Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Newmarket Murder.

Around 1:00 am, the morning of February 26, 1867, Israel Coriell, of Newmarket, New Jersey,  was awakened by frantic knocking on his front door. It was Bridget Durgan, servant girl of his cousin, Dr. Lester Wallace Coriell, carrying the doctor’s two-year-old daughter. Nearly hysterical, Bridget told him that burglars were ransacking the house, the doctor was out on a call, and she feared that his wife, Mary Ellen, was being murdered. Coriell sent her to awaken his neighbor, Rev. William Little, while he went to Main Street and rang a large bell as a signal of general alarm. Reverend Little and two other men followed Bridget back to Dr. Coriell’s house.

They found the house filled with smoke and traced the source to a smoldering fire in one of the bedrooms. When they doused the fire and brought some light into the room, the men were shocked by what they found. There were signs of a fearful struggle; clothing was strewn in ragged heaps, and feathers torn from the pillows lay on the floor, all stained and matted with blood and gore. A broken chair was splintered and covered with blood. The body of Mary Ellen Coriell lay in the middle of the floor covered from forehead to breast with hideous gashes, her jugular vein had been torn out, and the deep imprint of four teeth was visible on her neck. It was later determined that she had been stabbed twenty-three times.

When the excitement had died down the men questioned Bridget Durgan on the night’s events.  She told them two men had called at around 8:30 looking for the doctor and they were told that he was visiting a patient. Two hours later they returned, and Mrs. Coriell let them in. Soon after, she heard Mrs. Coriell scream then she called to Bridget telling her to take the child and go for the doctor. Bridget picked up the baby and hurried to Israel Coriell’s house.

The information was telegraphed to police departments in New Jersey and New York. The next day as detectives looked for the murderer a coroner’s jury was empaneled and began examining witnesses. The knife used in the murder was found in the privy; it had come from the Coriell’s kitchen. Bridget Durgan testified that she knew two men, Barney Doyle and John Hunt, who had had a grudge against Dr. Coriell over the treatment he had given family members. Doyle and Hunt were brought into court, and Bridget identified them as the men who had come to the house the night before. But both men had alibis and witnesses to back them up.

Then Bridget told the court that a servant girl named Anne Linnen had perpetrated the deed, planning to rob the house. She took the butcher knife and went into the sitting room where Mrs. Cariell was sleeping and remarked: “An American woman’s life ain’t worth anything anyhow.” Anne Linnen had an airtight alibi as well.

Dr. Coriell testified that his wife had been dissatisfied with Bridget’s work, and she was to have left on February 22, but she had taken sick, and the Coriells let her stay until she regained her health. Another witness testified that she had seen Bridget changing her clothes in the yard shortly after the murder. The teeth marks on the victim’s neck were compared to Bridget’s and were found to correspond exactly.

When it became clear to Bridget that she was now the prime suspect in the murder she sprang up, striking the table with her fist and crying out, “Who’ll dare swear I did the murder? You’ve all questioned me and think I did it. What else do you want to know? I know how did it, but I won’t tell you.”  The coroner’s jury deliberated for fifteen minutes then charged Bridget Durgan with the willful murder of Mary Ellen Coriell.

Bridget Durgan was a stout Irish girl who had been in America for two years and had worked for the Coriell family for four months. Her features were plain and unexpressive and she had drooping eyelids giving her face a somewhat evil look. The newspapers were not sure what to make of her; the New York Herald said, “Her manner throughout the inquest yesterday betokened that she was either a cunning evil doer, hiding her moral ugliness under a simulated appearance of a half idiot, or a half witted creature in the full sense of the word.”

The case went to trial on May 20, amid much public interest. The courtroom was filled to capacity and may spectators were turned away due to lack of space. The trial lasted eleven days, and more than 70 witnesses testified, but there was very little information that was not included in the inquest. Bridget contended that the murder was committed by the two men who came to the house earlier in the evening and her attorney asserted that nothing in the testimony contradicted this. Further, he claimed that it would have been impossible for Bridget to have committed the deed without being drenched with blood. The prosecution presented a compelling case of circumstantial evidence, giving much weight to the marks on the neck but stating, “It was not the single link, but the continuous chain of facts which bound the prisoner to the scene through all its bloody details with links of iron and hooks of steel.”

The jury took only twenty minutes to return a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. When the judge sentenced Bridget Durgan to be hanged, many in the gallery applauded.

The date of the execution was set for August 30, and while awaiting execution in prison, Bridget issued three separate confessions. The statements were somewhat contradictory; many believed that she had not acted alone and was still protecting someone else. Mary Gilroy who had testified for the defense was a known pickpocket who had been a friend of Bridget’s in New York was questioned after the trial and was held as a possible accomplice.

Bridget Durgan’s fourth confession, given the day before her execution, was the most complete. She said she acted alone and that Mary Gilroy was absolutely innocent. The motive, she said, was not robbery as most believed, but to remove Mrs. Coriell so that Bridget could take her place as the doctor’s wife. She stated that when she heard that the doctor was going away, she put the butcher knife in a convenient place in preparation, and she described in gruesome detail how she had committed the murder and set fire to the bed. 

Interest in the execution was intense. On August 30, the 3rd Regiment of the New Jersey Rifle Corps was mobilized to surround the courthouse in New Brunswick where the hanging was to take place. The Sheriff of Middlesex County, J. Manning Clarkson, had hoped to limit witnesses to 200 people but that number soon swelled to 500. New Jersey state law required executions to be private, prohibiting admittance to anyone but the sheriff, his deputies and other specified officials so, in compliance with the law, Sheriff Clarkson deputized all 500 witnesses.

Bridget was accompanied on the scaffold by two Catholic priests. At fifteen minutes past 10:00, while the priests were whispering in her ear, the rope was cut and “after an almost imperceptible quiver, Bridget Durgan was no more!”

“Bridget Durgan,” Daily Evening Telegraph, August 28, 1867.
“Bridget Durgan.,” New York Herald, August 28, 1867.
“The Coriel Murder,” World, June 5, 1867.
“The Coriell Murder,” Trenton State Gazette, May 22, 1867.
“The Middlesex Murder Case,” Trenton State Gazette, May 1, 1867.
“Miscellaneous,” New York Herald, February 27, 1867.
“Murder at Newmarket, N. J.,” New York Herald, February 27, 1867.
“Murder in Newmarket, N. J.,” New York Tribune, February 27, 1867.
“The Newmarket Murder,” Trenton State Gazette, May 23, 1867.
“The Newmarket Murder,” World, May 31, 1867.
“The Scaffold,” Daily Evening Telegraph, August 30, 1867.


  1. What a barbaric west European immigrant! A demonic heathen unappreciative of being allowed into the US.

  2. Most of the immigrants from Europe were criminals or religious phanatics especially the first ships google it they were the loosers Europe didn't want!

  3. Give us your tired, your poor, your phanatics, loosers, and wretched spellers.


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  6. It was bad what happened to her, but she was wrong for killing that woman. And for no reason!!!