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.

Delaney admitted to the police that he had obtained the poison at Mary Jane’s request but did not think it would kill her. He said he had no idea that she contemplated suicide, though she had been angry with him and in one of her letters had said she would rather kill herself than be disgraced.

The police held Delaney in custody pending the grand jury’s decision. The jury ruled that Mary Jane had committed suicide and that Delaney had purchased the poison for her, “intending that it should be used not for suicidal purposes but to relieve her of her trouble.” John Delaney was released.

That is how matters stood until one night the following December when Delaney, under the influenced of liquor, appeared at the Adams Street police station in Brooklyn and requested a private interview with Captain Campbell. He was quite agitated as he recalled the story of Mary Jane’s death and asked the Campbell what the penalty would be for poisoning a person. He said the girl’s spirit had been troubling him every night and he was suffering from remorse. Delaney wanted Campbell to arrest him but not for two or three days because he had something he had to do. Campbell told him to go home and sleep it off; they would talk about it when he was sober.

Captain Campbell was surprised to see Delaney the following night, sober, telling the same story. He could not sleep and was continually seeing Mary Jane’s face. He said that he knew at the time he gave her the poison that it would kill her.

Mary had told him to get some medicine to end her trouble, so he bought some Rough on Rats—a commercial rodenticide made with arsenic—and mixed it with water. George Staff, the night clerk at the Keystone House, where Delaney worked as a janitor, gave him the bottle and watched him mix the poison. “I knew it was going to kill her,” Delaney told Captain Campbell.

Delaney seemed greatly relieved after making his statement and was not surprised when Campbell arrested him. The police confirmed that Delaney purchased some Rough on Rats at a drug store on Second Avenue and took a statement from George Staff saying he saw Delaney mix the poison.

The Grand Jury took up the case again, and 16-year-old John J. Delaney became the youngest person to date to be indicted for first-degree murder in Kings County. However, the court expressly stated that no conviction shall be had on the uncorroborated confession.

The following January, Delaney celebrated his seventeenth birthday as he awaited his trial the following February. His court-appointed attorney had Delaney plead not guilty, and the defense was that Delaney was the victim of a practical joke. He was madly in love with Mary Jane Cox, and when he learned she was in trouble his friends told him to give her Rough on Rats. The advice had been a joke, but Delaney did not know it and, contradicting his confession, he testified that he did not know it would kill her. Friends and relatives of the defendant testified that had been injured when 9-years-old and had been light-headed ever since.

The prosecution introduced evidence beyond Delaney’s confession, but not enough for a conviction of first-degree murder. After deliberating for an hour and a half, the jury convicted Delaney of manslaughter in the second degree, with a penalty of one to five years in prison.

Sources:
“A Confession of Murder,” Trenton Evening Times, December 6, 1887.
“Defense of Wilson,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 4, 1887.
“Delaney's Defence,” New York Herald, February 10, 1888.
Defenders and offenders (New York: Buchner & Co, 1888.)
“Killed His Sweetheart,” Evening News, February 9, 1888.
“Mary Cox's Murderer Indicted,” New York Herald, December 8, 1887.
“Miss Cox's Lover,” Sun and New York Press, June 7, 1887.
“Miss Mary Cox's Murder,” Sun and New York Press, December 6, 1887.
“Poison for His Girl,” New York Herald, February 9, 1888.
“Tears Were Trump,” New York Herald, February 11, 1888.
“Young Delaney Not Guilty of Murder,” Sun and New York press, February 11, 1888.

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