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.



Source:
“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.

Sources:

“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.”


Sources:

“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.


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