1866: Dr. John Hughes, Cleveland bigamist

Add comment February 9th, 2018 Headsman

From America’s State Trials, vol. II, whose “Narrative” excerpted here continues in the form of trial transcripts explicating the particulars of this sad and banal stalker-murder situation. (As a juridical matter, Hughes’s fate hinged on finely measuring his degree of premeditation and intent — and drunkenness — at the moment that he shot his 17-year-old other wife; however, once the decision was in, even Hughes called “the verdict of the jury, just; the sentence of the law, inevitable … I know that I deserve death.”)

THE TRIAL OF DR. JOHN W. HUGHES FOR THE MURDER OF TAMZEN PARSONS, CLEVELAND, OHIO, 1865

THE NARRATIVE.

Dr. Hughes To His Friends
(one of several poems Hughes wrote as he awaited hanging -ed.)

Of trifles the world is composed,
Like minutes that grow into years;
So friendship, in pity reposed,
Allays our most troublesome fears.

Away from all comforts at home,
From all the desires of my heart,
Not building on pleasures to come,
With feelings of hope I must part.

A moment of phrenzy, unthought,
A second of madness defined —
What change in the creature is wrought.
The soul in such horror entwined!

To review the dear scenes of the past,
Is but a renewal of strife
To a mind so constant o’ercast
In weighing the issues of life.

Grateful thanks is all I can give
For mercies which others deny.
Oh! that I were destined to live
To recompense you bye and bye.

Your efforts are sadly in vain;
The plea was a day or two late.
Remonstrance its malice to rain
Had hopelessly finished my fate.

Yet your prayers shall be to my death
Like the hidden treasure of leaven,
My spirit to raise by their breath
To waft it to Jesus in heaven.

I pray, and I never forget
To ask of my best friend above,
For blessings on those in whose debt
I am bound by their pitying love.

On the ninth of August, 1865, John W. Hughes, physician and surgeon, of Cleveland, Ohio, committed a murder in the small neighboring village of Bedford, which, from the nature of the case, the character of the parties to the tragedy, and the antecedents of the deed, forced him upon the attention of the people of Cleveland and of the whole of the State of Ohio. The public was shocked on the following morning by the publication in the newspapers that Miss Tamzen Parsons, a young lady of seventeen years of age, had been shot down in the streets of Bedford by this man, who had been her lover, and who, under cover of a forged decree of divorce from his wife, had married her in Pittsburgh, in December, 1864, and suffered in the Pennsylvania penitentiary, the penalty attaching to the crime of bigamy.

Dr. Hughes was born in the Isle of Man, educated at a Scotch University, and emigrated with his wife to the United States in 1862. After practicing his profession of a physician for a few months in Chicago and Cleveland, he enlisted in an Ohio regiment as a private, but was very soon promoted to the position of Assistant Surgeon of the 48th United States Infantry. After serving for about a year he resigned on account of the illness of a son in November, 1864. He now began the practice of medicine in Cleveland, but making the acquaintance of Tamzen Parsons, he induced her to go with him to Pittsburgh, after showing her a paper which he persuaded her was a decree of divorce from his wife. For this he was convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in a Pennsylvania penitentiary, but was pardoned after serving five months. Returning to Cleveland, he resumed the practice of medicine and after having sent his wife and child back to the Isle of Man on a visit, he endeavored to win again the affections of Tamzen, who refused to have anything more to do with him. One night in July after drinking deeply, he went to the house of her father in the village of Bedford at night and, by his noise, aroused the old gentlemen, who tried to eject him. Hughes refused to leave the house, and objected with sufficient force to give ground for a charge of assault and battery, which was brought on the following day, Tamzen herself appearing and making the affidavit against him, an act which enraged him. Personal differences, however, were at length adjusted and legal proceedings stayed, the Doctor solemnly promising that he would thenceforth have nothing to do with the Parsons family.

But, alas! a drunken revel with a companion, Oscar Russell, on the night of the eighth of August, ended in their driving to Bedford and drinking at all the road houses on the way. Hughes, Russell and their driver, Carr, issued from a hotel in Bedford, and drove to the house of Mr. Parsons. Dr. Hughes entered the house and learned that Tamzen and her mother had gone blackberrying. They drove on, but soon met the women, and the Doctor sought a private conference with Tamzen. A neighbor, however, came along in a wagon and took her home, while the men drove to the grocery, where they held a drunken revel for two hours. Hughes learning that all the Parsons family had gone to Bedford for safety and to arrest him, started to the village and, seeing Tamzen coming out of the house, he ran after her, calling on her to stop. She flew up the walk, saying, “No, I will not stop,” and rushed through the gate, endeavoring to reach the front door. But before that asylum was reached, the pursuer laid hands on her, and shouting, “You won’t stop, will you?” fired his revolver. The ball glanced off her head, she screamed, but the piteous cry was instantly hushed by a second and fatal discharge of the deadly weapon.

The noise attracted a number of persons, who pursued Hughes, who jumped into the carriage with Russell and Carr, and, menacing the crowd with his revolver, succeeded in getting a good start of his pursuers. But he was captured in a few hours and landed in jail.

Indicted by the Grand Jury for murder, after a trial lasting eighteen days, he was convicted, though his counsel tried very hard to prove that he was insane at the time he committed the act. On February 9th, 1866, he was hanged in the yard of the Cleveland jail.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Sex,USA

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1945: Henry William Hagert

Add comment October 3rd, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1945, twenty-year-old Henry William Hagert died in Ohio’s electric chair for the murders of thirteen-year-old twins James and Charles Collins two years earlier.

Hagert, who was only seventeen at the time of the crime, had shot the boys in cold blood and for no reason at all.

The young murderer was from Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland. He was a bit of a bad seed; those who knew him said he started to go bad when he was about seven years old, after a bout with double pneumonia and “brain fever.” After his recovery from the illness, he became unstable and aggressive. In 1942, after a high-speed police chase, he was arrested on multiple charges of auto theft and sent to the Boys’ Industrial School for a year.

Typically, this experience in reform school failed to reform him, and he returned home worse than ever.

John Stark Bellamy II, writing about him in the book The Killer in the Attic: and More True Tales of Crime and Disaster from Cleveland’s Past, noted that Hagert’s formal education stopped after his 1942 arrest, but he earned “a graduate degree in sexual perversion” from his stint in juvy.

Hagert’s mother, unable to handle him, had him committed to the psychiatric ward in Cleveland City Hospital in early July 1943. There he was diagnosed as having a “psychopathic personality” and released on August 9. (Just why is unclear; Hagert’s mother claims she begged the chief staff physician not to release him, and the doctor denied this and said, on the contrary, she had begged for him to let her son go.)

Just two days later, Hagert was driving his blue Chevy around when he picked up a nine-year-old boy, the son of a city aide. His plan had to been to sexually assault and murder the child, but he later claimed he was moved by the boy’s crying and pleas and decided to spare his life. This didn’t stop him from keeping his victim in the car overnight, torturing and sexually abusing him. The next day, Hagert drove the boy to a wooded area, tied him to a tree, and placed a series of anonymous calls to the child’s parents with clues as to his whereabouts. The police found the little boy where his abductor had left him.

The following afternoon, for reasons best known to himself, Hagert returned to the spot where he’d left the abduction victim and encountered a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter and a photographer.

As Hagert made small talk with the photographer, the reporter became suspicious of his behavior and remembered the old cliché about the killer returning to the scene of his crime. He scribbled down a physical description of Hagert and took note of the license plate number on his Chevy. Later, he turned his notes over to the police.

A compliant Hagert was taken in for questioning. Unaccountably, two hours passed before anyone realized he had a loaded gun under his shirt. When an officer removed Hagert’s shirt, the gun fell to the floor. As the officer picked it up, the young man said casually, “The gun you have in your hand is the one I shot the other two with.”

James and Charles Collins had been missing since noon the previous day and law enforcement agents were frantically searching for them. They were last seen hitchhiking to their jobs as caddies at a local golf course. Hagert calmly confessed to killing the Collins twins and lead authorities to their bodies. The dead boys were about 300 feet apart and each had been shot at the base of the skull — that is, “execution style.”

If anyone doubted by now that Hagert was a monster, they would have been convinced by what he had to say about the double murder:

It’s pretty serious, you know. I kidnapped one kid and killed two others … I just felt like killing them, so I killed them. Now it all seems like a bad dream … I had the urge to kill before but I always managed to suppress it by running. I’d run down the street because I felt I had too much energy. The Collins boys were just victims of circumstance. I would have killed anyone at that time. It just happened to be them … I’m not especially sorry for any of those folks I have hurt … The whole thing is just like a smashed fender … When it’s done, it’s done — that’s all.

While in custody he also confessed to a third murder, but this statement turned out to be a fabrication.

An initial panel of three psychiatrists unanimously agreed that Hagert was insane. This would not do: the state could not risk the possibility that this incredibly dangerous psychopath would be committed to a hospital, only to escape later on, or be released like before, to walk the streets again.

Five more psychiatrists were appointed to examine the defendant and this group said he was sane. In spite of this, the defense went with an insanity plea anyway. There wasn’t much of an alternative, given the evidence against their client.

Testifying before the jury, one of the doctors described Hagert as “a petulant, cruel, ruthless, determined, egotistical young man with no respect for God, man or the Devil.” Another said Hagert had told him that, if he were set free, the first thing he would do was track down and kill the newspaper reporter whose tip had led to his arrest.

The tearful testimony of his mother, who said Hagert had often complained of seeing “little midgets” who mocked him, carried little weight.

The jury took only two hours to find Henry Hagert guilty without a recommendation of mercy. In his book, Bellamy opines, “Most of the jurors, one suspects, thought Henry was insane by any imaginable standard of common sense, but they knew not what else to do with such an incorrigible monster.”

Hagert’s conviction was overturned on a technicality in December 1944, but his second trial, held before a three-judge panel in March 1945, resulted in the same inevitable guilty verdict. Hagert himself didn’t seem to care much. His last words were, “Do a good job of it now. Give me a good dose — it’s good for what ails for me.” He did donate his corneas, possibly the only contribution he ever made to society.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,USA

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1890: Otto Leuth

1 comment August 29th, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1890 at the Columbus Penitentiary in Ohio, a sullen German-American teenager named Otto Leuth (sometimes spelled “Lueth”) paid with his life for the brutal murder of his seven-year-old neighbor, Maggie Thompson.

John Stark Bellamy II, writing of the murder in his book The Corpse in the Cellar: And Further Tales of Cleveland Woe, noted how familiar the case sounds to modern ears:

[T]he sickening murder of an innocent child; yet another child accused for the dreadful deed; a sensational trial, replete with dubiously “expert” testimony, suspicious “confessions,” allegations of police “third-degree” methods, and charges of biased press; not to mention “latchkey” children, systematic child abuse, saccharine sympathy for the guilty, and charges of ethnic favoritism.

Yet it happened over a century ago.

Otto, sixteen at the time he killed little Maggie Thompson, had had a hard life, as Bellamy explains in his book. His mother, Lena, testified at his trial that she

went into veritably demonic fits of rage, during which she was in the habit of physically abusing her children, especially Otto. From an early age, she blandly admitted, she had pulled his hair, kicked him, beaten him, walked on him, and often hit him with any object that came to hand. Once, when Otto was eight, she had beaten him with a chair leg and, when [Otto’s father] Henry tried to intervene, stabbed Henry twice with a convenient butcher knife. Just a few months before Maggie Thompson’s murder, Lena had repeatedly slammed Otto’s head into a wooden door.

It speaks volumes of the difference between that century and this one that nobody who heard Lena’s testimony seemed to think this was in any way excessive, never mind cruel; on the contrary, one person praised her methods as being “good German discipline.”

On May 9, 1889, sixteen-year-old Otto was alone at his family’s home at 47 Merchant Avenue in Tremont, a suburb of Cleveland. He was used to being alone: his mother had been committed to a mental hospital some months before, his father was wrapped up in his cabinet-making business, and his older brother had moved out of the house.


Otto (top) and his victim.

That morning, down the street at 24 Merchant Avenue, Maggie Thompson set off for school. Her mother, Clara, dropped her off at the front gate; it was the last time she would see her daughter alive.

Maggie attended the morning classes and, when school was dismissed for lunch at 11:15 a.m., started on the four-block walk home. En route, she vanished without a trace, as if “the sidewalk might have opened and swallowed the girl.”

Naturally there was a frantic search, lead by her devastated parents and the Cleveland Police Department, who tore the city apart looking for her.

But, although there were numerous false sightings and a few wild stories about Maggie’s disappearance, in spite of everyone’s efforts they couldn’t find her.

Otto participated in the search, along with most of the neighborhood. Nearly every day he would approach Clara Thompson and solicitously ask if she’d heard any news of her child.

In early June, Clarissa Shevel, the woman who lived with her husband in the back of the Lueths’ two-family house, asked Otto to do something about the terrible stench that pervaded the entire building. Otto suggested the odor was caused by a dead animal. He bought some chloride of lime and put it in the ventilation hole, then burned some sulfur, but it didn’t help.

Around that time he was witnessed carrying some badly stained bedding to the smokehouse at the back of the property.

On June 9, Otto’s mother Lena, who had by now been discharged from the mental hospital, became fed up with the smell and sent her husband Henry down to the cellar to investigate. He came back up a few minutes later, deeply shaken, and ran out to find a policeman.

In the Lueths’ cellar was the nude corpse of Maggie Thompson.

She was wrapped in one of Lena’s dresses and her own clothes lay underneath her. She had been beaten to death and her body was so badly decomposed that her parents had to identify her by scars on her hips.

The police promptly arrested everyone who lived at the house: Henry and Lena Lueth, Clarissa Shevel and her husband, and Otto, who was picked up on his way home from the ice cream parlor. All five suspects were separated and subjected to a serious “sweating,” but Otto was the prime suspect. He had a reputation as a bully, and he’d been at home alone for much of the previous month.

Bellamy records:

The climax came at 3:30 a.m., when an agonized female shriek resounded from the floor below the sweating room. “Who is that?” cried Otto to Detective Francis Douglass. “Your mother, I believe,” replied Douglass. “She had nothing to do with it!” blurted out Otto. “Who did?” queried Douglass. Otto: “I did it! I did it!” Douglass: “Did what, Otto?” “I killed her! I killed her! Please give me your revolver so I can kill myself!”

Resisting the temptation, the police instead took his verbal confession, wrote it down, had him sign it and escorted him to a cell.

Otto said he had been standing outside his parents’ home at about 11:30 a.m. on May 9 when he encountered Maggie. She asked him if he could donate any buttons to the “button-string” she was making, and he said he had four and would give them to her if she came inside.

Maggie obediently followed him in, and he led her upstairs to his bedroom, where he attempted to rape her. When she screamed, he hit her with a nearby hammer.

Otto said he thought he’d probably killed her with the first blow, but he kept striking her until her head was a pulp and the bed was covered in blood. After an unsuccessful attempt to have sex with her body, he fled the scene. He did go back to the house that night, but spent the next several days at his brother’s home.

Six days later, just before his mother was supposed to come home, Otto returned home to clean up. He carried Maggie’s corpse to the family cellar and left it lying there; he didn’t even bother to bury it or cover it up.

Given Otto’s confession, the circumstantial evidence and the revulsion his crime invoked in the city of Cleveland, his lawyer didn’t have much to work with. Not even trying for an acquittal, his defense instead claimed Otto was mentally impaired and/or insane.

Otto had a strange depression in his skull and his attorney suggested he was brain-damaged — which might very well have been true, given the abuse he had suffered at Lena’s hands. Several members of his family, including his mother and brother, had epilepsy, and his attorney suggested he might have had a seizure and committed his crime without even knowing what he was doing.

Such a scenario was possible. The problem was, though, that none of the medical experts who testified for the defense could diagnose Otto with epilepsy.

The claims of subnormal intelligence were contradicted by the testimony of Otto’s former teachers. Although his pathetic attempts to conceal Maggie’s body might indicate otherwise, his intellect seems to have been about average. Before he quit school at age 13, he had been an unexceptional student with some talent as a violinist.

Otto’s lawyer also said his client had not, in fact, attempted to sexually assault Maggie Thompson either before or after death, and Otto had invented that part of his confession because the police were pressing him to cough up an explanation for his motiveless crime. But given the fact that Maggie’s body was found naked, this claim didn’t carry much weight either.

It was no surprise that, when the trial concluded on December 27, 1889, the jury came back with a verdict of guilty without a recommendation of mercy. Perhaps the only surprising thing was that they actually bothered to deliberate for a whole four and a half hours.

Otto rapidly exhausted his appeals and was hanged eight months after his trial, alongside another killer, one John “Brocky” Smith of Cincinnati. Two other men had also been scheduled to die that night, but one got reprieved and the other’s execution was postponed.

Otto left behind a statement where he admitted he’d killed Maggie Thompson, but denied his previous claims that he’d tried to rape her. He died calmly and without a fuss, standing on the trap and saying simply “All right, let her go.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Torture,USA

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