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?”

“No.”

“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.'"

3 comments :

Gary W. Wilson says:
July 11, 2020 at 11:00 PM

Thanks so much for another awesome post!!! Keep up the excellent work because we really do appreciate your well written articles!


Gary W. Wilson

Gaslight says:
July 12, 2020 at 11:57 AM

Thank you Gary! I do appreciate the feedback.

James says:
July 17, 2020 at 8:34 AM

Wow, very interesting. Keep the great articles coming!

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