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.

Chew was reported to say (censored by the New York Tribune), “You need a drink ______ bad. What in _____ do you want to keep me out all night for?”

Around 1:00 a.m. they returned to the stable where Donovan slept. No one witnessed what happened next, but several men who slept in the stable were awake and heard Donovan and Chew fighting. Donovan was sick of Chew’s company and began calling him harsh names and ordered him out of the stall. There were sounds of a scuffle then Chew ran from the stable crying, “Murder! Murder!” He ran nearly sixty yards before falling to the ground. 

Richard Radcliffe, a stable worker, ran to Chew but found him dead. He roused another trainer and told him what happened then started for the police station in Eatonton. He returned with Constable Ely who found “Snip” Donovan on his cot, either asleep or in a drunken stupor. Ely woke him up, arrested him and took him back to Eatontown. 

Ely could see that Donovan was wounded and bleeding, so at around 3:00 a.m. he took him to Dr. William B. Beach of Eatonton who dressed the wound. Donovan had been stabbed with an ice pick, leaving him with a serious wound under the left arm. Before going to Freehold jail, Eil took Donovan to view the body of his victim. Donovan had stabbed Chew with a long slender dirk; the blade went through his heart and all the way through his body, the tip emerging from his back.

Standing over the body, Donovan said, “John, John, if I had not killed you, you would have killed me.”

The timing of the murder was bad, both for Donovan and for Monmouth Park. The track was under scrutiny with charges that some of the races there had been fixed. The track was at war with the press and attempted to dictate what was published, while the New York papers united in condemnation of the “questionable and objectionable affairs at Monmouth.” It was said that very few American jockeys could be trusted to ride honestly at all times and “it is only dupes and fools who suppose that fraud is not frequent in American racing.” The murder drew attention to the lawless element attracted to Monmouth Park which included “…nearly all the criminals, high and low, of this part of the State, as well as the worst toughs of neighboring states.” All of those associated with the racetrack rallied to Donovan’s defense, while the prosecution was ready to throw the book at him as a warning to the rest of the outlaws at the track. They charged “Snip” Donovan with first-degree murder.

The coroner removed John Chew’s heart and preserved it in a jar of alcohol so the jury could see the inch and a half cut made by Donovan’s knife. They found a witness who heard Donovan say that Chew frequently angered him so much that he felt like killing him with a club. It appeared that Donovan would go to the gallows for stabbing John Chew.

But when the case went to trial in November, Donovan withdrew his plea of not guilty of first-degree murder and pled guilty to manslaughter. His attorney made a plea for mercy on the grounds that Donovan inflicted the fatal wound in self-defense. Donovan produced a long line of affidavits from friends in New Jersey and his home state of Ohio, testifying to his good nature and moral habits. In Donovan’s own affidavit he claimed that three years before he had caught Chew cheating at cards and since then Chew held a grudge against him. 

The court accepted the plea to manslaughter, but Donovan nearly fainted when the judge handed down the maximum sentence of ten years at hard labor in the New Jersey State Prison. Back at the track, bets were freely offered that Donovan would not serve two years of the term.

“Gloom at the Race Track,” New-York Tribune, August 8, 1893.
“Horrid Murder at Long Branch,” Boston Journal, August 7, 1893.
“The Monmouth Park Murder,” New York Tribune, August 9, 1893.
“Monmouth's Murder Spot.,” New-York Tribune, August 8, 1893.
“The Murder at Monmouth,” New-York Tribune, August 8, 1893.
“"Snip" Donovan Charged with Murder,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 11, 1893.
“"Snip" Donovan Gets Ten Years,” Sun and New York press, November 17, 1893.
“Snip Donovan Pleads Not Guilty,” Trenton Evening Times, October 11, 1893.
“With a Knife in his Heart,” Evening herald, August 7, 1893.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Lewis Wolf Webster.

Perry Harrington and his wife, Maria, were spending a quiet evening at their farmhouse in Geneva, Ohio, on December 18, 1884, when the door burst open, and a masked man boldly entered the house. He pointed a cocked revolver at Mr. Harrington and demanded his money or his life. Seeing that he and his wife were at the mercy of the intruder, Harrington went into an adjoining bedroom to get his money. 

After hearing the man speak, Mrs. Harrington said, “I think I know you.”

“You do, do you?” he responded and fired the pistol hitting her in the left arm. As he did so, the handkerchief fell from his face and she saw to was Lewis Webster, the man she suspected. Mrs. Harrington ran to the kitchen, and he fired again hitting the same arm. She rushed out to the street and with blood streaming from her wounds ran to a schoolhouse some 40 yards away from where an entertainment was in progress. 

She gave the alarm and neighbors and friends hurried back to the house where they found Perry Harrington lying unconscious in a pool of blood, with a bullet hole in his forehead. He died soon after without gaining consciousness. A broken chair and general disorder of the room showed that a struggle had taken place before the shot was fired. The intruder was nowhere to be found.

Lewis Wolf Webster, 24-years-old, had formerly worked on the Harrington farm. The day of the murder, Mr. Harrington had sold a large quantity of wheat. Webster had witnessed the transaction and knew that there was money in the house. Marshal Carter and Night Watchman Baker arrested Webster at his Geneva boardinghouse the following morning. The officers found a revolver in his overcoat pocket. A handkerchief recently washed and not yet dry, with spots of blood was also found. They found none of the missing money.

Webster denied any connection to the crime, saying he was with his girl until 10 o’clock. His girl was a pretty, blonde dressmaker named Sophia Hall. The two were to be married on Christmas Day. 

News of the murder spread quickly through the town that morning, and the people were outraged. There was the talk of lynching Webster, but tempers cooled when Sheriff Baldwin arrived. There was no demonstration as he quietly took Webster by sleigh to jail in Jefferson, Ohio.

Lewis Webster was tried for murder in March 1885. The chief witness for the prosecution was Maria Harrington who gave eye-witness testimony of events the night of the murder and identified Lewis Webster as the killer. Webster’s attorney was eloquent but offered little evidence but a parade of character witnesses and an attack on the credibility of Mrs. Webster’s testimony. The trial lasted a month and ended with the easy conviction of Webster. He was sentenced to be hanged on October 1.

Webster’s attorneys filed an appeal on the grounds that several members of the jury had stated that they had already made up their minds before the trial began. Webster was granted a new trial and a change of venue to Warren, Ohio.

The new trial began on September 1, 1895. By this time public sentiment had begun to swing in Webster’s direction. A group of young female admirers greeted him in court each day with a bouquet of flowers and the ever-faithful Sophia Hall gave the defendant a kiss each morning before the session started.

A new defense witness, Mr. S. R. Parks, testified that he spoke with a man he believed was Lewis Webster in Geneva that night, five miles from the scene of the crime. Another witness had seen a tramp around the Harrington house who could have been the killer. But it was not enough to counter Maria Harrington’s testimony. Once again, Lewis Webster was convicted of first-degree murder.

At his sentencing, Webster gave a long diatribe condemning those who had lied about him and who had treated him poorly in jail. He ended by saying:
"I suppose I ought not to complain of the jury, but their verdict was false, and I am left to suffer the consequences of their terrible mistake. I can only trust that a just and merciful God will not permit such a cruel injustice. But if I am doomed to disappointment in this, I shall cling to the hope that the truth will sometime become known and that my name and memory be vindicated, though my body may be consigned to a felon's grave.”
Webster was sentenced to hang on February 5, 1896.

His attorneys continued to appeal and on December 29, 1895, Governor Hoadly granted Webster a reprieve to give them time to file a writ of error in the state supreme court. On May 29, the supreme court granted Webster another new trial due to technical errors in the previous trial. 

Webster’s third trial began on August 2, 1896, and this time Sheriff McKinley vowed to prevent a repetition of the “sickly sentimentalism” of the previous trial—no more bouquets and no more morning kisses. The trial followed the same course as the previous ones, but this time the defense had another witness who saw two men, one of whom was Webster, conversing in Geneva that night. But it was probably the impassioned pleas of Webster’s father and mother on the witness stand that swayed the jury. This time the verdict was not guilty.

Lewis Webster was released from custody on October 4, 1886. He had been in jail for a year and nine months, but he had not been idle. Reportedly, in that time he had become an expert banjo player. Lewis Webster and Sophia Hall were married in May 1887. The residents of Geneva were still bitter over the acquittal and still believed Webster was the killer. The newlyweds set up housekeeping in Warren, Ohio.

“All Ready For The Trial,” Plain Dealer, September 14, 1886.
“Bad For Webster,” Plain Dealer, September 18, 1885.
“Condemned To Die,” Plain Dealer, October 15, 1885.
“The Criminal World,” Cleveland Leader, January 1, 1885.
“Gets a New Trial,” Cleveland Leader, July 4, 1885.
“Granted A New Trial,” Plain Dealer, May 21, 1886.
“Horrible Crime,” Cleveland Leader, December 19, 1884.
“Lew Webster's Third Trial,” Plain Dealer, July 7, 1886.
“Lewis Webster Granted a Reprieve,” Plain Dealer, December 30, 1885.
“Lewis Webster In Luck,” Plain Dealer, May 19, 1887.
“Lewis Webster's Second Trial,” Plain Dealer, September 1, 1885.
“Lewis W. Webster and Miss Hall,” The National Police Gazette, October 16, 1886.
“News Article,” Cleveland Leader, April 3, 1885.
“New Testimony Introduced by the Defense in the Webster Trial,” Plain Dealer, October 5, 1886.
“Plain Dealings,” Plain Dealer, May 6, 1885.
“Record of Crime,” Cleveland Leader, April 23, 1885.
“To Hang,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 29, 1885.
“Twice Sentenced to Death,” New York Herald, October 15, 1886.
“Webster in Jail,” Cleveland Leader, December 28, 1884.
“The Webster Murder Trial,” Plain Dealer, September 15, 1885.
“The Webster Murder Trial,” Plain Dealer, September 17, 1885.
“Webster to Have a New Trial,” Plain Dealer, May 15, 1885.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Society Well Rid of Him.

Edward Hovey, aged 22, was an idle, dishonest, violent man with dissolute habits, living in New York City in 1882. His occupation was painter, but as of April of that year, he had been unemployed for four years and had been sentenced to Blackwell Island three times for petty theft. During Hovey’s second prison term, his wife, Lizzie, decided that she had had enough.  She took their little daughter, who was sick with scarlet fever and went to stay with her 19-year-old sister, Fanny Vermilyea and her husband Jerome in their apartment on 38th Street. The landlady, Mrs. Burns, had a small grocery and candy store on the first floor and gave Lizzie a job there.

When Hovey got out of prison, he tried to get Lizzie back, and when she refused to have anything to do with him he threatened to take her life. Whether or not he was serious, he did not have time to act; soon after he was arrested for stealing a coat and was back on Blackwell Island.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The East River Murder.

The morning of February 8, 1898, the nude, dismembered body of a man was found floating in the East River, near a ferryboat slip on Roosevelt Street, New York City. The entire front portion of the head was missing, leaving only the right ear and a portion of the back of the head. The left leg was missing from a point just above the knee and the right leg had been cut off at the hip. Both arms had been cut off at the shoulder.

The cuts were smooth and intentional, eliminating the possibility that they had been taken off by steamboat paddle-wheels. The police were convinced that the man was murdered and butchered. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What Next?

This cartoon from the magazine Puck, March 31, 1880, comments on the growing trend of accused murderers on the lecture circuit.

On the bill are:

Mrs. Laura Fair
Laura Fair

Laura Fair was convicted of murdering California legislator Alexander Crittenden, but the verdict overturned on the grounds of insanity. Her trial became a cause celebre for women's rights activists.

Rev. Vosburgh
Rev. Vosburgh

New Jersey Baptist minister Rev. George Vosburgh was indicted in May 1878 for attempted murder of his wife by poison. He continued his ministry after acquital.

Birdie Bell
Washington Nathan

Birdie Bell was a New York actress and mistress of Washington Nathan, the prime suspect in the murder of his father Benjamin Nathan. In 1875, when she learned he was cheating with actress Alice Harrison she burst in on them at the Colman House hotel and shot Washington Nathan in the neck.

Rev. Glendenning
Rev. Glendenning

New Jersey Presbyterian minister Rev. John Gendenning seduced and abandoned his organist Mary Pomeroy. When she died in childbirth, in August 1874, her family tried unsucessfully to have Gendenning charged with murder.

Rev. Mr. Hayden
Rev. Hayden

In 1878, Connecticut Methodist minister, Rev. Herbert Hayden was accused of stabbing and poisoning Mary Stannard, a young housekeeper employed by his wife. Many  believed that he had seduced and impregnated her. He denied it all and was released after a hung jury.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

In Flagrante Delicto.

A little before 3 o’clock, the afternoon of September 9, 1886, a man rushed into the police station in Memphis, Tennessee and said, “I have just killed a man, and I want to give myself up.”

Captain Hackett took down the information and had the man locked up, then hurried to the address he had given to see for himself what had happened. In an upstairs room, he found a man lying on the floor, very nearly dead, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest. “I am to blame,” the man moaned. He died soon after.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Cannibal of Austerlitz.

Simon Vandercook was a 55-year-old “eccentric wanderer” from Lansingburgh, New York, a fortune seeker who relatives said was always filled with “utopian schemes.” In 1882, he claimed he had discovered gold outside of Alford, in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Berkshire County had several small iron mines, with Marble and other minerals found there as well so a gold discovery was not considered impossible. Vandercook purchased the land for his gold strike from Oscar Beckwith in exchange for shares in the company he formed to mine the gold.

If Vandercook had actually discovered gold, the mine was not producing enough to sustain fulltime operation, and he earned money by cutting trees on the property and selling lumber. Beckwith believed he had been swindled and threatened to sue Vandercook.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Ruttinger Mystery.

Samuel Mortin, who was employed to keep watch over six coasting schooners laid up for the winter just below Tottenville, Staten Island, New York, found the body of a man lying in the mud, half floating, next to one of the vessels on March 11, 1891. The man's arms were crossed behind his back tied together at the wrists and above the elbows with heavy packing twine. Mortin secured the body and went to tell the police.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Jack the Slasher.

On January 17, 1892, Officer Masterson of the New York City Police arrested a man the police and press had dubbed “Jack the Slasher.” Since December 29, Jack the Slasher had been on a rampage, cutting the throats of seven men with a straight razor, leaving one of them dead. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Murdered Coachman.

As the family of Joseph Blair of Montclair, New Jersey, dined on June 26, 1879, their houseguest, Miss Rebeca Draper, remarked that she had seen two men in the Blairs’ wagon the previous day. The men went into a saloon and when they came out, they drove away furiously, the driver whipping the horses at least a dozen times.  Joseph was not happy to hear this and after dinner decided to go out to the stable and have a talk with his coachman, John Armstrong.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Who Shot Meierhoffer?

The Execution.
John and Margaret Meierhoffer had a small farm in West Orange, New Jersey, about seven miles from Newark. They had been married many years, had two sons—28-year-old Joseph and 14-year-old Theodore, who still lived at home—but by 1879, John and Margaret were not on friendly terms. They no longer slept together or had meals together; John slept in a small room in the barn and picked up his meals in the house when no one else was around.

Margaret said the fault was John’s; she called him “a fretful, hard-to-please man” who badly mistreated her. Others, though, said that 40-year-old Margaret, who was nearly six feet tall, had long ago subdued John who was ten years her senior, slightly built and in poor health. He found it easier just to avoid her. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Rockville Tragedy.

21-year-old Alfred Egbert, better known as Pete, lived with his parents, a brother and a sister in Rockville, Indiana. He was a quiet man who led an exemplary life; when not working as a carpenter he was a voracious reader, often reading well into the night. April 1896, his sister Florence was dying of typhoid and Pete was under considerable stress from worry and lack of sleep.

The morning of April 25, Pete Egbert was outside chopping wood when he saw the next door neighbor, Mrs. Haske walk through the alley to get her cow for milking. Something suddenly enraged him and he attacked Mrs. Haske with the axe. He knocked her to the ground then gave her another blow to the head, killing her. He walked back to the house got his shotgun and left the house again.