Saturday, February 25, 2023

Maria Bickford.

Maria Bickford, a beautiful young prostitute, was found murdered in her room in Boston’s Beacon Hill. Her throat was slashed from ear to ear and her bed had been set on fire. 

Read the full story here: The Sleepwalking Defense.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

An Affair of Blood and Mystery.

Mrs. Amelia Berry (or Berri) was a German widow living in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1864, her husband died, leaving her a sizable estate, including a drug store with a residence on the upper floors. Her brother, Edward Hofius, lived in California until 1870, when Amelia invited him to return to Jefferson City and reside with her. Mary Clarenbach, a niece of Amelia and Edward, also lived in the large house.

Around 8:00, the night of Sunday, June 11, 1871, neighbors heard gunshots from the drug store. They went inside and found Amelia Berry lying on the floor, mortally wounded. On the floor above, they found Edward, insensible, with a bullet through his brain. The room was in disarray, and some of the furniture was broken. Edward died soon after, and Amelia died around 11:00 the following night. 

The community was shocked by the tragedy. The story spread quickly, but the motive for the shooting was a mystery. Both brother and sister had always been respected members of society. Amelia was seen as kind and energetic and praised for her competence in running the drug store. Edward was steady, industrious, and sober. Both had always been on the best of terms with each other.

Two narratives circulated to explain the tragedy. One said that Edward wanted Mary to accompany him to a German picnic held on the outskirts of town that afternoon. When she refused, he became quite angry and went to the picnic alone. When he returned, he was under the influence of alcohol and still angry. He argued with his sister, then went upstairs and started breaking chairs. Amelia followed him upstairs, and the quarrel resumed. When she turned to leave, he drew a pistol and shot her in the back. He then turned the pistol on himself.

The other story said that Edward returned from the picnic and found Mr. Schirenberg, the editor of Fortschrit, a German weekly newspaper, there. Schirenberg had been paying some attention to Amelia, and Edward disapproved. The two began to quarrel and when it looked like it would turn violent, Amelia stepped between them and tried to stop it. Edward drew his pistol and shot, but the bullet intended for Schirenberg hit Amelia in the side. In a moment of desperation, after seeing what he had done, Edward rushed upstairs and shot himself. 

The next day, the coroner held an inquest on the shootings. Capt. Peisner, who lived next door, testified that he heard a loud quarrel between Edward and Schirenberg. As he went to see what was happening, he heard three shots fired in succession. On entering the drug store, he heard two more shots fired. Inside he saw Schirenberg assisting Amelia into her room.

Mary Clarenbach testified that Edward had returned from the picnic and did not want to eat the dinner Amelia had prepared for him. They began to argue. Edward said Amelia had not treated him like a brother and threatened to leave if she did not pay him the bonds that she owed him. The argument became more heated, and Edward drew his pistol and shot Amelia. He ran upstairs and made a great deal of fuss. Mary went up to try and take the pistol from him. He fired at her and missed. Then he pointed the pistol at himself and fired twice. The first shot missed him, but the second entered his eye and came out the back of his head. 

There had been no words between Schirenberg and Edward, Mary said, at the time Schirenberg was outside in the garden. 

The foreman of the jury wanted to hear testimony from Schirenberg and from Dr. Thompson, who had been present when Amelia updated her will, knowing that she was dying. The coroner refused, saying the neice’s testimony was sufficient to show how Edward Hofius died.

The jury rendered a verdict that Edward came to his death from a pistol shot fired from his own hand. However, three jurors, including the foreman, refused to sign the verdict. But, since they needed the verdict before burying Edward, they agreed to sign under protest. 

The resulting verdict did not satisfy the community; some believed that the manner of Edward’s death was open to doubt. A bullet was lodged in the wall near where the body was lying, and there was a mark on the wall showing that another bullet had glanced off. From the position of the mark, it did not appear that Edward could have fired the shot that made it. Some believed the shots had been fired by Schirenberg. A second inquest held the following day returned the same verdict.

The suicide theory was given some credence by a family history that was plagued by suicide. Amelia’s husband had died by his own hand, and another brother of Amelia and Edward had committed suicide in Switzerland. 

“Awful Tragedy,” Intelligencer Journal, June 17, 1891.
“Double Tragedy in Jefferson City, MO,” National Police Gazette, June 24, 1871.
“A Double Tragedy!!,” The Peoples' Tribune, June 14, 1871.
“A Dreadful Tragedy,” Warrenton Banner, June 27, 1871.
“Horrible Tragedy,” The Missouri Republican, June 14, 1871.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Sarah Jane Gould.

Everyone in Canton, New York, learned to distrust James E. Eldredge, except his fiancĂ©, Sarah Jane Gould.  Sarah Jane remained trusting till the end, when Eldredge poisoned her to pursue her younger sister, Helen.

Read the full story here: James E. Eldredge

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Arson to Hide a Worse Crime.

Lee Heflin ran to Thomas Robinson’s farm near Calverton, Virginia, on November 10, 1891, to raise an alarm that a house on a neighboring farm was on fire. Heflin led Robinson and his son George to the burning house. When they got there, other neighbors had gathered, and the house was engulfed in flames. 

The house belonged to Mrs. J. W. Kines, a widow who lived there with three of her children. It appeared that all four were still inside. The Robinsons ventured in and were able to pull out three bodies. 8-year-old Lizzie Kines lay near the door and was only slightly burned. Annie Kines, ten years old, was so badly burned as to be unrecognizable. Mrs. Kines’s body was severely charred but not as bad as her daughter's. There was no trace of 4-year-old Gilbert Kines. 

Mrs. Kines had been having financial difficulties since her husband died and had told neighbors she did not know how she would take care of the children alone. But the coroner quickly ruled out murder-suicide; the victims had been killed before the fire started. Lizzie had deep wounds to her skull and between her eyes. Her jaw was broken as well. Mrs. Kines’s skull had been crushed.

Lee Heflin had been shucking corn at the McMillan farm, about 40 yards from the burning house. When asked why he ran to Robinson’s house a mile and a half away instead of trying to rescue those in the house, Heflin responded, “I am a stranger here. I never saw a house on fire before and was afraid.”

Heflin roomed with George Dye on the McMillan farm. Neither man could give a satisfactory account of their actions the night of the murder, and they gave contradictory statements. However, the coroner’s jury ruled that Mrs. Kines and her daughters were killed by a person or persons unknown, and the motive was believed to be robbery. The Governor offered a reward of $700 for the “detention, arrest, and conviction” of the murderer or murderers.

Heflin and Dye were arrested on suspicion in Warrenton, then taken to Alexandria for their own protection. A vigilance committee in Warrenton was formed to lynch the men. On the way to Alexandria, Heflin confessed to several witnesses that he committed the murders to secure some money. He also exonerated Dye.

Heflin said he had gone to the house at about 8:00 the night before the fire. He knocked on the door, and when Mrs. Kines answered, he asked her for some money. She told him she had none. He went into the house, picked up a heavy piece of firewood, and felled Mrs. Kines with one blow. He turned and saw Gilbert, then killed him with a blow to the back of the neck. Then he killed the other two children and secured what money he could find. He took between $25 and $75 and buried it. The next morning, he returned to the house, saturated the place with coal oil, and set it on fire. He said he needed the money because he was going to elope with the wife and daughter of a farmer who lived nearby. The police went to look for the money and planned to release Dye.

Joseph Dye was still in custody when Heflin went to trial in Warrenton that December. Heflin had changed his story and now said that Dye had done the killing and he had done the burning. On December 29, Lee Heflin was found guilty of first-degree murder. Heflin was rushed from the courtroom and barely escaped an excited mob that had gathered there. 

In January, Heflin testified against Dye at his trial. Dye was found guilty as well, and both men were sentenced to be hanged on March 18.

The day before the hanging was to take place, the Governor granted them a 60-day stay of execution. Dye was appealing for a new trial, and Heflin would be a witness. Fearing violence, the authorities placed the men in a vehicle and started for the safety of Alexandria. A party of sixty men, worried that Dye and Heflin would escape justice on a technicality, overtook the vehicle near Gainesville. They overpowered the guard, then hanged the murderers from a tree. As they swung, the mob riddled their bodies with bullets. 

“Arson to Hide a Worse Crime,” National Police Gazette, December 5, 1891.
“A Family Murdered,” Evening Star, November 28, 1891.
“The Fauquier Tragedy,” Alexandria Gazette, November 12, 1891.
“The Fauquier Tragedy,” Alexandria Gazette, November 14, 1891.
“Fired to Conceal Murders,” Morning news, November 11, 1891.
“Guarded in Court,” Roanoke times, December 30, 1891.
“Hanged on the Day Appointed,” Watertown Daily Times, March 18, 1892.
“Heflin Respited. ,” Shenandoah herald, March 18, 1892.
“A Murderer Confesses,” News and Observer, November 27, 1891.
“Murderes Lynched,” Evening Star, March 18, 1892.
“South and West,” Boston Herald, November 11, 1891.
“To Swing For Their Crimes,” Atlanta Journal, January 14, 1892.
“Virginia,” Weekly Union times, November 20, 1891.