Saturday, August 26, 2017

Another Boy Murderer.

Near Rockport, Indiana, on the banks of the Ohio River, the morning of September 29, 1883, a boat was found, burned to the water’s edge. It had been a small trading boat, large enough sleep two or three and carry goods—most notably liquor—to sell along the river. Inside were the charred remains of a man who had been shot to death.

Rockport police soon learned the names of the men lived aboard the trading boat—R.T. Arnett, who lay dead in the smoldering boat, and Francis J. Kelly, the presumed murder, who had fled the scene. Detective Hales of Rockport undertook the task of locating Kelly and after three weeks of investigating he found the culprit in Ashley, Illinois, some 140 miles inland. Hales arrested Kelly and brought him back to Rockport.

Kelly, who was only seventeen-years-old, quickly folded under questioning and told the police everything. About a year earlier he had been living with a family in Harrison County, Indiana and working on their farm. In exchange for his labor he received only board and clothing. Deciding it was time to better himself, Kelly left the farm and went to New Albany, Indiana, where he took a job in a rolling mill. After three days there, Kelly decided that millwork was not for him and went down to the Ohio River and walked along the levee looking for work. There he met R.T. Arnett who offered him a share of the profit if he would come aboard and work on his trading boat.
Soon after accepting the job, Kelly learned that he was not the only crewmember on Arnett’s boat. His mistress, Lucinda Hornebrook, would be traveling with them. They went north to Reno, Indiana where Miss Hornebrook decided to leave the boat. After her departure, business in Reno fell off; Kelly decided that it was time for him to leave as well and asked Arnett for his share of the profits. Arnett was livid, and absolutely refused to pay. He told Kelly that if he ever went away or divulged any of his secrets, he would follow, even to the ends of the earth, and kill him. Kelly remained but lived in constant fear.

They traveled south to Grandview, Indiana where Kelly and Arnett had a serious argument over liquor sales. Kelly believed that Arnett planned to kill him and decided to take action himself. In his own words, here is what Kelly did on September 28:

“About 9 o'clock Arnett went to bed, and I then concluded it was my time to skip, but reflecting that Arnett had threatened to follow me, I concluded that I would save my life and kill him. I shot him in the head as he lay asleep, twice with a shotgun. Then to make sure that he was dead, I shot him again with a revolver. After searching his pockets and taking his money, $165, I threw my lantern in a pile of dry wood setting the boat on fire. Getting in the skiff with my valise and shotgun, I came to Rockport and left immediately for Astley, Ill. where I had friends. I hired out a farmer for $13 per month. On Sunday, Oct. 21, I went out with a friend to practice with a revolver. This was when the detective arrested me. I thought it was for shooting on Sunday, thinking that I had obliterated all traces of the crime.”

Francis J. Kelly was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in Rockport, Indiana.

“Another Boy Murderer,” New York Herald, October 24, 1883.
“Killed While Asleep,” Boston Herald, October 24, 1883.
“A Young Murderer Confesses the Killing of his Employer,” Plain Dealer, October 23, 1883.
“A Youthful and Cowardly Murderer,” National Police Gazette, November 24, 1883.
“A Youth's Terrible Crime,” National Police Gazette, November 17, 1883.


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