Saturday, November 6, 2021

Hamilton Y. Jones, Detective.

In September 1886, a railroad depot opened outside of Marshall, Illinois, where the Cairo, Vincennes & Chicago line crossed the Vandalia Line. The station agent and operator was George Powers, a popular young man from Marshall. On September 12, Powers was working all night, and three of his friends decided to spend the night with him. They changed their minds, and when the midnight CV&C train stopped, they boarded and returned to Marshall. Powers sat down at the telegraph operator’s table and began writing a letter to his mother.

At 8:00 the next morning, George Powers’s dead body was found lying under the table with a bullet wound in the side of his head. A hole in the window near the table indicates that the shot was fired from outside. The murderer then broke out a back window, sash and all, and entered the room. Powers was still alive, and a fearful struggle ensued. His hands were covered with mud as if he had caught hold of the killer’s boots. The killer then beat Powers’s brains out with a club.

The killer rifled through Powers’s trunk and turned his pockets inside out, but the only thing taken was his pocket watch. The description of the stolen watch was remarkably detailed: a silver open-face watch, No. 14,122, with case No. 15,399, Hoyt movement, key winder. That day, $1,000 was raised to prosecute the search for the killer.

The killer or killers were believed to have been among a group of tramps seen around Marshall that week. Their identity remained unknown until September 14, when someone from Marshall recognized them in St. Louis. William. Lyons, alias Kerr, John J. Schanner, William Staab, and William Gagon were arrested on suspicion but later released.

The early afternoon of October 26, Chief of Police Phillips of Springfield, Illinois, received the following dispatch:

Lincoln, Ill., October 26 – Arrest a man, smooth face, black overcoat, black stiff hat, low heavy set. Wanted for murder. On freight due at 2:30 this p.m.


Though the police did not know who Jones was, they arrested the described man as he descended from a boxcar. The man said his name was Martin Cratty, and among his effects were letters and papers addressed to that name. One letter, signed Kittie O’Brien, was suspicious. It spoke of a scheme and said Cratty had been recommended as one who could do the work and keep it secret. 

When the 3:50 passenger train arrived from the north, the police learned the identity of Mr. Jones, and they were none too happy. It was Hamilton Y. Jones, a self-styled detective that they knew well. “He is a notoriously hard character,” said the Daily Illinois State Journal, “and is as familiar with the walls of our county jails as he is with a drink of whiskey, and that is putting it pretty strong.” 

Jones produced a warrant for the arrest of A.C. Kerr and stated that Martin Cratty was an alias. He was wanted for the murder of George Powers in Marshall. Jones claimed that Cratty had pawned Powers’s watch in Lincoln the previous day. Cratty claimed he had purchased the watch from a jeweler in Bloomington and had the dealer’s certificate at home. Jones said he had been working the case for over a month and had captured the killer. From the State Journal again, “Hamilton, however, is a liar of proportions that Baron Munchausen never dreamed of and is a man whom the police regard as a sneak thief and petty crook of the worst stripe.” The police tended to believe Cratty’s story, but to be on the safe side, they held him in jail.

Jones left but planned to return on October 30 to take charge of the prisoner and return to Marshall. In the meantime, the police recovered the pawned watch and found it was not Powers’s—it had a Millan movement, not a Hoyt movement, and neither of the numbers matched. Cratty’s stepfather arrived in Springfield with a statement from Cratty’s employer proving he was in Bloomington at the time of the murder. 

Hamilton Jones returned to Springfield on October 30, and as soon as he entered the police station, he was arrested for the false imprisonment of Martin Cratty. Cratty was released, and Jones occupied his old cell.

When his investigations began, Hamilton Jones convinced authorities in Marshall that he was on the right track. They furnished him with $15 cash, a pair of handcuffs, and a good revolver. From time to time during his travels, Jones telegraphed for more money which Marshall provided. On November 12, Jones was arrested in Marshall for securing money under false pretense.

On December 15, Hamilton Y. Jones was arrested again in Springfield on an unrelated matter. He was charged with impersonating a United States Post Office Inspector and stealing mail. This time he would serve a term in the penitentiary.

The murder of George Powers remained unsolved.

“'A Dungeon Cell'", Daily Illinois State Register, October 30, 1886.
“Arrested for the Powers Murder,” Chicago Daily News, October 27, 1886.
“Deeds of Blood,” Juneau County Argus, September 23, 1886.
“A Foul Murder,” Daily Illinois State Journal, September 14, 1886.
“Hamilton Y Jones' Vagaries,” Daily Inter Ocean, December 16, 1886.
“Illinois,” Indianapolis Journal, November 11, 1886.
“Martin Cratty,” Daily Illinois State Register, October 29, 1886.
“Minor Mention,” Daily Illinois State Register, November 12, 1886.
“A Mysterious Murder,” National Police Gazette, October 2, 1886.
“News Article,” Daily Illinois State Journal, October 28, 1886.
“A Rough Experience,” Daily Illinois State Journal, October 27, 1886.
“See Saw, See Saw,” Daily Illinois State Journal, October 30, 1886.


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