Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Unknown Murder Mystery

Amid the crises and chaos -- oh my! -- I've been working on a post that could be called "creative nonfiction" about the murder of my mother's grandfather Joe in 1904.

Until recently, I knew nothing at all about it. I'm not sure my mother knew anything about it, either. The only mention I recall she made of her grandfather -- ie: her mother's father -- was that he died years before she was born, and she thought it was in an accident of some kind. But she didn't know.

She did remember Ida, Joe's widow, mother of Edna, my mother's mother. Ida always wore black, she was stern, and she was the matriarch of the house of women my mother was born into in 1911.

The newspaper articles about Joe's murder are pretty juicy, including plenty of salacious details, some gore, and statements from witnesses. My my, "Shorty," as he was called, was quite a character and so was Ella, his mistress/murderess.

In my research prior to discovering the murder story, I found a number of curiosities about Joe that I was unable to resolve, but there are some indications from this murder story about what was going on that are kind of astonishing when I think about it.

At some point, possibly around 1890 -- not long after Edna's birth -- it appears that Joe and Ida separated. I've found Joe apparently living with his mother Eliza, not with Ida. But I also found another Joe (we'll call him "Hastings" because that's one of the aliases he used) living elsewhere. On occasion, there were as many as three "Joes" -- that I suspect were all the same person -- living in different places in Indianapolis.

Then in 1904, the year "Shorty" was killed, Joe is listed as living at the same address as Ida, and someone  named "Francis J" is listed as living at Joe's mother's address. In other years, there is a "Joseph F" listed at Joe's mother's place, and Joe is not listed at Ida's -- except in the 1900 census, in which he is also listed at his mother's address. I'm pretty sure now that "Francis J," "Joseph F," and "Joseph M" are all the same person listed at different times. I have found no listing for "Joe Hastings" however.

Ella -- Joe's mistress/murderess -- and her husband Frank apparently knew Joe as "Joe Hastings." I suspect that Joe used the name "Francis J" sometimes when he was listed at his mother's house because of Frank Hicks, his mistress's husband. How drôle. They were apparently friends, as the newspaper report of the murder indicates that prior to the deed, Frank had invited Joe to stay for lunch with him and Ella.

From all accounts, Joe was a frequent visitor and had been visiting Ella and Frank for at least two years before the murder.

Ella claimed that she did Joe's washing. That's all. And that's why Joe came over as often as he did. But apparently neighbors knew that Joe and Ella were having an affair. Whether Frank knew, I don't know. I suspect he did.

These sorts of things weren't as unusual in the late Victorian era as we've been led to believe. In fact, casual couplings and long term affairs were pretty routine -- and from what I can tell, they were often accepted with little or no complaint or even much notice. Men and women both had affairs, though women (married or not) were at greater risk for consequences when they did.

I'd say such things are less usual these days than they were then.

In doing this research, I found that Ida -- Joe's wife, my mother's grandmother -- gave birth to her son Ralph more than a year before she married Joe. Oops. This wasn't all that unusual either, but still...

It gives rise to speculation: was Joe Ralph's father? Maybe, maybe not. About 18 months after Joe and Ida were married, my mother's mother Edna was born. Not long after that, as far as I can tell, Joe and Ida separated, and Ida, with her children, went back to live with her parents.

Ida's father, John, died in 1902; her mother Mariah Louisa died in 1908. After Ida moved back to her parents' home, she lived there with various relations. Then after her parents died, she lived there with her widowed sisters, her children, and eventually her granddaughter Virginia, my mother.

So from what I can tell, Ida was more or less independent after separating from Joe. But she did not divorce him, and after his death she staged a big funeral for him at her house and led the cortège to the cemetery a couple of miles away. From that day forth, she asserted she was Joe's widow, and she always dressed in black.

Ida also attended Ella's trial -- as the Wronged Widow Woman. Ella was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I don't know what happened to Frank, or if Ella and Frank had any children. I've found no record of either of them except for the reports of Joe's murder.

It appears that Ida inherited property from her parents -- quite a lot of it if newspaper reports of her property sales are any indication. She was arguably quite well off from these sales. On the other hand, she claimed to be employed as a seamstress. From what my mother remembered of Ida, which wasn't a lot as my mother and her mother left the household in 1917 when my mother was only five years old, she was strict and stern, and I got the impression my mother didn't like her much, perhaps she was afraid of Ida.

Of course she wouldn't have known Joe, and I doubt she heard much about him. If, as I suspect, Joe and Ida separated not long after Edna's birth, then I doubt Edna had a lot of contact with her father, and she was probably much closer to her grandparents, but I don't know.

So much I don't know.

"Creative nonfiction" is about the only way I can deal with what I'm discovering, too.

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