Saturday, December 28, 2013

Scenes from the Burdell Murder.

The 1857 murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell, with its colorful cast of characters and upscale urban setting, was the kind of story that sold papers for the penny press and the nascent illustrated newspapers of the day. In fact, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper was on the verge of bankruptcy when they sent an artist to the Burdell crime scene. The coverage sold enough copies to keep the paper afloat and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper became a national institution publishing for another sixty-two years.

This post summarizes the Burdell murder using engravings from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and other contemporary sources. The details of the Burdell murder can be found here: The Bond Street Tragedy.

The murder took place in a boarding house at No. 31 Bond Street in Manhattan, owned by Dr. Burdell and managed by his paramour, Mrs. Emma Cunningham. All of the murder suspects boarded there.

The Residents of 31 Bond Street.

Dr. Harvey Burdell
Dr. Harvey Burdell was a prominent and successful New York City dentist and real estate speculator. He was also a sporting man and a libertine, known to frequent gambling halls and borthels. In 1857 his affair with Emma Cunningham was turning sour and he was planning to evict her from the house.
Mrs. Emma Cunningham
Emma Cunningham was a widow with five children when she set her sights on Harvey Burdell and won his affection. She knew her position with him was tenuous and she was jealous of the other women she knew Burdell was seeing. After Burdell’s death she produced a marriage certificate showing that the two were married; at his request they had kept the marriage a secret.
John Eckel
John Eckel was tanner who had a room on the third floor of 31 Bond Street. His room shared a door with Mrs. Cunningham’s bedroom and maids at the boardinghouse testified that the two were sleeping together.
Augusta Cunningham
Augusta Cunningham was Emma Cunningham’s twenty-two year old daughter. August was implicated in the murder because a business associates of Dr. Burdell testified that Burdell feared violence from Augusta and her mother, along with John Eckel and George Snodgrass.
George Snodgrass
George Snodgrass was a poet and a banjo player with a room on the third floor of the boardinghouse. He was going out with Mrs. Cunningham’s daughter Helen and when his room was searched the police found some of Helen’s undergarments. It was implied that he was sleeping with Augusta as well.
Helen (Ella) Cunningham
Helen Cunningham, Mrs. Cunningham’s fifteen year old daughter had a room on the same floor as George Snodgrass.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Murder on Christmas Morning.

Little Murders
(From New York Tribune New York, New York, December 26, 1899)

Murder on Christmas Morning.
A Motorman Falls Asleep in a Barroom and Shoots the Saloonkeeper When the Latter Attempts to Eject Him.

Christmas was unfortunately marked in Jersey City by a tragedy. Nicholas Schmitt, fifty-three years old, a saloonkeeper at No. 1,134 Summit ave., was shot and instantly killed by Theodore Brunnert, twenty-three years old, of Homestead. The police acted promptly, and Brunnert is in custody on a charge of murder.

Brunnert, who has been employed as a motorman by the Jersey City, Hoboken and Rutherford Traction Company, quit work about 9 o’clock on Sunday night and visited his stepfatner Christian Schopp, who keeps a saloon at New-York-ave. and Hutton-st., Jersey City. He had several glasses of beer while there, and left there at midnight. He stepped into Schmitt’s saloon, drank two glasses of beer and fell asleep. About 3 o’clock Schmitt started to arouse him, and the fatal quarrel began. The stories are contradictory as to whether the pistol was used in self-defense or whether the mortal wound was inflicted without provocation.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Notorious Patty Cannon.

Patty Cannon was, by all accounts, among the most barbarous and amoral women in American history. In antebellum Delaware, Patty Cannon led a gang who kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery further south. She would indiscriminately murder any man, woman or child—including her own husband and baby— who stood in her way. An1841 murder pamphlet sums it up, “And we can truly say, that we have never seen recorded, a greater instance of moral depravity, so perfectly regardless of every feeling, which should inhabit the human breast.”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Victorian Murderess.

The ideal woman in Victorian (and pre-Victorian) America was modest, prim and respectable, but when a woman deviated from the ideal she did it with gusto. When a Victorian woman turned to murder she was ruthless, efficient and often brutal. Poisoning was the traditional method for women; it required no strength and allowed for dispassionate murder at a distance. But when the murder was driven by passion, Victorian women proved equally adept at shooting, stabbing, slashing, strangling and chopping. Here in chronological order are Murder by Gaslight’s female killers:

Lucretia Chapman - 1831

Lucretia Chapman conspired with her young Cuban lover, Carolino Amalia Espos y Mina, to poison her husband William Chapman. Lucretia went free; Carolino went the gallows.

Frankie Silver - 1831

After enduring years of physical abuse from her husband, Charles, Frankie Silver could take no more. She chopped him up with an axe and burned the pieces in the fireplace.

Henrietta Robinson - 1853

Henrietta Robinson wore a black veil over her face throughout her trial for poisoning her neighbors, Timothy Lanagan and Catherine Lubee. The motive for the murder was as mysterious as the murderess herself.