(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this day in 1889, 60-year-old John F. Gilman was hanged in Oregon for the murders of William and Elizabeth Eationhover (Eatenhoover, Etenhover).
Elizabeth and her husband Christopher were German immigrants. They arrived with their five-year-old son William in Coquille, Oregon in July 1888 and signed a five-year lease on farmland belonging to Gilman and his wife.
The Eationhovers built a small house forty yards from John Gilman’s house. They hadn’t lived there long before they began having disputes with Gilman about just what they could do on his land. Gilman wanted them to move and offered to cancel the lease, but the Eationhovers refused to budge.
Less than a year had passed before Gilman had decided the only way out of the situation was to cancel his tenants’ lease … on life.
He tried subtlety first, poisoning their food. That didn’t work and he was forced to use a more direct form of homicide.
On Saturday, July 12, 1889, Christopher was returning home after working all week at another, distant farm. When he reached the river, he noticed Gilman on the other side and asked him to row over and give him a ride. Gilman obliged and Christopher continued his journey home — but when he reached the corral, Gilman came up behind him and hit him in the head with one of his boat’s oars. He then pulled out a knife and stabbed him multiple times.
Gilman had made a miscalculation, though — one that saved Christopher Eationhover’s life. He’d been carrying two knives in his pocket, and one had a broken blade. He’d mistakenly pulled out the broken one, and it could not inflict fatal wounds.
As the two men struggled,
ElizabethGilman’s wife came out of the house to break up the fight. Christopher then took the opportunity to get away. He staggered down to the river, rowed the boat across and went to get help.
By the time he returned with a posse, however, his wife and child had disappeared. The kitchen table was set for breakfast, and little William’s plate still had food on it, long since grown cold.
When the authorities arrived at the Gilman house, they found John Gilman in bed asleep. He hadn’t even bothered to change his bloodstained clothes. Arrested, he insisted he had no idea where the Eationhovers were or what had happened to them. He suggested that perhaps they’d followed after Christopher and got lost.
A search party found them the next afternoon, poorly concealed in a shallow grave. Nearby was another, empty grave, presumably for Christopher.
The two had died horrible deaths.
Elizabeth had been beaten on the arms, hips and face, and had a bad cut on the back of her head, but the actual cause of death was strangulation. Medical evidence indicated she’d remained alive for a time after the beating.
Five-year-old William had tried to run away, but his killer was too fast for him. He’d been strangled with a rope and his neck was broken.
Gilman would later confess to the crimes. He said he had beaten Elizabeth and then ran off, leaving her semi-conscious and helpless, to kill the child. He then returned to finish off Elizabeth. He claimed he’d strangled the victims (actually hanging William from a tree) because he didn’t want to leave blood evidence in the house.
While clearing out his conscience in this rummage sale (which sorely tempted lynch law), Gilman also confessed to another murder, that of George Morras in 1888. He later recanted his statements, but law enforcement believed he had in fact committed the crime.
John Gilman was indicted for two counts of murder. His wife, Fidelia, was charged as an accessory, but later acquitted. John’s insanity defense failed, and there was no appeal or executive clemency.
One final tragic detail in this very tragic story: on October 21, 1892, nearly three years after the hanging of the man who killed his family, Christopher Eationhover hanged himself.