Press enter after choosing selection

The Deformed Finger

The Deformed Finger image
Parent Issue
Public Domain
OCR Text

Two piasterera, named ïom Mnldoon and Edward Harria, upon entering the rooms where they were employed in an unünished building, on upper Fourth street, Pittsburgh, on the morning of j May 14, 1843, were horrified at landing upon the floor the corpse of Griffitli Jones, their eanployer. He had evidently been murdered, and seeined to have been dead severa! hours, the body when found being quite cold. A little to the left of the thorax was a ghastly wonnd, and froni the quantity of blood upon the walls and floor, it appeared as if a long, keen kife had passed down behiud the man's collar bono, literally cleaving his heart in twain, and permitting the life ciirrent to pour fortli in a torrent which must have brought instant death. Neighbors were quicldy summoned, offlcers were called in, a Ooroner sent íor, aaid a strict investigation of the horrible crime was enterod upon with an energy which in these days would be simply astonishing if displayed by public officials. Littlo result was attained by these labors, however. Giiffith Jones had been rather a reticcnt, selfcontained mail, and the clews upon wliich to base a theory for his mysterioxis taking off were very few. That which was learned was in substance aa follows : Griffitli Jones had resided in Pittsburgh and its vicinity for a number of years. He was a widower, and some of those who had known him longest remembered liis wife, a palé, little woman - Welsh, like himself - who died witliin a few montlis after her advent in the smoky city. His business had been ïnainly that of a coal dealer, shipping barge'or flat-boat loads of the black diamonds down the Ohio. Sometimes, however, he speculated in real estáte. Some eight or nine months beforo his niurder he had been iutrodnced to a young woman named Julia Williams, and after a brief courtship proposed to inarry her, and was accepted. The house in which he was killed he had been erecting for his own residence, and it was being builded under his personal supervisión. Each day he used to visit it two or three times to see how the workmen were getting along, but on the day which must havo been his last in life, he had only been there once while the plastorers were at work, and that once was early in the forenoon. A lantern had been found near the body, and it was conjectured that, having been kopt away by business until after dark, ho had gone to inspect the day's work, after the men had departed, and in so doing had met his fate. lïut none of the neighbors had heard any alarm dtiring the night, and the lock iipon the twnporary strect door was locked on Üie outeide. There were no fresh footprints under tlie windows in tho mud about the building. Clearly the assassm must have either been secreted in the house prior to Jones' oomiag, or must have entored with liim, and been cool enough after penetrating tho murder to have gone out the front way, locking up the body of his victim as lie left. The plasterers swore positively that no one oould have been left iu the houso wheu they locked up tho front door with their key. Under the circumstances tho theory at iirst entertained of the assassiuation boing the work of some lesporato thief for more purposea of robbery was necessarily abandoned. True no money was found in his pockets, but his valuable watch and chaii had not been taken, and he might have had no money with him. But could hatred haye stimulated the dreadful crime ? Had he any enemy so vindictive as to be guilty of the horrible floer! 1 Suspicion now pointcd at two persons. ! The first of these was John Matthews, a : discarded suitor of Miss Williams, who ■ was knowii to have been very jcalous of Jones. He, however, readily proved an alibi. The night of the murder and the day prcceding it he had been with souie reiatives, fourteen miles away, down in the Sewickly valley. The second porson suspected was George Kobertson, a drunken, shiftless, dissolute fellow, who had been tho brother of Jones' wifc. Kobertson had made use of liis plea of relationship to obtain money from Jones on uumerous occasions, as was well knpwn, and it was surmised that he might have hunted him up on the fatal evening, with such aii end in view, and being refnsed, have murdered and robbed him. That he had not taken the watch was attribtited to his fear lest it might lead to his detecüon. But the strictest inquiry faüed to bring to light any trace of George Kobertson, boyond the faot that two nionths before he had started on a flat-boat, laden with conl, for Louisville. Smee then he laad not even been lieard of at Pittsburgh. Ralnctantly the theorists were coinpclled to give up the promising prospect of iixinp; the murder whcre there was so fine u basis of predisposition of character for it as fellow was snpposed to poseÉs. At length eonjecturo was gencrally abaudoned, and the deatl man liaviug been buried, lus will found and the bulk of his property tumed over to Julia Williams, oceording to the provisions of that document, the caac ceaeed to he mach talked about. Even before the fair Jiilia's snddenly acquired wealth had attracted three uew siiitors to her sido - : and that Tas before the aodding on Jones' grave got a good start - almost everybody oeased to worry over the mystery of the ïnurder. l'here was oue, however, who did not give it up eo. ihis persistent person was a young man named Walter McGrew, of Scotch descent, clerk in a big hardware store in " The Diamond." Detectives were unknown in Pittsburgin those days, but McGrew was, by nature, an amateur one of no mean ability. At flrst simple curiosity and a desii'e to unravel tlio mystery caused liim to take a lively interest in the matter, and lie studied up the pointe in the case with a keenness of observation and analytical care wbich wonld have done credit to a veterau in such service. His interest wae, however, increased tenfold when the authorities offered a rewaril of ono thousand dollars - a very large sum in those days - for the discovery of the murderer. That amount of money wonld onable him to marry the girl he loved and to start in business for himself, so the camiy Scot bent all his energies to its acquisition. Seeking through the rooms where the murderous deed had been done, for traces of its perpetrators, he discovered in i narrow passage way between the apartmentin wliich the body liad been found and another somo ten feet distant, an indentation in the soft piaster upon the wall, which, althongh unobserved by any one else, was full of suggestion to him. This indentation was at one end deep, almost an inch in width, and rounded as if made by smef cylindrical body. From this point it tapered down rapidly and ended in a narrow blunt point, considerably loss depressed than at the other end. Thd mark thus made was not straight bul curved - or rathcr had one obtuse anglo with the concave side uppermost, near its middlo. Upon still closer investigation he found that one of the hairs mixed m the piaster had boen torn out, leavlug a thin ragged line extending about an inch from the smaller end of the intlentation. The height at which this mark appeored in the wal! would have been almost upon the lovel of the chin bf" a person of medium height, and was on what would have been the left side of a person going from the scène of the murde. McGrew at onco concluded that the nssassin, after perpetrnting his crime, had gouo through this passage in the dark, gi-ophig his way, with his hand extended beforo his face, as would be a natural action for a person upon strauge premises and deprived of light, Jones' lantern having no doubt been instantly extinguished when he feil. The irnpression then, as he read it, was that of a deformed liltle finger of a left hand, and he set himself to work to iind such a member. During a whole month he scrutinized closely overy left hand that come within range of his visión, but without avail, and was almost upon the point of giviiig up his pursuit in despair, when chance threw witbin his way that which he had sought. Saunterilig through the AUeghany market one morning, still mechanically watchiug all the left hands exposed, he noticed a veiled wornan, poorly dressed, making some smail purchases at a butcher's stall, and his heart gave a great leap when ho saw that the second joint of her little finger was swollen to two or three times its natural size, while beyond that point, to the extremity, it tapered with disproportionate rapidity." He was rather difwppointed to find that it was a woman who was so marked, as he had accustomed himself to thinking of the assassin as a man ; but that did not prevent his pursuing the clew thus offered. From the butcher's stall to her home he unobservedly followed the woman, and saw her enter a smoll isolated cottage in a poor section of the town. Entering a little grocery near by, npon a pretended search for a Mr. Travers, he easily drew the shop-keeper into a conversation about his neighbors, and so, without affording the slightest suspicion of his errand, found out that the woman whom he had seen was a Mrs. Harpor, a widow with two children, who liad lived in the cottage for several years. Both her children had boen born thero. She did not own cottage. It belonged to some gentleman in Pittsburg, who came monthly for his rent, and sometimes called upon the widow when the rent was not due, "out who he was the keeper did not know. Had the shop-keeper seen liim ! Yes, but could not describe liim '' to save his lif e, ' ' f urther than that he was ' ' a biggish sort of man with short red hair," - characteristics common to Jones und an hundred other men. It must not be supposed that McGrew wormed all this out at once. He was too cautious for that. But in the back part of the little grocery he fotind that some very good liquor was kopt, and, apparently on this account only, he called several times upon the shopkeeper, and became quite familiar with liim. One day Mrs. Ilurper came in to buy some candles when ho was present, and he managed to get into a little conversation with her. Twice afterward he met her accidentally, and haviug won his way by preents of some peppermint candy to her children, got upon easy chattering terms with her. He noticed that she lookcd haggard, anxious, often pre-occupied, but could find nothing to warrant his lookiug upon her as the assassin of whom he was in pursiut. Poverty alone would nave given her those signs of mental troublo. Still he suspected her. When he entered the shop ono evening, after he had knowii her fully a fortnight, he found lier iu a little contention with the shop-keeper about the value ol a one dollar bill which she had oft'ered iu payment for somo small articles. Tut. grocery man averred that it was the isRue of a broken western bank, which she denied, and the nwtter was referred to him. He took the bill, casually remarkmg tha there was at that time a great deal o: worthlef paper money about, and lookec at it. Upon its back he notioed written in ink the letters and numeráis "15. H May 13, G. J - M. K." He hesitatec but a moment and then, xcting upou some impnlso for which he eould 110 dofinitely account to himself , said : " think it is all right. Anyway, I'm sur enough to eivo you the silver for it. Mrs. Harper thankcd him heartily, aiu took the silver which ho offered hei The grocery man made change for he and she went away. McCïrew put tñe bilí iu liis pocket. When he got home that night he studied over the bill and itn inscription, wondering more and more why he had bought for a dollar someth'jig wliich he knew to be ntterly worthless. The next day, albeit with very vaguo hopea of learuing anytbiug of use to iiim, ba went to the lawyer who had done ill Jones' legal business down to the making of his will, and who was perfectly familiar with his handwritiug. Tliat gentleman at once reeogniz'Hl the writing as that of the deceased Griíftth Jones. Tlie initials "G. J." put it beyond a doubt, they being made in a very peculiar manner. What did the other initials mean, ? For the iirst two, the lawyer had nothing to say. The laat two, however, he suggosted. wore those of a saloon keeper, who was one of Jones' best friexids. Mark Kennedy was his name, Upon him MoGrew uow called, with the one-dollar bil], which was fast gaining importance in lus oyes. Kennedy, npon boing shown the uote, said : "Olí! I remember all about tliat. Jones carne in fiere for il drink, after visiting liis new hoose - jast the morniñg of the 'day be was killed. He was going over to Temperanceville then, he said. Tliat lill he offered mo when he was going to pay for liis drink, and I told liim it wiisu't good. I'd got word only the day before tliat the bank was busted. Yes, I'm sure that's it- Oskolono Bank, of Missouri. No doubt about it. He went right over there to my desk and indorsed tliat npon it, saying he had got it from Bob Harlow, and would make liim take it back." Bob Harlow, upon bemg seen, ftdmitted that he bolieved he might have given the bilí to Jones ; in fact, thonght lie did, a couple of days before the murder, and had not afterward seen him aliye. That evening Mrs. Harperwasarrested and lodged in jail upon suspicion of being eithor principal or acoessory in the murder of Griffith Jones. When charged with the crime, she scorned to deny it. "Yes," she said, " I killed him, and he deserved it. I did not avow it for the sake of my children- lus childven - but it is not worth lying about. I did kill him, and I will teil you why. Seven yeara ugo he persuaded me to live with him. I was a widow, poor and friendless. I sold myself to him because he swore to próvido comfortnbly for me as long as I lived. I had two cliildren by him, and got to love liim, sooundrel as he was. I begged him on my knees to rnarry me, for the sake of our children, nnd he refused. He never lovod either or me. For threo years he liad barfjT given me money cnough to keep j me alive. He gave mo the hovel wliere I lived, and used to come and seo me not more than once a montli, usually. I went out washing all day, and sewed at night as long as I could sit up, to feed and clothe my babies. Exposnre brought on rheumatism. öeo how my hands are swollen out of shape ; all my joints are so. He did not care. He wislied I wotüd die. I heard he was going to marry another woman - that he was. building a fine house for her. Tl u-u I becaxne desperate ; I dogged hia steps 0110 night to liis new house. He toiïk me inside to prevent a scandal, through our voices boing hcard if we talked outside. On my kneos I begged him to at least make eome provisión for our children. I believc I tln-eatened to oxposo liim and prevent bis ïnarriage if he did uot. He refused, and struck me. Then - well) I had the butcher-knife with me. I did not intend to kill him when I took it along- I only wantod to protect myself ; but when 'he struck me, and called me the name he did, and cursed tho 'bastarda' - our babies- then I struck him back. I only struck once. I took the money in his pockets, for we wero lmngry, and I liad a right to it. He was dead. Yes, I killed him, and I am not sorry for it. Now do what you please? with me." Upon her trial she refused to plead " not giülty," buthersad story, which was proven to be trae, awakened popular sympathy so far in hor behulf that the court refujed to accept her ple;i of "guilty" to the charge of murder in the lirst dogree, and she was only iudicted for murder in the second degree. Upon this, she was nocessarily couvicted. The evidence against her, even onfiaifte her own confossion, was torribly strong, and she was sentenced to imprisonmont for life. The prison regulation of Pemisylvania then, and indeed luitil vory late yoars, wero mercilcss ui their rigor. A prisouer condemned for ]ifo was as practically dead to all the world as if life were really oxtinct. Solitude, silence, mental ago{ ny, dread suspense, hopeless ignorance of the fates of loved ones, often insanity and short lives of utter wretchodness, were what prisoners were condemned to; and such the rigorous law pres!iibed as the expiation for Mrs. Harpcr's crime. But, before she went to prison she was permitted to know that both her children had been adopted by kind people, who would rear and edúcate tliem as their own, and with this knowlcdge she entered even cheerfully the gates of her living tomb. How long she endui ed her separation from her loved ones is a secret only in the keeping of the prison register.


Old News
Michigan Argus