Saturday, May 4, 2024

The Falls Field Tragedy.

On December 19, 1857, Nathan Newhafer slipped while crossing the Andrews Street Bridge in Rochester, New York. He fell into the Genesee River, was swept over High Falls, and disappeared. Newhafer was the president of Rochester’s Jewish Synagogue, and his congregation offered a reward for the recovery of his body. The following day, searchers found a man’s corpse on the shore of Falls Field. His skull had been fractured by blows to the head, his face had multiple wounds, and he was not Nathan Newhafer.

Falls Field, Rochester, NY

Date:  December 19, 1857

Location:   Rochester, New York

Victim:  Charles W. Littles

Cause of Death:  Blows to the head

Accused:   Marion Ira Stout, Sarah E. Littles


The body found in Falls Field had fallen from the same bridge Nathan Newhafer tried to cross. It was under construction and not meant for public use. The body had not fallen into the river but landed on the bank, leaving a pool of blood. The police found another pool of blood further down the bank. Someone had dragged the body from the bank to the river, but it had not gone far enough in to catch the current. The headwounds looked as though they had been made by a three-pronged weapon. Near one of the blood pools, they found a pair of spectacles, a rosette from a woman’s hat, and a piece of a victorine—a fur scarf.

The body was soon identified as Charles W. Littles, a prominent Rochester attorney. The prime suspect was his estranged wife, Sarah, who was living with her parents and siblings. Charles Littles and Sarah Stout met and married about three years earlier. Charles was a heavy drinker and had multiple extramarital affairs. Sarah couldn’t take anymore and moved out in the spring of 1857. Charles still visited her and tried to win her back, but she refused to move back in with him.

The police went to the Stout home and found that Sarah and her brother, Marion Ira Stout (who went by Ira), both had broken bones the day before. His arm was broken, and her wrist was broken. They claimed that the injuries were unrelated; Ira fell on the sidewalk when running with his hands in his pockets, and Sarah hurt her wrist at home. Though they denied any of the items found at the scene were theirs, the police found a hat with rosettes like the one found and a victorine with a piece missing. Ira had lost his glasses but claimed the pair found was not his. The police also found recently washed clothing that still had blood stains.

Though Sarah and Charles were separated, he wanted her back and became extremely jealous when she was in the company of another man. Some witnesses had seen four people together that night. Under questioning, Ira and Sarah tried to implicate a Mr. Patterson, who had been one of Sarah’s lovers.

Ira was angry about the way Charles treated his sister. Sarah and Ira had been seen in bed together, prompting rumors of incest. He had another reason to want Charles dead. Ira had recently ended a prison sentence and wanted to keep it a secret. At the time of the murder, Charles Littles was the only person outside the family who knew of Ira’s prison record.

The evidence was circumstantial but enough for the coroner’s jury to rule that Littles was murdered by Ira Stout, Sarah Littles, and an unknown third person. The grand jury indicted Ira and Sarah for murder.

Trials:  Ira Stout, April 14, 1858

            Sarah Littles, June 24, 1858

Sarah’s attorney moved to have the defendants tried separately, and the court agreed. Ira Stout was tried first. The evidence was the same as the inquest, and Stout denied it all. However, Stout’s mother dropped a bombshell in her testimony. She said he and Sarah had come home that night covered in blood, with broken bones and bruised bodies. She went down to Falls Field the next day and saw the mangled corpse. She found Sarah’s cameo and Ira’s cap there and took them away.

The jury found Ira Stout guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.

Sarah offered to plead guilty to manslaughter, but the court did not accept her plea. However, the result was essentially the same. When the trial ended, the jury found her guilty of second-degree manslaughter.

Verdicts: Ira Stout, guilty of first-degree murder

                Sarah Littles, guilty of second-degree manslaughter


Sarah Littles was sentenced to seven years in Sing Sing Prison. There, she wrote a lengthy confession that was published as a book. She said that after she left Charles, he would come to see her at her mother's house. He was extremely jealous and would follow her on the street to see who she was meeting.

Ira befriended Charles and gained his confidence. He told Sarah he would cure Charles of his jealous behavior. The night of the murder he told Charles that Sarah was meeting someone at Falls Field. He told Sarah to meet them there, and they would confront Charles. She did not know Ira planned to murder him.

Sarah waited in Falls Field until she heard Ira calling. She went to him and saw that Ira had murdered Charles with a hammer and thrown his body off the bridge. He had hit the bank but not gone into the water. Sarah and Ira went down the bank but misjudged the steepness. Both fell over the precipice; he broke his arm, and she broke her wrist. Ira lost his glasses, and Sarah lost some of her clothing. They dragged the body as far as they could into the river.

Charles had been wearing a cap and a hat. They picked up both and took them home. Their mother threw the cap, the hat, and the hammer down the outhouse.

In her confession, Sarah said Ira had told her to throw suspicion on Mr. Patterson when questioned. She now said she hadn’t seen Patterson in two months.  He had not been there that night; there was no fourth person.

Following the confession, the police went to the Stouts’ outhouse and recovered the clothing and the hammer. Its iron head was four inches long and two inches in diameter—“heavy enough to fell an ox.” The head was broken on one end with sharp points, explaining the shape of the wounds.

Marion Ira Stout
Before his execution, Ira Stout also wrote a book, “The Last Writing” of Marion Ira Stout. In this rambling diatribe, peppered with original verse, he shows no remorse but says he is the only one who knows the truth of what happened that night and will take it to the grave. He calls Sarah’s confession false and says others told her what to write. Another person was there that night, “one of the principal actors in this tragedy and originator of the whole affair.” His name was omitted from the text, but Stout referred to him as “Pimpy Snip.”

After all his appeals were denied, Ira Stout was sentenced to hang on October 22, 1858. The execution became a cause celebre among opponents of capital punishment. At a public meeting in Rochester, speakers Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglas were drowned out by the shouting and hooting of those anxious to see Stout hang.

Stout made several attempts to “cheat the gallows” by committing suicide. In one case, a visitor slipped him a lancet, which he used to open a vein. In another, he tried to poison himself. But nothing was successful, and the execution proceeded as planned.

Stout’s last words on the gallows were:

Gentlemen, I am of the opinion that there has been considerable vindictiveness in this matter, and where there is vindictiveness, it is difficult to speak. I have left my oracle, which contains my thoughts and expressions of my feelings as a dying man, and that contains all I have to say.

The gallows used in Stout's execution was the type that jerked the body upward when a counterweight was dropped (as illustrated in this post on Antoine LeBlanc). The action did not break Stout’s neck, and it took eight to ten minutes for him to die of strangulation.

“An Incident,” BUFFALO MORNING EXPRESS And Daily Democracy, December 28, 1857.
“Another Attempt At Suicide By Ira Stout,” Commercial Advertiser, October 21, 1858.
“Attempt at Suicide by Ira Stout,” Evening Post., October 14, 1858.
 Headsman, "1858: Marion Ira Stout, for loving his sister", Executed Today, October 22, 2008. 
“Ira Stout and the Anti-Capital Punishment Row at Rochester,” LOUISVILLE DAILY COURIER., October 12, 1858.
“The Last Chapter of the Littles Tragedy,” The New York Times, October 25, 1858.
“The Little Murder Case Rochester, April 23, 1858,” New York Herald, April 24, 1858.
“The Littles Murder Trial,” The New York Times, April 21, 1858.
Littles, Sarah E., The Falls Field Tragedy!: (Rochester: Printed for the publisher by Curtis, Butts & Co., 1858.) 
“A Man Over the Genesee Fails,” Albany Evening Journal, December 22, 1857.
“Melancholy Accident,” Albany Evening Journal, December 21, 1857.
“The Murder At Rochester,” Albany Evening Journal, December 22, 1857.
“The Rochester Murder,” Albany Evening Journal, December 23, 1857.
“The Rochester Murder,” Buffalo Daily Republic, December 24, 1857.
“The Rochester Tragedy,” BUFFALO MORNING EXPRESS And Daily Democracy, December 23, 1857.
“The Sentence of Sarah Littles,” Buffalo Courier, June 28, 1858.
 Stout, Marion Ira, "The last writing" of Marion Ira Stout (Rochester: Printed for the Publishers, 1858.)
“The Verdict in the Rochester Murder Case,” Buffalo Courier, December 25, 1857.


little gator says:
May 10, 2024 at 1:41 PM

But whta about Nathan?

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