Saturday, September 11, 2021

A Boy Murderer.

On Saturday, May 13, 1882, 16-year-old Thomas McCabe shot his stepmother, Catherine McCabe, in their New York City apartment. The wound to her neck was so serious that Coroner Knox was summoned to take her anti-mortem statement. She dictated her story:

“Shortly after 5 o’clock, I came from the kitchen and was putting oil in my lamp when my stepson, Thomas McCabe, fired a shot at me. I fell on my hands and knees and he said, ‘I done it! I done it!’ I said, ‘Why, Tom; why did you do it?’ He said nothing In reply, but stooped over me and took the contents of my pocket. I said, ‘it’s the money of the Land League,’ of which my husband is an officer. He also took my watch and an opera chain. I than said, ‘Oh, Tom; oh, Tom, don’t take my watch and chain!' He said, ‘I will take It; I want money to leave the city.’ I said, ‘Oh, Tom, don’t leave me, I never will mention your name. I will say I fell if you will only lift me up.’ He said, ‘I am not able,’ Then he left me. I called for help. I was paralyzed and could not get up, but after a long while Mrs. Whaley came In, and my stepson threw the pistol into his uncle’s bed. I saw him do it. When he went out be locked the door. I knew of no reason except that be wanted to rob me, I never had an angry word with him of late.”

Thomas McCabe bought a new suit of clothes with the money he stole from his stepmother, then went to a shooting gallery in the Bowery. He was practicing pistol shooting when the police arrested him.

McCabe had come with his father and stepmother from Ireland about four years earlier. He enjoyed life in New York, “but his tastes did not run in orderly grooves.” He did not like the discipline of school, was often truant, and caused trouble for his teachers and parents. His father would have whipped him many times, but for his stepmother’s intervention—she was thought to be too forbearing with him.

He finally got a job as a messenger for the District Telegraph Company but was often absent from this as well. McCabe was fired from the job but was afraid to tell his parents. Instead, he decided to rob them and leave town. When arrested for shooting his mother, McCabe showed no remorse.

At his trial the following September, Thomas McCabe was represented by William Howe of the firm Howe and Hummel, the most successful criminal lawyers in New York. McCabe’s plea was insanity. Under Howe’s cross-examination, McCabe’s father said Thomas had been weak-minded since birth, and at the James Street School, a Christian Brother had sent him home because he could make no progress with his studies and because he had “head trouble.” He was a boy of very weak intellect and was afflicted with epileptic fits.

Howe was not able to win an acquittal but was able to reduce the charge to second-degree manslaughter. Recorder Smyth, who presided over the case, was unhappy with the verdict and said this to McCabe as he handed down the maximum sentence:

“McCabe, the jury in your case took a more lenient and merciful view of your crime than your cowardly action deserved. They might well have rendered a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree on the evidence, and you would have been at the bar of this Court answering with your life for the life you have taken. You were most ably defended, and you have already had all the protection and mercy that ought be bestowed on you. The sentence of the Court is that you be confined in State Prison for seven years.”


“A Boy Matricide,” New York Herald, September 20, 1882.
“The Boy Murderer Sentenced,” Evening Star, September 29, 1882.
“City News Items,” New York Herald, July 12, 1882.
“Duties Neglected For A Convention,” New York Tribune, September 21, 1882.
“A Fatal Shot,” Evening Bulletin, May 16, 1882.
“Gotham Gossip,” Times-Picayune, May 19, 1882.
“The M'Cabe Trial,” Truth, September 26, 1882.
“Morning Summary,” Daily Gazette, May 15, 1882.
“Seven Years for a Life,” New York Herald, September 30, 1882.
“Shot by Her Stepson,” Cambria Freeman, May 19, 1882.
“Thomas McCabe,” National Police Gazette, June 10, 1882.
“The Trial of Thomas M' Cabe,” New York Herald, September 26, 1882.


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Robert Wilhelm says:
September 16, 2021 at 9:50 AM

Thank you C. Stewart! I'm glad you are enjoying the audiobook. Please consider leaving a short review on Audible.

Maven of Macabre says:
September 17, 2021 at 8:32 AM

I read your blog every week. It is so fascinating to read about homicides from centuries ago. The way crimes were investigated and prosecuted never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for being so dedicated with continuing your content. It is greatly appreciated!

Dazed in Galway says:
August 26, 2023 at 6:01 PM

I'm confused. Did his mother become paraplegic or die? A living criminal named Thomas McCabe is unlawfully at large in the UK or possibly Ireland at the moment.

Robert Wilhelm says:
September 3, 2023 at 8:45 AM

She died, he was convicted of manslaughter..

Dazed in Galway says:
September 3, 2023 at 5:51 PM

Thank you.

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