Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Confessions of Mickey Sliney.

Frank Hronister, the butcher boy at Lyons’s butcher shop on Cherry Street in New York City, wasworking in the rear of the store on November 25, 1891, when Michael Sliney entered the store to speak with his boss, Robert Lyons. Mickey Sliney and Bob Lyons were close friends but that day Sliney was there on business, he and his father owned a coal and ash business and the Lyons family owed them money. 

Frank heard Sliney say, “I want the $35 and I want it quick, see!”  Lyons said he did not have the money but would pay when he was good and ready. There were more angry words exchanged then Sliney left the store.

After he left, Lyons noticed an envelope near the door. He opened it and found a note in red ink saying “Please send boy up to vestry right away.—Rev. John B. Kane.” Lyons sent Frank Hronister to St. James church to see what Father Kane wanted.  Father Kane looked at the note and said it was not his signature, the note was a forgery. When Frank returned to the butcher shop he found the mother of his boss crying over his lifeless body. Robert Lyons had been murdered.

There had been no witnesses to the crime. Robert’s mother had been in the back room when she saw a man staggering against the door, he was covered with blood and blood was streaming from his neck. When she saw that it was her son, she screamed and said, “For God’s sake, tell me who did this.” He replied, “Mother, mother, I’m killed. Mike Sliney did this.” He fell to the floor and died at her feet. 

Robert Lyons and been killed with his own meat cleaver, which lay covered with blood by the side of the block. The police went searching for Michael Sliney. When he heard the detectives were looking for him, Sliney turned himself in but said he knew nothing about the murder.

The police were sure that Sliney was the killer, but they were hard pressed to find a motive. “Lyons and I were chums,” said Sliney, “and why should I kill him?” It was hard to imagine Sliney cutting Lyons’s throat over a $35 coal bill. Sliney didn’t know who killed his chum but he had some suspicions. He said Bob Lyons and his mother often quarreled and a few days earlier he struck her in the face. Mrs. Lyons did have a bruised eye but said she fell on an icebox. Sliney also cast suspicion on Bob’s brother Jim. He told reporters, “Bob and Jim were not very friendly. The old woman wanted Jim to have the business, and Bob would not permit Jim to come into the store of late.” Jim denied any bad blood between the brothers.

When the inquest began on December 1, public sympathy was with Mickey Sliney. The bogus note
from Father Kane was shown to be the lynchpin of the case, but it could not be determined who had delivered it. The inquest ruled that Bob Lyons had been killed at the hands of a person or persons unknown, but a few days later Sliney was indicted by the grand jury.

With Sliney in the Tombs awaiting trial, Police Inspector Thomas Byrnes decided it was time to give the prisoner a good questioning. Sliney had been instructed by his attorney to keep quiet until his trial, but Inspector Byrnes, known for his harsh interrogation techniques — “the third degree” — convinced Sliney to talk. Inspector Byrnes did not reveal what was said, but Sliney told reporters that on the day of the murder he returned to the butcher shop because he had forgotten to ask Bob if he could borrow his dress coat. He found Mrs. Lyons and Jim in the shop quarreling with Bob. He saw Jim pick up the heavy cleaver and hurl at Bob. As Bob reeled and fell, Sliney left as quickly as he could. 

The police investigated for another three months before arresting Jim Lyons on March 17 and indicting him as a co-conspirator in Bob Lyons’s murder. The two men would be tried separately.
In April Inspector Byrnes went at Sliney again, this time Sliney made a full confession:
“The statements or statement that I have heretofore made relative to myself and Bob Lyons are untrue. I am sorry that I have made them. James Lyons, whom I accused of killing his brother, in the presence of Inspector Byrnes, at Police Headquarters, had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder, and I am very sorry that I made such a statement.”
Sliney said that after refusing to pay the $35, Bob Lyons knocked him down and kicked him in the stomach. Sliney left and spent the afternoon drinking. At 4:00 he went back to the butcher shop and he and Bob went out for a few more drinks, and before parting, Sliney gave him the forged note. After Frank Hronister left for the church, Sliney went back into the butcher shop and asked again for the money. They began to fight and Bob Lyons, who had thirty pounds on Sliney, dragged him toward the chopping block saying, “You ––––, I’ll kill you and make steak out of you.” Sliney broke free and, believing his life was in danger, grabbed the cleaver and threw it at Lyons, hitting him in the neck.

When asked about Sliney’s confession, his attorney, Mr. Levy said, “It does not surprise me a bit. He is crazy.” Jim Lyons’s attorneys, Howe & Hummel, applied for a discharge for their client, but the district attorney refused, saying he believed Sliney was, once again, lying.

When his case came to trial in June, Sliney repudiated his confession. He went back to saying that he saw Jim throw the cleaver at his brother, adding that Jim offered him $5,000 to perjure himself. Jim urged him to say that Sliney killed Bob in self-defense, believing he would be acquitted. Sliney’s lawyer asserted that the murder had been a conspiracy involving Bob Lyon’s mother, his brother, and his wife.

Frank Hronister helped Sliney’s case by testifying that Jim Lyons tried to persuade him to lie on the stand. He told Frank to swear that he saw a red-faced man hand Bob the forged note. Jim told him,“If you don’t do what I tell you I will fix you and that will be the end of you.” He also offered him $500 to do what he wanted.

A handwriting expert testified that he had no doubt that Sliney had forged the note. Bob Lyon’s widow testified that her husband was much larger than Sliney and Sliney could not wear his dress coat as he had asserted. Inspector Byrnes testified that in view of the number of contradictory statements Sliney had made, nothing he said could be trusted.

The jury appeared to believe the conspiracy theory but thought it included Mickey Sliney as well. They found him guilty of first-degree murder. As they filed out, one juror was heard to remark, “Maybe he killed Bob and maybe he didn’t, but he was an awful fool for shootin’ off his mouth. If he hadn’t he’d a been goin’ out with us now.”

Following Sliney’s conviction, James Lyons was released from custody.

Michael Sliney was sentenced to be executed and would have died in the “electrical chair” at Sing Sing prison, but at the urging of Sliney’s friends, Governor Flower convened a committee to investigate Sliney’s mental condition. After reading their report he commuted Sliney’s sentence to life in prison.

“'Jim' Lyons Charged with Killing "Bob",” New York Herald, March 17, 1892.
“'Jim' Lyons Killed "Bob," Says Sliney's Counsel,” New York Herald, June 11, 1892.
“'Sliney Did It,' Arkansas Gazette, November 26, 1891.
Byrnes, Thomas. Professional Criminals of America. New York: Cassell & Company, Limited, 739 & 741 Broadway, 1886.
“A Good Day for Sliney,” New York World, June 10, 1892.
“Killed With His Cleaver,” New York Tribune, November 26, 1891.
“Lyons' Inquest Closed,” New York Herald, December 5, 1891.
“Mickey Sliney Sentenced,” Evening world, June 28, 1892.
“Mystery Shrouds the Murder,” New York Herald, November 27, 1891.
“New Light Thrown on the Lyons Murder,” New York Herald, December 14, 1891.
“Saved by Gov. Flower,” New Haven Register, April 1, 1893.
“Sliney Guilty in the First Degree,” New York Herald, June 15, 1892.
“Sliney's Guilt,” Evening World, April 1, 1892.
“Thinks Sliney is Lying,” New York Herald, April 3, 1892.
“Too Many Confessions,” New York Tribune, June 11, 1892.


Edward Carney says:
September 6, 2018 at 11:50 AM

It strains credulity to imagine Robert Lyons clearly implicating his murderer by name while bleeding out with a slashed throat. I would be interested to know more about this story, such as why James Lyons was released following Sliney's conviction, if the prevailing theory described a conspiracy involving both men. I also wonder whether the Lyons' mother was questioned, and why she was never arrested. The account given here is confounding.

Robert Wilhelm says:
September 6, 2018 at 12:49 PM

It would be interesting to know more, but I don't think any more is available. Regarding James Lyons's release, it was probably because his attorneys, Howe and Hummel, were, without question, the best criminal lawyers in New York.

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