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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.


Sources:
[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).

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