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.

His prison term ended on April 10, and he went back again to 38th Street to get Lizzie. He was intoxicated when he arrived and this time when Lizzie refused to go with him he blamed Fanny and threatened her. Fanny decided to let him in to sleep it off while the sisters decided what to do. They let him lie down on Lizzie’s bed and left him alone. A few minutes later they heard two gunshots from the bedroom and ran in to see what happened.

Edward Hovey always carried a pistol. By his own admission, he had done so since he was old enough to know what a pistol was. That day he took out his pistol and fired two shots into the floor. He could not explain why he did it; perhaps he wanted to get his wife’s sympathy by feigning suicide. Fanny took the gun away from him and turned him out of the house.

A few days later he was back again saying he was a reformed man and would drink no more. This time Fanny urged her sister to take him at his word and get back with him, Lizzie agreed, and Hovey moved into Lizzie’s room. 

Hovey managed to stay sober until April 26. That day he pawned his coat and some other items, bought a single shot pistol at a pawn shop, spent the rest on alcohol. He was drunk when he returned for dinner at 38th Street. When Jerome left for work and Hovey was alone with Lizzie and Fanny, he took out the pistol and started toying with it. Lizzie saw it and said, “Fanny, he’s got a pistol—take it away from him.”

Fanny, who was sitting in a chair sewing, did not even look up. She said calmly, “No, I won’t; I had trouble enough about the other one. I guess it’s only candy he’s got.”

Hovey pointed the pistol at her chest and fired. Fanny jumped up and ran down the stairs crying “Save me! Save me! Oh, Mrs. Burns, Eddie has shot me!” Mrs. Burns caught her at the bottom of the stairs; Fanny vomited blood then died in her arms.

A coachman outside heard the shots and the screams and hurried to the 37th Street Station to inform the police. Officer Finnerty found Hovey cowering under the bed at the Vermilyea’s apartment.

“Did you do this shooting?” the policeman asked.

“Yes,” said Hovey, “and if I had another bullet in that pistol you wouldn’t take me out of the house.”

When the case went to trial the following September, Hovey’s plea was not guilty. He claimed that the pistol accidentally went off when Fanny tried to take it away from him. Hovey’s attorney challenged Lizzie Hovey’s competency as a witness citing an 1876 law stating that a wife could not be compelled to testify against her husband. Although Lizzie was ready and willing to testify voluntarily, the judge ruled that the law was ambiguous and excused Lizzie from testifying. It was a blow to the prosecution because they had lost the only eye-witness to the murder, but even without her testimony, the jury had little trouble finding Hovey guilty of first-degree murder.

Edward Hovey was sentenced to hang on July 27, 1883 but two days before the scheduled execution, Governor Grover Cleveland granted him a respite until October 19, so his attorneys could finish their appeals. They challenged the verdict on the grounds that it was not in line with the evidence and the judge’s instructions to the jury were improper. The verdict was upheld by the Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court. When the new execution date was approaching the governor asserted that he would do nothing this time to interfere.

Throughout his prison stay Hovey maintained an air of calm indifference, but on execution day he completely broke down. He was staggering as he climbed the gallows; the prison doctor claimed it was because he had been given spirits of ammonia and nothing else. Other accounts say he had been drinking whiskey the night before and continued drinking the morning of the execution. Even at that, he needed a shot of morphine before he could proceed. 

It was claimed that Hovey was indirectly responsible for three more deaths since Fanny Vermilyea had been pregnant when he shot her, his little daughter had died of scarlet fever due to his neglect, and the heartbreak of seeing her son convicted of murder had killed his mother. The headline of the New York Herald on October 20, read, “Society Well Rid of Him.”

“Edward Hovey Convicted,” New York Herald, September 26, 1882.
“A Cold-Blooded Murder,” Truth, April 27, 1882.
“Confronting Death,” Truth, June 9, 1883.
“Deaths on the Scaffold,” Boston Herald, October 20, 1883.
Defenders and offenders (New York: Buchner & Co, 1888.)
 “Edward Hovey's Crime,” New York Herald, September 23, 1882.
“A Grateful Murderer,” New York Herald, July 28, 1883.
“Murder with Little Motive,” New York Herald, April 27, 1882.
“Murderers Sentenced,” New York Herald, September 30, 1882.
“On Trial for His Life,” New York Herald, September 22, 1882.
“Shooting A Sister-In-Law,” New York Tribune, April 27, 1882.
“Society Well Rid of Him,” New York Herald, October 20, 1883.


Tish says:
March 12, 2019 at 1:28 AM

Society well rid of him is right. I enjoy these very much. Thank you.

Unknown says:
March 15, 2019 at 5:29 PM

Every generation has its share of such vermin... dregs and drains on society. .

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