AMOS J. STILLWELL
MOS J. STILLWELL,
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,
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,
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
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.
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,
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
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.
THE TWO-BLADED AX
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.
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.
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.