Saturday, January 11, 2020

Fatal Family Feud.

The morning of December 18, 1889, Edward O’Connor, a San Francisco bartender, surrendered
himself to a group of police officers saying, “I hit a man with a stick last night, and I think he is dead.”

O’Connor was quite intoxicated and was reluctant to take the officers to see the body.  He finally led them to the home of his father-in-law, Henry Armstrong where they found Armstrong’s body laying on the floor of the front room. The floor was strewn with broken glass, clay pipes and cigarette butts and a number of half-empty whiskey and gin bottles stood on a table in another room. 

Armstrong’s wife lay passed out on a bed near the body. O’Connor’s wife Sarah, as drunk as her husband became excited at the approach of the officers. Apparently unaware of what Edward had told them, Sarah said that the shooting had been accidental then corrected herself saying Armstrong had dropped dead from heart disease.

O’Connor then exclaimed “No, no! I am the murderer! I killed him. He abused my wife and I shot him.”

Armstrong had begun throwing things at his wife, O’Connor explained, pointing to an alarm clock Armstrong had hurled. O’Connor hit him with a stick and Sarah ran to get his revolver. The gun went off accidentally as O’Connor tried to take it away from her. Examining the body, the officers discovered a bullet wound in Armstrong’s left side.

Sarah had married Edward O’Connor on November 7, and the four of them lived together in a four-room cottage—it was a disaster waiting to happen. Since the wedding, the household had been “on a protracted debauch” of drunken animosity. Henry Armstrong, who owned the cottage, was bitterly opposed to his stepdaughter’s marriage and had threatened to throw everyone out. He was a confirmed drunkard with a mean disposition and had been arrested two years earlier for feloniously assaulting Sarah. Edward O’Connor was also a drunkard. His first wife had recently secured a divorce on the grounds of cruelty and intemperance. That night all four had been drinking heavily.

Once everyone had sobered up, police managed to piece together the events of the night before. Armstrong had come home drunk at about 9:00 and everyone else had already gone to bed. Sarah got up and prepared supper for him, then took a bowl of soup to her husband and a drink of liquor to her mother. Armstrong became angry that Sarah had not brought him a drink. He verbally abused her saying the dinner was not fit for a dog. Becoming increasingly angry Armstrong began throwing things at her including a lamp chimney and an alarm clock.

The noise aroused O’Connor who grabbed his cane and rushed at Armstrong, intending to give him a clubbing. Armstrong evaded the stick, rushed into his room and shut the door. O’Connor turned to go back to bed and was surprised to see his wife approaching with his bulldog pistol in her hand. O’Connor grappled with her and managed to take it away after the gun went off. Thinking nothing was wrong the two went back to bed.

Two hours later, Mrs. Armstrong called out saying that her husband was hurt. They thought she was fooling and paid no attention. She insisted they come and when they did they found Armstrong on the floor very weak and faint. O’Connor went to get some whiskey and when he returned Armstrong was dead. Then he went for the police.

Sarah claimed that she had not intended to use the pistol; she wanted to hide it so her husband wouldn’t use it. Sarah was released and Edward O’Connor was held for murder. At his trial the following March, O’Connor was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to five years at San Quentin.

“The Day of Doom,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 1890.
“Fatal Family Feud,” San Diego Union, December 26, 1889.
“Kicked out of the House,” San Francisco Bulletin, February 13, 1890.
“Mrs. Sarah O'Connor Kills Her Step-Father,” Evening News, December 18, 1889.
“Murder Most Foul!,” The National Police Gazette, January 11, 1890.
“On Trial for Murder,” San Francisco Bulletin, March 1, 1890.
“A San Francisco Tragedy,” Sacramento Bee, December 18, 1889.
“Who Shot Him?,” San Francisco Bulletin, December 18, 1889.


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