Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Bedford Murder.

Dr. John W. Hughes. 

Dr. John W. Hughes was a restless, intemperate man whose life never ran smoothly. When his home life turned sour, he found love with a woman half his age. Then, he lost her through an act of deception, and in a fit of drunken rage, Dr. Hughes killed his one true love.

Date:  August 9, 1865

Location:   Bedford, Ohio

Victim:  Tamzen Parsons

Cause of Death:  Gunshot

Accused:   Dr. John W. Hughes


On August 9, 1865, Dr. John W. Hughes was in Bedford, Ohio, trying to find Tamzen Parsons. He stopped at her house and learned she had gone blackberry picking with her mother. As he walked away, he saw Tamzen on the other side of the street, going toward a friend’s house. He caught up with her in the yard. Hughes had been drinking heavily the night before and had a couple of shots of whiskey with breakfast. He was far from sober.

Hughes asked Tamzen if she had made up her mind to live with him. He had been to her house two weeks earlier asking the same question until her father chased him away. She refused then, and she refused now. She shook her head and started walking toward the house.

“You need not follow me,” she said, “I will not go.”

Hughes grabbed her arm and drew a small revolver, saying, “Good-bye, Tamzen; we shall meet again across the big waters. Half my life is gone, and the rest will soon be ended when I have done the deed and paid the penalty—good-bye Tamzen.”

He shot her in the head, and as she fell, he fired again. Tamzen was dead.

Several people had witnessed the murder, and a crowd chased Hughes as he ran away. He drew his pistol again and warned them back. His friend, Oscar Russell, was waiting in a hack on the street. Hughes got in and told the driver to speed away. 

A larger crowd, including Tamzen’s brother-in-law, Levi Haines, followed, and as they overtook the carriage, Hughes jumped out and ran into the woods. Scores of villagers joined the police as they scoured the woods, looking for the killer. Constable Wells found him fast asleep beside a log in the high grass. The police strongly guarded Hughes as they took him to the station to prevent a lynching. 

They took him by carriage to Cleveland. As they traveled, Detective Andress observed that this was a sorry piece of business.

Hughes replied, “No, I went out there on purpose to kill her, and am glad of it. I killed her out of pure love. If I could have killed Haines, I should feel perfectly satisfied.”

John Hughes was born on the Isle of Man in England. He came from a wealthy family and studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. In the early 1860s, he was married with two children but living a fast life of drinking and gambling. After paying off his gambling debts, Hughes had little money left. He decided to move his family to America and start a new life. They eventually settled in Ohio, and Hughes opened a medical practice in Bedford.

In March 1864, Hughes enlisted in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, fighting for the Union, first as a private, then as a surgeon. In October, he learned that his son was sick, so he returned to Bedford. He found his home in disarray; his wife was living a life of drunkenness and dissipation, constantly fighting with others in the house. Hughes nursed his son back to health then moved out, vowing never to return. He opened a medical practice in Cleveland.

Hughes began to drink heavily. He went to a Soldiers’ Aid Ball at a Warrensville hotel. Intoxicated and exhausted, he went to see his friend Harry Parsons, who stayed at his cousin’s house. He passed out there. He awoke the next morning to find a young woman bending over him and loosening his cravat. 

“Who are you?” he said.

“Tamzen Parson,” she responded.

“Where am I?

“In my father’s house,” she said, then asked, “Doctor, why do you drink so much?”

He told her of his domestic troubles. 

She sympathized and laid her head in his bosom, saying, “I wish to God I were your wife.”

Though Tamzen was 18 and he was 35, they began a passionate love affair. After just a few weeks, Hughes showed her a bill of divorce from his wife and Tamzen agreed to marry him. On December 19, 1864, they set out for Pittsburgh and were married there.

Tamzen’s family knew the bill of divorce was a forgery, and Hughes was still married. Levi Haines, Tamzen’s brother-in-law, traveled to Pittsburgh to tell her. Tamzen was devastated, and she and Haines had Hughes arrested for bigamy.

John Hughes was convicted of bigamy and sentenced to one year in the state penitentiary. Through the unremitting efforts of his first wife’s petitions, the governor pardoned Hughes after serving five months. 

Hughes did not return to his wife but stayed in Cleveland. He was determined to win Tamzen back. His visits to Bedford, making futile attempts to change her mind, ultimately led to her murder.

Trial:  December 6, 1865

The trial for the first-degree murder of Tamzen Parsons was held in December 1865. John Hughes pleaded not guilty. There was no question that Hughes committed the crime; the issue was whether the murder was premeditated. A conviction of first-degree murder would mean execution, but second-degree murder meant a prison term.

The prosecution called witnesses who had heard Hughes say he planned to kill Tamzen. The defense said the murder was a spontaneous moment of madness aggravated by alcohol.

“The murder was the sudden impulse of a brain crazed by drink and no deliberate malicious act,” said his attorney.

The jury had no trouble finding John Hughes guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death.

Verdict: Guilty of first-degree murder


Despite efforts to have Hughes’s sentence commuted to life in prison, his hanging took place as scheduled on February 9, 1866. On the gallows, he gave a long address, relating his history and the circumstances of the murder, ending with the hope that his life would serve as an example of the evil effects of alcohol.

I am resigned. I have reviewed the whole matter, and I know I deserve death. But I never deliberated or premeditated the murder of Tamzen Parsons. Poor girl! My worst fault was I loved her too well. But I must submit. I deserve it. I hope that this may be an example to all to keep free from the terrible vice, the curse that has ruined the families and destroyed the hearts of millions. I hope, indeed, that the example may be a lasting one. 

“The Bedford Murder,” Cleveland Leader., August 11, 1865.
“The Bedford Murder,” Plain Dealer, August 11, 1865.
“The Bedford Murder,” Cleveland Daily Leader., December 7, 1865.
“The Bedford Murder,” Cleveland Daily Leader., December 22, 1865.
“The Bedford Murder!,” Cleveland Leader., August 14, 1865.
“Doctor Hughes Heard From,” Plain Dealer, March 28, 1866.
“Dr. John W Hughes,” Cleveland Daily leader., February 3, 1866.
“Executions,” CHILTON TIMES., February 10, 1866.
John William Hughes, The Trial and Execution of Dr. John W. Hughes (Cleveland: John K. Stetler, 1866.) 
“Horrible Murder,” Plain Dealer, August 10, 1865.
“Horrible Wife-Murder!,” Cleveland Leader., August 10, 1865.
“Hughes' Speech,” Plain Dealer, January 2, 1866.
“News Article,” Cleveland Daily Leader., November 27, 1865.
“Retribution!,” Cleveland Daily Leader., February 10, 1866.
“Various Items,” Daily Evening Traveller., December 28, 1865.


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