Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Confession of Myron Buel.

On June 25, 1878, Myron Buel and Daniel Bowen were working in the hops field of William Richards’s farm in Plainfield, New York. When they returned from the field that evening, they found that a young bull was loose behind the cheese house. Bowen opened the barn door while Buel drove the bull towards it. Upon opening the door, Bowen saw the body of Catherine Mary Richards, William Richards’s 14-year-old daughter, lying in the bull’s stall. She had a large wound on her right cheek and her face was bruised; she was clearly dead. Buel came in and Bowen showed him the body.

“Oh my stars! Oh my Stars!” said Buel, apparently horrified.

They went to the farmhouse to notify the family. Both Mr. and Mrs. Richards were away that day, so they took Catherine’s sister Maggie and the housekeeper to the barn.  Maggie asked Buel what had happened to Catherine, and he said the bull must have killed her.

Buel repeated this several times and it became the accepted story until the coroner got a look at the body. He concluded that Catherine had not been gored by the bull, someone had strangled her and hit her in the face with a blunt object. He also found evidence that she had been raped.

Myron Buel became the prime suspect in Catherine’s murder. Buel was called “The Boy Murderer” but he was 20 years old in 1878. He was madly in love with Catherine, though she was six years younger. He had asked her to marry him, and when she refused, Buel made improper suggestions, driving her to tears. Though he always recanted later, he continued making lewd comments until Catherine threatened to tell her parents. 

On the day of the murder, when Buel and Bowen were working in the hops field, he told Bowen that the rubber boots he was wearing were too hot and he went back to the house to change them. He was gone for about 45 minutes. When Bowen asked what took him so long, he said he had to put away a horse that had gotten loose. 

Buel was charged with murder and brought to trial on February 17, 1879. The trial lasted ten days and the courtroom was crowded with spectators each day. Following the closing arguments, the judge spoke for an hour and a half, giving instructions to the jury. The jury deliberated for four hours before returning a verdict of guilty.

Buel’s lawyers moved for a new trial on the grounds that the judge had instructed the jury to find him guilty of first-degree murder or acquit him. He should have instructed them on the several degrees of manslaughter as well. The motion was denied, and the judge sentenced Myron Buel to be hanged on April 18.

The execution date was changed to November 14 to allow Buel’s attorneys to argue before the Court of Appeals. The Court refused to grant a new trial and affirmed the judgement of the lower court. They petitioned the Governor for a reprieve, but he refused. 

Throughout the process, Buel maintained his innocence but, three days before his execution, with no hope left, Buel confessed to his spiritual advisors and his counsel. In his confession, Buel said he was angry because Catherine had told her parents about his “passionate desire” for her. On the day of the murder, he knew Mr. and Mrs. Richards would not be home. When he told Bowen he was going to change his boots, he was going to kill Catherine. 

“Oh! How I felt as I went down the path to the barn!”  Buel confessed.

He found Catherine in the cheese house, playing with her kittens. He had let out the calf, knowing she would help him bring it back to the barn. When they were inside the barn, he shut the door and quickly threw a rope around her neck and pulled it tight.

“Her eyes looked terrible when she was struggling,” said Buel, “Then I struck her with a milking stool that stood by me. I then ravished her. She was dead but warm when I committed the crime.”

He carried her to the bull’s stall so it would appear that the bull killed her, then he let the bull out.

“I loved Catherine and was jealous. I intended to kill her and ravish her because I was mad.”

Myron Buel was hanged on November 14, 1879. The gallows in New York State at the time used a counterweight to jerk the condemned man upward. At 10:39 a.m. the body shot four feet up in the air and fell back with a sickening thud. Fourteen minutes later Drs. Westlake and Hills pronounced him dead.

“Brutal Murder,” New York Herald, July 3, 1878.
“Buel Confesses,” WEEKLY FREEMAN, November 14, 1879.
“The Gallows,” Daily Gazette, April 19, 1879.
Gordon W. Treadwell, Myron Buel the Boy Murderer (Birmingham: Republican Print, 1879.)  
“Guilty of Murder,” New York Herald, February 28, 1879.
“Hanging of Myron A. Buell,” Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1879.
“The Murder of Miss Richards,” New York Times, June 29, 1878.
“Myron A. Buell,” The Brooklyn Daily Egal, November 15, 1879.
“Probable Murder,” New York herald., June 28, 1878.
“A Ravisher Held for Murder,” Fall River Daily Herald, July 3, 1878.
“To be Hanged,” New York Herald, March 1, 1879.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Minerva Dutcher.


Minerva Dutcher was 14 years old in 1871 when she met George Crozier in the Benton, New York, Baptist Church choir. Though George was 22 years older than Minerva, he had an “illicit infatuation” with her that developed into an adulterous affair. When his wife, Fanny, died of arsenic poisoning in 1875, George Crozier was the prime suspect.

Read the full story here: Illicit Infatuation.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Mysterious Murder in Baltimore.

Dr. Merriman Cole was a retired physician with an office in the heart of Baltimore. In 1872, he was 73 years old and living off the income from his rental properties. Cole’s daughter went to his office on the evening of January 6 and found him dead on the floor. He had thirteen wounds about the head and face and his skull was crushed in three places, apparently with a hammer.

One of his pants pockets was torn out but the motive was not robbery. About nine dollars were scattered over the floor and twenty-four dollars were found in his wallet. It was a Saturday, the day he collected rents on his properties. On his desk was an unfinished receipt. The police suspected one of his tenants as his killer. By Monday they had several suspects in custody, but their names were not made public.

The early suspects were released, and no further arrests were made until the following September. On September 21, the police arrested Charles R. Henderson in Baltimore. Henderson was a printer who was one of Cole’s tenants. He changed his residence shortly after the murder, and the Baltimore Police had been following him night and day since. The prosecuting attorney waited until he was sure of conviction before arresting Henderson, and the police believed they had a strong case of circumstantial evidence against him. On October 8, the grand jury indicted Charles R. Henderson for the murder of Dr. Merriman Cole.

Henderson’s trial did not begin until the following June. Apparently, the evidence against him was not as strong as it first appeared. The brief newspaper report on the trial said only, “The case was submitted to the jury without argument and in five minutes they brought in a verdict of not guilty.”

No one was ever convicted of Dr. Merriman Cole's murder.

“Acquittal of an Alleged Murderer,” Germantown Daily Chronicle, June 6, 1873.
“Another Horrible Tragedy,” Chicago Tribune, January 8, 1872.
“Dr. Merriman Cole found Murdered in his Office.,” Illustrated Police News, January 18, 1872.
“Merriman Cole Murder,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 6, 1873.
“A Murderer Traced Out,” Pittsburgh Daily Commercial, September 24, 1872.
“Murderers in Maryland,” Herald, June 3, 1873.
“Mysterious Murder in Baltimore,” New York Tribune, January 8, 1872.
“News and Gossip,” Paterson Daily Press, September 23, 1872.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Frank C. Almy.

Frank Almy (alias George Abbott) was a lifelong criminal trying to turn his life around when he met and fell in love with Christie Warden. When Christie did not return his love, Almy went back to his old ways and took it at gunpoint.

Read the full story here: Murder in the Vale of Tempe.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Walton-Matthews Tragedy.

John Walton was walking home from work with his cousin Richard Pascall down 18th Street in New York City at 11:30 the night of June 30, 1860. Walton owned a distillery on 18th Street and a store on 25th Street. At the time, Walton and Pascal shared a room over the store. At 3rd Avenue, they noticed a man leaning against a tree in the shadows but paid little attention as they walked past him. A few seconds later, the man darted up behind Walton and shot him in the head.

The shooter ran down 3rd Avenue, and Pascall followed, raising the alarm, shouting, “murder!” Several men heard the call and joined the chase. At the front of the pack was John W. Matthews, a well-known railroad contractor. Matthews was closing in as they neared 16th Street. The killer turned, drew his pistol, and fired, hitting Matthews in the chest. In the confusion that followed, the killer dropped the pistol and made his escape. 

The men lifted Matthews and carried him to a nearby drugstore, but he died in their arms before he reached it. Walton was still breathing and was taken to Bellevue Hospital, but he died at 8:30 the next morning.

None of the witnesses recognized the shooter, but Pascall was convinced it was John Walton’s stepson, Charles Jefferds. About a year earlier, Walton’s wife died, leaving him with two daughters. About six months later, Walton married a widow named Ellen M. Russell. She told him she had been married twice before, but both of her husbands were dead. She had two sons from the first marriage, Charles and Edwin Jefferds, aged 22 and 19, respectively. She had one son, Frank Russell, 12, from her second marriage. She also said she had adopted her sister’s four-month-old daughter. After the wedding, they all lived together in a house on 23rd Street.

Ellen Russell was an attractive woman; Walton believed her to be a fine, upstanding person. This opinion would soon change. He “observed transactions of a suspicious character on the part of his wife” and decided to make some inquiries. He learned that at least one of her former marriages had ended in divorce, and the husband was still living. Additionally, she had a third husband, a Mr. Morrison, between Jeffers and Russell, who was living in Ohio, and it was doubtful that they ever had a legal separation. Walton also learned that the four-month-old was not the daughter of Ellen’s sister but her own illegitimate offspring.

The New York Atlas called Mrs. Walton “a woman fond of money, luxury and intrigue.” Comparing her to Emma Cunningham, who murdered Dr. Harvey Burdell three years earlier, they called her “…one of those smart, intriguing adventurers of the Mrs. Cunningham school, who are constantly laying in wait to trap wealthy middle-aged bachelors and widowers.”

Soon after the marriage, Mrs. Walton’s eldest son, Charles Jefferds, began misbehaving. He drank heavily and brought unsavory people back to the house. Walton objected, scolding both mother and son. This only made them angrier, and several times Charles threatened Walton’s life.

After several months of this, Walton decided the marriage was over and resolved that they separate. He rented a smaller house on 23rd Street for Ellen and her children, and he moved into the room over the store. He rented the big house to someone else. This angered Ellen and her sons even more since the separation would mean the end of Walton’s wealth. Charles and Edwin continued to harass Walton. On one occasion, Charles showed Walton a pistol which he said he had bought to shoot him. At another time, Walton suddenly took sick and believed he had been poisoned. He changed his will, leaving the bulk of his estate to his daughters, to make it less likely that he would be murdered for his money.

The double murder created quite a sensation in New York City. The mayor offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the killer. Walton’s estate added another $1,000 to the reward. The police began a manhunt for Charles Jefferds. Jefferds, who fled to Long Island, learned they were looking for him and decided it was safer to turn himself in. The Monday after the murder, Jefferds surrendered to the police but declared his innocence.

The coroner began an inquest into the murders. Among the many witnesses were Richard Pascall, who positively identified the pistol found at the scene as the one Charles Jefferds had used to threaten Walton, and Ellen Walton, who testified that there was no animosity between her son and her husband. The inquest lasted two weeks, and although there was little evidence against Jefferds, he was charged with first-degree murder.

The prosecution was reluctant to bring the case to trial because of the lack of evidence. After an eight-month delay, ignoring two regular terms of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Jefferds's attorney moved, unsuccessfully, for his client’s release. The trial for the murder of John Walton finally began on June 10, 1861, and lasted about a month. Though nearly everyone believed that Jefferds was guilty, the evidence against him was so thin that no one was surprised that the jury found him not guilty.

After being free for six months, Jefferds began to get cocky. At an impromptu meeting in the 25th Street store with John Walton’s brother, William, Jefferds said, “Do you know who I am? I am Charles Jefferds, the man who murdered your brother, and I can shoot you as quick as I shot him.”

William Walton asked Jefferds for the details of the murder, assuring him that he had been acquitted and could not be tried again. Police Detective Moore, who was also present, confirmed that Jefferds could not be retried. Jefferds told them that he had gone out that night specifically to kill Walton. It was after Walton had a quarrel with his mother, and she offered Jefferds $2,000 to kill her husband.

They were correct in telling Jefferds he could not be retried for Walton’s murder, but Jefferds had forgotten that he was also charged with murdering John Matthews. The new confession was enough for the district attorney to take that case to court.

The trial for the murder of John Matthews began on December 18, 1861. This time the testimony of William Walton and Detective Moore was enough to convince a jury. Jefferds was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

The law at the time stated that Jefferd had to serve one year in prison before he could be executed, and after that, the date would be set by the governor. During that time, his attorney tried unsuccessfully to appeal the verdict. But as of May 1868, more than six years later, Jefferds was still on death row at Sing Sing Prison.

On May 15, 1868, Charles Jefferds was found dead in the stable loft of the prison. He had five axe wounds on his body, any one of which could have been fatal. Jefferds had been unwell the day before and was allowed to skip dinner and do some light work at the stable instead. He had been reading a book in the hayloft when he was attacked.

Two inmates who had been chopping wood in the work yard, Thomas Burns and George Whittington, were charged with the murder. Burns and Jefferds had been enemies because Burns had caught Jefferds in the commission of what was called “a beastly crime” and “an infamous crime against nature” and reported it to other inmates. The following December, Burns was found not guilty, and charges were dropped against Whittington.

In February 1869, the New York World published a long article saying that a detective using the pseudonym “Jefferson Jinks” had spoken with Jefferds before his arrest. He claimed that, after a few drinks, Jeffereds declared that he had murdered Dr. Harvey Burdell three years before and provided intricate details of the crime. 

The murder of Dr. Burdell had caused a sensation in New York and was one of the first great murder cases to be followed nationwide. The World article was reprinted or summarized in newspapers throughout America. However, Jefferds’s confession, if he made it at all, was not likely to be true. The matter was soon forgotten. 

“Accidents and Offences,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 21, 1864.
“An Atrocious Double Murder,” BOSTON HERALD., July 2, 1860.
“Another Chapter in Metropolitan Crime,” New York herald., July 2, 1860.
“Conviction of Charles M. Jefferds,” NEW-YORK OBSERVER., January 2, 1862.
“The Eighteenth Ward Murders,” New-York Daily Tribune., July 4, 1860.
“From New York,” Sun, March 9, 1863.
“Horrible Tragedy,” Commercial Advertiser, July 2, 1860.
“Investigation of the Murder in Sing Sing Prison,” New-York Tribune., May 18, 1868.
“Jefferds Gone to State Prison,” New York dispatch. [volume], May 8, 1864.
“The Jefferds Murder,” World, May 25, 1868.
“Mayor's Office, New York, July,” Evening Post, July 13, 1860.
“Murder in Sing Sing State Prison,” Evening Post., May 15, 1868.
“News Article,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 6, 1868.
“Supreme Court,” Journal of Commerce, jr., November 8, 1862.
“Trial of Charles M. Jefferds,” World, July 11, 1861.
“Verdict in the Walton Matthews Murder,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 20, 1860.
“The Walton and Matthews Tragedy,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 14, 1860.
“The Walton Tragedy,” NEW YORK ATLAS., July 8, 1860.
“The Walton-Mathews Murder,” New York herald., February 24, 1861.
“The Walton-Mathews Murder,” New York Herald, July 12, 1861.
“The Walton-Mathews Murder,” Evening Post, April 8, 1864.
“The Walton-Mathew's Murder,” Evening Post., December 19, 1861.
“Will Of The Late John Walton,” Boston Courier, July 9, 1860.