Saturday, March 2, 2024

His House His Castle.

Sometime after 11:00, the night of January 15, 1888, Mrs. Emma Belden was awakened by someone ringing the front doorbell. She went to the door and heard the person trying to get inside.

“Who’s there,” she called.

“Let me in,” a gruff voice responded.

“You can’t get in.”

The man outside started kicking the door, trying to break in.

The Beldens lived in a three-story house at 182 Ainslie Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Emma and her husband George lived on the first floor; their son Robert and his wife Jeanette lived on the top two floors.

George Belden joined his wife at the door and said to the man, “What do you want?”

“None of your _____ business,” the man shouted as he continued kicking the door.

Robert came downstairs to help his parents. The man outside said he would burst in the door if someone did not open it soon. 

“I’ll save you the trouble of bursting the door,” said George, and he eased the door open to get a look at the stranger.

He was a rough-looking man, clearly drunk and angry. Cursing, he said he would enter or die. Then he forced his way in and lunged at George Belden’s throat. All three men were engaged in a violent struggle while the women screamed “murder.”

Robert brought a pistol with him when he came downstairs, and he fired a shot over the intruder’s head. The man continued to fight, so Robert fired again. He aimed for his feet but was knocked in the scuffle, and the bullet entered the man’s side. The fighting ceased as the man slumped to the floor.

Robert dressed and left for the police station to turn himself in. An ambulance took the wounded man to St. Catherine’s Hospital.

The police court judge charged Robert Belden with felonious assault and refused bail. He handed the case to District Attorney Ridgway, who sided with Robert.

“There is no question as to the law of the case,” said D.A. Ridgway to the Supreme Court judge, “If this man was an intruder and the son believed that his father’s life was in peril, he was justified in shooting.”

Fire Commissioner Ennis accompanied Belden to court and vouched for him. The Commissioner put up the bond when the judge granted Belden $2,000 bail.

At the hospital, the wounded man was in critical condition but able to talk. His name was Frank Coleman, and he lived at 156 Ainsley Street. He said he had not intended to rob the place. Because he was nearsighted, he mistook the Belden house for his own. He thought he was being kept out because he was drunk. This made him angry enough to fight when he got inside.

Frank Coleman died on January 18, leaving a widow and several children. The police rearrested Robert Belden, and the coroner held an inquest on the case. After hearing the testimony of the family and several neighbors who witnessed the events from outside, the coroner’s jury declared that Belden’s act was justified.

"The punishment of Robert Belden for the killing of Frank Coleman will probably be limited to the lifelong regret which a sensitive man must feel for such a mistake." Said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“Belden's Fatal Shot,” The Brooklyn Citizen, January 20, 1888.
“Belden's Shot Justifiable,” New York Herald, January 17, 1888.
“Belden's Victim Dead,” evening world., January 18, 1888.
“Briefs by Wire x,” Buffalo Evening News., January 16, 1888.
“Coleman May Recover,” Evening World., January 16, 1888.
“Correcting a Mistake with Bullets,” New York Tribune, January 17, 1888.
“A Man's House His Castle,” National Police Gazette, February 4, 1888.
“Shot for a Burglar,” Evening Post, January 16, 1888.
“Too Many Pistols,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 19, 1888.
“Very Latest News,” Buffalo Evening News., January 21, 1888.


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