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The Murder


MOS J. STILLWELL[1], one of the oldest and most esteemed citizens of Hannibal, was murdered in his bed early in the morning of December 30th, 1888.  The victim of this horrible crime was asleep in a room occupied by his wife and two children, the oldest child, a daughter, being away from home at that time.  This dark deed was at first supposed to have been  committed by a burglar, and various persons have been arrested on suspicion of being implicated in this hideous crime.  This murder caused great excitement, as no case like this was ever known in this quiet little town.

On Saturday night, December 29th, 1888, Mr. Amos J. Stillwell and his wife, Fannie Stillwell, attended a card party given by Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Munger[2], of North Fifth street.  (Mr. Munger was at one time mayor of Hannibal.)  There were quite a number of invited guests, and among them was Dr. Joseph C. Hearne[3], the Stillwell’s family physician and a frequent visitor at their house.  Mr. Stillwell usually regretted going out at night, but seemed to enjoy himself that evening and spoke of his pleasure.  He praised Mrs. Stillwell’s dress and said some nice things, which pleased her very much.  They played euchre that evening at the party and Mrs. Stillwell won the first prize.  There had been, some days before, a serious disagreement at the breakfast table, in which a coffee cup had been broken, so Mrs. Stillwell was very much impressed by her husband’s kind speeches, as they completed the re-establishment of their former relations.  Mr. and Mrs. Stillwell occupied a large room in the center of the house, on the second floor.  There were two beds in this room - one occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Stillwell and the other by the younger children, Harold and Earl.  The children had been put to bed by the servants and were sound asleep when Mrs. Stillwell went into the room.  Mollie, the oldest child, was in Quincy visiting relatives.  Mr. Stillwell was the last to enter the chamber.  He remained behind to lock the front door.  When they were disrobed, Mr. Stillwell asked his wife to lock their room door opening on the hall.  She started toward it, but the children were disturbed by their talking and cried out, so she went to the little ones’ bed and, being tired, went to sleep there.  She does not know how long she slept, but she was awakened by her husband saying, “Fannie, is that you?”  Opening her eyes, she saw a man crouching at the foot of her husband’s bed.  As she looked she saw the man raise and swing an ax.  She says that she heard a whirring noise and the thud of the blade as it struck her husband’s head.  Fearing that it would be her turn next, she covered her head with the bed clothes and fainted.  Recovering from the swoon, she got out of the  children’s bed, turned up the gas and discovered a most horrible sight.  She found her aged husband dead with a horrible gash across his face.  Mrs. Stillwell says that she did not make any outcry, nor any examination of her husband.  She took the youngest child and carried it into the servants’ room, and told one of the servants to bring the other child.  “Mr. Stillwell has been murdered by a burglar,” she said, “and I do not want the  children to see him.”  This unnecessary precaution has never been fully explained, as she did not take time to examine her husband nor even make an outcry.

Having placed the children in the servant’s room and locking the door upon them, she ran down the front stairs, found the front door open, ran across Fifth street to Mr. League’s[4] wearing nothing but her nightdress, her feet being bare.  She rang Mr. League’s door-bell violently, but they were slow to respond and she then ran to Dr. Allen’s[5].  The doctor responded immediately.  She said: “Oh doctor, Mr. Stillwell has been murdered by a burglar, and is lying in a pool of his own blood.”  Dr. Allen told Mrs. Stillwell that he would go over immediately, and as soon as the doctor and his wife put their garments on they ran over to the Stillwell house.  Mrs. Allen took Mrs. Stillwell in charge and was putting some clothes on her when she fell into a cataleptic state.  Dr. Allen and an employee of Mr. League entered the room where Mr. Stillwell lay.  Dr. Gleason[6], who lived across the way, soon went over and the two physicians made a careful examination of the body.

Mr. Stillwell had been killed by a blow from an ax.  The examination of the body revealed some strange facts.  The wound was four and one-half inches in length on the left side of the head.  It began at the cheek bone, severing the lobe of the ear, opening the carotid artery and bruising the spinal cord.  The doctors said the blow produced instant death.  Mr. Stillwell’s feet protruded from the bed and blood had flowed through the mattress to the floor.  There was not much blood under the body, and that part of the nightshirt which was under the body of the dead man was not blood stained, making it plain that the body had been moved after death.  The physicians think that the murderer struck his victim while he was lying on his right side.  It was a mystery how his feet had gotten out of bed, as the blow must have stunned the victim and there could be no convulsion at death.  When the neighbors entered the house they found three or four chairs set against the children’s bed, with pillows piled upon them, between the two beds.  The door of the nurse’s room was locked, with the key on the outside.  Mrs. Stillwell says that she placed the pillows on the  chairs to prevent the children from seeing the body of their dead father and the blood, but as she had removed the little ones to the servant’s room that precaution does not seem necessary. 

Some of the assembled neighbors marveled at things they saw.  Her intimate friends remembered that Mr. Stillwell insisted that his wife wear canton flannel night-dresses.  The one Mrs. Stillwell wore was of fine linen, trimmed with lace.

Messengers were sent for the police, John E. Stillwell and Richard Stillwell[7].  When they arrived the body was rigid.  The body was quite cold when Dr. Allen arrived.  He estimates that Mr. Stillwell had been dead about half an hour.  Before Mrs. Stillwell became unconscious she asked them to send for Dr. Hearne.  He arrived about the time John Stillwell and the police got in the house.  The master of the house lay cold in death and his wife unconscious.  The coroner, Wallace Armour, was summoned, but did not make a careful examination of the circumstances.  He glanced hastily around and then permitted the body to be removed.  Before daylight every evidence of the horrible crime had been removed from the room.  The sheets were put away, the bedding taken out and the body embalmed.  The servants do not remember exactly who ordered this unusual thing to be done.  The murder occurred between one and two o’clock and by five o’clock the room had been cleared.  This blundering has been kept up ever since.  Police were almost convinced that robbery was the motive of this horrible crime, but the fact that the ax was taken from their own barn leads to the belief that it was premeditated murder.  The deceased was a very careful business man as regards money affairs, and rarely carried much money about him, so it was a matter of general surprise that any one would attempt to rob him, when they must have known that very little money could be obtained.




Search of the  House

 On the stairway was found a trail of burnt matches which led out into the yard and the woodshed.  The front doors, which were bolted and chained at night, had been opened, but not by any violence.  Not a door or window was even scratched.  Money was found scattered from the back door to the alley gate.  One of the back doors was found open, but the bolt showed no signs of violence.  Nothing was found amiss in the room.  The silverware was found on the mantel in a cloth bag, where the family usually kept it at night.  This bag had not been touched.  Mr. Stillwell’s watch was found where he usually kept it and some silver was found in his pants pockets, but his pocketbook was missing.  The alley gate was found open.  The two-edged ax was not to be found.

The amount of money found near the alley and Church street was about $40.  It showed that the burglar had but little regard for money.  The burglar must have been out for his health or for pleasure, as he had not the slightest curiosity to know whether there was anything of value in the house or not.  He did not even open a drawer  He did not make an investigation  of the drawing room.  He used no violence on the doors.  The doors through the house and the back doors were all open and no marks showed on any of them.  Burned matches were found in quantities.  These matches had the appearance of having been burnt before they were carried into the house, as only one end  could be found.  They could not have been used to give light.  Near the alley gate a silver quarter was found.  Five dollar bills were found in a bundle and some more silver was found, and then the missing pocketbook, and a little further on the missing ax was found covered with coagulating blood.  This ax was usually kept in the  woodshed.  The streets seemed to have been deserted by the police at that particular time, but had an officer passed at the time of the murder he would have been of little service, as no outcry of screams for help came from that direction. The assassin was compelled to pass within a few inches of Mr. Stillwell in order to reach the door leading into the hallway.  The space between the chairs on which the pillows were lying and Mrs. Stillwell’s bed did not exceed eighteen inches.  The chairs and pillows were placed at that particular spot to prevent the child sleeping on that side of Mrs. Stillwell from falling off onto the floor during the night.  It may be well to state that there were only two children in the room, and they were sleeping with Mrs. Stillwell.  

There are no indications that any of the doors or windows of the house were tampered with or that the slightest effort was made to force an entrance.  

The Funeral

 Mr. Amos J. Stillwell was buried on New Year’s day, 1889.  Mrs. Stillwell was still under the care of Dr. Joseph C. Hearne.  They were in a room upstairs together while the parlors were crowded below.  Dr. Hearne came down and told the persons in charge of the funeral to hurry the services, as it had a bad effect on his patient.

About 1:30 o’clock the friends of the family began to arrive and half an hour later not only the house but the yard and pavements of the street were crowded with sympathizing friends.  In the front parlor were the remains of the murdered man, seemingly resting in peace, in a beautiful casket which was laden with lovely flowers.   The face of the dead man appeared as though he slept.  At about 2 o’clock the Rev. John Davis took a position near the corpse and read the beautiful lesson of the Episcopal Church.  This service was followed by prayer.  It was then announced that all those wishing to view the remains could do so.  The remains were then taken to Mt. Olivet cemetery and laid to rest.

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