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.


Leslie says:
April 3, 2022 at 11:35 AM

I found one article that says her head was cut off!

Kat says:
April 4, 2022 at 2:20 AM

I enjoyed the facts given by Murder by Gaslight. Very few middle and lower class murders were solved in the early 1900's and down because the cops were mostly upper class men who were able to purchase a position on the police force and had little desire to find the answers to the lower class cases. Kat

Barb V. says:
May 2, 2022 at 11:16 PM

A recent theory about Jack the Ripper speculates Jack was a German seaman whose identified travels correspond to similar murders in places in Europe, Nicaragua, New York, and Hurley, Wisconsin.
Bob V. (Barb's husband)

Bootleg says:
May 15, 2022 at 11:22 PM

You and your comment-leaving readers have a maddeningly huge blindspot: always assuming that cops are working in good faith for the betterment of society. This is not logical. They are not immune to temptation, they are not always sober and or truthful. They can be horny, drunk screw ups. They can be conniving, selfish mortals that commit crimes for all kinds of reasons! I suppose it makes you guys feel better believing in fairy tales, but you ain't right. They should be considered suspects, not automatically be given the benefit of the doubt.

Robert Wilhelm says:
May 16, 2022 at 9:13 AM

Bootleg, My information comes from newspaper reports and nothing else (see references above). I make no assumptions, pro or con, regarding the police.

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