Saturday, July 30, 2011

Murder Most Foul

Little Murders

Well, it had to come out eventually. I try to avoid clich├ęs like “murder most foul” but here it is in the Adams Sentinel, February 7, 1842. But  it was a particularly foul murder; James E. Lanier not only killed his two little sons, their mother, and their grandmother, but enlisted his father’s slaves to help him do it.

"Murder Most Foul – By a statement in the Danville Reporter, we learn the following particulars of murder more horrible than any we have yet chronicled:

From the verdict of the Coroner’s jury, it appears that on the night of Wednesday, the 22d of December, one James E. Lanier, living near White Oak Mountain, in the county of Pinsylvania, Va. Accompanied by three negro men belonging to his father, whom he had procured to aid him in his murderous design, proceeded to the residence of his victims and murdered four persons, to wit—Betsy Fleeman, Eliza Fleeman, her daughter, and two small boys, children of said Eliza. Two of the murdred person were deliberately beheaded—one of the other two the brains were beaten out with an axe. The two boys slain were sons of the murderer. After dispatching the victims, Lanier piled their dead bodies in the middle of the floor, covered them with straw, and set fire to it and the house.

One of the boys killed, about four years of age, terrified at the death of his mother and grand mother, clasped the murderous father by the knee, and begged him to spare his life, but the words of his request were scarcely uttered, before his head was severed form his body by a single blow."

Adams Sentinel, Gettysburg, PA, February 7, 1842

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fillipe Guestoni

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Fillipe Guestoni.

On the morning of June 11, 1888, several pistol shots were heard in the apartments of Mr. & Mrs. Mari in New York. It appeared that Fillipe Guestoni, who had formerly been a partner of Mari, had become infatuated with Mrs. Mari and was violently jealous of her husband, whom he wished her to abandon. He had had many violent scenes with her and had been warned by the husband to cease his visits. On the above morning, he broke into her apartments while she lay in bed, shot her three times and then sent a bullet crashing into his own brain.

Defenders and offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guest Blogger: Cheri Farnsworth

   Murder by Gaslight is pleased to welcome guest blogger Cheri Farnsworth. Cheri has been a longtime friend of Murder by Gaslight; last year we reviewed her book Murder and Mayhem in St. Lawrence County and today she will be sharing a story from her latest book.

Following is a chapter from Cheri Farnsworth’s Murder & Mayhem in Jefferson County (History Press 2011). The book is a compilation of ten of the most sensational, historical murder cases from that Northern New York region. You may purchase the book online at and or directly from the publisher at For more information about Farnsworth’s other titles, like Alphabet Killer, Adirondack Enigma, and The Big Book of New York Ghost Stories (history as you’ve never seen it), visit 

 The “Watertown Trunk Murder” – Hounsfield, 1908

Jammed within the narrow confines of a trunk, with her head mashed to jelly, one ear gone and her body mutilated until recognition was almost impossible, the body of Mrs. Sarah Brennan, wife of Patrick Brennan, of Brownville, was found Monday afternoon in a back kitchen at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Farmer of that village. ~ Watertown Re-Union, 29 Apr. 1908

In October of 1907, Mary Farmer hatched an elaborate plan to criminally acquire the property of her neighbors so that her young babe, Peter, would one day have something of value that she believed she and James Farmer could never provide otherwise. (Heaven forbid that they should have to work for their material possessions like the rest of us.) The fact that a cold-blooded murder might become necessary for her to meet her objective was but a trivial detail the soon-to-be murderess would worry about when the time came. That time was the morning of April 23 when Sarah Brennan paid a visit to Mary Farmer. Neighbors heard the women arguing, and it was the last anyone ever heard from, or saw, Mrs. Brennan alive. One can only surmise that the victim had finally learned of the plot to steal her house and home right out from under them. For that, she had to be silenced…now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Duel Day

From the Bowery Boys:
Happy Duel Day 2011: When Vice Presidents attack!

207 years ago today, Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Though the two men obviously did not like each other much, they made a pretty good legal team. In 1800, just four years before the duel, they worked together to win an acquittal for Levi Weeks for the murder of Gulielma Sands - The Manhattan Well Mystery.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bill the Ripper

No wonder we never found Jack the Ripper, we should have been looking for Bill; or so says the Boston Daily Globe, on July 20, 1889.

The one enduring fact of the Whitechapel murders in London in 1888 is that “Ripper” in the headline sells newspapers. The name “Jack the Ripper” comes from the signature on several letters sent to the London police, allegedly from the killer. In fact, most knowledgeable investigators believe these letters are frauds and the killer never identified himself. In the great tradition of British journalistic ethics, a reporter sent the forged letters, signed “Jack the Ripper,” for the sake of the story. It was a media gamble that has been paying off for more than a hundred years.

On both sides of the Atlantic, in the years following the Whitechapel murders, any unsolved murder of a woman, by slashing, was tied, or at least compared, to Jack the Ripper. Most notably, in 1891 the New York City press nearly sent the city into a frenzy by speculating that the murder of Carrie Brown was the work of London’s Jack the Ripper. This incredibly unlikely story was revived in the very popular Discovery Channel documentary, “Jack the Ripper in America.”

The Globe story—one short paragraph—states that a man named William Brodie was arrested and confessed to the London police. Brodie is not mentioned today as a Jack the Ripper suspect. If anyone has more information, please let me know.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ebenezer Stanyard

Little Murders:
From Defenders and Offenders:

Ebenezer Stanyard.

Ebenezer Stanyard was hung at Youngstown, Ohio, for the murder of a woman by the name of Alice Hancox. The cause of the murder was very much shrouded in mystery, but the proof of his guilt was overwhelming. The affair created quite a sensation in Youngstown, and on the day of his execution the excitement was still greater.

Defenders and offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Exoneration of John Gordon

Update 6/29/2011
On June 29, 2011, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an official proclamation granting a full pardon to John Gordon, who was executed in 1845 for the murder of Amasa Sprague. Details here:

Justice delayed no longer justice denied after pardon

Update 6/23/2011
The motion to pardon John Gordon for the murder of Amasa Sprague has passed the Rhode Island Senate 33-3. It's now up to the governor. Read about it here:

Measure pardoning Irish immigrant John Gordon in 19th-century murder goes to R.I. governor

A motion has been submitted to the Judiciary Committee of the Rhode Island House requesting the pardon/exoneration of John Gordon for the murder of Amasa Sprague—a crime he, almost certainly, did not commit. The progress of this motion can be followed here: The Exoneration of John Gordon. The site also includes detailed information on the original trial and the people involved in the case. We wish them the best of luck with the motion.