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Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Brown Tragedy.

Mary A. Brown
A wholesale robbery operation was uncovered outside of Irvington, Indiana, four miles east of
Indianapolis. In January 1879, John G. F. Brown and Pressley Miller were convicted of grand larceny and concealing stolen goods and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary. Brown’s wife Mary was also indicted but was released on her own recognizance.

John Brown left his wife with a 40-acre farm to manage and three children to raise. She was 33-years-old—nineteen years younger than her husband—and desperately in need of help. That’s not to say that Mary Brown was helpless; she very soon found the answer to all of her problems in Joseph W. Wade, a 33-year-old Irvington saloon owner. Wade, who was in the middle of a divorce, agreed to live at the farm and manage it for Mary, and even before his divorce was final he was sharing her bed as well as her board.

A one-year prison sentence is not very long. John Brown was released from the penitentiary and returned to his farm to find a domestic situation that was not to his liking. It is not clear what transpired at the Brown farm, but John Brown expected trouble and consulted his attorney. The last thing Brown said to him was, “I may never see you again.” Less than three weeks later John Brown was found murdered.

Joseph W. Wade
At a railroad crossing, about three miles from the farm, a neighbor found a horse and buggy, its cushion and lap rug were saturated with blood. The buggy was identified as John Brown’s and a search of the area found his body lying nearby, beside the railroad track. It first it looked like he had been shot in the head, but it was later determined that his skull had been fractured with a hammer.

I didn’t take long to determine who was responsible—Joe Wade was clearly in conflict with John Brown and Mary Brown had told her friends she would do away with her husband if he ever returned, she had a younger, better-looking man and she didn’t desire to “be tied down to an old fool like Brown.” Both were arrested for the murder of John Brown.

At first, they both denied any knowledge of the murder, but after a brief incarceration Mary Brown weakened and told her story of what happened the night of the murder. She said that Wade had planned to go to Irvington to sell his horse and went out to hitch the buggy.

“I went about attending to my work as usual when I heard a dull, heavy sound, and some groans. I rushed out and saw my husband dying. I had the child in my arms and Wade said, ‘Take in that child.’ I did so, after which I came out again and exclaimed, ‘Oh, my God, what have you done?’ He came up to me and put his arms around me saying ‘This is what love will do, darling.’…My reason for making a different statement before was, Wade threated my life if I gave him away.”

After hearing Mary Brown’s confession, Wade corroborated the story of the surroundings of the murder but said it was Mary who actually did the killing. Both were charged with first-degree murder.

They were tried separately, with Joseph Wade tried first in April of that year. The issue was not whether Wade was involved in the murder, but whether he wielded the hammer and if it was premeditated. Wade could not convince a jury that he was only an accessory; he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang.

When Mary Brown was tried in July, Wade testified for the prosecution. He was not offered any clemency for his testimony, he would hang regardless, so had no incentive to lie. He testified that he had been discussing the sale of a horse with John Brown that Friday evening when Mary came up behind her husband and struck him in the back of the head with a wooden mallet. He fell to the floor, knocking his head against a table. Wade grabbed a lamp from the table as Mary struck Brown again, this time in the face. Wade said, “My God, woman, what have you done?” She said, “That’s no more than he has done.”

Wade hurried out of the house and began to unhitch his horse. Mary asked where he was going and he said Irvington. “No, you ain’t,” said Mary, “Joe Wade, if you leave me now, you’ll rue the day—you’re a man and I’m a woman—you’ve been staying here and nobody will suspect me of doing this.”

She wrapped up the body in a blanket and he helped her load it into the buggy. Then Mary dressed in Joe’s clothes and drove the buggy with Joe sitting beside her. Anyone who saw them would think they were two men. They left the body by the railroad track, and Mary turned his pockets inside out to make it look like he was robbed.  Abandoning the buggy, they walked back to the farm.
The jury deliberated for forty-six hours then found Mary Brown guilty of first-degree murder. She was sentenced to hang on October 29, 1880, the same day as Joseph Wade. Two days before the scheduled hanging, Governor Williams granted them a thirty-day respite to appeal their cases to the state Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court reviewed both cases. They found the two of the jurors on Mary Brown’s case were not competent, having prejudged the defendant; she was granted a new trial. The Supreme Court found nothing wrong with Joe Ward’s trial and let the verdict stand.

On November 18, Governor James D. Williams, in his last official act before dying three days later of inflammation of the bladder, granted Wade another respite so he could bring another appeal to the Supreme Court. This time he appealed on the grounds that the judge gave the jury erroneous instructions.

While awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ward testified at Mary Brown’s second trial. This time said that Mary’s intent to kill her husband “was of a sudden conception,” the murder had not been planned. Mary Brown was again convicted of first-degree murder, but this time sentenced to life imprisonment in the women’s reformatory.

In February 1881, the Supreme Court granted Joseph Ward a new trial and in his second trial, he was also sentenced to life in prison.


Sources:
“The Brown Tragedy,” Daily Inter Ocean, February 14, 1880.
“In the First Degree,” Daily Illinois State Journal, April 30, 1880.
“An Indianapolis Murder,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, February 9, 1880.
“Joseph Wade,” Indianapolis Sentinel, July 3, 1880.
“Marion Murders,” Evansville Courier and Press, May 20, 1880.
“Miscellaneous Misdeeds,” Daily Inter Ocean, December 30, 1880.
“To the Scaffold Will Mrs.,” Indianapolis Sentinel, July 13, 1880.
"Wade and His Paramour," National Police Gazette, November 6, 1880.
“The Wade Trial,” Indianapolis Sentinel, April 21, 1880.
“Wade to Get a New Trial,” Daily Inter Ocean, February 5, 1881.

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