Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Fate of a Seducer.

There was no question that Fanny Windley Hyde killed George W. Watson; it would be up to the jury to decide whether this act was first-degree murder, or if Fanny was “under a weight of grief that could not be resisted.”

Read the full story here: A Weight of Grief

Picture from Illustrated Police News, February 8, 1872.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Caused by Jealousy.

 L.P. Christiansen was the proprietor of the Vienna House in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1888. William E. Bell was the head cook at the hotel until August of that year when Christiansen fired him for paying too much attention to his niece, Annie Christiansen. 

Christiansen was not exactly acting to protect his niece’s virtue; he had eyes for Annie himself. L.P.   scandalized the Vienna house when he left his wife and persuaded Annie to run away with him to Omaha. With her husband gone, Mrs. Christiansen brought back William Bell to help run the hotel. The two soon became intimate, causing further scandal at the Vienna House.

Mrs. Christiansen and William Bell were soon at each other’s throats.  She fired him again and left for Omaha to find her husband. Before she left, Bell told her, “If you bring Christiansen back with you, I’ll kill him.” Despite the warning, Mrs. Christiansen returned to Kansas City with her unfaithful husband.

As soon as Bell learned that Christiansen had returned, he started for the hotel. He was heard muttering, “If he makes a move, I mean to blow him to hell. I’ve stood this razzle long enough and will end it tonight.”

Bell entered the hotel by the rear stairway leading to the second floor and made straight to Christiansen’s room. He drew a 32-caliber bulldog revolver and fired twice— the first shot hit the wall above Christensen’s head, the second struck him in the forehead above the right eye. Mrs. Christiansen opened the door when she heard the first shot, and as her husband fell, bleeding, at her feet, she shrieked, “Oh, God! Will, you are a murderer—you’ve killed my husband!”

Bell ran outside to the pavement and raised the still-smoking revolver to his head. He fired and instantly died. L.P. Christiansen died later that day without regaining consciousness. Mrs. Christensen denied that she had been intimate with Bell and blamed it all on the love of the two men for Annie Christiansen. 

“Caused by Jealousy,” Illustrated Police News, March 23, 1889.
“Double Tragedy,” Cheyenne daily leader, March 10, 1889.
“A Sensational Tragedy,” Daily Inter Ocean, March 10, 1889.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Piper and his Crimes.

Thomas Piper murdered three, including 5-year-old Mabel Young.  

Read the full story here: The Boston Belfrey Tragedy

Saturday, August 7, 2021

A Baltimore Borgia.

Mrs. Elizabeth G. Wharton, widow of Major Henry W. Watson, was a pillar of Baltimore society in 1871. She owned a large house on Hamilton Place, where she lived with her daughter Nellie and two domestic servants. She was active in the Episcopal Church and other charitable organizations and moved in the most highly respectable, wealthy, and influential circles.

She was planning a trip to Europe in July 1871, and that June, Mrs. Wharton entertained several houseguests. On June 23, General William Scott Ketchum, an associate of her late husband and a longtime family friend, arrived at her house intending to stay a few days. The following day, the general was taken sick and was attended by Dr. P.C. Williams. 

As General Ketchum lay ill, Mr. Eugene Van Ness, Mrs. Wharton’s friend and financial advisor, called to spend the evening. She served him a glass of beer, which she said contained a few drops of gentian, a strong tonic to aid digestion. Soon after, Mr. Van Ness became violently ill and had to remain in her house. His physician, Dr. Chew, was summoned to his bedside. 

General Ketchum died on June 28, and his sudden death along with the unexpected illness of Mr. Van Ness raised suspicions of foul play. Ketchum’s friends had his remains removed to Washington, where Professor William Aiken of Maryland University analyzed the contents of his stomach. Dr. Aiken reported that General Ketchum’s stomach contained twenty grains of tartar emetic, a toxic compound—fifteen grains are sufficient to cause death. The police determined that Mrs. Wharton had purchased sixty grains of tartar emetic on June 26.

Gen. William Scott Ketchum
Unaware that General Ketchum has died, Eugene Van Ness was still bedridden at Mrs. Wharton’s home. His doctor prescribed a milk punch which Mrs. Wharton prepared. His wife became suspicious, and before Van Ness could drink the punch, she poured it out and found white sediment in the glass. She had it analyzed and found it was tartar emetic as well.

A warrant was issued against Mrs. Wharton for the murder of General Ketchum and the attempted murder of Mr. Van Ness. Deputy Marshal Jacob Frey managed to catch Mrs. Wharton before she left for Europe, and he put Elizabeth and Nellie Wharton along with their two servants under house arrest. At first, it was believed that the servants were responsible, but on July 15, the Grand Jury indicted Elizabeth Wharton, and she was held in jail without bail.

Mrs. Wharton owed General Ketchum $2,600, and between his death and the time of her arrest, she visited his son and tried to convince him that the debt had been paid and that Ketchum was holding government bonds of hers worth $4,000. Her financial situation was considered to be the motive of the murder.

Others, however, believed that Mrs. Wharton was affected with “poisoning mania” because four people had previously died mysteriously in her household. Her husband and son, both heavily insured, had died several years earlier; her son was exhumed, but no poison was found in his body. Her sister-in-law, Mrs. J. G. Wharton, alleged that her husband and son had been poisoned by Mrs. Wharton. She believed that Elizabeth Wharton had murdered her husband—Elizabeth’s brother—because of a $2,500 debt. 

Mrs. Wharton’s attorneys asserted that she could not get a fair trial in Baltimore and were granted a change of venue. On December 4, 1871, the trial of Elizabeth Wharton for the murder of General William Scott Ketchum opened to a packed courtroom in Annapolis, Maryland. Eighty-nine witnesses were subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution or defense; the majority of these were physicians and chemists who would give expert testimony.

The defense challenged the assertion that the substance in General Ketchum’s stomach was correctly identified and proposed that he may have died from a natural cause, such as cholera morbus or spinal meningitis. The technical testimony on both sides continued for weeks, and more than one newspaper commented on how tedious the trial became. At the trial’s end, the Baltimore Sun said, “Her trial has occupied forty-two days, in which time theories of chemistry and medicine have been exhausted, as well as the law and the practitioners of all three of these learned professions.”

The case was given to the jury on January 24, 1872, and they deliberated throughout the night. At one, they appeared deadlocked at four for conviction and eight for acquittal, but by 10:00 the next morning, they were in agreement and returned a verdict of not guilty.

Mrs. Wharton was acquitted of the murder of General Ketcham, but she was not yet free. The prosecution intended to try her for the attempted murder of Eugene Van Ness and released her on $5,000 bail until the trial the following April. 

The Van Ness trial was continued several times and was not held until January 1873. It lasted nearly a month but did not generate the same excitement as her first trial.  The jury deliberated from January 31 to February 3 before announcing they were hopelessly deadlocked. The trial ended in a hung jury.

In April, the prosecution announced that they would stet the cases, meaning that it was not closed, but they would not pursue it at that time. Mrs. Wharton was never retried.

“Acquitted,” New York Herald, January 25, 1872.
“Alleged Poisoning Case,” Daily dispatch, July 13, 1871.
“A Baltimore Borgia,” Troy Daily Times, July 13, 1871.
“The Baltimore Borgia,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 14, 1871.
“The Baltimore Poisoning Case Mrs,” New York Herald, July 16, 1871.
“The Baltimore Poisoning Cases,” Mercury, July 27, 1871.
“Baltimore's Sensation,” World, July 20, 1871.
“A Defence of Mrs,” Daily Albany Argus, September 27, 1871.
“End of the Wharton Trial,” Annapolis Gazette, February 4, 1873.
“Events of the Day,” Daily Critic, July 12, 1871.
“The Great Poisoning Case,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 4, 1871.
“Poisons And Poisoners The Murderesses of To-day, Lydia Sherman, Mrs,” Sunday Mercury, July 23, 1871.
Wharton, Elizabeth G.. Trial of Mrs. Elizabeth G. Wharton: On the Charge of Poisoning General W. S. Ketchum. United States: Reported and published by the Baltimore Gazette, 1872.
“The Wharton Poisoning Case,” Illustrated Police News, December 21, 1871.
“The Wharton Poisoning Case,” Sun, January 24, 1872.
"William Scott Ketchum," Library of Congress.