Saturday, December 17, 2016

Orrin De Wolf.

Orrin De Wolf
Orrin De Wolf was a humble hostler in Worcester, Massachusetts in January 1845, but he had prospects for a brighter future. He had a deal with Eliza Ann Stiles—on the death of her husband William they would share his estate. William was a deformed, alcoholic in poor health and not likely to live another year. But Orin did not want to wait and his impatience would be his downfall.

Date:  January 14, 1845

Location:   Worcester, Massachusetts

Victim:  William Stiles

Cause of Death:  Strangulation

Accused:   Orrin DeWolf

Orrin De Wolf, an 18-year-old stable worker in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1844 boarded at the home of William Stiles. Stiles was feeble, alcoholic and deformed, with a curvature of the spine which gave him a humped back. In spite of that, in 1837, when he was 33, William Stiles married an attractive 16-year-old girl named Eliza Ann. They had a small property in the town of Shrewsbury.

William Stiles had inherited $1,500 on the death of his father, but through his intemperate habits, he had soon lost a third of it. Out of concern for his wife and son, the Selectmen of Shrewsbury applied to the Probate Court to put his assets in trust.

Conditions in the  household of William and Eliza Ann were far from stable. Orrin De Wolf would later recall that Eliza Ann had told him that she was not fond of her husband. She had married him for his property and out of spite against her family, but now she wished to be rid of him. One night in November, for reasons never fully explained, Stiles told his wife to get into bed with De Wolf. She hesitated at first then complied. De Wolf told her he had a "bad disease," but they had carnal knowledge that night anyway. On following ights, all three would often share the same bed.

While De Wolf was always civil to William Stiles, behind his back he referred to him as Humpy Stiles and told his friends that he did not believe that Humpy would live another year. He said he had an arrangement with Eliza Ann and upon her husband’s death, they would share his estate.

Predictably, Eliza Ann caught whatever disease De Wolf was carrying. When Stiles found out he was livid; he told De Wolf that if she were not better by the first of January he would leave her or he would kill De Wolf “if he had to wallow to his knees in blood.” In December, De Wolf took a job at Whipple’s stable and left the Stiles’ house to board there.

Although relations between De Wolf and William Stiles were still strained, De Wolf would often visit the Stiles. On January 14, 1845, he went to their house for supper. Stiles said he wanted to go into town on a spree and De Wolf agreed to hitch up a sleigh and accompany him. They went to Bartlett’s tavern where Stiles had two drinks, then to Moor’s tavern for two more. At Cobleigh’s tavern, De Wolf went in first and gave the bartender a bottle of gin, instructing him to pour from that bottle if Stiles ordered gin. Stiles did order gin; he had three glasses, became quite intoxicated and had to be carried to the sleigh.

Around 10:00 that night, De Wolf brought Stiles back to Whipple’s stable and with the help of workers from a nearby stable carried De Wolf upstairs to a cot on the second floor. Stiles was awake but very drunk and said several times that he wanted to go home. De Wolf said he did not want to distress Mrs. Stiles so brought him to the stable instead.

Stiles’ condition seemed to be worsening ant at 11:00 De Wolf went to get Dr. Benjamin Heywood. He told Dr. Heywood that he had found Stiles in the street and didn’t know if he was dead or alive. He thought he might have frozen to death. Dr. Heywood went to the stable and examined Stiles then pronounced him dead.

The doctor observed a distinct red mark around Stiles’ neck. De Wolf showed him a silk handkerchief which he said had been wrapped tightly around Stiles’ neck, which he had removed to keep him from choking. After thoroughly examining the body, Dr. Heywood believed that Stiles had not died of strangulation, but had died from apoplexy triggered by the ligature about the neck. He did not believe a person could apply sufficient force to strangle himself in this way.

The coroner was called and after examining the body decided it was not necessary to summon a jury, but the following day, after learning of De Wolf’s relationship with the deceased and upon hearing conflicting reports of the events of the night before, had Orrin De Wolf arrested for murder.

Trial: June 10, 1845

Orrin De Wolf was indicted on three counts of murder, the first charging him with strangling William Stiles with a silk handkerchief, the second and third alleging that he poisoned Stiles’ gin. The prosecution decided to concentrate on the charge of strangulation.

In February 1845, while awaiting trial, De Wolf confessed to the crime. The sheriff transcribed De Wolf’s words, and De Wolf signed the paper. In the confession, he admitted to his relationship with Eliza Ann Stiles and explained their plan to get rid of her husband to get his money. But De Wolf stopped short of admitting he was the killer claiming that he had paid Samuel Stone, one of the stable workers who had been at the scene of the murder, to actually do the deed. Before the trial, De Wolf’s attorney successfully challenged the admissibility of the confession on the grounds that De Wolf had made it in the hope of reducing the charges against him.

Much of the trial was taken up with intricate medical testimony of doctors who had viewed Stiles’ body. The doctors who testified for the prosecution confirmed the original diagnosis that Stiles had died of apoplexy resulting from being strangled. The defense’s doctors put little significance on the red mark on the neck and did not believe that there had been enough force to cause death.

The defense also argued that Stiles may have committed suicide. Witnesses testified that Stiles became violent and deranged when drunk and repeatedly said that he wanted to die. Ruth Willard, who had worked as a nurse for the Stiles family, recalled an instance when Stiles tried to strangle himself and she and Mrs. Stiles had to pry his hands off his throat.

The case was given to the jury at 7:00, the night of June 17, 1845. They returned at 10:00 with a verdict of guilty.

Verdict: Guilty of first-degree murder

Orrin De Wolf was sentenced to be hanged, and the case became a cause de celebre for those opposing capital punishment. A number of petitions, signed by prominent citizens of Worcester County, were filed with the Committee on Pardons, recommending that the Governor commute the sentence to life in prison. The Jury that convicted De Wolf also recommended commutation on the ground that “he was but 18 years of age, weak-minded and ignorant, and easily influenced by others.” On August 29, 1845, the Governor officially commuted Orrin De Wolf’s sentence to life in the State Prison in Charlestown.


“Commutation of Sentence,” Boston Evening Transcript, September 2, 1845.
Lawson, John D., American State Trials (St. Louis: F. H. Thomas Law Book Co., 1918).
“More Hanging in Worcester,” Trumpet and Universalist Magazine, July 12, 1845.
“More Jail Confessions,” Worcester Palladium, July 9, 1845.
“Trial and Conviction of Orrin De Wolf,” Worcester Palladium, June 18, 1845.
Trial of Orrin De Wolf for the Murder of Wm. Stiles, at Worcester, Jan 14, 1845 (Worcester: Thomas Drew, Jr., 1845).


Unknown says:
December 24, 2016 at 3:47 PM

What became of Eliza?

NorthsideRasta says:
March 28, 2017 at 11:24 PM

What a greedy savage to strangle a physically impaired alcoholic.

NorthsideRasta says:
March 28, 2017 at 11:24 PM

What a greedy savage to strangle a physically impaired alcoholic.

NorthsideRasta says:
March 28, 2017 at 11:24 PM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Equality Evermore says:
June 14, 2021 at 1:07 AM

This man murdered a disabled person over less than $500 and a trashy boarding house. De Wolf bragged about planning to kill a dying man. Eliza Ann walked away after plotting her husband's murder.

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