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.

Francis Gouldy, 50-years-old, was a wealthy retired lumber merchant who lived with his wife, Jane, and five children in a three-story house at 217 West 30th Street. Jane Gouldy was his second wife and the mother of the two youngest children, the eldest children, Francis—known as Frank, Mary Eliza, and Nathaniel were from his first wife.

Frank Gouldy had a reputation as a restless and wild young man. He had been a sailor but grew tired of the sea, was a clerk at a dry-goods store and tired of that as well. At the time of the murder, he was living in idleness in his father’s house, and was the cause of grief to the family due to his “habitual dissipation.” Frank had always been a problem child, sometimes pleasant to his brothers and sisters, but often morose and vengeful with an uncontrollable temper.

Frank had expressed an interested in going into business for himself and his father had set up a bank account for him and deposited $50, with the understanding that the money was not to be touched until Frank started his business. But Frank considered the money to be his unconditionally; he took the bank book from his father’s desk, withdrew $10 and “went on a frolic.” The attacks took place after Francis confronted his son over the theft.

The events of the night of October 26 were pieced together from the testimony of Mary Gouldy who had been in the house but was unharmed, and the most cogent of the victims, Jane Gouldy and Elizabeth Carr. Frank came home at about ten o’clock and his father reprimanded him about the money and Frank responded with “a low chuckling laugh, full of moaning and fiendish wickedness.” Mrs. Gould heard Frank and her husband scuffling in the front room, then he entered her room and as she lay in bed he hit her several times in the head with a dull hatchet. She rose up, trying to ward off the blows then fell to the floor.

Frank passed through the hall to the bedroom of his two brothers but they were not there; they had heard the noise and ran to their father. When h found them, Frank struck them both with the hatchet. Elizabeth Carr and Joanna Murphey heard cries of  “Murder! Murder!” and came running downstairs where they found Frank with a hatchet in his hand. He struck Joanna on the head and she fell to the floor, but Elizabeth was able to wrestle the hatchet away from him. She ran back to her room and he chased after her saying, “Give me the hatchet, Lizzie; I do not wish to kill you, I only wish to escape.” But after wrenching it away from her he gave Lizzie three blows to the head before running away. 

About a minute later she heard a gunshot, and thinking he was firing at her, she ran outside and called for help. Mary Gouldy was also calling for help from her bedroom window. She had come out of her room to see what was going on and she saw Frank striking Joanna Murphy. Mary ran back to her room and locked the door. 

All of the victims were taken to the hospital in critical condition and for a while, it did not appear that any of them would survive. But gradually they recovered from their wounds, and Mrs. Gouldy, who was pregnant at the time of the attack, gave birth to a healthy baby. Only Elizabeth Carr, who had been most active in fighting off her attacker, succumbed. She had suffered a fractured skull and compression of the brain and appeared to be recovering comfortably but on November 12 her condition suddenly changed and she died two days later.

The savage attacks by Frank Gouldy were the subject of an all-but-forgotten song entitled “The Thirtieth Street Murder” by the wandering New York songwriter, Henry S. Backus, better known as the Saugerties Bard.

Written in 1858, "The Thirtieth Street Murder" was recorded in 1961 by June Lazare.

Originally posted August 25, 2018. 


“Coroners' Inquest,” The New York Times, November 16, 1858.
“Horrible Tragedy,” Albany Evening Journal, October 28, 1858.
“Horrible Tragedy in 30th Street,” New York Tribune, October 28, 1858.
“Terrible Tragedy in New York,” Harper's Weekly, November 6, 1858.
"The Thirtieth Street Murder", June Lazare,  Folk Songs of New York City 2, Folkways Records, 1961.
“A Whole Family Murdered by a Son,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 27, 1858.


Ostrich says:
August 25, 2018 at 7:35 PM

That should be "servant", rather than "savant", in that first paragraph, I think.

Unknown says:
September 3, 2018 at 8:18 PM

One wonders what was the usual burial for a murderer and then suicide...was it burial outside the graveyard in a paupers field, cremation and a scattering of the ashes, regular burial, or maybe one without a headstone?

Unknown says:
February 6, 2020 at 11:44 PM

According to an abstract of a NY Times article, the younger Frank Gouldy was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, in the presence of a sexton, the undertaker, and an uncle.

Dannemund says:
June 14, 2022 at 6:29 AM

I listened to your song there and oh my God. No offense but the song is worse than your article (which is informative and useful but not emotionally impacting). I had to turn the song off because it's just---horrifying.

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