Hanged by the Neck

A Confession

by A Retired Member of the Detective Police
[William Russell]

Chapter I

I AM about to lift the veil of mystery which for ten years has shrouded the murder of Maria G—; and, though I lay bare my own weakness, or folly, or what you will, I do not shrink from the unveiling. No hand but mine can perform the task. There was, indeed, a man who might have done this better than I; but he wrapped himself in silence and went his way.

I like a man who can hold his tongue.
 
On the corner of C— and B— Streets stands a dingy-brown house, which, judging from its obsolete style of architecture, must have been built a century ago. It has a very cocked hat air about it—an antique, unhappy look. It is now tenanted by an incalculable number of Irish families; but at the time of which I write it was a second-rate lodging-house of the more respectable sort, and rather largely patronized by poor but honest literary men, tragic actors, and pretty ballet girls.

My apartments in C— Street were opposite this building, to which my attention was directed, soon after taking possession of the rooms, by the discovery of the following facts: — First, that a very charming blonde lodged on the second floor front of “over the way,” and sang like a canary-bird every morning; second, that her name was Maria G—; third, that she had two lovers—short allowance for a danseuse. If ever poetry and pathos took human shape it was christened Maria G—. She was one of Beauty’s best thoughts. I cannot tell if her eyes were black or hazel; but her hair was bronze-brown, silken and wavy, and her mouth the perfection of tenderness. Her form was rich in those perfect curves which delighted the old Greek masters. I write this with no impure thought. But when she lay in her little room, stark, and lifeless, and horrible, the glory faded from her face, then I stooped down and kissed her, but not till then. How ghastly she looked! Eyes with no light in them, lips with no breath on them—white, cold, dead!

Maria G— was a finer study to me than her lovers. One of them was commonplace enough— well dressed, well made, handsome, shallow. Nature manufactures such men by the gross. He was a lieutenant in the navy I think, and ought to have been on the sea, or in it, instead of working ruin ashore. The other was a man of different mould. His character, like his person, had rough lines to it. Only for the drooping of his eyelids, and a certain coarseness about the mouth, he would have been handsome, in spite of those dark, deep-sunken eyes. His frame would have set an anatomist wild—tall, deep-chested, knitted with muscles of steel. “Some day,” said I, as I saw him stalk by the house one evening, “he will throw the little lieutenant out of that second floor window.” It would have been a wise arrangement.
 
From the time I left off short jackets women have perplexed me. I have discovered what woman is not; but I have never found out what she is. I cannot tell to this day which of those two men Maria G— loved, or if she loved either. The flirtation, however, was scandal enough for the entire neighborhood; but little did the gossips dream of the tragedy which was being acted under their noses.
 
This affair had continued for several months, when it was reported that Maria and Julius Kenneth were affianced. The lieutenant was less frequently seen in B— Street; and Julius waited upon Maria’s footsteps with a humility and tenderness strangely out of keeping with his rough nature. Mrs. Grundy was somewhat appeased. Yet, though Maria went to the Sunday concerts with Julius Kenneth, she still wore the lieutenant’s roses in her bosom!

If I could only meet with an unenigmatical woman!

II

I WAS awakened one morning by several quick, nervous raps on my room door. The noise startled me from a most appalling dream.
 
“Oh, sir!” cried a voice on the landing, “there’s been a dreadful murder done across the street! They’ve murdered Maria G—!”
 
“I will get up.” That was all I said. I looked at my watch. It was nine o’clock. I had overslept myself; but then I sat up late the night before.

I dressed myself hastily, and without waiting for breakfast, pushed my way through the crowd that had collected in front of the house, and passed upstairs, unquestioned to the scene of the tragedy. When I entered the room there were six people present—a tall, slim
gentleman, with a professional air, evidently a physician; two policemen; Adelaide Woods, an actress; Mrs. Marston, the landlady; and Julius Kenneth. In the centre of the chamber, on the bed, lay the body of Maria G—. The face of the corpse haunted me for years afterwards with its bloodless lips, the dark streaks under the eyes, and the long silken hair streaming over the pillow. I stooped over her for a moment, and turned down the counter-pane, which was drawn up closely to her chin.

“There was that across her throat
Which you had hardly cared to say!

At the head of the bed sat Julius Kenneth, bending over the icy hand which he held in his own. He seemed to be kissing it. The gentleman in black was conversing in undertones with Mrs. Marston, who wrung her hands every other moment and glanced toward the body. The two policemen were examining the doors, closets, and windows of the premises. There was no fire in the grate, but the room was suffocatingly close. I opened a window and leaned against the casement to catch the fresh air. The physician approached me. I muttered something to him.

“Yes,” he began, “the affair looks very mysterious, as you remark. Never saw so little evidence of anything. Thought at first ’twas a case of suicide: door locked, key on the inside, room in perfect order; but then we find no instrument with which the subject could have inflicted that wound on the neck. Party must have escaped by the window. But how? The windows are at least thirty feet from the ground. It would be impossible for a person to jump that distance without fracturing a limb, even if he could clear the iron railing below. Unpleasant things to jump on, those spikes….Must have been done with a sharp knife. The party meant to make sure work of it. The carotid cleanly severed. Death in a hundred seconds.”
 
The medical man went on in this hideous style for ten minutes, during which time Kenneth did not raise his lips from Maria’s hand. I spoke to him; but he only shook his head in reply. I understood his grief; and on returning to my room wrote him a note, the purport of which will be shown hereafter.
 
The Evening Herald of that day contained the following article: —
 
“MURDER IN B— STREET.—This morning, at eight o’clock, Maria G—, the well-known danseuse, was found murdered in her bed, at her late residence on the corner of B— and C— Streets. There was but one wound on the body—a fearful gash on the neck, just below the left ear. The deceased was dressed in a ballet costume, and was evidently murdered immediately after her return from the theatre, by some person or persons concealed in the room. On a chair near the bed lay several fresh bouquets, and a long cloak which the deceased was in the habit of wearing over her dancing dress on coming home from the theatre at night. The perfect order of the apartment, and the fact that the door was locked on the inside, have induced many to believe that the poor girl killed herself. But we cannot think so. That the door was fastened on the inside proves nothing, except that the murderer was hidden in the chamber. That the room gave no evidence of a struggle is also an insignificant fact. Two men, or even one strong man, grappling suddenly with deceased, who was a very slight woman, would have prevented any great struggle. No weapon whatever was discovered on the premises. We give below all the material testimony elicited by the coroner’s inquest. It explains nothing.
 
Harriet Marston deposes: I keep a lodging-house at 131 B— Street. The deceased has lodged with me for the past two years. Has always borne a good character. I do not think she had many visitors: certainly no male visitors, except a Lieutenant King, and Mr. Kenneth, to whom she was engaged. I do not know when Lieutenant King was last at the house; not within three days I am confident. Deceased told me that he had gone away for ever. I did not see her last night when she returned from the theatre. The street door is never locked; each of the lodgers has a night-key. The last time I saw the deceased was just before she went to the theatre, when she requested me to call her at eight o’ clock, as she had promised to walk out with ‘Jules,’ meaning Mr. Kenneth. I knocked at the door eight or ten times, and received no answer. I then grew frightened, and called one of the lodgers, Adelaide Woods, who helped me to force the lock. The key fell out on the inside as we pressed against the door. Maria G— was lying on the bed with her throat cut.
The quilt and the strip of carpet beside the bed were covered with blood. She was not undressed. The room presented the same appearance as it does now.

Adelaide Woods deposes: I am an actress. I occupy a room next to that of the deceased. It was about eleven o’clock when she came home; she stopped ten or fifteen minutes in my chamber. The call-boy of the Olympic usually accompanied her home from the theatre. I let her in. Deceased had misplaced her night-key. I did not hear any noise in the night. The partition between our rooms is quite thick; but I do not sleep heavily, and should have heard any unusual noise. Two weeks ago deceased told me that she was to be married to Mr. Kenneth in June. She and Mr. Kenneth were in the habit of taking walks before breakfast. The last time I saw them together was yesterday morning. I assisted Mrs. Marston in breaking open the door. [Describes position of the body, &c.]
 
“Here the call-boy was summoned, and testified to accompanying the deceased home on the night of the murder. He came as far as the steps with her. The door was opened by a woman. Could not swear it was Miss Woods, though he knows her by sight. The night was very dark, and there was no lamp burning in the entry.

Julius Kenneth deposes: I am a machinist. I reside at No.—, F— Street. I have been acquainted with the deceased for eighteen months. We were engaged to be married. [Here the witness’s voice failed him.] The last time I saw her was yesterday morning, on which occasion we walked out together. I did not leave my room last evening. I was confined to the house by a cold all day. A Lieutenant King used to visit the deceased frequently. It created considerable talk in the neighborhood. I did not like it, and requested her to break off the acquaintance. Deceased told me yesterday morning that Lieutenant King had been ordered to some foreign station, and would trouble me no more. Deceased had engaged to walk with me this morning at eight o’clock. When I reached Broad Street I first learned that she had been murdered. [Here the witness, overcome by emotion, was permitted to retire.]

“Dr. Underhill deposes: [this witness was very voluble and learned, and had to be checked several times by the coroner. We give his testimony in brief.] I was called in to view the body of the deceased. A deep wound on the throat, two inches below the left ear, severing the left common carotid and the internal jugular vein, had been inflicted by some sharp instrument. Such a wound would produce death almost immediately. The body bore no other marks of violence. The deceased must have been dead several hours, the rigor mortis having already supervened. On a second examination with Dr. Rose, the deceased was found to be enceinte.
 
Dr. Rose corroborated the above testimony.
 
“The policeman and several other people were examined, but their statements threw no light on the case. The situation of Julius Kenneth, the lover of the unfortunate girl, excites the deepest commiseration. The deceased was nineteen years of age. Who the criminal is, and what could have led to the perpetration of the cruel act, are mysteries which, at present, threaten to baffle the sagacity of the police.”

I could but smile on reading all this solemn nonsense. After breakfast the next morning I made up my toilet with extreme care, and presented myself at the police office. Two gentlemen, who were sitting with the magistrate at a table, started to their feet as I announced myself. I bowed to the magistrate very calmly and said,—

I am the person who murdered Maria G—!”
 
Of course I was instantly arrested. The Express of that evening favored me with the following complimentary notice:—

“THE B— STREET HOMICIDE: FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS: MORE MYSTERY.—The person who murdered the ballet-girl in B— Street on the night of the 3d instant, surrendered himself to the magistrate this morning. He gave his name as Paul Larkins, and resides opposite the scene of the tragedy. He is of medium height, and well made; has dark, restless eyes, and chestnut hair; his face is unnaturally pale, and by no means improved by the Mephistophelean smile which constantly plays upon his lips. Notwithstanding his gentlemanly address, there is that about him which stamps him villain. His voluntary surrender is not the least mysterious feature of this mysterious affair; for, had he preserved silence, he would have escaped detection beyond a doubt. He planned and executed the murder with such skill that there is little or no evidence against him, save his own confession, which is inexplicable enough. He acknowledged the crime, but stubbornly refuses to enter into details. He expresses a desire to be hanged immediately! How he entered the room, and by what means he left it after committing the heinous deed, and why he brutally murdered a woman with whom, as it is proved, he had no previous acquaintance, are enigmas which still perplex the public mind, and will not let curiosity sleep. These facts, however, will probably be brought to light during the trial. In the mean time the greatest excitement reigns throughout the city.”

At four o’clock that afternoon the door of my cell turned on its hinges, and Julius Kenneth stood face to face with me. I ought to have cowered in the presence of that injured man, but I did not. I was cool, Satanic; he feverish and terrible.
 
“You got my note?” I said.
 
“Yes; and I have come here as you requested.”
 
“You know, of course, that I have refused to reveal the circumstances connected with the murder? I wished to make the confession to you alone.”

He turned his eyes on mine for a moment, and said, “Well?”
 
“But even to you I will assign no reason for having committed this crime. It was necessary that Maria G— should die. I decided that she should die in her chamber, and to that end I purloined her night-key.”
 
Julius Kenneth fixed his eyes on me.

“On Wednesday night, after Maria G— had gone to the theatre, I entered the street door by means of the key, and stole unobserved into her chamber, and secreted myself under the bed, or in that small clothes-press near the window—I forget which. Some time between eleven and twelve o’clock she returned; and as she lighted the candle I caught her by the waist, pressed a handkerchief saturated with chloroform over her mouth, and threw her on the bed. When she had ceased to struggle, and I could use my hand, I made a deep incision in her throat. Then I smoothed the bedclothes, and threw my gloves and the handkerchief into the grate. I am afraid there was not fire enough to burn them!”
 
Kenneth walked up and down the cell in great agitation; then he suddenly stopped and sat down on the bed.
 
“Are you listening? I then extinguished the light and proceeded to make my escape from the room, which I did in so simple a manner that the police, through their very desire to discover wonderful things, will never find it out, unless indeed you betray me. The night, you will remember, was remarkably foggy; it was so thick, indeed, that it was impossible to see a person at four yards’ distance. I raised the window-sash cautiously, and let myself out, holding on by the sill until my feet touched on the left-hand shutter of the window beneath, which swung back against the house, and was made stationary by the catch. By standing on this—my arms are almost as long as yours— I was able to reach the iron water-spout of the adjacent building, and by that I descended to the pavement.”
 
Kenneth glared at me like some ferocious animal.
 
“On gaining the street,” I continued, “I found that I had thoughtlessly brought the knife with me—a long, slim-bladed knife. I should have left it in the room. It would have given the whole thing the appearance of suicide. I threw the knife—”
 
“Into the river!” exclaimed Kenneth, involuntarily.

And then I smiled.
 
“How did you know it was I?” he shrieked.

“It was as plain as day,” I returned, coolly. “Hush, they will hear you in the corridor. I knew it the moment I saw you sitting by the bed. First, because you shrunk instinctively from the corpse, though you seemed to caress it. Your grief throughout was clumsily done, sir; it was too melodramatic. Secondly, when I looked into the grate I saw a handkerchief partly consumed, and then I instantly remembered the faint, peculiar smell which I had observed in the room before the windows were opened. Thirdly, when I went to the window I noticed that the paint was scraped off the iron brackets which held the spout to the adjoining house. The spout had been painted three days previously; the paint on the brackets was thicker than anywhere else, and had not dried. On looking at your feet, which I did when I spoke to you, I remarked that the leather on the inner side of both your boots was slightly chafed.”

“If you intend to betray me—” and Kenneth thrust his hand in his bosom. He had a pistol there.
 
“That I am here proves that I intend nothing of the kind. If you will listen patiently you shall learn why I acknowledge the crime, why I would bear the penalty. I believe there are vast, intense sensations, from which we are shut out by the fear of a certain kind of death. This pleasure, this ecstasy, this something which I have striven for all my life, is known only to the privileged few— innocent men, who, through some oversight of the law, are hanged by the neck. Some men are born to be hanged, some have hanging thrust upon them, and some (as I hope to do) achieve hanging. For years and years I have watched for such a chance as this. Worlds could not tempt me to divulge your guilt any more than worlds could have tempted me to commit your crime. A man’s mind and heart should be at ease to enjoy, to the utmost, this delicious death. Now you may go.”
 
And I turned my back on him. Kenneth came to my side and placed his heavy hand on my shoulder—the red right hand which all the tears of the angels could not wash white. It made me shudder.
 
“I shall go far from here,” he said, hurriedly. “I cannot, I will not, die now. They dishonored me. Maria was to have been my wife: so she would have hidden her shame! She is dead. When I meet him then I shall have done with life. I shall not die till then. And you—they will not harm you—you are a maniac.”
 
The cell door closed on Julius Kenneth.

I bite the blood into my lips with vexation when I think what a miserable failure I made of it. Three stupid friends who had played cards with me at my room on the night of the murder proved an alibi. I was literally turned out of prison, for I insisted on being executed. Then it was maddening to have all the papers call me “a monomaniac.” I a monomaniac! I like that! What was Pythagoras, and Newton, and Fulton, and Brunel?

But I kept my peace; and impenetrable mystery shrouded the murder of Maria G—.

III

THREE years ago, in broad daylight, a man was shot dead in the park. A hundred eyes saw the deed. I went to the man’s funeral. They buried him with military honors. So much for Lieutenant King!
 
The first gray light of dawn straggled through the narrow window of the cell, and drove the shadows into the farther corner, where Julius Kenneth lay sleeping. A summer morning was breaking on the city.
 
In cool green woods millions of birds stirred in their nests, waiting for the miracle of morning; the night-trains dashed through quiet country towns; innumerable shop-boys took down innumerable shutters; the milkmen shrieked; the clocks struck; doors opened and closed; the glamour of sleep was broken, and all the vast machinery of life was put in motion.

But to the man in jail it was as if these things were not.
 
As he lay there, slumbering in the increasing light, the carpenters in the prison-yard were raising a wooden platform, with two hideous black uprights supporting a horizontal beam, in the centre of which was a small iron pulley. The quick sound of the hammers broke in on his dreams, if he had any. He turned restlessly once or twice, and pushed the hot pillow from him. Then he opened his eyes and saw the splendid blue sky through the window.
 
He listened to the hammers. He knew what the sound meant. It was his last day on earth. Vive la bagatelle! He would have more sleep; so he closed his eyes again.
 
At six o’clock the jailer brought him his breakfast, and he devoured it like an animal. An hour afterward two attendants dressed him in a melancholy suit of black, and arranged his tangled hair. At seven the chaplain of the prison entered the cell.
 
“Would his poor friend,” he said, approaching the wretch, “turn, in this last sad hour, to Him whose mercy, like the heavens, spanned all things? Would he listen for a while to the teachings of One whose life and death were two pure prayers for mankind? Would he have, at this awful moment, such consolation as he, a humble worker in God’s vineyard, could give him?”
 
“No; but he would have some brandy.”

The unscientific beast! I could pity him—not that he was to be hanged, but because he was not in the state of mind to enjoy the ecstatic sensations which I am convinced result from strangulation. The chaplain remained with the man, and the man yawned.
 
The clear-toned bell of St. Paul’s modestly struck eight as the Sheriff paused at the foot of the scaffold, while the prisoner, followed by the indefatigable chaplain, complacently mounted the rough deal steps which lead to—can anybody tell me where? To the top of the scaffold. Quite right!
 
I shall not forget that insensible, stony face, as I saw it for a moment before the black cap screened it from the crowd.
 
Why did they hide his face? I should like to have studied the convulsive workings of those features.
 
In the stillness of that June night they took the body away in a deal coffin, and buried it somewhere. I don’t know where. I have not the slightest idea where they bury that sort of men.

From Strange Stories of a Detective; or, Curiosities of Crime, by a retired member of the Detective Police. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1863. 116-22.