1833: Antoine LeBlanc, billfolded

On this date in 1833, Antoine le Blanc was hanged on the Morristown (N.J.) village green.

A cigar-chomping French immigrant, LeBlanc came to the New World to seek his fortune and found himself doing grueling farm work for Samuel and Sarah Sayre in exchange for a dank basement room but no pay.

After just a couple of weeks in this unsatisfactory situation, LeBlanc clobbered Samuel Sayre with a spade … and then did the same to Sarah Sayre … and then killed their infant child. Stuffing all the portable valuables he could find into pillowcase sacks, he hopped on a horse and fled for New York, hoping to pawn his booty for passage back to Europe.

Like an inept Scooby-Doo villain, LeBlanc in his haste managed to dribble a trail of the Sayres’ goods on the road, and these helped his pursuers corner him in the Meadowlands — an incriminating parcel of his ill-gotten gains right there beside him.

The trial was a mere formality. The execution on an upward-jerking gallows drew an excited crowd several times the 2,500 souls residing in Morristown itself.

And then, it really gets creepy.

LeBlanc was condemned to post-execution medical anatomization, and the good doctors of Morristown took that as license for every posthumous indignity in the 19th century book. First, the late LeBlanc got a course of electrical shocks — a popular corpse experiment of the day whose object was discovering a means of reanimation but whose consequence was merely a ghoulish danse macabre of senseless, jerking limbs as each jolt charged the putrefying flesh.

When they’d had their fill of zombie Antoine LeBlanc, they skinned the murderer and sent his hide off to be made into wallets and book covers which then got hawked to Morristown’s finest citizens. That sounds like an urban legend, but scroll down this page for the pictures: some of these objects have made it to museums, but it’s thought that others persist in private collections, handed down over the generations or just stashed away forgotten until they can emerge for a starring role on Antiques Roadshow.

Apparently the old Sayre house (significantly rebuilt after a 1957 fire) still stands in Morristown … and it’s haunted by LeBlanc and his last victim, the baby Phoebe.


Sources:

The always wonderful Murder By Gaslight blog

The New Jersey Hall of Shame (this is the link with the LeBlancskin wallet pictures)

Weird New Jersey