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1888: Two in New Jersey, by father and son hangmen

Add comment July 18th, 2017 Headsman

This morning in 1888, two different locales in the U.S. state of New Jersey put two different men to death — respectively hanged by James Van Hise pere and fils, father and son executioners.

George Kearney

(From the New York Herald, July 19, 1888)

In the heart of New Jersey’s great apple whiskey district is Freehold, the drowsy, ancient town where George Richard Kearney was neatly hanged yesterday for the murder of gray haired Mrs. Margaret Purcell, the housekeeper of Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, at Elberon, in February.

It is an old fashioned place, and its people are both picturesque and peculiar. Nowhere in New Jersey are the old prejudices and notions cherished as they are in Freehold. The leading newspaper has been going for over three-quarters of a century, and has a circulation of twelve hundred.

But even the fierce heat of journalism has failed to reform or mould New Jersey human nature into modern ideas.

One of the keen features of Freehold philosophy is that a dollar is a dollar. It stares you in the face at every step you take. The genuine native sucks it in with his mother’s milk.

But the last place you would expect to hear that a dollar is a dollar is the cell of a condemned murderer spending his last night on earth.

And yet on Tuesday night men stood in the little brick jail in the rear of the Freehold Court House intriguing to make a few dollars out of the murderer’s agony of mind. The main idea was to get Kearney to confess so that the confession could be peddled for money to the newspapers.

No reporters were allowed to get near him lest the marketable value of the expected confession might be impaired. The most subtle methods were employed to work the negro up to the point of disgorging. He was fed on peaches and coddled. Then he was plied with questions, charged with trying to keep the secret and urged to make all the facts known.

As the night wore on there was a great deal of winking and whispering. Kearney had been worked up, they said, and could not hold out much longer. There was big money in it, perhaps a thousand dollars. So the whispers said. The newspapers would pay high to get a confession.

Every time a reporter appeared to be curious about the chances of a confession the intriguers received a nervous shock. A thrill of horror went through them when it was learned that the HERALD had asked the telegraph operator to hold his wire until midnight. Perhaps some reporter might slyly get hold of the confession. They were such oily, keen eyed fellows, these reporters.

TRYING TO WORK KEARNEY UP.

Kearney held out doggedly. He was innocent of the Purcell murder, he said, and he could not understand why they were so persistent. Even his Bible reading was rudely disturbed by the confession hunters.

The slightest evidence of emotion caused a flutter. When he was seen to weep there was great joy and excitement. Surely he would reveal marketable matter now.

So, while the black browed wretch tried in vain to forget his approaching doom the high toned officials schemed to make a few dollars.

All this was the result of a confession which Kearney made a short time ago, when he acknowledged that he was guilty of an assault upon Miss Angelina Herbert at Eatontown, for which poor old Mingo Jack was cruelly lynched. Under Sheriff Fields, who has charge of the jail, was left out in the cold. Either Prosecutor Haight or Assistant Prosecutor Schwartz sold the text of the confession to a New York newspaper. He divided with no one. Under Sheriff Fields and his father, the Sheriff and all the constables and turnkeys were blazing mad about it according to what the townspeople say. Fabulous stories were told about the amount paid by the New York newspaper for the confession. Some said it was $1,000 and some said it was $100.

Anyhow, the price of Kearney confessions went up. A person who was supposed to have secret means of influencing the murderer to talk was followed about like a man with a straight tip on a race course. A dollar is a dollar, you know. He was treated and flattered. The general impression in Freehold was that to have a one-half interest in genuine Kearney confession was equal to retiring from active business on a comfortable income.

The HERALD reporter who went to witness the hanging had not been in Freehold an hour before he was asked by two different persons for the exclusive use of the last confession of the condemned man. He was sure to break down, they said. Things were being made hot for him.

Later on the reporter learned that Under Sheriff Fields was in a fever of anxiety lest the confession might escape him. He regarded it as a sort of perquisite. One of the death watch officers was pulling a quiet wire to outwit his chief and capture the confession himself.

And Kearney turned the plots all upside down by going to bed without breathing a word of confession, except the private statement he made to Lawyer Johnston.

New York Herald, July 18, 1888:

PREPARING FOR THE GALLOWS.

Hardly had the sun reddened the east yesterday when the murderer got out of bed and dressed himself. He went to the door of his cell and talked with Constable Fleming. When he mentioned his wife he cried heartily. Then he sat down and read the Bible. Now and then some favored person was permitted by the Sheriff to enter the jail corridor and look at the prisoner.

Meanwhile groups of farmers began to assemble in the rear of the Court House, outside of the enclosure where the new scaffold stood. Lawyer Johnston shook hands and chatted with Undertaker Barkalow, who was to bury his client. Men, women and children lingered in front of the jail. The main street put on a busy, metropolitan aspect. All the saloons did a rushing trade.

Then Hangman Van Hise arrived.

He was the hero of the hour. The fact that he was to hang Kearney while his hopeful son was hanging Ebert in Jersey City made him a person of great importance. All the folks in the street smiled and said “How air you?” when he passed. Van Hise is a short man, with a deep chest and heavy shoulders. His features are blunt and coarse. He wears a large red mustache and there is a cold, steady light in his small gray eyes. In appearance he is an ideal hangman.

KEARNEY GETS RELIGION.

While Van Hise was rigging the rope on the scaffold the colored clergymen arrived.

They were Rev. J. Giles Mowbray, of Freehold; the Rev. T.T. Webster, of Fair Haven, and the Rev. Littleton Sturgis, of Asbury Park.

The ministers were admitted to the corridor and Kearney was led out of his cell. He wore a rough white shirt, with a rolling collar, and gray-brown shabby trowsers.

He was a stoutly built man, with a large head, powerful, hairy jaws and thick neck. His smile was snaky and unpleasant to look at. This man of nature had confessed to two horrible outrages upon white women, but denied the last attempt at the same crime which resulted in murder. Brutality and sensuality were stamped plainly upon his dark countenance. He showed the whites of his eyes and his hands trembled as he met the clergymen.

All three kneeled in the corridor and prayed aloud. Their prayers were disturbed again and again by the amateur constables who were having new clubs with red cords served out to them and banged the clubs against every object within reach. The hammering at the gallows also drowned the sound of the prayers.

Kearney knew what the hammering meant. Once he put his hands over his ears.

When the prayers wee done the Rev. Mr. Mowbray poured out some wine and broke bread. He then read the communion service and gave the sacrament to the murderer. Finally he asked Kearney to pick out the religious service he wanted at the scaffold. He sent into his cell for a Bible. Turning over the leaves rapidly he put his black thumb on the eighty-sixth psalm at the words: —

O God, the proud are risen against me and the assemblies of violent men have sought after men soul.

“I want you to read that?” he said horasely.

Kearney next asked that the hymn sung at the gallows should be “Take the name of Jesus with you.” He read over the verse: —

Oh, the precious name of Jesus!
How it thrills our souls with joy
When his loving arms receive us
And his songs our tongues employ!

One or two of the jail officials who looked on at a distance suspected that Kearney was making a confession, and they suffered sharp anguish as they saw a turnkey creep up close enough to hear. If the confession got out it could not be peddled. The officials panted and perspired. Suddenly Kearney leaped up and threw his hands wildly into the air.

“Glory! glory! glory!” he screamed. “I long for the end now. Jesus is mine. I’ve had trials and tribulations here, but there are none above. Glory to God! Glory! Let the end come. Let it come! Glory!”

“MY BLOOD WILL BE UPON THEM.”

His face was convulsed with emotion and tears ran from his eyes. The cries which he uttered could be heard outside of the jail.

When he sat down the clergyman asked him if he wished to relieve his bosom from any secret connected with the crime. He passionately declared his innocence and turning to Mr. Mowbray, said: —

If they hang me they will be taking the life of an innocent man. My blood will be upon them. I had nothing to do with the murder of Mrs. Purcell.

As the clergyman retired Kearney said to a constable that his confession that it was he and not Mingo Jack who assaulted Miss Herbert at Eatontown was true.

“Mingo Jack was innocent,” he said. “They can believe what they please, but I did it. I told the truth in my confession.”

By this time there was a great crowd in front of the jail. Men, women and children pressed against each other in the vain attempt to hear or see some thing.

An old colored woman kept kneeling at the door on the sidewalk and praying in a low voice. A constable drove her away. There was a drove of constables in the flower garden at the jail. Among them was Clay Wooley, who came near having Stanford Potter hanged for the Hamilton murder at Long Branch. Mayor Brown, of Long Branch, passed in to see the execution. The Sheriff was half crazy settling disputes as to who should see Kearney die.

A lot of boys climbed into tree tops which commanded a view of the gallows. Constables drove them away. Up in the tower of the big Court House rows of fingers at the green slats of the belfry showed where a small army of peepers was concealed.

Chief Haggerty, of the New Jersey Detective Bureau, was hid behind a curtain in the window of the jail hospital. The glare of his diamond pin almost revealed him. Nothing was left undone to evade the law, which declares that not more than thirty-eight specified persons shall witness an execution.

Out in the jail yard a reporter who could not gain admittance to the fatal enclosure sat under a cherry tree in a corner half asleep. In a window opposite to him the female prisoners were crowded.

WALKING TO THE GALLOWS.

At last the side door of the jail was thrown open and the death procession appeared.

First came the Sheriff, and after him the prisoner supporter on either side by the Rev. Mr. Mowbray and the Rev. Mr. Webster. The jailer, a reporter, several jurors, S.B. Hinsdale, the official stenographer in the case, and a posse of constables brought up the rear. Kearney walked with a firm step and showed no signs of fear.

His arms were lashed behind hi by means of straps. The black cap falling back from his face like a cowl and the trailing end of the noose around his neck gave him a horrible appearance. As the ghastly figure passed the corridor the female prisoners gasped and shuddered. The murderer was led into the little rough enclosure where the jurors and others were waiting. As the hangman attached the noose to the rope Kearney smiled in the old surly way.

“If you want to say anything, say it to the Sheriff,” said Van Hise.

“I’ve nothing to say.”

The Rev. Mr. Webster started to pray, when the murderer frowned and told him that he wanted no delay. Van Hise at once pulled the black cap over his face.

“Goodby,” said the negro.

“Goodby, George,” groaned the clergyman.

DEATH WITHOUT A STRUGGLE.

The Sheriff signalled to Van Hise, who pressed his foot on a spring at the side of the gallows. The trigger released weights amounting to 650 pounds, which hung over a nine foot pit in the ground. Instantly the body of Kearney was whipped up from the ground. The rope doubled and his head came within two feet of the crossbeam. The body descended with a terrific jar and swung gently to and fro.

It was seen at once that the knot had slipped from the left ear around to the back of the neck and everybody thought there would be a horrible scene of strangulation. The body hung motionless. There was not the slightest motion to show that Kearney was alive.

About a minute after the spring was touched the shoulders and chest moved slightly, but it was merely the usual muscular spasms. The two doctors who were present decided to allow the body to hang for half an hour, after which it was cut down and put in a coffin. The shoes were cut from the dead man’s feet and there was a general scramble for pieces of shoestrings as mementos. Van Hise declared that Kearney’s neck was broken. He was delighted over a telegram from his hopeful son announcing that the hanging in Jersey City was a success.

“He’s a promising young man,” he said. “It’s the first time I have left him alone on a job.”

NO GRAVE FOR KEARNEY.

As none of Kearney’s relatives turned up the Coroner decided to bury the body at the county’s expense. Both the colored cemetery and the white cemetery authorities refused to allow the remains to be buried in their grounds. The Coroner suggested that the coffin might be stood on end in the narrow pit into which the gallows weights dropped and covered over. This ideas was rejected.

“I don’t know where I am to get a grave,” said the Coroner distractedly, after the execution. “I have an idea that I can bury the corpse at any crossroads. It would serve the town right if I buried it on the crossing of the two main streets. I’ll bury it anyhow, even if I have to dig a grave on my own farm. I offered $5 for a grave in a field near the cemetery, but the owner wouldn’t have it.”

The crime for which Kearney was hanged was committed on February 13, 1888. He was coachman for Mrs. Daniel R. Lyddy, and attempted to outrage Mrs. Purcell, the housekeeper. The old woman resisted and he beat her and threw her down a cellar stairs. She was horribly mutilated, but lived for a month afterward. She identified Kearney and made a dying declaration of the circumstances of the crime.

Henry Ebert

(via Augustine E. Costello)

EXECUTION OF EBERT. — On July 18, 1888, in the Hudson County Jail, Henry Conrad Ebert, paid with his life the penalty for the murder of his wife, Elizabeth. The fatal deed was committed on Sunday, November 27th, 1887, and at no time has there been any doubt of Ebert’s guilt.

Ebert dressed himself for the last few steps he was to walk on earth as late as possible, and lingered over the process to an unusual degree. It was not until 9.55 o’clock that Deputy Sheriff Mersheimer informed Sheriff Davis that Ebert had finished his toilet. The particulars that follow, of the hanging, are taken from the daily press:

Precisely at 10 o’clock, six strokes of the Court House bell clanged upon the air. The sound was expected, but caused cold chills to run over those who heard them. How the knell must have affected the doomed man can be better imagined than described.

Sheriff Davis read the list of witnesses, and they formed in double column. The procession passed through the Court House park and entered the jail. They reached the fatal corridor at 10 o’clock.

Sheriff Davis and Deputies Mersheimer and McPhillips left the corridor and went up stairs for the law’s victim. The two faithful clergymen were with Ebert and their presence had a bracing effect. The death warrant was read and then Ebert’s arms were pinioned behind him at the elbows. The deadly noose was adjusted and the black cap placed upon Ebert’s head. All was now ready for the death march.

Sheriff Davis led the way and was followed down the narrow stairs by the two ministers. Next came the murderer with Deputy Mersheimer supporting him at the left elbow and McPhillips at the right. They reached the entrance to the corridor at 10:10 o’clock.

Ebert’s face was deadly pale as he crossed the fatal threshold and caught sight of the grim gallows at the end. His right eye was gone, and the reddened socket seemed to heighten the pallor of his cheeks. [a result of shooting himself after shooting his wife -ed.] He never faltered.

A few short steps brought him beneath the beam. Van Hise Jr. guided him to the cruciform chalk marks upon the floor. The centre point was directly in line with the pendent rope. Ebert’s legs were quickly fastened with straps. A silence that could be felt, prevailed, broken only by the pulsations of the water pipe keeping time to the strokes of the pumping engine at High Service.

Dr. Meury’s voice broke the stillness as the black cap was drawn down, to forever shut out daylight from the murderer’s sight. He prayed earnestly, and as follows:

O, most merciful God, who according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent, that thou rememberedst them no more; open thine eye of mercy upon this, thy servant, who most earnestly desireth pardon, and forgiveness. Renew in him whatsoever hath been decayed by the fraud and the malice of the devil, or by his own carnal will and frailness, consider his contrition, accept his tears, assuage his pain, as shall seem to thee most expedient for him, and for as much as he putteth his full trust only in thy mercy, impute not unto him his former sins, but strengthen him with thy blessed spirit, and if it be in accordance with thy will. When he shall have departed hence, take him unto thy favor through the merits of thy beloved son our Lord Christ Jesus, to whom with the Father and Holy Spirit shall be all the glory. Amen.

As the “amen” was uttered there was a pause. Then Sheriff Davis signalled to Van Hise, who pressed the gallows treadle. Ebert’s body sprang into the air at 10:13 o’clock.

His neck was not broken, and a horrible sight followed. The knot slipped from its proper place behind the left ear, and was jerked around to the middle of the left jaw. Fully one-quarter of the dying man’s face was exposed as he strangled to death. His hands were bare and turned purple as the oxygen was gradually cut off from his lungs. The forearms raised until the clenched hands repeatedly rested upon his breast.

The lower limbs were forcibly contracted. His feet seemed to reach out for a resting place in vain. The sight appalled most of the witnesses. Many of them turned their heads aside. Dr. Heifer, of Hoboken, said he would not be surprised if Ebert lived for thirty minutes.

At 10:17½ o’clock the weight was raised sufficiently to lower the body until the feet almost touched the floor. The doctors and the newspaper men gathered around the pendant body. The head of the corpse was a few inches higher than the head of the bystanders, and the doctors took turns in noting the condition of the heart.

At 10:20 o’clock the heart rate was 84; at 10:22 it had fallen to 80; at 10:23 it was 60, and at 10:26 the pulsations were inaudible even with a stethoscope. At 10:33 the body was lowered, and Coroner Brackner and his assistants took possession of it. The body was removed to Speer’s Morgue, where an autopsy was held.

Ebert ate dinner with his usual relish, and a short time afterward, Keeper Eltringham asked him if he would like to be shaved. Ebert said he would, and Chris. Munzing, the Newark avenue barber, was called in. When Ebert sat down to be shaved, the keeper said, “You will have to be handcuffed before he begins.” “What for?” said Ebert; “there is no need of that.” “It is the Sheriff’s order,” said the keeper. “Then I won’t be shaved at all,” said Ebert resolutely, and he was not.

Sheriff Davis and the executioner visited the corridor and examined the gallows, and the afternoon passed for the prisoner without incident. He frequently went to the window and looked out at the crowd of curious people who hung over the iron fence. A number of them were his former neighbors, but he did not recognize any of them.

About five o’clock, Rev. Mr. Meury reached the jail. He was accompanied by Rev. John Staehli of Jersey City, who had been selected as his assistant by the spiritual adviser.

Mr. Meury had intended to go to Trenton with Ebert’s brother and counsel to present the petition signed by over 150 residents of the Fourth district, asking for a commutation of sentence, but he was unable to go. As soon as he learned of the unsuccessful result of the appeal to the Court of Pardons, Mr. Meury started for the jail. He went up to Ebert’s cell and broke the news to him. Ebert bore up well, showing outwardly but little change. The faithful pastor then tried to induce Ebert to make a clean breast of the crime, the prisoner with only a few hours between him and eternity, still adhered to his original statement which all the known facts disprove. Mr. Meury came down from the cell about half-past five o’clock, and just at that time Ebert’s brother called at the jail and asked permission to go in and see the condemned man. It did not take Jailer Birdsall a minute to make up his mind, although it was a very trying moment. He directed Keeper Eltringham to refuse him admittance. Young Ebert walked back to the gate and catching sight of his brother at the window of his cell he made a dumb show to let him understand that he had been refused admission. The crowd around the fence pressed in but the young man was too much excited to pay any attention to them. He returned to the door and asked for Mr. Meury. When he saw him he urged him to get permission for him to go in the gallery at the head of the stairs where he could see his brother and call good by to him. Mr. Meury urged Jailer Birdsall to grant this request, but was firmly refused, “I am satisfied,” said Mr. Birdsall; “that my reasons for refusing are good. It will only make a scene and Ebert has already said that he don’t want to see anybody. I don’t think it will be safe to allow them to come together, and I will not take the responsibility. If the Sheriff will come with him and take him in I will not offer any objection.”

Mr. Meury and young Ebert went to the Sheriff’s office, but did not find the Sheriff. The deputy in charge of his office talked to Ebert and convinced him that it would be useless to search for the Sheriff, as the prisoner was in the custody of the Jailer. Young Ebert hung around the vicinity of the jail for a good while. talking to all he knew about the affair.

The Jailer was right, however, for he did not want to run any risks, and the young man’s erratic actions on former visits were enough to inspire any jailer with extra caution.

After the brother had gone a committee from the Council of Red Men called to see Ebert. They were not allowed to do so. They were very much affected by the condition in which they found him, and said that he had been suspended about six months before the murder. They said, “If he had only let us know about his condition or his trouble with his wife we would have gladly helped him; but we only knew that he had fallen behind, and he was dropped under the rule.” They were affected to tears when they talked with the pastor.

Keepers Hanley and Hanlon and Constable Carroll kept watch by turns over Ebert during the afternoon and evening. About eight o’clock Ebert wanted his supper. He ate a hearty meal sent from Jailor Birdsall’s table. There is a peculiar feature about a murderer’s last two or three weeks. Humanity and custom have made it a rule that condemned men, while awaiting execution, shall be fed on a more liberal plan than ordinary prisoners, yet there are no funds for this, and the jailor has to provide it at his own expense. Ebert had had pretty much anything he liked to order for the two weeks previously, and he thought more about his next meal than he did about the next world. After he ate his supper he chatted with Keeper Eltringham about the Order of Red Men, the different processes of making beer and wine in Germany, and when the keeper was changed he spoke to keeper Hanlon about his service in the Prussian artillery service. He said he enlisted when he was seventeen years old, and served until he was twenty-one, and that while doing garrison duty he learned to play the zither and the trombone in the band. He was quite chatty and frequently laughed. He smoked a pipe after supper, and smoked a cigar which Mr. Meury gave him. He was not allowed to have any cigars except those given by the jailer and Mr. Meury, for fear that some dangerous weapon or poison might have been concealed in the cigar. The police drove the crowd away from the front of the jail, and the place was kept pretty clear all night. Pastor Meury went home for a short time about 9 o’clock, promising to return at 11 o’clock. There were few callers except the newspaper men during the evening, but all the principal papers were represented between dark and midnight.

Ebert went to sleep at 11:15 o’clock and slept soundly.

Rev. Mr. Meury, with Rev. Mr. Staehle returned to the jail at 2 o’clock, and went up in about an hour. They found Ebert still sleeping.

Ebert had requested Mr. Meury to admininister the Communion during the day, but when Ebert persisted in refusing to make a confession, the minister would not administer the rite.

At midnight the jail was closed. The heavy iron shutters closed out the sights and sounds of the outer world. No sounds were heard inside of the building. Groups of newspaper men occupied every available space for writing and the night passed quietly. Ebert became restless as morning drew near, and the flies annoyed him by lighting on the wounded eye.

The twittering of the sparrows about 4 o’clock gave the first notice of the coming dawn, and daylight followed very suddenly. The wagons followed and the day’s work began, the sights and sounds of busy life began to come into the jail, still Ebert slept on as unconcerned as if he had no interest in the proceedings.

Rev. Mr. Meury accompanied by Mr. Staehle, went up at four o’clock. They found Ebert awake waiting for them. He greeted them cheerfully and told them that he had slept very well. Mr. Meury asked him if he had anything further to say, and he said, yes. Then Dr. Meury took out a memorandum book and wrote down the statement in German, of which the following is a translation:

I forgive all who have sinned against me. If I killed my wife in a fit of insanity I regret it from the bottom of my heart, as I would never have killed her had I been in a healthy state of mind. I pray God to forgive me, and hope to meet my wife in heaven. I thank the jailor, my pastor, and all who have been so kind to me while I have been here.

The two ministers then examined him as to his spiritual condition, and at his request they decided to administer the sacred communion. They took up the wine and bread at five o’clock.

The Counsel of Henry Ebert were not from the start all sanguine of saving him from the gallows. The verdict reached by the jury was no surprise to them, as their expectations never went beyond a sort of a forlorn hope that the circumstances attending the shooting of Mrs. Ebert by her husband might lead the jury to bring a verdict of murder in the second degree. When that slender prop was swept away it was manifest to them that their application for a writ of error would be denied because they had nothing sufficiently tangible upon which to base any assurance of procuring a new trial for the unfortunate man. Counselor Wm. D. Daly, who through a creditable sense of his duty towards the murderer, fought to the last for him, spent days striving to discover something that might avail Ebert before the Court of Pardons, but as he admitted sorrowfully after returning from that court, his efforts were discouraging, and he was not disappointed that they were unavailing. The main point upon which the lawyers made a plea for clemency for Ebert, was the fact that the killing was the result of a mutual prearranged plan to die together, and to this end the following letter was brought to the attention of the Court of Pardons:

We are being persecuted by the Groeschel family. Fred Groeschel, his wife, and Dorett List, the mother of my wife, have been accepting as true everything which my wife has said during her insanity, and for this reason now they are persecuting me, running me down wherever they can. They are trying to persuade my wife that they may alienate her affections from me. These people, do not know what true love is. They do not know that a true German woman will cling to her husband, even though he should become bad. I, however, was not and am not bad. These people, through their behavior, have made me sick, confused my brain and made me despondent of the love of humanity. My wife dies of her own free will, and has begged me a hundred times to shoot her. I could not do it and would not do it. I am, however, at the present time, in such a frame of mind, that I should like to shoot myself. Should my wife hear this, however, she would be unredeemably lost, and it is better therefore, that we die together. It is my wife’s own wish that we die together, and I do it. I become a murderer in order to make my wife happy.

(Signed) Henry Ebert.

When all hope was gone, Rev. Mr Meury showed these documents to Ebert, and he admitted that they were in his handwriting. The letter was written by him before he left home on the day of the murder. It was intended that it should account to the public for the projected suicide of himself and his wife. It was found wrapped up in a newspaper among Ebert’s effects, which were turned over to his brother by Warden George O. Osborne when the former left the City Hospital. Ebert’s brother did not discover it until after the trial, and then, believing it to be of great importance, he gave it to Mr. Daly, who had him translate it. While it offered proof that mutual suicide was contemplated, in the eyes of the law it did not in the slightest degree mitigate his crime. But it proves beyond all possible doubt that Ebert’s published statement was false, and was made for effect only. It was convincing circumstantial evidence that he meant to kill both himself and wife that ill-fated day. It was quite probable, judging from their wanderings in New York on the day, he having a loaded revolver in his possession, that he or they were merely seeking a favorable opportunity to end their wretched existence. The letter brushed away whatever doubt there might be of his suicidal and murderous intentions, and fixed his responsibility for the fatal crime.

Among Ebert’s effects at the hospital was also found the following:

Tallahassa Council No. 22, F. O R. M.:

“Bury me as a brother and give the balance to our Elsa.”

This is understood to have reference to the money which was to be paid by the Council at Ebert’s death.

Many of the early workers who left their homes on the hill in the morning, paused as they passed, to gaze up at the grim front of the County Jail, where the condemned man awaited his doom. They pointed out Ebert’s window to each other and talked over his fate until the two Third precinct policemen ordered them to move on. At the foot of the hill, three long cattle trains could be seen on the elevated freight roads waiting a chance to reach the abattoir. The lowing of the bovine victims, as they halted upon their unconscious journey to death reminded many of Ebert’s fate, that was coming with equal certainty and even greater speed.

The sun arose, bright and clear, and promised a perfect day. All who felt its influence rejoiced except the man who was to be cut off in the bloom of health and manly vigor. Beneath his window could be heard the juvenile voices of newsboys as they cheerily hawked their stocks of morning papers.

As the hours sped along the crowds in front of the jail, while constantly changing, increased steadily in numbers. Nothing whatever could be seen and little more learned of what was going on inside the building. There was a peculiar morbid fascination about the spot, however, that proved irresistible to many.

The throng of spectators about the jail became more and more dense, and at 8:30 o’clock the end of Oakland avenue, opposite the jail, and the sidewalk of Newark avenue, were practically blockaded. This state of affairs continued until 9 o’clock, when a detail of about 60 police made their appearance. Chief Murphy was in command, with Inspector Lange and Captain Newton, of the Third precinct, to assist him. The crowds were cleared away in short order, and no one outside of those holding proper credentials were then allowed to pass the lines until all was over. A lot of boys who had gained points of supposed vantage close to the windows of the jail office, were particularly sore at being driven off.

When Ebert’s brother applied for admission to the jail, and was persistently refused by Jailor Birdsall, a good many people were inclined to think that it was unnecessarily severe, but the Jailor had good reasons.

About two weeks before, in searching Ebert the keeper found a small package of strychnine sewed into the buckle band of his vest. It was carefully removed and preserved.

When Ebert’s brother was allowed to call on him he handed him a segar. Ebert in taking it did not notice quickly enough that there was something else in the hand that extended the segar. He made motion to cover his blunder, and the motion slight as it was, attracted attention. The segar was tendered while the brothers were parting and as soon as the younger one was out of the room the prisoner was seized and stripped. The keeper found a small package of strychnine in his pocket and upon comparing the package with the other one seized before, it was found that the wrapper was a piece of the same paper in which the first one was wrapped. This proved that young Ebert had smuggled the first package into the jail, After that he could not get near enough to pass him any more articles.

Ebert’s lease of life had expired. His sands of life were run. The fatal noose was about his neck. The signal was given and Ebert’s soul was launched into eternity. He had expiated his awful crime. The gallows had vindicated this outraged majesty of the laws. There was one murderer less in the world. Was the sacrificial warning heeded? Alas, no! Candidates are still awaiting their turn to share a similar fate.

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1852: Samuel Treadway

1 comment March 1st, 2017 Headsman

Hartford Courant, Nov. 20, 1852


Newark Daily Advertiser, Jan. 4, 1853


Baltimore Sun, Jan. 12, 1853


Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 21, 1853

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 1853

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1884: Howard Sullivan, ravisher and murderer

Add comment December 2nd, 2016 Headsman

From the New York Times, Dec. 3, 1884:

SALEM, N.J., Dec. 2. — The hanging of Howard Sullivan, the negro, which took place at the county jail this morning, was the closing act of a tragedy that has never been equaled in Salem and rarely in any other county in the State of New-Jersey. Ella Watson, on the night of Aug. 18, while proceeding to her home over a lonely road near Yorktown, a thrifty little village, nine miles north of this place, was waylaid, robbed, ravished, and murdered, and her body concealed in some bushes near by, where it was discovered a few days later.

For a time the murder was enveloped in mystery, but the vigilance of two or three detectives, among them a colored man, who exhibited remarkable skill in working up the case, soon unraveled it, and Sullivan was charged with the murder.

He had not been long in jail before a confession was wormed from him,* and when placed on trial before a Supreme Court and three lay Judges, in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be hanged. Sullivan stood the prison life bravely, and not once did he display the slightest emotion.

Sullivan did not go to bed until after midnight last night. A great part of the time he spent in singing and praying, and when not engaged in this he was conversing with his death-watchers.

Confined in a cell on the third floor, the one he formerly occupied, and from which he attempted to escape, is a colored woman named Sallie Fisher, convicted of the larceny of a watch chain, and sentenced to imprisonment in the county jail for 90 days. Nearly all last night she prayed and wept aloud for Sullivan. Her voice could be heard for a long distance from the jail, and her cries were piteous in the extreme. Sullivan’s mother called to see him and remained with him for some time. The scene between them was an affecting one.

The morning opened clear and pleasant, and Sullivan arose at exactly 7:05 A.M., when he was awakened by the Warden. He left his breakfast untouched, saying he would eat “after a while.” When asked if he wished to make any statement for the public, he said: “There is nothing more that I care to say about the case. I have got no complaint at all to make about my trial or my treatment. I have had all I want to eat and Sheriff Kelty and ex-Sheriff Coles have been very kind to me. I hope to go to a better world, and I believe my sins will be forgiven.”

Sullivan added that he had slept quite as well as usual during the night. After making this statement he ate the breakfast that had been prepared for him. His manner was calm, and when talking to his companions he was almost cheerful.

At 9 o’clock the gallows was tested and found to be in good working order. A few minutes later the condemned man’s fater and mother called to see him, and while they were with him in the cell all others, except his spiritual adviser, were excluded. The father is a bright, honest looking man, 65 years of age, though his appearance does not indicate it.

The meeting between Sullivan and his father and mother, together with the Rev. Richard Miles, Pastor of the Mount Pisgah Methodist Episcopal (colored) Church, of this city, one of his spiritual advisers, was a quiet one. They all sat around a stove in an outer room and chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. Sullivan said to his parents: “If you cry I will want to cry, but if you control yourselves I will.” This was all he said regarding his feelings.

While his family were still with him the Rev. William S. Zane, Pastor of the Walnut-Street Church, and the Rev. W.V. Louderbough, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, called on him and uttered a few consoling words. They have been regular visitors for some time, but took no part in the execution. The Rev. Wilson Peterson, Pastor of the African Church of Bushtown, also called while Sullivan’s parents were with him, and before taking their final leave all joined in singing “Take the Name of Jesus with you.”

Finally, the prisoner’s sisters entered the jail, and his parting with them was distressing.

His sister Emeline fell in a fainting fit and had to be carried out. This sight proved too much for his mother’s nerves, and, weeping and wailing, she was led into another room. When Emeline was taken to the street, on her way to the railroad station, she again fell in a fainting fit, and was actually dragged to the train. Mrs. Sullivan kept up long enough to reach the house of a friend, where she remained until her departure for Yorktown at noon.

After Sullivan’s cell was cleared of all except his spiritual adviser a final prayer in the jail was offered by the Rev. Mr. Peterson, after which, at 10:20 A.M., Sheriff Kelty, in the presence of Prosecutor Slape, read the death warrant. Sullivan was the coolest man in the party.

At 11:18 the jury appointed by the court filed down stairs to the basement and thence to the yard.

Sullivan, preceded by the two spiritual advisers, and accompanied by his friend, ex-Sheriff Coles, followed immediately after. He was dressed in a neat-fitting black diagonal suit, and wore black cloth gloves.

At the scaffold the Rev. Mr. Miles offered a prayer. Then the prisoner’s ankles were pinioned and his hands were fastened behind him with handcuffs

Ex-Sheriff Coles asked him if he desired to say anything, and he replied: “I hope the Lord will bless you all, and I hope to meet you all in heaven. Good-bye. When I fall from here I will fall into the arms of Jesus. It is a warning for all. It is very sad for my mother, my father, for Mr. Kelty, and for every one, but it is not sad for me. It is a marriage ceremony with me, and I want to be there in time for the feast with all those good men that have gone before me. I want all you gentlemen who have sons to take heed and learn them. Good-bye all.”

As the black cap was being adjusted Sullivan bade his friend Coles good-bye. There was just the slightest tremor in his voice as he spoke.

At exactly 11:29 the drop fell. There was a twitching of the body for a minute, and then it hung withut motion. In three minutes Sullivan was pronounced dead; his neck had been broken. The body was allowed to hang for half an hour, when it was cut down and placed in the coffin. It was buried at Bushtown in the afternoon.

* By a Pinkerton detective infiltrated into his cell for the purpose. According to the Chicago Tribune report of the trial, relating that detective’s gloss on Sullivan’s alleged jailhouse confession,

Sullivan said he sneaked up behind Ella Watson unperceived and struck her three or four terrible blows with a cane had had picked up in the woods. She fell to the ground, and, grasping the prostrate form, he dragged it across the road into the bushes, where he attempted to commit a dastardly assault upon the dying girl. She resisted his attempts, but he accomplished his design. Then the girl raised her head and exclaimed, “O, I know you!” “Then,” said Sullivan, “I clutched her by the throat and choked her with all my might. That killed her. I didn’t stop choking her until a shudder ran through her and I knew she was dead.”

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1791: William Jones, “in a country out of the reach of my enemies”

Add comment May 6th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1791, a man named William Jones hanged in Newark, N.J.

Jones cut an apologetic figure at his public execution, and a confession he signed off in the hours before was widely reprinted in New England newspapers. (This transcription is from the Boston Independent Chronicle of May 26, 1791.)

Knowing that without repentance there can be no salvation, and without a sincere confession of our public transgressions, there can be no true repentance, therefore I would give glory to God, exonerate and ease my own wretched mind; and as far as possible, afford that satisfaction to the public, by confessing my crimes, that others may take warning by my awful but just end, and be preserved from such horrid iniquities. This is the only reparation I can make to society, for the evil I have done, for which I am righteously, in the midst of my days, cut off from among men.

I confess I have been exceedingly wicked from my youth. I have been habitually addicted to Sabbath breaking, swearing, keeping evil company, gaming, drinking to excess; and when in liquor, passionate and quarrelsome, and have indulged myself to a high degree in other base and horrid abominations.

But the crime for which I am now to die, I would, with the greatest exactness relate. — I solemnly declare, I never intended to kill Mr. Shotwell, nor had I, at any time, as far as I know, murderous intentions in my heart against him, yet, I was the unfortunate man, that, to gratify my wicked passions, was the occasion of his death. I had long had a spite against Shotwell, because I looked upon it, that he & another man had injured me much, and were the cause of my being obliged to settle a civil prosecution, commenced against me, greatly to my wrong. Therefore I had often said, I would whip, beat or flog Shotwell, but as I never had a thought in my heart to murder him; as a dying man, I never said, I would kill him.

On the evening of Friday the 1st day of April, about or a little after sun down, I saw Samuel Shotwell pass my mother’s house driving cattle or a pair of oxen. In sometime, afterwards, I arose, went out into the road, and followed after him. I met Letts and stopped and talked with him for some minutes perhaps six or eight; then we parted and I followed after Shotwell. I crossed the fence in order to cut off a crook in the road and re-crossed the fence into the road still behind him. About three quarters of a mile from where I had seen Letts, I overtook Shotwell, and, without speaking a word to him, or he to me, I knocked him down with my fist, and there kicked him in the face and head, having on a pair of strong heavy shoes. I then passed the fence into the field opposite to where Shotwell lay. In a short time I saw him rise and go on the road, and I went along in the field. I had thoughts of going to a certain house, at no great distance before us, but before I came to the house, I altered my purpose, and so passed the fence into the road before Shotwell and going back along the way, I presently met him. I knocked him down again with my first, and again kicked him, and left him, and went on the road home. After sitting by the fire a little while, I went to bed, but was very uneasy lest I had beat Shotwell too much.

With regard to the club, of which much was said in the course of my trial, I never had it in my hand, nor did I ever see it, till the next day at the Coroner’s inquest. It was not the weapon I made use of nor had I any weapon whatsoever; but by knocking down Shotwell and kicking him in the manner related, I was the unhappy cause of his death.

I leave this testimony and confession, that my awful conduct may be a warning to others, that they by my dreadful fate, may be admonished to refrain from evil company, and from allowing themselves in drunkenness, wrath, malice or intemperate passions. My wickedness has brought me to this just and awful doom. May all others hear and fear!

WILLIAM JONES

A sad end for Messrs. Jones and Shotwell both; readers of the 21st century as well as the 18th ought to hear and fear.

But to the end of this awful but uncomplicated tragedy, we have this curious broadsheet published later in 1791.

What to make of this artifact?

One notices at first blush that as the document was printed in broadsheet form, it was presumably intended for the enrichment of its publisher … and we might suppose treacherous albeit not unpassable footing on the route from anyone actually party to such an occult missive in real life to a hustler harvesting gawkers’ pennies on the incredible secret. Indeed, it would be a profoundly ill turn for Jones or his correspondent, for no better reason than a gloat, to expose the physician of his deliverance to the sanctions that might attend unmasking. If this pamphlet’s remarkable claims were recapitulated in any other media at the time, I have not been able to locate it.

Even presuming that we have a sensational forgery, our bulletin does have something to say to us yet, and not only about the evergreen human fascination with surviving an execution.

This is a document from the Enlightenment, an interval where the vaunting progress of human ingenuity designed even to steal a march from the reaper himself by reviving the drowned or reanimating the dead.

Hangings were survived sometimes — not commonly, but often enough that the phenomenon was familiar and occasionally the enterprising condemned even schemed to accomplish it intentionally. Such a scenario necessarily inspired artists, whose fabulisms would only have reflected the fancies of their audiences. The scaffold was already being given over routinely as the portal to spiritual escape for the penitent knave crushed by his sin … why not the escapism of the flesh, too?

Maybe our broadsheet publishers took inspiration from the fantastic story a couple of years prior of a different man living through his hanging in Massachusetts. Though that earlier tale was perhaps more overtly crafted for moral instruction, the particulars of the harrowing procedure are much the same: the assistance of an obligingly altruistic doctor, the agonizing pain of resuscitation, and the convenient vanishing into unverifiable distant anonymity. Even Nathaniel Hawthorne would allude via a minor character in The Blithesdale Romance to the legend that an English banker executed in the 1820s had duped the hangman — and not unlike our William Johnson, Hawthorne judged that living phantom and his stolen years “a mere image, an optical delusion, created by the sunshine of prosperity, … [who] seemed to leave no vacancy.”

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1841: Peter Robinson, Tell-Tale Heart inspiration?

Add comment April 16th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Peter Robinson hanged for a New Jersey murder. Little could he have imagined that he was on his way to the literary canon.

A wealthy merchant and banker named Abraham Suydam had disappeared, and suspicion quickly settled on Robinson — one of his debtors, who suddenly seemed to be a little bit flush with cash and a timepiece too rich for his station in life.

Robinson was arrested and examined before the Mayor of New Brunswick, and from his confused manner and contradictory statements, it was determined that his house should be searched. Accordingly the Mayor, accompanied by several constables, and a number of citizens, proceeded to Robinson’s house for the purpose of searching it. Every room, nook and corner in the upper stories of the house were searched, but without success. At last one of the constables proposed to adjourn to the cellar and see what could be discovered there. This proposition caused the greatest trepidation on the part of Robinson, who strongly remonstrated against it.

He stated that if the floor of his cellar was removed, it would endanger the safety of the building, and there was no telling what would be the consequences. This only made the party feel the more convinced of Robinson’s guilt, and they immediately commenced operations removing the plank of the cellar. A few boards and the earth underneath only had been removed, when the dead body of the unfortunate Mr. Suydam, to the astonishment of all present, was found. His skull was found to be dreadfully fractured, and his head was horribly disfigured by the marks of blows which had been inflicted on it. From the state of his body, it is supposed that he was murdered eight or nine days ago. (New York Commercial Advertiser (Dec. 15, 1840.)

It is commonly thought — thought there does not appear to be any direct evidence for it — that this nationally infamous body-under-the-floorboards murder helped to inspire Edgar Allan Poe‘s classic short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”.*

Published in January 1843, “The Tell-Tale Heart” features a young man who murders an old man, stashes his body under the floor, then pleasantly dissipates the suspicions of the police until a sensation of the victim’s heart noisily throbbing overwhelms him into a confession:

Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! — and now — again! — hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! —

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Poe’s nameless character denies a motive for the crime, attributing it only to the victim’s “eye” — a mythologizing device which has surely aided the story’s longevity.

Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! — yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so, by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

But if Robinson was the source material, the occult power of the old man’s “eye” was nothing but the oldest motive in the world: plain old luchre.

In 1839, Robinson had borrowed $400 from Abraham Suydam to buy a lot and begin construction of a home upon it, but soon found himself (to use a familiar but anachronistic parlance) underwater.

“Every one to whom I owed a few dollars was after me to sue or get me to give my furniture for the debt,” Robinson recounted in a tearful confession 48 hours before his hanging. (We excerpt it here from the April 17, 1841 Baltimore Sun.) “I did so; I did all that I could; I was driven nearly crazy by these debts … I let them take my furniture until there was scarcely any thing left in the house; and I was ashamed to let any one come into it to see how very poor we really was, and how bad off.”

The harrying of creditors and the passion of the crime seem to have left the murderer’s mind awash in dollars and cents.

Even facing a far more considerable penalty than bankruptcy, Robinson’s confession is obsessed with the winnowing margins of his former debts; scarcely a paragraph elapses without citation of a meticulous mental ledger-book. Robinson recalled the bills incurred to construct his home (“I bought about $250 worth of lumber … The mason work was done for me by Mr. Chessman; for this I was to pay Mr. C. $210. I paid him $110 in cash, and gave him a mortgage for $100 … I had bought some sash frames for my house of a man, and they came to $22.25″ …). He dwelt on his negotiations with Suydam and complained of the lender’s tightfistedness; he recalled the precise value of what he was able to steal from Suydam’s body (“$10 in money, not a cent more … [in] his pantaloons pockets … only two shillings and a penknife”) and the expenses incurred to evade justice (he offered his brother $50 to burn his house down for the insurance, then took a bath unloading Suydam’s gold watch — it “was worth double what I got for it”); yet even so, he was still a little proud of his diligence assailing his debt, in contrast with “Thorne who bought a lot close by mine” and with whom “Mr. Suydam got out of patience.” The killer even had the brass to pat himself on the back for not destroying the papers Suydam had on him: thus, “the relations of Suydam, and his friends, can’t say that they lose any money by the murder.”

So, about that murder.

Luring Suydam to his house to make a payment on Thanksgiving Day, Robinson invited him down to the creepy basement to do business, having prepared his instrument like Patrick Bateman.

At this time I took up a mallet, which I had placed in the basement ready to knock him over with. I then went into the front basement, Mr. Suydam in front of me. I followed behind with the mallet in my hand, he not noticing the same. My intention then was to murder him in the front basement — but my heart failed me. We then went up stairs again in the back room, I carrying the mallet against the palm of my hand. We stood by the fire talking about the house. He was there nearly fifteen minutes. I stated that my wife staid a long time.

He told me that he would go out and take a wall, and return again. He started to go, and I followed, until he got just through the doorway of the back room, which is within three or four feet of the back door, in the entry. I then knocked him down on his knees with the mallet, by striking him n the back of his head, through his hat. He undertook to rise, when I struck him again on the head, and he fell over, and laid still and senseless. I then supposed he was dead, and laid the mallet down; I then went and turned the button of the front door, which all this time was unfastened; and I went down into the front basement. I then went to work and began to dig a small hole; after I had been digging for two minutes, I thought I would not leave the body up stairs; so I went up stairs to bring him down. I saw him on his hands and knees, with his face and hands all bloody. He cried out, “Oh! Peter!” once or twice. Had he begged for his life then, I believe I should have let him off; but I did not want to drag him down stairs alive, and I didn’t want to see him linger there in misery; so I seized the mallet, and again struck him on the head, which knocked him perfectly dead, as I supposed. …

I discovered a chain hanging out of his pocket, and drew from it his gold watch, and put it in my own pocket. I then dug the hole larger, and in throwing out the dirt I threw about half a load of it on his body and head, which completely covered it. He then groaned a little, but I shuddered to hear him, and so I got out and stood upon the dirt and on his head to smother him! He then groaned so hard that I got off from him and struck him with the edge of the spade upon the head, which sunk completely to the brain, and which killed him instantly! …

I now felt as if my heart was completely black, and I was so hardened and callous, and yet so cool and deliberate, that I could have murdered many more. I could, without flinching or hesitating, have killed twenty men if they had come on me one by one.

I don’t believe that I was over a half hour doing the whole exercises of the whole thing! For I had a kind of knack of doing work somehow that others hadn’t. And why, sir, I’ve took hold of floor plank before now, and done forty-five of them in one day, that is, planed and ploughed and grooved them; whereas from sixteen to eighteen is a day’s work for some men.**

As if to complete the American Gothic quality of the crime, Robinson fell through the rope on the first attempt to hang him, then painfully strangled to death on the second try.

* Poe took up a very similar theme — the criminal psychology of a domestic murder concealed by subterranean immurement — later that year in “The Black Cat” (published in August 1843).

** His last wish in this confession: “whatever you do, don’t let the doctors get hold of me and make medicine of me.”

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1803: Peter Stout

1 comment May 13th, 2015 Headsman

Peter Stout hanged on this date at the courthouse of Monmouth, New Jersey for axing 14-year-old Thomas Williams to death when the youth, “the unhappy victim of my barbarity, had given me some abusive language.”

Moved to remorse by a post-arrest religious conversion, Stout pleaded guilty knowing it would incur a sure death sentence and admitted all. Oddly, he successfully prevailed upon the sheriff to leave his hands unbound for the hanging — promising with more confidence than a man might be thought to have in his strangulation spasms that he would not lay them upon the rope.

And according to the pamphlet here attached, Stout did fulfill this stoic pledge: “the shock [of the drop] was so great that he raised his right hand within two or three inches of the rope, as though to seize it, but apparently recollecting himself, took it down … closed it with the other, and thus left this world, it is hoped, for a better.”

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1721: Christiana Bell

Add comment November 21st, 2014 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

The story of Christiana Bell’s execution in Gloucester County in modern-day New Jersey on or shortly before November 21, 1721, begins in 1703. That was the first time she was accused of infanticide: they had found a dead baby and Christiana, a domestic servant who was probably only in her teens at the time, came under suspicion because she had been pregnant out of wedlock and was suddenly not pregnant but with no infant to show for it.

Her trial in 1703 was presided over by Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, 3rd Earl of Clarendon, governor of the New York and New Jersey colonies. She was convicted and sentenced to death. However, Lord Cornbury took pity on her — perhaps because of her youth, or maybe there were doubts about her guilt — and first commuted the death sentence, then issued a full pardon. Christiana returned home, having spent fourteen months behind bars but not stretched her neck.

She didn’t learn the lesson Lord Cornbury might have wanted her to learn from her fortuitous escape.

In 1720, she was rearrested for the exact same crime: she’d gotten pregnant out of wedlock again, delivered a live baby and did away with it.

Christiana very nearly got lucky again: her death sentence was suspended and she got a chance to plead her case before New Jersey Supreme Court on May 2, 1721. Today, appeals in capital cases are automatic; in Christiana’s time, this was an unusual and perhaps unprecedented legal maneuver.

Unfortunately, it backfired on her: the prosecution was ready with witnesses who testified about Christiana Bell’s notorious past and her prior conviction and death sentence. This time there would be no reprieve.

The exact date of her execution is not known for certain, but on November 21, 1721, the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders approved funds to reimburse the sheriff for expenses he’d incurred in hanging her.

See Legal Executions in New Jersey: A Comprehensive Registry, 1691-1963.

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1774: Peter Galwin, pedophile, and John Taylor, zoophile

Add comment December 5th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1774, Peter Galwin and John Taylor were hanged together in Burlington in New Jersey.

Galwin was the principal of a small school in Northampton Township with a hankering for prepubescent children. According to court documents, Galwin raped or attempted to rape four young girls on four separate occasions in July and August 1774: Ann Prosser, Hope Reeves, Sarah Deacon and Ann Jones, all of them “infants under the age of ten years.”

The assault caused “great damage” to Ann Jones in particular. Whether or not the victims were his students is not known.

The crimes of John Taylor, alias John Philip Snyder, were still more exotic.

An itinerant farmhand, he allegedly stole money, “two items of female intimate apparel” and other items from his employer, a widow named Orpha Emlay, on August 13, 1774. She suspected him of the theft but lacked proof, so she decided to spy on him.

Daniel Hearn, in his book Legal Executions in New Jersey: A Comprehensive Registry, 1691-1963, describes what happened six weeks later:

She wound up getting more than just an eyeful on the afternoon of October 2, 1774. It was then that the wary woman peeked into her barn and saw Taylor committing an act of gross indecency with a cow. Appalled, Emlay presumably let out a shriek because Taylor heard her. The naked pervert chased her down while brandishing a knife and a hammer. He smashed Emlay’s skull and slit her throat from ear to ear.

Understandably, public outrage against both offenders ran high in the community. Hearn notes that guards had to “prevent enraged onlookers from tearing both men apart before they reached the gallows.”

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1833: Antoine LeBlanc, billfolded

1 comment September 6th, 2013 Headsman

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

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New Jersey,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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1765: Three Burglarious Johns

Add comment August 28th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1765, John Fagan, John Grimes and John Johnson alias Cochran were hanged in Burlington County, New Jersey in a rare triple execution.

The three Johns were convicted of home invasion robbery.


Wrong Three Johns.

On July 18 in Northampton Township, the three men, with their faces painted, burst into the house of Joseph Burr. By “threats of violence” they convinced Burr’s wife to give up her keys to the locked cabinets and made off with the following:

  • 1 silver sauceboat
  • 8 silver tablespoons
  • 9 silver teaspoons
  • A sum of money
  • A considerable quantity of shirts, aprons, caps and handkerchiefs
  • A great parcel of “wearing apparel made in the manner of people called Quakers”

They also took three valuable horses from Burr’s stable and rode off on them.

Burr and his wife told the authorities they knew the robbers were Irish because “they all had the brogue upon their tongues,” and it turned out three Irish laborers had gone missing from a farm near Mount Holly.

The thieves’ trail was discovered and a posse caught them red-handed, as it were, riding the stolen horses and carrying the stolen goods.

Justice acted quickly and Fagan, Grimes and Johnson were executed a mere six weeks after their crime. The Burlington County Treasury compensated the jailer his expenses in feeding the three men for 39 days.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,New Jersey,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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