A Murder in the Family
Posted On: 03/29/2017 - 12:25pm, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
When you process a collection of personal papers you have to do some genealogical research to get better acquainted with the people involved and to verify dates and names. The Richardson-Gill Family Papers are no different in that respect. The Gill family were fairly early settlers in Cincinnati, arriving in the mid-1830s. James Gill (1816-1890) left his home in England to be a cabinetmaker in Cincinnati. Unfortunately we only have letters from his father in Wakefield, England so there’s no reason given for James’s immigration, though one can assume it was economic. His father’s letters are full of family news, requests for him to write more often and occasionally petitions for money. Through the letters you can see James’ father grow old and increasingly frail until finally there are letters from a cousin taking care of the estate.
The Gill family letters were so intriguing that I was a bit disappointed when it came time to process the Richardson side of the collection. William Baker Richardson (1840-1885) was a decorated cavalry officer in the Civil War and afterward was a federal tax collector. At one point he went out west and carried some impressive letters of recommendation, including Alphonso Taft, Bellamy Storer, Alexander Long and other prominent Cincinnatians. There are gaps in his records, and unfortunately only one letter from him during the Civil War, so it’s unclear how he met Emma J. Gill (1846-1932) but they married in 1873. Though they had children William died fairly young in 1885 with the plot card from Spring Grove Cemetery simply stating “liver” as the cause of death.
William had several siblings, including two who also served in the Civil War. As I looked at the entries for his siblings at FindaGrave.com I found a story that took me a bit off course in my work. William’s older brother, James Clement (J. C.) Richardson (1834-1898), was a former senator with many children from two marriages. His second wife, Adelaide Haldeman (1845-1885), died the same year as his brother William. In 1890 J. C. married William’s widow, Emma. Adelaide’s father owned the Haldeman Paper Company in Lockland and Richardson continued to work there after her death. Using the CHLA’s newspaper collection I was able to follow J.C.’s tragic story.
According to some witnesses, on September 23, 1898 Richardson had heated words with Adelaide’s brother, William Jesse Haldeman, at the paper company. Haldeman left but returned later that day (some said after eating at the Burnet House and drinking whiskey) with a revolver and shot Richardson five times and then beat him with either brass knuckles or the butt of the revolver. Richardson underwent surgery for his injuries which included a badly hurt kidney. The attending doctor stated that just before he died on October 1st Richardson told him this version of the attack, and that he had exclaimed “My God, my God, how could you do it?” just after he was shot (the judge later had jurors ignore that exclamation as hearsay). Some witnesses claimed that Haldeman tried to poison himself with strychnine after the shooting, proving to them that he must have had a guilty conscience.
According to other witnesses, Richardson was heard yelling just before the shots were fired. Haldeman stated that Richardson, known for his hot temper, had been angry and threw a chair at him. Haldeman shot him in self-defense and then called for a doctor. For a day he was watched by the Glendale police in his home, but they left for some unexplained reason and Haldeman travelled to Chicago, ostensibly because his career at Haldeman Paper Co. was over and he was offered a job there. The Cincinnati Times Star was incredulous, stating that “officials at Glendale and Lockland appear to be winking at Haldeman’s conduct.”
A warrant for manslaughter was issued but when they found Haldeman missing, the county prosecutor obtained another warrant for first degree murder. Haldeman retuned to Cincinnati and turned himself in under the manslaughter charge since he could post bail on the first warrant but not the second. The trial was full of oddities. The revolver was never found, the lawyer for the defense, Harry Probasco (Harry was also a cousin of Haldeman and should not be confused with Henry Probasco.) tried to get the coroner to stop his investigation, the prosecution refused to cross examine Haldeman, and issues of debts and tabs at Skillman’s saloon were brought up, along with the temperament of each man.
Newspapers from this time are difficult to sift through because of tension in the Philippines dominating the news cycle, but in a move that shocked one newspaper (Cincinnati Times Star) and tidily cleaned up an unfortunate incident to another (Cincinnati Enquirer) the jury very briefly deliberated before delivering their verdict. In fact the judge and both legal teams had left the building for dinner and had to be called back. Judge Davis asked that women be kept out of the courtroom during the reading of the verdict to “avoid a scene,” a move that served to ramp up public excitement both inside and outside of the courtroom. Haldeman was acquitted of all charges, his claims of self-defense apparently acceptable to the jury.
In a very meek and rather sad interview with Richardson’s son, also named James C. Richardson (1871-1902), he stated that he was sorry that his father had been killed but also sorry that his father’s reputation had been destroyed as well. Both families were very well-connected in Cincinnati and each side pulled in many people as character witnesses. Since Richardson and Haldeman were related and worked together for some time many witnesses were no doubt conflicted in their hearts and minds. One has to wonder if that had any influence on the jury’s decision.
It’s all too easy to go down a rabbit hole of tangentially related research while working with historical collections, but this time around I can partially blame and credit the editor of Richardson’s Find a Grave entry, Liz L. Since J. C. Richardson is not mentioned in the Richardson-Gill Papers I would never have known about this odd murder case were it not for her willingness to share her research on a public platform.
Richardson and Haldeman are both buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, albeit on opposite sides.
Letter from John Gill, Wakefield, to James Gill, Cabinet Maker, Cincinnati, State of Ohio, Hamalton County [sic], North America. December 1839. John writes that he received his letter from July 24th. Aunt Nancy has died as has his cousin and another cousin's wife. He was surprised the bank fails in "Miraca" [sic] (Panic of 1937 and dissolution of US Bank caused an economic depression) and it is hurting trade in England. Asks his brother for money for his land deed which cost him more than he expected. It was a wet summer and a bad harvest.
Commission from David Todd, Governor of the State of Ohio, to William B. Richardson to be First Lieutenant in the Fourth Regiment, O.V.C. April 28, 1863.
Commission from John Brouch, Governor of the State of Ohio, to William B. Richardson to be Captain in the Fourth O.V.C. December 9, 1864.