Saturday, April 4, 2020

Murder Told in Pictures.

Robert Hoey told police that as he was coming home from work in the early hours of March 15, 1898, he literally tripped over the body of a dead woman in the courtyard of the tenement where he lived at No. 27 Monroe Street in New York City. An autopsy revealed that the woman had been strangled to death and the police believed that the body had been dragged to the courtyard known in the neighborhood as “Hogan’s Alley.” She was about thirty-five years of age, with light complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. As she lay in the morgue several people claimed to identify the woman but in each case the identity proved false.

Mrs. Downing, housekeeper at 27 Monroe, said she had seen a group of men standing in the courtyard at around 2 o’clock that morning. Hoey changed his story then, and said he and two friends, wagon driver Thomas Cosgrove and mandolin player Charles Weston, had seen their friend John Brown leaning over the body. Brown was a “deep water” sailor whom the press would refer to as “Sailor” Brown. None of them knew who the woman was.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Love and Arsenic.

Elizabeth Ragan
As Arthur Ragan lay dying of a stomach ailment, in Piqua, Ohio, on April 3, 1855, his wife, Elizabeth took the physician aside and told him she believed her husband had poisoned himself. She said she thought the cream of tartar he had been taking for his stomach was actually arsenic. Mr. Ragan died that day, and a post-mortem examination proved his wife correct, he had died of arsenic poisoning. However, there were reasons to believe that Arthur Ragan had not committed suicide, and suspicion fell on Elizabeth as his murderer.

After Ragan’s death the postmaster of Colesville, Ohio, came forward with a highly incriminating letter. The previous December, the letter had, by mistake, been given to a man named Murray. When Murray read it and realized it was not for him, he returned it to the post office. The letter had been intended for James Mowrey, and the postmaster made sure it was delivered correctly, but the contents had been so disturbing that he first made a copy which he turned over to the police:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Slaughter Ends a Wedding Feast.

Trinidad Romer was a wealthy, young Mexican living in Douglasville, Texas, a few miles southwest of Abilene. He was in love with the daughter Julius Larinski, a Polish settler, but her affections were fixed on another man. Miss Larinski was enamored with Nathan Sorowski, another Polish immigrant, who had little to offer other than his love.

Mr. Larinski preferred the wealthy Mexican and told Romer that if he could arrange to put Sorowski out of the way, he would give him his daughter’s hand in marriage. Not long after this, Nathan Sorowski disappeared from Douglasville without a trace.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Revisiting the Goffle Road Murders.

This week’s guest post revisits the Goffle Road Murders posted here several years ago. Don Everett Smith Jr., who literally wrote the book on this crime (The Goffle Road Murders of Passaic County (History Press, 2011)), expands on the story of the murders and subsequent execution of the killer.

Don lives in Central Pennsylvania with his wife and cats and tortoise, Flash. He has published works at Tombstone Stories Publishing and comic books at Pinion Comics. Don also hosts his podcast "Conversations of the Strange" where he interviews horror and paranormal creators and icons. 

Revisiting the Goffle Road Murders 
By Don Everett Smith Jr.  


It was on June 4th, 2011 that “Murder by Gaslight” posted an article about the 1850 murders of John and Jane Van Winkle in, what is now, Hawthorne, New Jersey. The post was entitled, “Terrible Tragedy in New Jersey.” 

The blog posted the text of an article from The Republican Compiler from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which was dated January 28th, 1850.   

I had come across this same article when I researched a book about the Van Winkles entitled THE GOFFLE ROAD MURDERS OF PASSAIC COUNTY: THE 1850 VAN WINKLE KILLINGS. It was published in 2011 from The History Press (now part of Arcadia Publishing).

When I finished my research on the Van Winkle murders, I thought that I had found everything there was about the subject. 

In the following years, my wife and I moved out of New Jersey and into central Pennsylvania. I was able to pick up extra work as a freelance writer and I began writing articles about local Pennsylvania history. I discovered thanks to an increased interest in local history and genealogy (not just in Pennsylvania but all over), more and more newspapers and political records were uploaded to the internet. 

Curious to see what was out there regarding the Van Winkles, I did a simple search and found more information.  

I reached out to the kind people at “Murder by Gaslight” and they allowed me to put together an article which featured the new information I discovered. 


What is now Hawthorne was once part of a larger town called Manchester. John and Jane Van Winkle owned over 212 acres and Van Winkle served as a judge of the common pleas in Passaic County and a grist miller. 

It was just after 1 a.m., on January 9th, 1850, when the Van Winkles were in bed. Their former ranch hand, a Liverpool native named John Jonston crept into their sleeping quarters. 

He struck Mrs. Van Winkle in the face - twice - with a hatchet which awakened the Judge. He immediately leapt from the bed and struggled with Jonston. 

The attacker had a large knife and struck the older man in the stomach and ripped open his abdomen thus exposing his intestines.  

“Murder! Murder!” Van Winkle screamed as Jonston rushed out of the room. He ran up a flight of stairs and down a ladder. Upon hitting the ground he ran to what is now called Rock Road in Godwinville (today Glen Rock, New Jersey). He hoped to grab a train and head to New York City and anonymity. 

However, thanks to a light snowfall, a group of neighbors tracked his footprints and captured him.
Jonston “was taken in custody and tied at once” to prevent him from escaping. 

“Members of the party remarked about the blood on his back, [Jonston] said he had been killing hogs, and the blood came from them as he carried them in from the place where they were killed. The blood was so fresh on his shirt that [a] woman squeezed it out upon her hand,” was said.

Jonston was brought back to the Judge’s homestead.

“Mr. Van Winkle, who was dying, looked on the man, while holding his bowels from falling through a ghastly wound in the abdomen, and had still strength enough left to say, ‘Yes, it was he’,” a newspaper recorded in the January 16th, 1850 edition of The Paterson Intelligencer.

Jonston denied it and was taken into custody by Passaic County Sheriff Nathaniel Lane, a tall man who had taken part in the Underground Railroad.  

Van Winkle would linger until about 6 p.m. that night when he passed from his injuries. Jane had died instantly of her wounds earlier that morning. 

The court appointed Socrates Tuttle to defend Jonston. With such damning evidence, Jonston was convicted and executed on April 30th, 1850. He had the dubious double honor of being the first murderer and the first man executed in Passaic County.    

A reporter from the Newark Daily Advertiser described Jonston’s last word in the May 1st, 1850 edition:
 “[T]he years 1830 and 1850 would be long remembered: that he arrived here from Liverpool in 1830, and that in regard to his present position he was not guilty of the crime for which he was about to suffer, but that he forgave all the world.”

Local newspaper sources described how after Lane “made final adjustments to the machine, he pulled the cap over Jonston’s face and placed the rope around his neck. “In less than a minute,” Lane threw the lever, “and the victim swung in the air.” Jonston “struggled...somewhat for a few minutes, raised himself up with a spasmodic, muscular action a few times, and [after] about five minutes…all signs of life left him.”

It was added that “after hanging for half an hour, he was ‘black about the hands as an African.’ Jonston’s coffin was brought to him, and ‘all that was left of Jonston, was gently lowered into his narrow bed’.”

As for the Van Winkle estate, the house, where the judge and his wife were murdered, still stands in the heart of Hawthorne, New Jersey. The exterior looks very much like it did back in the 1850s.
The part of the house where the Van Winkles lived was closed off. In fact, The New York Times recorded on Aug. 15, 1882 that it, “was locked and barred” for over 32 years. It went on to describe that “vines had grown so thickly around the doors and windows.” 

However, the more salacious aspect of the article mentioned that “no one seeming disposed to lease the valuable and beautiful property on account of the stories prevalent about its being the abode of unearthly visitants.”  


To give a complete picture of the execution, a writer for the New York Daily Herald described, in the May 1st, 1850 issue, that the “morning was clear and beautiful, the sun rising on the hills of Paterson in all its majesty, shedding its radiant beams of glory as it had often done before.”  

However the residents felt a “gloom manifest...intermixed with a kind of pleasing unsettled expectation that something desparate or terrible was about to take place” as “Dutch farmers were pouring into town from all quarters from many miles distant.”  

“Everybody appeared to be anxious to witness a man pay the extreme penalty of the law by the forfeiture of his life on the gallows,” the writer said.  

The report described that the “beaus and the belles were dressed up in their Sunday-go-to-meetings.” 
The jail yard was surrounded by a 15 foot high fence, as well as members of the Jefferson Blues were on hand to help keep the peace as they made “quite an imposing appearance.”  The yard would hold an estimated 2,000 residents.  

In the center was the gruesome structure. When The Goffle Road Murders was written, I did not have access to the articles that gave a fuller description of the gallows themselves. 

“The gallows was made by two strong supports and a beam on the top, through the center of which was the rope and pulley. The weights being made to drop on the cutting a small rope, and, in reverse, the man goes up,” the writer described.  

What is interesting about this, is that it resembled the gallows built to execute Antoine LeBlanc in Morristown, New Jersey in 1833. 

This is technically called the “upright jerker” method of execution. Most gallows used a trapdoor method of the criminal dropping to his death. However, the upright jerk method involves a weight tied to a rope, fed up through a pulley system and tied to the noose connected around the neck of the condemned. 

When the weight drops, it jerks the criminal straight up. Ideally this method would break the neck of the criminal quickly.  

Thanks to a quick search online, and some direction by writer and historian Robert Damon Schneck, I was able to find this drawing here.  

However, due to the fuzziness of it, I have decided to reproduce it. 

It was mentioned in my book that there were crowds and jeers, but in this article, it described several women wanting to get a closer look at the gallows. However, Lane refused. 

At the same time this occurred, the crowd began to get restless. It was reported that persons shouted, “Bring him out!” while another person shouted, “Let’s have it over - we want to see him up!”  

At 11 a.m., a shed that held over 150 people collapsed due to overload. 

“Luckily no bones were broken, (it was) only barked shins and scratched faces,” the article said. 
Before Jonston was led out, William E. Robinson, a correspondent for The New York Tribune spoke to Jonston. Under the pseudonym “Richelieu,” he described how “a few minutes before (Jonston) was led out I visited his cell.”  

“He was quite calm, and persisted in asserting his innocence,” Robinson said.   
Within the half hour, Jonston came out dressed “in a white muslin dress, in the Turkish costume; the bottom of the pantaloons, his sleeves and neck were tied with black ribbon.” 
All the other sources, as did the “Herald” writer, mentioned that his arms were strapped to his body with a leather belt.  

The Herald reporter was able to visit with Jonston the night before: 
“Our reporter visited the prisoner in his cell. The unfortunate and miserable creature was, at this time, dressed for execution; he appeared to be calm and collected, and walked backwards and forwards, holding in one hand a pocket handkerchief. He is a man of small stature, about 5 feet 5 inches, stout made, with rather a mild, smiling cast of countenance, dark hair and eyes, English expression, an Englishman by birth, aged 35 years.”

The reporter and Jonston “conversed freely.” 

“He said his parents were dead, and that he had a brother in England, but he did not wish him to know his fate; he said he was satisfied and pleased to leave this world, as he made his peace with his God,” the writer said.  

As Jonston stood on the gallows, Cornelius Van Winkle, “the son of the murdered man (and woman), placed himself, in order to watch every movement of the culprit.” Just pure speculation here, but “every movement” could mean “twitch” or “struggle”. 

Cornelius had hoped to “hear if (Jonston) made any confession, as it was expected he would at last, when under the gallows, confess his guilt.” 

It was just after 1 p.m. when prayers were said, Bible passages were read and Jonston made his final statement. 
“I have only to express a few words, gentlemen. April 30, 1850, will long be remembered. It is not my duty to say much. I have been judged guilty of the crime. I forgive the whole world; I have no fault to God. I know I must die and I die in faith and in hope to be forgiven of all the sins I have been guilty. I am innocent of this; and I have nothing to say that is my situation. I have made my peace with my God. I am innocent; I have no interest in saying so; I know I am going to die, therefore I have no interest,” Jonston said in a low tone. 

He continued. 
“All have behaved well and clever to me since I came here to this place. I am freely willing to part from this world; it is a pleasure to me in my situation. I cannot say anything more in my situation that I know of, and I hope, by the blessing of the Almighty, that my peace is made with him. I don’t wish my friends to know about it, but they will not believe it, without they hear it from someone who knows the circumstances. After my trial, I saw there was no hope. I am ready to die and meet my God. Amen.”

Allow for some facts to be restated - it was on Jan. 9th, 1850, tracks were left in the snow leading away from the Van Winkle homestead after the attack. The tracks were followed and they lead straight to Jonston at a train station in (what was) Godwinville. He had with him a shirt covered in blood. Remember that blood was so thick, a woman was able to ring it out like a dish cloth after washing a sink full of dinner dishes.  

It could only be imagined how poor Cornelius Van Winkle felt upon this condescending denial. Cornelius proved himself a man of restraint for not rushing the gallows at the “I forgive the whole world” and throttling the Liverpoolman himself.  

Apparently even the Reverend on scene didn’t believe Jonston either.  

“Rev. Mr. Hornblower most earnestly requested him to make a confession; that if he had any hope, he must confess his sins, and if he wished for salvation hereafter, he must not die with a lie on his lips,” the reporter said.  

Jonston again denied his part in the death of the Van Winkles.  

At this point Lane “adjusted the rope about (Jonston’s) neck; but upon endeavoring to attach it to the upper rope, (Lane) found it too short.”  

“Here an awful suspense took place, of near ten minutes, before a bench could be procured; and a deathlike silence pervaded the whole assemblage,” the writer said.  

The bench was placed on the platform “and the culprit stepped on it, making him of sufficient height.” The rope was adjusted, the white cap Jonston had on top of his head was placed upon his face. 

“The (previously mentioned small) rope cut, and, in an instant, the murderer was suspended in the air, by the neck, an awful spectacle and warning to all who take the life of a fellow being unlawfully,” as was recorded. “The culprit...gave several convulsive movements of the legs and body, and all was over.”  

His time of death was about 1:20 p.m. and he hung there until 2 p.m. 


It is discussed in The Goffle Road Murders what occurred with the remains of the judge and his wife and their estate. 

However, an interesting fact was discovered about relics associated with the Van Winkle murders. In an article in The Morning Call (of Paterson, New Jersey) dated May 4th, 1911, “curious visitors” were attracted to a “collection of horrors at (the) Prosecutor’s Offices.”  

“It is just becoming known that the court house has a chamber of horrors as gruesome as any of the subterranean compartments and pits described by Poe in his talks of mysterious murders,” a Call reporter said. “The store-room of everything that is likely to cause one to shudder with fear, forms part of the prosecutor’s headquarters in the county building.”  

The writer described a “cabinet with large glass doors (which exhibits) such things as hangman’s nooses, skulls of murdered people, shot guns, revolvers, knives which were used in slaying people, lock-picks, files, dark lanterns, baseball bats, stuffed clubs, forks, razors , and innumerable other implements used in battles for life and death.” 

It was said that all of this was “evidence of work done in the line of suppressing crime in Passaic county.”  

Counting Jonston, five men were hung for murder between 1850 and 1906. Eventually, death penalties were carried out in Trenton, New Jersey via electric chair. In the previously mentioned cabinet, photographs and the nooses used in the last four hangings were on display.  

 “Under the above exhibit is the knife used by (John Jonston), who paid the death penalty for the murder of Judge John Van Winkle and his wife,” the writer said.  

He added, “The knife which he (Jonston) used was given into the custody of William G. Gourley when he was prosecutor, by Nathaniel Lane, son of the late Sheriff Lane.”  

The rest of the article goes on to discuss other items related to crimes, killings and murder. 
Granted this article is almost 110 years old, it could only be speculated as to what has happened to the items mentioned here. In all candor, an opportunity has not availed itself as of now, to investigate the location or existence of the knife.  

However, this article is proof that with some patience and research some amazing things can be uncovered. I, for one, will remain positive.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

The Secession Murder Case.

Samuel Merritt and Cornelius Salmon were walking down Prince Street in New York City on May
31, 1861, and as they approached a lager beer saloon, Salmon suggested that they stop for a glass of beer. Merritt agreed, and they went into the saloon which was in the basement of a house owned by John Immen.  The owner’s son Edward was tending the bar and poured the men two glasses as they took seats at a table.

A little after 4:00, John M. Swain, who lived in the house above the saloon, stopped in for a drink, and Salmon invited him to join them at the table. They had a pleasant conversation until the subject of politics came up. 

The issue of the day was the secession of the southern states, and Swain was a strong supporter of the secessionists. Merritt, who staunchly supported the Union angrily disagreed. Swain said that the Union should be dissolved, and there should be two confederacies, one southern and one northern. The argument became heated, and Swain said he would like to have the American flag trampled upon. Merritt, who could take no more, said “United States or nothing” and demanded that Swain say it too. Swain refused.

There were only four men in the saloon at that time, and none of the witnesses could say for sure how it transpired, but Merritt had a pistol in his hand and fired a shot into Swain’s chest, killing him instantly. Merritt laid the pistol on the table, then he and Salmon left the saloon and went separate ways. 

The police were called the scene and got the story from Edward Immen. Patrolman Sullivan arrested Cornelius Salmon, and at about 6:45 that evening, Samuel Merritt went to the Eighth Precinct station and turned himself in. By that evening, a coroner’s jury determined that John M. Swain had come to his death by a pistol shot wound at the hands of Samuel H. Merritt. Merritt declared he was not guilty and said the pistol had belonged to Swain.

Merritt’s trial for murder began on January 28, 1862. There was no doubt that Merritt pulled the trigger, but the trial focused more on Swain’s seccessionist views. As the Philadelphia Inquirer said, “the only question to be determined by the jury is what amount of guilt attaches itself to a man who unintentionally kills a ‘traitor?’”

The jury found Samuel Merritt guilty of manslaughter in the third degree and recommended mercy. He was given the minimum sentence of two years in State Prison.

“Murder in the Eighth Ward,” World, June 1, 1861.
“The Murder of John M. Swain,” The New York Times, June 2, 1861.
“Murder of John Swain,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 8, 1861.
“News Article,” Herald, January 30, 1862.
“Our New York Letter,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 28, 1862.
“The Secession Murder Case,” Herald, January 29, 1862.
“Verdict in the Eighth Ward Murder,” World, June 3, 1861.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Crazy John Daley.

John Daley rushed from his house on Chouteau Avenue, St. Louis, bleeding profusely from the neck, at around 11:00 the night of May 11, 1883. He surrendered himself to Officer Jones, saying that he had just murdered his wife. Officer Jones summoned a patrol wagon to take Daley to the Four Courts, then went to Daley’s house to see about his wife.

Daley, a 55-year-old machinist, lived in a two-room house on Chouteau Avenue, with his 35-year-old wife, Eliza, and eight children, ranging in age from 5 months to 12 years. Inside the house Officer Jones found Eliza lying on the bed, her skull crushed and her throat cut. He found a rusty axe with blood on both ends of the blade. It appeared that Daley had first struck her head with the butt of the axe, then cut her throat, finishing the job with a knife.

There were no signs of a struggle. Eliza Daley was in her nightclothes, her shoes, and stockings by the side of the bed. The incident woke none of the children; the youngest lay by her mother’s side with blood on her head.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Nellie C. Bailey.

Nellie C. Bailey.
William Dodson led a drive of 2300 head of sheep from Kansas through Indian Territory to their new home in Texas in October 1883. A mile behind them the owner of the new ranch, a widower named Clement Bothemly, and his sister Bertha traveled in a wagon outfitted with bedrooms. Pulled by two yoke of oxen, the wagon was so large that observers compared it to a railroad car. The night of October 7, Dodson heard Miss Bothemly calling from a distance and ran to see what was wrong. She took him to the wagon and led him inside where Clement lay dead from a gunshot wound to the head. 

He killed himself, she told Dodson. Clement had been suffering from rheumatism, and the pain had become unbearable. He had been taking large doses of morphine, but even that had not alleviated the pain. Bertha had been awakened by the gunshot and found her brother lying dead. 

They realized that they would have to dig a grave and bury him on the trail. A wagon heading for Kansas had passed them several hours earlier, and Dodson rode to them to ask for assistance. The men came back with him, and they buried Clement Bothemly near Skeleton Ranch. After a brief ceremony, Bertha and Dodson continued on the drive.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Six Men Hanged.

Every day since Halloween 2007, the blog has posted a story of an execution that took place on that date in history somewhere in the world. While this certainly says something about the human condition over time, it also says something about the determination and thoroughness of the blogger of, who goes by the epithet Headsman. As someone who has scrambled to do one post a week, I find the Headsman’s work heroic. 

There is a natural overlap between murder and execution, and over the years, Murder by Gaslight and ExecutedToday have guest posted on each other’s sites several times. Today’s ExecutedToday guest post is from June 7, 1895, a day when six American men were hanged, including one who inspired a novel. 

On this date in 1895, the hangman noosed for the cycle with single, double, and triple executions in three different U.S. states.


In Morrilltown, William Downs or Downes for criminally assaulting a woman called Pauline Bridlebaugh.
“On the scaffold Downs declared that he was guilty of part but not all he was charged with,” according to multiple newspaper reports. The eight-foot fall failed to snap his neck, and Downs strangled to death over 15 agonizing minutes.


“Lee Harris and Abe Mitchell, colored murderers, highwaymen and thieves, were hanged here [Birmingham] today before 2000 people for the murder of Grocerymen Merriweather and Thornton. Both bodies were turned over to the undertakers, who purchased them several weeks ago for $18 from the men themselves.”

From the Oakland Tribune, June 7, 1895.


Three Californians hanged, sequentially, at San Quentin prison on the morning of June 7 in an affair timed to ensue the arrival of the 7:40 train from San Francisco, carrying about 100 official witnesses.

Emilio Garcia stabbed and slashed to death a San Bernardino old timer whom he believed to possess a hoard of gold.

Anthony Azoff fatally shot a Southern Pacific detective in the course of a botched robbery of that railroad firm’s offices; he was balked of a suicide attempt in the hours before his execution.

And Patrick Collins acquired more lasting infamy than any of his scaffold brethren by sensationally stabbing to death his estranged wife at the kindergarten where she worked when she refused his demand to hand over her wages.

Collins’s guilt was very apparent, so his trial gave the horrified public ample rein to sketch the brute in terms of the era’s crackpot racist typologies. In one Examiner article tellingly titled “He Was Born for the Rope,” it was postulated that “if a good many of Patrick Collins’ ancestors did not die on the scaffold then either they escaped their desert or there is nothing in heredity … Seeing him you can understand that murder is as natural to such a man when his temper is up as hot speech is to the anger of the civilized.”

Various newspaper images of Patrick Collins, from The Construction of Irish Identity in American Literature.

Be they ever so headline-conquering in their time, such crimes are like to fade speedily from the public memory. Collins, the man who slaughtered his tightfisted wife, and Collins, the savage ethnic archetype, have improbably survived his moment of notoriety, by imparting to literature the inspiration for San Francisco novelist Frank Norris‘s 1899 offering McTeague.

In McTeague, a vicious husband murders the wife he has abandoned when she refuses him money. The murderer here presents as an overpowering ancestral beast within — attributable, says Christopher Dowd, to Norris’s “study of criminal anthropology, particularly the school of thinking developed by Cesare Lombroso regarding atavism, hereditary criminality, degeneration, and criminal physiognomy. According to Donald Pizer, by the time Norris wrote McTeague, he had developed a ‘preoccupation’ with the themes of atavism and reversion, and ‘particularly with the role of heredity in causing either an obvious physical or mental devolution or a return to an earlier family condition’. Suddenly, Norris had a way to explain the behavior of his murderous protagonist — he was born a criminal, having inherited the degenerate traits and predilections of his Irish ancestors. Combined with the newspaper reports of the Collins murder, criminal anthropology gave Norris all the tools he needed to write, what Pizer calls, ‘that mythical creature of literature, a naturalistic tragedy'”. For example, Norris zooms through the disordered mind of McTeague as he struggles to control himself on one occasion.
He was disturbed, still trembling, still vibrating with the throes of the crisis, but he was the master; the animal was downed, was cowed for this time, at least.

But for all that, the brute was there. Long dormant, it was now at last alive, awake. From now on he would feel its presence continually; would feel it tugging at its chain, watching its opportunity. Ah, the pity of it! Why could he not always love her purely, cleanly? What was this perverse, vicious thing that lived within him, knitted to his flesh?

Below the fine fabric of all that was good in him ran the foul stream of hereditary evil, like a sewer. The vices and sins of his father and of his father’s father, to the third and fourth and five hundredth generation, tainted him. The evil of an entire race flowed in his veins. Why should it be? He did not desire it. Was he to blame?
McTeague does not exit upon the gallows as did his real-life inspiration; instead, having murdered and robbed his wife, the fugitive flees to the scorching desert of Death Valley where he faces a fight to the finish with a friend/rival who has pursued him. McTeague overpowers this foe, but the man’s dying act is to handcuff himself to McTeague — condemning the latter to sure death.

McTeague has long been in the public domain; it can be perused here; a Librivox audio reading of the book is available here. It’s also been adapted to at least two films in the silent era — including one of the genre’s greats — plus a more recent PBS radio drama, an opera, and miscellaneous other media.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Katie Dugan Mystery.

A young man walking through an empty field behind a residence on the western side of Wilmington, Delaware, on Thursday, October 20, 1892, was shocked to find the body of a young woman lying in a pool of blood. Her eyes were black and blue from beating and her throat had been cut from ear to ear, nearly severing her head. On the ground next to her, lay an open razor.

She was soon identified as Katie Dugan, an attractive 16-year-old girl with long flowing hair and dark eyes who lived with her parents. Local residents were quick to place the blame on the black men who lived in the vicinity of the Dugans’ home, but this belief was dispelled after police interviewed her parents.

James Dugan, Katie’s father, had seen a white man of medium stature emerge from the shadow of the house and disappear down the avenue at about 8:00 the night before. Soon after, Katie put on her coat and went out, saying she would be back in a few minutes. She never returned. Her mother, Catherine Dugan, said that earlier in the day, Katie had received a letter; she threw the envelope into the fire and shoved the letter into her pocket. The letter was still in her pocket when her body was found. It was just a note that read: “Meet me on Wednesday night, at the same place and same time.”

Wading through Victorian euphemisms in the newspapers, it appears that Katie was not raped but had been sexually active. The Delaware Republican reported that, though she had been knocked unconscious, beaten, and slashed, there was no indication that she had been “feloniously assaulted.” The post-mortem examination revealed that Katie was “in a delicate condition” and “would have become a mother in about five months.”

Richard Riley, who kept company with Katie, was arrested on suspicion. Riley acknowledged that he had been with Katie on Tuesday night but had not seen her since. On Wednesday night, he had attended a fair at the Church of the Sacred Heart until 11:00. Police detectives were able to corroborate Riley’s alibi and he was released.

Several witnesses had seen Katie with a man on the night of the murder. Edward McGoldrick and Thomas Connelly told police that they had seen Katie with Richard Riley. Riley was arrested again.
At the inquest, James Riley— a young boy, not related to Richard Riley— testified to seeing Katie and a man sitting on a rock near Front and Broome Streets. When he passed them on the street, he saw the man had his arm around Katie and he heard her cry “Oh! My!” several times. He testified that the man was not Richard Riley. McGoldrick and Connelly testified to seeing Katie with a man but now could not identify Riley as the man. Richard Riley testified that he did not see Katie after Tuesday night, and he had never noticed or heard anything about Katie’s pregnancy.

The coroner’s jury determined that Katie Dugan was murdered by a person or persons unknown. There was not enough evidence to hold Richard Riley, and he was released again.

The city Wilmington offered a reward of $200 for the arrest and conviction of the murderer, but no new evidence came forward. Though the newspapers appeared to have forgotten the case, it never strayed far from the minds of the people of Wilmington. In June 1893, eight months after the murder, a rumor spread through the city that the police had arrested a black man and his wife for Katie’s murder. The authorities were startled; though they had never stopped investigating the case, no arrests had been made. They publicly denied the rumor and traced its source to a young man who had said it as a joke.

In August 1894, nearly two years after the murder, Katie’s mother, presented the police with evidence she had gathered implicating Albert Stout, Katie’s former employer, as the murderer. Katie had been a domestic servant, living in Stout’s home until she left several months before the murder. She never told her mother her reason for leaving. It was not revealed what evidence Mrs. Dugan had brought the police, but they had been investigating Stout as well and had come to the same conclusion.

Albert Stout was a 40-year-old businessman with a wife and three children. He was a prominent and well-connected manager at Charles Warner Company. When the police arrested him for murder, he laughed at them, and even after several days in jail remained unconcerned.

The Dugan family believed that Stout had continued to see Katie in secret after she left his home. Her sister, Lizzie, had seen the note and said it was signed “Jack,” the name Katie had always used to refer to Stout. A handwriting expert, working for the police, examined the note and declared that it was written by Albert Stout. The police also had four eyewitnesses who saw Katie with Stout together on the night of the murder. They were quarreling and appeared to be heading in the direction of the murder scene.

The theory of the police was that Stout had been trying to persuade Katie to have an abortion. She refused, saying she intended to expose him as the father of her child. Driven to desperation, Stout murdered Katie to keep her quiet.

A grand jury convened on September 20 to hear evidence against Albert Stout. But after reviewing testimony from a dozen witnesses, the jury determined that there was not enough evidence to indict Stout for the murder of Katie Dugan. Albert Stout left the courtroom a free man.

There were no more arrests, and the circumstances of Katie Dugan’s murder remain a mystery.

“Arrested for Murder,” Bay City Times, August 31, 1894.
“Brutal Murder of a Girl,” New York Herald, October 21, 1892.
“Closing in upon Stout,” New York Herald, September 2, 1894.
“Did He Kill Katie Dugan,” Boston Herald, August 31, 1894.
“Innocent,” Delaware Republican, September 21, 1894.
“It Was Murder,” Delaware Republican, October 22, 1892.
“The Kate Dugan Murder Mystery,” Pittsburg Dispatch, October 23, 1892.
“Katie Dugan's Murder in Deleware,” Sun, November 21, 1892.
“Katie Dungan's Slayer,” Delaware gazette and state journal, June 29, 1893.
“Murder Most Foul,” Wheeling Register, October 21, 1892.
“Murder of Katie Dugan,” Delaware Republican, September 1, 1894.
“Murder Will Out,” Evening Journal, August 31, 1894.
“News Article,” Delaware Republican, November 23, 1892.
“News Article,” Chicago Daily News, August 31, 1894.
“Riley Liberated,” Evening Journal, October 28, 1892.
“Stout Held for Court,” Delaware Republican, September 4, 1894.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Thirtieth Street Murder.

Residents of West 30th Street, New York City, were startled on the night of October 26, 1858, by the cries of Elizabeth Carr, a servant of the Gouldy family as she ran from the house in her nightclothes, screaming, “Help! Help! Oh, my God! Frank is murdering the whole family. Rouse the neighbors!”

The neighbors, accompanied by several policemen responded by entering the Gouldy home where they found Mrs. Gouldy at the foot of the stairs, staggering and calling for help. She was bleeding from the head, as was her husband, Francis Gouldy, who lay on the floor not moving. Also suffering from head wounds were 11-year-old Nathaniel Gouldy, 7-year-old Charlie Gouldy, and Joanna Murphy, another of the Gouldy’s servant girls. All were alive but semi-conscious. The perpetrator of the crime, Frank Gouldy was found in his room, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Fearful Fratricide.

The Rogers family were early settlers in Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, having fought a bloody battle with Indians to secure their homestead. They never lost their frontier zeal for violence as a tool for solving problems, even for family disputes which, apparently, were frequent and quite intense. In the 1880s, Willis Rogers had eight children, five boys and three girls. In the heat of an argument, Willis’s brother shot and killed one of the boys. To make amends, the brother willed his entire estate to Willis. He died soon after leaving Willis Rogers a very wealthy man.

When Willis died in 1883 he left the fortune to his sons Samuel and Robert, for some reason disinheriting his other two surviving sons, William and Thomas. William, who was an attorney in St. Louis, and Thomas, who was a farmer of “high standing,” had no intention of taking the matter lying down and made plans to contest the will. On September 27, they met at the old Rogers’s mansion on Indian Creek, with their brother Samuel, president of the Farmer’s Bank in Carlisle, and executor of the will, along with several other attorneys.

As they took depositions for the lawsuit, tempers were on edge and the tension in the room was palpable. During a wordy exchange, Samuel believed that one of his brothers had moved to draw a weapon, so he drew his own revolver and fired a shot. It was reported that William and Thomas then pulled out their pistols and began firing. As the lawyers hurriedly left the room, Samuel’s son entered with his gun drawn, and “… all blazed away until smoke made it impossible to do creditable work.”

When the smoke cleared, Samuel emerged unscathed but William and Thomas were fatally wounded—William shot in the right knee and abdomen, and Thomas in the left arm and right temple.  On his arrest, Samuel maintained that his brothers had drawn on him first, but the attorneys present claimed that Samuel, who had emptied his pistol, was the only man to fire. It is safe to say that Robert Rogers, the brother who had not attended the meeting, was the only man to benefit from this negotiation.

Originally posted on August 8, 2014.


"[Kentucky; Blue Lick Springs; Willis Rogert; Willis]." Springfield Republican 2 Oct 1883: 4.
"A Fearful Fratricidal Crime ." Jackson Citizen Patriot 28 Sep 1883: 1.
"Cold Lead as a Surragate." National Police Gazette 20 Oct 1883

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Murder in the Well.

This week we present a guest post from Shelley Dziedzic of Lizzie Borden: Warps & Wefts, a blog devoted to the Borden murders and the city of Fall River, Massachusetts—"News, articles and photos about The Lady, The Crime, The City and The Era.” Shelly is a member of the Muttoneaters, a group that investigates all things related to Lizzie Borden, and the Pear Essential Players who annually re-enact the Borden Murders at the house where they occurred (now a Fall River bed and breakfast.)

The post, “Murder in the Well”, tells the story of a gruesome murder/suicide from another branch of the Borden family tree.

Uncle Lawdwick  and Those  “Children Down the Well”

Photography and text by Shelley Dziedzic (all rights reserved)

For students of the Borden case, the tale of Lizzie’s great-uncle Lawdwick (also seen as Ludwig, Ladwig, Ladowick and other variations) has long been an interesting footnote to the saga of the Borden murders of 1892.  Lawdwick Borden was the son of Martha Patty Bowen and Richard Borden.  Lawdwick’s brother Abraham Bowen Borden was Andrew Jackson Borden’s father.  Uncle Lawdwick was Lizzie Borden’s great-uncle.  He will be referred to as Lawdwick hereafter as that is the spelling which is seen on his grave marker.

Abraham Bowen Borden (Lawdwick’s brother and Lizzie’s grandfather)

Lawdwick would enjoy the company of four wives over the span of his life, not an unusual occurrence in the days when women often died in childbirth or from complications following childbirth.  There are records of four marriages:  Maria Briggs, Eliza Darling, Eliza Chace (sometimes seen as Chase), and Ruhama Crocker.  Ruhama Crocker Borden is listed as Lawdwick’s widow in Fall River city directories after Lawdwick died in 1874. The spelling and handwriting in censuses of the period is often poor or illegible, thus creating a challenge for historians generations later to decipher.

It is the second wife, Eliza Darling Borden who has piqued the excitement of Borden case scholars today, for it is she who did the unthinkable- she killed two of her three children and then took her own life.  Today it might be chalked up to post partum depression. She had three children in rapid succession. Even the details of her suicide are clouded over time.  Most versions would have it that she went upstairs in the little Cape Cod style house next door south of the Charles Trafton house in 1848, (which would become the Andrew Borden house in 1872) when she was at the age of 37, and sliced her throat with Lawdwick’s straight razor after dropping her children in the cellar cistern. Another version has her committing self-destruction behind the cellar chimney.  As thrilling tales often go, they tend to improve and evolve with the retelling.

Paranormal investigators today who visit the Lizzie Borden home, take great pains to attempt to contact these ghostly children who died so tragically years before Abby and Andrew would be done to death by hatchet on August 4, 1892.  Guests who stay at the Borden home, now a popular bed and breakfast, leave toys for the “ghost children” in the guest rooms and declare they can hear childish laughter and sounds of play on the second and third floors.

This sad tale has endured for so long due primarily to Lizzie Borden herself- and her trial of 1893.  Lizzie was carefully examined to determine if she were mentally competent.  Questions were asked as to the sanity of the Borden clan in general.  Not surprisingly the topic of Eliza Borden and her unfortunate children was introduced as a possible source of inherited madness.  This was quickly shot down as Eliza Darling Borden was only a Borden by marriage, and not a blood relation to Lizzie Borden at all.  Mention was made that the sole survivor of the well incident, Maria Borden (Hinckley), was “alive and well and a mother herself still living in the city”.  It is a possibility Maria was named for Lawdwick’s first wife, Maria Briggs, as was a common custom in cases of the untimely death of a young spouse upon remarriage of the widower.

But first, the details on all of the family members.  Mother of Lawdwick:  Martha Patty Bowen Birth Jul 13 1775 in Freetown, Bristol, Massachusetts, USA ,  Death Nov 16, 1827

Father: Richard Borden Birth 1769 in Bristol Co., Massachusetts, USA , Death Apr 04 1824 * note that Richard’s mother was named Hope Cook.  Most likely Cook Borden was named for her family surname.

Lawdwick’s Siblings:

Abraham Bowen Borden  1798-1882

Thomas Borden 1800

Amy Borden       1802-1877

Hannah Borden 1803-1891

Richard Borden  1805-1872

Rowena Borden 1808-1836  (stone below)


Cook Borden  1810-1880

Lawdwick  1812-1874 (stone below)

Zephaniah 1814-1884 (stone below)

Lawdwick’s wives:

Maria Briggs  married Sept 8, 1833

b. 1811 – d. 1838 (stones below)

Eliza Darling  married March 16, 1843

b.1811 – d. 1848 suicide and mother who drowned two of her three children

(engraved Second Wife)

Baby Holder S. Borden- Drowned 

Eliza Ann, aged 2 Drowned

Born October 22, 1844  died 1909 buried under Maria Borden, no mention of husband Samuel B. Hinckley.

Maria Borden (Hinckley) (daughter and only living child)

Eliza T. Chace  married February 29, 1856 Third Wife

  • 1813-1864

Ruhama Crocker Borden shown living with Lawdwick in 1870 census with sister Lydia and Maria, Eliza’s daughter now 25 and married to Samuel B. Hinckley, a Civil War veteran on 2 Oct 1866. Ruhama is listed as Lawdwick’s “widow” in Fall River city directories after 1874.

Ruhama Crocker-  b.  1814-d. 1879 (in Providence in 1850, living with parents and siblings in 1860 in Attleboro

An interesting detail about Maria Borden and her husband Samuel B. Hinckley. Samuel had been a boarder in 1850 at the Lawdwick Borden house when Maria was a little girl of 5.  Samuel was 18.  The two would wed on October 3, 1866.  Samuel had served in the Civil war and was mustered out as a full captain in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1865. (click on image below for full size). In 1850 both Samuel and Lawdwick are listed as “Millers”, presumably in a lumber yard.

At least two more infants are buried in this plot, both near Maria Briggs Borden, which would make them half siblings of the Maria who survived the cistern. One was born the year after Lawdwick’s marriage to Maria Briggs, the other two years later. A name is barely readable on one stone, the other reads Matthew.

Census listing for 1860

Lawdwick is a Lumber man, second wife Eliza T. Chace Borden is keeping house and Maria is now 15. Whatever became of the marriage of Maria and Samuel is unclear. The newspaper article in 1893, during Lizzie Borden’s trial mentions the living child from “the cistern was a mother herself and living in the city”. Maria Borden Hinckley would have been 49 years old at the time of Lizzie’s trial in New Bedford.

My thanks to the groundsmen at Oak Grove Cemetery, Will Clawson, Len Rebello, and