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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

So Far from Home.

New Book!

So Far from Home 

The Pearl Bryan Murder

"Yes. they drove far from the city,
To a place so far from home,
There they left her body lying
Headless and all stained with blood"
 Pearl Bryan (Traditional Ballad)

Available at Amazon.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Ging Murder Case.

Harry Hayward, "The Plotter," was a handsome young playboy from a wealthy Minneapolis family. An inveterate gambler, he would finance his habit through theft, insurance fraud, and counterfeit currency.

Hayward was thought to have hypnotic powers. He persuaded Catherine Ging, "The Victim," to make him the beneficiary on a life insurance policy, then, on December 3, 1894, he lured her to a meeting with Claus Blixt, "The Assassin" – also acting under Hayward’s spell. As Catherine Ging was being murdered, Harry Hayward sat in a Minneapolis theatre watching a play with another woman. 

Read the full story here: The Minneapolis Svengali.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Pearl Bryan.

Pearl Bryan.

Murder victim Pearl Bryan was the belle of Greencastle, Indiana. She was popular among her peers and admired by all who knew her. Pearl was a girl of the most amiable disposition. Too amiable in fact, said her friends, and inclined to yield to the requests or urgings of others.

Though friendly and outgoing, Pearl kept her personal life private. When Pearl learned she was pregnant, she told no one but her second cousin, Will Wood.

Will Wood was Pearl’s confidant, but he was not to be trusted. He was a rude braggart who boasted of his sexual relations with Pearl. The Cincinnati Enquirer summed up Will Wood’s Greencastle reputation saying, “The youth is generally recognized as a cigarette fiend of unbalanced mind and of a totally depraved nature.” Many in Greencastle believed that Will Wood was the father of Pearl’s unborn child and was ultimately responsible for her death.
Will Wood

So Far from Home: 

The Pearl Bryan Murder

by Robert Wilhelm

Saturday, January 8, 2022

"I Caught Them in the Act."

C. F. Stephens owned a store in Livingston, Georgia about 12 miles from Rome. He employed Frank Wilkerson as a clerk in his store and provided him with room and board in his home.

Stephens was increasingly unhappy with this arrangement, and he sensed that things were not right in his house. He heard rumors that Wilkerson and his wife, Jessie, were intimate, and he found letters from Wilkinson to Jessie that appeared to confirm this.

Stephens wanted to find out for sure, so the morning of July 12, 1892, he told Jessie that he was going to Rome and would be back at 3:00 that afternoon. Instead, he returned home at 2:00. Stephens hitched his horse about half a mile from his house and walked home. He entered through the back door and took off his shoes so no one would hear his footsteps. 

The bedroom door was closed. When Stephens opened the door, he found Wilkerson and his wife in a compromising position. He drew his revolver and shot twice, wounding Wilkerson. Stephens had only two bullets in his pistol, so he grabbed Wilkerson and pulled him to the floor. Wilkerson drew his pistol and shot twice; one of the bullets hit Stephens between the eyes, and he died a few minutes later.

Before he died, Stephens took the incriminating letters from his pocket and wrote on one, “I caught them in the act. C. F. Stephens.” He gave the letters to his manservant, saying, “Take these to my father. They tell a tale.”

Mrs. Stephens tried to grab the letters, but the servant left with them. She and Wilkerson were both arrested.

The trial of Frank Wilkerson the following October in Troy, Georgia, caused a sensation due to the prominence of the Stephens family. The courtroom was packed every day. More than sixty witnesses testified, but there was very little hard evidence beyond the obvious facts of the case. The debate centered on the incidents that led to the murder and the motives of those involved.

Several prosecution witnesses testified to having caught Wilkinson and Jessie Stephen in “a questionable attitude.” One testified that Stephens had not meant to kill Wilkerson, just to scare him. He had told Wilkerson to leave several times, but Wilkerson said that would be over Stephen’s dead body. Others testified that Wilkerson had intended to murder Stephens at the first opportunity and that Mrs. Stephens knew of his plans.

When Frank Wilkerson testified, his voice was so soft he could not be heard from 10 feet away and had to pause and weep several times. He said no one regretted the killing more than he did, but when Stephens started firing, he had nowhere to go and had to shoot back. He denied ever having intimate relations with Mrs. Stephens. When Stephens caught them, they were standing and talking about his leaving the house. The letters were just thanking Mrs. Stephens for some advice she had given him. 

Jessie Stephens also denied any intimacy with Wilkerson, but she did say she loved him more than her husband. She said the handwriting on the letter was not her husband’s, but Deputy Sheriff McConnell, who had known Stephens from boyhood, said the signature was definitely his.

The jury convicted Frank Wilkerson of voluntary manslaughter. 

Following the conviction, a grand jury indicted Jessie Stephens for adultery and accessory to murder. She fled the city before the police could take her into custody.

“Summary of the News,” Sun, October 21, 1892.
“'I Caught Them in the Act',” Illustrated Police News, July 30, 1892.
“The Defendant Testifies,” Atlanta Journal, October 15, 1892.
“Didn't Desire His Blood,” Atlanta Journal, October 12, 1892.
“In the Southern States,” Dallas Morning News, July 19, 1892.
“Killed by His Wife's Lover,” Morning News, October 12, 1892.
“Killed by His Clerk,” Morning News, July 13, 1892.
“Mrs. Stephens Must Stand Trial,” Morning News, October 22, 1892.
“The Murderous Result,” Daily State Chronicle, July 14, 1892.
“She Loved Wilkinson,” Morning News, October 15, 1892.
“Wilkerson on Trial,” Atlanta Journal, October 11, 1892.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Alonzo Walling.

Scott Jackson
Courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer

Alonzo Walling, Scott Jackson’s roommate, was arrested in February 1896 as Jackson’s accomplice in the murder of Pearl Bryan. Cincinnati phrenologist Dr. S. E. Hyndman analyzed Walling’s character by measuring his head and came to this conclusion:
“Alonzo Walling is easily led in the direction of friendship and in this, he would often do things which his better nature would revolt against. He would not go back on a friend until the very last, and then only to save his own life if he had promised to stand by him. He likes the society of the viscous better than that of the higher order. He would plunge into danger and calculate the chances afterward. His standard of morals is not of a higher order, his perceptive powers are small and if he were to be influenced, he would have to be managed through flattery.”

Walling’s involvement in the case was always somewhat shadowy, he was accused of actively participating in Pearl Bryan’s murder, but he may have been little more than a knowing but innocent bystander. The public saw Walling as dull, weak-willed, and subservient to Jackson against his own best interest. Whatever his connection was to the murder, he kept the secret to himself and stood by his roommate to the end.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Tragic Benham Mystery.

In 1892, Florence Tout, age 15, defied her parents and eloped with 23-year-old Howard Benham. Benham took control of Florence’s trust fund and five years later she died under suspicious circumstances.

Read the full story here: Married at 15, Dead at 20.