Saturday, October 21, 2023

Rum and the Knife.

On November 14, 1877, the Lynches of South Boston were expecting a visit from Mrs. Lynch’s sister, Bridget Frances Kenneally. Mr. and Mrs. Lynch were sitting in the kitchen at around 6:30 when the door suddenly flew open, and Bridget fell flat on her face across the threshold. They thought she had fainted, so they carried her to the sofa and attempted to revive her but were unsuccessful. Bridget appeared to be dying, so the Lynches sent for a physician and a Catholic priest, but she died before either arrived, without uttering a word or giving the slightest clue as to the cause.

Bridget was wearing a thick jacket of dark material, and they noticed a little blood in it but thought she had cut herself in the fall. When they opened the front of her dress, they discovered that Bridget had been stabbed three times in the base of the sternum, and at least one plunge of the knife had punctured her heart.

When the police arrived about half an hour later, they were faced with a mystery. Bridget Kenneally was a respectable Irish lady, about 30 years old. She was employed as a coat baster at the Continental Clothing House. She boarded alone in South Boston and was described by her friends as “an estimable young lady in every way.” The crime appeared to be completely random.

The officers arrested on suspicion an old rum-drinking junk dealer named Peter Mahoney, who was drinking in John J. Teevan’s saloon directly across the street. The day before the murder, the Fitzgerald family, who lived on the floor below the Lynches, were holding a christening party. The Fitzgeralds were known to be rather disorderly, and the party became very noisy. Peter Mahoney, who was married to Mrs. Fitzgerald’s sister, attended and became extremely intoxicated. He got into an argument with Mrs. Fitzgerald, and when she hit him on the head with a stove-lifter, he left, swearing he would come back and kill her.

Drunk again the following evening, Mahoney was seen threatening some children with a knife and had gotten into a fight with a man. When arrested, the police found a large, two-bladed jack knife on his person, with a fresh blood spot on one of the blades. Mahoney had served time in the penitentiary as a common drunk. He was a violent man,  but there was no indication that Mahoney ever had any difficulty with Bridget Kenneally. He had either mistaken Bridget for his sister-in-law or was so angry and crazed with drink that he did not know what he was doing.

The police took Mahoney to jail on suspicion and waited for him to sober up. In the meantime, they investigated the possibility that Bridget had been keeping company with a man with whom she quarreled and who may have been the murderer. This investigation did not pan out; everything pointed to Mahoney as the killer.

At his arraignment the next day, Peter Mahoney pled not guilty to the murder of Bridget Kenneally. But at his trial, the following March, Mahoney retracted his plea of not guilty and pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree. The court accepted his plea and sentenced him to life in the state prison. 

“Cowardly Murder of a Young Woman in South Boston,” Boston Daily Advertiser, November 15, 1877.
“A Drunken Passion,” New York Herald, November 18, 1877.
“A Life Sentence,” Lowell Daily Citizen and News, March 19, 1878.
“Massachusetts,” Woonsocket Patriot and Rhode Island State Register, November 29, 1877.
“Rum and the Knife,” Illustrated Police News, November 24, 1877.


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