Saturday, December 14, 2019

“Happy Bob.”

Robert "Happy Bob" Van Brunt
Robert Van Brunt was born in England in 1863. He barely knew his father, who was a member of the Queen’s Scots Guards. His mother died when he was ten was ten-years-old, and from then on he was raised by his grandmother. She took him to Canada in 1878, and they settled in Toronto where he began a career as a tailor.

When a religious revivalist named Hammond held a series of meetings in Toronto, Van Brunt attended and became so enthusiastically converted that he would join Hammond on stage and speak to the assembled crowds. Hammond left Toronto, Van Brunt lost his job and became so discouraged that he attempted suicide. When the Salvation Army arrived in town he joined their ranks and was given the ironic nickname of “Happy Bob.”
Van Brunt’s luck seemed to be changing; he left the Salvation Army and was planning to marry, but before the ceremony, he was taken sick with congestion of the brain and the engagement was broken off. Alone and unemployed, he attempted suicide once more and failed again. This cycle would repeat, and by some accounts, “Happy Bob” had been engaged to as many as fifteen young girls and attempted suicide five times.

He was saved by religion once again when he became a successful revivalist, taking his message across the border to the United States. In Castile, New York, he rejoined the Salvation Army, this time as a lieutenant. He was still known as “Happy Bob,” but now had a reputation of being quick-tempered and very excitable.

Eva Roy
In Castile, Van Brunt boarded with the family of Simon Roy, who were also Salvationists. Roy had been married twice and had two sons, Will and Fred, with his first wife, and a daughter, Eva, with his second. Eva was a pretty girl of sixteen, and though she was seven years younger, Van Brunt became infatuated with her. They began courting, he more seriously than she. Around the first of October, 1886, Van Brunt asked Eva to marry him, but it was more of a threat than a proposal. He said if she would not marry him and married anyone else, he would shoot her on the spot. She never intended to marry him, but Eva agreed out of fear.

Van Brunt was aware that Eva was very close to her half-brother, Will. He once said, jokingly Eva thought, “This half-brother thing is all very funny. I am dangerously jealous.” His words were facetious, but deep down, he was dangerously jealous of their relationship.

Will was planning to take a train that left at an early hour on October 7, 1886, and Eva agreed to sit up with him until it was time to leave. Around 1:00 a.m. Van Brunt awoke and heard them talking. He dressed and went downstairs and told Eva to go to bed as her mother always required her to do at a certain hour. “Ah,” said Eva, “that was only to apply when you were with me.” Then she whispered something to Will. Van Brunt, who sincerely believed that he and Eva were engaged to be married, was blinded by jealousy and lost control. He drew a revolver from his pocket and shot Will Roy in the chest from seven feet away, killing him. After the shooting Van Brunt quietly informed Fred Roy what had happened and made no attempt to escape as he was taken to jail.

As his trial was beginning in February 1887 Van Brunt was still calm and resigned to his fate. He told reporters, “Of course I’m sorry it is done, not that I cared for him, but it’s his sister who is the greatest sufferer. I loved her dearly and I killed Roy because I felt he was making trouble between us. I was jealous when I shot him, and I shot to kill. I told Eva that I would die for her, and now I am going to do it. I expect to hang for this and I am not going to worry or grow thin over spilled milk.”
Robert Van Brunt was tried for first-degree murder. There was no question of his guilt, but his attorney fought for a lesser degree of murder. The defense was insanity but the arguments did not sway the jury. Van Brunt was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang.

His attorney stuck with him during the appeal process which lasted more than a year. Several things changed during that period. Van Brunt, who had been an avid Protestant Revivalist, converted to Catholicism. Public sympathy turned in his favor, opposing the hanging. Eva Roy, who had testified against Van Brunt at his trial, was now his supporter. She traveled to Albany to personally plead with the Governor for Van Brunt’s life. He listened politely but refused to interfere. When she returned, she caused a scene at the jailhouse when she was refused admittance to see Van Brunt.

The morning of April 13, 1888, Robert Van Brunt, dressed in a white shroud at his own request, accompanied by Fathers Leddy and Vanderpoel, mounted the scaffold steps, kissing his crucifix and swinging his beads.  The trap was sprung at seventeen minutes past ten o’clock and “Happy Bob” Van Brunt went to meet his maker.

Originally posted on August 27, 2016.

"A Murderer's Love." New York Herald 13 Oct 1886.
"A Murderous Salvationist." Evening Star 7 Oct 1886.
"A Salvation Soldier to Hang." Bismarck Tribune 20 Feb 1887.
"Happy Bob Hanged." Springfield Republican 14 Apr 1888.
"He Expects To Hang." Trenton Evening Times 15 Feb 1887.
"Robert Van Brunt." National Police Gazette 30 Oct 1886.
"The Gallows Tree." New York Herald 14 Apr 1888.
"The Penalty Paid." St. Albans Daily Messenger 13 Apr 1888.
"Through New-York State." New York Tribune 8 Oct 1886.


Tessa says:
August 28, 2016 at 1:59 AM

I feel bad for the guy. Not that he hung for murder, but because he was so unlucky in love.

Unknown says:
December 29, 2017 at 8:35 AM

Was so glad to find this information....Eva Roy, her Father and Half Brothers are my relatives.....recently found while doing my ancestry. Not pleased about what took place, very sad news. But, interesting for family reference.

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