Saturday, November 12, 2022

Murderous Assault.

Nettie Brown (or Braun) kept a house of ill-fame in St. Louis with her partner and bartender George Hobbs (or Haubs). In 1877, Lizzie Fields was one of their girls. Lizzie and Nettie had been as close as sisters at first, but they were bitter enemies by April. Lizzie gave Nettie a ring of hers for safekeeping; the trouble began when Lizzie saw her ring on the finger of George Hobbs. After a heated argument, they threw Lizzie out of the house, keeping her clothes and the ring.

Lizzie Fields took up residence in a nearby brothel run by Gussie Freeman. On April 3, 1877, Hobbs was walking down the alley near Freeman’s house when Lizzie began shouting vile names at him through an open window. Hobbs paid no attention at the time, but later, he and Nettie went back to Freeman’s to see her. Lizzie taunted them again from the window, and Hobbs picked up a rock and threw it at her. He missed Lizzie but broke the window and tore the curtain.

They went to the door, but Gussie would not let them in. Hobbs explained that he wanted to pay for the window he had just broken, so Gussie opened the door. As they argued over how much the repairs would cost, Nettie rushed in and found Lizzie in the front room. Nettie pulled a butcher knife from her sleeve. Lizzie was holding a soda bottle and was ready to use it as a weapon. Accounts differ as to what Hobbs did next; he either tried to separate the women or held Lizzie’s wrist so Nettie could strike. In either case, Nettie plunged the butcher knife into Lizzie’s chest twice. Then, she and Hobbs ran from the house.

Gussie Freeman sent a messenger to fetch a doctor, and others ran from the house following Nettie and Hobbs. The police arrested the couple soon after. Lizzie held on to life until May 15. The cause of death was a secondary hemorrhage brought on by the ulceration of knife wounds. Nettie Brown was charged with first-degree murder and George Hobbs as an accessory.

The trial of Nettie Brown began on February 15, 1878. Her plea was self-defense, claiming that Lizzie threatened her with the soda bottle. Her attorney also asserted that the secondary hemorrhage was brought on by the large dose of morphine Lizzie had taken that day. He claimed she was nearly dead already when the stabbing occurred.

The jury deliberated for twenty-four hours before telling the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked—9 for acquittal, 3 for conviction. The problem was they were given only two choices, acquittal or first-degree murder and Missouri juries were reluctant to send a woman to the gallows.

In May, State’s Attorney Beach wanted to change the charge to second-degree murder. However, the defense insisted that she be tried on the original charge. Beach argued that such a trial would be useless as no jury would convict a woman of murder in the first degree. The judge agreed to the new charge and the defense requested a continuance.

The case was continued several more times before being tried in April 1879. Nettie Brown was found guilty of second-degree murder and sent to Jefferson City Penitentiary. George Hobbs case was continued generally, meaning the charges were effectively dismissed unless the state found new evidence.

“About Town,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 6, 1878.
“Arraignments,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 9, 1877.
“Criminal Court - Judge Jones,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 30, 1878.
“Criminal Notes,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 11, 1879.
“Disagreement of a Jury in a Murder Case,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 20, 1878.
“Four Courts Notes,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 11, 1879.
“In the Hands of the Jury,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 18, 1878.
“Life in St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 1877.
“Murderous Assault on a Woman,” Illustrated Police News, April 22, 1877.
“Nettie Brown's Case,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, May 16, 1878.
“The News,” Rolla Herald, April 5, 1877.
“Probable Murder,” Evansville Journal, April 4, 1877.
“St. Louis in Splinters,” St, Louis Globe-Democrat, May 4, 1879.
“Stabbed and Killed,” Weekly Globe Democrat, May 24, 1877.
“Trial of Nettie Brown,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, February 16, 1878.


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