Thursday, 26 April 2012

On This Day in Murder... April 26th, 1913

The Brutal Murder of Little Mary Phagan

Mary Phagan, photo taken shortly before her death

WARNING! There are graphic photos included at the very end of this post!

This is a story about the shocking and tragic murder of a 13-year-old girl who was beloved by a community, but it is about even more than that; it's also a story about accusations, lies, threats, rage, innocence, and vigilante justice.

Mary Ann Phagan, known affectionately as "Little Mary" was born in June of 1899 in Alabama. Her father passed away in 1900, before Mary was even a year old, and her family moved back to Marietta, Georgia, where they were originally from. Mary had a fairly large family; her mother remarried shortly after their move back to Georgia, so in addition to her 4 older siblings, Mary also had 5 younger half-siblings as well. Unfortunately, that move back would prove to be fatal for Mary, when she was found murdered 99 years ago on this day.

Mary Phagan (right) with her older sister Ollie, approximately 1903 (photo courtesy of Michael McKinney; from the personal photo collection of Rebecca "Rebie" Lutz McCollum)

It was noon on Saturday, April 26th, 1913 when Mary Phagan, only 13 years old, went to pick up her wages from the National Pencil Company factory in Marietta, where she had been working. Having been discharged from the factory earlier in the week, these were to be her final wages. Unfortunately, that was the last time she was seen alive; she never made it home again. Mary was found brutally murdered in the basement of the National Pencil Company's factory the next morning. Her head had been struck with a hard, blunt object, and she had been strangled. Two notes, purportedly crudely written by Mary Phagan herself prior to succumbing to her death, identified the killer culprit as a black man who worked in the factory.

The scene of the crime: the National Pencil Co. factory where Mary worked & was found murdered.

The town was understandably in the an uproar after Mary Phagan's body was found. Suspicions, rumours and accusations started immediately. There was a coroner's inquest launched right away, and the fact that it was murder was obvious. Suspects were easy enough to round up; the scene of the crime itself gave the investigators the answer as to who could have done it. The boys and men who worked at the factory were immediately brought in for questioning, including Leo M. Frank, the Jewish superintendent of the factory, and James Conley, a black man who worked as a sweeper in the factory.

Mary Phagan's family at her funeral
The police needed to solve this case, and they needed to do it quickly. People in the community would not settle for anything less; this horrible, evil killer must be caught right away, and he must be punished severely for his crime. Leo Frank, when questioned, stated that he had seen Mary that day. She came in to the factory to collect her final wages, up this office on the third floor where he was alone. He said that he paid her the wages owed, and she left. He worked for the rest of the day, leaving only to go out for lunch, and then spent the evening at home with his family.

James Conley gave a much different story (with many different variations) to the police when he was questioned; he admitted he was at the factory that day, but he claimed that he was asked by Leo Frank to assist him in moving Mary Phagan's dead body from the third floor of the factory to the basement while he was there, after Frank had killed her. He also claimed that Leo forced him to write the notes that were found beside Mary's body. When all was said and done, Conley's story was believed, and Frank's was not. Leo Frank was charged with Mary Phagan's murder, and James Conley was set to be a star witness for the prosecution. A wave of antisemitism fell over the town, everyone seeming to believe immediately that Frank was guilty. The sentiment of the masses, both thought and spoken aloud throughout the trial was "kill the Jew!".

Leo Frank & his wife listening to testimony during his trial

On July 28th, 1913, Leo Frank went on trial for the murder of Mary Phagan. During the murder trial, testimony was heard from both defense and prosecution witnesses who had worked at the factory with Leo and Mary. Some of it was complimentary to Leo and his character, but unfortunately for Mr. Frank, most of it was damning and painted him as a pervert and villain, even the witnesses called by the defense. The defense called nearly 100 factory workers to the stand to prove the good character of Mr. Frank. In some cases, their plan backfired.  One girl put on the stand to testify to the good, upstanding character of Leo Frank instead testified that Frank often looked into the women's dressing room when employees were changing, and that the women were afraid of him. Another girl stated dramatically that she would die for Frank.

The prosecution, for their part, presented witnesses and evidence with the intent to prove that Leo Frank had been with Mary that day, and therefore had not only the opportunity to commit the crime, but that he was also known as a deviant, creepy man, who scared the women and girls who worked for him, and had a history of immoral conduct; he must therefore have been the one who killed Mary Phagan. The crux of their case relied immensely on the testimony of James Conley though; without him, they really had no case against Leo Frank at all.

Frank's defense strategy was simple; he was a decent upstanding citizen of good character, and he didn't murder Mary; James Conley, the man who was employed as a sweeper in the factory, and the person who had initially implicated him in the crime was the real person responsible for her demise. The women and girls who worked in the factory did not only have damning comments to make about Leo, but also about Jim, who had a bad reputation, as the witnesses would testify. Not only that, but witnesses that flat out contradicted various aspects of Conley's story were brought to the stand on behalf of the defense, and their testimony showed that James Conley was a liar, and was considered strong evidence of Frank's innocence.

A photo of the courtroom during Leo Frank's murder trial

Both sides having presented their cases, it would seem that once again, despite the inconsistencies and outright lies that had been told by James Conley, his story was believed. On August 25th, 1913, nearly 4 months to the day having passed since she was killed, Leo M. Frank was found guilty of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, and was sentenced to death.

After numerous failed appeals of his conviction and death sentence, Frank finally received some good news on June 21st, 1915; his sentence had been commuted from death to life imprisonment. It wasn't an acquittal or a new trial, but at least it meant that Leo Frank would not hang for murder. It meant that he would be able to live and fight to prove his innocence, or so he must have thought.

The fact that Leo Frank had been convicted of murder was not enough for the community. Filled with rage over the murder of the beloved young girl, the only acceptable sentence was death, and if the court would not carry it out, the citizens would do so on their own. On August 16th, 1915, Leo Frank was taken by force from the state prison where he was serving his life sentence by a large group of armed men, and by the following morning, Leo Frank had been hanged. The men called themselves "The Knights of Mary Phagan". No one was ever arrested or charged with his lynching, despite the identities of the purportedly 75 men in the lynch mob being common knowledge. Photos of Leo Frank's lynching can be viewed below at the end of this post.

That is not quite the end of the story though. In 1982, a man who nearly 70 years earlier had testified against Leo Franks during the trial, came forward to change his story. At the time of Mary's murder and during the subsequent trial, Alonzo Mann was a scared fourteen year old boy. He said that he had seen the real killer carrying Mary Phagan's body to the basement on the day of her murder, but unfortunately, the murderer also saw him, and threatened to kill him as well if he ever told anyone. The man that Alonzo Mann claims he saw carrying Mary's body that day was James Conley. Conley had passed away twenty years earlier in 1962.

Mary Phagan's murder and the lynching of Leo Frank have been credited as not only the driving force behind the formation of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, but also instrumental in the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, said to have re-emerged from The Knights of Mary Phagan.

Alonzo Mann, who came forward nearly 70 years after Mary's murder


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

On This Day in Murder... April 11th, 1921

Russell Campbell is Shot to Death Trying to Stop Bank Robbers

James Russell Campbell was born March 2nd, 1887 to John Donald Campbell and Elizabeth Markle in Ekfrid, near London, Ontario. He served in the army, and worked as an electrician. He was 34 at the time of his death, unmarried and without children.

Sidney Ernest Murrell, and his brother William George Murrell were both born in England in 1900 and 1898 respectively, to William & Mabel Murrell. The family moved to Canada in 1906. Both of the brothers and their father served in the army. Their father would claim afterward that it changed them; that you can't expect to tell a man it is okay to kill one day, and then expect him to come back home and tell him it isn't okay. Sidney & William made some sketchy friends when they came back; it is with two of those friends, Jack Henry "Slim" Williams and Pat Norton, that their world would collide with Russell Campbell, and his life would tragically end.

On April 11th, 1921, in Melbourne, Ontario, Sidney, William Slim & Pat set out to rob the Home bank. Sidney the purportedly ring leaders of this pack of bandits. While inside, the alarm is sounded, and a number of villagers arrive in an attempt to intercept the bank robbers before they can escape. A number of bullets are fired in the bank at the ceiling, and then the bandits try to make a getaway.  Amongst the villagers trying to capture the villains were Stuart, Robert & Russell Campbell.  More shots were fired; some by the villagers, some by the bandits. There is a scuffle, the men fight, but the villagers prevail, and three of the four men are caught, and tied to telephone poles with rope to await the arrival of police. Sidney, William & Slim were in a lot of trouble, and not only for the bank robbery. The fourth man, Pat Norton, got away. He would never again be seen, or apprehended by police to face punishment, though they searched for him for years.

Photo of the captured Sidney Murrell, awaiting arrival of police
Although most of the bandits didn't escape and the bank robbery was foiled, the villagers victory was bittersweet; laying in the alleyway by the bank, lay the body of Russell Campbell, who had been shot and killed during the melee of the robbery and apprehension. His death registration records lists his cause of death as "internal hemorrhage caused by being shot by a burglar", and notes it was an "instant death".

Death Registration Record for Russell Campbell
It didn't take long after they were put in jail before they started causing trouble. Sidney and William apparently tried to burn the jail they were being held with in May. After that, they apparently displayed excellent behaviour; undoubtedly trying not to raise suspicion, and it seemed to work. On September 2nd, 1921, Sidney and William Murrell, using a handsaw that was somehow smuggled into the jail, sawed the bars off their cell, vaulted over a wall, and escaped. Their bank robber accomplice, Slim Williams, remained behind, left alone to be punished for the robbery and murder.

It was almost 2 years later, in May 1923, when the news broke that Sidney Murrell had been apprehended in California. It turns out that he had been picked up on an auto theft charge, using the alias "Robert W. Brooks". The police in California had distributed his fingerprints to other law enforcement agencies in an attempt to find out if he had a criminal record; that was how the Canadian authorities identified him as Sidney Ernest Murrell, wanted for bank robbery and murder.

Sidney and Slim were finally put on trial, and 33 witnesses were called to testify. They reported seeing the men with guns, trying to escape, and 3 women said that the two men they saw running out of the alley where Russell Campbell was found dead were Sidney Murrell and Slim Williams. No one actually saw either man shoot Russell. It was on this piece of the evidence the defense focused, arguing that any of the shots that the villagers themselves had fired at the bandits could very well have been the fatal shot that hit Campbell. The verdict was not what either man wanted to hear; guilty of murder, and both sentenced to hang on April 10th, 1924, nearly 3 years to the day of Russell Campbell's death.  

When that day came, two executions would take place, but only man would pay with his life for the death of Campbell. The day before the execution Jack Henry "Slim" Williams would receive word that his execution was commuted to life inprisonment. On April 10th, Sidney Ernest Murrell would walk instead with Clarence Topping to the scaffold to face their deaths. Topping was sentenced to hang for the shooting death of his sweetheart Geraldine Durston in November of 1923. Sidney's last words reportedly were, "My time has come to part with this world. Good luck and God bless you". The cord was pulled, and Murrell and Topping were together hanged at 5:30am. It was reported they spent the night beforehand signing hymns and offering prayers of repose for their souls with Rev. Mr. Warner, and Slim Williams. Sidney said he had no confession to make, that he did feel remorseful, but only for the worry and anxiety he caused his family.

Death Registration Record for Sidney Ernest Murrell

After Sidney was hanged, the Murrell family was struck with even more tragedy; in 1926, their 16 year old son Thomas was killed in an automobile accident, and another son drowned around the same time.

What happened to William? Well, a story similar to that of Sidney would play out for him, with one big difference. In January of 1928, he was also caught in California, picked up for an auto theft charge using the alias "Cecil Chester Miller" and identified in the same manner. He had absolutely no idea that his brother had been caught and executed nearly 4 years earlier, and was apparently very upset at the news. He also faced trial for Russell Campbell's murder, and his father expressed his anger at the fact that one son had already been found guilty and hanged, it wasn't fair to also charge his namesake for the same murder. His father said, "Isn't one life enough to take? A cannibal kills only what he can eat, we kill what we cannot even use".  William was also found guilty and sentenced to hang for his crime. Unlike his brother Sidney however, he was granted a commutation to life in prison, and would not see the gallows. He was eventually let out of prison, and lived a quiet life in London, Ontario after he was released. He died February 8th, 1958. He was found slumped over the wheel of his vehicle after a grocery shopping trip by a police officer; he had died of a heart attack.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

On This Day in Murder... April 1st, 1935

Tyrell Tilford is Poisoned by his Wife, Who Went on to Become the First Woman Executed in Canada in 62 Years

Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Tilford


When 35 year old Tyrell Tilford passed away in his home on April 1st, 1935, his death was initially attributed to 'myocarditis', which is the inflammation of heart muscle, which he had been suffering from for some time. His death registration also noted that contributory causes were the flu, and catarrhal jaundice, which is more commonly known as hepatitis A.

Death Registration Record for Tyrell Tilford

Tyrell Tilford was born November 10th, 1899 in Shardlow, Derbyshire, England, the 2nd youngest of 15 children born to James William Tilford & Mary Butcher. He first came to Canada in 1919, arriving in New Brunswick at the age of 20, with his sixteen year old sister Alice. In 1926, some of their family would come to join them in Canada; siblings, nieces and nephews, and also their parents.

At the time of his death Tyrell, a teamster, was living at 37 Cronyn St. in Woodstock, Ontario with his wife of five years, Elizabeth Ann, who was almost 20 years older than he. After he passed away, it wasn't long before the rumours about his death started, and it would seem for good reason; this was not the first time that Elizabeth Tilford, mother of nine children, had been married, or for that matter had become a widow - it was, in fact, the third time.

Grave of Tyrell Tilford, buried with his parents, in Woodstock (rootsweb)

Though three dead husband's does not a murderer make; it could not have helped her case any, especially coupled with the rumours that started before he was even dead; mostly stories that she was a bit too 'friendly' with other men. Other rumours that swirled around were of strange comments made by Elizabeth prior to his death; she had been complaining that she no longer received the widow's allowance from her previous husband's demise, and that she had inquired about the amount of insurance on her husband about six weeks before his death. She was also accused of making comments to another woman about how she could get "rid of" her husband - with poison.  The rumours came from somewhat unreliable sources (the woman who testified that she made that comment was a notorious gossip and busybody, and in fact the conversation had taken place before Elizabeth and Tyrell were married), yet they seemed hard to just ignore.

Three dead husbands by the time she was 55 years old; was it just bad luck, or was there something more sinister behind Elizabeth's tragic life story? Despite not much more than rumours and circumstantial evidence, the police believed the later. It was reportedly a phone call to police by a neighbour, who said that Elizabeth has called her after Tyrell's death, and asked her not to mention to anyone that she purchased arsenic, that convinced police to take another look at the circumstances of her husband's death. Tyrell Tilford's body was exhumed secretively during the night on April 25th, less than a month after his death. Analysis of the contents of his stomach revealed trace amounts of arsenic. On June 6th, 1935, police officially announced that there was an inquest into his death, and by June 11th, they had officially charged Elizabeth Tilford with the murder of her husband.

Another photo of Elizabeth Tilford
Though I have been unable to confirm all of these facts, her story was reported as follows:
Elizabeth Tilford was born Elizabeth Ann Kaye in 1879 in Yorkshire, England, and married her first husband, Fred Yaxley, at the age of fifteen, in approximately 1894. She said she married him after "a challenge from an older woman"; he left her for another woman 6 months later. She admits that she did not get a divorce prior to marrying her cousin, William Walker in 1911. Fred passed away sometime after she had remarried. It is with her second husband that she first came to Canada in 1928. Unfortunately, shortly they arrived, William went blind, and was unable to work. He passed away in 1929. She then met Tyrell Tilford, who was to become her 3rd and final husband, in Woodstock, where they both sang in the same choir. Tyrell came from an honourable and well respected family, though some sources mentioned that he was not a very ambitious or bright man.

The more police learned about Elizabeth, the more suspicious they became.  On June 14th, 1935, the body of William Walker, Elizabeth's 2nd husband, was exhumed from the Baptist Cemetery in Woodstock, on special order by the Ontario Attorney General's Department. When he had passed in away in 1929, his cause of death was certified as a brain tumor. Police were now suspicious of his death as well, so his organs were removed and taken to Toronto for analysis, and he was re-interred. No poison was found in his system, though that didn't convince many people in town that he wasn't indeed murdered.

Death Registration record for William Walker, Elizabeth's 2nd husband.

When she went on trial that all, Elizabeth did not have a lot to say in her own defense; in fact, not one witness was called to testify on her behalf. Instead, the entirety of her defense relied on convincing the jury that Tyrell Tilford had poisoned himself, possibly unintentionally, as he was apparently taking a medicine, for his already ill health, that contained some arsenic. The defense claimed that the arsenic that was found in his body was not enough to have killed him, and that it might only have contributed to his delusional state of mind before he passed from natural causes. A delusional state in which he was said to have made some damning claims against his wife to members of his family, including that she was trying to poison him.

Eleven witnesses were called to testify against her, including those members of Tyrell's family who claimed he had made comments about his wife wanting him dead, and expressed worry over being poisoned. The prosecution attempted to paint a picture of Elizabeth as a cold-hearted, manipulative, gold-digging murderess. They were seemingly successful; on October 2nd, after six hours of deliberation, Elizabeth Ann Tilford was convicted of capital murder in the poisoning death of her husband Tyrell Tilford. The conviction came with an automatic sentence of death; the jury did not recommend mercy.

Still proclaiming her innocence, Elizabeth Tilford appealed her conviction to no avail, seeking a new trial, or better yet, clemency. When informed that her final appeal had been denied, Tilford reportedly said in a message to her lawyer, "It's better to go innocent than to stay here guilty". While she waited for her death sentence to be carried out, Tilford was said to able to hear the scaffold to be used for the hanging being erected outside in the courtyard of the jail below her cell.

Elizabeth Ann Kaye-Yaxley-Walker-Tilford was judicially hanged at 1am on December 17th, 1935 in the Woodstock County jailyard. She was the first woman to be hanged in Canada in 62 years, and she maintained her innocence until the very end. None of her family were present at the hanging. She was said to have appeared very weak, was noticeably trembling, and was close to collapse as she walked up the scaffold in the falling snow to meet her fate. A small funeral and burial at Woodstock's Baptist Cemetery, with 13 people in attendance including some members of the press and a prison matron, followed her hanging.

Death Registration Record for Elizabeth Ann Tilford
Grave of Elizabeth Ann Tilford, Baptist Cemetery, Woodstock (rootsweb)

Monday, 26 March 2012

On This Day in Murder... March 26th, 1936

Mildred Susan Johnston was Raped & Strangled by Gordon Bliss

It appeared to be a very simple, yet strange case. The culprit not only confessed; he was actually the one to call police and report that the assault and murder had occurred. Catching a murderer is not usually that easy of a task. The only questions the police had: what exactly had happened that night, and why?

A portrait of the victim, 27 year old Mildred Susan Johnston

Mildred was born January 21st, 1909 in Cache Bay, Nipissing, Ontario to John Henry Johnston, a shoemaker, & Elizabeth Ann Wilkie. The family moved back to Quebec, where her parents were born, and lived there for a while before settling in the Thunder Bay area.

Mildred Susan Johnston was just 27 years old when she was murdered. She was working as a telephone operator with the Fort William Telephone Exchange, and living with her brothers Archie & at 421 S. Archibald St. in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay).

On the night of March 25th, 1936, Mildred went to a dance, and it was there that she met the man who would murder her, 27 year old Gordon Bliss. After the dance, she apparently decided to accompany Gordon back to the house he lived in with his parents, who were absent that evening. She was found dead early the next morning with Bliss' necktie still pulled tightly around her neck in the parlor of the Bliss family home, located at 222 Franklin Street North in Fort William. She had also been raped and had been struck multiple times on the head with a monkey wrench.

The house at 222 Franklin St. N in Thunder Bay in 2009; Mildred Johnston was murdered in the parlor by Gordon Bliss in March of 1936 (Google maps)

Strangely enough, it was a call from Gordon Bliss himself that brought the police to the house where Johnston's body was discovered lying dead. Bliss made no attempt to escape or evade police in any way, and never denied that he was had murdered Mildred Johnston in cold blood.

Bliss met Sergeant Palmer of the Fort William police at the door on the morning of March 26th. When Sergeant Palmer discovered the body, her clothes were covering her face, and newspapers had been placed over her body. When he was asked who she was, Bliss stated that he didn't know. Shortly afterward, Bliss confessed to another officer, Constable Sims, stating that "I did it".

Death Registration record for Mildred Susan Johnston, found murdered on March 26th, 1936 (Ontario Archives)

Constable Sims questioned him further, and Bliss then admitted to strangling Mildred because she had resisted his advances. He further confessed that he had struck her after she resisted, then after he sexually assaulted her, he put his tie around her neck and strangled her. He said that he was drunk at the time, and did not know what he was doing. He told the Constable that his mother had recently told him that he ought to settle down.
Gordon Melville Vaughan Bliss, of Scottish origin, was born November 22nd, 1908 to Alder Vaughan Bliss & Mary McLaughlin in Port Arthur, Ontario. At the time of the murder, he had been working as clerk in a timber camp for 7 years.

The murderer, 27 year old Gordon Melville Vaughan Bliss
Bliss never recanted his confession or denied the charges against him. He pleaded guilty to the capital murder of Mildred Susan Johnson on October 23rd, 1936. Bliss was questioned if he understood what he was pleading guilty to, and what the consequences of that plea would be, and he answered that yes, he understood. Court proceedings at the inquest took about 30 minutes, and his plea of guilty was accepted. He was immediately sentenced to death by hanging for the offense. This was the first time in Canada that a death sentence had been handed down after a guilty plea.

On January 5th, 1937, approximately 8 months after he committed the heinous crimes of rape and murder against Mildren Johnston, Gordon Bliss was hanged at the Port Arthur District Goal. He was 28 years old.

Death Registration record for Murderer Gordon Bliss, hanged in January of 1937 (Archives of Ontario)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

On This Day in Murder... March 20th, 1921

Louisa Warlow is Shot and Killed by Her Husband, Who Also Attempts Unsuccessfully to Take His Own Life

The tragedy unfolded on the night of March 19th, 1921, in the former town of Walkerville, now part of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. When Hiram Walker, the owner of Canadian Club Whiskey, founded the town in 1890 with the intent of making it a "model" town, one that would be the envy of others, he probably did not envision the story of family betrayal, and infidelity that would occur 30 years later, and result in a man on trial for the murder of his wife.

Walkerville, Ontario, the Hiram Walker Distillery, taken between 1895-1899 (Library of Congress)

John James Warlow was born in 1883 in Egham, Surrey, England to John Warlow & Mary Harrington. He moved around a bit when he was young, living in both London & Wales, where he worked as a bricklayer before he met and married Louisa Tree, daughter of Henry Tree in the town of her birth, Croyden, Surrey, in 1911. He & Louisa came to Canada sometime around 1913. They settled in the Walkerville/Windsor area, where John's sister Gertrude and brother George, who was a police officer before becoming a Windsor Police court clerk in 1917, also settled. His cousin Norman Warlow, who was also a Windsor Police court clerk, lived in the area as well.

On that night 91 years ago, 37 year old Louisa Warlow was just leaving Clegg Bakery located on Ottawa St., after a long day of work, and was walking to the house of a friend Mrs. John Tierney at 67 Ottawa St., whom she was staying with. Louisa had worked at the Clegg Bakery for a number of years, as had her husband John, whom she was separated from in January of that year. The bakery was owned by the family of his brother-in-law, James Clegg, who had married his sister Gertrude just 11 months before the shocking story unfolded.

When Louisa Warlow started her walk home from work that night, she had no clue it would be her last. She knew her estranged husband John was angry. She was planning to leave Walkerville and move to Windsor the next day, it was rumoured, to live with Norman Warlow, her husband's cousin. Unfortunately, the rumours reached John before she left, and she was at the corner of Ottawa St. and Kildare Rd., which was a very short distance from the bakery, when John approached her. Apparently, he approached her with the intent to make a plea with her to return to him. That is when she refused and turned to walk away, getting just as far as the outside of the Tierney house, which was just a short distance away on Ottawa St.

Photo of Kildare Rd. in Walkerville, looking north, taken between 1905-1915 (Library of Congress)

It was 10:30pm when he followed her to the Tierney house, and continued to quarrel with her.  Mrs. Tierney testified in the trial that she turned on the porch light, and went outside to see what was going on. Seeing the pair together, she tried to break up the argument, telling Warlow to "leave her alone tonight", and pulling Louisa by the arm to try and bring her inside the house. To which Warlow apparently replied "No you don't!", pulled out his gun, and fired at his wife. Mrs. Tierney described how Mrs. Warlow had slumped over her arm and fallen over, the bullet having pierced her abdomen. Then she heard another shot, and looked over to see John Warlow lying on the lawn, bleeding from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the chest. They were both rushed to the hospital, Louisa was unconscious at the time and feared dead, but she was revived briefly, and was able to tell the police what had occurred. Louisa Warlow died less than two hours later, at 12:20am on March 20th, 1921. John Warlow, though seriously wounded, had not caused any fatal damage, and recovered from the wound. He was then charged with the murder of his wife, on March 25th, he was moved from the Hotel Dieu hospital and taken to Sandwich jail to await his trial.

Death registration record of Louisa Warlow (Archives of Ontario)

Mrs. Tierney also told the court that there had been frequent visits between Louisa Warlow and Norman Warlow, her husband's cousin.  James Clegg, John's brother in law, testified against him in the trial as well. He told the court that he had seen frequent arguments between John and his wife Louisa. They had agreed to separate in January, which is when Louisa went to live with the Mr & Mrs. Tierney. He further testified that 10 days before the murder, John Warlow had shown him the revolver, and had explained that he was carrying it because his cousin Norman was "carrying on" with his wife.

The defense did not deny that Warlow had shot his wife, but they argued that Louisa had provoked the crime. The jury was out for more than three hours before returning with a verdict. John Warlow was found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to serve 15 years in prison.

Friday, 16 March 2012

On This Day in Murder... March 16th, 1938

Lillie Mae Curtis Murders 6 of her 9 Children

On the night of Wednesday, March 16th, 1938, in Center, Texas, 38 year old Lillie Mae Curtis kissed her children goodnight, and then sat in a chair nearby watching them, waiting with a .22 caliber pistol on her lap for them to fall asleep.

Lillie Mae Curtis

After she determined they were all sleeping, she went from the oldest to the youngest child, shooting each one in the heart. First was Thomas "T.O", who had turned 13 just 3 days prior, followed by Gloria Gene, 11; Billie Burk, 9; Robert, 8; Margie Dee, 7; and Marcia Jack, 5. The only child in the house that night that she spared was 15 year old Travis James. It was to him that she immediately confessed the crime, and he promptly called police. Her other two children were thankfully not in the house; her oldest child, Opal, 18, was married and living with her husband, and her son Vance, 17, was visiting his grandparents at the time of the crime. Gravesite photos courtesy of

Graves of Thomas "T.O", Gloria
Billie Burk, Robert Jr,
Margie Ree & Marcie Jack.

Lillie Mae describes the killings in her own words; "I kissed them all good night and sent them to bed and then got my gun out of my dresser".  She continued, "I went back into the kitchen and sat down with the gun across my lap. I waited to be sure that all were asleep. Then I went to the bed of T.O and shot him first. Then I killed the others according to their ages, leaving the baby until the last".  She went on to describe that although none of the children woke up before being shot, several of them struggled after they were shot, while the others died immediately without ever realizing what had occurred.

She was found alone in the woods about 400 yards from where the bodies of her children lay, all 6 dead of gunshot wounds, and was arrested. She readily admitted to the murders, "I have no money and they are better off dead", Lillie is quoted as having said to Sheriff Sample. "Last night I decided to kill them because we had no money and I was unable to support them. They were too young to support themselves and were better off dead".

Another photo of murderer Lillie Mae Curtis.

Surprisingly, this was not Lillie Mae's first murder.  Three years prior, in an eerily similar fashion, she had murdered her husband, 41 year old Robert Curtis, in 1935 by shooting him in the head while he slept. She was tried for the murder, and given a 5 year suspended sentence by a jury. Perhaps the jurors felt that, with 9 children depending on her, she should be given a break. One can't help but realize that if they had given her a stiffer sentence, Lillie Mae Curtis would not have had the opportunity to murder six of her children just three years later.  Then again, perhaps if she had not killed her husband to begin with, she might have been able to better cope financially and emotionally with raising her nine children. The entire family can be seen (minus the 2 youngest children, who were not yet born) below on the 1930 United States census, family #8:

1930 US census record courtesy of The National Archives.

As for what happened to Lillie Mae Curtis; she was tried for the murder of his six children in April of 1938, and apparently showed no emotion when the verdict was read, and she was found guilty on all counts. Newspaper accounts vary, some saying she received one total sentence of 99 years, some saying she was sentenced to 99 years per murder (for a total of 594 years). Either way, she served only 42 years of her sentence, and was released in October of 1970. She was 70 years old.  She was reportedly released early for good behaviour. She moved in with her eldest surviving child, her daughter Opal, living with her in East Texas until her death 10 years later.

The Grave of Robert R. & Lillie Mae Curtis.  Photo courtesy of

Lillie May Curtis died February 3rd, 1980 at the age of 80, and was buried with the husband that she had shot and killed 45 years earlier, in the same Cemetery as the graves of the six children she brutally murdered only three years later while they slept.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

On This Day in Murder... March 14th, 1910

The Murder of Michael Redmond
On March 10th, 1910, Michael Redmond, a 32 year old "woodsman" (lumberjack) who was born in Ireland and had emigrated to Ontario, Canada, was savagely attacked and beaten by two men after returning to his rooming house in Fort William, Thunder Bay.

Photo of Fort William, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada in 1892.  Image Courtesy of the City of Thunder Bay Archives.

 According to a newspaper article appearing in Toronto's 'The Globe and Mail' on Tuesday, March 15th, 1910, on Thursday the 10th of March, Mike Redmond returned "from the bush to civilization", and went out for the night to celebrate intending to get drunk, which he successfully accomplished.  When he returned back to the rooming house, and stumbled into his room, he apparently "upset some water" before he made it to his bed.  The water then leaked through the floor of his room and through the ceiling of the Vancouver Restaurant below.  The proprietors of the restaurant, Lee Wing and Lop Lee Loy, the two men who were also responsible for running the rooming house, became very angry and went upstairs to confront the drunken man.

It is then that the altercation between the three men occurred.  It was alleged that one of the men, most likely Lop Lee Loy (based on their sentencing), held Mike Redmond while the other beat him over the head with a glass bottle.  To the credit of his attackers, a doctor was called to examine Redmond, but due to the fact that he was so severely intoxicated, the doctor concluded that his injuries were not very severe.  The doctor was apparently called out of the city before he could report the attack to the police.  Michael Redmond did not improve, and in fact took a turn for the worse.  He was taken to the hospital on 4 days later, where it was found that his skull was cracked, and a blood clot was removed.  Despite the effort of the hospital, on March 14th, 1910, Mike Redmond died as a result of a the injuries he sustained after the brutal attack by Wing and Loy.  

According to his death registration record, found below, Redmond died from a fractured skull and compression of the brain.  An interesting bit of information included; the doctor noted at the bottom that "This man went under several names".  This indicates that Redmond himself was not likely a very, shall we say, 'upstanding member of society'.  People do not have usually multiple aliases for law-abiding reasons.

Death Registration Record for Michael "Mike" Redmond, March 15th, 1910.  Courtesy of the Ontario Archives.

After his death, both Wing and Loy were arrested by police, and charged with his murder.  According to an article that appear in 'The Manitoba Free Press' on April 21st, 1910, when it came time for their trial, their defense lawyer offered for them to plead guilty to the lesser charge of assault, and their pleas were accepted.  Perhaps the fact that Mr. Redmond was likely not-so law abiding himself contributed to the decision to allow the two men to plead guilty to lesser charges, or the fact that they did call a doctor after they beat the drunken man up.  Either way, the judge sentenced the Lee Wing to one year, and Lop Lee Loy to three months in prison for their roles in the death of Mike Redmond.