Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace on Earth, good will towards men and other things that are scarce during the other 364 days of the year.
As much as we like the idea that the season works its magic to improve human nature, the combination of shortened tempers, end-of-year disappointments, family enmities and / or free-flowing alcoholic beverages can send even a gentle individual who look for the Ax to break through in the history of homicides on vacation. Here are ten epic flaws of seasonal spirit during the nineteenth century or so:
Hopkinsville, Kentucky (December 24, 1900)
In a “room house” – an unlicensed bar selling illegal alcohol – some 26 kilometers from the city, a group of four young men, including the owner of the bar, celebrated the holiday season by drinking homemade whiskey with beer until they got drunk. At five in the afternoon, another young man, Marion Henderson, joined the party in search of a good time. Shortly thereafter, Bob Morris accused Henderson of blocking his light, took out his revolver and shot the man in the chest at close range. The bullet lodged near the heart of Henderson, and died before help could arrive. His wife was summoned to identify the body.
Chamberburg, Ohio (December 24, 1880)
A dance in the Hall of the Foresters ended in tragedy when Theodore Hanley challenged the goalkeeper and demanded entry. The goalkeeper called the floor manager, Michael “Doll” Shively, 23, who explained that according to the rules, no gentleman would be admitted without a partner. The discussion intensified. The hot words were exchanged. Hanley tried to force his way through. I was drunk? Witnesses later testified that he was sober as a judge. When Shively got in his way, Hanley pulled out his revolver and shot him in the top of the head. The bullet passed vertically through his skull and lodged in the roof of his mouth. Shively died at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning. Hanley fled after stealing his brother’s horse.
St. Louis, Missouri (December 25, 1895)
In the loins district of St. Louis known as the Deep Morgan, Lee “Stack Lee” Shelton – a very fashionable dressing for a boss of pimps and pimps – entered a room on 13th Street where he met his friend, William Lyons. Unfortunately, strong liquor and political discussion rarely form a cordial mix. Shelton was a democrat. Lyons, a Republican. The insults became a slap and the Lyons bowler was crushed. He demanded payment for the ruined hat and took Shelts Stetson hostage. Shelton pulled out a revolver and deliberately killed him. Does the story sound familiar? It should be if you’re a fan of folk music. Much later, events would become the basis of a song, Stagger Lee.
Mangum, Texas (December 24, 1885)
Three men gathered that night to boast about their conquests of the fairer sex: Jack Doyle, Don Sullivan and his friend, Buck Hannon. At some point in the festival of mutual swagger, Sullivan not only insulted Doyle’s wife, he boasted that he had also had sex with her. During the resulting fight, Sullivan pulled out a revolver. Doyle did the same, and was faster on the trigger. His bullet caught Sullivan in the heart. Satisfied honor, Doyle walked quietly down the street to a hotel, only to be shot by Hannon, avenging his friend. Hannon left the city to escape the executioner. The two dead were buried on Christmas Day. Lacking a preacher, the citizens of Mangum gathered around the tombs and said silent prayers.
New York, (December 25, 1878)
Perhaps the most horrible of the bunch: Sarah Hayden, 16 years old and married for three months, had an acquaintance in the neighborhood, Felix Lavelle, 21, whom he had known for some time. Pretty, flirtatious, playful Sarah liked her games with Lavelle, which included looking in the pockets of her pants and jacket when they were on the street. It turned out that there was a six-shot magazine in his pocket. Lavelle took out the revolver, took out a cartridge and gave it to Sarah as a souvenir. Then, cocking the hammer, he pointed the gun at her and accidentally pulled the trigger, an act that probably scared him. Instead, he shot her in the left chest at point-blank range. Lavelle helped the dying Sarah to the door and waited for the police in a daze. He was arrested, convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Ashland, Kentucky (December 24, 1881)
Robert Gibbons, a 17-year-old amputee, his sister Fannie, 14, and his friend Emma Carico, 15, were asleep when someone entered the Gibbons family home early in the morning and beat them to death with an ax and a lever. As if that were not enough, the killer set the house on fire. The neighbors alerted by the flames rushed to help and discovered the three bodies with their skulls destroyed. The city doctor also discovered that the girls had been raped. Ultimately, three men were charged with the crime: George Ellis, William Neal and George Craft. Ellis later retracted his confession, but died at the hands of a lynch mob. Craft and Neal were legally hanged after a couple of trials, changes of venue and a lot of drama.
New York City, (December 25, 1901)
John Bell, a man who lived in Brooklyn, had a fifteen-year-old wife, Margaret, who returned from a trip to Scotland to inform her that she was pregnant. Although he had no evidence of infidelity, he suspected that the baby was not his. For weeks, he intimidated, threatened and verbally abused her. Instead of getting into the Christmas mood, he reflected. She got tired of his attitude and told him he was being ridiculous. In the end, crazy with jealousy, he confronted her in the basement of his house with a revolver, with the intention of killing her and then himself. In desperation, she jumped at him and fought for the weapon. Bell dislocated and shot Margaret through the left eye. After his death, he changed his mind about the proposed suicide, went out and confessed to a policeman.
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (December 25, 1894)
Do you think your last festive dinner went terribly wrong? John Johnston, his wife Amy, his friend Daniel Herron, Daniel’s wife and a mutual friend, George Cassell, met at Johnston’s house to spend a pleasant evening celebrating Christmas with food, drink and the inevitable air of grievance once the alcohol started making its rounds. Around seven, after a discussion about an old grudge turned bitter, Herron pulled out a gun and tried to shoot Johnston, but Amy jumped to her husband’s defense and was shot in the right side. Suddenly serene for what he had done, Herron ran back to his own house, where he was arrested for murder when Amy Johnston’s wound proved fatal.
Savannah, Georgia (December 24, 1898)
This was a busy night for the Savannah police, who made more than 150 arrests, including two homicides. Charles Low and Charles Green discussed two women. Low stabbed Green in the belly. He bled to death soon after. The second murder occurred when Queen Martin fought with her lover and stabbed him in the heart. The most unusual crime of the night occurred when Mayor R.W. Olive from Pembroke, Georgia was attacked by Paul Canady. Despite being mistreated, Mayor Olive hit Canady with the gun and almost bit his thumb in the altercation. The accounts of the newspapers speculated that his lordship would demand greater satisfaction from Canady in a public duel.
Livermore, Kentucky (December 24, 1900)
Christmas dances were dangerous places at the turn of the century. Two rivals, John Froge and M. Garman, were in love with Lillie Lambert. During the dance in the ballroom, Froge deliberately stumbled upon Garman. When Garman objected vigorously, Froge pulled out two revolvers and started firing. As the bullets flew around him, Garman ran to the side, grabbed a shotgun, returned and blew Froge’s head. Although it is clearly a case of self-defense, Garman’s guilty conscience led him to skip the city and remain under, which he did until March, when he finally confessed to the sheriff in Carlinville, Illinois.