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.

He settled in Washington D.C. where he sold encyclopedias. Mary Anderson followed him to Washington, he would later tell his doctors, and took lodging across the street from him. At this time his enemies were so intent on surveilling him, Dougherty said, that they used a system of mirrors arranged over the transom of his door so they could follow his every move.

In 1889, while Anderson was appearing in New York City, Dougherty’s constant stalking came to the attention of the police. James Dougherty, a tall, lanky man with dark, wild-looking eyes peering through spectacles, was declared insane by doctors on Ward’s Island and sent to the King’s County Insane Asylum in Brooklyn. 

At first, Dougherty was considered dangerous and kept under close observation but gradually his condition appeared to improve, and his obsession with Mary Anderson had subsided to the point that he received the news of her marriage to Mr. Navarro with apparent indifference. Considering him no longer a threat, the doctors put Dougherty to work on the asylum’s farm. But their trust had been premature; Dougherty took the farm as an opportunity to escape. 

The asylum guards searched for him but with no avail. After ten days, according to the rules of the asylum, Dougherty was recorded as discharged.

On September 26, 1890, Dougherty returned to the asylum and walked up the stairs with a revolver in his hand. Several doctors and nurses who were on the porch scattered and Dougherty walked into the office of Dr. Fleming, superintendent of the institution. Dr. Fleming told him he was not wanted anymore, and Dougherty said he had come for the things he left behind. His things were promptly procured, and Dougherty left without using his revolver. Dr. Fleming did not report the incident to the police.

Two weeks later, on October 10, Dougherty returned again, this time with a revolver, loaded and cocked, in each hand, entered the main office of the asylum and asked for Dr. Fleming. Doctors Lloyd and McGreal who were in the office at the time, told him that Dr. Fleming was out. Dr. Lloyd, who recognized the former inmate right away, began to say, “Now, Dougherty, you ought to be—" but the sentence was cut short by the sharp report of a revolver. Dougherty had shot Lloyd in the left side of his chest. Dr. Lloyd staggered to his feet, and as he rose, Dougherty fired again hitting Lloyd in the throat. Dr. Lloyd gasped, “Oh, Dougherty!” then fell to the floor and died instantly.

Dr. McGreal ran from the room and out of the asylum, shouting, “Police!”

Also at the asylum that day, was Dr. Edward H. Ashford, who was employed by the Federal Government to collect the mortality census in New York and Brooklyn. He heard the shots and saw Dougherty leave then hurried to the Flatbush Police Station and told them what had occurred. The police in Brooklyn correctly assumed that Dougherty would flee to Manhattan and captured him as he crossed the bridge. 

While in custody, Dougherty said to the captain, “I did it. I meant to kill him and would have killed ten more if I had the chance.” He said that he meant to shoot Lloyd, Fleming, McGreal and the whole crowd for the brutal treatment he had received at the asylum. “I am not crazy,” he said, “but as sane as the sanest man that walks New York today.”

In his pockets the police found the two revolvers, one 44 caliber and one 38 caliber; fifty cartridges; a half-filled bottle of whiskey; thirty cents; and four letters addressed respectively to Mrs. Mary Anderson Navarro, his mother, and friends Mr. Louis Spader, and Mr. Charles Pearson.

In the letter to Mary Anderson, he implied his intention to kill himself, saying he would meet her in the next world and bequeathing her three manuscripts which were also found on his person. To Mr. Spader he requested that his body be planted, and a grapevine placed over it “that it may nourish and bring forth fruit to gladden the palate and tickle the brains of posterity.”

The grand jury charged Dougherty with first-degree murder. They also censured the State Lunacy Commission for their policy of marking escaped patients as discharged and admonished Dr. Fleming for allowing Dougherty to remain at large after September 26.

At his trial, the following January, Dougherty’s court-appointed lawyer argued for his acquittal on the grounds of insanity. Dougherty’s rambling testimony which covered the same conspiracy theory that he had been spouting since his first arrest, would seem to bear out the insanity plea, but Dougherty argued that he was not insane and said many times that he would rather be electrocuted than return to the asylum. After six hours of deliberation, the jury returned a compromise verdict—guilty of second-degree murder.

Dougherty’s attorney continued to assert his insanity and argued that he should serve his sentence at the State Insane Asylum in Auburn. Justice Bartlett agreed to appoint a committee to investigate Dougherty’s sanity before deciding his sentence. In February the commission concluded that Dougherty was suffering from a newly named form of insanity called paranoia (formerly known as monomania) characterized by hallucinations and peculiar false beliefs where the sufferer believes he has enemies conspiring against him and that he is of unusual talent, beauty, or importance. His hallucinations, however, did not interfere with his understanding regarding the motives or purport of his trial. In every respect, he comprehended the trial with as keen an intelligence as a perfectly sane person. 

After reading the committee’s report, Justice Bartlett concluded that since Dougherty’s mental disease did not prevent him from understanding the proceedings or from making a defense, he was not insane to the extent necessary to prevent the rendition of the jury's judgment. He sentenced James M. Dougherty to be imprisoned for the rest of his natural life in the State Prison at Sing Sing.

“Affairs In Brooklyn,” New York Tribune, October 11, 1890.
“Affairs In Brooklyn,” New York Tribune, January 16, 1891.
“Affairs In Brooklyn,” New York Tribune, January 20, 1891.
“Affairs In Brooklyn,” New York Tribune, February 25, 1891.
“Dougherty and His Lost Love,” New York Herald, January 11, 1891.
“Dougherty and the Doctors,” New York Herald, February 11, 1891.
“Killed By A Lunatic,” New York Tribune, October 10, 1890.
“Lunatic Dougherty Guilty,” Sun and New York Press, January 16, 1891.
“Lunatics with Pistols to be Kept Shut up,” New York Herald, October 30, 1890.
“Mad James M Dougherty,” Sun and New York Press, January 14, 1891.
“Madman Dougherty Sentenced,” New York Herald, February 25, 1891.
“Maniac Dougherty on Trial for Murder,” New York Herald, January 13, 1891.
“Neglecting His Business,” Patriot, November 17, 1888.
“Poor James Dougherty,” St. Louis Republic, November 17, 1888.


Melissa Kate says:
August 31, 2019 at 10:01 PM

WOW. This story. Have been working on a 19th century fiction, but reality has me beat.

Howard Brown says:
November 19, 2023 at 1:45 PM
This comment has been removed by the author.

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