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.


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