Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Parricide's Tale.

William J. Elder, aged 61, was addicted to drink and when under its influence was violent and uncontrollable. His wife tolerated his abuse as long as she could then packed up and moved out of their farm in Hammonton, New Jersey, leaving behind her two sons, Robert and Mathew. In 1887, 19-year-old Robert Elder moved out of his father’s house as well.

12-Year old Mathew Elder was still living with his father and still the victim of his abuse and neglect. In the summer of 1888, Mrs. Elder had her husband arrested and brought before the justice of the peace for the ill-treatment of Mathew but could offer no proof. William was discharged.

Finally, Robert found a place for Mathew at a nearby farm and took him away from his father. With William’s sons gone, a woman named Mame Franklin began spending time at his house. Mame was a “notorious character” who had been arrested the previous year for stealing jewelry from an auctioneer and had several other felony arrests in Hammonton. 

Robert Elder knew Mame Franklin and was not happy about her staying with his father. Some neighbors believed that Robert was jealous of Mame’s affection for his father, but it is more likely that he viewed Mame’s presence as a grievous insult to his mother.

Whatever the reason, Robert’s tolerance of William’s behavior had reached a breaking point, and he publicly expressed his desire to kill his father. Robert’s outbursts seemed to be more than idle threats. On Saturday, July 27, 1887, he was at the Fruit Grower’s Union store in Hammonton and asked the manager if has father had brought berries there that day. When the manager said yes, Robert said, “Well, them is the last berries he will ever pick. I am going to shoot the old man tonight.” The same day he told his employer, “The old man is going to his grave tonight. I have worked for you up to tonight, but after that I do not know what I shall do, as I am going to commit murder tonight." He did not see his father that night, but on the following Tuesday, he went to Philadelphia and bought a revolver.

On August 4, Robert went to his father’s house to pick up some of Mathew’s clothes. He told William what he wanted, and while Robert waited on the porch William threw the clothes to him piece by piece. William’s elderly parents lived nearby, and his mother was at the house that day. She saw that the clothes were dirty and said she would wash them and have them for him on Monday. Robert agreed and started for the gate, followed by his father who was swearing at him. Has father passed him and stood on the bank of a hill on the other side of the gate. Robert walked by and was about ten feet away when William jumped down. Robert turned then, drew his revolver, and fired four times, killing his father instantly. There were several witnesses to the murder including William’s 93-year-old father, who rushed out to find that his grandson had murdered his son. 

Robert fled to the home of his uncle John Robbins and slept in his barn that night. He told his uncle that he had fired in self-defense. William had jumped off the bank and said, “Now, God damn you, Bob, I am going to kill you.” Robert turned and told him if he came any closer, he would shoot. When William didn’t stop, Robert fired. The next day Robert followed his uncle’s advice and went to Hammonton and gave himself up.

Robert Elder was all but abandoned by his friends and family as he sat in jail awaiting trial; except for one visit from his mother, no one came to see him. At his trial in December 1888, Robert pled self-defense, but none of the eyewitnesses saw or heard the crime the way he described it. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder on January 3, 1889, Robert Elder was hanged in the jail yard in May’s Landing, New Jersey.                                      

“Brought By Wire A Variety Of News Sent In By Telegraph,” Trenton Evening Times, November 11, 1888.
“Doomed to Die,” New York Herald, January 3, 1889.
“A Father Murdered By His Son,” New York Tribune, August 6, 1888.
“Hanged for Killing His Father ,” Evening Star, January 3, 1889.
“News Notes,” Bridgeton Evening News, September 10, 1888.
“A Parricide's Tale,” Philadelphia Times, October 24, 1888.
“Robert Elder,” National Police Gazette, December 29, 1888.
“Shocking Parricide Robert Elder a Young Man Shoots His Father Dead,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1888.
“Young Elder in Jail,” Bridgeton Evening News, August 7, 1888.


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