Among the famous writers, entertainers, politicians, artists, and inventors buried in Brooklyn, New York's, Green-wood Cemetery is another group of distinguished people. Although not quite household names like Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Morse, or "Boss" Tweed, this group of six is still special enough to be listed on the cemetery's map. They're known simply as the "Murders."
Green-wood Cemetery was set aside as a public cemetery cum weekend excursion for Manhattanites in 1838. With lush, sprawling lawns, tree-lined avenues, and architecture to die for (pun intended)including a Gothic Revival gate and gatehouse designed in 1860 by Richard Upjohn, the architect responsible for New York City's Trinity Churchthis was the place to be seen on Sunday afternoons, pre-Central Park.
Despite the urban-decayed surroundings today, there still remains within this iron-gated fortress the magical beauty of its original design. Crowded, with almost 600,000 residents, the place has become a huge companion volume to the Edgar Lee Masters classic, Spoon River Anthology. Everyone here lived a life and has a story to tell. What I want to know is, to be a member of the "Murders," were you killed or the killer?
If at first you don't succeed, try faking a pregnancy.
Dr. Harvey Burdell (Location: 49-51, G-5(u))
Poor Dr. Harvey Burdell. He didn't know what he was getting himself into when he met Emma Cunningham in Saratoga Springs, New York, the summer of 1856. He was a bachelor and successful dentist living at 31 Bond Street, New York City. She was a mother of five children and on the money trail. She charmed her way into the unassuming bachelor's trust and house. A few months later, in January of 1857, his body would be found stabbed and strangled in this residence. What ensued was the biggest headlining scandal of the century.
What made the story so bizarre was Emma's desperate attempts to get this unlucky fellow's wealth. In the fall before the murder, she convinced another boarder in the house to marry herbut as a stand-in for Dr. "Berdell," which is how the name was misspelled on the marriage certificate. Then, there were his letters, suggesting he wasn't the idiot she thought he was, "All her designs were to get me to marry her," he wrote according to Andrew Roth's book, Infamous Manhattan, "but the old hag has failed and damned her soul to hell. I would sooner marry an old toad than to marry such a thing as she is." Such disgust with the woman made sense if you take into account he was gay. Well, that's what was presented in the 2002 production of 31 Bond, a play written by Michele Aldin for the Brooklyn Lyceum-Green-wood Cemetery collaborative play series called, "Only the Dead."
But, all of the above is nothing compared to what happened next. After suspicions fell on Emma, she was tried but not convicted due to lack of evidence and no murder weapon. Unable to leave well enough alone, she went ahead with her plan to get the doctor's money. When her marriage to the dentist was determined invalid (Should have used spell-check, missy!), she decided there was only one other way to gofake a pregnancy, which she did with help from her family doctor. He, however, knew the district attorney and informed him of Emma's plot. When the bogus birth finally arrived in August, police set the trap. They got an undercover baby from Bellevue Hospital, which Emma thought was supplied by her doctor. Before she could fake her last contraction and weep her fake tears of joy, the police were on the scene and arrested her. Unfortunately, the police's excitement screwed up the whole sting operation by not waiting for her to make any further request for Harvey's estate. She got off and is thought to have moved to California. To this day, the murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell remains a mystery.
Damn bullet got me right in the neck!
William J. Gaynor (Location: 181-182, D/E 6/7)
From 1910 to 1913, New York City was being run by a man so dang honest and unflappable, he made the evil metropolis look like Gary, Indiana. Okay, a slight exaggeration. After years of corrupt party politics (thanks to Tammany Hall), William J. Gaynor became mayor through the will of the people, and the Democratic Party's astute awareness that to remain in control, they had to give the people what they wanted. Gaynor did not disappoint, he was not only a staunch supporter of people's rights, but also a moral father figure.
Gaynor grew up on a farm near Utica, New York, and became a devoutly religious teenager, at one point contemplating a career as a teacher with the Catholic teaching order called the Christian Brothers. In 1873, at the age of 25, he left that notion behind, and decided to pursue law. He moved to Brooklyn, New York, and through his law practice became a great defender of the poor and a critic of government waste and misuse of power. Years of hard work and determination as the voice of the poor man were rewarded with a place on the New York Supreme Court, District 2, a bench he sat on from 1893 to 1907. His reputation as a man with a stubborn streak and propensity towards solitude led many in his ranks to dislike or misunderstand him, but there was also deep admiration for the man who stuck to his principles, never swaying for popularity or acclaim and never making his private life public domain. Though he wasn't affiliated with any party formally, he was sought out by the Democrats for their mayoral nominee in the 1910 election. By the time he became mayor, he was in his early sixties, but his youthful exuberance and relentless energy made him more than a suitable fit for the demands of the job.
After being in office for less than a year, though, Gaynor was shot in the throat by James J. Gallagher, a disgruntled laborer recently fired from his job as a dock worker. Amazingly, Gaynor lived and continued to serve as mayor. A prolific letter writer, Gaynor wrote his sister about the entire attempt on his life, "My next consciousness was of a terrible roar in my head." he wrote. "It filled my head, which seemed as though it would burst open. It swelled to the highest pitch, and then fell, and then rose again, and so alternated until it subsided into a continuous buzz. It was sickening, but my stomach did not give way. I was meanwhile entirely sightless." Gallagher would be put away in an insane asylum. (Interestingly, Gaynor's name did not appear on the indictment.) Holding on three years after the assassination attempt, Gaynor eventually died while still in office. His doctors would contend the bullet wound led to his death. He would go down in history as New York's only assassinated mayor.
For more insight and an overall brilliant read, check out Lately Thomas's biography, The Mayor Who Mastered New York.
Oh, the irony!
Edward W. Hall and Frances Hall (Location: 203-204, D-4(v))
The tale of "the minister and the choir singer," took place in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The talk-of-the-town affair between Rev. Edward W. Hall, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, and Eleanor R. Mills, a singer in the choir, had been going on for years but came to an abrupt end on September 16,1922. The couple was found along a rural "lover's lane." Lying side by side, both victims were shot in the head. She had her tongue and larynx cut out. (Love the symbolism!) His business card was propped up against his left foot. Torn-up love letters strewn between them sealed the finding as no ordinary double homicide. Whoever killed the victims knew them and was pissed off. Bring in the usual suspects.
James Mills, a sexton in the church, went looking for his wife Eleanor when she didn't return from her errand that fateful night; Frances Hall, curious about her husband Edward's whereabouts, went on the search with her brother, Willie Stevens, who lived with them. With still no sign of Edward or Eleanor the next morning, the worried spouses met each other at the church. According to reports, suspicions were raised when James spoke to Frances about her thoughts on what happened to the couple, saying, "I think they are dead and can't come home."
Four years went by before the three prime suspects were brought to trial. Enter "The Pig Woman." Mrs. Jane Gibson, who raised pigs on a farm near the scene of the crime, testified at the trial that she was out that night and saw four people in the area. She identified three of them as Frances, her brother Willie, and a third man said to be another Stevens brother, Henry, who turns out to be an expert marksman. "The Pig Woman" said she heard shots and got out of there, losing one of her moccasins. When she went back to recover it, she said she saw the woman, presumably Frances, weeping, but saw nothing else. Newspaper editors found the woman's testimony riveting, but the trial jury didn't buy it. They bought Willie Stevens' account of the fatal night instead. Frances and her two brothers got off.
Nobody else has ever been tried for the murder of the reverend and his choir singer. Now, he rests next to his wife in Green-wood Cemetery. One can assume he isn't resting comfortably.
You should know better than to confront a burglar at work.
James Noe (Location: 120-121, D/E-3)
There's not a lot of information on James Noe other than the fact that he was murdered in 1875 by notorious Whyos gang member Dandy Johnny Dolan, and it was his murder that ended the gangster's, ahem, career. In Kevin Baker's novel, Paradise Alley, the murder of Noe is brought to fictional life as "Dangerous Dolan" murders "Old Man Noe." Dolan is also one of the many colorful gangsters mentioned in Herbert Asbury's Gangs of New York.
Noe was a successful businessman and brush manufacturer. As the story goes in both books, he happened upon Dolan in his unfinished brush factory on Greenwich Street. Dolan was in the process of stealing the lead lining of the gutters (which could be sold for a nice chunk of change). Noe confronted Dolan. Not a smart move for Dolan had no qualms about beating the elderly Noe, who died a week later, according to Asbury's account of the murder. Dolan walked away with the old man's cane, money, and gold watch and chain. Paradise Alley has Dolan leave the city only to return years later, creating havoc for his family. But, Asbury writes Dolan was quickly caught by New York's famous Detective Dorcy, and was hanged for "Old Man Noe's" murder in 1876.
It's Butcher, Bill the Butcher.
William Poole (Location: 48-49, F/G 6(v))
There's so much information out there about William "Bill the Butcher" Poole it's hard to determine just who this guy was. Was he the sinister glass-eyed priest killer William Cutting, the character created by Daniel Day-Lewis in Martin Scorcese's film, Gangs of New York, which was a loosely based film adaptation of the Herbert Asbury book? Or, was he a skilled butcher, devoted husband and father, and competitive boxer that fought his way through the gangland ranks of New York in the mid-1800s, not killing a single person along the way? A little of both perhaps?
Poole was the son of English immigrants. Born in 1821, he spent his early childhood in New Jersey until his family moved to lower Manhattan, where his father owned a butcher shop. Following the usual path of an immigrant son, young Bill learned his father's trade and became very skilled at it. He also learned how to box, more for survival and entertainment than exercise. Streets were overrun with slum-living conditions, thievery, prostitution, alcohol consumption, gambling, and an estimated 30,000 gang members. (Before moving picture shows and professional sports, what else was a lad to do on a Friday night?) Add onto the list the political machine of Tammany Hall and a corrupt police force and you had yourself a pretty despicable city.
People had to look out for themselves and their own kind. Poole joined up with the Native American party's Bowery Boys (Native American being the anti-immigrant political party, also called Know Nothings), and learned the tools of the gang trade. Because of his fierce combatant spirit, his great stature (he was said to be six feet tall and 200 pounds) and handsome features, his natural leadership abilities, and a lovely reputation as an eye gouger, he was destined for greatness. Or, a brutal murder.
(Warning: For those of you who saw the film Gangs of New York and want to continue believing Leonardo prevails over Daniel, stop reading now.) Bill the Butcher went on to lead a gang centered around the Christopher Street waterfront, and remained loyal to the Native American party. He was not killed by a young Irishman named Amsterdam Vallon. Instead, he was killed by a crony of a street brawler and Irishman named John Morrisey in 1855 (well before the Civil War Draft Riots that Scorcese incorporated into the film's story). Poole and Morrisey had ongoing hostility towards each other due to different political party affiliation (Morrisey's Irish heritage was an issue for the Know Nothing supporter Poole). They were arrested after a confrontation in a new bar called Stanwix Hall. The very next day, Poole returned to the bar. Several men siding with Morrisey were also there. A battle broke out between the crony Lew Baker's gun and Poole's knife. Miraculously surviving for 14 days after being shot, Bill the Butcher finally succombed to the bullets lodged in his heart and abdomen and died at his Christopher Street home. Baker and the other men involved were tried three times for murder, but got off each time with hung juries.
Recently, William Poole's unmarked grave was given a shiny new granite headstone in Green-wood Cemetery. And, one final thing, he never did have a glass eye.
Bullets Over Broadway
Edward Stokes (Location: 115-117 C/D 3/M)
The crime scene: Broadway and West 3rd (Great Jones) Street.
The crime: Murder.
The players: James Fisk, notorious playboy and "Robber Baron;" Josie Mansfield, the "Broadway Beauty;" and Edward Stokes, the hired gunman.
Motive: There are many options here:
1) It could have been a revenge crime because the starlet was shacking up with the wealthy financier. I'll show you, you slut! If I can't have you, no one can!
2) It was a way to get rid of the competition for Josie's affections. Now she has to love me!
3) The motive had to do with Mansfield and Stokes' plot to blackmail Fisk. The affair between the actress and playboy ended, she called upon her friend and Fisk's business associate Edward Stokes to help her blackmail her ex by using the letters he had written to her. Fine, if you don't want to marry me, it'll cost you! Fisk had plans of his own and stopped paying the pair, threating a lawsuit. This led to Stokes gunning down Fisk on January 6, 1872, on the staircase of the Grand Central Hotel. That'll show you, you greedy bastard!
4) Then again, and this is pure speculation, it could have been for the glory! People will remember my name forever, and maybe some chick will write a piece on me for her online magazine!
Well, a movie was made about the love affair between James Fisk and Josie Mansfield in 1937 called Toast of New York. It starred Frances Farmer as Josie, Edward Arnold as James, and Cary Grant as Nick Boyd, Fisk's trusted friend. Edward Stokes's role is relegated to one of the mobsters that kills Fisk before the government can get him for all the crimes he commited trying to corner the gold market with Jay Gould.
The real ending to the soap opera is Edward Stokes was convicted and sentenced to death, but, he got a reduced sentence (most likely by cutting a deal with the D. A.) and spent only four years in Sing Sing.
There you have it. The stories of the "Murders." May they rest in peace.
http://www.earlyrepublic.net The Sins of New York: as "exposed" by the Police Gazette, by Edward Van Emery (c.1930)
Infamous Manhattan: A Colorful Walking Tour of New York's Most Notorious Crime Sites, by Andrew Roth (Citadel 1996)
William J. Gaynor
The Mayor Who Mastered New York: The Life and Opinions of William J. Gaynor, by Thomas Lately (William Morrow & Co. 1969) http://www.libertyhaven.com
Rev. Hall and Eleanor Mills
The Mammoth Book of Unsolved Crimes, edited by Roger Wilkes ("A Sort of Genius," by James Thurber)
The Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury (c.1927, reprinted 1998 Knopf, Inc.)
New York Press article "Old Smoke" by William Bryk
Features: Interview: Ann Rule | Interview: Texas Justice | Law and Order | Kid Fears | What You Should Know The Next Time You're Arrested |Vacation: Alcatraz | Murdered Denizens of Green-wood Cemetery | Quiz: Are You A Criminal? | Photo Gallery: Crime Scenes Before and After | BONUS: Stupid Laws | Crime: That's Entertainment!
In Every Issue: Miss Lonelyhearts | Criminally Bad Fashion | Calendar | Letters To The Editors | Crime Links | annabelle store & The Pencil of The Month Club | About Us | Submissions