Hal Roth - January 2008

Old News from Delmarva:

Was Martin Beauchamp Murdered? Part I
by
Hal Roth

   Transcriptions in this story are taken from pages of the Denton Journal, the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times.

   January 27, 1883 – A hundred or more men assembled in the courtroom in Denton on Tuesday last, the most of them being the jury of inquest and witnesses summoned by Magistrate Lockerman to inquire into the cause of Martin Beachamp’s death. The vicinity of Concord, where Beachamp died very suddenly on December 31st, has been full of rumors that he was foully dealt with, but those on whom the suspicion rests claim that the charges are only made out of spite and enmity by their accusers.
    State’s Attorney Bryant suggested at the beginning of the testimony that the witnesses should retire to another room and be called to the stand one at a time, so that none should hear what the others testified to. Dr. Wm. H. Downes, who was one of the attending surgeons employed on the remains of the deceased, was the first to testify. He removed the stomach of Beachamp and delivered it to Prof. Tonry of Baltimore, as directed by the State’s Attorney. At a later examination of the remains he also removed the liver, kidneys and spleen and delivered them to Prof. Tonry. The witness said, from his own observation of the intestines, he was of the opinion that Beachamp died from poison administered in the stomach.
Messrs. M. S. Mutchler and G. M. Russum were announced at this stage of the examination as counsel for the suspected parties, and Mr. Mutchler asked that they be permitted to cross-examine witnesses. Mr. Bryant yielded, and the witness, in answer to a question from the counsel for the defense as to why he thought the deceased had taken poison into his stomach, said: “We found all the vital organs in a perfectly sound condition with the exception of the stomach. From that and the reports of the manner in which Beachamp died, I am of the opinion that he came to his death from poison.”
    Dr. J. W. Hignutt assisted in the post-mortem examination and supported Dr. Downes in substance. He made two visits to the house after the death. Mrs. Beachamp seemed in great distress and said that if her husband had been poisoned, somebody else had given it to him. She told Dr. Hignutt that her husband had been sick the day before the fatal attack, but recovered. The next morning he went out to feed the stock but returned to the house without doing so, being too sick to remain outside. Sitting down in the kitchen, he was handed a cup of coffee, which he drank. Dr. Hignutt described how the dead man looked, saying that the deceased’s lips were purple. On the day the inquest was held, Mrs. Beachamp said she was opposed to the proceeding, and she had nervous fits. After the inquest was over, Dr. Hignutt saw James Ahearn in the kitchen with the woman.
    Thomas L. Lewis was next called. He lives a scant half-mile from the deceased’s house and went there on the morning of the death to find Beachamp lying flat on his back on a bed. There was snatching and jerking in his limbs, and his eyes darted about. Beachamp spoke to Lewis and said, “I want you to stay with me till I die.” Beachamp continued to jerk and caught the witness by the wrists and held him until death released the grip. Mrs. Beachamp told him that she was afraid people would accuse her of poisoning her husband. James Ahearn came to the house without being sent for. Lewis saw Ahearn about the yard and in and out of the house.
    Homer Fleetwood was the next name called. There was no answer. Sheriff Cohee testified that he had summoned Fleetwood to appear in this case. The sheriff found him at the home of Mrs. Beachamp, of whom he is an adopted child, ten years old. She objected to the lad’s appearing before the jury but finally agreed he should be present.
    Two others, Edward Moore and Chas. Lewis, testified to seeing Beachamp on the road the day before he died.

   February 10, 1883 – The poisoning case of Martin Beachamp is still a topic of much speculation all over the county and is being discussed in the daily papers of the cities. A letter has been found, ostensibly written by Beachamp five days before his death, and one arrest has been made.
There was an appraisement of the effects of the deceased on Friday last, and when the household goods were turned topsy-turvy, the letter was found under the carpet in the sitting room. It was addressed to his wife and read: “Belle, I hope when you find this note I will be dead and out of the way, for I know that you would rather I was dead than living, so I am going to kill myself and then I’ll be out of your way.”
    Mr. James R. Manship says he is familiar with the handwriting of Beachamp, as he has a promissory note from him, and the letter is genuine, though it is doubted by some. After the letter was found, Mrs. Beachamp said to a reporter: “I believe the letter was written by my husband. He has often threatened to kill himself, but I have never said anything about it because I believe his death resulted from natural causes. I don’t know why he was under the impression that I wanted him out of the way. He had frequently told me he had never believed the rumors about me and said that if the gossips did not cease talking, he would take measures to make them. It was said at the inquest that Mart and I lived unhappily. That is not true. We used to quarrel at times, but the quarrels were just the same as those that may occur between any husband and wife. I tried to make him a good wife and did as much as any woman would have done. He had his shortcomings but treated me well. He was sickly and nearly always suffered with his head. James Ahearn, the man with whom my name has been connected, was a friend of my husband, and they were often together. The rumors were caused by the littleness of village life. When Mart and I moved to Concord, some of our neighbors began to borrow almost everything we had. Mart was good-natured and allowed the thing to go on without objection, but it looked to me like an imposition and I put my foot down on it. You might be surprised to hear that so small a thing should embitter many of my neighbors against me. The rumors were whispered at first, but they assumed huge proportions as time passed and, I believe, were generally thought true. When Mart died and I was accused of having conspired with James Ahearn to kill him, I became frightened at the persistency with which I was being persecuted. I engaged lawyers to defend me because I did not know to what extent my accusers might go. Ahearn did likewise. That accounts for our being represented jointly by counsel. I shall not move away from Concord, but I will leave this house and go to live with my mother, whose house is on the other side of the road. Although I am sorry that Mart killed himself, I am glad the letter was found and hope it will be published.”
    Mrs. Beachamp cried several times during the interview.
    The party arrested is a young man about 18 years of age by the name of Nathan S. Chance, with two aliases: Thornton and Skinner. Chance had been heard to say something that was thought to betray knowledge of the affair, but when the investigation was begun, he absconded and has been in Delaware until Sunday last, when Constable Todd induced him to cross the line into Maryland. He was captured on Tuesday and lodged in Denton Jail.
    The attention of the authorities was also directed to young Chance by a letter signed “Sharp,” found tied to the doorknob at the residence of Mr. Jas. A. Beachamp, a brother of the deceased, which advised the immediate arrest of the young man, as he could give important evidence concerning the cause of Beachamp’s death.
    The following statement was made by the prisoner to a reporter who visited him in jail: “About six weeks before Christmas I was in Ahearn’s store one evening, and when no others were present, Ahearn approached me and said: ‘Nathan, don’t you want to make $10 right easy?’ ‘Yes,’ said I. ‘What do you want me to do?’ ‘Now look here, I’m afraid you’ll tell,’ said Ahearn. I told him I would do what he wanted if there was no killing in it. He said he hadn’t told me there was no killing to be done, but put me off again, saying that I would tell on him. I didn’t know what he was driving at and left. The next morning I went to the store again and asked him if he wanted to give me that $10. He said no, he was afraid I would tell. That’s all I know about it.”
    Nothing else of importance could be elicited in the interview with the prisoner, and it is thought by some that Chance’s alleged conversation with Ahearn has no bearing upon the case. As he is but a mere boy, it is improbable that anyone would attempt to employ him in such a desperate game. There are others who believe that he knows more than he will tell, thus complicating circumstances and darkening the cloud resting upon the accused, but which, let it be hoped, will be scattered by a court of justice.

   March 3, 1883 – Judge Robinson last Wednesday discharged Chance, charged with complicity in the poisoning of Martin Beachamp, at a hearing on a writ of habeas corpus. Chance was bound by his own surety of $500 for appearance before the grand jury. Homer Fleetwood gave bail in $200 for his appearance as a witness.

   Later in March, Frances Beachamp and James Ahearn were indicted for the murder of Martin Beachamp.

   April 14, 1883 – The old rickety jail has three rooms in which prisoners can be kept – two cells on the first floor and one above. The other two apartments of the building, occupied by the sheriff’s family, consist of a basement, sitting room and three bedrooms. Another room was intended to confine prisoners, but it is used by the sheriff for storage. Mrs. Frances Belle Beachamp, the woman indicted for the murder of her husband, occupies the cell on the second floor. This room is located in the northeastern corner of the building and is the most secluded place of confinement about the prison, having but one window, and that opening on the jail yard. The room is furnished only with an iron cot, stool chairs and a stove. The prisoner spends most of her time reading and sleeping. Her visitors are received with pleasant greetings, but she seems much depressed by the enormity of the accusation against her. When left alone, she has often been heard to say to herself, “Oh, I am so tired.” There was an affecting scene in the cell last Tuesday when her child, a bright boy of two years, was brought in to see his mother. The little fellow, now for the first time from his mother’s breast, is cared for by relatives. It is Mrs. Beachamp’s wish that her boy should not be with her in prison.
    A number of ladies from town called at the jail Wednesday. Mrs. Beachamp was glad to see them and chatted freely, but was quite broken down by their kindly sympathy and their hopes that she could prove her innocence. Mrs. Beachamp, now hardly middle-aged, is a woman of perfect health and is decidedly good-looking. Her face is striking and once was exceedingly pretty, but it indicates a strong will at first glance.
    In a cell directly below this is James Ahearn, the man whose name has been recently connected with Mrs. Beachamp’s and who was indicted as an accessory before the fact in the poisoning of Martin Beachamp. Ahearn, as his name implies, is an Irishman, of decidedly Hibernian features, low forehead, dark complexion and unprepossessing. He calls to Mrs. Beachamp occasionally, and the two, together with a crazy man confined on the same floor with Ahearn, engage in loud talk, in which the woman takes no part but to respond to questions by Ahearn.

   April 21, 1883 – James Ahearn, who is held in jail on the Beachamp poisoning case, has an aversion to the visits of newspaper reporters and others he don’t know. Last Monday a reporter called to see him and was admitted into his cell. Ahearn didn’t take to the reporter’s manner at all and was about to dismiss him, so the reporter says, by making a move for a handy brick, when Mr. Russum, of the counsel for the accused, appeared on the scene and allayed the prisoner’s anger.

   April 24, 1883 – Denton is the scene of bustle and life, unequalled by the regular terms of court. People are here from all parts of the county and from a distance to attend the trial of Mrs. Beachamp, some connected with the case and others drawn by curiosity. The hotels are crowded.
Mrs. Beachamp suffered with chills and fevers during last week but has recovered. There were ninety-nine men from which to select a jury, and the jury was obtained in a few hours.
One reporter claimed he had never seen a harder looking crowd than the one that thronged the streets of Denton, but there was no disorder.

   Next month, the trial and verdict.

   You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com