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Saturday, August 27, 2016

“Happy Bob.”

Little Murders

Robert "Happy Bob" Van Brunt
Robert Van Brunt was born in England in 1863. He barely knew his father, who was a member of the Queen’s Scots Guards. His mother died when he was ten was ten-years-old, and from then on he was raised by his grandmother. She took him to Canada in 1878, and they settled in Toronto where he began a career as a tailor.

When a religious revivalist named Hammond held a series of meetings in Toronto, Van Brunt attended and became so enthusiastically converted that he would join Hammond on stage and speak to the assembled crowds. Hammond left Toronto, Van Brunt lost his job and became so discouraged that he attempted suicide. When he the Salvation Army arrived in town he joined their ranks and was given the ironic nickname of “Happy Bob.”

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Murderous North Carolina.

North Carolina's greatest murders have found their way into enduring American folk songs - not always accurate but always engaging.

Poor 'Omie - The Murder of Naomi Wise -1807

The haunting folk ballad “Omie Wise” has kept the story of Naomi Wise’s murder alive for more than two hundred years. According to legend, Naomi Wise, a poor but beautiful orphan girl, was courted by Jonathan Lewis, son of a wealthy farmer. His mother persuaded him to stop the courtship but not before Naomi became pregnant with Jonathan’s child. To avoid marriage and scandal, Jonathan Lewis drowned Naomi Wise in Deep River. That is the traditional tale of Naomi Wise, but how much of it is true?

The Ballad of Frankie Silver -1831

Charlie and Frankie Silver were the ideal young married couple, so the legend goes; he was strong and handsome, she was kind and beautiful. They lived an idyllic life, with their baby daughter, in a little cabin in the woods of Burke County, North Carolina. But things changed quickly when Frankie learned that Charlie had been seeing other women. Allegedly, one night in December 1831, she methodically and brutally murdered Charlie in his sleep. That is the legend of Frankie Silver, the reality is even darker. Frankie had endured physical abuse from Charlie throughout their marriage until, on that December night, she fought back to save her own life. Frankie Silver’s subsequent execution was a tragic miscarriage of justice.

Hang Down Your Head Tom Dula -1866

The stories behind murder ballads are never as pretty as the songs. The story behind “Tom Dooley” – the 1866 murder of Laura Foster by Tom Dula in Elkville, North Carolina – is particularly ugly. Tom Dula was having an affair with Mrs. Ann Foster Melton and when her cousin Pauline Foster came to work at the Melton home, Tom Dula had her too. They had another cousin, Laura Foster, and Tom took her to bed as well. One member of this group contracted syphilis and soon they were all infected. Tom blamed Laura and threatened revenge. Laura Foster’s body was found in a shallow grave and Tom Dula had left for Tennessee. Might have gotten away, “Hadn’t been for Grayson.”

Poor Ellen Smith -1892

The morning of July 21, 1892 the body of Ellen Smith was found behind the Zinzendorf Hotel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She had been shot through the heart. The story of Ellen Smith’s murder is a classic tale of seduction and betrayal. A beautiful but innocent young woman strays from the path of righteousness for a faithless lover who soon becomes her killer. It is the stuff of Victorian cautionary literature and mountain murder ballads.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Murder of Chong Ong.

Little Murders

The murderer identified.
The basement of the building on the corner of Spring and Wooster Streets in New York City, housed the Restaurant Cubana, run by a former cigarmaker named Antonio Soloa. It was very popular among the Cubans and others in the neighborhood looking for a good inexpensive meal—Soloa’s specialty was ham fried with spice and garlic and served with vegetables.

On November 2, 1885, Thomas Daly, a produce vendor, entered the Restaurant Cubana to see if Soloa needed any provision and found him lying dead on the floor of the restaurant in a pool of blood. He fled from the place but went back down with Wooster Street coal dealer James Caughlin. Butchered, was how they described the body to the police. His face and the right side of his temple had been crushed, his shirt had been slashed open and his chest stabbed through his undershirt. Blood had spurted high enough to stain the ceiling. A closer examination revealed nine stabs to the chest, severing two ribs. A knife with a ten inch blade, bent and bloody, lay on the floor near the body. The coroner later discovered that one of the stabs had severed Soloa’s heart.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Our Current Record of Rowdyism and Murder.

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Little Murders
(From New York Herald, New York, New York, June 19, 1873)

Our Current Record of Rowdyism and Murder.

Four murders signalize the opening of the present week. A sad commentary, truly, on our boasted civilization! Four brutal, inexcusable, fiendish murders are added to the list of deeds of blood that disgrace our criminal calendar. The week opened with an affray between brothers-in-law in a tenement house, during which one of the parties undertook to explain matters to the other with a hatchet. On the same evening a man was fatally stabbed in a drunken affray in a liquor store. After midnight the proprietor of another drinking saloon was desperately wounded by a knife at the hand of a man to whom he refused liquor. But the saddest case of all was the murder of Mrs. Gillen, at the age of eighteen years, by her husband, a worthy representative of the corner loafer class. This last mentioned tragedy is of such an atrocious character that it calls for grave reflection. A beautiful young girl, employed at a store, forms the acquaintance of a good-looking but dissipated young man, whose principal occupation seems to have been loafing. She foolishly consents to marry this wretch, contrary to the wishes of her father, and quickly ascertaining her terrible mistake, leaves her worthless husband and takes refuge with her parents. The husband killed her for this on Sunday night.

We cannot speak too often of this frightful epoch of murder which seems to be now at its zenith in this city. It is useless to argue more on the inefficiency of the law on this subject. When murderers become the especial protégés of the Court and every obstacle is thrown before the wheels of justice we can only wait patiently until such a monstrous outrage to civilization is removed from the statute book. The last session of the State Legislature was spent in purely political schemes, and nothing was done to secure the speedy punishment of assassins. Once in the Tombs the murderer finds numerous advocates, and the plain, unvarnished story of his cowardly crime, when it is place before the jury, becomes a tangled labyrinth of sophistry and irredeemable nonsense. When the jury find him guilty convenient judges and technical errors give him another lease on life. Trial after trial may take place until the public forgets the crime, and the execution takes place when the very object for which it is intended is no longer in the memory of the people.

But in the murder of this girl-wife the pernicious element of corner loaferism comes in to prominence. There is a class of young men—we may call them boys—in this city, whose principal occupation consists of profanity, drunkenness and, occasionally, murder. Unhappily this class is very large, and is constantly increased by willing recruits. Parents are too often to blame for the existence of such wretches, as they make poor attempts to curb nascent depravity. The police willingly, or in despite of themselves, allow a gang of ruffians to fester into crime at every prominent corner. The marriage law is so lax in its provisions that any weak-minded girl may be persuaded into wedding one of these scoundrels. The natural result of such a marriage is shown by Sunday night’s tragedy. The remedy for disgraceful conditions of affairs in society is plain. A criminal law, unencumbered with vexatious delays and miserable subterfuges; stern uncompromising action on the part of the police toward corner loafers, and a more rigid enforcement of the laws should protect the sacred institution of matrimony, will be found efficient checks the present avalanche of murder in this city.




"Our Current Record of Rowdyism and Murder." New York Herald, June 19,1873.