Gene Notes

Some random and some not-so-random thoughts on family history.
Showing posts with label O'Brien. Show all posts
Showing posts with label O'Brien. Show all posts

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thriller Thursday - The Murder of Addison Ball Chinn concluded

The following are newspaper accounts of the capture, sentencing appeals and hangings of Whitney and O'Brien, murderers of A. B. Chinn. Note that Thompson was Earl Whitney's alias. These articles date from October 1902 through July 1903.

WARNING: These accounts include a very graphic account of the execution.

"Two men are held as suspects in Chinn murder"

Developments in the murder of Mr. A. B. Chinn and the serious wounding of his son Asa by masked burglars at an early hour Saturday morning took a serious and sensational turn last night at 7:30 o'clock when two white men giving their names as Charles Thompson and Claude O'Brien were placed under arrest by the police on suspicion of being the men who entered the Chinn home.


Whitney and O'Brien, sentenced to be hanged February 13, 1904 for the murder of A. B. Chinn.

"Murderers of A. B. Chinn Must Hang"

The Court of Appeals today affirmed the judgments of the Fayette Circuit Court sentencing Claude O'Brien and Earl Whitney to be hanged for the murder of Merchant A. B. Chinn at Lexington.  The murder was committed in October last, which Chinn surprised the men trying to rob his house.

"Would Not See Her"

Mrs. E. C. O'Brien, the mother of Claude O'Brien, the doomed murderer of A. B. Chinn, called this morning to Mrs. Chinn, the wife of the murdered man at her home on East Maxwell street presumably in the interest of her son.

From the Lexington Herald, July 25, 1903.


Unshaken By a Tremor, O'Brien's Lips Were Moving in Prayer. Remarkable Courage Displayed By Boys Hanged Yesterday.

Their last gaze upon a crucifix, a blur of curious faces dimly appearing in the background; a smile still playing upon the features of one and a stoical expression  wrapping the countenance of the other, his lips moving in his last prayer for forgiveness and peace as the black caps were drawn, two boys yesterday morning shot through a trap that left their bodies with necks broken dangling at the ends of the hangman's chords, and the murder of Addison B. Chinn was expiated.

It was 8:08; the chant of the priests was still echoing through the corridors of the Fayette county jail and all was silence within the enclosure where a hundred stood with uncovered heads, when the cluck of the trigger, the thud of the released trap and the groan of stretching hemp told in chorus the earthly agony of Earl Whitney and Claude O'Brien was ended.

Though meeting death under most ignominious circumstances, the display of courage, of grit, of fortitude, of poise furnished by these two lads was admirable, and robbed the execution of a horror and gruesomeness that was expected. It was an inspiration to see boys die like martyrs who were offering up their lives as sacrifices on the altar of some great cause, and one paused to consider what impress such masterly courage and such innate power might have left upon the century could it have been directed along lines of good instead of evil. In itself a powerful sermon, the hanging of these youths was probably the most impressive ever witnessed in Kentucky. It was the supreme test; they met it like heroes.

March to the Scaffold.

Excepting the scenes enacted on the scaffold itself the march from the death cell was the most impressive incident of the execution.

At 7:58 the death march began. The sheriff with his deputies had gone to the death cell where the condemned men were in religious service with the priests. In the corridor they were met by Jailer Wallace and his deputies. The formal transfer of the prisoners was made to the Sheriff to do with them according to the dictates of the law. The death march was delayed several minutes at the request of the priests.

At 7:58 o'clock with the priests in their sacerdotal robes leading, O'Brien and Whitney following. Sheriff Wilkerson and his deputies next and Jailer Wallace and his deputies last, the procession moved with measured tread through the corridors down the winding stairs of the jail. The priests chanted the while and the subdued sound of their voices penetrated the remotest corner of the jail, and floated like the sound of some distant dirge out to the hundred bared spectators in the yard below. Gradually the sound of the chanting became more distinct as the dread procession drew nearer, and finally emerged from the small steel door into the yard.

Doomed Men Appear.

Every eye was riveted upon the doomed men. At 7:59 o'clock out of the door they came with heads erect, smiling faces, and tread as firm as if they were going to receive the plaudits and laurels of an approving audience for some heroic deed, rather than to meet an ignominious death. Whitney appeared much the cooler, more self possessed man of the two and was actually laughing. As he emerged from the door, he passed several policemen to whom he waved his hand and said cheerfully "Good bye boys, good bye to you all." The words were spoken without a tremor and more like he was bidding farewell to friends whom he would see in the evening. Just before mounting the scaffold, he paused a moment to shake hands with several parties. The grip was firm and the hand shake was hearty, while the words of parting were spoken with a smile. His actions did not seem forced, but were as natural as they might have been under the most happy circumstances. While O'Brien was not noticed to smile, and did not  speak to any person, his conduct was thoroughly characteristic of his entire course of action since his imprisonment, he being more reserved and distant than Whitney. His step was firm and in his face there was no tremor.

On the Scaffold

Up the ten steps of the scaffold the procession moved in the same order in which they emerged from the door. As O'Brien cleared the last step and was on the scaffold it was just eight o'clock.

Whitney was still smiling, but the countenance of O'Brien remained unmoved. On the scaffold the prisoners took position on the trap facing each other, Whitney looking toward the north and O'Brien toward the south. As they took their places O'Brien looked round to the upturned faces, then to the persons on adjacent buildings and then toward the sun. He then looked down at the platform and remained in this position through the services read by the priests. Whitney looked with smiling face out upon the curious throng. While Father Boland, of Somerset, read the service the boys stood reverently attentive, and O'Brien's lips moved in fervent prayer. O'Brien seemed more fully to realize the terribleness of the situation than did his partner in crime. While reading the hand of Father Boland shook perceptibly and his voice was unsteady.

Kiss the Crucifix.

At the conclusion of the reading, Father Cunningham presented the crucifix, which was kissed first by O'Brien and then by Whitney. The priests then shook hands with both boys, bidding them good bye, and then stepped behind. In the farewell there was no sign of quaver or unsteadiness upon the part of the boys, who remained as firm as at any time since they took their stand upon the scaffold.

Hands Bound.

After the conclusion of the service and as soon as the priests had stepped from the trap, the officers took hold of the boys and turned them facing Limestone street, Whitney on the south and O'Brien on the north. Deputy Sheriffs C. H. Wilkerson and John McElroy then proceeded to strap Whitney's hands and feet, while Deputy Freedman performed the same duty for O'Brien. In the strapping, the hands of the officers shook so that they could with difficulty accomplish the work.

Pulled the Rope Too Tight.

Deputy McElroy then placed the rope around Whitney's neck in doing so pulled it so tight as to choke the prisoner, which caused his face to turn red and the tears to start in his eyes. Whitney said, "Don't pull the rope so tight, it's choking me." The rope was immediately readjusted.

Deputy Ben Freedman placed the rope around O'Brien's neck. The work was done rapidly and without the least confusion. The black caps were then placed. That for Whitney had to be cut as it was too small.

The Trap Sprung.

As soon as this was done, the deputies stepped back, and at 8:08 o'clock Sheriff Wilkerson pulled the lever. The bodies shot downward. There was no sound save the groan of the ropes and the click of the trap as it caught by the lever which retained it in place and kept it from swinging. The work was done so quickly that the spectators could hardly realize that in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye the two lives had been taken.

The Straps Released.

The straps were immediately removed from Whitney's limbs by Jail Physician A. W. Jones, and Dr. A. W. Hawkins, while Drs. F. O. Young and R. L. Gordon unbuckled those which bound the hands and feet of O'Brien. After the limbs of Whitney had been released the body drew up in several contortions, his hands moving and his whole body trembling for a moment. From the first O'Brien did not more than quiver. It was plainly evident that O'Brien's neck was broken, the vertebra being pulled apart, but there were many in the crowd who believed that Whitney was dying of strangulation. The necks of both boys were broken, however, though Whitney's neck resisted the severance shown in O'Brien's condition.

At 8:15 Dr. Young pronounced O'Brien dead and at 8:22 Dr. Jones pronounced Whitney dead. The time required for life to become extinct in the latter was fourteen minutes.

The drop for Whitney who weighed 145 pounds, was 5 feet 4 inches and for O'Brien who weighed only 118 pounds, 5 feet, 10 inches. For Whitney a three quarter inch rope was used and for O'Brien a five-eighths inch rope.

Jail Yard Cleared.

As soon as the trap was sprung the police began the work of clearing the yard. The spectators exhibited considerable reluctance in leaving before they had seen the whole thing through, and it was sometime before the last of the crowd was forced to leave the yard.

As soon as the crowd began to move out County Judge Bullock instructed Coroner Molloy to examine the bodies and see that life was extinct.

Ropes Cut and Bodies Taken Down.

At 8:20, after the bodies had been examined by Coroner Molloy, the ropes were cut and the bodies taken in charge by Undertaker Baker, of the firm of J. H. Wiehl & Son. The ropes were cut by Deputy Freckman, and with the assistance of two negro helpers they were placed in baskets in the yard for the purpose.

The Inquest.

When the bodies had been placed in the baskets, Coroner Molloy summoned jurors from the spectators and held an inquest according to the requirements of law. The verdict of the jury was that the bodies before them were those of Claude O'Brien and Earl Whitney, who had come to their death from being legally hanged.

Removed to Undertaking Establishment.

At the conclusion of the inquest the bodies were placed in Wiehl's dead wagon and removed to the undertaking establish where they were prepared for burial. The body of Whitney was shipped to Nashville, Tennessee, yesterday afternoon, leaving on 5:10 C & O train. The remains of O'Brien will be shipped to Nashville sometime today.

The Last Night.

The last night was spent in the utmost quietude, the prisoners remaining cool and cheerful. Shortly before retiring O'Brien engaged in an exchange of pleasantries with James Bess, under sentence to be hanged for the murder of Mrs. Martha Martin. The sounds of the voices could be heard throughout the gratings of the cells and the repartee was much enjoyed by the prisoners.

"I want to see the hanging," said Bess.

"You'll be next," retorted O'Brien.

"I've got some good evidence coming for me," responded Bess.

"It don't looked good to me," was the rejoinder.

The parries were greeted with titters by the prisoners.

Whitney went to bed at 9:45, while O'Brien stayed up and played his French harp until 10:15. By half past ten both boys were sound asleep and slept until wakened Friday morning at 5:30 o'clock by Deputy Thornton. They both said they "never felt better."

Fathers Boland and V. Cunningham came to the jail at 6 o'clock and at 7 o'clock the boys breakfasted. As they were both Catholics they ate no meat, and fish and eggs were the predominating articles of the meal. Even this meal was deferred until they received holy communion.

Long before the day had dawned the crowds began to collect about the jail, but were later dispersed by a squad of police under Captain Jenkins and Lieutenant Overly. Ropes were stretched across Short street on each side of the jail, and only those having tickets to the execution and newspapermen were allowed to pass.

Until the time to put on their grave clothes at 7:30 the boys remained with the priests. Both made confessions, but did not give permission for them to be given to the public. Shortly before the trap was sprung, the Sheriff asked the boys if they had any statement to make. Both declined the offer and the secret as to which fired the shot which killed Mr. Chinn goes to the grave with them.

Herald Extra.

The drop fell at 8:08 o'clock. Seven minutes later the Herald had its extra on the streets. Its competitor was beaten by twenty minutes. A special telephone line from the office of the jail enabled the Herald to receive a continuous account from the scene of the hanging.
They were executed by hanging on July 24, 1903. Justice was swift back then.

I couldn't find death certificates, but did find these transit permits for shipping the bodies for burial.

Copyright 2010, ACK for Gene Notes

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thriller Thursday - The Murder of Addison Ball Chinn continued . . .


Grass Found on Socks of Prisoners; Thompson Suffers Much From Wound.

Police Confident the Right Men Are Under Arrest; Daughter Arrives; Men Will Be Taken Before Mrs. Chinn for Identification; Yesterday's Developments in Chinn Murder Case.

Lexington continued to stand agape yesterday at the horrible tragedy committed Friday night. The first words at greetings were expressions of opinions as to the guilt of the two men arrested. The police are confident that the guilty men are in custody.

The most important development of yesterday was the discovery by Capt. Stough of clots of blood in a chicken shed adjoining the Chinn home. The shed is in the rear of an unoccupied house owned by Mr. George Ott. The discovery of this blood lends strength to the theory that one of the murderers at least was wounded. The police believe that the burglars entered this shed and removed their shoes, that they walked to the Chinn house barefoot in order to make no noise and thus to enter the house. The theory is that one was shot, and after making their escape through the window, they went to the shed after their shoes and a few drops of blood dripped on the floor. The blood, however, may not be human blood or it may be much older than is supposed.

Grass on Socks

This discovery adds strength to the incriminating evidence against Thompson and O'Brien. When Thompson's* shoes were removed at the station house, his socks were found to be not only badly soiled, but muddy. Spanish needles were adhering to them and on the bottom of one of the socks was a stick weed, a grass resembling Timothy. These stick weeds and Spanish needles are found in the path leading to the chicken shed. It is known that the burglars that entered the house an hour previous on the same night entered in their sock feet. This was apparent from the muddy imprints on the bare floor where the burglar had overstepped the rug.

Difference in Bullets.

Another important development was the discovery upon closer inspection that the bullet extracted from Thompson's leg is identical with the bullets fired from Asa Chinn's pistol, which were found on the floor and in the door. All the bullets connected with the case are 38-caliber, but one of the bullets picked up off the floor and the part of the bullet which was found and which was believed to have been the one that fractured Asa's jaw is hollowed at the butt end, just as are the bullets in Mr. Slade's pistol. The police believe the burglars that entered the Slade home and stole a pistol also went to the Chinn home and committed the murder with this pistol.

Thompson Suffers From Wound.

Thompson says he was shot by a negro last Wednesday. Jailer Wallace says that when he visited the men in the jail suspected of breaking into Van Deren's Hardware store, Thompson did not limp. He limped very slightly Friday morning when arrested. He could not walk without assistance when he was taken to the jail Saturday night. He did not leave his bed yesterday. He was kept away by the pain all Saturday night and when the wound was dressed yesterday afternoon the leg was badly swollen and more inflammation had set in. An opiate was given him last night to make him sleep. Had he been shot Wednesday, as he says, the police and doctors reason that he would have been unable to walk by Thursday night.

Upward Course of Bullet

Besides the bullet entered his leg at a distance of 20-1/2 inches from the ground and was cut out an inch and three quarters higher. That is. It too a decidedly upward range, such as it would have taken had he been shot by Asa Chinn when the latter was on the floor. If he had been shot by the negro in the position  he indicated, it would have taken a downward course. the bullet did not strike a bone and thus was not deflected. Thompsons made conflicting statements to reporters Saturday as to the manner in which the difficulty between him and the alleged negro arose.

The other evidence against them was the fact that the clothes of both boys were saturated when arrested. They stated that they entered the car at midnight, at which case their clothing would have been dry, for it did not begin to rain until about half past two o'clock Saturday morning.

Fatal Mark on Trousers

The trousers which Thompson wore had no bullet hole to mark the entrance of the bullet. He says that he destroyed the trousers he had on at the time the negro shot him and purchased a pair of second-hand ones.  The ones he now wears bear the mark of "Lowenstein, Nashville." O'Brien's trousers have a hole in them at the knee which corresponds to Thompson's wound and the police believe that they exchanged trousers with the idea that if they were arrested the wound would escape detection. However, O'Brien's trousers are rather small for Thompson, and vice versa. The police are unable to find the local dealer whom Thompson says sold him the trousers.

No incriminating evidence was found on the men when they were arrested nor after a thorough search of the car. If they are guilty, their pistols and masks have been done away with. The police made a thorough but futile search for the pistols and masks on the route from the Chinn premises to the railroad yard.

Citizens Asked to Search

Chief Reagan requests the residents of Lexington, and especially of the southern portion, to make a search of their premises for these articles and to have their boys search vacant lots and other places where the articles may have been thrown or concealed. If anything is found it should be reported immediately to the police.

A Mrs. Chisholm, living in Adamstown, near Lexington avenue, says she heard the volley of shots and in a few minutes heard two men running south on Lexington avenue. This clue indicates that the murderers ran in that direction after the tragedy.

Just as soon as Mrs. Chinn is able to withstand the ordeal and Thompson's wound will permit him to walk, the prisoners will be taken before her for identification. They will also be taken before Asa Chinn. Mrs. Chinn stated to a relative that she believed she would recognize the men whose forms she saw and whose voices she heard on the fatal night. It will be remembered that the men struck a match on entering the room, and though they were masked, she observed their stature, etc.

How Prisoners Spent the Day.

Throngs of visitors were attracted to the jail yesterday, but very few were admitted to see Thompson and O'Brien as they insist on calling themselves. Perhaps no one will now be admitted without the permission of Chief Reagan.

Thompson, the wounded man, is occupying the topmost cell, known as the hospital. A prisoner named Morris keeps him company. He suffered a great deal from his wound Saturday night and yesterday and it was necessary to give him an opiate to make him sleep last night after his wound was dressed in the afternoon. He ate very little and was not inclined to talk.

Neither prisoner was allowed to read the newspapers.

O'Brien is the only prisoner on the ground floor. It was in one of the eight cells on this floor that Axline was kept in confinement for a long time. It is on this floor that the old scaffold is stored. Neither of the prisoners appeared to worry over his predicament. O'Brien ate both meals heartily and was by no means reticent, though very few people were given access to him. Capt. Stough had a long talk with him in the afternoon, but he still sticks to his first story. Thompson did not get out of his bed yesterday. O'Brien has no one to talk to except the guards when they bring his meals.

Tell-tale Course of Bullet.

It appears almost providential that the bullet in Thompson's leg did not pass through it, but spent its force before it reached the outer skin. Had it passed on through, it could not be told definitely at which end of the wound the bullet entered, and it could not be discerned whether the bullet ranged upward or downward. As it is, there is no question that the range was upward. There are only three possible explanations of this. He might have been standing in an elevated position when shot, which is unlikely. He may have been recumbent or his assailant was recumbent. He says that he and the alleged negro were standing. Had this been so, the bullet would have taken a downward course. The range is just such a one as would result from a wound inflicted by Asa Chinn, who was prostrate on the floor when he shot.

The Daughter Arrives.

Miss Eleanor Chinn arrived from New York with her uncle, Mr. Charles Runyon, on the Q & C train last night. She was met at the depot by her uncle, Mr. James Runyon, and Dr. Coleman. The party drove to the Good Samaritan Hospital. The meeting between mother and daughter was an affecting one. Clasped in each other's arms, their heart throbs beat in unison and their tears flowed together in a common grief. The young woman had left father and brother in happiness, in perfect health, in all the comforts of security. In a brief while she returned. The father was dead and the brother dangerously wounded. She was not taken to see her wounded brother, as he was sleeping. Mother and daughter remained at the hospital last night. Miss Chinn stood the journey in the shadow of the awful tragedy remarkably well. Mrs. Chinn was much more composed today.

May Have Been In Tyrone.

The police received a telephone message from a man in Tyrone yesterday that he believed from the description of the suspects he saw them in that place Wednesday. He will be here today to identify them. If they prove to be the men he has in mind, they could not have been a Williamstown Wednesday, where Thompsons says he was shot by a negro.

No Clue to Others.

No word has been received concerning the two suspicious looking white men Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Graves met nine miles from the city on the Winchester pike early Saturday morning. The police are still desirous of finding these men and learning their story. Although the police believe the guilty parties have been captured, they have not relinquished their efforts to "round up" all the suspicious characters. Every clue possible will be run down.

The Jail Guarded.

Guards remained at the jail Saturday night until three o'clock and remained until midnight last night. They usually lock the jail about ten o'clock. One man is left at the jail, but the keys are not in his possession.

The Fayette county jail is one of the most secure in the country. Entrance can not possibly be gained except through the front door. It would require hours of work to break this open without the keys. One man on the first landing could keep a regiment out. If the keys were given to a mob it is doubtful if they could get to the prisoners, so complicated are the locks.

It is impossible to burn the building. On account of the arrangement of the street, a few policemen could keep a mob from off the street.

Asa Chinn Doing Well.

At the hospital it was reported that Asa passed a very quiet day and rested easy last night. His physicians are sanguine of his recovery, but the marks of that awful night will go with him to his grave. His face will not be very much disfigured, but the scars will always remain. The wounds in the nose and lips may become almost indistinct. The fractured jawbone will always be more or less prominent and a scar will always remain on his cheek.

Diagram of the House.

A brief word diagram of the Chinn home in which the murder was committed will suffice to give a general impression of the desperate encounter. The house is a two-story frame on the south side of Maxwell street, beyond Lexington avenue. On the east is the vacant house belonging to Mr. Ott, and on the west the home of Mrs. Thompson, Both of these houses are close. The driveway to the Chinn home is on the east side of the house under Mrs. Runyon's window. The front door opens into a hall. On the east side of the hall is the parlor and in the rear of this, Mrs. Runyon's room. Just beyond her door is the bottom of the stairs running up from the hall. The front room on the west side of the hall is Asa's room and at its rear is the family room. Asa's room door and the parlor door are directly opposite. The family door opening into the hall and Mrs. Runyon's door are directly opposite.

When Asa was awakened by his mother's screams of murder, he secured pistol and rifle, stepped out of his room and went to the family door, about twelve feet away. A confused idea is prevalent as to who fired the first shot. Asa and Mrs. Chinn agree that the burglars heard Asa in the hall and fired. One of them had his pistol pressed against Mr. Chinn's breast, which was powder burned. The burglar shot was the signal for Asa to open fire. He emptied his revolver of five chambers. Three of his bullets struck the door. The bullet which penetrated the door showed the elevation. He was in a prostrate position. Perhaps one of the bullets which did not strike the door struck a burglar, and Thompson's wound corresponds to one made by a ball that he may have fired.

A desperate encounter evidently ensued in this terrible hand-to-hand battle at the door. Bullets flew thick and fast. Asa was shot to floor as the burglars came out of the room. That he was lying on the floor is apparent from the range of the bullets in the door and from the fact that one of the burglar bullets tipped his nose and went through his lips and into the floor. Otherwise it would have entered his breast.

Mr. Chinn tottered out of his bed and fell to the floor of the hall lifeless, his feet almost inside the family room. It was then that Mr. Runyon aroused the neighbors and called the police. Many of the neighbors had already been awakened by the peal of the shots.

Groundless Rumors

A great many groundless rumors were afloat yesterday. One stated that a pistol had been found near the Chinn home, and that it had been identified as belonging to a man who was held up and robbed Friday night. This report is groundless, and as far as the police have learned, no man was held up Friday night. Other reports gained currency which were found to be groundless. One reported stated that confessions had been obtained, which was without foundation.

The Funeral Today

The funeral services of Mr. A. B. Chinn will take place at the family residence, No. 248 East Maxwell street, at 2:30 o'clock this afternoon. The services will be conducted by Rev. I. J. Spencer of the Central Christian Church.

The honorary pallbearers are Major R. S. Bullock, Messrs. Cicero Coleman, R. P. Eastin, Albert Allen, R. C. Morgan, C. F. Estill and Thomas F. Cassell.

The active pallbearers are Profs. James G. White and A. Fairhurst, Judge Matt Walton, Dr. B. L. Coleman, Messrs. Jacob Graves, James A. Todd, G. A. DeLong and William F. Price.

The burial will be in Lexington Cemetery.

{*Blogger's note:  It was a few days before it was discovered"Thompson" was an alias and he was correctly identified as Earl Whitney.}

Copyright 2010, ACK for Gene Notes