Saturday, June 25, 2022

Murder by Mail.

Mrs. Cordelia Botkin
On Tuesday, August 9, 1898, Mrs. Ida Deane held a dinner party for friends and family in Dover, Delaware. After dinner, they all retired to the front porch and passed around a box of chocolates provided by Ida’s sister, Mrs. Mary Dunning. Shortly after retiring, Mrs. Deane complained of feeling sick to the stomach. After the usual household remedies proved ineffective, the family sent for a doctor. Several others complained of stomach illness which grew steadily worse.

Ida Deane died on Thursday. By Friday, four other members of the party were dead, including Mary Dunning. The cause appeared to be some form of food poisoning, but only those who ate the candy were stricken, the rest experienced no illness. A chemist analyzed the chocolates and found that they contained a large amount of arsenic, with some grains as large as coffee grounds.

Mrs. Dunning received the candy in Tuesday’s mail, and she did not know who had sent it at the time. The package also included a  handkerchief and a note which read:

With love to yourself and your baby, Mrs. C

The postmark was smeared but appeared to say, San Francisco, California. This was a useful clue, as Mrs. Dunning had lived for a time in San Francisco.

Both Mary Dunning and Ida Deane were daughters of former congressman John B. Penington. He took charge of affairs for the family, and his prominence prompted serious investigation in Delaware and California. The Secret Service joined the search and the governor of Delaware offered a $2,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the sender of the poisoned candy.

The San Francisco police began their own investigation, but many in Delaware, including Ida’s husband, Joshua Deane, believed that the poison was added after the package arrived in Dover. Though Deane was thoroughly convinced that the crime was the work of someone closer to home, Penington had reason to believe that the poisoner was in San Francisco.

Mary Dunning’s husband, John P. Dunning, a reporter for the Associated Press, was in Puerto Rico at the time of the murder reporting on the war in Cuba. He left for Delaware as soon as possible. John and Mary Dunning had lived together in San Francisco, but there appeared to be stress in the marriage. He was away on overseas assignments for long periods. Around 1895, Mary returned to Delaware and lived with her parents.

After his wife left, John Dunning’s fortunes began to falter. He lost his position with Associated Press and began spending time at the racetrack, racking up severe losses. He had been seen in the company of three married women in San Francisco—Mrs. Seely, Mrs. Abrogast, & Mrs. Botkin. He was particularly close to Mrs. Cordelia Botkin, a former vaudeville actress, estranged from her husband. She often accompanied Dunning to the racetrack and gave him a room in her house. His fortunes reversed again. He had regained his position at Associated Press and planned to return to his wife after covering the war in Cuba.

When Dunning arrived in Dover from Puerto Rico, he had a long meeting with his father-in-law and brother-in-law and later with the Attorney General. Dunning would not talk to the press, but newspapers reported that he identified the handwriting on the note as Cordelia Botkin’s, confirming what the state’s handwriting experts contended.

John Pennington had a collection of anonymous letters that had been sent to Mary Dunning informing her of her husband’s connection with Cordelia Botkin. One theory of the murder said that Botkin was angry that Dunning planned to return to his wife. Another theory said that two women were in love with Dunning; one killed Dunnings’s wife and threw suspicion on the other.

The San Francisco police uncovered a web of circumstantial evidence against Cordelia Botkin. Drug store clerks said they had sold her arsenic. Clerks at Haas’ candy store identified Mrs. Botkin as a woman who bought candy there. The poisoned chocolates were Haas’ put into a box of candy from Wave Confections. The clerk at Wave remembered the unusual transaction of adding her own candy to their box and identified Mrs. Botkin as the customer. A clerk at the City of Paris store remembered selling Mrs. Botkin a handkerchief similar to the one in the package.

Mrs. Botkin at her second trial.
The grand jury in Delaware indicted Cordelia Botkin for murder in Dover, and Delaware authorities attempted to have her extradited for trial. However, they had trouble drafting a request that the governor of California could agree to, and her attorneys questioned the right of California to extradite her to a state where she had never set foot. Finally, they indicted her for trial in San Francisco.

Her trial for the murder of Mary Dunning began on December 5, 1899, and lasted a month and a half. The jury found Cordelia Botkin guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced her to life in San Quentin Penitentiary.

Botkin continued to profess innocence and immediately began an appeal. The appeal process took four years and ultimately ended with the U.S. Supreme Court granting her a new trial due to errors in the judge’s instructions to the jury.

She was tried again in March 1904 and was, once again, found guilty. It was reported that nine members of the jury at first favored hanging before ultimately agreeing to a life sentence.

“Botkin Defense Maligns Living and Dead to Account for Poison,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 24, 1904.
“Botkin Extradition Papers,” Oregonian, October 2, 1898.
“Death in Candy,” Middletown transcript, August 13, 1898.
“Death of Mrs. J.P. Dunning,” The Wilmington daily Republican, August 13, 1898.
“The Dover Case,” Evening journal, August 22, 1898.
“Family Poisoned by Candy,” Evening journal, August 12, 1898.
“Grand Jury Acts in Botkin Case,” St. Louis Republic, October 29, 1898.
“Law's Net for Two Women,” The Wilmington daily Republican, August 23, 1898.
“Life Imprisonment,” Paducah sun, April 8, 1904.
“Mr. Dunning Gives No Clue,” The Wilmington daily Republican, August 22, 1898.
“Mrs. Botkin Plans a Desperate Defense,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 26, 1898.
“Mrs. Botkin Will fight for Liberty,” Oakland Tribune, August 26, 1898.
“Mrs. Botkins' Arrest,” Evening journal, August 24, 1898.
“Mrs. Dunning Dead,” Evening journal, August 13, 1898.
“A Mysterious Letter,” Evening journal, August 18, 1898.
“New Trial for Mrs. Botkin,” Jersey Journal, August 17, 1900.
“Reward For Poisoner,” Evening journal, August 19, 1898.
“Sentenced for Life,” Daily Ardmoreite, February 7, 1899.
“State Has a Clue,” The Wilmington daily Republican, August 20, 1898.
“Women are Watched,” The Wilmington daily Republican, August 24, 1898.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Meierhoffer Murder.


Who murdered John Meierhoffer of Orange, New Jersey? Was it his estranged wife Margaret, or her lover, Frank Lammens?

Read the full story here: Who Shot Meierhoffer?

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Murdered in Church.

Ferdinand Hoffman, a German immigrant, arrived in Canton, Ohio, in 1864. There he met Caroline Yost, and after a brief courtship, he proposed to her. Caroline’s parents opposed the marriage because they did not trust Hoffman and knew nothing of his background. Predictably, their opposition only drove Caroline closer to Ferdinand, and the couple eloped.

The Yosts' suspicions of Hoffman’s character proved justified. Before coming to Canton, Hoffman was an “unprincipled vagabond” who engaged in counterfeiting and horse stealing. Caroline learned firsthand of his bad character when he began to abuse her and engage in criminal activities. He was caught stealing from her father and sentenced to prison, but he was released early when he agreed to join an Ohio regiment fighting for the Union. He soon deserted and returned home with a head wound that he claimed resulted from a rebel guerilla gunshot. It was later revealed that he received the wound in a Cincinnati gambling hell.

Hoffman was arrested again in 1866 for counterfeiting and sentenced to a year in prison. Caroline had enough, and she did not wait for him. She obtained a divorce, and by court decree, she restored her maiden name.

On his release from prison in October 1867, Hoffman returned to Canton and looked for his wife. Caroline managed to avoid him until Sunday, October 13, when he followed her into the German Reformed Church. Caroline hurried to the choir gallery, then behind the belfry door. Hoffman broke in and demanded that she return to him. She refused. Then he asked for a kiss, and she agreed out of fear.

Hoffman put his arms around her, then pulled out a Bowie knife and stabbed her in the chest and abdomen. Caroline screamed and fell to the floor. Hoffman continued stabbing, inflicting eighteen wounds. Women screamed and men shouted as Hoffman fled the church, his hands still covered with the blood of his victim.

Outside the church, a crowd of men pursued Hoffman as he tried to reach the railroad. They caught him and were ready to lynch him when some prominent citizens intervened and took Hoffman to jail.

The tip of Hoffman’s knife had broken off when his first thrust struck bone, and the following stabs were not as damaging as they would have been if the blade were intact. Caroline was taken to her father’s house, where her wounds were dressed, but she remained in critical condition. The police waited to see if she would recover before charging Hoffman. In jail, he expressed no remorse, declaring his regrets that he did not kill his ex-wife on the spot. 

Caroline lingered for nearly a week, never losing consciousness, but she died the following Saturday. Hoffman was charged with murder. The next morning, the jailer found Hoffman dead in his cell. He had fashioned a noose from a bed sheet and hanged himself. They left him hanging and opened the jail doors to the public. A constant stream of people passed through that afternoon to see the dead killer.

“An Atrocious Murderous Assault,” National Police Gazette, November 9, 1867.
“A Bloody Tragedy,” Canton Repository, October 16, 1867.
“The Canton Horror,” Gold Hill daily news, November 11, 1867.
“Death of Caroline Yost,” Canton Repository, October 23, 1867.
“Dreadful Murder At Canton,” Plain Dealer, October 15, 1867.
“A Horrible Deed,” Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1867.
“News Summary,” Weekly Marysville Tribune, October 30, 1867.

Friday, June 10, 2022


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Saturday, June 4, 2022

Tragedy on 30th Street.

Residents of West 30th Street, New York City, were startled on the night of October 26, 1858, when a servant ran from the house in her nightclothes, screaming, “Help! Help! Oh, my God! Frank is murdering the whole family. Rouse the neighbors!”

Read the full story here: The Thirtieth Street Murder.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Neosho Murder.

Lewis Wright was an Indian trader who smuggled whiskey across the border between Missouri and Indian Territory. On December 19, 1871, he left Neosho, Missouri with a loaded wagon, that was owned and driven by Sam Smith of Granby, Missouri. The following day, Smith returned to Neosho alone with the empty wagon. 

Smith spent the next two days drinking in Neosho. He was trying to sell a gold watch and chain but a young lady recognized both the watch and the boots Smith was wearing as the property of her fiancĂ©, Lewis Wright. Smith told a rambling story about what had happened on their trip; she didn’t buy it and accused Smith of murdering Wright.

When Wright’s black velveteen hat, covered with blood, was found in a field in McDonald County, her suspicions of foul play were confirmed. Smith had left town and police in Neosho organized a posse to look for him. They went to the home of Rocky Smith, Sam’s father, and began a search of the property. They found a bloody blanket and wagon cloth soaking in a tub. The wagon had blood across the wheel and the front portion of the box had recently been sawed off. 

Rocky Smith professed ignorance of the crime, saying his son told him he had a nosebleed in the wagon, and he sawed off the end of the box because it was broken. The posse then employed a “strangling process” to get the old man to talk. He was hung by the neck, to the brink of death, five times before confessing to knowledge of the crime.

They went to the mouth of an old mine shaft where they believed the Smiths had thrown the body. By now a crowd of over a hundred men had gathered to watch as a man with his foot in a loop of rope fished the mine shaft with grappling hooks. The search was successful and Lewis Wright’s body was pulled out of the shaft. He had a great purple wound through the forehead into his matted hair.

The posse took Rocky Smith to jail and began the search for his son. The following day they found Sam Smith in Marshfield, Missouri. When he refused to surrender, one of the men shot and killed him. "Thus has been brought to a tragic end, a misspent life."

“Letter from Mr. Bliss,” Mineral Point Weekly Tribune, January 4, 1872.
“Murder of an Indian Trader,” Commercial Advertiser, December 27, 1871.
“The Neosho Murder,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 25, 1871.
“Thrilling Search for the Body of a Murdered Man in McDonald Co, Mo.,” Illustrated Police News, January 4, 1872.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Mashing Murderer Maxwell.

National Police Gazette, June 5, 1886.

A young woman attempted to flirt with Hugh Brooks (alias Walter Maxwell) at his 1886 murder trial in St. Louis, Missouri. She was barking up the wrong tree—Brooks was accused of murdering his male lover and stuffing his corpse in a trunk.

Read the full story here: The St. Louis Trunk Tragedy.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Shot by His Sister-in-Law.

In 1871, Patrick Sullivan lived with his brother James and sister-in-law Jane, in Bay Point, California. As they sat down to dinner on Saturday, October 28, James noticed a coldness between his brother and Jane. As the dinner progressed, some unpleasant words passed between Jane and Patrick. James paid it no mind and after dinner, he went outside. As Patrick rose from the table, Jane grabbed a shotgun placed the muzzle within inches of his head, and fired. 

Jane Sullivan was arrested for murder and held on $5,000 bail. At the inquest, she told her side of the story. On three different occasions, Patrick “attempted to take undue liberties of the most insulting character.” The night before the murder Patrick entered the bedroom and attempted outrage, but Jane fought him off. The next morning, he tried again, and she defended herself with a butcher knife. He said if she told James he would kill her. 

The Daily Inter Ocean said, “She bore her burning mortification and indignation in silence until it could no longer be endured and then sought relief in the fatal avenging act.” 

The Illustrated Police News had a different point of view: “The women of the interior of California possess an Amazonian spirit, which is partly owing to the wilderness of their surrounding and partly to the lack of proper training. We sincerely hope Mrs. Sullivan may suffer the full penalty of her crime without regard to her sex.”

 “Antioch Items,” Daily Evening Herald, November 4, 1871.
“A California Tragedy,” Daily Inter Ocean, November 20, 1871.
“A Man Shot by his Sister-in-Law at Bay Point California,” Illustrated Police News, November 16, 1871.
“Murder,” Evening Termini, November 2, 1871.
“Pacific Coast Items,” Sacramento Daily Union, October 30, 1871.
“Pacific Coast,” Commercial Advertiser, October 31, 1871.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

The Codman Murder.


James Nowlen murdered George Codman by cutting his throat from behind. Then he chopped the body into pieces which he threw into the snow as traveled down the road in his sleigh.

Read the full story here: Massachusetts Butchery.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

The Nathan Murder.

A mysterious intruder brutally murdered Benjamin Nathan in his room while his family and servants slept soundly, hearing nothing. The luxurious Manhattan home was the scene of a classic locked-room mystery. Though theories of the murder abounded, none could be proved and the 1870 murder of Nathan remains one of New York City’s great unsolved crimes.

Read the full story here: Who Killed Benjamin Nathan?

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Shot Man and Wife.

William and Jeanette Nibsh, aged 72 and 70, lived in the outskirts of Ironton, Pennsylvania. The couple had six children, eighteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. William was retired from work in the iron mines, and they were spending their twilight years in a one-story log cabin.

On November 18, 1891, their neighbor, William Keck, aged 50, stopped by for a visit. He was carrying a double-barreled shotgun and said he had been out shooting. They invited him to stay for dinner, and Keck accepted. After dinner, William was sitting by the window watching the chickens when, without provocation, Keck grabbed his shotgun and emptied one barrel into William’s back. Jeannette ran from the house screaming, and Keck dragged her back into the cabin, threw her on the floor, and fired the second barrel into her head. 

She died immediately, but William was still alive. Keck went to the woodpile, seized an axe, and struck William on the side of the head. Though badly wounded, William was able to wrestle the axe away from him. Keck grabbed a piece of firewood and beat William unconscious. 

A few days earlier, Keck had borrowed twenty-five cents from William Nibsh and saw that there was more money in a bedroom drawer. After knocking William unconscious, Keck went to the drawer and took all the money—six dollars, mostly in silver. Relations between Keck and the Nibsh family had always been friendly; robbery appeared to be the only motive for the murder.

Keck left the cabin and stopped to buy some coal before going home. He paid with silver coins, believed to be from the stolen money.

When William regained consciousness, he began crawling to the house of his neighbor, Mr. Druckenmiller, about a hundred yards away. He arrived at the door about two hours after the murder. Druckenmiller spread the word, and a party of men went back to the Nipsh cabin. They found that Keck had returned, possibly to look for more money. The men grabbed him and held him under guard until policemen from the city could arrive.

Before the police arrived, a vigilance committee of at least a hundred men amassed at the cabin and took Keck outside, intending to hang him from the nearest tree. Mrs. Joseph Masonheimer, daughter of the victims, intervened and persuaded the men not to wreak their vengeance on the murderer but to let the law punish him. The police came and took him to jail in Allentown. 

William Keck had a bad reputation in Lehigh County and had served several terms in jail. Most recently, he was sentenced to six months in Easton Jail for threatening to kill his wife and daughter. He claimed he was innocent of the Nibsh assault and murder, but when brought to jail, he begged the police to shoot him and end his miserable life.

Under heavy guard, Keck was taken back to Ironton for the coroner’s inquest. William Nibsh, still in serious condition, was sworn in to testify. With great deliberation, he kissed the Bible, then, pointing to Keck, said, “This is the man who shot me, struck and hit me with a club and axe and shot and killed my wife.” Nibsh died shortly after testifying. Keck was charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

When Keck’s trial began the following January, the vigilance committee had grown to 200 men, and they occupied seats in the courtroom. They made it known that should the verdict be acquittal, they would mob both Keck and the jury. Keck was still pleading not guilty and now claimed that William Nibsh shot his wife and attempted to shoot Keck. Keck then killed Mibsh in self-defense. When the jury came back, the vigilantes did not have to mob anyone—the verdict was guilty of first-degree murder.

After an appeal and a temporary reprieve to go before the board of pardons—both of which failed—William Keck was sentenced to hang on November 11, 1892. On November 10, Keck cheated the gallows; the guard found him lying dead in his cell. There were no marks of violence and no traces of poison, so the coroner’s jury found that Keck had died of “nervous prostration superinduced by the fear and terror of execution imminent.”

A week later, after a toxicological examination of Keck’s body, the jury had to revise their verdict. Keck had died from ingesting arsenic, probably smuggled in by one of the relatives or friends who visited the jail before the scheduled hanging. They now called the cause of death “arsenical poison, self-administered with suicidal intent.” The jury blamed laxity of prison discipline and called for prompt action and reform.

“Almost a Lynching,” Daily intelligencer, November 20, 1891.
“An Aged Woman Murdered,” Watertown Daily Times, November 19, 1891.
“Daughter's Act,” Evening Herald, November 20, 1891.
“Died of Arsenic, Not Fright,” Pittsburg Dispatch, November 20, 1892.
“Jury and Prisoner to be Mobbed,” Freeland Tribune, January 7, 1892.
“Keck Cheated the Gallows,” Evening Herald, November 11, 1892.
“Keck Murder Trial,” Patriot, January 11, 1892.
“Keck's Poisonous Dose,” Freeland Tribune, November 28, 1892.
“Murderer Keck Convicted,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 15, 1892.
“Murderer Keck in Great Glee,” Patriot, September 2, 1892.
“A Murderer Narrowly Esca[es Lynch,” Patriot, November 20, 1891.
“Nibch Dies from Wound,” Patriot, November 30, 1891.
“The Nipsh Murder,” Patriot, November 23, 1891.
“Shot Man and Wife,” National Police Gazette, December 12, 1891.
“Wife Dead, Husband Dying,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November 20, 1891.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Rare Photo of America's Youngest Serial Killer.

This week we have a guest post from Donna Wells, a former employee of the Boston Police Department who made a rare discovery—a previously unknown photograph of “The Boston Boy Fiend,” Jesse Pomeroy.

Discovery of Previously Unknown Photograph of America’s Youngest Serial Killer, Jesse Pomeroy

I have a very strange story to tell you. I call it my strange little serial killer story… My name is Donna Wells. I graduated in 1997 from Simmons College in Boston with a master’s degree in library and information science. Several months later, I accepted a position with the Boston Police Department as their first records manager and archivist. I was tasked with establishing and managing the Department’s records management program and also with the day-to-day running of the Department’s records center and archives. I served in this position until 2007 when I took early retirement due to health and personal reasons.

Jesse Pomeroy Carte de Visite
During the time that I was with the Department, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the history of the Department and Boston crimes. 

I now live in Central Maine with my husband. I am disabled, but I buy jewelry, buttons, and other items at auctions, flea markets, and thrift stores and sell them on eBay.  

One day, some time ago, I grabbed a tin of buttons from the shelf and took it downstairs to sort. I opened the tin and, lying on top of the buttons, was an old envelope, all folded up. There was nothing written on the envelope, so I opened it and inside there was an old photograph (a carte de visite) of a young boy. He was kind of creepy looking because the irises of his eyes appeared to be without color – they were a dead white. I put the photograph aside and continued with the buttons. Over the next several days, I was drawn back to the photograph over and over again. It just seemed like I should know who this was – that I had seen a similar image somewhere. And there was something tickling my brain, something about a white eye. 

As I was looking at the picture one day, it just came to me about a book that told the story of a young Boston serial killer that I had read when I was with the Department about a young man who had committed some truly horrifying acts—about a young man who had at least one white eye— I couldn’t remember the name of the book or his name, but I googled “Boston serial killer 1800s,” and Jesse Pomeroy came at the top of the list.

When fourteen-year-old Jesse Pomeroy was arrested in 1874 for the murder of Horace Millen, he was thought to have tortured at least six children and tortured and murdered two more. The two murder victims, ten-year-old Katie Curran and four-year-old Horace Millen had both been stabbed and nearly decapitated. Katie also had a fractured skull and several broken bones. Horace had also been nearly castrated, had one eyeball deeply pierced, and been set on fire. The victims that had managed to survive his attacks had suffered whippings, stabbings, beatings, which included broken noses and split lips, vicious bites to the face and buttocks, attempted castration, and attempted scalping. At the time of his arrest for Horace Millen’s murder, Jesse’s reputation in Boston as the “Boy Torturer” was firmly established. 

In the course of my research, I found out that the title and author of the book I had read was Fiend: The Shocking True Story of America’s Youngest Serial Killer by Harold Schechter. I no longer possessed a copy of the Schechter book because I had donated it to the BPD Records Center & Archives. I know my successor at the archives, Margaret Sullivan, so I called her and told her my story. I sent her a scan of the image that I had found and asked her to compare it with the drawing in the book. Margaret thought that the image could be Jesse. She pointed me to some resources, and I dove back into the internet.

On the back of my photograph, there is a partial photographer’s name. The last name is Dunshee, and there is an address given as 323 Washington Street, Boston. There is also what I assume is the date of the print – 1875 in the lower left corner. There is a very useful database online that lists Boston’s photographers and provides the dates that they would have been at a particular address. The approximate dates that this database gives for when E.S. Dunshee was at the address on the back of my photo are 1873-1874.


I had ordered another copy of the Schechter book and had read it again to see if I could find anything that would help me to authenticate the photograph. On page 92, I found a quote from a journalist from the Boston Herald:

“He does not look like a youth actuated by the spirit of a fiend, and, with the exception of a peculiarity about the eyes, he has no marked expression in his face from which one might read the spirit within. The idea that he is insane is not supported, except by the extraordinary character of his conduct.” 

Contrary to what many reporters of the time of the murders claimed, the image in my photograph does not show a wild-eyed lunatic, neither is there any indication of the monster that he could become, but shows a seemingly normal, although sad and confused, boy with, admittedly, very strange eyes. Looking at my photograph, I am forced to speculate that Jesse’s very normality made it possible for him to succeed in deceiving and assaulting his victims. I mean, if he truly looked like a monster, he would not have been able to get close to his victims.

In my photograph, there does not seem to be any great differences in the visible portions of his actual eyeballs, however, because the photograph is black and white, any differences of color between his irises would not be obvious. I have examined the image under magnification, and the only difference that I can detect is a slightly more “flattish” look to the iris of his right eye. There are, however, several much more obvious external differences – his right eye is more slanted and smaller than his left. Also, there is a dark area around his right eye. It appears to be a bruise of some kind, but whatever it was, it was permanent because it remains in all of the future photographs of Jesse. In later photographs, he does appear to have developed some kind of clouding of his right eye, but in my early photograph, that is not evident.

     1870s Drawing -- Found Photograph

There are some pretty striking similarities between my photograph and the drawing of Jesse that is reproduced in the Schechter book. The pose is the same. The hairstyles are identical. The costume is similar. I speculate that the artist who created the drawing might have depicted Jesse in a collar-less shirt without the bowtie of my image because he didn’t want Jesse to look too “normal.” The features, especially the shape of the ears, jaw, and nose, are alike. The eyes are very similar, except the artist had drawn Jesse’s right eye as clouded. Perhaps Jesse’s right eye had become clouded by the time that the artist drew his portrait. However, I believe that it is an inescapable conclusion that the drawing was based on another copy of my photograph. The photograph of Jesse in 1920 that is in the Schechter book is probably the best to compare with the earlier photograph. Following is the text of an email from Harold Schechter in response to my email to him: 

Dear Donna--

    My agent forwarded your email to me.

    After closely studying your photograph, I think you may, in fact, have found an early portrait of Jesse Pomeroy. I base that conclusion by comparing it not only to the newspaper engraving of the adolescent Pomeroy reproduced in my book but on the photograph of the elder Jesse that served as the frontispiece of his 1920 book of poems, which I've attached. Take a close look at the right eye in both your photo and the later one: they are virtually identical--weirdly shaped, slightly slanted, distinctly different from the left, and surrounded by a strange dark shadow as if he had a permanent shiner.

    It's an exciting find, and I would certainly consider writing it up and trying to get it published somewhere. Thanks for sharing it with me, and let me know if I can be of further help. Best, Harold S.

Jesse Pomeroy, 1920

I hired Maureen Taylor, a nationally-known historical photograph expert, to assess the photograph. I told her my story and emailed her high-resolution images of the photograph. She replied, saying that it was “an 1870s image of a man in a pretty typical suit for the period [and that] the card stock used agrees with that time period.“ She added that it was “an incredible random find [and] an astonishing discovery!”   

I am still, even now, pretty freaked out about the fact that this photograph, a previously unknown photograph and the only known photograph of Jesse during the period in which he was active, ended up in my buttons, given the fact that I am probably one of the few people who might be able to recognize the subject.

Donna Wells can be reached at for questions and comments. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

A Triple Tragedy.

Martin and Mary Curley ran a small saloon connected to their house in Broderick Patch, Pennsylvania, about three miles west of Wilke-Barre. The morning of December 29, 1890, Mary’s mother was bringing some soap to help her daughter do laundry when she saw John Thralle (sometimes spelled Tirello or Tralla), a Hungarian immigrant, enter the barroom.  Five minutes later she heard a pistol shot. Mary came running out the front door crying “murder!” and received another shot in the back of the head. She fell onto the stoop.

The neighbors became alarmed and rushed to the saloon as two more shots were fired. They found Martin Curley lying in a pool of blood with a bullet wound over his left eye, a revolver lying on his breast. Mike Haddock (aka Anton Stanovitch), another Hungarian, lay three feet away with a wound behind his ear. Haddock was dead but both the Curleys were still alive. The neighbors brought them into an adjoining room and summoned physicians. Mary lived another hour and Martin lived for two hours but neither regained consciousness before dying.

It was first believed that Martin Curley had shot both his wife and Mike Haddock then shot himself. Haddock owed $70 in unpaid rent and Mary was rumored to have an intimate relationship with Haddock. Martin had a bad reputation and was known to be a fiend when drunk.

The theory changed when reporters learned that 5-year-old Mamie Curley witnessed the shootings. She said, “There was an awful noise when I was rocking the cradle. I rushed out into the barroom and saw papa and another man falling down. I cried ‘mama,’ but mama didn’t hear me. I saw another man in the backyard.” She did not recognize the other man, but he was believed to be John Thralle. The County Commissioners offered a $500 reward for his arrest and the search for Thralle began.

The police captured Thralle and on January 1, a coroner’s inquest was held. The story changed again when two new witnesses testified. Mathew Daley and Robbie Warner both saw Martin Curley shoot his wife. Thralle testified through an interpreter that he was in the saloon and invited Curley to have a drink of whiskey. Curley said he was not feeling well and did not care for it. The remark led to a dispute resulting in tragedy. 

The jury determined that Curley murdered his wife and Haddock, then shot himself. Thralle was released.  

“Awful Triple Murder,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 30, 1890.
“The Broderick Tragedy,” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, January 1, 1891.
“Four Victims of One Gun,” Chicago Daily News, December 29, 1890.
“Triple Tragedy,” Columbus Dispatch, December 29, 1890.
“A Triple Tragedy,” National Police Gazette, January 17, 1891.
“Wyoming Valley Tragedy,” Delaware Republican, December 30, 1890.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Who Killed Lottie Morgan?

Hurley, Wisconsin, a tough iron mining town, was the scene of many brutal crimes, but none more startling than the 1890 murder of Lottie Morgan. She was an actress who performed in variety theaters in Hurley and the surrounding area. Though she lived with Johnny Sullivan, a Hurley politician, she was known to have many lovers who kept her supplied with money and jewelry. Her arrangement with Sullivan may have been more about business than romance.

Lottie Morgan was well-known, well-liked, and reportedly one of the prettiest women on the range. Lottie was a prostitute, but newspapers used euphemisms to soften her notoriety—she was a courtesan, a sporting woman, one of the demimondes, of more than doubtful reputation. The Montreal River Mine and Iron County Republican said, “She carried herself with all the propriety possible for her class, was vivacious, sprightly, well informed, and was universally known here and at Ironwood and Bessemer.”

On the morning of April 12, 1890, the mutilated body of Lottie Morgan was found in the filthy alley between two low dives on Hurley’s main drag. She lay in a pool of coagulated blood with a deep gash in the side of her head, about 4 inches long, from the temple back. At her feet was her own 32 caliber revolver. A reporter found a bloodstained axe in a nearby shed, believed to be the murder weapon.

None could find a motive for the murder. Lottie was fully clothed when found and had not been molested. The police ruled out robbery because Lottie was still wearing her diamond earrings and other jewelry, valued at more than $5,000.

One of Lottie’s lovers was an ex-policeman, and some speculated that she was working as a police spy. The criminals who discovered her secret took their revenge.

The police and public favored another, more specific, theory. A recent nighttime robbery at the Hurley Iron Exchange Bank netted the thieves $39,000. Lottie had been subpoenaed to testify at the trial because the bank’s interior could be seen from the window of Lottie’s apartment. The court found Ed Baker and Phelps Perrin guilty of the robbery even without Lottie’s testimony, but they became the prime suspects in her murder.

Lottie Morgan’s elaborate funeral included a beautiful display of flowers and a procession featuring a brass band. The town raised nearly $200 to investigate the crime. A grand jury was convened to uncover the mysterious plot that led to Lottie’s murder.

But nothing was uncovered. In May, the County Board of Supervisors offered a $500 reward for the apprehension of the murders, but nothing came of this either. As time went on, the police and people of Hurley faced newer crimes and Lottie's case went cold. Lottie Morgan’s name disappeared from the newspapers and her unsolved murder was eventually forgotten.

“All over the State,” Vernon County Censor, April 13, 1892.
“Brained with an Ax,” St Paul daily globe, April 12, 1890.
“Brevities by Wire,” Aberdeen Daily News, April 12, 1890.
“Domestic,” Daily Inter Ocean, April 12, 1890.
“Found Murdered,” Erie Morning Dispatch, April 12, 1890.
“The Hurley Murder,” Bay City Times, April 12, 1890.
“A Hurley Murder,” Duluth News-Tribune, April 12, 1890.
“Lottie Morgan Murdered,” Montreal River Miner and Iron County Republican, April 10, 1890.
“Lottie Morgan's Murder,” Portage Daily Democrat, April 14, 1892.
“Murdering a Woman,” Milwaukee Journal, April 11, 1890.
“News of Wisconsin,” Boscobel Dial, May 26, 1892.
“To Cover a Crime,” Argus-Leader, May 17, 1890.
“Was She an Important Witness?,” Milwaukee Journal, May 14, 1890.
“Who Killed Lottie Morgan?,” Illustrated Police News, April 26, 1890.
“Who Killed Lottie Morgan?,” Detroit Free Press, April 12, 1890.
“Why Lottie was Murdered,” Wisconsin State Journal, May 14, 1890.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Salvation Army Tragedy.


In November 1891, The Northwestern Division of the Salvation Army held a muster in Omaha, Nebraska, to honor "La Marechale" Catherine Booth-Clibborn, leader of the Salvation Army in France. When the afternoon session ended on November 14, Captain Hattie Smith from Oskaloosa, Iowa, walked down the sidewalk conversing with Captain Wallace of Marshalltown, Iowa. Nettie Biedler, a private in the Army, rushed up to them and, without speaking, drew a revolver from the folds of her dress and fired at Captain Smith. Smith let out a shriek and fled down the sidewalk with Wallace. Biedler followed and fired again. The first shot had wounded Smith and she fell to the ground after running less than a block. Biedler then put the revolver to her own head and fired. She died instantly.

Captain Smith had been stationed at Council Bluffs, Iowa before being transferred to Oskaloosa about a month before. Nettie Biedler was also from Council Bluffs and the press first believed jealousy was the motive for the shooting. Hattie Smith was engaged to Lieutenant Berry, of Boone, Iowa, and it was believed that Nettie Biedler was trying to steal him from her.

On her deathbed, Captain Smith explained that the motive was jealousy of another kind. Severely wounded, Smith was carried from the sidewalk to a drug store, then to her temporary boarding place. A physician examined her but pronounced the wound to be fatal. While still able to speak, Smith explained that she had known Nettie Biedler in Council Bluffs and induced her to join the Salvation Army. When they met again in Omaha, Biedler greeted her with a great show of affection and on several occasions sought to occupy the attention of Captain Smith to the exclusion of all others.

"It was a case of jealousy,” said Smith, “She was jealous because I didn’t talk to her more."

Lieutenant Mary Bannister said she carried a message from Biedler to Smith saying Biedler wanted to talk. Smith replied that she was too busy. After lunch, the two did meet for an extended talk but what was said is unknown. Lieutenant Bannister heard Smith say several times that she must go, and Biedler tried to stop her. Biedler said if Smith went out and left her there, she would be sorry for it.

A reporter went to Nettie Biedler’s home in Council Bluffs and spoke with her younger sister. She said that Nettie and Hattie had been fast friends and she knew of no trouble between the girls which might account for Nettie’s actions. She also had no idea that her sister owned a revolver.

Captain Hattie Smith died later that day. The motive for the murder was never fully explained. The Chicago Tribune summed it up as “…a queer combination of jealousy and semi-religious frenzy.”

“Bloody Deed at Omaha,” Chicago Tribune, November 16, 1891.
“The Motive Was Jealousy,” National Police Gazette, December 5, 1891.
“Salvation Army Tragedy,” Sioux City Journal, November 16, 1891.
“Shot by a Salvationist,” Saint Paul Globe, November 16, 1891.
“Was it Jealousy?,” Champaign Daily Gazette, November 16, 1891.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Inhumanly Murdered.


The morning of October 27, 1845, the body of Maria Bickford, a beautiful young prostitute, was found murdered in her room in Boston’s Beacon Hill. Her throat had been cut from ear to ear and her bed had been set on fire. The prime suspect was Albert Tirrell who had been keeping Maria and who was seen arguing with her the day before. 

Tirrell was represented in court by prominent attorney and former US Senator, Rufus Choate, who won an acquittal with the first successful use of the sleepwalking defense.

Read the full story here:

Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Deathbed Marriage.

Frank and Charles Zabel lived with their widowed mother in Reading, Pennsylvania. Though in modest circumstances, the family lived happily together. Everything changed on June 5, 1886, when 18-year-old Frank Zabel, for reasons never made clear, fired three shots into his brother’s chest then attempted suicide by desperately wounding himself.

Both brothers were in critical condition, but it was soon apparent that Charles would not survive. Charles was engaged to Salome Reeser; the marriage was to occur a few weeks later. As Charles lay on his deathbed, the couple decided to marry immediately. Rev. Dr. J.J. Kuendig, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, came to the house, and as Salome stood sobbing by the bed, he performed the service. Charles died the following afternoon, leaving both his mother and his bride prostrate with grief so severe that they both required the care of a physician.

The coroner’s inquest charged Frank Zabel with the murder of his brother Charles. Frank was still bedridden, so the police put the house under surveillance until he was well enough for prison. The only explanation the family could provide for Frank’s behavior was that, on the day of the murder, Frank had taken an overdose of a drug used for dyspepsia, which affected his mind, causing him to commit murder and attempt suicide.

The district attorney sent the drug to be analyzed by a chemist to see if the claim was justified. The result of the analysis was not strong enough for him to drop the murder charge against Frank Zabel, but when the case went before a jury the following March, Zabel was acquitted on the grounds of insanity.

“Berks County Murder Cases,” Patriot, December 11, 1886.
“Current Events,” Daily Gazette, June 7, 1886.
“In General,” Delaware gazette and state journal, March 31, 1887.
“Married and Died,” Plain Dealer, June 7, 1886.
“Married on his Death Bed,” National Police Gazette, June 26, 1886.
“News Summary,” Delaware Republican, June 8, 1886.
“The Zabel Tragedy,” Patriot, June 8, 1886.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

The Shooting of Albert Richardson.

On the afternoon of November 25, 1869, Daniel McFarland walked into the office of the New York Tribune and there shot and killed Albert Richardson, a Tribune editor. Richardson had planned to marry Daniel McFarland’s ex-wife, Abby Sage McFarland. The facts of the murder were irrefutable, but the trial that followed focused instead on the behavior of Abby McFarland. Was her adultery an attack on the sanctity of marriage that drove Daniel McFarland to murderous insanity? Or had she been justified in leaving a drunken, abusive husband, running to the safety of another man’s arms?

Read the full story here: The Richardson-McFarland Tragedy.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Free Historical Mysteries!


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Saturday, February 26, 2022

Seduction and Murder.

In November 1871, 18-year-old Mary Ann Sevindell filed a lawsuit against Henry H. Howell of Prairie Creek, Illinois, for seduction. They were both in the law office of Beason & Bilan in Lincoln, Illinois, on November 28, where attorneys were hammering out a settlement agreement. The lawyers came up with a compromise that pleased them, but apparently, it did not please Miss Sevindell. As Howell was leaving to have the agreement acknowledged, Mary Anne drew a pistol and without saying a word, shot him in the back. The bullet came out at the left breast.

Dazed, Howell walked a few steps then unbuttoned his vest and saw blood oozing from the wound. He saw the bullet on the floor, picked it up and handed it to one of the gentlemen in the room. He remarked that he was killed then sank to the floor.

It does not appear that Mary Ann Sevindell was ever charged with Howell’s murder.

“Seduction and Murder,” Plain Dealer, November 1, 1871.
“A Young Girl in Lincoln, Ill., Deliberately Shoots her Seducer,” Illustrated Police News, November 30, 1871.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Long Island Tragedy.

A series of violent home invasions in and around Brookville, Long Island in November 1883 and the months that followed left two people dead and four more seriously injured. The normally serene farming community was thrown into a state of confusion with at least a dozen false arrests, two perjured eye-witnesses, a false confession, lynch mobs, a jailbreak, and for a time, two independent and equally valid lines of inquiry that could not be reconciled.

Read the full story here: The Long Island Murders.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

A Double Tragedy.

When William Vannar proposed to Melinda Jones in Washington, Maine,  in the late 1860s, relatives of both parties opposed the marriage. Vannar had returned from service in the 29th Regiment of Maine Volunteers with a bad drinking habit, and when Vannar was intoxicated, he became irrational and violent. The relatives feared the marriage would end in tragedy.

Melinda Jones (nee Luce) married Samuel Jones, a farmer, around 1859. The two had grown up together in Washington, Maine, and they had a happy marriage raising three children. But Samuel grew tired of farming and decided to go west and seek his fortune. In California, he had no luck prospecting and ended up working as a farmhand. At first, he would send Melinda small sums of money, but soon his letters stopped completely. Melinda made some inquiries and concluded that Samuel was dead. Not long after, she married William Vannar, another of her childhood friends.

As the relatives predicted, the marriage was a stormy one. There were periods of calm when the couple seemed happy, but Vannar could not stay sober, and when drunk, he would beat and abuse his wife. Four times she left Vannar and went home to her parents, but Melinda remained infatuated with Vannar, and each time she went back to him. 

In June 1871, Melinda had gone back to her parent’s home, and Vannar went to get her back. When she refused to go with him, he stabbed her in the breast. Her mother tried to intercede, and Vannar stabbed her as well. The wounds were not serious; Vannar was arrested for assault. He was released on $400 bond and fled the town. 

While on the run, Vannar would write and tell Melinda where he was. Four months after the incident, Vannar returned, and Melinda took him back as if nothing had happened. This time she abandoned her children and traveled with him to Lynn, Massachusetts, where Vannar’s sister lived.

Their time in Lynn followed the familiar pattern—periods of marital bliss punctuated by drunken abuse. The night of December 16, 1871, the couple attended a ball at Wyoma Square in Lynn. Allegedly, Vannar took jealous offense at the attention paid to Melinda by another man. The matter appeared to be forgotten the next morning. Vannar arose at 5:00, built a fire, and went out to buy some liquor. When he returned, they sat down to breakfast and were observed laughing and joking together about the previous night.

After breakfast, Vannar began drinking. His shirt had gotten dirty the night before, and Melinda said she would take it downstairs and wash it. He said he would hire someone to do it and save her the trouble. She took it downstairs anyway. Her disregard of his wishes infuriated Vannar, and he went down after her. A few minutes later, boarders in the house heard bloodcurdling screams coming from the basement. Mrs. Rodney, one of the boarders, saw Vannar come up the stair holding a knife, his clothing saturated with blood. He casually walked to the sink, washed his hands, cleaned his knife, and put it in his pocket. 

“Give my coat and gloves to my sister,” he said to Mrs. Rodney, “for she (meaning his wife) is dead now, and I have got to die.”

He went back downstairs, stepped over the corpse, and left through the back door. 

News of the murder traveled fast, and men turned out by hundreds to pursue Vannar. They had him cornered against a rock in the woods, but Vannar had his knife poised, ready to thrust, and no one would approach him. Officer John Thurston attempted to rush him with a club, but he slipped and fell. Vannar was on him instantly, dealing heavy blows with his knife. City Marshal, Daniel N. Barrett, drew his revolver and fired five shots, killing Vannar.

Officer Thurston suffered several stab wounds to the face and head and a bullet through his hand, but he survived the ordeal. A coroner’s inquest on December 21 ruled that Marshal Barrett’s action was justified.


“The Double Tragedy at Lynn Mass,” Illustrated Police News, December 28, 1871.
“The Lynn Tragedy,” National Aegis, December 23, 1871.
“News Article,” Gloucester Telegraph, December 20, 1871.
“News Article,” Evening Bulletin, December 26, 1871.
“The Recent Murder at Lynn Massachusetts,” Wheeling daily register, December 23, 1871.
“Tragedy in Lynn,” Republican journal, December 21, 1871.

Saturday, February 5, 2022


James M. Dougherty was an industrious young man in Brooklyn in the 1880s. He worked as a lineman for the Postal Telegraph Company and in his spare time he studied meteorology, electricity, astronomy and other sciences. He dabbled in a little of everything until after watching a play he became obsessed with the leading lady, Mary Anderson, and his love for her became his sole controlling passion.

Dougherty began to follow Mary Anderson wherever she performed. His obsession with the actress led him to believe that an organized conspiracy of his enemies worked to keep them apart. When Dougherty's stalking came to the attention of the police, he was declared insane and sent to an asylum.

He escaped from the asylum, but returned with a revolver and murdered the superintendent. 

“I am not crazy,” said Dougherty after his recapture, “but as sane as the sanest man that walks New York today.”

Read the full story here: Lunatic Dougherty.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Concealing his Bloody Work.

In April 1866, Antoine Probst murdered eight men, women, and children with an axe and a hammer, on the Deering farm outside of Philadelphia. He arranged the bodies in straight rows and covered them with hay.

Read the full story here: Horror!

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Her Struggle was Useless.

Artist's rendition of the Pearl Bryan murder from The Mysterious Murder of Pearl Bryan, Or, The Headless Horror. Cincinnati: Barclay & Co., 1896.

Read Pearl Bryan's story in the new book,

Now available at Amazon.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

A Brutal and Cowardly Murder.

The Nicholsons of San Francisco owned some farmland near Watsonville in Monterey County, California. In 1873, Mrs. Sarah Nicholson spent all of her time there, working the farm while her husband traveled back and forth from San Francisco, where he had a carriage business.

Two years earlier, they bought the land from Matt Tarpey, a wealthy landowner and a big man in Monterey County politics. Tarpey was a well-known bully and desperado—“a brawling, profane, cowardly ruffian, with but few redeeming traits,”  said the San Francisco Chronicle. He was caught trying to rig an election by forging nationalization papers of immigrants. Twice Tarpey was accused of murder. In one case, he used his political influence to have the charges dropped; in the other, he was acquitted after allegedly bribing jurors.

Tarpey claimed the Nicholsons were behind in their payments for the land, and he wanted it back. In March 1873, Tarpey moved an old frame house from an adjacent property he owned onto the Nicholsons’ land and situated it about a quarter-mile from their farmhouse. He built a fence around the house and rented it to a man named Peterson.

Her husband was away when Mrs. Nicholson learned of the new house on her property, so she rode into town to consult with her lawyer. He told her that since she held the deed, she could not be driven out without legal process. If Tarpey moved a house onto her land, she had a right to take possession of it. The next day, she went to the house, accompanied by a young man named O’Neill and a boy who worked on the farm. 

When Peterson came by, he was surprised to find the house occupied. He demanded that they leave, but Mrs. Nicholson told him she was in possession of the house. If he had any grievance, he should talk to Tarpey.

That evening Tarpey buckled on a six-shooter, grabbed his Henry rifle, and started for the house. On the way, he stopped and borrowed a double-barreled shotgun. Behind a big oak tree on his property, he dug a hole where he could observe the house without being seen. After midnight that night, Tarpey fired six or seven shots in quick succession into the house. The occupants of the house were unarmed and, in a terrible fright, ran back to the Nicholson farmhouse. 

The next morning they went back to see what damage had been done. As they approached the house, Tarpey stepped into the roadway holding the shotgun. Mrs. Nicholson was startled but recovered herself and said, “Good morning, Mr. Tarpey.”

“Now, you d----d w----, I’ve got you.” Said Tarpey as he raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked but did not go off.

“For God’s sake, Mr. Tarpey, take the whole thing, but do not murder me.” Said Mrs. Nicholson. 

Tarpey aimed the gun, and it clicked again. Terrified, she seized hold of O’Neill and said, “Come let us run; he’ll kill us both.”

As she turned to run, Tarpey fired again and this time the gun went off. Nine shots penetrated her back, and one went straight through her heart. Sarah Nicholson uttered a piercing scream and fell dead. O’Neill went to pick her up when the boy shouted, “Look out! He is going to shoot you.”

O’Neill ran; Tarpey fired again but missed. Tarpey turned to the boy and said, “Look out, I’m going to shoot you, too.”

The boy ran, and Tarpey did not fire.

As Tarpey walked toward Watsonville, he reflected on what he had done. He decided the best thing to do was turn himself in and claim the shot had been an accident. Constable Schade received Tarpey’s surrender but did not disarm him. Tarpey promised he would leave his weapons at his home in Watsonville, so they went there. When they got there, Tarpey changed his clothes and had breakfast, then buckling on his revolver, he went into the street, swaggering about and explaining the matter to friends he met. He stopped at the barbershop and had a shave, then told Schade he was ready to be taken to Salinas City.

As news of the shooting spread around the community, Schade was worried they might encounter some trouble on the road. They took a wagon back to Tarpey’s house to get his rifle before proceeding.

Someone telegraphed the news to Sheriff Wasson in Salinas, and he met the wagon a few miles outside of town. The sheriff took custody of Tarpey and disarmed him. He decided that the Salinas jail was not strong enough to prevent a mob from breaking in, so he planned to take the prisoner to Monterey.

As Schade had done, Sheriff Wasson first allowed Tarpey to march around town into barrooms telling his story. He even made a public speech describing the deed, trying to convince the crowd that the shooting had been accidental. 

When Tarpey was safely in jail in Monterey, an inquest was held on the murder. Two witnesses, O’Neill and the boy told what had happened that morning. That night the whole population of Watsonville turned out for a public meeting to express sorrow for the victim and denounce the murderer. They decided that they could not trust the legal system and decided to seek justice themselves. One old gray-haired gentleman named Slankard, who had known Mrs. Nicholson for many years, got up and said, “Gentlemen, if you permit this murderer to go unhanged twenty-four hours longer, you are all cowards.”

The people agreed, and in small groups, set off for Monterey. The crowds increased, coming from two counties, and by the time they reached Monterey jail, they were four hundred strong. A dozen or so men apologized to the sheriff then bound him hand and foot. With sledgehammers, they broke into Tarpey’s cell. They carried him to a wagon that contained a pine box and a long hemp rope. 

They took him about three miles outside of town and told him he had half an hour to arrange his worldly affairs and prepare himself for death. He dictated a brief will to a lawyer in the crowd then, on his knees, begged for his life. When the leader told him his time had come, Tarpey said, “Well, I’m ready, but you are committing murder.”

They threw the rope over the limb of a tree and tied a noose around Tarpey’s neck. They had him stand on his coffin as they drove the wagon forward. Tarpey fell, but the fall did not break his neck. The new rope stretched so much that his toes were touching the ground. Men from the mob grabbed the rope and pulled him up by force. Tarpey swung another ten minutes. Reportedly, some of the men shot at Tarpey as he slowly strangled to death.

In the days that followed, the authorities vowed to arrest those responsible for the lynching. Newspapers printed editorials half-heartedly denouncing vigilante justice, but the people of Monterey County were satisfied that Sarah Nicholson’s murder had been justly avenged. 

“Brutal and Cowardly Murder,” Gold Hill daily news, March 17, 1873.
“By State Telegraph,” Sacramento Daily Union, March 18, 1873.
“Cowardly Murder,” San Francisco Bulletin, March 14, 1873.
“The Hanging of the Murderer Tarpey,” Illustrated Police News, April 3, 1873.
“The Lane with a Turn in It,” San Francisco Bulletin, March 17, 1873.
“News Article,” Carson daily appeal, March 20, 1873.
“News of the Morning,” Sacramento Daily Union, March 17, 1873.
“The Tarpey Brothers in the Field,” Sacramento Daily Union, March 26, 1873.
“Tarpey Hanged,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 1873.
“Telegraphic Dispatches,” Ely record, March 15, 1873.
“The Watsonville Tragedy,” San Francisco Bulletin, March 15, 1873.
“The Woman-Murderer,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 17, 1873.