New ideas for old crimes: it's all about context.
Criminal investigation (Methods)
|Publication:||Name: The Forensic Examiner Publisher: American College of Forensic Examiners Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Law; Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 American College of Forensic Examiners ISSN: 1084-5569|
|Issue:||Date: Fall, 2012 Source Volume: 21 Source Issue: 3|
|Topic:||Event Code: 980 Legal issues & crime Computer Subject: Company legal issue|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
Ninety years ago, the double homicide of a married minister and his mistress, a choir singer, launched a complex investigation and a sensational trial. Renowned journalists crowded in for a salacious story and they got one, complete with a bizarre cast of characters. Yet, the case went cold. Today it presents an enduring mystery like that of Lizzie Borden or Jack the Ripper. With so many intriguing suspects, many true crime authors have weighed in. Yet only recently did an enticing item jump out. It was in plain sight all along, and it implicates a suspect who eluded a full investigation due merely to past ignorance about a specific type of motive.
It was brisk on September 16, 1922. Around mid-morning, a pair of teenagers strolled onto De Russey's Lane in New Brunswick, New Jersey. To their surprise, the still bodies of a man and woman lay near a crab apple tree. They ran to fetch the police.
The male victim had been shot once in the head; the female' three times. Seemingly, they had been posed, lying in each other's. arms, with their feet pointing toward the tree. A brown silk scarf, soaked in blood and covered in maggots, lay loosely around the woman's throat. Nearby were a .32 caliber cartridge case and a piece of iron pipe. Between the bodies were pieces of torn paper, which turned out to be 'letters. Oddly, a business card had been placed against the heel of the man's left shoe. The name on the card was Rev. Edward Wheeler Hall, 41, pastor of a local Episcopal church. The male victim was soon, identified as Hall.
The estimated time of death was 36 hours earlier. The autopsy found that, in addition to being shot, the woman's throat had been sliced from ear to ear. It turned out that she was Eleanor R. Mills, choir singer in Hall's church and wife to James Mills, a school janitor. Most people who knew them suspected they were having an affair. The obvious chief suspects were the surviving spouses.
Frances Stevens Hall, a wealthy woman seven years older than her husband, claimed that she had known nothing of the affair. However, on the evening of the murder, Edward had told her he was going to visit Eleanor about a medical bill. He did not return.
At 2:30 a.m., Frances had asked her fifty-year-old brother Willie, who lived with' the Halls, to ac company her to the church to look for Edward. They did not find him. In the morning, Frances called the police anonymously and learned that no casualties had been reported. When a reporter told her a day later that Edward had been murdered, Frances surmised that the motive had been robbery, since Hall's gold watch was missing from his effects.
James Mills also claimed ignorance of the affair. He said Eleanor had gone out on the town that night when supposedly the reverend was coming to see her. When she didn't return, James had checked at the church. She wasn't there. The next morning, without reporting her missing, James went to work. At 8:30 a.m. he encountered Frances, who mentioned her worry over Edward. James asked her whether she thought Edward and Eleanor had eloped and she replied, "God knows. I think they are dead and can't come home."
Two other suspects were Frances' brothers. Willie was impulsive, explosive, and reckless. He owned a .32-caliber revolver, but it had not been used in a while. The older brother, Henry Stevens, 52, was a retired exhibition marksman. However, he lived 50 miles away and claimed to have been out fishing. No murder weapon was found on him or at his home.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Soon, two bloodstained handkerchiefs from the scene were turned in to the police. One was initialed in one corner with the letter "S." Henry Stevens admitted it was his. Another discovery was a package of love letters from Edward to Eleanor, and Edward's diary.
Then Jane Gibson, who was dubbed the "Pig Woman," came forward with a story. She raised hogs near De Russey's Lane. Around 9:00 that Thursday night, she'd spotted a man in her cornfield, so she jumped on her mule to chase him. At some point, she had seen two men and two women near a small tree. She heard a sharp report, someone went down, and a woman screamed, "Don't! Don't! Don't!"
Then Gibson heard a volley of shots and saw another person slump to the ground. She heard a woman shout, "Henry!" A car coming into the lane behind her had illuminated the people and Jane saw a woman in a long gray coat next to a man with a dark mustache and bushy hair. A little later, she said, she heard a woman ask, "How do you explain these notes?"
Gibson eventually added that she'd seen a woman run away after the man was shot and the other two caught her and dragged her back, shooting her three times. Some time later that night, Gibson went back to fetch a lost moccasin and saw a big woman with white hair weeping over one body. She had also seen an open touring car parked on Easton Avenue--the same type that the Halls owned.
However, several people who lived in the area contradicted Gibson's account and claimed she was a known Gibson stuck to her story, but despite a few enticing leads, nothing tied a single suspect to the double homicide. The case went cold.
Four years went by with no breaks until a man named Arthur Riehl, who had married former Hall maid Louise Geist, filed for an annulment. He discovered that she had Withheld information: she had told Frances on the day before the murder that Hall had plans to elope with Eleanor. She went with Frances and Willie that night and received $5,000 to stay quiet. Riehl was hoping to cash in, but Louise insisted that his tale was a pack of lies.
Still, this news inspired a new investigation that included an attempt to break Henry Stevens' alibi. Detectives dug up a brief interview with a man who'd been peripheral in 1922, St. John's vestryman Ralph Gorsline. He was rumored to have had an affair with Eleanor before she took up with Edward. Gorsline, an industrial engineer, also owned a dark green touring car.
One investigator surmised that Gorsline had found the rector's stash of letters from Heanor, gotten jealous, and had shown them to Frances Hall and her cousin, Henry Carpender. Gorsline had allegedly driven these two to De Russey's Lane, urging them to confront the lovers. After the murders, he'd helped to cover them up. When questioned, Gorsline had denied being in the area. However, his story would change.
It turned out that a young stenographer and choir member named Catherine Rastall had been with Gorsline on the evening of the double homicide. When subjected to further questioning, Rastall's original claim of being nowhere near the scene now crumbled. She admitted that she'd been there and had heard four shots.
When told about Rastall's new account, Gorsline also changed his story. He said he had lied in 1922 to protect her reputation. He was, after all, a married man. Now he admitted he'd been with her when he'd turned into De Russey's Lane around 10:20 p.m. He was backing out when he heard a shot. He then heard a woman scream, followed by three more shots. The scream had died to a moan and then stopped. A minute after that, he'd heard mumbling. He'd waited at least three minutes before he drove away.
Simpson also discovered a report from another choir member that Gorsline had threatened to expose Eleanor to get her to give up the rector, and that he'd been spying on her, in the company of a woman who had designs on Edward Hall. They'd been seen on more than one occasion watching Edward and Eleanor from a distance. Still, there was no evidence to prove Gorsline's possible involvement.
On July 28, Frances Hall was arrested. She hired Robert McCarter, a well-known trial lawyer, to represent her. The state appointed State Senator Alexander Simpson as prosecutor. He believed that Jane Gibson was his strongest witness. Shortly thereafter, Jim Mills admitted that he had known about the affair and had threatened Eleanor with a divorce. The defense team planned to throw suspicion on him.
Arrest warrants were issued for Willie Stevens, Henry Stevens, and Henry Carpender. A grand jury indicted them all. Each pleaded not guilty.
PARADE OF WITNESSES
The trial for Frances Stevens Hall and her brothers for the murder of Eleanor Mills was set for November 1926. Both bodies were exhumed and new autopsies performed, which turned up shocking evidence previously overlooked: on the night she was murdered, Eleanor's tongue and larynx had been cut out. This got the media's attention.
The evidence included Willie's fingerprint on Edward's business card; Frances' anonymous call to inquire about "casualties;" a brown coat of hers that had been dyed black after the murders (although she claimed to have worn a gray coat that night); and the fact that one of her private detectives was alleged to have tried bribing a key witness. In addition, there was the affair.
Three fingerprint experts testified that the left index fingerprint of Willie Stevens was on the calling card. The defense experts challenged the accuracy of the identification, since the card had been exposed to the elements for 36 hours and many people had handled it.
Witnesses came and went before the Pig Woman, in failing health, was carried into the courtroom on a stretcher. From the front row, her mother shouted, "She is a liar! Liar, liar, liar!" Nevertheless, Gibson told her story--a third version--now claiming that Frances Hall, Willie Stevens, and Henry Stevens were on De Russey's Lane that night. (She seemed to have forgotten her earlier statements about only two people with the victims.) She stated that she had seen Henry Stevens and another man wrestling with a gun when it went off.
However, Stevens' alibi remained sound, and since relatives called Henry Carpender by a nickname, Harry, Frances would not have called out "Henry" to address him. Willie and Frances both held their ground against the badgering prosecutor. This case was no slam-dunk. In fact, the defense attorneys revealed that the first time Jane Gibson had seen the defendants, she was unable to identify them. A farmer further discredited her by stating Gibson had offered him money to say tie had seen her that night on De Russey's Lane.
By the trial's end, 157 people had testified in this record-breaking trial. The jury took three separate votes before they reached a verdict, acquitting all three defendants.
No one else was ever accused, although true crime buffs have considered a number of other suspects. No murder weapon was ever found, and the alleged handkerchief evidence led nowhere. The coat that Francis had dyed for mourning was not the gray one she'd been seen in on the night of the murders.
However, two items picked up at the crime scene were never before considered in the scenario and were not included as evidence in the trial. Both point to a man only briefly considered as a suspect.
NEW LOOK AT OLD EVIDENCE
Julie Nomides, Vicinage Assistant Chief Probation Officer in Middlesex County, offers lectures and displays the few enduring items of evidence collected from the Hall-Mills crime scene still held in the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office. One of the authors, Wayne Guinn, attended her lectures to look at these items. His interest in the case was multifaceted. Chalk it up to the intrigue of a local unsolved murder and his scientific background in laboratory medicine.
As he looked at the photos of items from the crime Scene, he saw what they had labeled as Hall's bloodstained tie, with a tie clip attached. The clip is inscribed with a single letter, an upper case cursive 'G.'
Guinn wondered why Hall would be wearing a tie clip that bore a letter other than his first or last name. He also wondered why no one else had noticed this for a period of almost 90 years. Guinn returned to look at the exhibits again. He then realized from death scene photo~ that Hall had been wearing his collar that evening. He would not wear a tie over a priest's collar. But there it was in the exhibits, a white, bloodstained tie (Lord and Taylor, NY), with the clip and its distinct cursive initial. These items, assumed to be Hall's, were clearly not his. Just to be sure, Guinn searched for old photos of Hall but found none that showed him wearing a tie. He'd always worn a collar. Guinn looked at this crime from a different angle.
On the suspect list was only one person whose name began with a G: Ralph Gorsline. Guinn did some research. He found no photos of him with this tie, but is convinced that the clip, at least, was Gorsline's. Besides being a vestryman from St. John's, Guinn learned, Gorsline had been a member of several secret patriotic fraternal orders that were popular during the early 1900s. He had also served in the Army during the Spanish-American War and was captain of a local militia for two years. Thus, he was familiar with guns and had been trained to kill.
If one applies basic psychology, having had the requisite military experience to de-humanize, Gorsline easily fits the profile of someone with the motivation and capacity to commit such a heinous act. He'd been involved with Eleanor once and had been caught spying on her trysts with Hall. Whoever had killed these two had saved the most brutal treatment for her.
To produce the wound to her throat required a blade capable of causing a deep slash without a sawing motion. Gorsline was military-trained in hand-to-hand bayonet fighting, and it was common for soldiers to keep these knives as souvenirs. A bayonet is capable of causing this type of deep slash - it has a sharp edge and the necessary length (12-inch blade) to do so in one continuous motion at a depth of 5 or more inches.
In addition, Guinn found Gorsline's statement to be suspicious. Four years after the murders, he admits being 300 yards away~ from the crime scene, and that he heard the shots, screams, and moaning. Imagine this: hearing moaning from three football fields away! It doesn't ring true.
Guinn believes that the reason Gorsline had to admit to being nearby is because there was new testimony that his distinctive car was seen in the vicinity. So, he devised a story to provide a reason for being there that was also a reason why he had lied: a tale about being with a young woman whose reputation he sought to protect.
So Gorsline devised the perfect alibi--a reason for which an upstanding civic leader and a God-fearing vestryman would hide facts. Then he got Rastall to corroborate it. He couldn't keep saying he wasn't there, so he provided a reason why he couldn't reveal it.
Now, what about his mindset and motive? If we re-examine Gorsline in light of what we know these days about jealous stalkers, it's not improbable that he was the fatal instigator. In fact, he becomes even more viable.
Just how fixated he might have been is anyone's guess, but he certainly was angry enough about Edward's indiscretion to discuss it with others and to demand that Eleanor end it. Gorsline was seen spying on the two, and it seems an unlikely Coincidence that "he would have been at De Russey's Lane on the very night that the lovers were meeting there without knowing it. He was alert to their movements.
What they didn't know in 1922 but we know now is that people who suffer from erotomania develop the delusion that another person--usually a celebrity or someone of higher social status--loves them. They envision their entwined destiny and feel a persistent need to contact or see the inamorata. This can trigger episodes of stalking. Erotomanic stalkers are usually aggressive. They may send unwanted letters or packages, make numerous phone calls, or take up a determined pursuit.
If Gorsline knew about the couple's plan to elope, he might have decided that the night of September 14 was the " to make his move. He would also have saved his most savage acts for the person he wanted most to punish or humiliate: Eleanor. He could have felt an intense mix of love and hate for her and might have felt inclined to leave his mark in some obscure manner--a secret in plain sight. The tie clip is certainly suggestive. If Gorsline purposely left it on or near Hall, it was also a stunningly arrogant act.
Despite not being viewed" as a primary suspect during either investigation, he had the means and motive. The remaining question involves his opportunity, since he supposedly had a young woman with him. However, Rastall might have lied. If she had kept the secret for four years, then she had successfully lied to investigators on several occasions. We cannot be certain that she hadn't lied yet again, perhaps paid to do so to cover Gorsline's need for a cover story. Guinn believes. that Rastall was not actually there. During her interview, it took her a while before her story matched Gorsline's. Guinn thinks he persuaded her to lie for him.
In an alternate scenario, Gorsline might have been involved without being the perpetrator. Perhaps he alerted Frances to the secret stash of love letters and supplied information about the rendezvous that night. Maybe he was parked on De Russey's Lane because he knew what was going down and he wanted to ensure that the lovers got their due or just to gloat. He might have been spying on them, getting closer than he'd admitted, and inadvertently dropped his tie clip. Then some mindless investigator picked it up and placed it with Hall's items.
In any event, the tie and the tie clip with the 'G' deserve to be added to the clues in this enduring mystery. It gives us a new way to view this incident, which is often how cold cases are solved.
Guinn has also learned that Gorsline made a second statement indicating that he and Rastall went back to the scene of the crime after the bodies were discovered to view the area. Based on this, Guinn wonders if Gorsline stated this to cover himself in the event that some forensic evidence placing him there might be found (footprints, etc.). Thus, if questioned he could explain why. Perhaps he'd returned to look for his tie or clip and, not finding them, realized he could be associated with the scene. Or, he might have meant to leave it as a secret signature, and then had second thoughts.
We know things today that can put a new spin on historic crimes, and the stalker theory is worth exploring. Psychological clues are often overlooked even today, and in the 1920s behavioral analysis of a crime scene was primitive at best. New knowledge can change the context, putting a new interpretation on any item. The tie and tie clip, found near the bodies of the slain minister and choir singer, likely have some significance.
Kunstler, William. The Hall-Milk Murder Case." The Minister and the Choir Singer. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1964.
"New Letters Prove Hall-Mills Intrigue Detective Says," The New York Times October 16, 1922.
Runyon, Damon. "Court Reporting, The Hail-Mills Case," ebooks library, 1936. Web 28 Jan. 2012. http:l/veww.ebooks-library.com/author.cfm/authorid/l900
Tomlinson, Gerald. Fatal Tryst. Lake Hopatcong NJ: Liome Run Press, 1999.
"Two New Witnesses to Aid Prosecutor in Hall-Mills Case," The New York Times. November 17, 1922.
"Under the Crabapple Tree," Time, November 15, 1926.
"Woman's Story Unshaken." The New York Times, August 14, 1926.
By Wayne Guinn, MT/SH (ASCP), with Katherine Ramsland, PhD, CMI-V
WAYNE D. GUINN, MT/SH (ASCP), has published numerous books and Articles on automotive engineering and laboratory technology including Camaro Untold Secrets. Guinn is currently employed by Johnson and Johnson and enjoys investigating cold cases using current technologies.
KATHERINE RAMSLAND, PhD, CMI-V has published over 1,000 articles and 41 books, including The Mind of a Murderer and Beating the Devil's Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation. Dr. Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and has been a member of the American College of Forensic Examiners International since 1998.
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