Baltimore City, Maryland
Crime News Stories
The Centinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), November 9, 1808
Baltimore, October 24
On Friday evening last, a labourer employed by Mr. Spear, was shot through the head, and instantly expired. Mr. Spear narrowly escaped; as, about the same time a musket ball passed within a few inches of him. The firing was from the L’Ole French 74, in the stream.
It appears that a number of men (in all 7) who have charge of this ship, have occasionally indulged in firing at a target on shore. This is their own account - the truth will probably be fully developed on trial, as they are all in jail. Such was the sensation on the Point, that many of the citizens immediately assembled and boarded the ship whence they carried the 7 Frenchmen. [Submitted by Nancy Piper]
The Centinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), Wednesday, April 13, 1808
William Robisen, Daniel Doherty and Caleb Doherty, a mulatto, received sentence of death on Saturday last for the murder of Wirkner, who was killed by them in the act of breaking the prison of Baltimore county. William Morris, alias Joseph Martin, was removed from the jail of this place to Baltimore, where it is expected he will share a similar fate with Robison and the Dohertys. -- York Rec., April 2. [Submitted by Nancy Piper]
The Centinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), Wednesday, April 27, 1808
Annapolis, April 12
Death warrant issued for the execution of William Robinson, William Morris, Daniel Dougherty and Caleb Dougherty, for the murder of George Workner. Death warrant also issued for the execution of John Worelow, alias John Whirlow alias John Wanalow, for breaking open the store house of John Bishop, Esq., of Worcester county, feloniously taking therefrom 50 pounds of pork and one barrel of pork.
N. B. The said John Worelow is the person for whom a reward was offered by the Governor for shooting Judge James B. Robins.
Execution in all of the above cases, to take place on Friday, the 22d instant at one o’clock.
I was present last evening, in the gaol of Baltimore, when the death warrants were read to the unfortunate criminals, Dougherty, Morris, Robison, and the yellow man. Morris received the news with the most perfect calmness; and expressed his gladness that suspense was at an end. Dougherty was deeply affected; and perhaps he has most reason, as he killed Workner. [Submitted by Nancy Piper]
The Centinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), Wednesday, May 11, 1808
Dick Bowser, one of the miscreants who escaped from Baltimore jail, was apprehended and confined in the jail of this county from which place he was this week removed to Baltimore. The fate of this man may be anticipated from that of his accomplices, Morris, Robinson and the Dohertys. [Submitted by Nancy Piper]
The Centinel, Gettysburg, Pa , July 8, 1812
Bardstown, (Ken.) April 16
It scarcely falls to the lot of the journalist to record a more afflicting catastrophe than one which was witnessed in this place, on Friday the 10th inst. As far as has been ascertained, the shocking circumstances of this cruel affair are as follows.
Thomas Manson, (a boater) with a few companions had withdrawn to a retired room in a public house, it seems, for the purpose of enjoying themselves in frolic and festivity. Sometime after Elam Rusk (of this neighborhood) came into the room; he was ordered to absent himself – upon which one of the chosen guests observed Mr. Rusk had been invited to the room by him. This however did not reconcile Rusk as one of the party to Manson and he expressed his further displeasure at Rusk’s appearance; whereupon Rusk gave in replay that if his presence was objectionable, he would without further parlance withdraw and accordingly, was leaving the room when Manson gave him a blow. Some little scuffling ensued between them; upon this occurrence they went out of doors. Rusk observing to him as he left the room that if he was not more civil he might give him a beating. Manson then appeared to urge a combat. But Rusk declining any further altercation said he wished to be at peace and hoped Mr. Manson was not angry with him. The affair here subsided for a moment. Manson returned to his party and Rusk to the open passage of the house and when perceived by Manson, he drew a dirk from his bosom and pursued him. Rusk fled and closed the door upon Manson but his antagonist being strongest burst the door against Rusk, who from hence fled into the street, still under the pursuit of Manson, who at every opportunity was thrusting the dirk into him – the devoted Rusk still endeavoring to escape, returned to the house and caught a chair which he interposed between him and the weapon, praying at the same time to Mr. Manson, ‘for God’s sake not to kill him.’ Manson answered, you damn’d rascal, I will butcher you and well he confirmed his threats by his actions, for by his redoubled exertions he was soon able to give him a thrust in the throat or temple, upon which he fell helpless at his feet and while thus weltering in his blood, received two other stabs from his antagonist.
Rusk in all received a great many wounds of which he expired in about an hour.
Manson was immediately arrested by the civil authority and committed to prison, where he now awaits his ultimate trial in June next. The Coroner’s jury in inquest and the grand jury have both pronounced against him verdicts of willful murder.
The unfortunate Mr. Rusk emigrated from the city of Baltimore to this country about five years ago and has left a loving wife, a numerous family of loving children and an amiable sister to deplore the triple loss of a husband, a father and a friend.
And here let it be remarked that all the miseries of this horrible affair resulted from the accursed habit of wearing dirks, a practice in itself vile and malignant and well deserves the solemn execration of all the good members of civilized society – a practice that has gained such prevalence in this county, that no man is thought sufficiently equipped even for a ball room or any party of pleasure unless he has a dagger concealed in his bosom.
[Submitted by Nancy Piper]
Smith and Lacost Convicted of Slave Trade (1821)
Jos. Findlay Smith, of Baltimore, and Adolph Lacost of NY, Commanders of the schooners Plattsburg & Science, captured in April last on the African coast, by the U.S. ship Cyane, Captain Trenchard, were convicted in Circuit Court of U.S. in Boston, in November last, of slave trade; sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and fined $3000 each, on Thuesday (sic) [National Intelligencer, Feb 2, 1821 - Contributed by K. Torp]
Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
June 9 1824
Baltimore, June 3
Between one and two o’clock P.M. yesterday while the clerk was absent for a few moments in the interior of the warehouse, a person entered the counting room of Messrs. Brune & Danneman, S. Gaystreet, and stole from the desk the bank book containing Two Thousand Dollars, in U.S. Bank bills of $100 each, all payable at the Branch Bank in this city, from which they had been but a short time before drawn. It is believed that the theft was committed by a person of middle size, rather shabbily dressed, supposed to be 15 or 16 years of age. Should any notes of this description be offered by a suspicious person, it is the duty of every good citizen to stop them, in order that these worthy gentlemen may be aided in recovering their money, and that the daring felon may be brought to punishment. – Amer. [Submitted by Nancy Piper]
Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
July 21, 1824
Baltimore, July 9
Yesterday in the City Court, James M’Cullough, who had been tried a few days ago for passing counterfeit half dollars, was arraigned at the bar and received sentence of punishment – to be confined ten years in the Penintentiary. – Amer. [Submitted by Nancy Piper]
Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
July 28, 1824
From the Baltimore Patriot, July 19
Last night between 10 and 11 o’clock, an attempt was made to take the life of one of our most respectable and worthy physicians. The facts in the case, as far as we have learned them, are these: A person called on the Doctor, complaining that he, the Doctor had deceived him as to the actual state of his nephew’s disease, whom the Doctor was attending, to which the doctor replied he had not – that if his nephew was worse than he had represented, an unfavourable change must have occurred since he saw him. To this the complainant objected and insisted on the doctor’s immediately going with him to see his nephew. The was engaged and could not go then, but would go as soon as possible. The person very abruptly told him that he should or he would force him to go. The doctor again excused himself; and the enraged man drew out a pistol and fired at the doctor, who, as the pistol was presented, knocked it up, and the contents, large buck shot, were lodged in the cheek of the door a few inches above the doctor’s head. The first attempt having failed, another pistol was produced and presented, but before it was discharged it was wrested from him and he secured by some men in the street, and taken to the watch house. He this morning gave bail for his appearance at court. We forebear mentioning the offender’s name or making further remarks on this affair, as it is presumed that a higher tribunal than the press will sit in judgement upon it. When we mention the doctor’s name, it will surprise every one that such a man should have such an enemy; or indeed any enemy at all. There are few more inoffensive or more useful men in the city or country, than Dr. William B. Clendinen. Yet he it was who so narrowly escaped losing his life. [Submitted by Nancy Piper]
Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
November 10, 1824
Baltimore, Oct. 30
The awful sentence of justice was carried into execution yesterday, about 12 o’clock upon the persons of Negroes George and Henry, who had been convicted at a recent session of Baltimore County Court of one of the most atrocious crimes, committed under circumstances of horrible aggravation. The execution, by hanging, took place publicly, in the jail yard, in the view of a large number of spectators. – American.
[Submitted by Nancy Piper]
Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, PA)
October 12, 1825
Baltimore, Sept. 29. -- A Black woman murdered a black man in a Public alley last night and was arrested and committed. We understand she made sue of a large scythe for the purpose cutting her victim from head to foot in the most shocking manner.
[Submitted by Nancy Piper]
Attempt To Murder
Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pa)
June 28, 1826
On Tuesday morning, the 20th instant, between 9 and 10 o’clock Mr. John C. Butler, Innkeeper, on the Baltimore turnpike, about one miles from this borough received a stab from an unknown colored man.
The circumstances so far as we have been able to ascertain them, (in part related by Mr. Butler,) are these. He has started on that morning in search of a horse which had strayed from him and as he was riding along the Emmitsburg road, about 3 miles from this place, he met a negro with a sickle on his shoulder who enquired of him where he might get work. Mr. B. mentioned several farmers in that neighborhood and said he supposed any of them would give him employment as harvest was at hand. While this conversation was passing, the negro approached and took hold of the reins of the bridle which he refused to let go. Mr. B then enquired what his object was and he replied that he wished to have the horse – upon which Mr. B. struck him in the face with a cowskin, (the only weapon he had in his hand,) which caused the negro to lose his hold and step back. Mr. B. rode up, intending to strike him again but the negro closed in and pulled him off the horse. A struggle ensued in which Mr. B. succeeded in getting the negroe’s coat over his head and giving him some blows; the latter, however, being too strong for him, disengaged himself and seeing travelers approach, crossed a fence on one side of the road; but, having lost his hat and (as is supposed) his knife or dirk, he returned, picked them up and then fled through the fields on the other side of the road. Mr. B. together with a person residing in that neighborhood, followed him two or three hundred yards but they were unable to overtake him. Mr. B. then mounted his horse and rode home along, though he bled profusely. From the circumstance of his being able to ride, we presume the persons present thought he was but slightly injured; for they neglected even to enquire the names and place of residence of the travelers, (a man and woman) who, it is said, were nearest to the place of contention. Mr. B. thinks he was wounded as he was drawn off the horse. His situation was considered very dangerous for two or three days; but it is now expected that he may recover. The wound is on the left side between the lower rib and the hip bone and from the holes in the clothes, appears to have been given by a very sharp instrument, probably a butcher knife.
Stop the Murderer!
Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pa)
Feb 8, 1826
Edward Riley, a poor but honest drayman was murdered on the night of the 30th Jan., in North Howard Street in the city of Baltimore and robbed of about $75.
John Riley, who was seen with him a short time previous to the murder and who knew of his having money about him is supposed to be the murderer, having suddenly left his house and taken the six o’clock stage of the following morning for the city of Washington. The said John Riley is about 30 years of age, about 5 feet 6 inches high, round face, dark hair and dark eyes, of a lively disposition and is given to intoxication. He had on a blue coat, blue pantaloons, yellow waistcoat, a new fur hat, a new scarlet tartan plaid cloak and a yellow cane with a buck horn head. He is a weaver by profession. – Balt. Amer.
The persons who left this city in pursuit of John Riley, the supposed murderer of Edward Riley, succeeded in arresting him in Washington on Wednesday last. He was brought to this city on Thursday evening and taken before D. B. Ferguson, Esq., for examination, from whence he was committed to prison for trial. It is stated in the Patriot that in the course of the examination it appeared that the wife of the prisoner indentified a pieces of calico which she gave to Edward Riley on the night of the murder to wrap up his money in which was found upon the accused. The same piece of calico was identified by Joseph N. Craddock, a tailor, residing in the Marsh Market Space where he pulled it out of his pocket with the money, which was about $79 to pay for some clothing which he there bought. Since the commitment of John Riley he has stated that he found the money while walking with the deceased that evening, which the deceased dropt from his pocket. – Balt. Amer.
Baltimore, March 4. -- This tribunal has been occupied since Wednesday morning, by the trial of John Reilly, charged with the murder of Edward Reilly, in this city, in the month of Jan. last. A very great number of witnesses were examined and the cause elaborately argued on the part of the prisoner by Buchanan, Dorsey and Heath and for the State by Jefferson Glen and Attorney General Kell. The jury retired last evening about eight o’clock and at half past one today, rendered a verdict of guilty of murder in the second degree. – Gaz. [Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) March 15, 1826 - Transcribed by N. Piper]
Reily, the person committed for murdering Reily in Baltimore has been tried and found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in the Penitentiary.
[Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) March 22, 1826 - Transcribed by N. Piper]
Balimore City Court -- June Term, 1827
State vs. William Grigg
This was an indictment for feloniously and willfully killing Mrs. Tracy, by driving over her a cart, on the 27th June. The evidence in the case was that the traverse on the 27th of June was driving a cart in a rapid trot at a late hour in the afternoon – that he did not hold the reins in his hands, but had tied them to the cart – that he ran over the deceased, who died a few hours afterwards – that the deceased had previously drank a half pint of gin, together with some other liquor – that the prisoner was partially intoxicated, but that his character was uniformly good and that he was extremely industrious. It was further proved that he was very near sighted. The Jury after an absence of some hours returned with a verdict Guilty of Manslaughter, and recommendation to the mercy of the Court. Counsel for the State, T. Kell, Esq. Attorney General; for the prisoner Alceus B. Wolfe and John Glenn, Esqrs. – American
[Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), July 25, 1827 - Transcribed by N. Piper]
Henry Fossett Indicted for Gambling
Republican Compiler, Gettysburg, PA, June 30, 1829
Henry Fossett has recently been tried at Baltimore on an indictment under an act of the state of Maryland against gambling by keeping a Roulette table; found guilty and sentenced to one week's imprisonment and to pay a fine of 1000 dollars.
June 1874 -- From the Louisville Courier-Journal
A Life Tragedy - The Story of Sam McDonald, the millionaire murderer
In the Courier-Journal of a few days since the following telegram from Baltimore was published: "During a drunken brawl in the Sherwood House early this morning, Berry Amoe, aged 35, a well-known gambler, was fatally stabbed, as he alleged, by Sam McDonald, who was arrested. McDonald is supposed to be here on a visit from Indiana. He formerly resided near Baltimore, and is the son of Wm. McDonald, the millionaire, former owner of Flora Temple. The young man who stands charged with this atrocious crime was well know in the West, and has many friends in this city. Never did a career open more brightly than his, and never was the inevitable end of unbridled dissipation more clearly fulfilled than in the brief paragraph we have given above. His fall from a high estate, far beyond the common, has been so headlong and rapid, that a brief recital of its incidents will be of interest to the general reader, and will serve to point a sad mortal that cannot be too often inculcated, and will not come amiss to some of our own jeunnesse doree. The Baltimore papers, in chronicling the incidents of the crime, have but briefly alluded to the previous career of the alleged murderer. Some acquaintance with its salient features enables the writer to present the facts as given below. The murder seems to have been the natural sequence of four years of the most extraordinary dissipation. Three men were drinking together in a Baltimore bar room in the early hours of the morning, and alter a night spent in ?. One of them was a noted gambler of that city - Berry Amos, whom a local paper describes as a fine lookingman, at least, so far as the animal part if concerned; tall, erect, broad chested, and muscular, with sturdy lower limbs, and brawny arms, and all well rounded he presented to the eye the very personification of physical strength and manly vigor. Another was a boon companion and the third was Sam McDonald. The two first were at the bar taking a drink together, and the third arose from his chair and stabbed the gambler to the heart. The murder is said to have been done out of mere wantonness. The murderer was besotted with liquor, and had a bowie knife in his pocket. Rising from his seat in alcoholic delirium, he singled his victim out simply because he was the taller man in the crowd before him. There is said to have been no cause for quarrel between the two, and that it is not probable the drunken man cherished any malice whatever toward his victim or any other person in the party. Such are the circumstances of one scene in the life drama of which we write; the next must be left to the record of the courts to tell, and of that which preceded the bloody tragedy in its course, we may briefly allude to here. Samuel McDonald was the son of a very wealthy man in Baltimore, whose family occupied the highest social position in that city. He himself was sent abroad to be educated, and spent several years at one of the schools in England. While still abroad his father died, leaving his immense fortune to be divided between his son and a daughter, his only children. Young McDonald's portion was something over $500,00, and, with proper management would soon have advanced very greatly in value. Shortly after his father's death the young man attained his majority. The family residence, just out of Baltimore, was one of the most elegant in the country. Here on the night of his 21st birthday he gave a grand dinner to various friends in the city and the celebration is said to have been carried out in a style of almost unparalleled magnificence. The spacious grounds were ablaze with light, and a fountain ran champagne in the yard. The night closed with an orgie of wine-drinking in which an amassing quantity was consumed. Thus he started out upon a career of dissipation which has hurried him in four years - he is now but 25 - to the horrible tragedy of last Wednesday night. Young McDonald at this age was an extraordinary
specimen of manly beauty. He was over six feet tall, straight as an arrow, broad chested, and muscular; yet as graceful and agile as an athlete. A wealth of flaxen hair, and a broad, fair forehead; deep blue eyes, and a noble mouth, with features perfectly classic in their outline - he was a perfect type of the Anglo Saxon. Add to this the exuberant spirits which always attend good health, and that nameless magnetism which so few men possess, and the possession of which may be the best or the worst of God's gifts, he was a most enjoyable companion, the life of the social circle, and as much admired by men as he was adored by woman. Shortly after he attained his
majority he came out to Terre Haute, Ind. on a visit. He returned to that pleasant city a few months afterward, bought him a farm in the vicinity, stocked it with the finest horses and cattle, and there inaugurated a series of ? which shocked the goodly little city to its center. He was soon ostracized from the society of the town, and direful stories are told of the excesses into which he then plunged. There were two gamblers from the East whom he had brought West with him, and it is said that there were still more disreputable companions of another sex who lived in the same house with him. From this rendezvous he would take frequent hunting excursions
into the neighboring prairies of Indiana and Illinois, the return to be always celebrated by a debauch. Wines flowed like water in his hunting lodge, as he called it, and cards followed the wine on the table. It was said by those who professed to know that young McDonald spent over $150,000 the first year he lived in Terre Haute. Here he has since lived, and war are told that most, if not all, of his original patrimony has been squandered. It was on a visit back to Baltimore that his last fatal tragedy was enacted. [Submitted by Dena Whitesell]
ALLEGED POISONER ARRESTED
Ex-Husband of Cincinnati Woman Held in Baltimre
Baltimore, April 10, 1900 - Charles O. Winold was arrested today and is held for the Cincinnati authorities on the charge of attempting to poison his wife and children in the latter city on March 30, (1900) Winold, when arested gave an assumed name, but when questioned by the detectives recited a partial history of the troubles between himself and his wife. He said that his wife had obtained a divorce from him in Minneapolis; that, "under disguise he had kidnapped his four children, and took them to Marietta, Ohio. After a long legal battle in Hoboken New Jersey, last year the children were returned to the custody of their mother.
"I understand my former wife is going to be married again. I would rather kill my children than that they should be placed under the care of a stepfather," he is quoted as saying to the officers. Winold is a traveling salesman, and was arrested today on information received from the Cincinnati police yesterday. [The New York Times - Published 11 April 1900 - Submitted by Chris Walters]
November 24, 1924, Monday
John Philip Hill of Baltimore, Republican Congressman from the third District of Maryland, indicted for violating the Volstead Act (TIME, Oct. 6), was tried last week. And John Philip Hill was acquitted.
John Philip is a character. Hear about him in the sparkling words of Correspondent Clinton W. Gilbert:
"He lives by headlines. If newspapers were abolished, he would curl up and die. I know he will read this with delight and paste it away in his scrapbook. That's why I am writing it.
"A man who devotes all his energies to being a good story should receive some encouragement. And he is a lusty, vigorous fellow, full of animal spirits, and where one of this sort sometimes loves food, sometimes loves women, sometimes loves adventure, John Philip loves publicity . . .
"He has imagination as well as energy. Farmers could make cider and no one went around to find out how much alcohol it contained. Well, why not have a farm in a Baltimore backyard? He had two windows painted on his front fence with painted cows' heads looking out of them. Then he had apple trees with apples carefully tied on them moved into his backyard. Then he set up a cider press ..."
Yes. He set up a cider press and allowed his cider to ferment a bit, just as he had done previously with some grapes, and he gave his neighbors to drink.
He was indicted on six counts for illegal manufacture and possession of the forbidden, and for constituting a public nuisance. But it is notorious that six counts does not constitute a knockout. John Philip took his six counts, then he took a reelection, and then he took his trial.
The decision does not greatly alter the force of the Volstead Act. That Act forbids the manufacture, etc., for sale, of intoxicating beverages and defines such beverages as those containing more than ½% of alcohol. But tucked away in the Act is a sentence which says:
"The penalties provided in this act against the manufacture of liquor without permit shall not apply to a person for manufacturing non-intoxicating cider and fruit juices exclusively for use in his home. . ."
Federal Judge Morris A. Soper interpreted this to mean that the home juicemaker was exempt from the arbitrary definition that ½% alcoholic content makes a beverage "intoxicating." For beverages on sale, he held that the ½% criterion was legal and unassailable, but within the walls of a man's home what he made exclusively for his own use was not to be so strictly governed.
Judge Soper therefore charged the jury that, for the purposes of this case, "the question for you to determine is whether these articles were intoxicating in fact. . . . Intoxicating liquor is liquor which contains such a proportion of alcohol that it will produce intoxication when imbibed in such quantities as it is practically possible for a man to drink. . . . Perhaps I might interpolate here that the intoxication in this law means what you and I ordinarily understand as average human beings by the word 'drunkenness' . . ."
As far as regards the two counts charging John Philip with maintaining a public nuisance, the Judge instructed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, since none of the questionable beverages was sold.
Then the jury went out to determine whether wine containing from 3.34% to 11.64% of alcohol and cider containing 2.7% alcohol was intoxicating in the ordinary meaning of the word. For 17 hours the jurymen were closeted. Two of them held out for a verdict of guilty. At last they gave in. "Not guilty."
John Philip, shaking hands vigorously, exclaimed: "Well, boys, you can make all the cider and wine you want now."
Then he added more formally:
"Independent of the verdict, the opinion of Judge Soper to the effect that fruit juices and cider made in the home for use there must be intoxicating in fact and are not limited to ½% alcoholic content, fixed by other sections of the act to regulate other beverages, is of the utmost importance.
"It strengthens us tremendously in our position in asking Congress to give us light wines and beer. It proves what I have always maintained that the Volstead act is hypocritical, crooked and marked by two standards. . .' [Submitted by Dena Whitesell]
April 1, 1929, Monday
Six years ago Claire Ulrich, chorus girl met Charles E. Whitehurst, Baltimore. Md., theatreman, in Manhattan. They went to a hotel. In their room, without witnesses, they read to each other the marriage service from a prayer book, exchanged vows. On page 449 the girl wrote "Claire" and then "Charles." As man and wife they lived together briefly.
Less than a year later Whitehurst died, leaving an estate of $280,000 and no will. Last week the Maryland Court of Appeals decided that this marriage was valid under the laws of New York, that Claire Ulrich was, by common law, Mrs. Whitehurst. As his widow, and over the objections of his mother and brothers, she was entitled to administer and share in his estate.
In 1911, Carlton Curtis, 43, a rich bachelor, was standing at the corner of 54th Street and Broadway, Manhattan, when he saw an automobile bearing down recklessly upon a 17-year-old Negro girl. He snatched her back to safety, found her lithe and vivacious, befriended her. She said her name was Letitia Ernestine Brown. For her he bought a small house in Freeport, L. I., where, she said, he solemnly took her hand, declared himself her husband and her his wife. On her he settled a secret fund of $250,000. About Freeport the two were known as Mr. and Mrs. Harry Brown. Six months of each year Mr. Curtis traveled alone in Europe. Some of the money which he gave her she spent upon a Negro man whose wife threatened court action unless much more money was forthcoming. The triangle crashed and last year Letitia Ernestine Brown sued Mr. Curtis for separation and $250 per week alimony, claiming she was his common-law wife. A Manhattan judge decided their relationship was purely meretricious and illicit, dismissed the suit. Mr. Curtis, declaring his "life was ruined," vanished "to get away from it all."
Between these two cases, as in a twilight zone, lies the treacherous field of common-law marriage. Only the hairline of intent divides such a legal union from the lover-mistress relationship.
States by statutes have decreed who shall be competent to marry, what persons shall be competent to perform marriage ceremonies. These laws are generally considered directory, not mandatory, and a marriage outside the statutory law i.e., under common or unwritten law is by implication a legal exception, quite valid if the faith and intent behind the contract are good. Common-law marriages are recognized by the courts of most of the older States east of the Mississippi. Some of the newer States by statute expressly prohibit such unions. No nonstatutory marriage can be positively stamped as valid until its special circumstances have been reviewed by a competent court.
A sound common-law marriage is usually composed of: 1) a man and a woman both legally competent to make the contract (age, absence of other matrimonial obligations, etc.); 2) their actual and mutual agreement to enter the union faithfully, permanently, to the exclusion of all others; 3) their cohabitation; 4) the length of time they live together (varying in practice from one to seven years); 5) their public and social conduct as man and wife. Children by such a union, the existence of a settled home, and the community's recognition, all tend strongly to confirm the relationship as bona-fide.
Into the courts come infinite circumstantial variations of the common-law marriage, most of them confused in intent and darkened by deliberate secrecy. Courts generally hold that the good faith of one party sustains such a union, regardless of the mental reservations of the other. Promiscuity, neglect, cruelty, etc., open the door to legal separation as in any statutory marriage. The secrecy usual in a lover-mistress relationship prevents its becoming a common-law marriage unless time dispels the cloak and establishes public and personal acceptance of the union.
In the Whitehurst case the Maryland court said: "Our conclusion is that they [the circumstances] more than met the requirements of the law [of New York]."
In the Curtis case the New York court said: "The character of their association was indicated by the fact that he visited her not in the way that would characterize their relations as those of man and wife but rather in the way that a lover visits his mistress. . . . That they were known in Freeport as Mr. and Mrs. Brown simply indicates a convenient cloak for illicit relations." [Submitted by Dena Whitesell]
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