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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Miser Henry’s Murder.

Charles W. Henry was a cruel and heartless miser. In 1895 he was 70-years-old, living in Brooklyn with his wife and 39-year-old son William. Though Henry was a wealthy man, he kept his family in a state of poverty, spending little on food and the most basic amenities. Their house was large, but the inside was filthy with dust and clutter. Mrs. Henry’s room had a bare floor and a single cot, while Charles slept on four chairs in a row, alternating back and front held together by tape. Mrs. Henry was frail and emaciated, wearing the same clothes she had for twenty years. Charles kept a daily ledger of household expenses, each day on a separate card, the cards were tied together in bundles and the stacked bundles went back many years. An example of an extravagant day was Christmas 1894 when 54 cents was spent on dinner for three.


Henry came from a prominent Long Island family and a street in Brooklyn was named after his father, Dr. Thomas Henry. At an early age, Charles married a beautiful young woman of high social standing but with little money. Charles inherited a large sum of money from his father, allegedly swindling his only brother out of his share. Though his business dealings thrived Charles lived like a pauper and kept his wife a virtual prisoner in the house.

The Henrys had three sons, Charles, William and Walter. Charles Jr. married young and moved out but was soon diagnosed with acute melancholia. Believed to be a vagrant, he was committed to the New York City Asylum for the Insane on Ward’s Island. William, after several failed business ventures, became an alcoholic. Still living with his parents, he spent his money on drink when he had it and suffered delirium tremens when he didn’t. 30-year-old Walter was the antithesis of William, successful and sober, he left his father’s house when he married. Although Charles did not approve of Walter’s bride, Walter remained his favorite son.

Charles Henry had a long history of abusing his wife both verbally and physically. She left him once in the 1870s and hired a lawyer for a legal separation but thinking he was acting in her interests the layer negotiated a reconciliation and she returned to her husband. Henry’s attitude did not improve and his abuse of if wife and William increased over time. 

Around the first of June 1895, Charles drove his wife from the house. She showed her neighbor marks on her throat where Charles had grabbed her and said she was afraid he would kill her but she returned to him a few days later anyway. On Saturday, June 8, they fought again and William tried to intervene to protect his mother. Enraged, Charles drove both William and his wife into the street and bolted the door. Next day Charles tried unsuccessfully to get a warrant for William’s arrest for threatening him.

Walter learned what had happened and arranged to send his mother to a sanitarium. On Wednesday he went to see his father to ask if he would help in her support. Charles refused and handed Walter a handwritten letter asking for Walter’s help against his wife and William who he said were conspiring to have him declared insane. He encouraged Walter to disown his brother William.

Thursday, Walter went back and found the shutters closed and the doors bolted, there was no answer when he rang the bell. Then he went to the police station to see if his father could be held responsible for his mother’s board at the sanitarium. When he told the police that he could not get into his father’s house, an officer accompanied him back there to make an investigation. With the policeman’s approval, Walter entered the house through a second story window.

They could not find Charles inside and the officer suggested that they look in the basement. Walter wanted to look in the bedroom first. There they found the closet door opened and documents scattered on the floor around it.

“William’s been here.” Said Walter.

They went up another flight of stairs to Williams’s room, the only clean room in the house.

“Yes, William’s been here,” Said Walter, “He has taken away his clothes.”

The officer again wanted to go to the basement. Walter hesitated so the officer went down first and found Charles Henry lying dead at the foot of the stairs.

“Here he is,” the officer shouted to Walter who lingered halfway up the stairs.

“Yes,” said Walter “this is some of William’s work.”

Walter said his father was subject to fainting spells and had probably fallen downstairs and fatally injured himself. The officer accepted this explanation but when the coroner arrived, he found at least 20 axe wounds in the side of the dead man’s head. He ordered the arrest of William Henry.

The police thoroughly searched the house for clues to the murder and Walter joined them searching for the old man’s will which Walter said left the bulk of the estate to him. Inside the closet, in Charles Henry’s room, they found a leather trunk which they believed contained his important documents. They forced it open and inside were stocks, bonds, crisp new banknotes and gold and silver coins, with a total value of $77,000. Walter did not find the will.

Later that day William walked into the DeKalb Avenue police station and gave himself up. Since the night his father threw him out of the house he had been sleeping outside in Prospect Park.  He learned that he was wanted for the murder of his father when he read it in the newspaper. To avoid further trouble he immediately turned himself in, but he absolutely denied killing his father.

The missing will was starting to pose a problem for Walter as a number of people came forward claiming an interest in the dead man’s fortune. The New York City Asylum for the Insane said that if Charles Jr. was one of the heirs he should be transferred to a private facility and pay for his own care. The wife and daughter of the insane man were expecting a share. Mrs. Shaw, a niece of the widow expressed her intention to fight when Walter attempts to administer the estate. A. S. Grosser of Richmond, Virginia, who married the daughter of Charles Henry’s only sister, would be making a claim. He also believed that Charles had inherited an even larger amount from a dead relative in Scotland and the assets were hidden in the house or in secret accounts.

Though Walter had done much to implicate his brother William in the murder, he now changed tactics and engaged his own lawyer to defend William and represent both of their interests in the fight for the estate. It was now believed that Walter planned to split the estate with his William and exclude everyone else.

The police claimed that they had additional evidence which they were not ready to reveal and District Attorney Ridgway said that he was confident of a conviction. But the police and the examining physicians could not agree on the time of death and when the Grand Jury convened they did not find enough evidence to indict William Henry for murder. William was released from custody and no one was ever convicted of the miser’s murder.


Sources:
 “Charles Henry Murder,” Indianapolis Journal, June 16, 1895.
“Evidence Insufficient,” New York Tribune, October 2, 1895.
“Henry Murder Inquest Policeman Walsh Details the Discovery of the Old Man's Body,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 1895.
“Miser Henry's Murder,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 30, 1895.
“New Evidence Now,” New York Herald, June 23, 1895.
“Police Follow the other Son ,” New York Herald, June 17, 1895.
“Still A Deep Mystery,” New York Herald-Tribune, June 17, 1895.

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