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.


The dead man was identified as 33-year-old Montgomery Gibbs, a successful attorney, and real estate developer. He lived with his brother Clinton on Main Street, within walking distance of the murder scene, but no one could explain what he was doing there. Montgomery Gibbs had many acquaintances and belonged to several fraternal organizations, but no one could say that they knew him well. He was a private man; even his brother Clinton knew nothing of his romantic life or the details of his business dealings.

Suicide was ruled out; the wounds, positioned as they were, could not have been self-inflicted and no pistol was found at the scene. Robbery was considered. Burglars and footpads had been operating in the area, but they were not known to commit murder, and nothing had been stolen. It appeared that Gibbs had been intentionally killed. 

With no visible clues, the police kept the details of their investigation secret and the newspapers began investigating on their own. The Buffalo Evening News believed that Gibbs was lured into a trap. They put together a timeline of his movements that night and he was seen by several people walking leisurely up Delaware as if to keep a 10:00 appointment. The News concluded that Gibbs was killed by a woman; the angle of the wound to his temple indicated that it was fired by someone shorter than he was, and a woman’s footprint was found in the hedges near the body. The police also believed that the killer was a woman but would not elaborate.

What was not revealed to the public was that shortly after the murder, the Buffalo Evening News received an anonymous letter purporting to be from the killer. The writer said she was a 17-year-old girl who Gibbs had seduced eight months previous under the promise of marriage. He refused to keep his promise. Pregnant and desperate, she lured him to the spot on Delaware Avenue and shot him. She expressed no remorse and was glad that he would never ruin another innocent girl.

The police and the paper were unable to track down the anonymous writer. At the coroner’s inquest, the police were forced to admit that they had no clue as to who killed Montgomery Gibbs. The jury ruled that he was shot by a person or persons unknown. 

That was how matters stood until the following October when a young woman in Cleveland Ohio confessed to killing Gibbs. The Cleveland police had received a tip that Clarence Robinson, currently in their custody for burglary, had murdered Montgomery Gibbs in Buffalo the previous April and that his wife Sadie was also involved. 19-year-old Sadie Robinson told the police that Clarence was innocent of the killing and that she fired the shots that killed Gibbs. The Buffalo Police quickly charged Sarah “Sadie” Robinson as a fugitive from justice and brought her to Buffalo.

Once in custody in Buffalo, Sadie said that her confession in Cleveland had been a lie and refused to say anything more. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Clarence Robinson confessed to trying to rob Gibbs at gunpoint on April 28. He said that he fired two shots, but the shot that killed Gibbs was fired by his wife, Sadie. He seemed relieved to finally confess the crime.

In Buffalo, both Robinsons were indicted for first-degree murder and Clarence Robinson was extradited from Cleveland to Buffalo. They now separately confessed, telling virtually identical stories except that Clarence said that Sadie fired the murder shot, and Sadie said that Clarence fired all of the shots.

Clarence Robinson, aged 23, had spent most of his adult life in prison. After his last prison term, he married Sadie and purchased a minstrel troupe. They traveled with the show, losing money at every stop until they found themselves penniless in Buffalo. Clarence decided to return to robbery and Sadie joined him, dressed as a man wearing his trousers and a slouch hat. 

On Delaware Avenue, they planned to stop a wealthy looking man and rob him at gunpoint. Clarence thought Montgomery Gibbs was a prime candidate, but Sadie thought he was too big. When Clarence drew his revolver, Gibbs, who was tall and athletically built, grabbed his arm. In the struggle that followed, Clarence’s revolver went off twice. Then, according to Clarence, Sadie, who was also armed, fired the third shot. According to Sadie, she stood frozen with fear and watched as Clarence fired the shot that killed Gibbs. Clarence also confessed to writing the anonymous letter to the Buffalo Evening News to try to lead the investigation in the wrong direction.

Clarence and Sadie Robinson were tried together in March 1895. They pled not guilty, recanting their confessions claiming that they were made under duress with false representations made by the police. The prosecution relied on expert witnesses who asserted the cartridges found at the scene were from a revolver owned by Clarence Robinson and that the handwriting of the anonymous letter matched that of a letter Clarence had sent to Sadie. 

The defense called Sadie Robinson as a rebuttal witness after Chief of Detectives Cusack testified to the circumstances of her confession. She claimed the police had induced her to implicate Clarence, implying that she could get the reward offered. Aside from Sadie’s testimony, the defense offered no evidence, asserting that the prosecution had not proven their case or even proven that the Robinsons had been in Buffalo that night. 

It was assumed that the jury would find the Robinsons either guilty or not guilty of first-degree murder, but they surprised everyone including the defense attorney when they found Clarence Robinson guilty of second-degree murder and Sadie Robinson guilty of manslaughter. They had saved the Robinsons from the electric chair, but Clarence was sentenced to life in prison and Sadie to twenty years.

Sources:
“Aldermanic Action,” Buffalo Courier, May 22, 1894.
“Ambush,” Buffalo Evening News, May 1, 1894.
“Awful!,” The Buffalo Enquirer, October 17, 1894.
“Confession!,” The Buffalo Commercial, October 15, 1894.
“Decoyed to His Death,” Buffalo Evening News, April 30, 1894.
“Defence Called Sadie Robinson,” New York Herald, March 16, 1895.
“Delaware-Ave. Murder,” Buffalo Morning Express, April 29, 1894.
“Details of Gibbs Murder!,” Buffalo Evening News, October 16, 1894.
“Did She Murder Gibbs?,” Buffalo Morning Express, October 14, 1894.
“The Gibbs Murder Inquest,” The Buffalo Enquirer, May 9, 1894.
“Indicted!,” Buffalo Evening News, October 19, 1894.
“The Police Admit Defeat,” The Buffalo Enquirer, May 21, 1894.
“Posed at Their Trial for Murder,” New York Herald, March 12, 1895.
“Their Lives at Stake,” Buffalo Evening News, March 10, 1895.
“Their Lives Saved,” Buffalo Evening News, March 21, 1895.
“Their Trial Begun,” Buffalo Courier, March 13, 1895.
“Trial Of The Robinsons,” New York Tribune, March 16, 1895.

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