad disease," but they had carnal knowledge that night anyway. On following ights, all three would often share the same bed.
While De Wolf was always civil to William Stiles, behind his back he referred to him as Humpy Stiles and told his friends that he did not believe that Humpy would live another year. He said he had an arrangement with Eliza Ann and upon her husband’s death, they would share his estate.
Predictably, Eliza Ann caught whatever disease De Wolf was carrying. When Stiles found out he was livid; he told De Wolf that if she were not better by the first of January he would leave her or he would kill De Wolf “if he had to wallow to his knees in blood.” In December, De Wolf took a job at Whipple’s stable and left the Stiles’ house to board there.
Although relations between De Wolf and William Stiles were still strained, De Wolf would often visit the Stiles. On January 14, 1845, he went to their house for supper. Stiles said he wanted to go into town on a spree and De Wolf agreed to hitch up a sleigh and accompany him. They went to Bartlett’s tavern where Stiles had two drinks, then to Moor’s tavern for two more. At Cobleigh’s tavern, De Wolf went in first and gave the bartender a bottle of gin, instructing him to pour from that bottle if Stiles ordered gin. Stiles did order gin; he had three glasses, became quite intoxicated and had to be carried to the sleigh.
Around 10:00 that night, De Wolf brought Stiles back to Whipple’s stable and with the help of workers from a nearby stable carried De Wolf upstairs to a cot on the second floor. Stiles was awake but very drunk and said several times that he wanted to go home. De Wolf said he did not want to distress Mrs. Stiles so brought him to the stable instead.
Stiles’ condition seemed to be worsening ant at 11:00 De Wolf went to get Dr. Benjamin Heywood. He told Dr. Heywood that he had found Stiles in the street and didn’t know if he was dead or alive. He thought he might have frozen to death. Dr. Heywood went to the stable and examined Stiles then pronounced him dead.
The doctor observed a distinct red mark around Stiles’ neck. De Wolf showed him a silk handkerchief which he said had been wrapped tightly around Stiles’ neck, which he had removed to keep him from choking. After thoroughly examining the body, Dr. Heywood believed that Stiles had not died of strangulation, but had died from apoplexy triggered by the ligature about the neck. He did not believe a person could apply sufficient force to strangle himself in this way.
The coroner was called and after examining the body decided it was not necessary to summon a jury, but the following day, after learning of De Wolf’s relationship with the deceased and upon hearing conflicting reports of the events of the night before, had Orrin De Wolf arrested for murder.
In February 1845, while awaiting trial, De Wolf confessed to the crime. The sheriff transcribed De Wolf’s words, and De Wolf signed the paper. In the confession, he admitted to his relationship with Eliza Ann Stiles and explained their plan to get rid of her husband to get his money. But De Wolf stopped short of admitting he was the killer claiming that he had paid Samuel Stone, one of the stable workers who had been at the scene of the murder, to actually do the deed. Before the trial, De Wolf’s attorney successfully challenged the admissibility of the confession on the grounds that De Wolf had made it in the hope of reducing the charges against him.
Much of the trial was taken up with intricate medical testimony of doctors who had viewed Stiles’ body. The doctors who testified for the prosecution confirmed the original diagnosis that Stiles had died of apoplexy resulting from being strangled. The defense’s doctors put little significance on the red mark on the neck and did not believe that there had been enough force to cause death.
The defense also argued that Stiles may have committed suicide. Witnesses testified that Stiles became violent and deranged when drunk and repeatedly said that he wanted to die. Ruth Willard, who had worked as a nurse for the Stiles family, recalled an instance when Stiles tried to strangle himself and she and Mrs. Stiles had to pry his hands off his throat.
The case was given to the jury at 7:00, the night of June 17, 1845. They returned at 10:00 with a verdict of guilty.
Verdict: Guilty of first-degree murder