Monday, March 18, 2013

The Mysterious Death of a Civil War Veteran.

"The Mysterious Death of John Stark"

The following curious headline made the front page of the Tonawanda Evening News on March 27, 1902:
Wealthy South Sider Thought to have been Held up and FOULLY DEALT WITH! Last Night...
Body Carried Some Distance and Thrown into Ditch.
Spot Where Body Was Found in a Lonely Unfrequented Locality near the Eastern Lumber Company's Mill.
Remains Were Discovered by Chance This Morning by Boys Who Were Frog Hunting.
Last Seen About 8:30 Last Night.
Was Unmarried and Leaves Two Sisters and a Brother.

John Stark, a veteran of the Civil War, was found dead in a field near the foot of Stark Street about 9 o'clock this morning and there is every indication that he was foully murdered.  It is thought that he was held up on his way home last night and after being made the victim of a cowardly attack his body was carried to the lonely, out of the way spot, where it was found by boys who were frog hunting.  There is a bruise on the back of the dead man's neck just at the base of the brain. The bruise has all the appearances of having been caused by a blunt instrument and is serious enough to have caused instant death.

The dead man was 58 years of age. He left his home on Hanover Street where he lived with his mother about 7:30 last evening. He said that he was going up-town to buy some tobacco and would return shortly. His mother thought it very strange that her son did not return last night, as he had never been known to remain over-night before, and this morning she initiated a search of the barn and other out buildings. No trace of the missing man was found until some boys reported that he was lying in a ditch as above related. The body was face downward and was partially hidden by rushes and brush as though a hasty attempt had been made to conceal it.

Stark recently sold valuable property and was reported to be worth about $30,000. His assailants no doubt thought he carried part of his wealth on his person and robbery was probably the motive for the dark deed.  Coroner Edmonds was at once notified and took charge of the remains which are now at Hamp's undertaking rooms. Seventy-six cents was found in the dead man's clothes. 

The spot where the body was found is at night-time a dark and unfrequented locality. It is several hundred feed [feet sic] from the nearest street and the Lehigh Valley railroad runs between it and Hanover Street. If Stark fell into the ditch, as some think, it is impossible to account for his presence near the spot. There is nothing nearby which might have caused the wound on the back of his neck by his falling and striking upon it. 

Stark was unmarried and leaves besides his mother, two sisters, Mrs. Robert ----[Name withheld for privacy] of Niagara Street and Mrs. Frank ----- of G------- Street, also a brother, Peter Stark of Hanover Street.

Stark was last seen alive about 8:30 last night when he bought a glass of beer in the saloon of Victor Monkrewicz on Fillmore Avenue.  $5.65 which had been paid to Stark on Tuesday cannot be found and it is thought that his assailants secured it.

This contemporary drawing, I imagine, is roughly how a reader of this article at the time may have fearfully pictured the crime as it happened. {Extra credit if you know what is really a picture of-- some clues have been removed}:

This story runs continuously every day in the Tonawanda Evening News until the mystery of his death is solved. I imagine that residents of the town of Tonawanda were terrified by the thought of an unknown assailant or group of ruffians, out to bludgeon wealthy townspeople to death in the night and raid their lifeless corpses for gold and silver. They were probably staying indoors and locking their windows at night, or sleeping with rifles under their beds.  

The result of the police investigation over the following week paints a very different picture of what happened to this unfortunate man.  Want to find out the truth? Follow my journal for updates as the mystery unfolds!

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