Hall–Mills murder case

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Eleanor Reinhardt Mills (1888-1922), was the wife of James Mills, and one of the murder victims.
Frances Noel Stevens Hall (1874–1942), widow of victim Edward Wheeler Hall and a defendant in the 1926 murder trial.
A calling card of Reverend Edward Wheeler Hall was found at the Hall-Mills murders crime scene in 1922.

The Hall–Mills murder case involved an Episcopal priest and a member of his choir with whom he was having an affair, who were killed on September 14, 1922, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The suspected murderers, the priest's wife and her brothers, were acquitted in a 1926 trial. The case is largely remembered in journalism history for the vast extent and sensational nature of the newspaper coverage it received in nearby New York and nationwide. It would take the Lindbergh kidnapping trial in the 1930s to eclipse the high profile of the Hall-Mills murder.[1]

Discovery of the bodies[edit]

On September 16, 1922, the bodies of a woman (Eleanor Mills) and a man (Edward Hall) were discovered on their backs in a field, both shot in the head with a .32-calibre pistol, the man once and the woman three times. The bullet entered the man's head over his right ear and exited through the back of his neck. The woman was shot under the right eye, over the right temple and over the right ear. A police officer at the scene noticed that the woman's throat had been severed, and maggots were already in the wound, indicating the death occurred at least 24 hours earlier. The bodies appeared to have been positioned side by side after death. Both had their feet pointing toward a crab apple tree. The man had a hat covering his face, and his calling card was placed at his feet. Torn up love letters were placed between the bodies.

Initial confusion was created because the crime scene was near the Middlesex County and Somerset County border. New Brunswick (Middlesex County) police arrived first, but the crime scene was actually in Franklin Township (Somerset County). Curiosity-seekers trampled the scene and took souvenirs as the jurisdictional issue was being settled. Evidence was severely compromised, including Hall's calling card's being passed among the crowd.

The woman was identified as Eleanor Reinhardt Mills (born 1888), the wife of James E. Mills (1878–1965). She was wearing a blue dress with red polka dots, black silk stockings, and brown shoes. She had worn a blue velvet hat that was on the ground near her body, and her brown silk scarf was wrapped around her throat. Her arm had a bruise, and there was a tiny cut on her lip. Her left hand had been positioned, after death, to touch the man's right thigh. An autopsy four years later showed that her tongue had been cut out.

The man was identified as Edward Wheeler Hall (born 1881), a New Brunswick Episcopal priest. He was found with his right arm positioned, after death, to touch the woman's neck. His hat covered his face, which concealed the gunshot wound to his head. He wore a pair of glasses. There was a small bruise on the tip of his ear, and abrasions were found on his left little finger and right index finger. A wound was found five inches (127 mm) below his kneecap on the calf of his right leg. His watch was missing, and there were coins in his pocket.

Investigation[edit]

The suspects were Hall's wife, Frances Noel Stevens (1874–1942), and her two brothers, Henry Hewgill Stevens (1869–1939) and William "Willie" Carpender Stevens (1872–1942). The original 1922 investigation by Joseph E. Stricker (?–1926) yielded no indictments.[2] Continued speculation in the New York Daily Mirror, fueled by comments made by a man associated with one of Mrs. Hall's housekeepers, led the then New Jersey governor A. Harry Moore to order a second investigation and a trial in 1926. This time, Henry de la Bruyere Carpender, a cousin of the brothers, was also named as a suspect but was cleared before the main trial of the original suspects.[citation needed]

Trial[edit]

The trial began on November 3, 1926, in the Somerset County Courthouse in Somerville, New Jersey, with Charles W. Parker and Frank Cleary presiding as judges. It lasted about 30 days. It garnered huge national attention, largely because of the social status of the wealthy Stevens and Carpender families. The prosecuting attorney was Alexander Simpson. Defense attorneys were Robert H. McCarter (a former New Jersey Attorney General) and Timothy N. Pfeiffer. Joseph A. Faurot was the testifying fingerprint expert. Raymond C. Stryker was the foreman of the jury.

The prosecution's key witness was Jane Gibson, a pig farmer on whose property the bodies were discovered. The defense portrayed her as an uneducated and "crazy" woman and attempted to ruin her credibility. Gibson's account varied, differing when told to the police, to newspapers, and at her trial (at which she testified from a hospital bed rolled into the court room). Frances Stevens Hall and her two brothers had the motive and the means for the murder, but there was not enough evidence to convict them.

Victims[edit]

Eleanor Reinhardt Mills[edit]

Eleanor Reinhardt was married to James E. Mills. They lived at 49 Carman Street in New Brunswick, New Jersey. James was acting sexton at St John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in New Brunswick and full-time janitor at the Lord Stirling Elementary School in New Brunswick. Eleanor and James had two children, Charlotte E. Mills (1906–1952) and Daniel Mills (1910–1992). Eleanor, James, and their daughter Charlotte and son Daniel were buried in Van Liew Cemetery, New Brunswick.

Edward Wheeler Hall[edit]

Edward Wheeler Hall married Frances Noel Stevens on July 20, 1911. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York, receiving his theological degree in Manhattan. After graduation, he moved from New York to Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and then to St John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Edward was living at 23 Nichols Avenue in New Brunswick at the time of the murder. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

New York Times; December 4, 1926

Suspects[edit]

Henry de la Bruyere Carpender[edit]

Henry de la Bruyere Carpender (1882–1934) was born on May 15, 1882 to John Neilson Carpender and Anna Neilson Kemp. He lived with his wife Mary Nielson at the corner of Suydam Street and Nichol Avenue in New Brunswick. Henry was a cousin of Frances Stevens Hall and her brothers, whose mother was a Carpender. He worked as a Wall Street stockbroker. Although he was an initial suspect, he was never brought into the main trial. He died on May 26, 1934, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery, New Brunswick.

Frances Noel Stevens Hall[edit]

Frances Noel Stevens was born on January 13, 1874 to Francis Kerby Stevens (1840–1874) and Mary Noel Carpender (1840–1919). Frances and Edward married on July 20, 1911. She was buried on December 21, 1942 in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York with her husband. In the prosecution's scenario, she instigated the murder of her cheating husband. Her home was later bought by Rutgers University and used as the residence of the Dean of Douglass College. She was related to many of the wealthy families of New Brunswick, including the Carpenders, Nielsons, and possibly the Johnsons of Johnson & Johnson.

Henry Hewgill Stevens[edit]

Henry Hewgill Stevens (1869-1939) was born on November 10, 1869. He married Ethel Griffin on June 27, 1901. He was a retired exhibition marksman and lived in Lavallette, New Jersey. The prosecution contended that he fired the shots. Henry testified that he was fishing miles away from the murder on the night of the killing, and three witnesses corroborated his testimony. He died of a heart attack on December 3, 1939, in Lavallette, New Jersey.

William Carpender Stevens[edit]

William Carpender Stevens (1872–1942) was born on March 13, 1872. He owned a .32-calibre pistol like the one used in the murder, although the firing mechanism was supposed to have been filed down so that he could not hurt himself with it. In the prosecution's scenario, he provided the weapon, and his fingerprint was found on a calling card left at the scene of the crime. Willie was a colorful character on the witness stand, delivering credible and not unsympathetic testimony. He was incapable of holding a job and spent most of his time hanging out at a local firehouse. Although the syndrome had not yet been clinically described during his lifetime, Willie Stevens's eccentric personality was consistent with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder,[citation needed] although no conclusive diagnosis can be made. He died on December 30, 1942.[3]

Witness[edit]

Jane Gibson[edit]

Jane Gibson (ca 1870–1930) and her son William lived in an old barn converted into living space off De Russey’s Lane. She raised hogs, which earned her the names "pig lady" and "pig woman" in the newspaper accounts. Jane told investigators that her dog was barking loudly about 9 pm on the night of the murder. She investigated and saw a man standing in her cornfield. She rode her mule toward Easton Avenue to approach the man. As she neared him, she realised there were not one, but four people standing near a crab apple tree. Jane heard gunshots and one of the figures fell to the ground. She testified that she heard a woman scream, "Don’t", repeated three times. She said she turned her mule in the opposite direction, heard more gunshots and when she looked back, saw a second person fall down. She also heard a woman shout out the name "Henry".[4]

The case and trial in fact and fiction[edit]

After the trial, Mrs Hall brought a defamation suit against the New York Daily Mirror. The New York Times '​ accounts were actually more voluminous but less slanted; they reported on all aspects of the trial and dedicated more space to the Hall-Mills case than any previous trial in American history.[citation needed] (That record would soon be eclipsed by another New Jersey trial, the Lindbergh case.[citation needed])

The Hall-Mills murders have been much written about in both fact and fiction. Damon Runyon was one of the reporters of the trial, as was famed mystery novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart. Willie Stevens was later the subject of an essay by James Thurber. The trial inspired the novel The Crime by Stephen Longstreet as well as Frances Noyes Hart's novel The Bellamy Trial, a pioneering work that helped[citation needed] the genre of the courtroom mystery and was turned into a film in 1929. Even before the trial, the silent film The Goose Woman (1925), starring Louise Dresser and Jack Pickford, capitalized on Jane Gibson's story and statements; the film was remade as The Past of Mary Holmes in 1933.

Famed attorney and liberal activist William M. Kunstler published a 1964 book titled The Minister and the Choir Singer, which he re-released with added editorial material in 1980 as The Hall-Mills Murders. In his book, Kunstler theorized that the Ku Klux Klan had been responsible for the couple's demise, based on the facts that the Klan was a very violent organization and was active in New Jersey in the 1920s. But he acknowledged that the Klan had not previously killed anyone in the state, and his reasons for thinking the group would target this particular couple were admittedly speculative.[citation needed]

Gerald Tomlinson's Fatal Tryst: Who Killed the Minister and the Choir Singer? is the most detailed exploration of the case written to date and concludes that the Stevens siblings were the guilty parties.[citation needed]

Additional images and a more detailed account of the local perspective and effect on the once rural community of Franklin Township can be found in books written by William B. Brahms.[which?]

In her book Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of 'The Great Gatsby' (2013), Sarah Churchwell speculates that parts of the ending of The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald were based on the Hall-Mills Case.[5] Based on her forensic search for clues, she asserts that the two victims in the Halls-Mills murder case inspired the characters who were murdered in The Great Gatsby.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Under The Crabapple Tree.". Time (magazine). November 15, 1926. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "Three hundred newspaper men and women sat in a curving, triple arc of chairs facing the judge's bench, the witness stand, the jury box, of a tiny courtroom in Somerville, New Jersey. The air was stuffy. An angular court crier (John Bunn by name) intoned in a creaky voice, "Hear ye. ..." The reporters' pencils moved rapidly, their eyes searched the faces of the witnesses, the defendants, the lawyers. Occasionally a truck rumbled through the street outside. In here, a certain Mrs. Frances Stevens Hall and her brothers, the Messrs. Henry and "Willie" Stevens, were on trial for the murder of a clergyman and a choir singer." 
  2. ^ "J.E. Stricker Dies After Operation. Former Middlesex Prosecutor Began the Investigation of Hall-Mills Mystery. Sixth death during inquiry. Rumor of Suicide Unfounded. Death in Hospital Due to Peritonitis". New York Times. October 3, 1926. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "The sixth death to occur among persons intimately concerned in the investigation of the Hall-Mills murder case came this morning when Joseph E. Stricker, former prosecutor of Middlesex County, who was the first man to direct the investigation four years ago, succumbed to peritonitis following an operation for acute appendicitis a week ago. ..." 
  3. ^ Gerald Tomlinson (1999). Fatal Tryst: Who Killed the Minister and the Choir Singer. Home Run Press. ISBN 978-0-917125-09-6. 
  4. ^ "Woman's Story Unshaken. Saw "Glistening Thing" in Broker's Hand, Then Heard the Shots. Missing Records Restored. Brother of Former Prosecutor Beekman Gives Them Up. Attempted Sale Reported. Another Witness Jailed. Detective Admits Police Work at Start Was Inadequate. Charlotte Mills On Stand.". New York Times. August 14, 1926. "Dramatic Day in Court as State's Chief Witnesses Testify in Hall-Mills Case Long Missing. Mrs. Jane Gibson, the "pig woman," who is the State's principal witness in the revived investigation of the Hall-Mills murder case, took the stand at Somerville, New Jersey, yesterday and named the persons she swears were at the scene of the slaying of the Rev. Edward W. Hall and Mrs. Eleanor R. Mills four years ago, near New Brunswick, New Jersey." 
  5. ^ Powers, Thomas date=July 4, 2013. "The Road to West Egg". London Review of Books 13. pp. 9–11. 
  6. ^ Sarah Churchwell (June 17, 2014). "Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby". The Leonard Lopate Show. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Mrs. Jane Gibson Dies From Cancer; Had Long Suffered From the Disease -- Known as 'Pig Woman' in Hall-Mills Case". New York Times (NJ). February 8, 1930. p. 9. 
  • "Willie Stevens ill. Defendant in Hall-Mills Trial Suffering From a Heart Ailment". New York Times (New Brunswick, New Jersey). December 16, 1934. p. 7. 
  • "Henry Stevens, who was one of the defendants in the Hall–Mills murder case, died of heart disease last night at his home here. His death came thirteen years to the day after a jury had found him not guilty.". New York Times (Lavallette, New Jersey). December 4, 1939. p. 10. 
  • "Mrs. Frances Stevens Hall, one of the most dramatic figures in the unsolved Hall-Mills murder mystery, died at her home here this morning at the age of 68. She had been in poor health for some time and recently had suffered several heart attacks.". New York Times (New Brunswick, New Jersey). December 19, 1942. p. 47. 
  • "Willie Stevens, 70, of Hall-Mills Case; Eccentric Figure of Murder Trial Dies in New Brunswick 11 Days After Sister Proved a firm witness. Last of 4 Members of Family Tried and Acquitted of Slaying of Rector and Choir Singer.". New York Times. December 31, 1942. p. 15. 
  • "Miss Charlotte Mills, daughter of one of the victims in the sensational Hall-Mills murder case here in September, 1922, died on Friday in the Middlesex Nursing Home, in Metuchen, New Jersey.". New York Times (New Brunswick, New Jersey). February 3, 1952. p. 11. 
  • "James Mills, Husband of Victim In '22 Hall. Mills Slaying Dies; Wife and Pastor Were Shot in Lovers' Lane -- 3 Tried in 1926 and Cleared". New York Times (Milltown, New Jersey). November 8, 1965. p. 43. 

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