19th century high crimes and misdemeanors

A 19th century depiction of a citizen going after a horse thief
A 19th century depiction of a citizen going after a horse thief

By Sandy Vasko

It is not doubt that we, as a society, are fascinated by crime and criminals. Look at a list of popular TV shows, and you will find detective and cop shows galore. So today, we look at a few crimes that made the newspapers in the 19th century.

From the August 9, 1859, Joliet Signal: “About 8 o’clock last Thursday morning, the wife of Wm. Shaffer, who keeps the Franklin house, in this city, was discovered by one of the neighbors, hanging by the neck in the basement of the building, with nothing on but her night clothes. Coroner Demmond was summoned and an inquest held, and the verdict of the jury was that she came to her death by hanging, but whether done by her own hands or some other person or persons, was unknown to the jury.

“It appeared from the evidence before the jury that Shaffer and his wife had for years lived unhappily together, and that he had frequently beaten and maltreated her. She had formerly made up her mind to leave him and the day before had so publicly informed him and demanded a portion of the personal property. This is the last that was heard of her until found as described.

“There is a dark mystery about the matter; and we learn our efficient Coroner has taken every means in his power to ferret it out, but what can he do, when our Board of Supervisors utterly refuse to pay all bills in endeavoring to hunt out and bring murderers to punishment?”

From March 30, 1869: “A short time since, just at dusk, a peddler carrying a large pack, appeared at the door of a wealthy farmer in the town of Green Garden, in this county, and requested the privilege of remaining overnight. The farmer being away from home, he was informed by the hired man that he could not stay. He them requested the privilege of leaving his pack until morning, as he was very tired and could not carry it further that night.

“This was granted and the pack deposited in one corner of the sitting room during the evening some of the females of the household had occasion to move it, and taking hold of it discovered that there was something suspicious about the contents. The hired man was called and upon taking hold of it, found that it contained a man. He quickly stepped into an adjoining room and returning with a revolver, motioned the family to stand aside, and at once proceeded to fire three shots into it.

“A piercing shriek issued from it, and on ripping off the outside covering a man with a large bowie knife and a revolver clinched in his hands, was found weltering in his blood. Two of the shots had proved fatal. The neighbors were alarmed, but no traces of the peddler who left the precious pack could be found. Thus, by a mere incident, doubtless a shocking case of robbery and perhaps murder was prevented. It was doubtless a plot to rob the farmer, as it was known that he had a large sum of money in the house.

“An inquest was held over the body on the following morning, and the verdict was that the killing was justifiable homicide. No clue leading to the discovery of the name of the victim or his accomplice has, as yet, been ascertained. Such summary justice is seldom meted out to the guilty.”

From the January 10, 1874, Wilmington Advocate: “On Monday night, George Smith, a shiftless criminal waif from Joliet or some other demoralized city, trespassed upon the purity of the clothes line, capturing the pure linen of James L. Young, Esq., H. L. Cady, Jonathan Gaul, Postmaster Baker, Station Agent Barlow, and others.

“In the unlawful taking no distinction of sex was observed, and the thief, when caught by Ted Gaul and Officer Beltz, aside from a full and superfluous outfit of male under attire, was arrayed in a fine double ruffled ladies’ chemise and drawers. Want, gaunt want, was the only excuse. He wanted the chemise and drawers and took them, thinking, perhaps, that he would look pretty in them. The ladies’ owning the stolen property have not yet claimed them through fear of having to appear in court and answering to them, or perhaps, for the better reason that they no longer considered them “pure and undefiled.”

From the March 3, 1874, Joliet Signal: “Horse thieves – horse thieves are still at large and the village of Lockport occasionally receives a visit from one of the crew. Friday evening, the 20th ult., Mr. Ashley left a valuable team of horses and a buggy hitched in front of Mr. Hawley’s residence, and upon going to the door about nine o’clock was surprised to find them gone.

“On Saturday morning following, Mr. Clemens, a farmer living near Monee, found a team hitched near his house which he observed had been driven very hard Suspecting that something was wrong, he drove the horses into Monee, and then hearing of the theft sent word to Mr. Ashley, who now rejoices in again possessing his property. The thief has not yet been captured, but as it is pretty well known who he is, he may be brought to grief in due time.”

From the September 18, 1877 Joliet Signal: “Last Friday, Charles Dougherty, a farmer living near Minooka, sent two men, one of them named Frank Fuller, to Joliet, each with a load of oats. The warehouse was visited, the oats delivered and the money received by Fuller.

“The two men started for home rather late in the evening and it was nearly midnight when they neared the home of Mr. Doughtery. When within half a mile of home Fuller jumped from his wagon and made off through the woods, to the astonishment of this fellow traveler, who immediately proceeded to Mr. Dougherty’s, and informed him of the transaction. Mr. Dougherty at once repaired to the house of a neighbor, Mr. J. W. Edmond, and mounting horses they proceeded to Minooka where they learned that a person answering the description given of Fuller had boarded an east bound freight train.

“Nothing daunted, Messrs. Dougherty and Edmond turned their horses’ heads to Joliet, and overhauling the freight train which was delayed on a side track in the western part of the city, captured their man and safely lodged him in jail Saturday the culprit was conveyed by his captors to Minooka where he was committed to the Grundy County jail to await trail.

“The gentlemen put in a good night’s work on horseback, but they started out with the intention of capturing the thief, and as they’re the kind of men to carry out any such enterprise when undertaken they were of course successful.


“The young grain speculator will probably soon be doing business for the State, and have plenty of time to reflect upon the uncertainty of such rash transactions as going marketing and forgetting to return home with the proceeds of sale.”







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