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Saturday, August 19, 2017

"Handsome Little Dandy."

Frank Stark (or Starke) angrily burst into the dressing room of the Vicksburg Opera-house where David R. Allan and his wife, May, were preparing to go on stage, the evening of November 14, 1883. Allan, 55 years old, was a veteran performer and the manager of the John F. Ward Comedy Company. He had recently fired Stark, age 22, from his position as advance agent for the company. The two men exchanged words then Stark drew a pistol and pointed it at Allan. May Allan grabbed the pistol from his hand and D. R. Allan thrust Stark out of the room. Stark snatched the pistol back from Mrs. Allan, and as D. R. Allan followed him into the hall, Stark turned and fired four shots at Allan. Two shots hit their target, one passing through Allan’s heart.

Young Frank Stark was a well-known man about town in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He had a taste for fine clothing and was always seen with a silk hat on his head and a gold cane in his hand. The Vicksburg Evening Post described Stark as “the handsome little dandy who always looked as if he had just stepped from a bandbox, so dainty and neat was he on all occasions.” He came from a family of prominence and wealth and with both of his parents dead, Stark stood to inherit considerable property, but by the provisions of the will, he would not come into full possession of his share until his younger sister, Josephine, attained her majority. In the meantime, Frank was given an allowance of $50 a month.

While this would have been a tidy sum for someone of modest tastes, Frank Stark had a passion for fast living and extravagance and associated with women who were expensively disreputable. As a result, he was constantly in need of ready cash. He used his family connections to obtain respectable employment, but his natural disinclination toward hard work prevented him from keeping any job for long. He had been a clerk at Shillito & Co. and an under clerk at the Lafayette Bank but was discharged from both positions. He worked as a traveling salesman for A. C. Schuberth the cigar dealer, but quit after one or two trips. In New York, he became an advance agent for Barlow & Wilson’s Minstrels which led to his connection with the John F. Ward Combination.

Stark began carrying a revolver because he did not trust the people in the comedy company and anticipated trouble. As a diversion, Stark liked to fire the pistol out of the window of his room at night.

Following his arrest for murder, Stark requested his guardian hire Cincinnati attorney T. C. Campbell. Campbell did not defend Frank Stark at his trial, but it is likely that he represented Stark at the habeas corpus hearing where, to the surprise of everyone in Vicksburg, the charge was reduced to manslaughter and bail was set at $5,000. The following month, December 1883, T. C. Campbell, who defended William Berner in Cincinnati on the charge of murder, was accused of jury tampering. When that jury returned a reduced charge of manslaughter, the city of Cincinnati responded with three days of rioting.

Frank Stark’s murder trial in June 1884, lasted three days, with one full day taken up with closing arguments. The case against Stark was quite strong but his defense team, led by James Gibson, argued Stark’s plea of self-defense “with great skill and adroitness.” The people of Vicksburg were surprised once again when, after deliberating for only an hour, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.


“[Frank Stark],” Vicksburg Evening Post, April 2, 1884.
“A Cowardly Murder,” National Police Gazette, December 8, 1883.
“Frank Stark,” The Clarion-Ledger, July 2, 1884.
“Frank Stark in Town,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, December 29, 1883.
“More about Frank Stark,” Vicksburg Evening Post, November 20, 1883.
“A Stage Murder.,” Arkansas Gazette, November 15, 1883.
“The Starke Trial,” Vicksburg Evening Post, June 28, 1884.
“Vicksburg Notes,” Commercial Appeal, November 21, 1883.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Charley Cook.

Charles Cook.
The afternoon of September 22, 1840, Polly Cornell was surprised to see her niece and nephew running toward her house crying. The girl, about six years old, and the boy about four were the children of her sister Catherine who lived with her husband Eli Merry, on a farm in Glenville, New York, not far from her own. They told their aunt that Charley Cook, a laborer at the farm, had killed their mother. She took the children and hurried to the house of another relative, Peleg Cornell who sent his son for more help.

They all met at the Merrys’ house, and when no one answered their knock on the kitchen door, they went inside. They found Catherine Merry in the cellar, lying on the floor with her throat cut. She had been beaten as well, and her clothes were in disarray. By now several other people had arrived at the house, and they carried the body upstairs to the kitchen. On the kitchen table, they a found shoemaker’s knife with a four-inch blade; on it were blood and hairs.

John Miller and John Van Patten saw Charley Cook at Norton’s tavern on the Mohawk turnpike, at about 3:00, before either of them had learned of the murder. He had spots of blood on his face, and when asked about it Cook said he must have had a bloody nose. He washed his face, had a drink and told the men he was planning to take a train going west. Not long after that, four men arrived at the tavern, arrested Cook and took him to jail.

Charles Cook, aged 29, was English immigrant who had been in trouble before. Edward. H. Walton and the other men at the jail accused him of murdering Mrs. Merry, but Cook denied any knowledge of the crime. When asked about blood stains on his shirt he repeated the story of having a nose bleed. But as the questioning continued he soon broke down, saying, “It’s of no use; I may as well tell all the truth.”

He said he has been working in the field that day and around noon went back to the house for dinner. Mr. Merry had left the farm early that morning for some business in Galway, so it was just Charley Cook and Mrs. Merry in the kitchen. Cook said that Mrs. Merry came near him and made improper advances. She did it three times then went down into the cellar. He followed after her, and when he was in the cellar, she turned around and said, “Now I’ve got you where I wanted you; now I’ll fix you.” Then he told the jailers that he thought he would fix her, and he cut her throat. He said he thought he had done right and looked at the jailers as if appealing for approval. Under the same circumstances he would do it again, he said.

The trial of Charles Cook for the murder of Mrs. Catherine Merry began on October 22, 1840. Against the objection of Cook’s attorney, Edward Walton was allowed to testify to Cook’s jailhouse confession, though no one had thought to write it down. It did not matter; the defense did not deny that Cook had committed the murder, they contended that he was innocent by reason of insanity.

There was ample reason to question Charley Cook’s sanity. The previous March, before he went to work for the Merrys, he was subject to bouts of extreme melancholy and would moan and make strange noises at night. Those around him were so concerned that they took him to see Dr. Edward A. Young. Dr. Young examined Cook and after taking his pulse found that he was in a considerable state of excitement. He recommended bleeding. Reluctantly Cook agreed to be bled, and the doctor gave him some medicine to take with him.

After the bleeding, Cook’s condition seemed to have improved, but later that summer a religious revival came to town and ignited in Cook a new form of mental agitation. He worked himself into a state of extreme religious enthusiasm which first focused on God’s punishment for wickedness but was soon overtaken by emotions of joy and visions of eternal bliss. This culminated with Cook running through the streets of Schenectada (now Schenectady), raving and frenzied,wearing nothing but a blanket, proclaiming himself to be the Savior of the World. When he returned to reason, he found himself in the county jail.

The defense brought testimony from doctors as to Cook’s sanity as well as witnesses to his strange behavior. The prosecution countered by pointing out the uncertainty of insanity as well as the ease of deception and simulation. The jury deliberated for thirty minutes before returning a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced Cook to hang.

Before his execution, Charley Cook issued a formal confession, not just to the murder of Mrs. Merry but to the murder of a woman in England. “I intimated that I labored under the control of a single passion:” he wrote, “it was that of sexual fondness; and whenever frustrated in my attempts to gratify it, the spirit of revenge came upon me.” He became interested in a young woman in the neighborhood, and after gaining her affection, he attempted “the commission of a most diabolical act.” She rebuked him. Cook affected sorrow and repentance; she forgave him and when he proposed marriage she accepted. “Under the solemnity of that promise,” he wrote, “I achieved her ruin, and then inwardly laughed at her calamity.”

He kept postponing the wedding until her pregnancy forced him to act. He secretly put poison in her drink, intending to kill the baby, but the dose was too large. “The hand that had so hellishly withered the tender flower had also snapped the parent stem.” He had killed the woman as well. To escape prosecution, he left England for America, but he could not escape the overpowering force of guilt and gloom.

When working for the Merrys Cook found himself once again in thrall to his sexual passion. Regarding the events of September 22, he stood by the confession testified to by Edward H. Walton. “I can do no less than with a repeated acknowledgment of the murder, to reiterate those reasons (whether real or fancied) there assigned for the commission of the crime.”

Charles Cook was hanged in Schenectada, New York on December 18, 1840.

[Mrs.  Merry; Charles Cook; Charged], Cabinet, October 27, 1840.
“An Execution,” Jeffersonian Republican, December 25, 1840.
“Murder,” Cabinet, September 29, 1840.
“Murder,” Sun, October 8, 1840.
Trial, Life and Confessions of Charles Cook, The (Schemectada: E. M. Packard, Printer., 1840).

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dark Kentucky Tragedy.

Col. A.M. Swope and Col. William Cassius Goodloe happened to enter the Lexington, Kentucky post office at the same time on the afternoon of November 8, 1889. They greeted each other with icy glares then went about their business. Both men were leaders in the Republican Party in Kentucky, and both had national reputations. Swope was the former Internal Revenue Collector for the district, Goodloe had been Minister to Belgium, a state senator, and was the current Internal Revenue Collector; both men fought for the Union in the Civil war, and both rose to the rank of Colonel.

Col, W.C. Goodloe
The bad blood between them began at the 1888 Kentucky Republican Convention to nominate delegates to the national convention. Swope supported Senator John Sherman as the Republican presidential candidate, and Goodloe supported Benjamin Harrison. Debate at the Kentucky convention became heated, sometimes sinking to the level of personal insult. Animosity between Swope and Goodloe had become so intense that colleagues stepped in and convinced each man to withdraw his insulting statements and persuaded the men to shake hands.

It was not a true peace, however, and the two did not speak to each other. The feud intensified when Goodloe was appointed Internal Revenue Collector; a job Swope had held under President Hayes and hoped to hold under President Harrison.

Col. A.M. Swope
In the post office that afternoon, Swope went to his box to pick up his mail, blocking access to Goodloe’s box which was next to his. Goodloe waited, but after getting his mail, Swope struck up a conversation with the clerk, still blocking Goodloe’s box. There are differing accounts of what happened next. Goodloe either said politely, “Will you please allow me to get my mail?” or harshly, “You obstruct the way.” In either case, Swope indicated indifference and had no intention of moving. Goodloe replied, “This is the second insult from you.” They confronted each other and drew weapons, Goodloe had a folding clasp knife with a four-inch blade, Swope had a revolver. Swope fired, hitting Goodloe in the abdomen, he fired again grazing his shoulder. Goodloe lunged at Swope, stabbing him in the breast. He stabbed twelve more times until Swope lay dead on the floor.

Goodloe stood up, walked calmly out the door and headed directly to his physician’s office. The wound, however, was not treatable. William Cassius Goodloe died, in great pain, two days later, surrounded by his loved ones.

“Public sympathy is about evenly divided,” wrote one newspaper, “but universal sorrow is expressed.”

“Brave to His Death,” Pittsburg Dispatch, November 11, 1889.
“Dark Kentucky Tragedy.,” New Haven Register, November 9, 1889.
“A Double Murder,” National Police Gazette, November 23, 1889.
“Hot Southern Blood,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, November 8, 1889.
“The Kentucky Code,” Daily Nebraska State Journal, November 12, 1889.
“A Kentucky Tragedy,” Evening Star, November 9, 1889.
“Slain by Goodloe,” Daily Gazette, November 9, 1889.