Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Annie Dorman Mystery.

John Dorman left the farmhouse to work in his fields at about 1:15, the afternoon of September 1, 1897. His wife, Lizzie, had some banking to take care of and left for Philadelphia at about 2:00. As usual, they left their children in the care of John’s half-sister, Annie. 18-year-old Annie Dorman had lived with John and his wife at their Cobb’s Creek home off and on for the previous five years, working as a nurse to their four children. Around 3:00 that day a neighbor, Mrs. Myers, came by to chat with Annie leaving about ten minutes later. At 4:30 one of the children found Annie lying on the floor of the second story front room, dead from a gunshot wound.

The children ran for their father who returned to the house with Al Myers, stable boss at nearby Melbourne Mills. They found Annie stretched out on the floor with a pistol lying by her hand. There was no sign of a struggle and nothing had been taken; the men could only conclude that Annie had taken her own life.

But suicide was unlikely for a number of reasons. No one who knew Annie could imagine what would have driven her to kill herself. She was bright and pretty, with an even and sweet temperament and was always cheerful. Her boyfriend, Ernest L. Pendlebury, was steady and honest. She was a religious girl, healthy in mind and body; a favorite among the congregation of Sarah D. Cooper Methodist Church.

The circumstance of Annie’s death made suicide all but impossible. The pistol was old and rusty, sitting unused for at least two years, high on a shelf in the room where she was found. Annie was only five feet tall and would not be able to reach the pistol without standing on something, and none of the furniture had been moved. Chief Barry of the Chester Police Department examined the pistol and found it so rusty that it took all his might to cock it and pull the trigger. It had been fired five times; two shots went through the ceiling, one went through a washboard under a window, one shot shattered Annie’s jaw and one shot went through her heart. The shot through the heart had killed her but the shot to the jaw had been so severe that she would not have been able to fire another.

Since nothing had been stolen, it was thought that Annie may have been raped. When the body was found, her dress had been smoothed as if to hide signs of a struggle, but the top had been opened, exposing her breasts. The medical examiner determined that Annie had not been raped and was still a virgin. 

The inquest held at the Dorman homestead on October 5, revealed that the household had not been as peaceful as it first appeared. A letter from Annie’s father said that John’s wife had not treated her right. One witness said he had seen Annie crying on several occasions and had seen Mrs. Dorman chase her with a broom. Lizzie Dorman admitted that once during a quarrel with Annie she had grabbed her by the throat, but generally their relations had been pleasant. Their disagreements were seen as trivial, hardly provoking murder, and Mrs. Dorman was in the city at the time of the shooting. The Coroner’s jury ruled that Annie Dorman was shot by a person or persons unknown.

The Philadelphia Inquirer speculated that a man who knew Annie and was familiar with the place had been watching and knew when she was alone. He entered the house between 3:30 and 4:00 and approached Annie with one intention; she “at once detected the foulness of that intention.” She pleaded with him, then threatened him. It was someone she knew, and he realized he had gone too far and must silence her. He reached for the gun and she rushed him, fighting for her honor and her life. Three shots were fired wildly before the two that killed her. The murderer then placed the gun by her side and smoothed down the dress to hide evidence of a struggle, “but like all takers of life left the one mute piece of evidence in the shape of the exposed bosom.”

But there was no way to prove any of this and no way to determine the identity of the man or even whether the killer was a man. With no leads to follow and no funds available to hire professional detectives, Delaware County District Attorney W. I. Schaffer was forced to drop the investigation. The circumstances of Annie Dorman’s murder would remain a mystery.

“Annie Dorman Not a Suicide,” Times, October 6, 1897.
“Annie Dorman's Death,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 30, 1897.
“Dorman Investigation to be Dropped,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 13, 1897.
“It Seems an Easy Thing for Murderers Around Philadelphia to Escape,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 19, 1897.
“It Was Murder,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 10, 1897.
“Miss Annie Dorman Was Murdered,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 10, 1897.
“Miss Dorman's Death,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 6, 1897.
“A Rehearsal of Facts,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 10, 1897.
“She Did Not Commit Suicide ,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 10, 1897.


Unknown says:
September 24, 2018 at 8:53 PM

Only God knows who murdered this young woman...any person who did back then has long gone to the grave.

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