Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Deliberate, Damnable Murder.

William B. Baldwin
Around 2:00 a.m., the morning of November 25, 1879, the citizens of Hastings, Nebraska, were awakened by frenzied cries of “fire!” The Burlington & Missouri Railroad Depot was burning. Firemen were dispatched to the blaze but, in the words of The Nebraska State Journal, Hastings had “as poor a Fire Department as could be well conceived.” The depot burned to the ground along with two freight cars, for a loss estimated at $20,000.

When the smoke cleared an even greater loss was revealed, the partially consumed body of Allen J. Yocum, a brakeman on the B&M line. Two other men at the scene Ralph M. Taylor, another brakeman, and William B. Baldwin, the telegraph operator at the depot said that an oil lamp had exploded and they managed to escape the fire. Baldwin expressed regret that he hadn’t tried harder to rescue Yocum.

But Baldwin and Taylor were clearly drunk when they were questioned and their stories were confused and contradictory. Witnesses stated that they had heard two or three gunshots prior to hearing the alarm. Rumors began to circulate that the fire was not accidental. Yocum’s body which was in the process of being transferred to his parents in Albia, Nebraska, was stopped in transit. A post-mortem examination revealed that Allen Yocum had two bullet wounds on his left side.

A coroner’s jury determined that Yocum had been murdered, shot by either Baldwin or Taylor. William Baldwin had a 22-caliber revolver which had recently been discharged. It was supposed that Baldwin had quarreled with Yocum and killed him, then set the fire attempting to hide the crime. He forced Taylor at gunpoint to keep quiet. “A Deliberate, Damnable Murder,” said The Nebraska State Journal.

But when the case went to trial the following June, the charge had been reduced, probably due to the circumstantial nature of the evidence. William B. Baldwin was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years at hard labor in the Eastings Penitentiary.

“Burned to Death,” The Nebraska State Journal, November 26, 1879.
“Caught By the Fire,” Chicago Tribune, November 26, 1879.
“A Hardened Villain,” National Police Gazette, November 27, 1880.
“The Hastings Affair,” The Nebraska State Journal, November 29, 1879.
“Murder and Arson,” Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1879.


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October 23, 2017 at 2:19 PM

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Robert Wilhelm says:
October 25, 2017 at 4:08 PM

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