Saturday, November 22, 2014

Murder or Suicide?

Little Murders
(From Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, November 12, 1878)

Murder or Suicide?
The Mystery of the Dead Body Found in the Woods Still Unsolved.
The case of Joseph Straka, whose dead body was found in the woods, is still unraveled. Indeed, the mystery surrounding it seems to deepen. The post mortem examination was made yesterday by Professor Holliday and that revealed nothing definite.

The Coroner was to have held an inquest to-day but has postponed it until to-morrow because he cannot yet find the solution of the problem but hopes to by further investigation.

All sorts of theories have been made up, both for murder and suicide, but there is nothing to fasten to. The belief that Straka was murdered seems to be gaining ground but the difficulty in the way of that theory is to find a motive.

The idea that he committed suicide is strengthened by the fact that crystals of phosphorus were found in his throat at the autopsy. The stomach of the man was this morning given over to Coroner Isom and he still has possession of it and its contents at noon. It will be analyzed, as it has been suggested that he might have taken inwardly a poison.

The position of the body when found—with one foot across the other, one arm by the side and especially the hat well set on the head—encourage the supposition that the man was killed and carried to where he was found.

On the contrary some remarks he made before leaving his boarding house on Friday about his head feeling badly and the fact that he left money to pay a bill are taken by some that he was preparing to kill himself.

On Saturday evening, when he visited his sister, nothing unusual was notice about him. No thought was entertained by his sister or her husband that he contemplated suicide.

The position of the body, resting on a knoll and in a sort of gully, tends to show that the wound was not self-inflicted, as well as the character of the wound itself.

But it is probably useless to speculate at present upon the case. There are matters not proper to publish at this time which would go to corroborate both the theory of murder and the theory of suicide. We observe that our contemporaries are industriously giving to the public all sorts of probable and improbable stuff. At this time we can only say that both the Coroner and the Chief of Police, who are operating in concert, have strong hope that to-morrow will solve the mystery. The entire detective force and some of the police force are detailed on special duty in connection with this strange case.

Detectives Holzworth, Reeves, Hulligan and Dienst this morning again visited the spot where the body was found and after a careful search they found the pistol which is supposed to have been used. It is an old style but probably newly purchased single-barrel pistol. It was found partly submerged in water and leaves, the handle sticking up and lay about fifty feet from where the body was found. This finding of the pistol is construed as additional evidence of sucide, as it is thought that the man in falling might have thrown up his arm and loosed the pistol and thrown it away. The cuts (as if by a razor) on the coat do not go through the coat lining and may have been hastily made to divert suspicion of murder. There are a great many strange circumstances surrounding this case which it would do no good to make public at this time.

(From Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, November 13, 1878)

The Mysterious Killing.
The Probabilities of Suicide.
Further Developments by the Coroner’s Inquest and Otherwise Which are Take as Proof That Joseph Straka Killed Himself.
The Coroner and the police have a about come to the conclusion that Joseph Straka committed suicide. Coroner Isom this morning mad a thorough examination of Straka’s room at his boarding house on St. Clair street but found no trace of anything which pointed to suicide.

Yesterday afternoon Frank Straka, brother of the deceased, and V. Jedlieka, whose wife’s brother is the husband of Joseph Straka’s sister, testified before the Coroner. Their testimony threw no light on the mystery. The deceased was seen by them as late as Saturday evening, nothing unusual was noticed about him and when he left them he promised to see them again soon.

The stomach of the dead man was examined yesterday afternoon and found to contain phosphorus in such quantity as to be extremely offensive to the smell and to emit considerable light in a dark room. This phosphorus adds another element to the mystery. Near the body was found a pint flask which was supposed to have contained powder and whisky, but is now thought may have held a solution of phosphorus. The phosphorus found in the stomach was in a crude state, as the Coroner expresses is, and it may be that the ends of matches were taken for the poison. The Coroner states that enough phosphorus was found in the stomach “to run a match factory.”

That phosphorus would produce death is certain but it would be slow in its effect and create violent pains and vomiting. The body exhibited no condition which would indicate that the phosphorous had begun to work and therefor it is believe that the shot was fired very soon after the phosphorus was swallowed.

The finding of the pistol does not furnish convincing proof of suicide, because it was found at such a distance and in such a direction as to make it highly improbable that the man could have thrown it there himself. Beside the body lay in a thick bush and not far from a log which lay higher than the corpse, which circumstances are conclusive that he could not fall and throw the pistol fifty feet away. The wound was of such a nature that on the moment when it was inflicted the man must have died (if he was not already dead) and the theory of “reflex action” of muscles hurling a pistol fifty feet is ridiculous.

No motive for suicide has been discovered nor any motive for murder. Everything so far advanced is simple theory. In order to reconcile with the suicide theory the distance of the pistol when found from the corpse it is thought that the pistol may have originally lain by the man’s side and that some man discovering the body and coveting the pistol had kept the pistol, saying nothing about the body, until the search for a weapon became so earnest that he thought the best thing for his own safety was to throw the pistol somewhere near where the body lay. It is believed improbable that the hundreds of people who scoured the vicinity of the body on Sunday could have overlooked the butt of a new pistol sticking two inches above the leaves in the ditch within fifty feet of where the body lay.

A piece of an illustrated paper was found in Straka’s pocket and in the wound in his side was found a wad which, since straightened out and cleaned, proves to be a piece of the same paper as was in his pocket. Indeed, it is not difficult to match the pieces found in the wound and in the picket. One piece found in the pocket has part of the heading of an editorial on Sumner, showing the letters “SUM” while the wad taken form the wound has the letters “NER” to finish out the heading. It requires but a superficial examination to show that the wad paper and the piece in the pocket belonged together. This is perhaps the most conclusive evidence of suicide.

Detective Dienst reports to-day the result of his tracing of Straka from Friday until Sunday. On Friday night Straka was at a saloon at the corner of Forest and Warren streets form eight o’clock until midnight. Then he went to his brother-in-law’s house on Forest street, where he remained over night. Saturday morning he went to a saloon at No. 1501 Forest street. The people who saw him there say that although he was usually cheerful he was downhearted upon this occasion, and made the remark that a person is better off under ground than on top of it At the same place he made the remark, “To-morrow you will hear of some trouble,” which is now considered as significant. When asked what kind of trouble he replied in an evasive way that it would be trouble with the temperance people. On Saturday evening at five o’clock Straka went to a saloon at No. 76 Broadway, and asked for the Germania, supposedly a newspaper. After remaining there for about five minutes he went to a friend’s house at No. 1490 Forest street. When he left there he went in the direction of the Atlantic & Great Western Railway track and from that time all trace of him is lost.

It is said that on Friday night when he stopped at his brother-in-law’s house he made a remark about a person being better off under ground than above it and that he asked permission to sleep in the attic, where there is no bed. This request was refused him, and how it is thought that if it had been granted he would have killed himself there.

The Coroner has not finished taking testimony and perhaps will not be through with that work to-day. The Chief of Police will make some experiments with the piston to ascertain if when loaded to the muzzle and held against some object it would fly off as found.

It is now stated that some friends of Straka, a Bohemian and his wife, testify that they saw the pistol found near his body in his passion the day before he killed himself.

Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, November 12, 1878
Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, November 13, 1878


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