On July 4, 1874, the Plattsburgh Republican newspaper reported the following:
A PROBABLE MURDER!
A Man Found Dead Under His Shed!
His Body Horribly Mangled!
Suspicions of Foul Play.
Sunday morning the citizens of this village were startled by the announcement, that Owen O’Neil, of Altona, had been
His wife, who was the first to make the discovery, about 5 o’clock a.m., found him under the shed of their house, lying jammed between the spring and wheel of his buggy wagon, with his feet on the ground and hat under the seat, and his left arm between the thills and the horse. His clothes were literally torn off, and the side on which he lay, the
FLESH WAS GROUND OFF TO THE BONE,
where is had chaffed against the spokes of the wagon as the horse moved toward home-a wound some ten inches long in the side, through which part of the intestines were to be seen-the upper part of the thigh bone, which makes a socket, was ground to powder, where it had rubbed upon the hub of the wagon. There was a wound of some five inches about the armpit, also deep seated, and several other bruises about the nose, legs, and body. A few hours after the discovery of his body, a
was held by O. Brewster, acting coroner, and Dr. J. M. Fulton, of Beekmantown, the jury after a hasty examination of the body, and taking the testimony of a few witnesses, rendered a verdict that the said "Owen O’Neil came to his death by the accidental falling into the wagon wheel, or by a blow or gash upon the head in some unknown way." A few hours after, a coffin was procured, and the victim of some foul outrage washed and dressed for the occasion and everything prepared for his burial.
. . . . the people of this town, and the town where the deceased lived ……for the hasty disposal of the case, and accordingly on Monday morning, Judge Beekwith and our District Attorney, H. E. Bernard, went to work at the case, and concluded that the action of the Coroner’s Inquest was not legal. Peter Lafountain, Coroner, was accordingly notified,
ANOTHER INQUEST ORDERED,
and accompanied by the District Attorney, Dr. A. S. Wolff, and Warren Dow, repaired to the late residence of the deceased, and made a thorough investigation of the facts. A jury was accordingly empanelled, and a post mortem examination of the body made by Dr. Wolff, assisted by Dr. Fulton, of Beekmantown. The examination revealed facts sufficient to suspect foul play.
THE FACTS ELICITED AND THE EXAMINATION,
were, that on Saturday, O’Neil had some business to transact at the National Bank, in this village. It was a legal holiday and he was unable to accomplish it. It is surmised, with some certainty, that he had considerable money with him. This he intended to ….. toward the payment of a note…… he wanted to keep, if he could make other arrangements for its payment to…. him in getting in his hay crop. O’Neil is seen in the village frequently during the day by many of our citizens and his own neighbors, perfectly sober until about half past nine or ten o’clock at night. At that hour
HE STARTS FOR HOME,
with his own horse and buggy, in company with a man by the name of Murry. They had proceeded as far as Cornelia Street, opposite the French Church, when O’Neil discovered that he had forgotten something, and was compelled to return to the village to get his parcel, and here Murry leaves him to go home afoot, while
O'NEIL RETURNS TO THE VILLAGE.
From that time, things are mixed. Later at night, and little north of Mr. Durand’s, on this Beekmantown road, before you enter the hollow near the old tannery, a buggy, drawn by a horse with a white face, is seen, containing three men, and they are having
A short time after this, and as the horse ascends the hill on the other side of the hollow, the neighbors are awakened from their slumbers by groans, as of someone
IN THE AGONIES OF DEATH,
and the theory prevails among many, that at this point, between the two hills in the hollow a deed of blood was committed. The
revealed wounds on the head, evidently made by a blunt instrument, which produced concussion of the brain, and stunned him, and he remained insensible until his death. His dying groans were heard along the road, almost the entire distance, from the time he was hurt until long after he left the turn in the road at Beekmantown Corners. His watch and pocket book were both gone, and up to this writing, no trace of them has been found.
The jury after reviewing the above facts, adjourned until Wednesday, at the Court House.
. . . . has been committed. It was at first currently reported that the deceased was drunk and fell from his wagon, and, being unable to extricate himself, died in that position. But in justice to him, be it said, that the examination revealed no traces of liquor whatever in his stomach.
At the time appointed Coroner came into the Court House, and took his seat. The People were represented by District Attorney H. E. Barnard.
THE LIST OF JURORS
was then called, and the following gentlemen answered to their names: Oramel Brewster, Foreman; W. C. McFadden, George Gillott, Thomas Lavin, Michael Shields, James Welch, Cornelius Hays, Lewis Robinson, Albert Richardson, Hiram Southwick.
A number of witnesses were, then examined by the Coroner. We shall not attempt to give the testimony in full, but simply allude at this time to such evidence as relates to the time and manner of this death, reserving other testimony for a future occasion.
corroborates very nearly what we have stated above. O’Neil was seen in this village up to 9 or 10 o’clock at night, that he had drank only one glass of ale and one of gin up to the time he left the village for his home in Altona, and that he was perfectly sober to all appearances . . . .
. . . . testines were visible—three cuts on the head, one about ¾ of an inch long and two smaller ones; -thought they might have been made by some cutting instrument—a stone would perhaps make such a wound, but thought a club would not. He said
made the post mortem examination of Monday - there was no smell of liquor in the stomach - on the right side of the head the blood was injected into the temple—he thought the wounds on the head were not made by the wagon wheel—there was nothing in the wagon that would make it—a very sharp cork on a horse’s shoe might make such a wound. His opinion was that such a wound would make a man insensible. There was no hole in his hat; the hat was found under the seat—thought he must have laid with his face down, with one arm over the crossbar of the thills. He thought the two glasses of liquor drank by O’Neil would have been detected in the stomach at that time.
AN AFFECTING SCENE.
Lawrence O’Neil, son of the deceased, was then brought in. He is a lad of fourteen years of age, and is a bright, intelligent boy, and gave his testimony in a clear and legible manner. He told the sad story of how he first found his father, with trembling lips and faltering tongue, and it was evidently with great difficulty that he could suppress the emotions of grief which swelled his young heart. During his testimony some present at the examination were moved to tears. The substance of his story was that he was called by his mother at an early hour, saying that the horse had returned, but his father had not come. (She at first only saw the back part of the wagon under the shed.) He hurriedly dressed himself and went down, and when he reached the shed his mother had partly extricated the body of his father, and was holding him up, with his legs between the wheels, and his feet on the ground; she told him to help her; he took hold of his father’s arm; his face was up; his body free from the wagon; he passed his hand gently over his forehead, and found it cold; his mother told him to go after his father’s brother; he felt of his pockets, but found nothing—the right pocket was all torn out.
THE JURY EXAMINED THE WAGON
in which O’Neil was found, and which was standing in front of the Court House. A large crowd of people were present, so that it was with difficulty that the jury could get near enough to make the examination. The investigation resulted in the jury finding the hub and spokes of the wheel worn perfectly smooth, where the body of the deceased, had chafed against them.
wife of the deceased, testified that she found her husband in the morning about 5 o’clock, in the position described about—jammed down between the spring of the wagon and the wheel—with his left arm over the cross-bar, between that and the horse, and his right hanging down. She said there was one other wagon track there—a fresh wagon track.
THE CLOTHES OF THE DECEASED
were then brought in and shown to the jury. They were covered with sand, mud, and blood—the shirts literally worn to shreds—the right side of the pants, coat, and vest, where they came in contact with the wheel, all worn off.
This much of the proceedings we give this week. The evidence, as taken by the Coroner, we withhold for a future day. The circumstances surrounding the whole transaction have left a general impression that a
FOUL AND FIENDISH MURDER
has been perpetrated by some one—but who that "some one" is cannot now be fully ascertained, and may never be. Experiments have shown that it is impossible to place any one in the position in which he was found, without extraordinary jamming and cramping of the body, and even then he would have to be fastened. The following
MEASUREMENT OF THE WAGON
will aid in forming an idea of the position the body was in and the space the body occupied when found:
From the spring to the cross-bar it is 8 inches; 8 inches from end of spring to the spokes in the wheel; 5 inches from thills to spokes; 13 inches from dashboard to cross-bar on thills; 13 inches from dashboard to box of the wagon, where there was any chance for his feet to catch, if he had fallen from the wagon accidentally; 13 inches from axietree to step on wagon; 33 inches from cross-bar on thills to ground; size of wheel, 3 feet and 8 inches.
The examinations before the Coroner on Thursday revealed nothing that would lead to the apprehension of the person or persons who were concerned in the death of Own O’Neil.
Dr. Wolff gave a detailed report of the post mortem examination. It was also ascertained that groaning and sounds, as if some one was in distress, were heard south of where they were first reported, near Durant’s, and as near the village of Z.C. Platt’s residence—showing that if they were those of O’Neil the distance which he rode in the condition in which he was found was much greater than above stated. Other evidence was given, showing that his feet were fastened between the wagon-box and reaches.
This article followed in a later edition of the paper:
THE TERRIBLE DEATH OF OWEN O’NEIL
He is Carried Eight Miles on a Wagon Wheel, and Ground to Pieces while Alive--A great Mystery--Suspicions of Foul Play
Last Saturday night and event transpired in Beekmantown which as the terrible details become known sends a thrill of horror throughout the community. Saturday morning, Mr. Owen O’Neil, residing on the old military turnpike, in the town of Altona, about six miles north west of Beekmantown Corners, left his home to go to Plattsburgh on business. He did not return before the family retired that night. Early the next morning, probably about 5:30 o’clock, Mrs. O’Neil arose, and going into the yard saw Mr. O’Neil’s horse and wagon standing under the horse-shed. On further inspection, imagine her horror at discovering the body of her husband, lifeless, mangled and distorted, almost a shapeless mass, dangling between the wagon box and the right forward wheel. His right side lay across the hub, his head hung between the thills and the wheel, his feet rested on the ground behind the wheel. It is supposed that previous to the horse’s turning to go into the yard, the man’s feet and legs were in the wagon box, the short turn at the gate throwing them out. Mrs. O’Neil with the aid of a son, a boy about 13 years, removed the body, when it was discovered that the wheel had worn off the clothes, the right side, extending from above the knee to near the shoulder. The hard oak spokes and hub of the wheel were much worn by the contact with the body, some of the spokes as much as an eighth of an inch deep. In common with many others we have examined the wheel, and at first it seemed almost impossible that such an effect could have been produced upon the wheel. But the facts fully substantiate the case.
But this is not the worst. Had the man come to a sudden death, and his body afterward undergone this terrible mutilation, it would have seemed horrible enough, but such was not his fate. It seems substantiated beyond a doubt, that by a slow process, over a distance of seven miles, this man was ground to bits. From a point near Peter Leonard’s, about four miles north of Plattsburgh, to near his own home, numerous citizens that night heard a horse and wagon going slowly along in a northerly direction, with a man groaning pitifully, but supposing it was someone in a state of intoxication, little heed was paid it. But when the circumstances of O’Neil’s death reached them, the terrible truth flashed upon their minds that it was his cries for help and his dying groans that they heard in the stillness of the night. It is not probable that the horse went faster than a slow walk.
THE GREAT MYSTERY.
How did O’Neil’s body get in that strange position? Did he fall there, or was he placed there by assassins? How could he remain in that position so long? These are the questions which are thus far perplexing every one. The general, we might say the universal, opinion is that he was placed there intentionally by someone, while he was insensible. Some are of the opinion that he must have been fastened there and unfastened when they arrived at O’Neil’s house. But this is mere conjecture. There was no indication that his feet dragged on the ground. They must have been in the wagon box till the wagon entered the door yard.
It is certainly one of the most remarkable occurrences on record. W hope by another . . . .
It is evident that O’Neil had with him considerable money-some think a hundred dollars. His pocket book could not be found, but as the right pocket, where us usually carried it was entirely worn away, it may have been destroyed in the same process.
WHERE O'NEIL WAS LAST SEEN
O’Neil was in Plattsburgh nearly all day Saturday, was in Desmond’s office in the evening, and was last seen at about 9 o’clock, when preparing to start for home.
An informal and very hasty examination was held by citizens in the vicinity on Sunday, but as it is not taken into account by the authorities we will pass it over as non-essential. Monday afternoon Coroner LaFountain and Dr. A. S. Wolff, assisted by Dr. Fulton, of Beekmantown, made a careful and very thorough examination of the body. Several gashes and . . . wounds were found upon the back of . . . . as though the deceased . . . blows from a weapon. . . . . found to be injured; . . . . of sufficient force to knock . . . the wagon and rendered him . . . insensible. They also examined his stomach to see if any traces of alcohol could be found, but found none, and give it as their opinion that he could not have possibly been intoxicated. Other facts in evidence go to show that he was perfectly sober. These facts lead to the supposition that he received violence at the hands of some one, and that when he recovered his senses, he was in such a peculiar position or so far exhausted, or injured, that he was unable to extricate himself.
THE EXAMINATION BY THE CORONER'S JURY.
The following Jury was summoned Monday afternoon: Oramel Brewster, Warren McFadden, George Gilbert, Thomas Lavin, Michael Shields, James Welch, Daniel Douglass, Michael Doyle, Cornelius Hays, Lewis Robinson, Albert Richardson, Hiram Southwick.
The Jury held a brief session that afternoon, taking the testimony of Mrs. O’Neil, and adjourned to meet in Plattsburgh Wednesday morning.
The Jury met in secret session at the court house in Plattsburgh at 10 o’clock a.m., Wednesday, and this, Thursday afternoon, as we go to press, their work is not completed. A large amount of testimony has been taken, which it would not be proper for us to publish at present. Shall give the whole next week. The clothes worn by O’Neil were exhibited, which were mere shreds covered with mud. An idea may be gathered of the condition of O’Neil, from Dr. Fulton’s testimony, to the effect that the muscular tissue of the right side was so worn down that he could introduce his hand into the intestines, lungs, and about the heart, and that the crest of the hip bone was ground off. There was an incised wound on crown of head and a smaller one to the right of it, both in same direction, as though made by a sharp instrument-don’t say it was a knife-it might have been a stone, but do not think it was a club. The head was also bruised on the right side.
TESTIMONY OF DR. WOLFF.
Dr. A. S. Wolff, of Plattsburgh, gave a full and interesting account of the post mortem examination made by him on Monday, illustrating it with charts. His testimony substantially agreed with Dr. Fulton, although he thought the blows were not from a very sharp instrument. The hat which O’Neil wore was produced, and the marks where the blows were received were plainly visible. As the hat was found in the wagon the next morning, this would plainly indicate that the blows were received before the man fell out of the wagon. The skull was not fractured.
The doctor testifies that O’Neil might have taken liquor during the day in small quantities and no traces found on examination of body. But if he had been the least intoxicated or under the effect of alcohol when he received the blows or the injuries that resulted in his death, it would certainly have been plainly and easily detected in the body when examined, though a day or more afterwards. There was no alcohol in his system when he met his death.
We do not profess to give the exact position of the body on the wagon wheel. No one may ever know. There are a variety of opinions. We do not give the details of the testimony of Mrs. O’Neil and her son, in regard to the discovery of O’Neil, as they are somewhat conflicting, as might be expected; for both were no doubt nearly frantic with grief and horror. Mrs. O’Neil says She thought her husband might be alive until she got him out from behind the wheel.
The examination is conducted by the District Attorney, H.E. Barnard, Esq.
Owen O’Neil was about 38 years old. He leaves a family of seven or eight children. He was a man of some position and influence in his town and neighborhood; owned a large farm; was a trustee of his school district, took considerate interest in schools, and other public matters. He was buried in Plattsburgh, Tuesday, an unusually large procession followed him to the grave.
From a more critical examination there appears to be abundant evidence that O'Neil's feet were fastened between the wagon-box and the reaches.
Almost three weeks pass, and
THE O’NEIL MURDER
Remarkable Action of the Board of Supervisors
We take it for granted that it was a murder; a Coroner’s Jury composed of twelve good men and true, having sat on the case for four days, and finally after taking a large amount of evidence bearing upon it - decided it to be such.
And a most remarkable murder it was—cold blooded, inhuman, and devilish. Mr. O’Neil lived in the town on Altona on the Turnpike about twelve miles from Plattsburgh near what was formerly known as the Farrell Place where a tavern was burnt a few years ago. His family consisted of a wife and seven small children.
On the Fourth of July he came to Plattsburgh—driving down in a single buggy with a steady horse to do his family marketing and also to get some business done at the Bank. He was seen by various persons during the day and as late as nine o’clock in the evening at which time he is believed to have started for home. No one has yet been found who say him alive after this time.
The next morning his wife found the horse and buggy under the woodshed and the dead body of her husband lying across the front axletree of the buggy, face downward, the spring resting upon his back. He had apparently been wedged into this position by some persons unknown and the horse afterward driven for a long distance, as the clothing had been worn away upon the right side, and even the flesh from his body so that the internal organs of his chest and abdomen were exposed to view. The spokes of the wheel were also worn away considerably either by the flash and bones of the unfortunate victim or by some appliance which had been used to confine the body in its place.
It is believed to be impossible that the deceased could have fallen into this position and remained there during the length of time which would be required to wear the wheel as it was found. The man was perfectly sober when he started from Plattsburgh—a postmortem examination showed not over three ounces of liquor in his stomach, and his boots were perfectly clean, although they were upon the ground when the body was found.
A fresh wagon track was also discovered the next morning besides the one which O’Neil’s wagon made, showing that some one had driven as far as the house, then turned around and went back towards Plattsburgh. He was known to have a sum of money and watch upon his person when he left home, both of which were missing when he was found.
All these, as well as other indications, point significantly to the theory that O’Neil was murdered, and that this course was taken in order to divert suspicion from the murderers by making it appear that he had fallen into this position while drunk, or in a fit.
Can the annals of crime show a more diabolical exhibition of fiendishness, than the fastening of a human being in such a position as this and then driving him over eight miles of lonely road, and wearing his life gradually away.
The worst horrors of the Spanish Inquisition can hardly equal it!
It would certainly seem as if the case justified the offering of a good handsome reward for the detection of the murderers, and in accordance with this feeling a meeting of the Supervisors of the county was called last Wednesday at the Court House to consider the matter. At this meeting, twelve out of fourteen being present, Mr. Gregory of Plattsburgh offered a resolution to the effect that a reward of $2,000 should be offered for the production of the murderer or murderers together with sufficient evidence to produce a conviction.
An amendment was immediately offered cutting the amount down to $1,000 and several were in favor or reducing the amount still further to $500!
The amendment was finally adopted and the resolution passed offering a reward of $1,000. This action of the Board has created a feeling of surprise and disappointment. It would seem that the first sum named was small enough.
Almost three weeks have elapsed since the crime was committed, and the perpetrators have had sufficient time to cover up all traces possible to be covered up—and he who embarks in the enterprise of ferreting them out does so at great risk of failure, in which case he would not only be subject to considerable expense but would also be liable to draw down upon himself the vengeance of a gang of villains. This sum is entirely inadequate to the occasion, and we can but feel that the Board of Supervisors of Clinton county have failed most signally in this matter to express the will of their constituents.
We believe the sum should be at once doubled or trebled, in which case there is hardly a doubt but the villains would be brought to justice.
If Clinton county values the life an estimable citizen as Mr. O'Neil was, only at this low rate the fact is to be much regretted, and she deserves to be overrun by a gang of robbers and murderers.
It can hardly be expected that the members of the Board, who for the most part reside at a distance from this scene of blood, should feel so deeply the importance of decided action in the matter, as do our citizens who have become familiarized with the horrible details as revealed by the inquest, and we believe even now were the Sheriff to offer a reward of two or even five thousand dollars, that his action would be ratified and sustained by the same Board after the matter had been properly laid before them. If this was a murder it is certainly worth $2,000 to the county to know who committed it, and if not, then of course there would be nothing to pay. The consideration which was urged before the Board as we understand that some men might come up and swear false and get an innocent person hung is too silly and ridiculous to be entertained for a moment.