Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Dilliard Tragedy.

Around 2:00 AM, the morning of September 6, 1889 Mrs. Margaret Dilliard roused her husband, Arron, saying she heard a noise near the chicken coop of their Beersville, Pennsylvania farm. Aaron was reluctant to go outside, but Margaret insisted, handing him a lantern and a single-barreled shotgun. As Aaron went to investigate, Margaret waited on the porch with their 13-year-old son, Jacob. The chicken coop appeared to be undisturbed, and Aaron started back to the house, but his wife told him to check the cherry tree near the road where the chickens sometimes roosted. Aaron went back to the tree.

Neither Margaret nor Jacob heard a gunshot, but Aaron came stumbling out of the darkness a few minutes later and fell dead at their feet. He had been shot twice, with a bullet through the heart and buckshot in his neck. The killer had apparently used a double-barreled shotgun.

It was first believed that chicken thieves had shot Aaron Dilliard, but Detectives Johnson and Simons, who arrived from Easton, Pennsylvania later that day, quickly dismissed that theory. There were several indications that Dilliard’s death had been the result of a well-laid plan.  Though Margaret and Jacob heard no gunshots, neighbors half a mile away did hear them. Examining Aaron’s gun, the detectives found that the firing pin had been removed, rendering it useless. The detectives found no trace of intruders near the chicken coop, but by the cherry tree, they found footprints, a set of keys, and a paper wad from the killer’s gun.

Margaret Dilliard
Detectives Johnson and Simon believed that Margaret Dilliard was involved in a plot to murder her husband, but the prime suspect for the man who pulled the trigger was William Bartholomew, who, for several years, had an intimate relationship with Mrs. Dilliard. Bartholomew’s daughter recognized the keys as belonging to her father. She also said he had left the house after midnight while he said he was in all night. The paper wad found at the scene was torn from a copy of the Northampton Democrat found in Bartholomew’s house.  Bartholomew’s boots perfectly matched the footprints hear the scene.

William Bartholomew was a particularly unpleasant man. “A slouchy, unkempt, repulsive looking man of about 50 years,” said the Pittsburg Dispatch. “He has a forbidding appearance,” said the Philadelphia Inquirer, “He has the low forehead, snaky eyes, and general makeup of a felon.” Several years earlier, the Dilliards lived near Bartholomew and his wife, and William began an intimate relationship with Margaret Dilliard, who was twelve years younger. They made little effort to hide their romance, causing frequent quarrels in both households. Aaron moved his family to a farm three miles away, and for a time, the romance ceased.

William Bartholomew
In 1888, Mrs. Bartholomew became ill, and as she lay dying, she called for her husband, but he said that he did not have time to see her. When she died, he did not attend her funeral. It was rumored that William had poisoned his wife.

After his wife’s death, William resumed his relationship with Margaret Dilliard, and three or four times a week, he made the three-mile trip to see her. Sometimes he would stay overnight; it was impossible to hide their infidelity since everyone slept in one room. Jacob testified that Bartholomew often came to the house when his father was away and would give him candy and peanuts and send him to the store for tobacco. Aaron complained to his neighbors about Bartholomew’s behavior, and at the time of the murder, he was planning to move the family west.

Margaret Dilliard denied any involvement in the murder, but at her husband’s funeral, she had a change of heart and confessed all to the presiding minister. At the inquest, she testified against Bartholomew. She said he would not leave her alone, and she did not like it. But when Bartholomew proposed they kill her husband, she agreed. He removed the firing pin from her husband’s shotgun and told her to say she did not hear the gunshots. 

William Bartholomew and Margaret Dilliard were both arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The following October they were tried separately; both were found guilty and sentenced to hang. In exchange for her testimony against Bartholomew, the District Attorney promised to use all his influence with the governor to save her from the gallows. In January 1890, he made good on his promise, and her sentence was commuted to life in prison.

On April 9, 1890, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania executed four men in four separate cities. Eight hundred people watched as William Bartholomew stood on the gallows in Easton. His last words were declarations of innocence mixed with curses and blasphemy, demanding that Mrs. Dilliard and Detective Johnson be hanged as well. 

“Bartholomew Found Guilty,” Patriot, October 23, 1889.
“Details of the Crime,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 12, 1889.
“The Dilliard Murder William Bartholomew Arrested for Committing the Fould Deed,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 9, 1889.
“Four Hanged,” Evening World, April 9, 1890.
“Guilty Love Fired the Shot,” New York Herald, September 8, 1889.
“Hangman's Day,” Erie Times-News, April 9, 1890.
“He Caused the Murder,” Aberdeen Daily News, September 8, 1889.
“Her Death Sentencce,” Daily Yellowstone journal, January 14, 1890.
“Mrs,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 10, 1889.
“Mrs Dillard Sentenced,” Patriot, December 10, 1889.
“Mrs Dilliard Arrested,” Patriot, September 11, 1889.
“A Murder Confessed ,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 11, 1889.
“A Murder Near Beersville,” Patriot, September 7, 1889.
“Mysterious Murder Washington Dilliard Looks for Midnight Thieves and is Shot,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 7, 1889.
“News and Other Notings,” Cambria freeman, December 20, 1889.
“Not So Mysterious,” Pittsburg Dispatch, September 8, 1889.
“Remorse of a Guilty Woman,” New York Herald, September 13, 1889.
“State News Notes,” Patriot, January 24, 1890.
“State News Notes,” Patriot, March 12, 1890.


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