Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Medford Mystery.

Scene of the Debbins murder
Walter R. Debbins was shot twice in the back, in broad daylight, on Highland Street in Medford, Massachusetts, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 27, 1897. Though no one saw the murder or heard the gunshots, there was enough traffic on Highland Street that afternoon for the police to precisely pinpoint the time of the shooting to between 1:00 and 1:05. But that was all they could pinpoint; everything else about the crime was shrouded in mystery that grew more dense with each new revelation.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Assassination of Captain Watkins

This week we present a guest post by Kyle Dalton; the story of a Civil War era murder by a probable Lincoln assassination conspirator. Kyle Dalton is a public historian and museum professional currently employed at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. He writes and maintains the website British Tars: 1740-1790, exploring the lives of common sailors through primary sources. This post was largely researched and composed for Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater, Maryland, where Kyle was employed as the Public Programs Administrator.

Assassination of Captain Watkins
By Kyle Dalton



Captain Thomas Watkins, closeup, 
(The Horse Soldier collection)
In 1861 most white residents of the South River in Maryland were pro-slavery if not outright secessionists. In the presidential election of 1860, only three people in all of Anne Arundel County voted for Abraham Lincoln. The county was narrowly won by a slim margin of twenty-four votes by Stephen Bell and his Constitutional Unionist Party, which sought to avoid the issue of slavery. Voters for Bell’s optimistic neglect of the issue were closely trailed by Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and his virulently pro-slavery stance. We do not know for sure who made up the three voters who publicly declared their support for Abraham Lincoln, but it is quite possible that two of them were Dr. Benjamin Watkins and his son Thomas.

Even after the outbreak of war, the Watkins family were outspoken about their unionist sympathies. In a later congressional report, it was said “that at the commencement of the rebellion, Thomas H. Watkins…became at once an active supporter of the Union, when so to declare himself was visited was to be visited by the obloquy and contempt of a large majority of his friends and associates in the county.” His father, Dr. Benjamin Watkins, was elected to attend the Union State Convention in 1864, where the delegates voted their support for the North’s war effort. Thomas went further than words. He enlisted in and recruited for the cavalry contingent of the Purnell Legion, a unit of pro-Union Maryland cavalry, artillery, and infantry companies. Watkins mustered in as a Captain, commanding Company B, on September 20, 1861.

In declaring his loyalty to the Union, Watkins set himself apart from his South River neighbors. By enlisting, he proved he was willing to kill and die for the Union. After the introduction of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in 1863, Watkins served alongside men of color, including enslaved and free black men from the South River. He reinforced, intentionally or not, his support for destroying the institution of slavery and arming the men his neighbors held in bondage. It is not difficult to imagine that he was despised by the whites of the South River.

The same year his father attended the unionist convention, General Grant’s Army of the Potomac besieged Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg. Both sides settled into trench warfare. Among Union forces was the Purnell Legion. Captain Watkins and his cavalry troopers were dismounted and armed as infantry to fill the earthworks. Watkins and his loyal Marylanders took part in continuous assaults on the Confederate lines. He could probably have guessed that his neighbors from the South River were among the Confederate lines.

At the Battle of Globe Tavern, General Grant sought to cut railroad links between Petersburg and the outside world. The V Corps, including Captain Watkins, was ordered to seize and destroy the line. The Confederates launched a heavy assault against the Union forces. In the melee, Captain Watkins took a bullet through the scalp.

Watkins was evacuated to Philadelphia on the steamer Augusta with several other wounded Maryland officers, where he was treated at McClellan Hospital. A largely recuperated Captain Watkins returned to the South River that Fall where he was ordered back to active duty by General E.B. Tyler in late August or early September 1864. 

General Tyler’s orders state Watkins was “to arrest certain returned confederate soldiers.” Among those Watkins was ordered to take into custody was the notorious Confederate spy and guerilla John H. Boyle. 

Twice, Boyle was captured as a spy and once was held in the Old Capital Prison for five months awaiting execution. It is unclear if he was pardoned or escaped, but regardless he was unrepentant. Boyle served under General George H. Steuart at Gettysburg, even earning a commendation in his fellow Marylander’s official report: “I am greatly indebted for valuable assistance rendered, and of whose gallant bearing I cannot too highly make mention.” Steuart was the son of a major South River landowner, and the only Marylander to rise to General Lee’s staff. 

Captain Watkins' pistol, 
(The Horse Soldier Collection)
By the time Boyle made his way back to the South River in late 1864, he was a mere horse thief operating under the thin veil of the Confederate cause to justify his crimes. General Tyler ordered Captain Watkins to apprehend Boyle. Watkins might have been assisted by local detectives who had captured Boyle in 1863 at his mother’s house in Marlboro. However Watkins went about it, Boyle chose to take the fight to the Union officer’s front steps. Boldly stealing a horse and saddle from Dr. Benjamin Watkins’ home, where Thomas himself was staying for his recovery, Boyle fled to Prince George’s County. Captain Watkins tracked him to the front of a store, where “some angry words ensued, [Boyle] took a pistol and fired at the Captain, the load taking effect in the horse.” Watkins overcame Boyle and bound his wrists. 

Sometime afterward, Boyle slipped his bonds and attacked Watkins, nearly killing him with a blow to the head. Watkins was carried to his father’s home for recovery. Though he made a clean escape, Boyle pursued a vendetta against the prominent Unionist, “and made frequent threats that he would kill him, Watkins, at the earliest opportunity.” 

Captain Watkins' pistol, detail of butt, 
(The Horse Soldier Collection)
While stewing over his hatred of Watkins, Boyle became entangled with John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators in their designs on Abraham Lincoln that would ultimately culminate in the assassination of the president. In his confession, George Atzerodt named Boyle as one of the conspirators, and Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg in the wake of the assassination believed that Boyle was one of the conspirators. Part of Dr. Mudd’s defense was his “fears of the vengeance of that desperado.” Perhaps Boyle acted as muscle for Booth’s gang, or maybe he only dabbled with joining in the initial plot to kidnap Lincoln but drifted away to pursue Watkins. We will probably never know, but we can say that Boyle was a dangerous man and Watkins would pay with his life for crossing him.

Sources on what exactly happened are confused. Only days after the murder, a reporter for The Alexandria Gazette insisted Watkins “while at supper, at his residence on South River, [was] shot through the head by a man supposed to be John Boyle.” A later congressional inquiry stated that “Boyle stealthily approached, and knocking at the front door, it was opened by Captain Watkins, whereupon the said Boyle drew a revolver, and, without giving any warning, chance, or show for life, foully and brutally shot down and murdered in cold blood the said Captain Watkins.” This version of events may have come from The Marlboro Gazette, which a reporter in The Baltimore Sun disagreed with strongly: “The assassin did not knock at the front door as stated but entered by an entry door which had been left unfastened, and took Captain Watkins unawares, who was sitting before the fire reading a paper” after supper. All sources agree that Boyle was joined by a gang, and The Baltimore Sun stated the gang fired at both a doctor who had come to check on Watkins’ four-month-old child, and Watkins’ wife or sister before making their escape.

Whatever the case, Boyle had committed cold blooded murder against an unarmed man in the presence of his family for revenge. The state was in an uproar. Governor Bradford offered a thousand-dollar reward for Boyle’s capture, and placed advertisements in newspapers throughout the area calling “for the apprehension and delivery to the jail of this county the said John Boyle.” He was captured in Frederick (coincidentally on the day Lincoln died) and kept under a tight military guard. This was the fifth time that Boyle was captured by Union authorities during the war, and this time they were certain he would not escape. His fellow gang members were never identified or apprehended. 

Though convicted and held for a few years in prison, Watkins’ murderer was pardoned by Governor William Pinkney Whyte for “war-related activities.” In announcing his 1872 pardon, The Baltimore Sun noted Boyle was banned from ever entering Anne Arundel County, and “that Boyle is not expected to live a great while, and his friends intend to move him to Florida.” We might assume from the Sun’s reporting that Boyle was ill, but he was healthy enough to take a job as a detective for the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad. He also continued his nefarious ways and was brought up “on a charge of passing counterfeit money.” Boyle would not “live a great while,” but it was not natural causes that would end it. 

Eight years later and a thousand miles from Maryland, an unknown vigilante ambushed Boyle in Tougaloo, Mississippi. The manner of his murder seems to echo the assassination of Captain Watkins. A Maryland newspaper reported that he “was assassinated by some unknown parties…at his home.” In a letter to the editor of a Mississippi newspaper, it was said: “Mr. J. H. Boyle, while sitting with his family, at eight o’clock in the evening, was fired upon by a concealed assassin.” It was speculated at the time that Boyle’s violent death was “just retribution” the assassination of Watkins. 

Only one arrest was made for the crime: an African American man named Henry Barnes, who was brought before a Grand Jury. A reporter for The Weekly Clarion speculated that Barnes and Boyle were part of a gang who “had planned to throw the south-bound passenger train from the track, and during the confusion likely to follow, to rob the passengers, and also the depot house…and that Boyle having lost courage before the time for action arrived, was killed by his co-conspirators.” There was “no convincing evidence against” Barnes, and the charges were dropped. It would have been surprising indeed if the former Confederate spy and potential Lincoln assassination conspirator joined with a black man for train robbing deep in post-Reconstruction Mississippi, and given the ease with which innocent black men were routinely convicted in that area and time, the evidence must have been weak indeed.

Whether Boyle was tracked down and killed in revenge for the assassination of Captain Watkins, or by fellow criminals for his cowardice, we will probably never know. Authorities were not terribly interested in investigating. The famous detective Allan Pinkerton refused to take the case and said Boyle was "one of the worst men he ever knew...He regards his death as a good riddance.” One Tougaloo citizen complained, “no attention was paid to it, and the man [Boyle] was placed in the ground without having the coroner investigate the murder, or the Sheriff making any effort to ferret out the parties who did the cowardly deed.” 

Several newspapers in Maryland and DC shared the same assessment of Boyle’s comeuppance and its implied connection with Watkins’ assassination: “The mills of the gods grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine.”

Sources:
The Alexandria Gazette, January 22, 1863, page 1; March 28, 1865, page 3.

The Baltimore Sun, “The Election Returns,” November 10, 1860, page 2; January 23, 1863, page 1; “Union County Convention,” February 18. 1864, page 1; August 27, 1864, page 2; “Serious Injury of Captain Watkins,” September 15, 1864, page 4; November 27, 1864, page 4; March 30, 1865, page 1; “The Murder of Captain T. H. Watkins,” April 1, 1865, page 1; “Correspondence of the Baltimore Sun,” April 19, 1865, page 4; May 1, 1871, page 4; July 3, 1880, page 3.

The Cecil Whig, “Patriotic,” June 11, 1864, page 2.

The Comet, June 26, 1880, page 2 and 3.

The Detroit Free Press, January 25, 1863, page 1, January 28, 1863, page 3.

Photographs courtesy of The Horse Soldier.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Tenth Anniversary!

This week marks the tenth anniversary of Murder by Gaslight! The first posts dropped on November 2, 2009, and every week since then I have added at least one new post related to murder in 19th century America.

Here are the top 10 most popular posts, since 2009, based on average pageviews per day:

1 The Meeks Family Murder
2 The Legend of Lavinia Fisher
3 The Killing of Bill The Butcher
4 The Notorious Patty Cannon.
5 Lizzie Borden Took an Axe...Or Did She?
6 Jesse Pomeroy - "Boston Boy Fiend"
7 19th Century Serial Killers.
8 H. H. Holmes - "I was born with the devil in me."
9 Big Harpe and Little Harpe
10 The Bloody Benders
It is probably not surprising that the list is dominated by serial killers whom the public find endlessly fascinating. The rest are sensational multiple murders and a gangland slaying. The only exception is Lavinia Fisher who, contrary to her nasty reputation, never killed anyone.

It is interesting that the most popular post of the last ten years is “The Meeks Family Murder” posted in 2011. Compared to the rest it is a relatively unknown case, but a good story with a somewhat happy ending.

What’s Next?

I plan to continue posting 19th century murders when I find stories that interest me (the supply is virtually endless). Going forward, I will also be reposting existing stories. Murder by Gaslight has more than 500 posts and most have not seen the light of day in years. They deserve another look. Murder by Gaslight will also be featuring guest posts from other bloggers and authors with stories relating to murder in 19th century America.

Murder by Gaslight will also be the platform for projects outside the blog—a book-length murder story, a mystery novel, some serial fiction, a podcast experiment, and other possibilities. Keep watching.

I want to thank everyone who has followed Murder by Gaslight through the years. A special thank you to those who have left glowing comments on the blog and on Facebook; they been very gratifying and encouraging.  For the past ten years, I have kept outside advertisements off the site and I will continue to do so (you’re welcome). If you would like to support the blog, I have books available at Amazon: 

Cheers,
Robert Wilhelm

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Married at 15, Dead at 20.

James Tout, a wealthy businessman of Byron Center New York, died before the birth of his daughter Florence, but before he departed this world, he set up a sizable trust fund for the new baby. The inheritance, which would be hers when she married, was managed by a banker, and by the time she was in her teens had grown to a small fortune.

When Florence was 15 years old, she received the attentions of Howard Benham, an ambitious young man of 23 who worked as a travel agent, booking trips to the Chicago World’s Fair on the installment plan. For many reasons, Florence’s mother and stepfather did not approve of the courtship but were fearful that their opposition might drive Florence to run away with Benham. On the night of August 3, 1892, she told them to have no fear; she had no intention of running away. The following day, she said she was going to Batavia to consult a dentist, but instead, she traveled through to Rochester, where she met with Benham.  The two were married in the private office of Justice White.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Liquor and Jealousy.

In October 1893, 64-year-old Patrick Finney of New Bedford, Pennsylvania, was visiting his old friend and drinking buddy James Campbell in Hazelton, Ohio.  Campbell had been a saloonkeeper in Pittsburgh before retiring and moving with his wife to Hazelton, a suburb of Youngstown. 

As was their custom, Finney and the Campbells were drinking heavily the night of October 9. James Campbell had a reputation as a man of ungovernable temper when intoxicated and this night was no exception. Around 10:00, when it became clear that Campbell had exceeded his limit, a neighbor who had been drinking with them helped Campbell to bed. Finney and Mrs. Campbell stayed up and continued talking. 

Around twenty minutes after going to bed, Campbell came back downstairs. Still drunk and angry, Campbell was holding a 22-caliber revolver. 

“I’ll fix you,” he said, then fired three shots. One went through his wife’s chest, killing her instantly and the other two hit Finney in the head and abdomen.

The police arrived quickly, arresting Campbell and rushing Finney to the hospital. Campbell told the police he had shot his wife and friend because he had caught them in a compromising position, but once he was locked in a cell he said, “I don’t know what made me do it.” The newspapers concluded that liquor and unfounded jealousy were the cause.

In January 1894, James Campbell was indicted for the murder of his wife and attempted murder of Patrick Finney.  He announced his intention to plead insanity but being “crazy drunk” has never been a good defense. The following March, Campbell was found guilty of second-degree murder.

Sources:
“An Old Man's Murderous Jealousy,” Evening Herald, October 10, 1893.
“Commits Double Murder.” Daily Inter Ocean, October 10, 1893.
“Jealousy Causes Murder,” Patriot, October 10, 1893.
“On Trial for his Life,” Plain Dealer, February 27, 1894.
“Plenty Of Indictments,” Plain Dealer, January 18, 1894.
“Shot his Wife Dead,” National Police Gazette, November 4, 1893.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A Troubling Spirit.

John Delaney met Mary Jane Cox in October 1886; she smiled at him as they passed each other on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, and he turned to follow her. She was 17-years-old, he was 15. Mary Jane did not refuse his advances outright, but gave him her address and told him to write to her. Their relationship progressed quickly, and eight months later, Mary Jane told John she was pregnant, and he had to do something about it.

John said he had already told her he would marry her, but Mary Jane rejected this saying they were both too young; he would have to find something else. On June 2, 1887, he gave her a glass bottle containing a clear liquid. What he told her at the time is uncertain, but the next morning Mary Jane was found dead in the kitchen of the house where she worked as a domestic servant. An autopsy showed that her death was caused by some irritant poison like arsenic, and the bottle found in a pocket of her dress was half-filled with a solution of arsenic.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Poughkeepsie Tragedy.

Antone Werner came to America from Austria in 1885 and settled in Poughkeepsie, New York. There he worked as a shoemaker along with his good friend and fellow immigrant Joseph Fischer. He and Fischer had probably known each other in Austria.

Werner adapted well to life in Poughkeepsie and had even met and married a young woman there—the only problem was that he already had a wife in Austria. In 1887, Werner’s Austrian wife came to America, and he left his second wife and went to live with his first wife in Brooklyn. Before long he decided he liked his second wife better and returned to Poughkeepsie to live with her. His first wife sought assistance from Joseph Fischer and together they had Werner arrested for bigamy.

The Grand Jury failed to indict Werner, and after his release from jail he threatened to kill Fischer. He went back to his second wife, but without any income, she was forced to sell furniture for money. Werner asked her for some cash, and she gave him $2; he went to a gun shop and bought a British bulldog pistol. Stopping at a lager beer saloon he drank a glass of beer and smoked a cigar then walked to the shop where Fischer worked. No one was in the shop but Fischer; Werner waked in and approached him, raising the pistol he shot Fischer once in the chest killing him almost instantly. Werner was immediately arrested and taken to jail.

At his trial, the following March, Antone Werner was found guilty, but after a day of deliberation, the jury could not agree on whether the degree was first or second. The judge angrily sent them back to decide, but after an additional forty minutes they were still deadlocked, and they were discharged. Later that day, rather than face another trial, the District Attorney accepted Werner’s plea of murder in the second degree. Werner was sentenced to life in the state penitentiary at Sing Sing.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Andrew Hellman, alias Adam Horn.

Andrew Hellman Murdering his Wife.
(Serious Almanac, 1845-1846.)
Andrew Hellman was 25-years-old when he traveled from Germany to Baltimore in 1817. He had been apprenticed to a tailor, but when his apprenticeship ended, he decided to see the world, after a few years of wandering around Europe he set sail for America. 

In 1820 he was boarding at the farmhouse of George M. Abel in Loudoun County, Virginia and working on neighboring farms. Hellman professed a strong dislike of women and was quite outspoken in his belief that their only role in the world was as servants to men. In spite of this, he engaged the affections of George Abel’s 20-year-old daughter Mary. The Baltimore Sun described her as “a blithe, buxom and lighthearted country girl with rosy cheek and sparkling eye, totally unacquainted with the deceitfulness of the world.” Mary and Andrew were married in December 1821.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Shot by a Jealous Husband.

Daniel Monahan, aged 45, lived with his wife, Maggie, and their children on Henry Street in Binghamton, New York, and kept a saloon in a building adjoining the house. In 1885, a young man named Patrick Garvey began working as a bartender at Monahan’s saloon. Garvey, an attractive 34-year-old Irishman, grew especially close to Maggie Monahan. Before long she expressed her love for Garvey, and the two began an intimate relationship. Garvey became a frequent visitor at the Monahan home when Daniel was away, and their romance became the subject of rumor in Binghamton.

Daniel had already suspected that improper relations existed between his wife and his bartender, so he fired Garvey and openly accused his wife of adultery. Maggie replied that, yes, she did think more of Garvey than she did of her husband, and she would go with Garvey as much as she pleased. Daniel pleaded with Maggie to abandon the romance and not disgrace their little daughters, but she ignored his pleadings and continued to meet Garvey, not only at home but at various places in the city. In desperation, Daniel told her if she did not leave Garvey, he would shoot him. Maggie told Garvey about her husband’s threats and bought him a revolver to defend himself.   
Maggie Monahan

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Assassination of Corlis.

Charles G. Corlis kept a bowling saloon on Broadway between Leonard and Franklin Streets in New York City. On the evening of March 20, 1843, several bowlers saw a woman wearing a veil and a straw hat, enter the saloon. They saw her leave the place with Henry Colton, owner of the Colton House hotel, a few doors away on Leonard Street. Sometime later, witnesses saw Charles Corlis talking with the unidentified woman in the doorway of the Colton House.

Around 7:00 a pistol shot rang out on Leonard Street. Witnesses saw someone running from the scene—maybe a man, maybe a woman, maybe a man dressed as a woman. Lying on the ground in front of the Colton House was Charles Corlis, with a bullet wound in the back of his head. Next to him lay a five-barrel pistol with one shot fired. Corlis was carried into the hotel where he died about three hours later.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

“A Romance of Crime.”

Jimmy Logue was a professional thief whose life of crime spanned more than forty years. He was born in Philadelphia in 1835 and was arrested there for larceny at age 10. After his release became an apprentice to Joe Keyser, a noted Baltimore pickpocket. He eventually graduated to bank robbery and became quite accomplished at it, when he wasn't caught. Logue spent much of his time living a life of prosperity, the rest he spent behind bars.

His personal life was just as erratic. At age 23 he married Mary Jane Andres and left her after two years. Without the formality of a divorce, he married Mary Gahan soon after. She already had an illegitimate son who took his father’s name, Alphonse F. Cutaiar. Logue mistreated Mary, so she left him, went home to her father and died in 1869. Before Mary Gahan left him, Logue had taken up with her sister Johanna. Jimmy Logue and Johanna Gahan were married in the dock of the Central Police Station in 1871 as Logue was preparing to serve a seven-year sentence at Cherry Hill Prison for burglary. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Hattie Woolsteen.

The body of a man was found in the charred ruins of a barn that burned about a mile west of Compton, California, the morning of October 7, 1887. The man’s face was burned beyond recognition, but a bullet hole through his right temple indicated that the fire had been deliberately set to cover up a murder.

The case was handed over the Los Angeles Police Chief Darcy who set out to identify the victim. In the rubble, investigators found some cloth from the man’s suit and some sleeve buttons near the body. Dr. Charles N. Harlan, a Los Angeles dentist, had been missing for several days and his tailor recognized the fabric and buttons from a suit he had made for Harlan. Chief Darcy ordered the body exhumed, and the skull was shown to Harlan’s dentist who was able to identify his dental work. The victim was Dr. Harlan.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Lunatic Dougherty.

James M. Dougherty was an industrious young man in Brooklyn in the 1880s. He worked as a lineman for the Postal Telegraph Company and in his spare time he studied meteorology, electricity, astronomy and other sciences. He dabbled in a little of everything until after watching a play he became obsessed with the leading lady, Mary Anderson, and his love for her became his sole controlling passion.

He would go wherever she was performing and do whatever he could to be close to her. In 1887, Miss Anderson traveled to Europe, and Dougherty followed. By this point, he believed that Mary Anderson loved him as well, but she was surrounded by a group of conspirators dedicated to keeping them apart. They were controlled by Antonio Fernando de Navarro, his chief rival for Mary’s affections, who would marry her in 1890. While in Liverpool in 1887, Dougherty believed that the conspirators had tried to poison him, so he moved back to America.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Mount Holly Tragedy.

(sic)
Mary Catherine Anderson—Katie to her friends—was in good spirits when she went out the evening of Monday, February 7, 1887. 16-year-old Katie Anderson was a domestic servant living at the home of her employer, Stat Colkitt on his farm in Mount Holly, New Jersey. She said she was just going out for a walk, but Katie was not seen again until Tuesday morning when a neighboring farmer found her laying down an embankment alongside a public road, barely clinging to life with a gunshot wound to her temple. She was recognized by people at the Colkitt house and was taken by wagon to her uncle’s house; a doctor from Mount Holly was summoned.

Around dawn that morning another neighbor, Mrs. Brewer, on her way to Colkitt’s house saw some vomit on the road, and near it a pistol with one chamber discharged. At the Colkitt’s house, a young man named Witcraft recognized it as the pistol he had traded to Barclay Peak the week before.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Lawrenceburg Shanty-boat Mystery.

When John Keys and Eva Dickenson were married in Cincinnati on August 21, 1890, they told their relatives that they planned to honeymoon on the Atlantic coast, but John had another plan. He purchased an Ohio River shanty-boat and planned a slow trip downriver to St. Louis. It would not be their last deception; in fact, what transpired on that fateful journey would remain forever shrouded in mystery.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Ebenezer Stanyard.

Ebenezer Stanyard and Alice Hancock (sometimes spelled “Hancox”) were next-door neighbors in Youngstown, Ohio. Both of their families had emigrated from England and Ebenezer, and Alice had been playmates from an early age. But by 1887, when Alice turned 17, their paths had diverged. Alice, a pretty, petite brunette, was bright and popular, while Ebenezer, who could barely read and write, was considered weak-minded. Alice had moved on to more congenial company, but Ebenezer had become obsessively in love with her.

When Alice refused Ebenezer’s advances, he became more determined to have her. He was often loitering around her house, and her brother had caught Ebenezer peeking through her window. After that, the Hancock family kept their doors locked out of fear that Ebenezer might enter and commit assault. Reportedly, Ebenezer had asserted that Miss Hancock would not live to marry anyone else.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Wolf Creek Tragedy.

The Shanks family and the Keller family lived on opposite sides of the border between Fountain County and Parke County Indiana; the Shanks on the Fountain side, the Kellers on the Parke side. During a drought in the summer of 1895, the Kellers gave the Shanks family permission to access water on their property. The job of fetching the water fell to Clara Shanks, the beautiful 18-year-old daughter of Frederick Shanks, and she would visit Kellers’ yard several times a day.

Nannie Keller, the wife of 34-year-old Daniel Keller, kept an eye on Clara and began to suspect the young girl had begun flirting with her husband. Her suspicions grew to the point where she publicly accused Clara of having improper relations with Daniel.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Day of Blood.


Adolph Stein was a 35year-old Polish immigrant living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when he met Lizzie Loering, a widow with two little children and $30,000 in assets. After a whirlwind courtship, the two were married in June 1880.

Stein had been prominent in political circles in Cedar Rapids, but earlier that spring he was indicted for illegally selling liquor. He decided to move his new bride to Iowa City and open a saloon there with his wife’s money. Lizzie’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hess packed up and moved to Iowa City as well.

Before long, the marriage turned sour. There were several opinions as to what had gone wrong. Lizzie’s mother, who was always present, had never liked Stein and Lizzie, began to share her mother’s opinion. Together they made Stein’s life miserable. The saloon had acquired a bad reputation, and Stein took to drink. Some said that Stein had been determined to marry money and had only married Lizzie for her $30,000. He treated her badly, and when he turned violent, she left him and moved back with her parents. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Murder at the Pool Table.

Thomas H. Jones, aged 21, was planning to leave Brooklyn on October 5, 1880, to start a new life in San Francisco. The night before his planned departure he went to say goodbye to his friend George Secor and the two young men went to a lager beer saloon run by N. Debrowski on Atlantic Street to play billiards.

Between games, they went to the bar for some soda water. As they were placing their order John J. Dwyer entered the saloon, extremely intoxicated. He stood next to Jones and Secor and said, “I’ll take whiskey for mine.”  Neither man knew Dwyer and they ignored him; Debrowski told him that he had no whiskey.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Shot Down Remorselessly.

In January 1881, Adolph Sindram was a boarder at the home of Mrs. Catherine Crave on Charlton Street in New York City. Catherine was the second wife of a Frenchman named John B. Crave and gladly took over the responsibility of mothering his five children. She was a kind woman, loved by the children and esteemed by all who knew her. 

The house on Charlton Street was larger than the family needed, so they took in boarders and lodgers. Adolph Sindram, one of her boarders, approached Mrs. Crave to ask if his brother William could share his room. Adolph was an amiable and agreeable young man, well-liked by the other tenants of the house. He told her that William worked as a printer as he did. She thought Adolph’s brother would be a welcome addition to the house and agreed to let him share the room with an appropriate increase in the rent.

But William’s temperament was the opposite of his brother’s. He was irascible and sullen by nature with a tendency to become irrationally violent. He had once assaulted his father with a knife, and later, after his father’s death, he broke into his mother’s house and stole some money. He was completely self-centered, spending most of his time concocting schemes to make money without working. At Charlton Street, he was surly and disagreeable to all who lived there. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Money Matters.

Michael Heenan and his wife Delia had an argument over money matters in the kitchen of their home in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston on August 31, 1886. 60-year-old Michael Heenan owned the house where the couple lived and was said to be quite wealthy, but when Delia, aged 45, requested money he would plead poverty. 

When the argument grew heated, Michael went outside to the woodshed and returned with an axe. He gave Delia three savage blows to the head with the blunt end of the axe then grabbed her by the hair and dragged her as far as he could into the yard, leaving her in a pool of blood.

Michael went back to the house and into the parlor, locking the door behind him. He took out a roll of bills containing $4,000 and counted them leaving bloody fingerprints on the bills. Then, while facing a mirror, he took his razor and cut his throat from ear to ear, severing his windpipe. 

Michael and Delia were still alive when they were found, but they both died later that day at City Hospital.


Sources:
“Brained by her Miser Husband,” National Police Gazette, September 19, 1896.
“Fatal End of a Family Quarrel,” Kansas City daily journal, September 1, 1896.
“Murder and Suicide,” Worcester Daily Spy, September 1, 1896.
“Probable Murder and Suicide,” New Haven Register, August 31, 1896.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Butler County Tragedy.


Christina Hassler, 50-years-old, grew quite wealthy from several oil wells operating on her farm in Butler County, Pennsylvania, but she was not so fortunate in her personal life. She married a man named Nordheim and had four children by him. They lived together until, for some unspecified reason, Nordheim made a murderous assault against her father. He was sent to the penitentiary and Christina secured a divorce and resumed her maiden name. 

In 1878, one of Christina's three daughters married a man named Harper Whitmire. They borrowed money from Christina, giving her a mortgage on the property. Whitmire later induced her to cancel the mortgage and put the farm in his wife’s name and consider it her full share in her mother's estate. But Whitmire had already borrowed money on the farm, representing himself as the owner. When the loan came due, he had to continue borrowing money to stay out of trouble. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Maggie Hourigan Mystery.

Two children playing near their house in Greenwich, New York, the morning of Saturday, October 20, 1889, found a woman’s hat and jacket lying on a log and reported them to a group of men who were working on a road nearby. Reuben Stewart, Superintendent of Streets who was also President of the Village, thought the circumstances were suspicious and went down to take a look for himself. It was a secluded spot about halfway between two villages with a small pool of water near the road. Stewart found the owner of the hat and jacket floating face down in the pool.

The woman was soon identified as Maggie Hourigan. A hasty autopsy conducted by Dr. S. Walter Scott and several other physicians determined that she had drowned, and a coroner’s jury concluded that it had been suicide. 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Dunham Murder.


William H. Dunham owned a roadhouse on Washington Avenue, in Belleville, New Jersey, that catered to the roughest citizens of that town and was a noted stopping spot for sporting men and fast women from Newark and Passaic. He owned a second roadhouse—referred to as the “upper house”—near Nutley which had an even worse reputation. Dunham own reputation was not so good either; he was a short, stoutly built, ill-tempered man of 38, who was ready to fight at the slightest provocation, especially when drunk. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Delaware Avenue Murder.

Peace was disturbed in a fashionable Buffalo, New York neighborhood on April 18, 1894, by three gunshots fired at 10:00 p.m., on Delaware Avenue near Bryant Street. Neighbors hurried outside and found a man lying in the carriage driveway between two houses, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the temple and another to the shoulder. He was rushed to General Hospital where he died three minutes after being admitted.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Forgery, Murder, and Suicide.

Anne C. Chapman went to the First National Bank of Warsaw, Indiana, in September 1880, to cash a check for $300. The cashier did not hesitate; the check was signed by her father, the director of the bank. During the course of business that day, her father came across the check and immediately pronounced the signature a forgery. He reported the crime and had his daughter arrested, refusing to bail her out of jail. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Professional Malpractioner.

In July 1890, a man came into the 126th Street Police Station in Harlem, New York City, to report a conversation he had overheard in an elevated train. A young man and woman sitting near him were talking about the mysterious disappearance of Miss Goodwin from the Storm King flats on East 126th Street. They believed that she had been foully dealt with by “professional malpractioners.” The woman said that a friend told her that Miss Goodwin had died and within twenty-four hours she was buried, and another young woman was wearing her clothes and jewelry.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Murder Illustrated.

Graphic images depicting brutal crimes often accompanied murder stories in 19th Century publications. In the early years, the already old tradition of murder pamphlets, sold at public executions, often including the condemned killers’ confessions, began to feature shocking illustrations of the murders. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Kentucky Tragedy
Illustration from The Beauchamp Tragedy in Kentucky. New York: Dinsmore & Co., 1858

Michael Garvey
Illustration from Brooke, H.K. Tragedies on the Land, Philadelphia, 1845


"A Most Extraordinary Case."
Illustration from Trials of Capt. Joseph J. Knapp, Jr. and George Crowninshield for the Murder of Capt. Joseph White of Salem, (Boston: Charles Ellms, 1830)

The Bitter Fruit of Jest
Illustration from Tingley, H. F., Incidents in the life of Milton W. Streeter (Pawtucket: H. F. Tingley, 1850).

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Bangor Mystery.

A severely wounded man was found wrapped in a blanket by the side of the road, about two miles outside of Bangor, Maine, at 8:00 p.m. on February 5, 1879. Surgeons at the police station in Bangor examined the man and declared that he was mangled beyond their ability to heal him. His skull had been fractured by four or five blows from an axe; he died at around 11:30 that night. 

The man was identified as William B. Elliot, a constable and tax collector for the town of Glenburn, Maine. Elliot was last seen in his sleigh going past Merrill’s store with another man standing in the back of the sleigh holding on to a stake. He was returning home after having a meal at Merrill’s and was attacked before he had gone a quarter mile.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Michael M’Garvey.





The evening of November 21, 1828, Michael M’Garvey violently chastised his wife, Margaret, in the room, they occupied on the top floor of a house at the corner of Pine and Ball Alleys, between Third and Fourth Streets, and between South and Shippen Streets in Philadelphia. He tied her by the hair to a bedpost and began beating her, unmercifully with a whip, continuing at intervals for the next hour and a half. When she passed out, he attempted to throw her out the window but pulled her back in when someone outside saw him and cried out.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Snell Murder.

Rosa Buckstahlen and Ida Bjornstad, servants in the Chicago mansion of Amos J. Snell, were awakened at 2:00 the morning of February 8, 1888, by the sound of a gunshot from the floor below. They heard someone shout “Get out! Get out of here!” followed by more gunshots, then silence. Thinking that all was well—or more likely, too frightened to do anything else—the girls went back to sleep.

Five hours later, Mr. Snell’s coachman, Henry Winklebook, entered the house to attend the furnace fires and found evidence of a break-in. Snell’s basement office was strewn with scattered papers, his safe was open, and a broken strongbox lay on the floor. Winklebook hurried upstairs to inform his employer and found his lifeless body lying in a pool of blood in the hallway. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Three Victims of Jealousy.

72-year-old Norman J. Lounsberry worked on the farm of his brother Horace in Nichols, New York and lived in a small house on his brother’s land. About twenty years after divorcing his first wife, Norman Lounsberry decided to marry again, and in December 1885 he married 17-year-old, Julia Presher. 

Norman and his bride took their meals with the family of his brother, which included Horace Payson, the 35-year-old nephew of his brother’s wife. Payson was a coal agent on the Lackawanna and Erie Railroad who also helped on his uncle’s farm. Norman kept his eye on Payson as he interacted with Julia. He was an extremely jealous man, and he believed that Payson was too attentive to his young wife. Several times he told Payson to leave Julia alone and had angrily threatened to kill them both if the attention did not stop. Julia became so frightened that she reported her husband’s threats to the district attorney.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Italian Vendetta.

The saloon owned by Joseph Catanazaro was a meeting place for Italian men in South Brooklyn. On May 28, 1896, William King, who was shooting dice at Catanazaro’s overheard two men arguing in the back room. Nino Prestijiacomo had come to Brooklyn from Boston to settle a score with Giacchino Cocchiara, and Salvatore Serrio was defending Cocchiara who had been his friend since they were boys in Palermo, Sicily.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Mysteries of Mary Tobin.

Mary E. Tobin.

Thomas W. Armour, janitor of the Clifton Boat Club, Clifton, Staten Island, on May 12, 1889, found the body of a young woman washed up on the rocks near the club. She was about 30-years-old, five feet five inches tall, with a light complexion and a plump figure. She wore a gold ring with stones in a cat’s eye setting and several pieces of black jet jewelry. The only other object found on the body was an Episcopal prayer book. The body was fully clothed, and Coroner Hughes found nothing to indicate foul play. Decomposition had set in, and the coroner determined that the body had been in the water about eight days.

Though badly decomposed, friends and relations identified the body as that of Mary E. Tobin, who had been living for the previous two years in West New Brighton on Staten Island. She had been the office assistant of Dr. S.A. Robinson but had resigned on April 13 and was last seen in West New Brighten two days later.

Mary had planned to visit her family in Franklin, Pennsylvania, whom she hadn’t seen in two years, after first stopping to visit a friend, Mrs. McKenna in Brooklyn. She packed her belongings in two trunks and sent one to Franklin and the other to Brooklyn. Mary left on April 15 but never arrived at either destination.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

With a Knife in His Heart.


Patrick S. Donovan, better known as “Snip,” began drinking champagne after the first race at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey, on August 6, 1893. The wine continued to flow as he watched the day’s races and Donovan appeared to be in a jovial mood, but he may have been trying to drown his sorrows. “Snip” Donovan was a successful and well-known horse trainer, but he had recently been discharged from the stables of Pierre Lorillard in a dispute over training methods. Donovan was also having a run of bad luck in his betting. In spite of his problems, witnesses agreed that Donovan had been in a good mood throughout the day.

After the last race, Donovan wanted to keep drinking so he and John Chew, a stable hand who worked for Lorillard, hitched up a buggy and went to Oceanport. Chew, the more sober of the two drove the horse. They drank for several hours in Oceanport then went to the Monmouth Hotel near the track and had some more. Those who saw them that night said the men appeared to be on friendly terms, but, sometime after midnight the mood changed. Donovan had been drinking heavily, while Chew drank only three bottles of beer. Chew was ready to leave the hotel, but Donovan wanted to stay for another drink.