Old News from Delmarva - Hal Roth - October 2007

Crime Wave


Hal Roth

     There were serious crimes committed on Delmarva during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including some widely publicized murders, but many of the misdeeds disclosed on the now faded pages of our weekly journals were of a less severe nature. Some seem hardly newsworthy by modern standards. Others, though serious felonies, were reported casually and without detail. A few were actually humorous. Here is a small sampling of a broad variety of Delmarva crime from the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century.
In spite of the fact that individuals were frequently committed to prison for offenses that are considered minor today, a one-line announcement appearing on July 28, 1888 reports a then not uncommon situation in our county jails: “As is frequently the case, there are no prisoners in Denton Jail.”

     March 9, 1865 – On Friday night last, a high-handed outrage occurred, of a character such as has not disgraced our county for years. It seems that there had been on the night of Friday, March 3d, a party near Millsboro, of such character as is here known as a “lighted knot frolic.” [If any reader has information about the term “lighted knot frolic,” please contact Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com.] Mr. Wm. S. Fowler, returning from this party, while crossing the mill dam near Millsboro, was assaulted by some person or persons lying in wait for him and knocked down and robbed of a watch and his pocket book containing $205. He was left in an insensible position by the robbers and was thus found and carried to his home in Millsboro.
      Efforts were made the next morning to discover the perpetrators of the outrage, and a man was tracked through the sand to the house of one of the supposed criminals. The watch was found by the parties prosecuting the search. The pocket book was also found much torn and perfectly empty.
      Suspicion fell upon Levin J. Smith and Charles H. Lekite, who were arrested and had a hearing before Justice W. P. Jones near Millsboro. The former was sent to the jail at this place, and the latter released upon giving $300 bail for his appearance at the next court.

     June 14, 1884 – Thieves broke into a Chestertown church a few days ago and carried off a ton of coal. Such conscienceless roguery deserves a broader field of operation than the confines of Chestertown offer.
      Look out for the 1876 half-dollar. Counterfeits of this date are said to be in circulation.
      The silver robber is also at work again, and coins with holes bored in them and edges chipped off are going the rounds of trade. By refusing to take them, the public may be able to stop the mutilators. [Many coins at this time were made of precious metal such as gold and silver rather than the composites of today’s currency, and thieves would remove small amounts from individual coins, then sell the accumulation of shavings.]

     July 5, 1884 – During a quarrel on Saturday, Thomas Webster shot his brother-in-law, Eben Short, inflicting a serious wound. Both belong in Dorchester County.

     August 17, 1889 – Edward Downes, who made a desperate attempt on Sunday evening to assault Miss Ida Booker, a young lady living near Church Hill, Queen Anne’s County, was captured Tuesday night at Townsend, Del. and lodged in Centreville Jail. He was caught by John Chapman, baggage master on the Queen Anne’s and Kent Railroad, who locked him in a freight car and conveyed him to Centreville.
      Jake Kilrain was arrested this morning and locked up, awaiting his removal to Mississippi on the requisition of Governor Lowry. Jake’s wife wept bitter tears when he was arrested.

     December 14, 1889 – William Fisher, who was held for court on charge of theft, picked a hole in the wall on Saturday night and escaped jail. He has not been heard from since.

     April 18, 1891 – The case of the State versus Samuel Faulkner, charged with violating the local option law at a “lawn party” held last November, was taken up and the accused acquitted. There was, from the testimony in this case, a big time at Sam’s on the evening mentioned. Although a trifle unseasonable for lawn parties, it was shown that this was a great event at Quinine Hill. It was proven by two witnesses that he sold whiskey, and by several others, and Sam, that he didn’t. Judge Wickes was merciful and gave the prisoner the benefit of the “reasonable doubt.” Mr. Russum appeared for the prisoner and Mr. Lewis for the State.
      William McDaniel was then arraigned for selling whiskey on a campground near Ridgely, It was a clear case against Billy and he went to jail, there to remain sixty days in default of payment of a fine of $100 and costs. The prisoner’s counsel was Mr. Russum, Mr. Lewis appearing for the State.

     July 2, 1891 – Constable Williams on Monday last took James Flamer to the House of Correction, where he is to remain three months and do penance for fighting on Whitsuntide holiday and for resisting an officer who attempted to arrest him. Constable McHale, of Easton, assisted in the capture, and Judge Russum heard the case.
      At Union Camp, near Greensborough, last Sunday night, 19th inst., there was a general fight. Lizzie Harris got after Harriet Ann Green with a glittering razor and swore that she would make the wool fly. Lizzie had previously, according to Harriet’s story, stolen away the affections of Harriet’s husband. These tales of woe were told in Justice Hutson’s office on Wednesday last, and Lizzie had to go to jail for sixty days and pay $8.13 costs.
      Emma Smith, a small but incorrigible girl, was released from jail on Saturday. She had been locked up the day before for disturbing the peace.

     February 6, 1892 – William R. Ittner, convicted in the criminal court last week of assaulting his father with intent to kill, was sentenced to three years in the penitentiary. The son broke the stock and barrel of a gun over his father’s head.

     February 18, 1893 – One night last week a colored girl employed in Mr. W. T. Kelley’s household discovered some unknown colored man standing near the meat house. Mr. Kelley went out and called to the party, but got no answer. Mr. Kelly then went into the house and got his gun and fired at the fellow as he ran away. It is thought the marauder had a confederate and that they had chickens in view.

     July 15, 1893 – Mr. George Marvel, a Seventh Day Adventist, was fined $5 and costs by Justice Kerr, of Queen Anne, for working on Sunday.

     December 5, 1894 – Arthur E. Fowler pleaded guilty in District Court to the charge of using the United States mails in a scheme to defraud. He was arrested for advertising in the newspapers, stating that he would send a lady, on receipt of ten cents, a new improvement as a substitute for the obnoxious hatpin. When he received the money, he enclosed in an envelope two small rubber bands with instructions to fasten one end of a rubber to the hat and then pull it under the ear. After the facts were stated to Judge Nelson, he fined Fowler $50 and the costs of prosecution.

     July 2, 1898 – The town of Federalsburg was aroused on Saturday night about 10:30 by loud screams of “murder” and “help” from a resident near the old Davis Pond. A large crowd hurried to the spot to find it a false alarm, much to the relief of everyone. A woman alone in the house became alarmed at the rattling of a shutter and successfully raised the neighborhood.
     A deputy sheriff, several other officers and the owner of a horse, supposed to have been stolen from Harrison Price, a tenant on Gen. E. L. F. Hardcastle’s Lee Haven Farm, near Easton, searched for the animal three days, making trips to Baltimore, Queenstown, Denton and elsewhere and arresting two men suspected of being horse thieves, all without avail. On Tuesday, Mr. Price’s missing horse was accidentally found seven feet deep in an old, disused icehouse on Lee Haven. The horse was hungry but otherwise unhurt and was got up after much effort.

     September 24, 1898 – Dover thieves recently stole Rev. Alfred Smith’s hat and overcoat from the parsonage.
Smithville is just now infested with sneak thieves, and unless the town wants to have its fair fame sullied, a Journal correspondent suggests the citizens and house owners abandon their greed after a few cents and refuse to harbor people who are able to raise chickens from eggs in one night, and raise a corn crop on no land to feed the chickens with.
      Mr. R. G. Anklam was twice the victim of such people last week. On Wednesday night, tools valued at three dollars were stolen from his blacksmith shop, and on Saturday night his meat house was relieved of a ham. This thief was very considerate, for alongside the ham was half a shoulder. This was left, no doubt, because the thief was reluctant to leave Mr. Anklam altogether bereft of relish for his Sunday breakfast. Or it may have been that he was superstitious and was afraid the same fate might befall him, which overtook a kindred spirit last fall when he stole a ham and a piece of shoulder from the same party. This thief was pursued so closely that he had to hide his booty in a brush pile, where it was afterward discovered.
      In his charge to the Grand Jury of Cecil County, Judge Stump said the devil had been at work there for the past six months, and while His Satanic Majesty could not be reached, his agents could.

     February 4, 1899 – Benjamin Miller, a bad boy who says he is 18 years old, was some time ago expelled from Willoughby’s School. Subsequently, it is said, he met little Ira T. Wooters, aged 12, who had given information against him, and gave the lad a severe thrashing. Miller was arrested on Friday of last week by authority of Justice Hignutt, who heard the case on Saturday. The prisoner was fined one dollar and costs and sent to jail for ten days.
      Vinnie Harris, arrested for stealing twenty dollars and committed for court, was released from jail last week, and upon confession was sent to the House of Correction by Esquire Samis for nine months.
      Thomas R. Brown, who was twice tried for the murder of Samuel Raab over two years ago, is again in trouble. It will be recalled that at the first trial the jury failed to agree, and his case was removed to the Caroline Court, where he was acquitted. Since then he has led a nomadic life, wandering from place to place and shunned by a large majority of the people who knew him and his history. It was love that got him into trouble this time and not hatred and revenge as before.
      The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin gives the following account of his arrest: “‘I’ve loved Maggie for four years, and I just couldn’t keep away from her.’ Thus spoke Thomas R. Brown of Centreville, Md. Thomas had such a strong affection for pretty Margaret Coppage, of 113 Dawson Street, that he came all the way from his Maryland home to see her. Margaret isn’t fond of Thomas and had him arrested because, she says, he wouldn’t keep away from her.
     “When Brown was arrested by Patrolman Bradford, of the Manayunk Station, he admitted that he had been too persistent in his attentions to Miss Coppage but pleaded that his passion for this maid was so overwhelming that he was unhappy when she was beyond his ken.
     “The police are not always sympathetic in such cases, especially when the morose swain carries a loaded revolver. When Brown was searched after his arrest Wednesday night, he not only had a big pistol, but a bottle of suspicious looking medicine in his possession. The Manayunk police say they think that Brown’s arrest has averted a tragedy.
     “The prisoner was arraigned before Magistrate Thomas [on] Thursday and held on $5,000 bail, charged with carrying concealed deadly weapons.
     “Margaret Coppage testified that she could not leave her home without being followed and accosted by Brown. His conduct was a great annoyance to her and she was afraid of him.”
      Brown was sent to the Central Station, where the detectives wanted him to explain why he followed the girl with a loaded revolver in his pocket. The contents of the bottle that he carried will also be analyzed.
      The prisoner is twenty-seven years old. He told Lieutenant Irish that he met Miss Coppage four years ago. “I know she doesn’t care for me, but I could not be happy without her. I did wrong to annoy her and am sorry. I love her; that is my only excuse.”
      It is proper to state here that Miss Coppage is a member of one of the most prominent and respectable families of Queen Anne’s County. While she, no doubt, very much regrets the notoriety of the affair, she pursued the proper course in having this fellow Brown arrested.

     October 10, 1899 – A colored man named Brooks has been sent to the House of Correction for six months by Justice Smith of Ridgely. Brooks raised a great row at Trinity a few nights before while a cakewalk was in progress.

     August 25, 1900 – Detective Hutchins, of Delaware, went to Hurlock a few days ago and arrested Harrison Bayley, charged with attempting to wreck a train. On Wednesday night a railroad tie was put across the track just below Hurlock Station. Train No. 391 struck the tie and carried it down the track nearly three hundred feet. Had the train been going fast, the tie would have thrown it off the track and probably killed or injured many people. Bayley was lodged in Cambridge Jail in default of bail.
       A special dispatch from Atlanta, Ga. on Wednesday last says: “Dr. H. M. Wilkinson, the Dover eloper, left for that place tonight under escort of Detective McVey, of Wilmington. For several days Dr. Wilkinson has been awaiting the arrival of the detective with impatience and was rapidly getting to the pass where he did not care what happened to him. This spirit of apathy was visible when he was asked if he would return to Dover without a requisition. To this proposition he turned a ready assent, and when tonight’s southern train left Atlanta, it carried Detective McVey and the prisoner.”
      Wilkinson denies that he hypnotized Miss Packard. She is now under the care of relatives in Philadelphia.

     October 6, 1900 – Dr. H. M. Wilkinson and miss Josephine Packard, the Dover elopers, are in Buffalo, N. Y., where Wilkinson has opened a drug store.

     May 10, 1902 – Upon having been released from Trenton Penitentiary last Friday, W. N. Boggs, former teller of the First National Bank of Dover, said to a reporter: “It’s not a hard thing to steal from a bank. What I did can be done by any bookkeeper left in charge of the books every day in the week. The banking regulations need to be changed so as to change bookkeepers at irregular intervals and to keep every employee out of the bank for at east forty-eight hours at unannounced periods. I am starting life anew without money.”

     While trying a case, Judge Gould noticed after two hours had gone by that there were only eleven jurors in the box. “Where is the twelfth?” he asked.
     “Please you, judge,” said one of the eleven, “he is gone home on some business, but he has left his verdict with me.”

You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com