Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Mount Holly Tragedy.

Mary Catherine Anderson—Katie to her friends—was in good spirits when she went out the evening of Monday, February 7, 1887. 16-year-old Katie Anderson was a domestic servant living at the home of her employer, Stat Colkitt on his farm in Mount Holly, New Jersey. She said she was just going out for a walk, but Katie was not seen again until Tuesday morning when a neighboring farmer found her laying down an embankment alongside a public road, barely clinging to life with a gunshot wound to her temple. She was recognized by people at the Colkitt house and was taken by wagon to her uncle’s house; a doctor from Mount Holly was summoned.

Around dawn that morning another neighbor, Mrs. Brewer, on her way to Colkitt’s house saw some vomit on the road, and near it a pistol with one chamber discharged. At the Colkitt’s house, a young man named Witcraft recognized it as the pistol he had traded to Barclay Peak the week before.

19-year-old Barclay Peak was the cousin of Katie Anderson and was also said to be her lover. When told of her wound, Peak said he believed Katie had committed suicide; she had been despondent over trouble with her employer. He admitted that the pistol was his and said that Sunday night he and Katie had been using it for target practice. After he reloaded the gun, Katie took it from him; when he asked for it back, she said he would get it back when she was through with it and took it home with her Sunday night. He stayed at home all day Monday and did not see Katie at all. 

Peak’s story was contradicted by four people who had seen him on Monday waking down the road where Katie was found. Another damning statement came from Andrew Brewer and his wife, who lived near the Colkitts’. Katie was with them a week earlier, and they were talking about Barclay Peak. Both heard Kattie say of Peak, if a girl would refuse him, he would take her life. Most people believed that Peak had tried to assault Katie and either succeeded then shot her to keep her from talking or had failed and shot her out of anger. 

Katie was kept under constant medical observation but, with a bullet lodged in her brain, she was not expected to live very long. Remarkably, she began to recover. When she regained consciousness and was cogent enough to speak, she was asked who had shot her, and she replied Barclay Peak. 

Peak’s hearing was postponed until Katie was healthy enough to testify. Though she showed signs of improvement and gave her relatives hope that she might recover, on March 12, five weeks after the shooting Katie died. The coroner held an inquest the following day, and the jury charged Barclay Peaks with first-degree murder.

The murder trial in Mount Holly opened on May 25, 1887, to a courtroom filled to overflowing with spectators. Peaks stuck to his original story and most of the witnesses contradicted him. After three weeks of testimony, the jury found Peak guilty. On July 9 he was sentenced to hang on September 1.

Peak’s attorney appealed to the state Supreme Court for a new trial citing numerous exceptions in the Peak’s trial, including invalid jury selection, admission of the dying girl’s statement, and admission of a physician’s expert testimony. The Supreme Court rejected all but the exception regarding jury selection. The jury pool should have been 60 men selected at random; instead, it was 45 men handpicked by the sheriff and prosecutor. Peak was awarded a new trial.

The second trial began on May 21 and proceeded much the same way as the first trial. Then on the fifth day of testimony, it was announced that, following a meeting between Peak’s attorney and the prosecutor, Peak pled guilty to second-degree murder and the prosecutor accepted his plea. Barclay Peak was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“Arranging for an Alibi,” The Times, February 28, 1887.
“Barclay Peak Guilty,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 1887.
“Barclay Peak Guilty,” Harrisburg Telegraph, June 13, 1887.
Defenders and offenders (New York: Buchner & Co, 1888.)
“Barclay Peak's Second Trial,” The Times, May 22, 1888.
“Barclay Peak's Sentence,” The Evening Journal, June 14, 1888.
“A Chance for his life,” The Times, February 25, 1888.
“Death of Mary Anderson the Mt. Holly Victim,” Lancaster New Era, March 12, 1887.
“Mary Anderson Dies,” The Times, March 13, 1887.
“Miss Anderson Rational,” The Morning Post, February 14, 1887.
“A Mount Holly Tragedy,” The Times, February 11, 1887.
“The Murderer of Mary Anderson to Hang,” Lancaster New Era, July 9, 1887.
“The Murder Trial,” The Morning Post, May 26, 1887.
“Peak Confesses Murder,” The Times, May 27, 1888.
“Peak Tells His Story,” The Times, June 3, 1887.
“Pleading for Peak,” The New York Times, November 2, 1887.
“Possibly Another Jersey Murder,” Lancaster New Era, February 10, 1887.
“Who Shot Mary Anderson,” Buffalo Morning Express, February 12, 1887.


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