Sunday, September 19, 2010

Murder and Mayhem in St. Lawrence County

Book Review:

Murder and Mayhem in St. Lawrence County
by Cheri L. Farnsworth

New York State in the 19th century was a model of enterprise and progress. Manhattan was rapidly becoming the cultural capital of America and the Erie Canal was bringing commerce and prosperity west of the Hudson. But St. Lawrence County, between the Adirondacks and the St. Lawrence River, remained as it had always been, an isolated collection of roughshod farm communities. In Cheri L. Farnsworth’s new book Murder & Mayhem in St. Lawrence County, it is also a dark and dangerous place filled with sensational crimes and deranged killers.

The book contains twelve intriguing stories, true murder cases from New York’s North Country in the years between 1816 and 1917. In method and motive the killings mirror what was happening throughout America—from premeditated poisoning for inheritance to impulsive axe murder during robbery. And of course, there were shootings, stabbings and slashings out of jealousy and passion.

Especially striking is the number of murders involving lovers, spouses and immediate family members. James Eldridge poisoned his fiancĂ©; Frank Conroy slashed his wife; John Hall shot his brother-in-law; the list goes on. There are stories of senseless violence as well; including a man who shot three people while “seized by an urgent sexual frenzy.” Adding drama to the collection is the fact that in one case the wrong man may have been executed and in two others the murderer was never found.

Murder and Mayhem in St. Lawrence County is well-researched, drawing from trial transcripts and other primary sources. Excerpts from local newspapers of the time and an abundance of illustrations and photographs (many from the author’s own collection) add authenticity to the descriptions and provide the reader with a true sense of the setting and characters of each story. True crime reporting can be an effective tool for exploring the everyday history of a place and time. Murder and Mayhem in St. Lawrence County illuminates the dark side of northern New York’s early days.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Tanyard Murder

In 1874, a feud within Cincinnati’s German community would lead to the brutal murder and illegal cremation of Herman Schilling, a worker at H. Frieberg’s tanyard. Andreas Egner wanted revenge for catching Shilling in bed with his 15-year-old daughter. But Shilling had other enemies as well and his killer could just as easily been George Rufer who believed Shilling had cost him his job at the tannery. The murder of Herman Shilling—one of the most gruesome in Cincinnati’s history—would also serve as a stepping stone for an aspiring young reporter on his way to international literary renown.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Antoine Le Blanc

American opportunity lured thousands of European immigrants to the New World in search of fortune. But opportunity was not enough for French immigrant, Antoine Le Blanc, who became a farm worker Morristown, New Jersey in 1833. After only two weeks on the job, Le Blanc realized that the fortune he sought would not be gained by hard work, it called for violent action. Le Blanc robbed and murdered his employers, the Sayre family, and their servant girl. He was quickly caught, speedily tried and executed at one of New Jersey’s largest public hangings. Hatred for Le Blanc was so strong that after his death his body was desecrated—his skin was made into wallets and other leather products, some of which still exist nearly 170 years later.