Saturday, April 11, 2020

Horrible and Mysterious Murder.

Employees of Samuel Joyce’s tailor shop at 378 Broadway, in New York City, were surprised to find the door of the shop locked when they arrived on the morning of July 18, 1856. Bartholomew Burke, the porter, slept in the shop and had never before failed to rise early and unlock the door. As the clerk stood outside puzzled at the situation, he caught sight of a faint bloodstain on the door handle. Fearing foul play, he ran for a police officer.

Seeing the blood on the handle, the officer wasted no time before kicking in the locked door. What he found inside was a nightmare scene—the floor and walls were covered with blood, and in a corner, near the washbasin was the naked body of Bartholomew Burke, slashed and horribly mangled.  His throat had been cut nearly from ear to ear, and on the right side of his forehead was a fracture about six inches in length. On the floor near the body was a large pressing iron which probably delivered the head wound. On the dead man's cot was a sword scabbard and on a case twenty feet away was the sword itself, wrapped in a bloody cloth. Also, on the floor was a pair of large tailor’s shears which may have been used by Burke trying to fight off his attacker. He was lying on his back with his arms up and fists clenched. There were signs of a severe struggle that must have lasted at least ten minutes.

The motive of the murder was a complete mystery. The first thought was that Burke had fought to defend his employer’s merchandise, but a quick inventory showed that nothing from the shop had been taken. A gold watch that Burke usually wore and the keys to the shop were missing but nothing else. Burke was known to have saved $900, but that remained safely in a bank account. Robbery was ruled out as a motive for the murder.

Bartholomew (aka Patrick) Burke was an Irish immigrant in his early 30s who had worked in the tailor shop for about five years. He was a quiet man with few close friends and was not known to have ever had a disagreement with anyone.  His one vice was a fondness for drink. Dr. Erasmus D. Hudson, whose office was on the same floor as the tailor shop, had once convinced Burke to take a pledge of sobriety, but he would still occasionally go out on a drunken spree. After one such episode, the doctor treated Burke who was in a state bordering on delirium tremens. 

The shop was in a three-story building on the corner of Broadway and White Street. On the first floor was a saddle maker, on the second, were the tailor shop and doctor’s office, and on the third was the residence of John Cabellos and family. In the basement of the building was a saloon where Burke had been drinking the night his murder.

About 9:30 that night, Burke was seen in the saloon drinking with an unknown man. Burke purchased a pot of beer—the third quart he had bought that night—and the two men left with the beer. A woman who sold apples at a stand on Broadway and White saw Burke through a window of the tailor shop at about 11:30, conversing with another man whom she did not recognize. She was the last person, other than the killer, to see him alive.

Evidence at the Coroner’s inquest, held two days after the body was found, was vague and sometimes contradictory. Though the struggle must have been loud and prolonged, no one in the Cabello household in the apartment above had heard a thing. The Cabellos’ servant girl, Harora Leahy, had seen a man knocking on the tailor shop door at about 9:30 but had not seen his face. She heard nothing after that. 

George Benjamin Hooker had heard loud talking from the tailor shop on Tuesday or Wednesday preceding the murder. Through the window, he saw Burke talking with a coworker,  August Reiche (both of whom he recognized and knew by name). Reiche was angry and hit the counter with his fist. Samuel Adams had seen the same thing from his window on White Street, but also could not state whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr. Watson, foreman at Joyce’s shop, had been talking with Burke on Wednesday, remonstrating him about keeping bad company. He said Reiche was not in the store that evening. Bartholomew Burke’s cousin, Thomas Burke, had also seen him on Wednesday night at the bar, drinking with the owner, the bartender and a strange man. He said his cousin had told him that August Reiche was his best friend and his family had always been kind to him. Reiche himself testified that he had not been at the shop any evening that week, had never had angry words with Burke or shaken his fist at him.

William Mars, who tended bar in the basement saloon, said that about 11:00 on the night of the murder, a man came into the bar, called for a drink, and refused to pay for it. He eventually paid but picked up a sixteen-inch knife used for cutting ham in the bar and flourished it in a threatening manner. He left the saloon, still in possession of the knife.

It was never clear whether Burke was killed by the mysterious man seen by various witnesses or even whether they all saw the same man. With no identifiable suspect and no convincing story of the murder, the Coroner’s jury ruled that Bartholomew Burke was murdered by a person or persons unknown. The mayor of New York offered a reward of $500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Burke’s killer, but the reward was never collected. The murder of Bartholomew Burke remains one of the city’s great unsolved crimes.

“A Bloody and Atrocious Murder,” Centinel of Freedom, July 22, 1856.
“The Broadway Murder,” The New York Times, July 23, 1856.
“The Broadway Murder Continuation of the Coroner's Investigation the Assassin Still at Large,” New York Herald, July 22, 1856.
Crapsey, Edward, The Nether Side of New York (: Sheldon & Co., 1872.
), 171
“Five Hundred Dollars Reward,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 23, 1856.
“Horrible and Mysterious Murder in Broadway,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, August 2, 1856.
“The Late Murder in Broadway,” New-York Tribune, July 21, 1856.
“News Article,” Daily True American, August 2, 1856.
“A Pleasant Condition of Affairs,” Daily True American, May 16, 1857.


Howard Brown says:
April 11, 2020 at 9:48 AM

Good story, Robert....thanks.

djpass says:
August 12, 2023 at 9:45 AM

People today are no worse than in the 19th century!

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