Saturday, November 11, 2023

Love and Lunacy.

In 1874, Charley McGill had a steady job as a cabinet maker, living in Columbus, Ohio, with a wife and a child. He was standing on the street with his friend, Elliot Hymrod when two young ladies passed by. Hymrod proposed that they follow the ladies, and McGill agreed. One of the ladies, Mary Kelly, caught McGill’s eye, and he struck up an acquaintance with her that grew into “desperate, infatuated love.”

In his new condition, McGill’s home life became an unbearable burden. He left Columbus accompanied by Mary Kelly. They went first to Toledo, then settled in Cleveland where, though not married, they lived together as man and wife.

It was reported that Mary Kelly was a virtuous girl before meeting McGill, and McGill had a history of leading young girls astray. Newspaper accounts implied that while they were living in Cleveland, he was Mary’s pimp, and they were living off her earnings as a prostitute. McGill would later vehemently deny this. 

In any case, neither of them had a legitimate job, and they were on the verge of starvation. After an angry quarrel, Mary moved out. McGill was devastated, and he spent the next four weeks searching for her. He finally found her by leaving a “decoy letter” for her at the Cleveland Post Office, and when she went to pick it up, on December 2, 1877, he confronted her. She was living at a house of ill repute kept by Laura Lane. Mary invited McGill to see her there that night.

McGill pawned an overcoat he borrowed from Elliot Hymrod and used the cash to buy a seven-shot revolver and a box of cartridges. He planned to see Mary and convince her to come back to him. If she refused, he would threaten to shoot himself. But that is not how it transpired. McGill explained to the police what happened that night:

“I then went and laid on the bed with Mary, and after a few words, I put my arms around her body and, with my right hand, took the revolver from my pocket and, putting the muzzle to her ear, fired, whereupon she said, ‘forgive me Charley send for the priest.’ I continued to shoot her in the right cheek until the seven charges were emptied into her head. Finding that she was dead, I got up, sat on a chair, and put three more charges in the revolver. And laying her arm, which lay across the region of her heart, to one side, I put the muzzle as near Mary’s heart as I knew how and fired two shots; with the third load I shot her through the temple, making ten shots in all.”

He went downstairs and told one of the women to get a policeman and take him to prison. McGill was very cool and calm as he confessed to the police, but that night in jail, he had trouble sleeping.

“I could not sleep. Every time I would fall into a doze I heard her calling ‘Charley! Charley!’ and was compelled to get up and walk about in my cell.”

At the inquest, Charley McGill pleaded guilty, but when the case went to trial in February 1878, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorney told the court that the “peculiar atrocity of the deed” indicated insanity. He also introduced testimony that McGill had a history of somnambulism and, as a child, had received several knocks on his head. It was not enough for the jury, who found McGill guilty after five hours of deliberation. He was sentenced to hang on June 26, 1878.

They appealed the verdict, and on the day he was to hang, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in McGill’s favor, granting him a new trial on technical grounds. But the second trial held that October ended the same way. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang on February 13, 1879.

As the execution day approached, a delegation from Cleveland urged Governor Bishop to commute the sentence to life in prison. The Governor refused, and the hanging occurred as planned. McGill’s last words on the gallows were, “Don’t make any mistake on that rope.”

“The Cleveland Murder,” Columbus Evening Dispatch., December 3, 1877.
“Commutation Asked,” Chicago daily tribune., February 7, 1879.
“Crime,” The Cincinnati Commercial, December 3, 1877.
“The Gallows,” Chicago Daily News, February 13, 1879.
“Guilty of Murder,” Chicago daily tribune., October 27, 1878.
“Jealousy's Victims,” Inter Ocean, December 3, 1877.
“Love and Lunacy,” Weekly Globe-Democrat., December 6, 1877.
“McGill as a Lover,” Cleveland Leader., December 11, 1877.
“The Murder,” Cleveland Leader., December 4, 1877.
“The Murderer McGill,” Plain Dealer, December 8, 1877.
“The Murderer of Mary Kelly Convicted,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, March 1, 1878.
“No Commutation,” Columbus Evening Dispatch, February 10, 1879.
“Overruled,” Chicago daily tribune., March 3, 1878.
“Sentanced to be Hung,” Evansville Daily Courier., November 1, 1878.
“The Supreme Sacrifice,” Plain Dealer, February 13, 1879.


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