Saturday, September 19, 2020

Hauling the Supposed Remains of Goss from the Fire.


William Udderzook and Winfield Goss conspired to defraud four insurance companies in 1873, by putting a cadaver in Goss’s workshop, setting the building on fire, and claiming the burned corpse was Goss. The plan went awry when Udderzook, fearing Goss would spill the beans, stabbed his partner to death.

Read the full story here: He Knew Too Much.

The Udderzook mystery! (Philadelphia: Barclay & Co, 1873.)

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Horrible Murder in Twelfth Street.

Mrs. Sarah Shancks owned a high-end millenary concern—“a fancy thread and needle store”—at 22 East 12th Street.  At around 10:00 AM, the morning of December 7, 1860, Susan Ferguson, who worked as a seamstress for Mrs. Shanks, entered the store but could not find her employer. She went to the back room where Mrs. Shanks resided and found her lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Her throat had been slashed, and she was surrounded by broken glass and crockery. Susan ran out of the store to alert the police.

The police and coroner examined the crime scene and determined that Mrs. Shanks was probably killed by a blow to the head that fractured her skull. Her face had been battered, her nose broken, and on the left side of her face, a deep gash ran from the cheek to the jaw. Her throat had probably been slashed after death and the cut, from ear to ear, was so deep she was nearly decapitated. Investigators found several possible weapons nearby, a small fire shovel bent and covered with blood, an axe head without a handle, and a kitchen knife. Around the body were shattered fragments of a heavy stone water pitcher and shards of glass from broken bottles. 

Marks on the linen where the killer had wiped his hands were so saturated with blood that he must have cut his hands in the attack. The box where Mrs. Shancks kept her money had been emptied of all but a single nickel; the box was covered with blood.

Mrs. Shancks had been a widow for nearly twenty years and until recently, she had a companion living in the store with her. In the days before the murder, she had been ill and incapacitated, and neighbors were cooking meals for her. Elizabeth McMann, daughter of a neighbor, brought her breakfast at around 8:20 and was the last person to see Mrs. Shancks alive.

At one point, the store had been quite lucrative, and Mrs. Shancks had been well off, but she had lost much of her money on bad investments. She had also been swindled by someone to whom she was engaged to be married. “The lady bears an unblemished reputation,” said the New York Tribune, “but seems to have lent a too willing ear to obsequious flatteries.”

She was engaged to be married at the time of the murder, to a Mr. Chambers. Chambers was briefly a person of interest in the investigation, as was Charles Hardy, a dealer who sold Mrs. Shancks’s embroidery, and an unnamed young carpenter who had done work on the store and continued to hang around to the annoyance of Mrs. Shancks. The police determined that robbery was the sole motive, and they had no clear suspects.

On December 11, a young man named Alfred Buchanan was arrested in the town of Susquehanna, about 300 miles west of New York City. Buchanan had gone to stay with Theodore Springstein, brother of a friend. Springstein welcomed Buchanan into his house but could not help but notice a bandage on the man’s hand covering bloody wounds. That, together with the young man’s agitated appearance, aroused Springstein’s suspicions, and he took the information the Justice of the Peace. 

Buchanan was arrested, and Captain Caffrey of the New York Police traveled to Susquehanna to bring him back. In the city, Buchanan was identified as the “young carpenter” who had been bothering Mrs. Shancks. 

At first, Buchanan denied any knowledge of Mrs. Shancks or her murder. He subsequently admitted he knew her but denied that he killed her, saying his hand was wounded in a fight at a Bowery saloon. A man there had called him a son of a bitch and during the brawl that followed Buchanan drew a knife cutting his hand. Buchanan was unable to give he man’s name or the name of the saloon.

The city police force was criticized in print for allowing the murder of such a violent crime to flee the city. The New York Tribune asserted that Buchanan’s arrest was entirely due to newspaper coverage. The New York Atlas claimed that the police were indifferent to murder cases unless a reward was involved. “The escape was a disgrace to the detective police force in this city,” said the Atlas, “and shows beyond question that that branch of our police department is worse than useless.”

19-year-old Alfred Buchanan was tall and slim with a sinister expression on a face that resembled a bulldog’s. He had a long history of mental illness, having been subject to fits for several years. He behaved erratically, and as symptoms of insanity increased, his parents arranged to have him committed to the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. After about four months at the asylum he was pronounced cured and released. Following his return, he was arrested several times for petty theft and arson.

Alfred Buchanan was indicted for the murder of Sarah Shanck, and he pled not guilty. Before he could be tried, Buchanan was examined by a jury who pronounced him insane. He was committed to a state lunatic asylum.


“The Appalling Murder in Twelfth Street,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 22, 1860.
“Arrest of the Murderer of Mrs,” Albany Evening Journal, December 11, 1860.
“Court of Oyer and Terminer,” New York Herald, December 23, 1860.
“Horrible Murder in Twelfth Street,” New York Herald, December 8, 1860.
“Murder in New York,” Boston Post, December 10, 1860.
“Mysterious Murder a Woman Butchered in Broad-Day No Clue to the Murderer,” New York Tribune, December 8, 1860.
“News Article,” Herald, December 13, 1860.
“News Article,” World, January 28, 1861.
“The Tewlfth Street Murder,” New-York Atlas, December 16, 1860.
“The Twelfth Street Murder,” New York Herald, December 12, 1860.
“The Twelfth Street Tragedy,” New York Herald, December 11, 1860.
“The Twelfth Street Tragedy,” New York Herald, December 14, 1860.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Bitter Fruit of a Jest.

Elvira Houghton, a dressmaker in Southbridge, Massachusetts, hired a carriage and driver to take her to her mother’s funeral in the summer of 1847. The driver, 27-year-old Milton Streeter, was instantly infatuated with Elvira. They had a pleasant conversation and when they returned to Southbridge Milton asked if he could see her again and Elvira said yes.

Also 27-years-old, Elvira feared she was approaching “that delicate and dreaded period, when, having out-maidened all her early associates, she would remain alone a withered remnant of the past.” Her fear may have clouded her judgment; After a whirlwind courtship of one month, she and Milton Streeter were married.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Scene of the Murder of Mansfield Tracy Walworth.

On June 3, 1873, Frank Walworth shot and killed his father, Mansfield Walworth, in his father's room at the Sturtevant House in New York City.

Read the full story here: The Walworth Patricide.

“The Walworth Parricide,” Daily Graphic, June 27, 1873.

The Assassination of Corlis.

Charles G. Corlis kept a bowling saloon on Broadway between Leonard and Franklin Streets in New York City. On the evening of March 20, 1843, several bowlers saw a woman wearing a veil and a straw hat, enter the saloon. They saw her leave the place with Henry Colton, owner of the Colton House hotel, a few doors away on Leonard Street. Sometime later, witnesses saw Charles Corlis talking with the unidentified woman in the doorway of the Colton House.

Around 7:00 a pistol shot rang out on Leonard Street. Witnesses saw someone running from the scene—maybe a man, maybe a woman, maybe a man dressed as a woman. Lying on the ground in front of the Colton House was Charles Corlis, with a bullet wound in the back of his head. Next to him lay a five-barrel pistol with one shot fired. Corlis was carried into the hotel where he died about three hours later.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Baldwinsville Homicide.

The discovery of a body in the Seneca River, decomposed beyond recognition, left the town of Baldwinsville with a nearly unsolvable mystery. But the clues unraveled to revealed a dastardly plot against an honest man by a craven murderer and his hapless cohort.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Utterly Unprovoked Shooting.

John Dilleber was a wealthy 28-year-old wholesale liquor dealer who lived and worked in New York City. In June 1975, he divorced his wife, left his home, and took up residence at the Westminster Hotel on 16th Street. 

It was Dilleber’s habit, after dinner, to wander the halls of the hotel while smoking a cigar. Romaine Dillon, another of the Westminster Hotel’s outcast residents, was much annoyed by Dilleber’s evening rambles and angrily told him so on several occasions. Dilleber ignored his complaints.

Romaine Dillon had lived in the hotel for three years and considered it his home; he could not tolerate this upstart, thinking that he could do whatever he wanted there. It was not the first time Dillon had trouble with his neighbors. Prior to living in the Westminster Hotel, he lived at the Brevoort Hotel, where he quarreled with the other boarders on the most absurd pretexts, creating such fear that the managers threw him out. He continued this behavior at the Westminster, where most tenants learned to avoid him.

Dillon was an independently wealthy bachelor, about 50 years old with gray hair and a full beard. Those who knew him considered eccentric but not irrational. Friends and relatives interviewed by the Daily Graphic described a man who was judgmental, intolerant, and mean-spirited:
He was one of those “nervous” people who go into a rage when they see a too gaudy pair of trousers or a glove drawn half way on the hand. He rated travelers in the streetcars for the way in which they sat; would shoot a man for a false pronunciation and jump through a window into a drawing-room with no other motive than to frighten ladies. 
Around 8:00, the evening of December 31, 1875, Dillon confronted John Dilleber and told him to get out of the hotel corridor. A brief argument followed, ending suddenly when Dillon drew a pistol and shot Dilleber in the left side. Two witnesses present helped the wounded man into his room; Dillon retreated into his own room.

Two police officers were in the neighborhood investigating a burglary. They hurried into the hotel and were shown to Dillon’s room where they asked him for the pistol.

“I don’t know anything about a pistol,” Dillon said, “I haven’t got any.”

A quick search of the room turned up a wooden case containing a brace of derringers. One had recently been fired.

Two doctors were summoned to examine Dilleber’s wound, and the hotel manager notified his relatives. The doctors made Dilleber as comfortable as possible, but his condition deteriorated through the night. Around 3:00 a.m., it was clear that Dilleber would die, and the coroner ordered Dillon to be brought before the dying man for identification. They brought Dillon into the room, and Dilleber made his ante-mortem statement:
My name is John R. Dilleber; I expect to die; I have no hopes off recovery; I was shot, I don’t know by whom; we had a few words; he tried to drive me out of the hall; I don’t know the name of the person who shot me; he was howling at me on Sunday; I do not know what he meant; we had a few angry words on that occasion; I thought he insulted me; he insulted me on this night by ordering me out of the hall using insulting language; I don’t remember the words; I answered that language, but I don’t remember in what way; I said I had as good a right in that hall as he had, or something like that; the first I then knew was that he shot me; I think the name of the man who shot me was Davlin or Dillon, and identify this man (Romaine Dillon) as the man who shot me.
Following the statement, Dilleber calmly dictated his will. Three hours later, surrounded by his brother, his ex-wife, and his two children, John Dilleber died.

Romaine Dillon was charged with first-degree murder, and Governor Tilden appointed a medical commission to determine whether he was sane enough stand trial. In most respects, Dillon was perfectly rational and “discussed difficult subjects with the ease and accuracy of a scholar,” but he suffered from a monomania, which led him to believe “that a number of persons were banded together to do him injury.” Without hesitation, Dr. Kitchen, of Blackwell’s Island, pronounced Dillon insane, and he was committed to the insane asylum in Auburn, New York.

“Attempted Murder of a Merchant,” New York Tribune, January 1, 1876.
“The Criminal Record,” Hartford Daily Courant, January 3, 1876.
“Dillon Taken to Auburn,” Herald, June 23, 1876.
“He Was Crazy,” The Morning Herald, March 31, 1876.
“The Murder Of Dilleber,” Daily Albany Argus, January 3, 1876.
“The Murder of Mr. Dilleber,” The New York Times, January 23, 1876.
“The Murder of Mr. John Dilleber,” Daily Graphic, January 4, 1876.
“Terrible Murder,” The Findlay Jeffersonian, January 14, 1876.
“The Utterly Unprovoked Shooting,” Herald, January 2, 1876.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Death-Sentence Pronounced on Edward S. Stokes.

On January 6, 1873, Edward Stokes was sentenced to hang for the murder of financier and railroad magnate James Fisk. Stokes was well-connected politically and he awaited his appeal in a comfortably furnished cell in the Tombs with meals catered by Delmonicos.

Stokes was granted a new trial, was convicted of manslaughter and senteneced to six years in Sing Sing prison.

Read the full story here: Jubilee Jim.

“The Stokes Trial and Sentence,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, January 25, 1873.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Reverend Green, Wife-Poisoner.

Reverend George W. Long arrived in Western New York in the Fall of 1864, presenting himself a Methodist minister from the south. He appeared to be in good standing, with credentials from several Southern and Western conferences so the presiding elder of the district stationed him at the Methodist church in Centerville. 

Long had a very agreeable personality and had soon gained the confidence of his congregation. Before long he met and married a young woman named Frances Doolittle in a nearby town and brought her to Centerville.

All seemed well except that the meager salary of a minister was not enough to meet Long’s needs. He began to borrow money from the brethren at the church. They were happy to lend him money until it became apparent that he had borrowed more than he could pay back. He told his creditors not to worry, he had money invested in Dunkirk, Ohio and would go there and withdraw some. He borrowed some more to cover his expenses then left for Dunkirk.

After he had been gone for some time he sent word back to Centerville that he had met a claim agent who offered to purchase some land he owned in Texas and had to go to New York City to conclude the transaction. From there he planned to go to Pittsburgh then return home. That was the last letter anyone in Centerville received from Reverend Long.

More than two years later, a Connecticut police detective arrived in Centerville, tracking a man named William Green. The detective was carrying a picture of Green which the Methodist congregation recognized as their own Reverend Long. They were forced to admit that they had been swindled.

When he left Centerville Reverend Long had not gone to Dunkirk, Ohio, he went to Utica, New York where he registered at the Northern Hotel as William H. Green. There, as Reverend Green, he preached sermons and made political speeches, and as Professor Green he delivered temperance lectures.

Though, as Reverend Long, he still had a wife in Centerville, on December 20, 1866, Green married a widow named Searles in Guilford, New York and moved with her to West Cornwall, Connecticut. There he claimed to be from Texas and became active in local politics and gave lectures on political affairs.

The following spring, Mrs. Green’s health began to fail; she was diagnosed with a pulmonary difficulty. On May 6, shortly after tea, she was taken with violent convulsions which continued intermittently until her death at about 12 o’clock. The physician called to attend her remarked on the unusual manner of her death, he could not explain it but suspected foul play.

Mrs. Green was buried four days later and her husband remained in town for about a month then suddenly moved to Utica. A week later he married an Irish girl who worked as a chambermaid at his Utica hotel. 

Suspicions were aroused in West Cornwall when it was learned that Reverend Green’s sudden departure was prompted by improper proposals he had made to a married lady in that town. They also found it suspect that a Methodist minister was married by a Catholic priest five weeks after the death of his wife. The body of Mrs. Green was disinterred, and her organs examined by Professor Baker of New Haven. He detected strychnine in her stomach and liver and concluded that Mrs. Green had been poisoned.

William Green was arrested in Utica and brought back to West Cornwall where he was examined by Justice Gold prior to being bound over for trial by the Superior Court. During an intermission in the examination, Green was sent to the Litchfield jail from which he escaped by jumping from a window. He was recaptured when he was found hiding in a barn where he had attempted to cut his own throat.

Before his trial, Green was confident that he could explain his position and the final determination of the jury would clear him. But his behavior in prison did not reflect this confidence, he made two unsuccessful attempts to take his own life. At the trial the evidence against William Green aka George Long was overwhelming and he was convicted of first-degree murder.

Originally posted June 23, 2018.


“By Telegraph,” Columbian Register, November 16, 1867.
“A Clerical Wife-Poisoner and Chevalier d'lndustrie,” National Police Gazette, September 21, 1867.
“Green the Wife-Poisoner,” Norwich Aurora, November 20, 1867.
“Rev. W. H. Green, the Wife Poisoner,” National Police Gazette, November 16, 1867.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Scenes from the Twichell/Hill Murder.

George Twitchell beat his mother-in-Law, Mary Hill, to death with a poker then threw her body out an upstairs window of her Philadelphia home in November 1868.

Read the full story here: Thrown Out the Window.                                           

“The Philadelphia Murder,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December 12, 1868.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Tragedy at Vineland.

On the morning of March 19, 1875, Charles K. Landis entered the office of the Vineland Independent and demanded to see the paper’s editor and publisher, Uri Carruth. When Carruth entered the room, Landis approached him, waving a newspaper clipping.

“Mr. Carruth, did you write that?” Landis shouted.

“I did, and I will do it again,” said Carruth.

“Will you promise not to attack my wife in future?”


“Defend yourself then,” said Landis drawing a revolver. 

He chased Carruth into the composing room of the newspaper, and there shot him in the head. 

“I’ve killed him! I’ve killed him! I was obliged to do it. I killed him in the cause of God and humanity!” said Landis as he surrendered himself to the deputy sheriff.

The offending article seems frivolous on its face:
A prominent Vinelander sat down by the side of his loving wife on the sofa, and looked up in her eyes, and called her a duck and a birdie and rabbit, and all the other endearing names. Then he told her he wanted she should learn the use of a revolver, so that in his absence, she could protect their home and silver-ware and defend the honor of Vineland.
Then he went off and bought an elegant seven-shooter and a nice target.
Then he set up the target in one end of the parlor, and gave her a first lesson shooting. Then he told her he wanted she should practice every day. Then he went away for a week. When he returned he found the revolver on the other side of  the looking-glass; the parlor door resembled a bad case of small-pox, and the furniture looked as though it bad been indulging in a wrestle with a Burlington county hail storm. Did he walk up to his wife, and sicken her with the endearing names of all the birds and four-footed beasts? Not much! he marched out into the street in his shirt sleeves; with but one boot on and that patched over the big toe. 
Then he went galloping up and down, telling every man he met, confidentially, that his wife was crazy. Then he went off and tried to get her into a private Insane Asylum: yes he did, the wretch!
Though neither Landis nor his wife was mentioned by name, everyone in Vineland knew who the article referred to. Landis and Carruth had a long-standing feud, and the Independent had been attacking Landis and his family for years. This was the last straw.

Charles Landis was an attorney and land speculator who, in 1861, purchased 50,000 acres of New Jersey wilderness, and there founded the town of Vineland. Persuasive advertising  in America and Europe induced people to settle in the new town, but property deeds included many harsh conditions, most notably a prohibition on the sale of intoxicating liquors. Violation of any of the burdensome restrictions could result in forfeiture of the property; landowners were hardly more than tenants of Landis. 

Despite the restrictions, Vineland grew quickly and by 1875 had a population of 15,000. But as the population increased, so did discontent in Vineland. In 1868, the Vineland Independent began publishing with the goal of telling the truth about life in Vineland and “discouraging careless investment by poor people in the poor lands.” From the beginning, the Independent was in conflict with Charles Landis, but the real trouble began in 1870 when Uri Carruth purchased the newspaper.

Uri Carruth, 50 years old in 1875, was an attorney with publishing experience in Michigan who was known to be a vindictive and combative man. Attacks on Landis in the Independent went beyond criticizing his policies and were meant to humiliate Landis and his family. “He was neither witty nor humorous, nor sarcastic, nor bitter,” said the Massachusetts Spy of Carruth, “but coarsely and stupidly impertinent, telling in his paper silly, pointless stories of Landis and his family.”

In 1869, Landis had eloped with the daughter of Commodore Meade of the US Navy. Mrs. Landis had “a very excitable nature” and had spent some time in an insane asylum. The mental problems of Mrs. Landis were well known in Vineland, and she was often the butt of Carruth’s attempts at humor. Mrs. Landis found these articles so distressing that her husband worked to keep the Independent out of their house. Despite his precautions, copies of these articles were thrust under the door or thrown into windows; Mrs. Landis would read them and become dangerously violent, remaining “insane” for a week at a time.

At the time of the offending article in 1875, Mrs. Landis was pregnant, and her doctor said that her reason would be permanently overthrown if the excitement were not removed. Charles Landis viewed Carruth’s article as an attack on his wife’s health and wellbeing. According to Landis’s public statement, he became so distraught that he put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. When the gun missed fire, he realized he was shooting the wrong man; he took his better pistol, an English revolver, and went to see Carruth.

The shot did not kill Carruth. Though doctors continued to probe his skull looking for the bullet, it appeared that Carruth would recover and could live with the ball still in his head. Landis was released from jail on $50,000 bail and was trying to arrange a financial settlement with Carruth to drop the charges against him. He offered Carruth $5,000 and 380 acres of land, which Carruth indignantly refused.

For the next four months, Carruth seemed to be improving physically, but his finances were in shambles. Friends said he and Landis had agreed to a settlement of $12,000 in cash and securities and were waiting for Landis’s signature when Carruth took a turn for the worse and died on October 24. Landis was rearrested and charged with first-degree murder.

At his trial the following January, Landis gave a three-point defense: 1. He was insane when he shot Carruth; 2. Carruth’s death was not caused by the bullet but by unskilled treatment; 3. Carruth’s provocation was such to reduce the offense to manslaughter. Evidence of insanity was slim, witnesses testified to Landis’s excited and nervous demeanor. To the second point, an autopsy showed the bullet had become completely encysted and had not caused Carruth’s death. The immediate cause of death had been an abscess in the brain caused by physicians probing his head in the wrong area looking for the bullet. Landis’s attorneys were confident of victory and did not seriously address the third point.

The jury acquitted Charles Landis of murder, and the community remained divided over whether the verdict was just. Some saw it as an example of unequal justice, where a rich man could get away with murder. Most, however, agreed with Forney’s Weekly Press:  "Mr. Carruth's effort to be 'spicy,' unbacked by ability to be anything more than grossly indecorous, brought him to his death—and the verdict of popular opinion already registered is 'served him right.'"

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The School-girl Murder.

Mamie Kelly
Fourteen-year-old Mamie Kelly of San Francisco, had a crush on the boy next door, nineteen-year-old Aleck Goldenson. Though Aleck was the kind of boy who appeals to teenaged girls—an artist and a bit of a hoodlum—her family had no use for him at all. In spite of this, Mamie took every opportunity be near him. Aleck first enjoyed her attention, then tolerated it, then actively tried to put a stop to it. He ended their relationship for good one day in November 1886, when he met Mamie on the street and shot her in the face.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Scene of the Murder of Mabel H. Young.

On Sunday, May 23, 1875, Thomas W. Piper, sexton of the Warren Avenue Baptist Church in Boston, lured 5-year-old Mabel Young to the church belfry on the pretext of looking at pigeons. There he crushed her skull with a cricket bat. Piper was captured after he was seen leaping from the belfry. In custody he confessed to a series of murders and violent sexual assaults.

Read the full story here: The Boston Belfry Tragedy.

“The Belfrey Tragedy -- Scene of the Murder pf Mabel H. Young,” Daily Graphic, May 27, 1875.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Bessie Little Mystery.

A swimmer in the Miami River outside of Dayton, Ohio, discovered the body of a young woman floating in the water on September 3, 1896. The coroner found nothing to indicate violence; the cause of death was believed to be suicide and the unidentified body was hastily buried.

When he heard of the body in the river, Dayton Police Chief Thomas Farrell believed he knew who she was, and he had reason to believe that she had been murdered. Farrell had the woman’s body disinterred and soon after she was identified as 23-year-old Bessie Little by her adopted parents and by her dentist who kept detailed records of his patients’ teeth. The coroner still could not determine the cause of death and the body was reburied.

Her parents said they did not report Bessie missing because she had left home several weeks earlier to look for work; she was living in a Dayton boarding house run by Mrs. Freese. The full story was, the Little’s had kicked Bessie out of their house when they learned she had been intimate with her boyfriend 20-year-old Albert Frantz. They told her not to return unless he agreed to marry her. 

Mrs. Freese verified that Bessie had been staying at her boarding house and that Albert Frantz had been paying her weekly rent. She said that the last time she saw Bessie was on August 27, when Bessie told her she was going for a buggy ride with Frantz. The following day Frantz came to the house asking for Bessie and Mrs. Freese told Franz she never came after seeing him. Frantz said she was mistaken about the buggy ride; he had not seen Bessie the night before. He then paid Bessie’s next week’s rent in advance.

Bessie Little and Albert Frantz were from different economic backgrounds. As a baby, Bessie had been an orphan at the Miami County Children’s Home; Peter Little and his wife adopted her when she was two-years-old. But the Little’s adopted parents were poor and as soon as she was old enough they put Bessie to work as a domestic servant. Albert Frantz worked as a stenographer for the Mathias Planing Mill Co. He came from a wealthy family; the youngest of five children he was spoiled by his parents and siblings. Those who knew Frantz well described him as “cruel and cunning” but Bessie was infatuated by him.

Shortly before her death, Bessie consulted a physician and some believed that she had been pregnant or had even undergone an abortion. In any case, her parents knew enough about her relations with Frantz to bar her from the house until she either broke them off or married him. Among her belongings, police found an unmailed letter addressed to the father of Albert Frantz, begging him to force a marriage. It had been easy for Frantz to seduce Bessie but he had no intention of marrying her.

Frantz maintained that he had not been with Bessie on the night of her disappearance but Chief Farrell did not believe him and kept Frantz in custody pending the outcome of the coroner’s investigation. Farrell had been able to identify the body because he knew Bessie Little had been thrown in the river even before the body was found. Frantz, with a relative, had gone to see Rev. Teeter for advice, telling him that Bessie had killed herself and he had thrown her body into the river. He wanted to know how the law would view the situation, so Rev. Teeter referred him to Judge J.W. Kreitzer. They attempted to keep the matter secret, but the story leaked out. Judge Kreitzer, acting as Frantz legal counsel would not confirm or deny the story, but Chief Farrell heard it and when the body was discovered in the Miami River, Farrell knew who it was.

Farrell was convinced that Albert Frantz murdered Bessie Little, but Frantz still denied seeing Bessie that night and there was no evidence to directly link him to her death. Then on September 5, someone found a freshly dried pool of blood along with two decorative combs identified as belonging to Bessie, on the Stillwater Bridge about half a mile from the spot where the body was found. There were also buggy tire tracks believed to be connected to the blood.

This was enough to justify digging up the body once more. This time the coroner’s close examination discovered two gunshot wounds in the right ear and although the bullets had been shattered by bone, enough lead was recovered for two 32-caliber bullets. The head was then severed from the body and preserved in a jar; the body was reburied. 

Ferrell went to the home of Albert Frantz to try to compare his buggy’s tires to the prints left on the bridge, only to find that the Frantz’s stable had burned down the day after Bessie was last seen. The horse was killed and the buggy completely destroyed.

Frantz now changed his story. He and Bessie had been riding in his buggy and Bessie had been somewhat despondent. When he wasn’t looking, she drew a revolver and shot herself. Panicked and afraid the story would not be believed, he threw Bessie’s body off the bridge. The obvious flaw in this story was that two shots were fired into her head. The post-mortem examination showed two entry wounds and people living near the bridge recalled hearing cries of “Murder!” that night, followed by two gunshots.  

The revolver was still missing, and Chief Farrell was determined to find it. Believing that it had been thrown off the bridge along with the body, he mounted an all-out search of the river below. He obtained twelve powerful magnets, weighing three pounds each, and using two rowboats, dragged them along the bottom of the river trying to attract the gun. When this failed he hired Ben Graham, a professional diver who agreed to work for expenses. A.E. Pate, a champion swimmer also volunteered his services. 

While the river search proved fruitless, Farrell learned that Frantz had purchased a revolver at Dodd’s gun shop in Dayton three weeks before Bessie disappeared. He also learned that while courting Bessie Frantz was also engaged to another woman. With this possible motive, the prosecutors felt they had enough circumstantial evidence to try Albert Frantz for the murder of Bessie Little.

More than a hundred witnesses testified at the trial which began on December 14, 1896. Frantz still maintained that Bessie had shot herself. The prosecution brought out Bessie’s severed head to show the jurors the two entry wounds. Several physicians testified as to the possibility that Bessie had shot herself twice in the head. The defense’s doctors saying it was possible, the prosecution’s saying it was not. The defense did not claim that Frantz had been temporarily insane, but just in case, the prosecution had six doctors examine Frantz and testify that he was perfectly sane. 

Though the evidence was circumstantial it was enough for the jury to convict Albert Frantz of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to death. On November 19, 1897, after all possible appeals failed, Albert Frantz became the fourth man to die in Ohio’s electric chair. He professed his innocence to the end.

Originally posted on June 2, 2018.


“A Bullet in Her Head,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 1896.
“The Death Penalty,” The Dayton Herald, November 19, 1897.
“Devil's Deed,” Kentucky Post, September 7, 1896.
“Frantz's Fight For His Life,” Kentucky Post, December 14, 1896.
“Frantz's Revolver,” The Dayton Herald, December 18, 1896.
“Franz has Another Story,” Plain Dealer, September 11, 1896.
“His Love For Another ,” Kentucky Post, September 10, 1896.
“Is it Murder?,” Kentucky Post, September 5, 1896.
“Located,” Kentucky Post, September 12, 1896.
“Murder or Suicide?,” National Police Gazette, January 16, 1897, 6.
“One Link,” Kentucky Post, September 5, 1896.
“Sentenced Frantz,” Aberdeen Daily News, January 27, 1897.
“She Was Murdered,” Plain Dealer, September 6, 1896.
“Two Stories Of A Crime,” Plain Dealer, December 17, 1896.
“A Woman's Death,” Cleveland Leader, September 4, 1896

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Bridgeport Tragedy.

Ellen Lucas of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was to be married on October 3, 1874. The typically happy 18-year-old was somewhat anxious, the evening of October 2, repeatedly looking at the clock as she hastily ate supper. Ellen changed her clothes and left the house at 7:00, telling her mother that she would not be gone long. Mrs. Lucas watched her daughter walk to the corner where she met her fiancĂ©, James E. Lattin. 

Ellen never came home that night, and early the next morning, her family and friends began a search for her. The search ended when two workmen found her body, face down in a stream in a secluded spot called The Cedars, near Berkshire Pond in Northern Bridgeport.

At first, suicide was suspected, but the water in the stream was only a few inches deep, and Ellen had shown no signs of depression and had been enthusiastically preparing for her wedding. A hasty postmortem examination verified that she had not drowned, and the only mark of violence on the body was a small bruise on her forehead. The doctors also discovered that Ellen had been six months pregnant. Foul play was suspected, and James Lattin became the prime suspect.

26-year-old James Lattin was a tall and good-looking butcher’s clerk with a terrible reputation in Bridgeport. He had been married once before when he was nineteen and his bride fifteen. The marriage lasted three months, and the wife filed for divorce. He was convicted of theft and had served a term in the New Haven Jail. He became engaged once again to a young woman who died mysteriously shortly before their wedding day. A gruesome story told by several people in Bridgeport said that Lattin had, at least once, cut the paws off a dog and dipped the stumps in turpentine to see the dog squirm and hear him howl.

Ellen’s parents had objected to the marriage, but Ellen was deeply in love with Lattin. It was likely that her parents knew of Ellen’s pregnancy, and despite their opposition, they hastened the wedding day.

Investigators learned that Lattin had purchased poison from a Bridgeport druggist on September 29. They found strychnine in an old shoe in the stable where Lattin kept his horse. With this new information, the police exhumed Ellen’s body and gave the stomach to a chemist for analysis, but he found no traces of poison. The stomach did contain grains of sand and vegetable matter consistent with the stream where her body was found. 

Lattin said that he had not been with Ellen that night but had been on board the schooner Josephine which was captained by his cousin. His alibi did not hold. At the inquest, a Miss Bassett testified to seeing him with Ellen earlier that evening near the train depot and heard Ellen say to say, “Now, you’ll be there, won’t you? If you are not there, you know what the consequences will be.” 
At 7:00 he was seen going toward Ellen’s house, at 8:30 he was seen alone in Bridgeport by Ellen’s two sisters. A crewmember of the Josephine testified that Lattin had slept on the schooner but had not come aboard until late that night.

A woman named Mattie Smith testified at the inquest that Lattin had asked her if she knew of any medicine to produce abortion; he did not want to marry, because he had some other girl he was paying attention to. He said he was engaged to a girl who was with child, and he wanted to get rid of it.

Though the cause of death was still unknown, the coroner’s jury ruled that Ellen Lucas had died by violence at the hands of James E. Lattin.

The murder generated great excitement in Bridgeport, and it was reported that the murder scene was visited by hundreds of people daily. When the trial began on February 23, crowds gathered early at the courthouse. By 10:00, the courtroom, as well as halls and stairways, were packed with spectators. The sheriff barred the front door with two long ladders to prevent any more from entering and detailed two extra police officers to maintain order in the hallways.

Believing that a fair jury trial in Bridgeport was impossible, Lattin’s attorneys took advantage of a statute recently adopted in Connecticut and elected to be tried by two judges instead of a jury.

The trial heard by Judges Beardsley and Sanford went on for two weeks. After the final arguments, the judges deliberated and returned a verdict of second-degree murder. Judge Sanford explained their reasoning in great detail. While the judges were satisfied that Lattin killed Ellen Lucas, the circumstantial evidence did not meet the standard of proof required for first-degree murder. They sentenced James E. Lattin to State Prison for the term of his natural life.

The Samford Advocate summarized the crime this way:
“The details of this diabolical crime place Lattin in the light of a merciless brute who, feigning love (a commodity of which his soul is incapable) to this unfortunate girl, gained her confidence, and having accomplished his unholy purposes, enticed her, in the midst of her trials, to an out-of-the-way ravine, and deliberately took her life—committing a double murder.”


“The Bridgeport Mystery,” Herald, October 11, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” Hartford Daily Courant, October 7, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” New-York daily tribune, October 14, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” Hartford Daily Courant, October 16, 1874.
“The Bridgeport Tragedy,” Daily Graphic, October 28, 1874.
“Coroer's Verdict,” Alexandria Gazette, October 10, 1874.
“The Ellen Lucas Murder,” Herald, February 24, 1875.
“A Girl Murdered on the Eve of her Marriage,” Providence Evening Press, February 24, 1875.
“The Lattin Verdict,” Bridgeport Standard, March 9, 1875.
“Lattin, the Bridgeport Murderer,” Waterbury Daily American, November 12, 1874.
“The Murder of Miss Ellen Lucas at Bridgeport, Connecticut,” Daily Graphic, November 20, 1874.
“Murder or Suicide,” Commercial Advertiser, October 5, 1874.
“A Mysterious Murder,” Daily Inter Ocean, October 17, 1874.
“News Article,” Stamford Advocate, October 23, 1874.
“News Article,” Waterbury Daily American, October 29, 1874.
“News Article,” Stamford Advocate, November 20, 1874.
“Probable Murder,” Columbian Register, October 10, 1874.
“A Sad Story,” Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, February 27, 1875.
“Trial of Jakes E. Lattin,” Bridgeport Standard, February 23, 1875.
“Trial of James E. Lattin,” Bridgeport Standard, March 5, 1875.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Execution of Emil Lowenstein.

Emil Lowenstein was a barber in Brooklyn, NY who had persuaded his neighbor, John Weston, a one-armed Civil War veteran, to withdraw his life savings and travel upstate with him. The body of John Weston was found in a ravine in Watervliet, NY, soon after Lowenstein returned to Brooklyn, flush with cash.

Lowenstein denied being in Watervliet with Weston and professed innocence to the end. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and on April 10, 1874, the sheriff cut the rope to drop the counterweight and launch Emil Lowenstein into eternity.

Read the full story here: The Brooklyn Barber.

“Scenes at the Execution of Emil Lowenstein,” Daily Graphic, April 11, 1874.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Miss Elizabeth Petty.

In 1893, Miss Elizabeth Petty lived alone in a three-story frame house in Newark, New Jersey. She was a reclusive sixty-five year old spinster, known for her eccentricities and believed to be worth a considerable fortune. Her father had been a prosperous sea captain who died when she was a young child. When her mother died in 1878, Miss Petty inherited the house along with railroad and bank bonds worth an estimated $30,000 - $40,000. Miss Petty had been a school teacher but she gradually went insane and had to retire when her students began making fun of her behavior.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Judge Lynch in Pennsylvania.

Joseph Snyder murdering Jacob Geogle and wife - Judge Lynch meets out death to the scoundrel in a summary manner
Portraits: 1. Joseph Snyder - 2. Alice Geogle, whom Snyder attempted to rape.

In 1880, Jacob and Annie Geogle lived with their three children in the town of Santee’s Mills near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Jacob worked as a miner in an iron ore mine and to supplement his meager income, the Geogles took in a boarder—27-year-old Joseph Snyder, also a miner. Snyder became infatuated with the Geogle’s oldest daughter Alice and expressed his desire to marry her but Alice was only 14-years-old and she did not return Joseph Snyder’s love. Her parents were appalled at the idea and would have thrown Snyder out but he owed them two months’ rent and they needed the money.

Snyder began sneaking into Alice’s room late at night and making improper advances that she had, so far, been able to fend off. When she told her parents of Snyder's behavior they were livid and on December 26 they confronted him. After a bitter argument they told Snyder that when he got his next paycheck he must pay his board and leave.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Notorious Mrs. Clem.

The sensational murders of successful businessman, Jacob Young and his wife in Indianapolis, in 1868, exposed a web of financial fraud involving some of the most influential men in the city. Circumstantial evidence soon pointed to Mrs. Nancy E. Clem, mastermind of the fraudulent scheme, as the perpetrator of the murders. The notorious Mrs. Clem, however, proved remarkably hard to convict.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Wakemanite Murder.

In 1855 a religious sect known as the Wakemanites met regularly at the home of Samuel Sly in New Haven, Connecticut. The Wakemanites were follower of Mrs. Rhoda Wakeman who had been chosen by the Lord to prepare the faithful for the return of Christ and the new Millennium.

69-year-old Rhoda Wakeman had previously lived in Greenfield, Connecticut with an abusive husband. Some 30 years earlier, Mr. Wakeman had beaten her so badly that, according to Mrs. Wakeman, he killed her. Two angels stood beside her and when they touched her with their bright swords she rose from the cloud of death and went to heaven.  She saw Christ, in his crown of thorns and with nails in his hands and he spoke peace to her soul. She saw God sitting upon his throne in all his glory surrounded by angels in white robes. Then a spirit took her to earth where she saw her dead body lying on the floor and she knew she had come back to this wicked world to live again. She had been dead for seven hours but rose again. From that point on she would communicate directly with God as she pursued her task of preparing the world for the second coming. 

When her husband died, she moved to New Haven where she was known as Widow Wakeman. She lived with her half-brother, Samuel Sly (aka Elder Sly), and gathered followers who met at his house to hear her message. They called themselves Wakemanites and called their leader The Prophetess. While the Wakemanites never numbered more than a dozen or so, they were true believers and devoted servants of The Prophetess.

In December 1855, Mrs. Wakeman began suffering from severe bodily pains. She knew exactly what caused the pains; one of her followers had stopped coming to meetings because he had become possed by an evil spirit. This evil spirt was not only a source of pain for The Prophetess but was also a great obstacle to the immediate commencement of the millennium. Moreover, if she should die as a result, her death would be followed by the general judgement and destruction of the world without any millennium.

The Wakemanites understood the urgency and set about to rid Mathews of his evil spirt. One of the followers, Polly Sanford, was Justus Mathews’ brother; she went with her husband, Almeron Sanford to discuss the matter with Mathews and convince him to come to a meeting on Sunday, December 23. The group had been praying and singing since 2:00 that afternoon and Mathews arrived some time after 9:00 pm. He expressed a desire to be relieved of the evil spirit which afflicted him, and through him, afflicted others, especially The Prophetess. 

Polly Sanford tied a handkerchief over his eyes to diminish the power of the spirit and to prevent Mathews from enchanting anyone with his eyes. She tied his hands behind his back, “as they would the devil.” Then she left him alone and went upstairs to pray with the others. The meeting went on until 2:00 am and Mathews was visited at intervals by one or more of the company to beseech him to give up the evil one. They told him it would be better that he should die than that Mrs. Wakeman should be afflicted unto death and the world destroyed. He reportedly expressed a willingness to die. Eventually they all went home without checking any further on Mathews.

Justus Mathews never came home that night and the next morning his son went looking for him. He went to Sly’s house and when no one answered the door he broke it open. He found his father lying on the floor with pools of blood surrounding his head. His throat had been cut from ear to ear and his head nearly severed from his body. A small rope was found on the floor and marks on his wrists showed that he had been bound and his abdomen was covered with puncture wounds as if he had been stabbed with a table fork. The boy immediately raised the alarm.

Later that day a coroner’s jury was convened and many of those at the meeting gave evidence. They testified to the belief that if Mrs. Wakeman should die the world would be destroyed. They believed that Justus Mathews had killed himself to be rid of the evil spirit. Several Walemanites were arrested and charged with committing or in some way being accessory to the crime—Israel Wooding, Almeron and Polly Sanford, Abigail Sables, Thankful S. Hersey, Widow Wakeman, Samuel Sly, and Josiah Jackson.

On Wednesday, Samuel Sly confessed to the murder. He said his sister had been so distressed by the bad spirit in Mathews that he knew something must be done to remove it. As people were preparing to leave, Sly went into the front room where Mathews was sitting and locked the door. He struck the blindfolded man in the temple with a two-foot club of hazel wood knocking him to the floor, then struck him several more times with the club. He took out his pocketknife with its two-inch blade, commenced to cutting Mathews’ throat. Then he mutilated the corpse with a fork. 

He went to Thankful Hersey, who had a room in the house, and she brought him a basin of water to wash off the blood. They tore up his bloody shirt and burned it in Miss Hersey’s stove. He broke the club into three pieces and threw it along with his knife, into the privy vault.

That April, Samuel Sly, Widow Wakeman, and Thankful Hersey were tried for the murder of Justus W. Mathews. None of the Wakemanites who testified had wavered in their belief that Mathews had been possessed by an evil spirit and had to die to save the world. The verdict was not guilty on the ground of insanity and the defendants were sent to the Insane Retreat in Hartford, Connecticut.

This was not the last murder connected to the Wakemanites, here is the story of Justus Mathew's maniac nephew: Murdered by a Maniac

“Effects of Fanaticism,” Examiner and Chronicle, January 3, 1856.
“Horrible Ignorance and Superstition,” Portland Weekly Advertiser, January 1, 1856.
“A Most Horrible Murder! One of the isms.,” National Aegis, January 2, 1856.
“The New Haven Tragedy,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, January 12, 1856.
“The Wakemanites,” Manchester Daily Mirror, April 24, 1856.
“The Wakemanites,” New York Evangelist, April 24, 1856.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Late Miss Jennie E. Cramer.

This card, with a portrait and poem of murder victim Jennie Cramer was given away free to advertise Reed's Gilt Edge Tonic.

Source:  Brown University Library.

Read about the murder of Jennie Cramer here:

Found Drifting with the Tide

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Unwritten Law.

Robert McBride was the wealthy operator of a cotton seed oil mill in Newnan, Georgia. He had come to Georgia from New Jersey, and quickly entered the vigorous business life of Newnan, with interests in several mills and factories. In 1893, he was a quiet and gentlemanly, 44 year-old bachelor, living in a boarding house run by Patrick Meehan and his wife.

Meehan was a successful traveling salesman for a Louisville, Kentucky, whisky distiller, whose job kept him in the road for long periods. In August 1893, Meehan was in New York City, and Robert McBride decided to use this opportunity to express his affection for Mrs. Meehan; his feelings for her had been steadily growing during the two years he spent under her roof. When they were alone on the front veranda, McBride told Mrs. Meehan that he wished to have a confidential conversation with her. Mrs. Meehan was taken aback and told Meehan that if he had anything confidential to say he should write it down and send it to Mr. Meehan, and she left the porch.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Trial of Daniel E. Sickles.

Daniel E. Sickles is best known today as a Union General who lost a leg in the Battle of Gettysburg, but before the war he had gained national notoriety as the U.S. Congressman who murdered  Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key, in Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. At his trial in April 1859, Sickles was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity—the first successful use of this defense in the United States. The excitement generated by the trial of Daniel Sickles can be seen in this illustration from the centerfold of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 9, 1859.

Read the story of the murder here:

Dan Sickles's Temporary Insanity

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Horrible and Mysterious Murder.

Employees of Samuel Joyce’s tailor shop at 378 Broadway, in New York City, were surprised to find the door of the shop locked when they arrived on the morning of July 18, 1856. Bartholomew Burke, the porter, slept in the shop and had never before failed to rise early and unlock the door. As the clerk stood outside puzzled at the situation, he caught sight of a faint bloodstain on the door handle. Fearing foul play, he ran for a police officer.

Seeing the blood on the handle, the officer wasted no time before kicking in the locked door. What he found inside was a nightmare scene—the floor and walls were covered with blood, and in a corner, near the washbasin was the naked body of Bartholomew Burke, slashed and horribly mangled.  His throat had been cut nearly from ear to ear, and on the right side of his forehead was a fracture about six inches in length. On the floor near the body was a large pressing iron which probably delivered the head wound. On the dead man's cot was a sword scabbard and on a case twenty feet away was the sword itself, wrapped in a bloody cloth. Also, on the floor was a pair of large tailor’s shears which may have been used by Burke trying to fight off his attacker. He was lying on his back with his arms up and fists clenched. There were signs of a severe struggle that must have lasted at least ten minutes.

The motive of the murder was a complete mystery. The first thought was that Burke had fought to defend his employer’s merchandise, but a quick inventory showed that nothing from the shop had been taken. A gold watch that Burke usually wore and the keys to the shop were missing but nothing else. Burke was known to have saved $900, but that remained safely in a bank account. Robbery was ruled out as a motive for the murder.

Bartholomew (aka Patrick) Burke was an Irish immigrant in his early 30s who had worked in the tailor shop for about five years. He was a quiet man with few close friends and was not known to have ever had a disagreement with anyone.  His one vice was a fondness for drink. Dr. Erasmus D. Hudson, whose office was on the same floor as the tailor shop, had once convinced Burke to take a pledge of sobriety, but he would still occasionally go out on a drunken spree. After one such episode, the doctor treated Burke who was in a state bordering on delirium tremens. 

The shop was in a three-story building on the corner of Broadway and White Street. On the first floor was a saddle maker, on the second, were the tailor shop and doctor’s office, and on the third was the residence of John Cabellos and family. In the basement of the building was a saloon where Burke had been drinking the night his murder.

About 9:30 that night, Burke was seen in the saloon drinking with an unknown man. Burke purchased a pot of beer—the third quart he had bought that night—and the two men left with the beer. A woman who sold apples at a stand on Broadway and White saw Burke through a window of the tailor shop at about 11:30, conversing with another man whom she did not recognize. She was the last person, other than the killer, to see him alive.

Evidence at the Coroner’s inquest, held two days after the body was found, was vague and sometimes contradictory. Though the struggle must have been loud and prolonged, no one in the Cabello household in the apartment above had heard a thing. The Cabellos’ servant girl, Harora Leahy, had seen a man knocking on the tailor shop door at about 9:30 but had not seen his face. She heard nothing after that. 

George Benjamin Hooker had heard loud talking from the tailor shop on Tuesday or Wednesday preceding the murder. Through the window, he saw Burke talking with a coworker,  August Reiche (both of whom he recognized and knew by name). Reiche was angry and hit the counter with his fist. Samuel Adams had seen the same thing from his window on White Street, but also could not state whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr. Watson, foreman at Joyce’s shop, had been talking with Burke on Wednesday, remonstrating him about keeping bad company. He said Reiche was not in the store that evening. Bartholomew Burke’s cousin, Thomas Burke, had also seen him on Wednesday night at the bar, drinking with the owner, the bartender and a strange man. He said his cousin had told him that August Reiche was his best friend and his family had always been kind to him. Reiche himself testified that he had not been at the shop any evening that week, had never had angry words with Burke or shaken his fist at him.

William Mars, who tended bar in the basement saloon, said that about 11:00 on the night of the murder, a man came into the bar, called for a drink, and refused to pay for it. He eventually paid but picked up a sixteen-inch knife used for cutting ham in the bar and flourished it in a threatening manner. He left the saloon, still in possession of the knife.

It was never clear whether Burke was killed by the mysterious man seen by various witnesses or even whether they all saw the same man. With no identifiable suspect and no convincing story of the murder, the Coroner’s jury ruled that Bartholomew Burke was murdered by a person or persons unknown. The mayor of New York offered a reward of $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Burke’s killer, but the reward was never collected. The murder of Bartholomew Burke remains one of the city’s great unsolved crimes.

“A Bloody and Atrocious Murder,” Centinel of Freedom, July 22, 1856.
“The Broadway Murder,” The New York Times, July 23, 1856.
“The Broadway Murder Continuation of the Coroner's Investigation the Assassin Still at Large,” New York Herald, July 22, 1856.
Crapsey, Edward, The Nether Side of New York (: Sheldon & Co., 1872.
), 171
“Five Hundred Dollars Reward,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 23, 1856.
“Horrible and Mysterious Murder in Broadway,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, August 2, 1856.
“The Late Murder in Broadway,” New-York Tribune, July 21, 1856.
“News Article,” Daily True American, August 2, 1856.
“A Pleasant Condition of Affairs,” Daily True American, May 16, 1857.

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.