Saturday, March 23, 2019

With a Knife in His Heart.

Patrick S. Donovan, better known as “Snip,” began drinking champagne after the first race at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey, on August 6, 1893. The wine continued to flow as he watched the day’s races and Donovan appeared to be in a jovial mood, but he may have been trying to drown his sorrows. “Snip” Donovan was a successful and well-known horse trainer, but he had recently been discharged from the stables of Pierre Lorillard in a dispute over training methods. Donovan was also having a run of bad luck in his betting. In spite of his problems, witnesses agreed that Donovan had been in a good mood throughout the day.

After the last race, Donovan wanted to keep drinking so he and John Chew, a stable hand who worked for Lorillard, hitched up a buggy and went to Oceanport. Chew, the more sober of the two drove the horse. They drank for several hours in Oceanport then went to the Monmouth Hotel near the track and had some more. Those who saw them that night said the men appeared to be on friendly terms, but, sometime after midnight the mood changed. Donovan had been drinking heavily, while Chew drank only three bottles of beer. Chew was ready to leave the hotel, but Donovan wanted to stay for another drink.

Chew was reported to say (censored by the New York Tribune), “You need a drink ______ bad. What in _____ do you want to keep me out all night for?”

Around 1:00 a.m. they returned to the stable where Donovan slept. No one witnessed what happened next, but several men who slept in the stable were awake and heard Donovan and Chew fighting. Donovan was sick of Chew’s company and began calling him harsh names and ordered him out of the stall. There were sounds of a scuffle then Chew ran from the stable crying, “Murder! Murder!” He ran nearly sixty yards before falling to the ground. 

Richard Radcliffe, a stable worker, ran to Chew but found him dead. He roused another trainer and told him what happened then started for the police station in Eatonton. He returned with Constable Ely who found “Snip” Donovan on his cot, either asleep or in a drunken stupor. Ely woke him up, arrested him and took him back to Eatontown. 

Ely could see that Donovan was wounded and bleeding, so at around 3:00 a.m. he took him to Dr. William B. Beach of Eatonton who dressed the wound. Donovan had been stabbed with an ice pick, leaving him with a serious wound under the left arm. Before going to Freehold jail, Eil took Donovan to view the body of his victim. Donovan had stabbed Chew with a long slender dirk; the blade went through his heart and all the way through his body, the tip emerging from his back.

Standing over the body, Donovan said, “John, John, if I had not killed you, you would have killed me.”

The timing of the murder was bad, both for Donovan and for Monmouth Park. The track was under scrutiny with charges that some of the races there had been fixed. The track was at war with the press and attempted to dictate what was published, while the New York papers united in condemnation of the “questionable and objectionable affairs at Monmouth.” It was said that very few American jockeys could be trusted to ride honestly at all times and “it is only dupes and fools who suppose that fraud is not frequent in American racing.” The murder drew attention to the lawless element attracted to Monmouth Park which included “…nearly all the criminals, high and low, of this part of the State, as well as the worst toughs of neighboring states.” All of those associated with the racetrack rallied to Donovan’s defense, while the prosecution was ready to throw the book at him as a warning to the rest of the outlaws at the track. They charged “Snip” Donovan with first-degree murder.

The coroner removed John Chew’s heart and preserved it in a jar of alcohol so the jury could see the inch and a half cut made by Donovan’s knife. They found a witness who heard Donovan say that Chew frequently angered him so much that he felt like killing him with a club. It appeared that Donovan would go to the gallows for stabbing John Chew.

But when the case went to trial in November, Donovan withdrew his plea of not guilty of first-degree murder and pled guilty to manslaughter. His attorney made a plea for mercy on the grounds that Donovan inflicted the fatal wound in self-defense. Donovan produced a long line of affidavits from friends in New Jersey and his home state of Ohio, testifying to his good nature and moral habits. In Donovan’s own affidavit he claimed that three years before he had caught Chew cheating at cards and since then Chew held a grudge against him. 

The court accepted the plea to manslaughter, but Donovan nearly fainted when the judge handed down the maximum sentence of ten years at hard labor in the New Jersey State Prison. Back at the track, bets were freely offered that Donovan would not serve two years of the term.

“Gloom at the Race Track,” New-York Tribune, August 8, 1893.
“Horrid Murder at Long Branch,” Boston Journal, August 7, 1893.
“The Monmouth Park Murder,” New York Tribune, August 9, 1893.
“Monmouth's Murder Spot.,” New-York Tribune, August 8, 1893.
“The Murder at Monmouth,” New-York Tribune, August 8, 1893.
“"Snip" Donovan Charged with Murder,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 11, 1893.
“"Snip" Donovan Gets Ten Years,” Sun and New York press, November 17, 1893.
“Snip Donovan Pleads Not Guilty,” Trenton Evening Times, October 11, 1893.
“With a Knife in his Heart,” Evening herald, August 7, 1893.


Post a Comment