1922: James Mahoney, Seattle spouse slayer

Add comment December 1st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1922, James Mahoney hanged in Washington’s Walla Walla penitentiary for one of Seattle’s most notorious crimes.

Two years prior, a 36-year-old Mahoney had been released from that same prison after serving time for assault and robbery, then moved into a Seattle boarding house with his mother and sister.

He soon struck up a romantic involvement with the house’s owner, Kate Mooers. She was 68 years young, but James Mahoney was broad-minded enough to admire her wealth.

On April 16, 1921, the night the two lovebirds were supposed to hop a train for their honeymoon in Minnesota, James Mahoney hired a company to move a steamer trunk to Lake Union, and load it into a rowboat. Kate Mooers was never seen again, but Mahoney resurfaced in Seattle ten days later claiming that she’d decided to extend her honeymoon with a long jaunt to Havana, Cuba. In the meantime, well, hubby would be looking after her affairs.

Alerted to the suspicious events by Mooers’s nieces, police kept Mahoney under surveillance for three weeks as he gobbled up his wife’s assets. He was finally arrested before he could skip town, but only on charges of forging documents during his embezzlement binge. For harder charges to stick, Kate Mooers had to be located.

According to a HistoryLink.org profile,

Captain [Charles] Tennant had a theory and ordered divers to begin searching the bottom of the northeast end of Lake Union near the University Bridge for a steamer trunk. Finally, having survived 11 weeks of criticism, the police found the trunk containing Kate Mahoney’s body. It bobbed to the surface on August 8, 1921, almost exactly where Captain Tennant said it would be. The autopsy revealed that Kate had been poisoned with 30 grains of morphine, stuffed in the trunk, then had her skull smashed with a heavy blunt instrument. Two days later, Jim Mahoney was charged with premeditated murder.

Resigned to his fate as his appeals dwindled away, Mahoney was reported to be in excellent spirits in his last days. He also made a written confession on the eve of his execution, forestalling his sister’s desperate attempt to claim the murder as her own in order to stay the hangman’s hand. (The sister still caught a jail term for forging Kate’s signatures.)

Now you must be brave and forget me. My whole life has been a torture to those who love me, and even as a little boy I used to dream of dying this way, and my dream has at last come true.

… If my soul can do you any good in the next world I will always be watching over you. Good-bye and God bless you all.

-Jimmie

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,Theft,USA,Washington

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1823: Dr. Edme Castaing, the first to kill with morphine

1 comment December 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1823, French physician Edme Castaing expiated upon the scaffold history’s first conviction for murder with morphine.

The good doc used the drug, a new twist on an ancient remedy only recently brought to market, apparently to poison off one of two wealthy brothers with the connivance of the other wealthy brother, the latter of whom stood in danger of being disinherited.

And then, the beneficiary of that crime wrote a will of his own to the profit of the poisoner.

Do not try this at home.

Castaing, naturally, poisoned off the other brother, too, and relieved some considerable financial distress along with, one must think, the burdensome company of a complete dullard.

The science of toxicology,” however, “was not greatly advanced at this time, and … the above conclusion was based on presumption rather than fact.”

While today, such a case might be ripped from CSI, in 1823 it entailed an uncertain trial with varying (and wrong) medical testimony and a circumstantial trail of witnesses drawing flailing rebuttals from the accused that ran towards the unconvincing and the contradictory. (Follow the twists and turns from a contemporary chronicle here.)

Quite convicted in the public eye (a verdict history has had little cause to revisit), Castaing was judicially acquitted of the murder of Hippolyte Ballet, and doomed by the barest 7-5 majority verdict for the second Ballet boy. The London Times complained in its report of the execution (printed Dec. 9, 1823), that

[t]he faculty speak in very harsh and unmeasured terms of Dr. Pellatan, who neither described with care and accuracy, what he himself observed on opening of the body of Ballet, nor gave them the means of forming an opinion themselves, by bringing to Paris the intestines of the deceased. The physicians join the rest of the world in ascribing Ballet’s death to substances administered by Castaing, but they regret that criminal justice could not, owing to the neglicence or ignorance of Pellatan, obtain more satisfactory proofs of the crime. Beyond his own confessions, contradictions, and admissions, there was confessedly no ground to convict him.

A few years later, Victor Hugo (we keep meeting him here) had the title character in “The Last Day of a Condemned Man” occupying Castaing’s former cell, and evidently thought the matter possessed sufficient notoriety to name-check the headless poisoner decades afterwards in Les Miserables.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Pelf,Public Executions

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