Saturday, November 25, 2023

A Fatal Frolic.

James L. Daniels returned to Hillman, Alabama, from a trip to Birmingham, the night of December 26, 1890. While he was there, he purchased a hideous mask and thought it would be a good joke to put on the mask and frighten the family of his brother-in-law, Joe Tarpley. He knocked on their door and Tarpley answered. Not knowing it was Daniels, Tarpley told the masked man to go away. Instead, Daniels barged into the house. Thinking his home was invaded by a masked burglar, Tarpley grabbed his Winchester rifle and shot his brother-in-law dead. Daniels left behind a wife, who was Tarpley’s sister, and five children.

“A Fatal Frolic,” National Police Gazette, January 17, 1891.
“Fate of a Practical Joker,” Aberdeen Weekly News, February 20, 1891.
“State News,” Blount County News-Dispatch, January 1, 1891.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

A Fan's Obsession.

James M. Dougherty was a telegraph lineman in Brooklyn who studied meteorology, electricity, astronomy, and other sciences in his spare time. He dabbled in a little of everything until 1887 when he saw actress Mary Anderson and she became his sole obsession. He followed her wherever she performed and became convinced that a group of evil conspirators was keeping him from his true love. In 1889, the police arrested Dougherty for stalking Mary Anderson. Doctors pronounced him insane and sent him to the King’s County Insane Asylum in Brooklyn. Dougherty escaped from the asylum, only to return two weeks later with two loaded revolvers to murder one of his doctors.

Read the full story here: Lunatic Dougherty.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Love and Lunacy.

In 1874, Charley McGill had a steady job as a cabinet maker, living in Columbus, Ohio, with a wife and a child. He was standing on the street with his friend, Elliot Hymrod when two young ladies passed by. Hymrod proposed that they follow the ladies, and McGill agreed. One of the ladies, Mary Kelly, caught McGill’s eye, and he struck up an acquaintance with her that grew into “desperate, infatuated love.”

In his new condition, McGill’s home life became an unbearable burden. He left Columbus accompanied by Mary Kelly. They went first to Toledo, then settled in Cleveland where, though not married, they lived together as man and wife.

It was reported that Mary Kelly was a virtuous girl before meeting McGill, and McGill had a history of leading young girls astray. Newspaper accounts implied that while they were living in Cleveland, he was Mary’s pimp, and they were living off her earnings as a prostitute. McGill would later vehemently deny this. 

In any case, neither of them had a legitimate job, and they were on the verge of starvation. After an angry quarrel, Mary moved out. McGill was devastated, and he spent the next four weeks searching for her. He finally found her by leaving a “decoy letter” for her at the Cleveland Post Office, and when she went to pick it up, on December 2, 1877, he confronted her. She was living at a house of ill repute kept by Laura Lane. Mary invited McGill to see her there that night.

McGill pawned an overcoat he borrowed from Elliot Hymrod and used the cash to buy a seven-shot revolver and a box of cartridges. He planned to see Mary and convince her to come back to him. If she refused, he would threaten to shoot himself. But that is not how it transpired. McGill explained to the police what happened that night:

“I then went and laid on the bed with Mary, and after a few words, I put my arms around her body and, with my right hand, took the revolver from my pocket and, putting the muzzle to her ear, fired, whereupon she said, ‘forgive me Charley send for the priest.’ I continued to shoot her in the right cheek until the seven charges were emptied into her head. Finding that she was dead, I got up, sat on a chair, and put three more charges in the revolver. And laying her arm, which lay across the region of her heart, to one side, I put the muzzle as near Mary’s heart as I knew how and fired two shots; with the third load I shot her through the temple, making ten shots in all.”

He went downstairs and told one of the women to get a policeman and take him to prison. McGill was very cool and calm as he confessed to the police, but that night in jail, he had trouble sleeping.

“I could not sleep. Every time I would fall into a doze I heard her calling ‘Charley! Charley!’ and was compelled to get up and walk about in my cell.”

At the inquest, Charley McGill pleaded guilty, but when the case went to trial in February 1878, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorney told the court that the “peculiar atrocity of the deed” indicated insanity. He also introduced testimony that McGill had a history of somnambulism and, as a child, had received several knocks on his head. It was not enough for the jury, who found McGill guilty after five hours of deliberation. He was sentenced to hang on June 26, 1878.

They appealed the verdict, and on the day he was to hang, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in McGill’s favor, granting him a new trial on technical grounds. But the second trial held that October ended the same way. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang on February 13, 1879.

As the execution day approached, a delegation from Cleveland urged Governor Bishop to commute the sentence to life in prison. The Governor refused, and the hanging occurred as planned. McGill’s last words on the gallows were, “Don’t make any mistake on that rope.”

“The Cleveland Murder,” Columbus Evening Dispatch., December 3, 1877.
“Commutation Asked,” Chicago daily tribune., February 7, 1879.
“Crime,” The Cincinnati Commercial, December 3, 1877.
“The Gallows,” Chicago Daily News, February 13, 1879.
“Guilty of Murder,” Chicago daily tribune., October 27, 1878.
“Jealousy's Victims,” Inter Ocean, December 3, 1877.
“Love and Lunacy,” Weekly Globe-Democrat., December 6, 1877.
“McGill as a Lover,” Cleveland Leader., December 11, 1877.
“The Murder,” Cleveland Leader., December 4, 1877.
“The Murderer McGill,” Plain Dealer, December 8, 1877.
“The Murderer of Mary Kelly Convicted,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, March 1, 1878.
“No Commutation,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, February 10, 1879.
“Overruled,” Chicago daily tribune., March 3, 1878.
“Sentanced to be Hung,” Evansville Daily Courier., November 1, 1878.
“The Supreme Sacrifice,” Plain Dealer, February 13, 1879.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Special Guests.

As Murder by Gaslight celebrates its fourteenth anniversary, I would like to take a moment to celebrate the contributions of our guest bloggers. Over the years, thirteen authors and bloggers have provided posts relating to nineteenth century American murder. Some document crimes in their locality, or even their own family, others draw on expertise on high-profile cases. They each exhibit the level of research that has always been a hallmark of Murder by Gaslight. Thanks again to all of you! 

Here, in chronological order are Murder by Gaslight’s guest posts:
Scandalous Women Elizabeth Kerri Mahon - May 7, 2011

Author and blogger, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, shared the story of Mary Ellen Plesant, one of several dozen brazen ladies— famous and infamous—profiled in her fascinating book Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History's Most Notorious Women.

Mary Ellen Pleasant and the ‘House of Mystery’
Scandalous Women Cheri Farnsworth - July 16, 2011

Cheri Farnsworth   writes about murder and hauntings in Northern New York State. She shared this story from her book Murder and Mayhem in Jefferson County.

The “Watertown Trunk Murder” – Hounsfield, 1908’
"Headsman" - Executed Today

Since 2011, Headsman, the enigmatic blogger at has shared execution tales of five 19th Century American murders:

1858: Marion Ira Stout, for loving his sister - 9/10/2011
1887: William Jackson Marion, who’d be pardoned 100 years later - 5/11/2013
1897: Ernest and Alexis Blanc, brothers in blood - 4/12/2014
1846: Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh, in her rocking chair - 11/1/2014
Six Men Hanged - 2/25/2020
Bound by an Iron Chain Anthony Vaver - October 8, 2011

Anthony Vaver is an author and blogger (Early American Crime) who writes about crime, criminals, and punishments from America's past. This story is from his book Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America.

Charles O’Donnel: His Life and Confession
Galveston and the Civil War James Schmidt - March 9, 2013

James Schmidt has written several books about the American Civil War, including Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom This story is a break from the battlefield, but not from violence - a fascinating tale of murder in Connecticut from the 1850s.

"Murdered by a Maniac" Guest Post by James Schmidt
The Mad Sculptor Harold Schechter - February 19, 2014

Harold Schecter, the master of historical true crime, included Murder by Gaslight in his blog tour promoting the book The Mad Sculptor. He gave a synopsis of the book and described his writing process.

The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, The Model, and the Murder that Shook The Nation
Thomas Watkins Kyle Dalton - November 11, 2019

Historian Kyle Dalton works at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and maintains the website British Tars: 1740-1790. He shared the story of the assassination of Captain Watkins

Assassination of Captain Watkins
Olive Peany Undine - December 16, 2019

Undine, "Blogger of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Remarkably lifelike," plies her trade at Strange Company. She related the murder of Olive Peany, an ambitious but hard to please Ohio girl.

Olive Peany
Abraham Bowen Borden Shelley Dziedzic - January 18, 2020

Shelley Dziedzic blogs at Lizzie Borden Warps & Wefts, the prime source for accurate information on the Borden murders. Her post tells the story of a gruesome murder/suicide from another branch of the Borden family tree.

Murder in the Well
Goffle Road Murders Don Everett Smith Jr. - March 14, 2020

Don Everett Smith revisited the 1850 Van Winkle killings, expanding on his book, The Goffle Road Murders of Passaic County.

Revisiting the Goffle Road Murders
Howard and Nina Brown 

Howard and Nina Brown run, a discussion group for all things related to Jack the Ripper. They provided two posts on Ameer Ben Ali, arrested for the murder of Carrie Brown, considered by some to be an American victim of Jack the Ripper.
Ameer Ben Ali & an Actor's Tale.- October 17, 2020
The Rescue of Ameer Ben Ali.- February 6, 2021
Jesse Pomeroy Donna Wells - April 16, 2022

Donna Wells, a former archivist with the Boston Police Department, shared an old photograph she found, believed to be a portrait of Jesse Pomeroy, who, at age 14, who murdered two children in Boston.

 Rare Photo of America's Youngest Serial Killer.
Jesse Pomeroy Bob Moody - May 6, 2022

Bob Moody, a retired radio personality, chronicled the murder of his great-great-granduncle, Tom Moody, in his book, The Terror of Indiana; Bent Jones & The Moody-Tolliver Feud. His post relates the events leading to the feud and the murder.

The Moody-Tolliver Feud.