The Mayor Pays His Debt

Samuel McCue

The citizens of Charlottesville harbored a love-hate relationship with their former mayor and municipal court judge J. Samuel McCue. While Sam did have friends and admirers, for the most part local feelings tended toward an intense and passionate dislike.
(Note: Because this story involves several people with the surname McCue, I will refer to the subject of this story by his first name for clarity.)
In 1904, Samuel McCue, 45, was a ruthlessly successful attorney in Virginia specializing in debt collection and domestic relations cases. He had been a powerful mayor for three terms and sat on the bench of the municipal court where he was known for his unyielding tough-on-crime stance.
Gossips around the courthouse were convinced that Sam had the largest loan portfolio of any member of the county bar association, but some clients suspected he was financing his sideline business with their money in the form of collected, but undeclared, debt payments. One published account reflected the commonly held belief that Sam’s professional duties provided him with a hold over some of the community’s leading citizens who might have over-extended themselves financially, legally or romantically.
Lesser known generally, but also a dangerous activity on his part, Sam was a philanderer.
Any of these actions makes accumulation of enemies almost a certainty.
After his execution, the Bluefield (Maryland) Daily Telegraph — perhaps the only newspaper in the area that did not support the verdict — speculated that Sam’s reputation had more than a little to do with his conviction.
“There was another thing that worked to his undoing. He was a man of overbearing disposition, and hated the poor and the humble with lofty disdain and frequently with insulting demeanor,” an editorial in the newspaper read. “When the first breath of suspicion came, these people fanned it into a flame.”
The Daily Telegraph did not comment on the fact that the jurors were brought in from various locations around the state — Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Warrenton and Richmond) and were unaffected by the local mood immediately after the crime.
In the end, Sam reaped the same kind of justice that he sowed after he killed his 42-year-old wife, Fanny, in a violent frenzy. For his crime he died on the gallows in February 1905.
At the turn of the 20th century, the McCue clan — Sam, along with his brothers Judge Edward O. McCue and Dr. Frank McCue and various kin created by decades of marriages among the elite — was among Albermarle County’s leading families.
“The McCues have always been prominent in Albermarle, exhibiting on all occasions positive and masterful dispositions in the conduct of their affairs,” according to The McCue Murder: Complete story of the crime and the famous trial published by reporters James H. Lindsay and John S. Patton shortly after the case reached its conclusion.
According to the book — a pamphlet, really — the McCue family fortune came from its large farming and cattle operation. Sam McCue was educated on the farm by a private tutor, later entering a prep school which led to a study of the law at nearby University of Virginia.
Sam maintained at best a gentleman’s C average until he left school to learn the law directly from those who practiced it, Lindsay and Patton wrote.

It is not likely that he took to books from a love of letters, but with the well-defined purpose to make use of his attainments as an asset in getting along in the world. The sparkling of the cadmean waters did not tempt him to deep and frequent draughts, and when he hung out his shingle as a young lawyer in 1884, his academic achievements and legal attainments were probably unattested by parchments.

Diplomas or not, Sam quickly established himself as an aggressive and skilled legal collections enforcer for local businesses. One client said “I turned over to him accounts I failed to collect, no matter how urgently I sought payment. Invariably, Sam McCue got the money.”
Those who were pursued by McCue cursed his name and sang a ditty that summarized their feelings: “Maunfra, maunfra, what’ll I do/To keep out o’ the hands of Sam McCue.
The attorney entered politics and was elected alderman in 1888, serving in that position until 1894. His first run for the mayoralty resulted in a third-place finish but Sam’s second try was successful. After he defeated the incumbent who had trounced him previously rumors of Sam’s stranglehold over some of the town fathers began to surface.
Sam’s draconian presence on the municipal bench prompted the citizens to amend the city’s charter, creating a city police court with an elected judge and stripping the mayor of judicial duties.
He served two terms as mayor before a failed run for the judgeship of the newly created Police Court. In that race Sam faced off against his brother, Edward, who beat him handily.
Based on the character sketch of Judge McCue in The McCue Murder, it is easy to see why voters chose Edward over Sam:
“Samuel McCue had been a hard man,” wrote one contemporary reporter summarizing Sam’s murder case. “He had sent scores to jail, and had seldom tempered justice with clemency. Many who were the recipients of his justice insisted that the quality of his mercy was badly strained.”
Regarding Edward, the authors had high praise.
“It is no exaggeration to say that there has never been a better administrator of justice in any petty court than Justice McCue,” said the authors. “Even the people whom he convicts love him for his moderation and just findings.”
In 1902 Sam was reelected to the mayor’s office. When Fannie was killed, he had just retired from that position to concentrate on his private practice and his position as deacon of the local Presbyterian church.

The Crime

Fannie McCueThe crime that put the noose around Sam’s neck began after he and Fannie returned home from a Sunday night service at the Presbyterian Church where Sam was a deacon.
“The McCues were a church-going people,” a retrospective on the crime published the day after the ex-mayor’s execution the Harrisburg (Virginia) Daily News reported. “Deacon McCue invariably sat well to the front in the sacred auditorium, and Mrs. McCue, always looking trim, sat primly at his side.”
Later, witness after witness would recount how the McCues appeared to be quarreling and did not, as was their custom, walk to their pew together. Sam explained this away as a red herring caused by an ill-timed bathroom break on his part.
Following the service the husband and his wife of nearly 20 years walked home together in silence.
“Mrs. McCue’s manner, as afterward testified to in court, appeared depressed and preoccupied, failing to observe or respond to the greetings of friends who they passed on the way,” the The Daily News told its readers.
It was only a few minutes after the couple entered their home and closed the door that Dr. Frank McCue came running to the house clutching his medical bag and a pistol. Charlottesville beat cop Daniel C. Grady was close behind him. Something was very wrong behind the doors of the mansion on Park Street.
There were plenty of people strolling down the exclusive thoroughfare where the McCues lived, and many, alerted by the hubbub, turned from walkers to gawkers.
“In a few minutes a piece of news — startling, horrifying news — spread with the rapidity with which bad news alone seems to travel,” according to one contemporary report. “Crowds hurried to the McCue home to learn the worst, and how it had happened.”
The worst” was the brutal murder of Fannie McCue; how “it” happened was proven in court to have been at the hands of ex-Mayor Sam McCue. The “why” — motive — was disagreement over Sam’s infidelities.
Exactly what transpired in the upstairs of the McCue home on September 4, 1904, that led to Fannie’s death is unclear; Sam gave a number of statements that were variations on a theme, but with enough differences regarding important details that make deconstructing the events connected to the crime difficult.
Other witnesses gave strong statements that incriminated the ex-mayor but later recanted them on the stand.
Sam’s testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest was the only version of events he gave under oath. It is not too lengthy, the relevant parts are included here, and — as Sam admitted later in the shadow of the noose — is a complete fabrication.
It begins with the couple in their bedroom, preparing for bed.

I picked up a paper, reading the last Council proceedings, and I think Mrs. McCue was undressing in the meantime and talking about the affair. She laid her clothes on a chair. I had gone over to my chiffonier and took my coat off and my collar and negligee shirt.
I was standing at my buffet and I noticed some figure moving toward me. I think I rushed over towards the gun which stands in the corner — we keep it there — and that is all I remember. I think I must have been unconscious after that. He and I had a scuffle. I am pretty positive he was a white man, a kind of dirty white man. I think his beard was out a little.
…I could not say which door he came through, for my back must have been to the door. It seems to me I heard a sound, when he came in, some sound of a click like. I do not know how long after this sound before he came in.
I do not know if he had anything in his hand, but possibly he did.

mccue home mapDr. McCue testified at the inquest and his brother’s trial about what he found when he reached his brother’s home.
He said he received a call from his brother about 9:15 p.m.
“Come down here,” the doctor remembers his brother saying. “Someone has knocked me senseless and I think has murdered Fannie.”
When Dr. McCue got to the scene, he found that Sam was “dazed and could not give a good account of himself.”
“Arriving, I found the front door ajar and went directly upstairs,” he testified at trial. “I saw my brother’s wound when I got to the hall, blood was dripping to his undershirt. One hand was pressed to his head.”
Dr. McCue said his brother was incapable of providing any assistance due to his head wound.
“Go on. Go and find Fannie,” Sam told his brother. “Go and find Fannie.” Sam pushed his brother in the back toward the stairs.
Entering the second floor, Dr. McCue said he smelled the odor of burnt gunpowder and heard the sound of running water from the bathroom.
The bathroom was dark; he turned up a gas burner and in the flickering light he saw Fannie McCue dressed in a nightgown, bent backward over the tub. Her head was submerged. The running water had washed away most of the blood from Fannie’s body and diluted some of the blood stains on her gown, but there was a great deal of blood ringing the tub. A bloody baseball bat lay on the floor of the bathroom.

Wounds, Fatal and Otherwise

Dr. McCue was quickly joined by two other physicians, Charles S. Venable and Emmett Early, who removed Fannie’s body from the tub and carried it to her bedroom.
Venable and Early examined the dead woman’s wounds. It was clear that the struggle had been violent.
The lace at the collar of her nightgown was torn away. Her right ear had been struck with a blunt instrument — presumably the bat — hard enough that it split her outer ear in half. She suffered a small laceration on her nose, which Venable said had bled profusely. One of her fingernails was bent nearly at a 90-degree angle, evidence Fannie fought with her killer.
The doctors agreed that at least one wound was inflicted post-mortem.
“The third wound was a small transverse wound on the back of the head, but it gave out little blood,” Venable said in testimony confirmed by Early. “I concluded that that wound happened afterwards. I believe it would be produced by falling with her head back and hitting the bath tub.”
But neither the head wound nor submersion in the tub was the cause of death. That came from a shotgun fired at close range.
“There were powder marks right in the wound; it was black,” Venable testified at trial. “Leather wadding was taken from the spinal column.”
The examination revealed the shot had gone downward and front to back, the slug destroying several ribs, which in turn stopped it from passing completely through the body.
“There was a great deal of disorganized blood in the cavity,” Venable said. “We turned the corpse over, which caused blood to pour out.”
The consensus among physicians was that Fannie could not have been shot and been able to get to the tub afterwards.
“Death from a gunshot wound like Mrs. McCue would result almost instantaneously,” Early testified. “The person would drop in his tracks after receiving such an injury.”
Dr. McCue was the only one of four physicians who testified about a wound on Sam’s cheek who said he saw it bleeding. His story, however, changed from the inquest to the trial with Dr. McCue increasing the severity of the wounds. At the inquest Dr. McCue referred to the wound on his brother’s cheek as bleeding. At trial, however, he testified that he “saw his nose was bleeding. Blood was oozing from his nose; I saw it. After any injury to the head we often look for bleeding from the nose. It is one of the symptoms we carefully observe.”
Another doctor who examined Sam the day after the murder said the wound was not serious.
“I have most frequently seen it on football players who have been scraped on the ground,” said Venable. “I don’t think the wound on McCue’s face was such a one as would indicate an injury sufficient to cause unconsciousness.”
The fourth doctor who saw Sam at the crime scene gave a much different account of the wound.
“I saw what seemed to be a scratch on Mr. McCue’s right cheek bone,” said Dr. Hugh T. Nelson. “The wound seemed to be very slight. It was like a child had scraped his knee on the ground.”
He soundly rejected Dr. McCue’s belief that it was an assailant carrying a sand-filled cosh who killed Fannie and rendered Sam unconscious. Unlike Dr. McCue, Nelson had seen injuries caused by blackjacks.
“A blow on the cheek to have produced unconsciousness would have produced discoloration and a ‘puffing up,'” he said. “Unless done with the fist, it would almost certainly have fractured the jaw bone. It probably would have caused some vomiting and would have a tendency to make the pulse slow.”
Sam failed to exhibit any symptoms of a closed-head injury in the time following the murder.

A Possible Fall Guy?

While the doctors were examining Fanny’s corpse, Officer Grady was searching the house for evidence. What he saw did not provide much support for Sam McCue’s version of events.
Grady found no signs of a struggle in any room, and no evidence of a crime anywhere except in the bathroom. A blood-stained baseball bat was on the floor near the corpse, and McCue’s shotgun, a Winchester pump, was found outside the bathroom door, an empty No. 6 shell in a chamber.
Briefly burglary was considered the motive, but that was quickly discarded. Nothing was taken from the home, it was early in the evening on a Sunday and was still light out. Only the most foolhardy thief would have committed a break-in under those circumstances.
One scenario that did interest investigators was the chance that one of the ex-mayor’s many enemies came to collect a debt of his own.
In short order two witnesses came forward with information that around the time of the murder a white man ran up to the home occupied by Judge Edward McCue and knocked violently on the front door. The man waited about 30 seconds then ran across the street to Sam’s house.
“The few minutes which elapsed between this incident and the announcement of the crime at Sam McCue’s may have been sufficient for the accomplishment of the tragedy,” reported the Daily News.
Although never conclusively shown, the state’s theory is that the witnesses saw another concerned citizen alerting Judge McCue to the events across the street. No one ever identified the man or came forward to acknowledge the act.
Owing to his position on the bench and his brother’s time as judge, Edward McCue theorized that someone who previously appeared in dock came to settle accounts.
“(The judge) had in mind a man whom he and his brother had caused to be punished more than once for misdemeanors, and it was understood that this man was very resentful toward them,” read the article in the Daily News. “His brother’s description of the man who assaulted him fitted this one as well as any other.”
Edward theorized that the man — Leslie Marshall — planned to eliminate the two McCue brothers “in one grand performance.”
Marshall recently appeared before Judge McCue and was punished for public drunkenness. The crime not only resulted in a fine, but because Marshall violated an order “to be on good behavior” handed down by Sam McCue when he was municipal court judge, Marshall forfeited a bond.
Beyond his ill feelings toward the McCue brothers, Marshall had a strong reason to hate the ex-mayor with a vengeance: Sam McCue was not only the divorce lawyer for Marshall’s wife 22-year-old Hattie, Sam and his client were lovers.
But it would have been nigh impossible for Leslie Marshall to have a better alibi for the time of Fannie’s murder: He was in church with his mother.
“Well for him that he had an alibi so easily and perfectly established,” an anonymous wire service reporter wrote. “If he had been arrested and brought to Charlottesville charged with the murder of Mrs. McCue he would have been in grave danger, even if he had not been lynched.”
Marshall struck back against his accusers by sharing his own theory of the crime — or at least his potential involvement in it.
“He did not hesitate to charge that there was a conspiracy in which (his) wife was involved to connect him with the crime — and that the conspiracy antedated the murder by at least two days,” read a wire story in the Burlington (Iowa) Evening Gazette
Hattie MarshallHattie Marshall filed for divorce in August and moved from the family home in Earleysville, a town about 10 miles from Charlottesville, where she took up residence.
Speaking to reporters who smelled a story, Leslie Marshall said two days before the crime Hattie sent him a “long gossipy and affectionate letter” urging him to come to her on Monday morning — the morning after the murder.
“I wish you could arrange it so you could come to town Monday,” she wrote. “I will give you money to pay your way to Proffitt’s (the railway station closest to Earleysville). If you could come early Monday morning and go back Monday eve, that would be the very thing.”
Despite his hopes that Hattie wanted to reconcile, Marshall was unable to make it to Charlottesville on Monday, appearing there on Tuesday. He was disappointed by the reception.
A wire story that received play across the country, reported that “his wife received him coldly, he said, and refused to make up.”
According to the article, when Marshall questioned his soon-to-be ex-wife why she summoned him, her response was chilling.
“Her reply was that for a few hours after the murder he was under suspicion and she wanted him to come clear himself. ‘How was it, then, that you wrote to me before the crime?’ was his next question, the answer to which was not reported.”
It should be noted that the Marshalls were involved in a most-contentious child custody issue, with Leslie attempting to get custody of two of the couple’s three children. To the youngest he denied paternity and wanted nothing to do with it. Once the investigation zeroed-in on Sam McCue, the theory that there was any kind of murder plot involving Marshall as the fall-guy was not pursued.
Hattie strongly repudiated any improper relationship with her divorce lawyer, although evidence introduced at his trial indicated they had a rendezvous in Washington, D.C., over Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the murder. It was apparently the second time Fannie confronted her husband over this particular infidelity. The first was shortly before her murder when she said she “found him locked in with another woman, and when he came to the door he looked ‘sheepish,'” was how her brother recalled the incident.
Letters Hattie sent to Sam while he was awaiting trial show that their relationship was intimate, but there was never any indication she was a participant in the crime.
When the evidence failed to support the revenge theory, Sam McCue became the primary suspect.
He was arrested for the crime the day after his wife’s funeral. Sam’s brother recused himself from the bench when the police applied for the arrest warrant, so he would not have to sign it.

A Perfect Hell

For those in the McCue inner circle — particularly those from Fannie’s family — the crime almost came as no surprise given the terrible state of the marriage.
Sam McCue, much of the testimony at the murder trial revealed, was as tough on his wife as he was on debtors. One witness called for the defense admitted on cross-examination that Sam McCue recently told him his domestic life was not a happy one.
“‘My life here on Earth for the past four or five years has been a perfect hell,'” quoted lawyer John S. White, who had worked with Sam McCue on legal issues. White recalled Sam said Fannie was “the most jealous woman I had ever known.”
Her brother, Ernest Crawford, also an attorney, boarded at the McCue home between 1899 and 1901 and testified that “It was the most unhappy couple I ever saw.”
“The quarrels were always about other women,” he testified. “I never saw him kick or strike her, but have heard him curse her in the most violent manner repeatedly.”
Willie McCue, 17, one of the four McCue children, reportedly said his parents fought like cats and dogs. To police investigators and before the Coroner’s jury, Willie not only confirmed what his parents fought, but said near-homicidal violence had occurred in his presence.
“For the past three or four years it has been a perfect hell on earth,” Willie said. “My father and mother lived like cats and dogs.”
Willie told Detective Alfred Baldwin that he recently had to protect his mother from an enraged Sam who was chasing her with a pistol. He said that his father threatened his life when he became involved.
N.R. Martin, a jailer, testified to to a conversation he overheard between Willie and his father about the event.
“You know what Crawford said about my drawing a pistol on your mother is not true,” Sam said.
“Yes it is,” Martin recalls Willie as responding. “You know she ran and got in my bed and asked me to defend her.”
“Didn’t Mrs. McCue have the pistol?” Sam asked.
“How could she have had the pistol when she ran and got in bed with me?” Willie shot back.
Willie made his claims in sworn testimony, as well as in repeated interviews with police, conversations with relatives on both sides of the family and in multiple letters to his maternal aunt, and was considered so reliable that he was included on the prosecution’s list of witnesses.
In a letter to his maternal aunt Willie described his position.


Aunt Sallie, I am fighting one of the greatest battles now. I am among all my father’s people, and they, of course, wonder why I took such a step in this case, but I am going to do what I think is right…I will never be in worse trouble than this. I cannot sleep, and when I go to bed and wake up with the same trouble, I feel as though I cannot stand it.

On the stand during his father’s trial, however, Willie recanted what he could and denied what he couldn’t. When confronted with claims of other witnesses that he talked of the bad state of affairs between his parents, Willie simply said over and over: “No. I deny it emphatically.”
“Verily, it was a case of the quick or the dead! And the quick was the winner,” according to a report the day after Willie’s trial testimony. The writer waxed eloquently about his motivation for changing his story.

Mayhap the memory of the unhappy woman, upon whose grave the flowers hardly yet have withered, still touch the heart of the son, who was wildly hysterical on the night she perished by an assassin’s hand. And mayhap he will never forget the wretched but tender little woman who one ran to him, then a mere stripling, for protection from her husband. But the living are even stronger than the dead; the present from the absent. Not ten feet from the witness chair where you William sat gleamed the metallic blue eyes of his father, boring into the very heart of the son like an augur of steel. Those cold blue eyes have subdued others. Yesterday they subdued young William McCue.

Because Willie was considered a hostile witness, the prosecution was allowed to impeach his testimony.
“On 14 important matters he was been contradicted by independent witnesses. I do not count the detectives,” said Col. Micah Woods, one of the prosecution team in his summation. Woods accused the McCue clan of exerting undue influence on the boy.
“He perhaps was told that his father was standing on the scaffold near the trap door, and that if he were to repeat what he told…he would spring the trap and would send his father to his death,” Woods orated. “I think that what he may have done in this case should provoke sorrow and pity rather than abuse and vituperation.”

Witnesses Tell What They Know

But the prosecution had other witnesses who could and would share what they saw and heard on the night of the murder.
The first witness was coachman Charles A. Skinner, who was employed by a neighbor of the McCues and whose room was close enough to their house to hear crying and screaming around the time of Fannie’s murder.
Skinner said the screaming went on for several minutes until he heard a single gunshot. Watching from his window that overlooked the McCues’, Skinner saw Dr. McCue and Officer Grady arrive on the scene.
More important to the prosecution’s case was the testimony of 17-year-old John Perry, a houseboy in the McCue home.
On the night of the murder Perry, whose room was adjacent to the bathroom, testified that he heard Fannie being beaten, and fleeing to the bathroom, begging for her life until the fatal shot was fired. On the stand, like Willie McCue, Perry was loathe to convict his boss. He changed his testimony between the inquest and the trial, backing away from his earlier statements that Fanny had been begging Sam not to kill her.
At the trial, Perry denied telling detectives that he heard Fannie from the bathroom say, “Oh, Sam, Sam, don’t kill me. I am going to die anyhow.”
Instead, Perry claimed he told the police she said: “Sam, Sam, he is killing me!”
Although Perry could hear the assault, he was powerless to help — the servants’ quarters door to the second floor of the house was always locked. The servants were expected to use the back stairs which led to the kitchen.
The prosecution explained away the servant’s recantation by positing that Perry, was a black man concerned for his position with the McCues, and so denied he ever implicated his employer.
The prosecutors introduced a written statement from Willie McCue drafted the morning after the murder — before Willie had a change of heart — where Perry provided a more detailed version of events.

I said “John, I want you to tell me just what you heard.” The first thing he said was “You know last night I was afraid to tell those gentlemen on Mr. McCue. I heard him slap her first because I got up and put my head out the window. Then it sounded like he was hitting her and thumping. Then I head him choke her and heard her like she was strangled. She said, “Sam, you out not to treat me like this. I promise not to do it again.”

The only physical evidence indicating that Sam had been involved in any crime was his wet shirt that bore signs of diluted blood on the cuffs. The blood was perhaps the most important clue because Sam claimed from the beginning that he had not seen Fanny after he regained consciousness. Sam never touched Fannie’s corpse or the bathtub, in fact, he never went into that room during the post-crime investigation. Thus, blood could only have gotten there because Sam was the killer, the prosecution argued.
The shirt was taken by Dr. McCue and placed in the laundry. It was rescued before it was washed, and Dr. McCue denied that he was trying to hide it.
A baseball bat covered in blood was assumed to be the weapon that Sam used to beat his wife to the point where her ear was nearly severed. There was some testimony that the day following the murder Fannie’s throat showed signs of strangulation, but there was no proof that the marks on her neck were put there by the killer — the discoloration may have been caused by her submersion in water or were simply signs of decomposition. On the other hand, strangulation marks on her neck could account for the wet, bloody cuffs on Sam’s shirt.
Some of the most interesting rhetoric was reserved for the summation of lead defense attorney John L. Lee, who compared Fannie McCue’s murder to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Gentlemen, what was the most important event in all the history of the world? Was it not the scene enacted upon Calvary, when Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, gave up his life for humanity…I trust that you will receive what I saw with reverence for this Holy Book upon which you have already taken your oath. The life and liberty of a man is at stake, and only in this crisis do I venture to use the inspired words to save him.
Now, gentlemen of the jury, are you prepared to say that the main fact of the crucifixion did not occur because four different accounts of it, written by the saints themselves, differ — and differ radically?

His eloquence in trying to make McCue into a martyr was unsuccessful. After enough time to make it look like they were seriously deliberating, jurors convicted Sam McCue for the murder of his wife. He was sentenced to hang.
After the sentencing was over and the jury had been dismissed, one juror approached Sam and extended his hand.
“You have done me a great injustice,” Sam said.
“That rested with you,” said John A. Traylor of Richmond. “I did my duty as I saw it.”

A Debt is Settled

After two unsuccessful appeals and fruitless request for clemency from an old political comrade, McCue resolved himself to his fate. He became quite religious and eventually confessed to his crime. Publicly, Sam’s confession sought to put the blame on some unnamed “evil power” for the crime and and he denied that anyone else was involved.
Three of his ministers released a statement that McCue “did not wish to leave this world with suspicion resting on any human being but himself. That he alone was responsible for the deed, impelled by an evil power beyond his control; and that he recognized that his sentence was just.”
Privately, Sam confessed that he and Fannie started arguing after his return from Washington and that she had picked up again while they were changing for bed.
Enraged, he struck Fanny in the face and she responded in kind, giving him a slight raspberry on the cheek. They began fighting violently.
She picked up the baseball bat which she brought into the house for protection. He wrestled it from her and began beating her with it. She fled to the bathroom where she had been running water for her bath. Sam followed her, exchanging the bat for his shotgun.
As Fanny knelt on the bathroom floor and pleaded for mercy, Sam pointed the shotgun at his wife and pulled the trigger. The force of the shot pushed her back into the tub. He did not address the issue, but the theory is that Sam’s shirt got wet and covered with blood as he attempted to strangle or drown her before using the shotgun.
He then attempted to cover up the crime with a burglary claim, later changed to a killing motivated by revenge.
At dawn on February 10, 1905, a calm and composed ex-Mayor Sam McCue ascended the gallows and paid his debt to society in full.

The Body in the Baggage

Francis Ballem

There is a curious subset of homicide called “trunk murder” that never fails to fascinate some of us who follow this sort of thing: The murderer commits the crime and for some reason thinks the best way to dispose of a body is to put it into a suitcase or traveller’s trunk and leave the proof of the corpus delicti in the left luggage room.
Sometimes the body is left intact, but frequently investigators are presented only with portions of the body and are left to wonder where the rest of their victim may be stored. The method has fallen upon disfavor among killers these days as unattended luggage often attracts the unwanted interest of police quite quickly. Back when people traveled by train, however, trunk murders were relatively common.
In April 1954 Philadelphia joined Paris, Los Angeles, Brighton, England, and who knows how many other cities where bodies in the baggage have been discovered when the decomposing body parts of a man were found in boxes wrapped in several rain coats and stuffed into a green-and-black, brass-trimmed footlocker. The trunk was found at the Sharon Hill trolley station on Chester Pike and Brainerd Boulevard outside of Philadelphia.

n.b.Philly residents, ghouls and tourists: the trolley stop is now a light rail station and it looks as if the original building is still there.

The footlocker was first noticed at the stop around 7 a.m. on April 27, 1954, by trolley operator Benjamin Bowers. About 90 minutes later another operator called his dispatcher to report the unusual abandoned luggage and police were summoned.
Unfortunately, according to the Chester (PA) Times, “the message became garbled in transmission and the police looked for a truck instead of a trunk.”
At 3:45 p.m., a patrolman who was just wrapping up school traffic duty was dispatched to pick up the trunk, which was brought back to police HQ. At first the police were willing to let some civilians lead the investigation, the Times reports:

At police headquarters, Sharon Avenue and Spring Street, two youths helped carry the foot locker inside…The youths tried to open the trunk with hairpins, but this and other attempts failed. A locksmith, Lewis Santa, was called and he opened the foot locker after trying three skeleton keys.

Once it was opened, Sgt. William Malloy took charge of the trunk and and made the gruesome discovery.
“I felt a bundle and it seemed soft and fleshy,” he said, adding that once investigators detected the odor of decaying flesh, the trunk was moved to a cell where body parts of a 160- 165-pound white man who had been dead for some time were revealed.
The murderer had been prepared for the job. The two packages — the first contained the torso, and the other held the head, arms and hands — were wrapped in 5 plastic raincoats from which the killer had removed any tags. They were sealed shut with transparent tape and were held inside a cardboard box. The killer treated the inside of the raincoats with camphor flakes and powdered lime, investigators said, which would promote decomposition while reducing the stench somewhat.
The body, from slightly above the hips downward, was missing.
The autopsy revealed that the corpse, which at the time was believed to be that of a 60-year-old man, had been burned before it was dismembered; the right arm was particularly damaged, the report shows. The victim’s internal organs had been removed, “the lower jaw was destroyed and most hair had been eaten away by the lime,” the unusually graphic, above-the-flag article in the Times states.
“A few gray and black hairs were left on the head and several red hairs on the chest,” the anonymous reporter continues. “The dismemberment was described by (Delaware County Coroner Joseph) Tercha as “not that of an amateur.”
The article quotes Earle H. Allen, chief of detectives, as saying murder was “a definite possibility.” Allen was speaking tongue-in-cheek, but a quick survey of funeral parlors and the area hospitals to ensure that all other corpses could be accounted for was still necessary.
At first it looked like Allen would have his work cut out for him as the initial autopsy disclosed no bullet or stab wounds in the upper torso or skull and nothing indicating blunt force trauma.
“At this stage of our investigation we cannot determine how he met his death,” Allen told the press.
Not surprising, the autopsy was a particularly gruesome affair.
Medical examiner Dr. John Turner III said the victim was about 60 years old, 5-feet-7, between 160 and 170 pounds.
“All parts of the body had been burned,” he said. “The head and fingertips were so badly charred that they were almost unidentifiable.”
Turner eventually located a bullet wound caused by a .38-caliber pistol and assigned that as the cause of death. His autopsy made it clear that the victim was dead before the dismemberment began.
While some detectives were trying to identify the victim, others were tracking down the source of the brown carton which contained the body parts and the trunk, which appeared to be new. Other flatfoots canvassed the trolley line talking to anyone who rode that route, hoping for a break.
That break came the next day when an unidentified commuter told police he had seen a “studious-looking man with an alpine hat accompanied by a uniformed man” carrying a trunk at the trolley station. Cops posted the description in every taxi garage in the city and environs and soon veteran Yellow Cab driver Nanis Gaither came forward and said he picked up a fare in Philadelphia who matched the description. Gaither said the fare stopped at the man’s house in Sharon Hill where they loaded up the trunk. Gaither said he dropped the man at the trolley stop.
Gaither remembered the man quite clearly, not only because of the hat, but because his cab was third in line at the stand when the man walked up. The man passed over the first two cabs and asked Gaither to drive him to his home. When Gaither asked why the man did not pick one of the first cabs, he replied that he was “allergic to radios” and did not want to ride in a cab that was equipped with a two-way radio.
Meanwhile, evidence from the crime scene confirmed Gaither’s story: Police had discovered that a name and address matching the one where Gaither picked up the trunk were written on the cardboard box containing the victim’s head.
The house was identified as belonging to Francis X. Ballem, 28, a mechanic in an industrial plant. Ballem, while not known to police, was notorious in his neighborhood for his odd behavior. He had a fondness for alpine hats (the one you see on Germanic stereotype characters) and for quoting Shakespeare. He was not known to be violent, and was considered quite intelligent.
Police rushed to Ballem’s house and assuming they were dealing with a deranged killer, kicked in a window and entered that way. Although the house was described as cluttered and flithy, it was clear Ballem was trying to clean up signs of the crime. Trash was burning in the fireplace, and someone had tried to wash the blood from the living room floor. Ballem, however, was nowhere to be found.
When he heard the police bust in the window, Ballem had grabbed the suitcase containing the victim’s legs and abdomen and fled to the attic. When the searchers got to the attic, Ballem stood up with his hands raised, dressed only in his undershorts.
“Don’t shoot,” he said.
Sadly, no one today will be shocked in the same way the folks in the 1950s were when they found out about Ballem’s arsenal: “In the house were found five revolvers, a shotgun, a rifle, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, two black Halloween masks, a bullet-proof vest that comes in sections, and two modern-type gas masks. A safe deposit box yielded another two pistols and other articles,” wrote CTimes reporter Mitch Rosenfeld.
Now that they had their suspect in custody, the police were free to focus on learning the identity of the dead man. Ballem was little help in that regard except that he was able to describe him as “a man between 35 and 40 years old, with ruddy complexion, brown hair and employing good English.”
Again luck was on the side of the police when a missing persons report was filed by the restaurant where World War II veteran John Dopirak was working as a dishwasher.
Dopirak was a strange (his family said he was “addicted to dying his hair”) but harmless man who had flown bombing missions over Germany during the war and returned to Philadelphia where he was born and raised bearing a Purple Heart. His family said John, 35, was a “happy-go-lucky wanderer” who just never settled down. Following the war he worked occasionally as a merchant seaman, but it appeared from his police record that Dopirak had trouble with alcohol. He had a pair of convictions for disorderly conduct and public drunkeness.
Once police showed him a photograph of Dopirak, Ballem responded, “Oh, yes, that’s the man; I’ll never forget that smile.”
Dopirak’s brothers identified him from a scar on his forearm.
Ballem confessed to the crime almost immediately upon his arrest.
He had been living alone in the house for the past several years after his parents died and his wife left him, he said. According to his wife, who would later testify at Ballem’s trial, he became enraged when she informed him she was pregnant and told her he never wanted children. This, combined with his eccentric behavior, ended the marriage, but the divorce had not been finalized.
After Ballem’s wife left him he lived with his elderly parents until they died, leaving him the house, some other property in Philadelphia and $20,000 in liquid assets (in current dollars that’s almost $200k). The fact that Ballem’s parents died within months of each other piqued investigators’ interest at first, but their deaths were not suspicious.
Ballem told police he met John Dopirak at a bar and that they shared several drinks together.
After a long drinking bout where they bar-hopped around the city, the men decided to take a trip to New York City. Ballem said they went to his home so he could get clothes for the trip.
Ballem said he never intended to go to New York, but that going back to his home was a ruse for him to get Dopirak alone so he could rob him.
“I started going through his brown coat which was on the chair in the living room, for the purpose of finding his wallet which he had given me the impression was full of money,” Ballem told police. “I was very drunk but I knew what I was doing with reference to robbing this man of his money.”
Just at that time Dopirak walked into the room, and said: “I am going to kill you, you thieving…”
Ballem said he saw Dopirak going through his late mother’s jewelry and then pick up a gun from an open drawer, so he also picked up a gun and confronted Dopirak.
“Well, you asked for it,” Ballem said, pointing the pistol at Dopirak and pulling the trigger. He went over to check on the condition of his victim.
“I listened for a heartbeat and didn’t hear it,” Ballem said. “I didn’t want to hear it.”
He fixed himself another drink and then dragged Dopirak’s body to the basement where he removed all of the clothes, burning them in the incinerator.
Still drinking, Ballem, who was described by doctors as having a high IQ, did research in how to get rid of a murder victim.
He purchased lye and placed it on the hands and over the face, but it did not destroy the features. He then applied a blow torch, attempting to cut the body apart that way. After several hours he decided the torch was not working successfully and he went upstairs and got drunk all over again. After he sobered up, he cut up the body with a saw. He tried unsuccessfully to burn the cut up portions of the body, piece by piece, in the furnace. Then he flushed the ashes down the drain in his basement.
He then bought plastic raincoats and wrapped therein other portions of the body, some of which he placed in the trunk. Other parts he placed in a suitcase which he hid on the third floor of his home. He took other parts of the body, with the raincoats wrapped around them, and rolled them into a creek known as Naylor’s Run, Upper Darby, which was four or five blocks from his home.
Ballem then cleaned and re-loaded his gun so if it was found no one would know it had been recently fired.
Naturally, following his confession, Ballem was packed off to a psychiatric hospital for a plethora of tests. It took almost a year — during which Ballem had a tumor removed from his breast — for the shrinks to concur that Ballem was ready and able to assist in his defense.
Not surprisingly, Ballem’s defense was one of insanity, while the Commonwealth was going for the death penalty. Over the course of a one-month trial, witnesses testified to his mental state, and although there was obvious mental illness present, Ballem was not criminally insane. The jury convicted him of murder and he was sentenced to death.
The sentence was later commuted to imprisonment for life, which for Ballem ended in 1971.