"BY THE NECK UNTIL DEAD"
" . . . of the crime of MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE . . ."
Shot In His Own Bed:
There have been far gorier murders than the slaying of David Skinner in Cuyahoga County's criminal annals. But the Skinner homicide was a truly appalling episode to Forest City-area citizens of the second third of the 19th century. It was bad enough that a peaceful, productive and prosperous citizen should be murdered in a relatively rural setting, in his own home and in front of his own family. And it was perhaps even more disturbing to Clevelanders of 1868 that the unraveling of the evil threads of the Skinner murder puzzle demonstrated that Cleveland had grown and matured enough to have its own more-or-less permanent criminal class. But more shocking still was the eventual disclosure, over the course of a numbing progression of criminal trials, that Cleveland's police force--the men trusted to protect them from the forces of evil and disorder--were themselves implicated in the murder of an innocent citizen and the cynically hasty execution of another.
The Skinner tragedy began sometime in the late summer of 1868. Acting on a tip furnished by a certain John Gannon of Independence, criminal circles in Cleveland began buzzing with rumors that there was a potential fortune waiting to be grabbed in that southern Cuyahoga County township. According to Gannon's information, there was a wealthy dairy farmer named David Skinner living there. Skinner, a well-known milk supplier to Cleveland consumers, had 140 acres not far south from the Brooklyn Township line, plus 20 cows and a brand-new brick house. More importantly, Skinner was also reputed to keep $20,000 in cash in a small safe which he kept in that house. It seemed like a soft target to Forest City yeggmen, and sometime during the second week of September, Thomas Mulhall, a petty criminal well known to Cleveland police, was approached by another felon, John Kilfoyl, at a downtown bar frequented by local badmen. Other kindred souls were still mulling the Skinner caper over but Kilfoyl had a well-thought out plan which he now laid before Mulhall. Kilfoyl had reason to believe that the thirty-six-year old Skinner was going to be out of town that Friday night. There would only be an old man and an old woman present, maybe a hired man, too--but the job would be like taking candy from a baby for the right crew. All they had to do, Kilfoyl assured him, was come up with the right men and tools for the operation.
Tom Mulhall knew just the men, and by Friday, September 11, they had their crew. The first, and most important recruit was 27-year-old Lewis Davis. Although known to most Clevelanders as a carriage-maker and blacksmith, Davis was in fact a hardened career criminal, well-known to Cleveland felons as a burglar and maker of expert criminal tools. He was also no stranger to Cleveland's finest, having been suspected in the 1867 $10,000 diamond heist at Hogan & Wade's downtown jewelry store. Another recruit was John "Hutch" Butterworth, a tough thug of some fifty summers who had served a term for manslaughter in the New York Penitentiary. Butterfield would later primly insist that he agreed to participate only after receiving assurances that no one in the Skinner house would get hurt by the robbers. Rounding out the crew was William Folliot, another practiced thief, who was recruited for his knowledge of the Independence area and his leadership abilities. Final planning was concluded at a meeting on Friday afternoon and they agreed to assemble for their mission at 4 pm sharp the next day at the corner of Seneca (West 3rd St.) and Michigan St. (now the site of the Terminal Tower).
There were a few, last-minute details to be taken care of. Davis lacked a pistol, a defect which he remedied about 3 pm, when he purchased a pistol and some cartridges at Richard Jennings' gunshop at 7 Broadway. (An irony never much pursued was that this pistol was the property of Cleveland Police detective and future police chief Jacob Schmitt, who had left the pistol for sale with Jennings). Then Davis and Butterfield went to Davis' blacksmith shop at 41 Michigan and picked up the evening's necessaries: a crowbar (known as a burglar's "jimmy"), some metal wedges, a fuse, some gunpowder and a metal punch). Mulhall, in the meantime, had been busy trying to recruit one more man for the caper. He wanted a reliable thug named Jack O'Neill but couldn't find him. Spotting an acquaintance, 20-year-old Robert McKenna, an unemployed painter, he asked McKenna if he had a gun and wanted to make some easy money. McKenna went home to his house on Mulberry St., retrieved an ancient Revolutionary War pistol from a trunk, and joined the gang at their 4 pm rendezvous at Seneca and Michigan Sts. None of the five men would later recall thinking it odd that John Kilfoyl--the originator of the Skinner caper--didn't show up for the meeting, having left word that he was unable to come because of pressing last-minute business. Unconcerned at his absence, the five men began walking down the seven-mile towpath to Independence. All of them were armed with pistols, except for Butterfield, who carried a bowie-knife.
Burglary was a relatively heroic business in that era; it took the gang over three hours to get to Independence, in part because they hid in the bushes to avoid being sighted whenever a canal boat drifted by. They had reason to be concerned: Folliott had insisted that they hide all of the criminal tools on their persons, and their awkward, stiff-legged gaits might have been an hilarious spectacle under different circumstances. When they finally got to the 8-mile lock shortly after 8 pm, they were delayed further when Folliot and McKenna left to steal a larger crowbar from a nearby shop owned by Independence blacksmith William Cash. When McKenna and Folliot returned cursing with the "sledge," the gang plodded on through the deepening dusk, only to discover that they had taken the wrong road. Folliot finally got them on the right track and it was just about 9 pm when they came in sight of the Skinner house. Drawing handkerchiefs up over the lower part of their faces to conceal their identities, they moved in for a closer look. They could see several lights on in the house and a few persons moving around. Thinking the occupants were just women and maybe a hired man or two, Folliot detailed Butterfield to act as a lookout. Sending Mulhall around to the front entrance, he turned to Davis, McKenna and said, "This is the house. Get ready to go in. Now, boys, if you can't get that money without hurting anybody, come away without it." Stepping through the back kitchen door, which had been left open on this warm, pleasant September night, they walked through the kitchen and burst upon the Skinner family group assembled in the adjoining sitting room.
Follliott's crew had been badly misinformed about the situation at the Skinner house. David Skinner's wife, her sister and the sister's husband (David Skinner's business partner) were absent in Cleveland that night, taking in a performance of "The Rebel's Daughter" at the Rink. But the 36-year-old David Skinner was home, half-dozing on a bed which stood in the parlor. With him were Mr. and Mrs. Charles T. Johns of Newburg (Mrs. Johns was another sister of Mrs. Skinner), three or four children, a man named William Wood and two more hired men, who were sleeping upstairs. This was not an unusual grouping in the Skinner house, as Mr. and Mrs. Johns and their child lived together in the house with the Skinners and their three children. All of them except the two hired men were in the sitting room, where they had been talking for the last half hour. Now, hearing the sound of footsteps coming from the kitchen, they looked up to see four masked men with guns appear in front of them.
Most present would later recall that their first thoughts were that this was some neighbor's joke, dressing up as burglars to frighten them, the imprudent frolic of a tedious late summer night. But such misapprehensions ended as William Folliott pointed his pistol at Mrs. Johns and shouted, "All keep your seats!" Things happened fast and out of control after that. Mrs. Johns started screaming, and as Folliott stepped forward to silence her, David Skinner, who had been reclining on the bed, suddenly raised himself up on one elbow. Skinner was probably asleep and it is a good guess that he didn't even know what was happening as he started to rise. And he never had a chance to find out: even as his body was still rising from the bed, and before he could say a word, one of the robbers (later identified as Lewis Davis), who had been covering the hysterical Mrs. Johns with his weapon, stepped forward towards Skinner, pointed his pistol and pulled the trigger.
The bullet hit Skinner on his left side. Ploughing through his chest, it shattered his collarbone, his windpipe and sub-clavian artery before coming to rest below his right shoulder. Immediately a jet of blood shot up from his fatal wound, even as Skinner lurched from his bed and stumbled into the hall leading to the front door of his house. There, he left a bloody handprint on the door sash before falling dead to the floor. He probably never even knew what hit him.
Lewis Davis' unexpected shot paralyzed everyone in the room for a few moments. William Folliott was probably the first to recover. Shouting to McKenna and Mulhall, "Come on, let's go. That damned son of a bitch has shot that man without any cause!" he fled out of the kitchen door, followed closely by Robert McKenna. Meanwhile, as the screaming children dove for the floor, Charles Johns grappled with Thomas Mulhall. Fighting in the hallway, Mulhall's handkerchief slipped down and as they fell together to the floor, he tried to shoot Johns. The bullet missed, ricocheting off the ceiling and wall before hitting the floor, where it was found the next morning. Muhall got off another shot at William Wood, which also missed, and eventually broke away from Johns and headed for the front door. But Johns caught up with him again and knocked him down, while his redoubtable wife began hitting Mulhall with a chair. The last thing McKenna remembered hearing as he fled down the hill outside the house was Mulhall's plaintive cry, "Are you going to go off, boys, and leave me in this fix?"
Help to the undeserving Mulhall was on the way. Even as he gave himself up to despair under the combined assaults of Mr. and Mrs. Johns, "Hutch" Butterfield crashed through the front door and knocked Mr. and Mrs. Johns to the floor. Grabbing the bleeding and injured Mulhall, he pulled him out of the house and down the hill. Along with the other three robbers, they made their way back to Cleveland by midnight.
It is an ugly but predictable event when thieves fall out. The news that David Skinner had been shot by robbers in his own home reached Cleveland even before the last of the robbers returned there, and the identities of the likely perpetrators were on the lips of Cleveland's populous criminal fraternity very shortly thereafter. On Sunday afternoon, Butterfield talked to a man who mentioned that he had heard a rumor on Saturday--before the Skinner murder--that Butterfield had killed a man in a local robbery. Butterfield was not a cunning man but even he began to scent the smell of a set-up headed his way. As he later put it, he began to suspect that "there was to be a pressure to bear on me" and that such pressure would soon be coming from his disloyal confederates. The most likely scenario, he surmised, was that he would be lured to Cleveland's waterfront to become the victim of a watery "accident." That night, he went and had an interview with Thomas McKinstry, the Superintendent of Cleveland Police.
The dramatic results of that interview were reported, seemingly, in the pages of the next afternoon's Plain Dealer, where it was announced that Lewis Davis, "Hutch" Butterfield and Robert McKenna had been arrested for the Skinner murder. All of them were captured in the early hours of Monday morning while asleep and brought in for round-the-clock interrogation, followed by incarceration in the County Jail. And while it appeared that Kilfoyl, Mulhall and Folliott had somehow eluded and, indeed, somehow anticipated the police dragnet for them by escaping to parts unknown, journalists and public officials joined in unanimous accolades for the "promptness and skill" show by the Cleveland police in apprehending Skinner's killers. Justice, it seemed, was about to be swiftly done, and public opinion was adamant that justice required the execution of all the robbers involved.
After six weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the wheels of the justice began their creaky turn. Lewis Davis, as the accused trigger-man, was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder, while Mulhall, McKenna, Butterfield and Folliott were charged with helping to conspire and carry out the robbery which resulted in an innocent death--both capital charges. Cleveland was electric with anticipation as the trial opened in Judge Samuel B. Prentiss' courtroom on Monday, November 16, 1868. The capture of Thomas Mulhall in upstate New York just before the trial opened added to popular excitement, as did expectations that the trial would be a keen legal contest. And trial spectators were not disappointed: the struggle for Lewis Davis' life between Prosecutors J. M. Jones and H. B. DeWolf (who would later help prosecute Cleveland dentist Jay Galentine in the "unwritten law" murder of his wife's paramour) and defense counsel Samuel E. Adams (who saved Galentine from a hangman's rope), assisted by attorneys T. J. and J. J. Carran, was a desperately fought judicial struggle.
Despite Prosecutor Jones' strong opening statement, the State's initial case did not seem very weighty to discerning observers. Davis himself made a good impression on all who saw him, with his youthful appearance, his round smooth face, curly auburn hair and alert, restless blue-grey eyes, hardly the picture of the hardened criminal painted by the State. And the first few of the 40-odd witnesses called by the prosecution didn't support police identification of Davis as the triggerman. Although Charles Johns repeated his dramatic inquest testimony of what had occurred in the Skinner home on the fatal evening, he insisted that he could not swear that it was Davis he had seen shoot his brother-in-law. Neither could his wife, who agreed that Davis had the right build, "same size and general appearance" but would not swear that he was the killer. Richard Jennings, who had sold the alleged murder weapon to Davis, likewise couldn't swear that he was the man who had bought Lohrer's pistol in his shop. And even the unexpected appearance of a hostile "Hutch" Butterfield on the stand during the trial's second day didn't put Davis much closer to a hangman's rope. Butterfield, who minimized his own participation in the robbery as much as possible, testified that he had stayed outside the house as a lookout and that the first sign he had that things had gone wrong were three pistols shots and some screaming, followed by the charge of McKenna and Folliott fleeing down the hill. He repeated his self-serving claim that he had only agreed to go along after receiving assurances that no one would be hurt and insisted he had only learned of Skinner's death after he was arrested on Monday morning. The State's presentation of the physical evidence--the burglary tools and abandoned weapons recovered from the Skinner house--added nothing more. Nor did the testimony of Patrolman Isaac Frank, who stated that he had found muddy pantaloons and boots underneath Lewis Davis' bed at the time he was arrested. True, it was muddy on the canal towpath Davis took back to Cleveland on the murder night, but that only made Lewis a member of the robbers' band, not his actual killer.
All that changed dramatically and unexpectedly on Wednesday. At noon, Davis' jailed confederate Robert McKenna sent for Cuyahoga County Sheriff John Frazee. Two hours later, to the consternation of Davis and his lawyers, he was sworn in before a rapt and packed audience of courtroom spectators. And his tale did not disappoint. Heedless of incriminating himself--despite the apprehensive warnings of defense counsel Adams--McKenna related the real story of what had occurred on their ill-fated expedition to Independence. After a long prelude, filled with persuasive detail, McKenna arrived at the crux of the fatal night:
One of the women rushed in front of us and Davis pointed his revolver at her; the woman was holding her hands above her head and Mr. Skinner raised up on the bed to see what was going on; Davis then turned his revolver upon Mr. Skinner; pointed it directly and fired.
Little wonder that courtroom journalists noted that the hitherto emotionless Davis was seen to strain foreward in his chair, his eyes flashing as he listened to McKenna's dooming words on that Wednesday afternoon. His palpable rage, moreover, seemed to give credence to McKenna's subsequent assertion that Davis had told him just that morning, "Bob, if you swear against me I am going to kill you." It was subsequently related by inquiring journalists that when Davis returned to his cell that day, he "heaped upon McKenna all the vile epithets known to the blackguard's vocabulary." The next morning, some of Davis' fellow jailbirds obligingly testified under oath to the reality of Davis' alleged jailhouse threats.
Davis' own appearance on the stand the following afternoon came as an anti-climax. Abandoning his lawyers' original strategy of a simple alibi for his whereabouts on the night of September 12 (for the support of which his lawyers had subpoenaed many willing perjurers), he baldly denied the testimony of Butterfield and McKenna, claiming, in fact, that he had never been inside the Skinner house. His story, suspiciously similar to Butterfield's, was that he had hung back while the others went in the house and that the first sign of trouble came when he heard a shot. He primly denied that he was a career criminal and swore that he had not threatened Robert McKenna's life, only that he had told him that he [McKenna] would be guilty of his murder if he testified against him.
Lewis Davis' defense counsel did their best under the circumstances. Attempting to magnify minor conflicts between the testimonies of Butterfield and McKenna, Samuel Adams convulsed the entire courtroom, including the beleaguered Davis, with his sarcastic indictment of Butterfield's self-exculpatory testimony. Skewering him as a "canting hypocrite," Adams thundered against the State's deferential employment of such a tainted witness:
[Adams] dwelt upon the utterly farcical nature of Butterfield's statements that he,--a hoary sinner, fifty years of age, his whole life reeking with corruption and crime--had been inveigled and seduced into this affair by the others who were merely boys. He had sanctimoniously declared that the only condition upon which he could be induced to join the party was that the robbery must be committed decently and in order, in a quiet and gentlemanly manner, and that nobody must be hurt, and then, said [Adams], he was brought from the jail to be put upon the stand. As he entered the room with his boots blacked, his face shaved, a clean shirt collar on and a good fresh chew of tobacco in his mouth, he is met with a polite bow by the attorneys for the prosecution and is courteously greeted with: "Good morning Mr. Butterfield! I hope you are well this morning! How's your family? Have the kindness to take that seat Mr. Butterfield." He did not ask him how long he had been confined to his room.
It was a masterly effort, but even Adams' rhetorical triumph could not save his entangled client. His final salvo, a specious claim that Butterfield and McKenna's testimony was motivated by knowledge that Davis' conviction would free them from the shadow of the gallows, was refuted by Prosecutor Jones, who reminded the jury that all of the other four robbers still faced capital charges and that there was a reward of $1,000 out for the two still at large. The jury went out on Monday, November 23 at 5:20 pm and returned a verdict of Guilty of Murder in the First Degree at 11:15 the following morning. The announcement of the verdict momentarily shocked Davis out of his habitual courtroom torpor into a wild vacant stare but he returned to his usual passivity even as attorney T. J. Carran rose to make the obligatory motion for a new trial. On December 30, Judge Prentiss rejected the motion and sentenced Davis to hang on Thursday, February 4, 1869. When asked by Prentiss if he had anything to say, Davis replied, "Nothing."
In the weeks preceding the execution, Cleveland's three newspapers competed vigorously to discover details of Davis' shadowy biography. It was eventually disclosed that he had been reared by loving parents in the area of Fredonia, New York. Wearying of his apprenticeship as a carriage-maker, he gave himself over as a young man to loose living and dissolute companions. When his parents relocated to Berlin, Wisconsin they left him to sell their property and follow them later on. Davis sold the property but absconded with the money, afterwards pursing a life of crime as a brothel owner, burglar and confidence man. When one of his bunko schemes resulted in a choice of either going to jail or the Union Army, he chose the latter, which served as the unexpected entree to a new career as a successful bounty jumper. When Buffalo became too hot for him at the end of the Civil War, he drifted down to Cleveland. More might be known of Davis' life but for the understandable reticence of his kith and kin. When a brother who lived in Cleveland was solicited for biographical information about his Lewis' early life by a Plain Dealer scribe, he played the reporter along for awhile and then shouted: "Well, allow me to state, in language that can't be misunderstood, it's none of your God damn business what the facts of his early life were!"
Confined to the same death row cell as Dr. John Hughes, Davis grew increasingly morose and haggard as his day of death approached. One by one his legal hopes crumbled, his first setback coming when Judge Prentiss rejected his motion for a new trial on December 30. Shortly after that, the Ohio Supreme Court turned down Attorney T. J. Carran's petition for a Writ of Error and sustained Judge Prentiss' sentence of death. The burden of Carran's legal argument was that the Davis jury had enjoyed improper access to the physical evidence, newspaper accounts and Judge Prentiss' instructions during their deliberations--but the Court upheld the verdict under the existing legal doctrine that a jury could not impeach its own verdict. Davis' last chance evaporated in early February when Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes refused to commute his death sentence.
Not that Davis had given up attempting to escape the law's penalty. The day after Governor Rutherford B. Hayes turned down his appeal, a vigilant Sheriff Frazee discovered two steel sawblades and a ball of putty beneath Davis' jail mattress. They had been smuggled into him by the wife of a prisoner. And the night before his execution, at 2 am in the morning, Davis took advantage of a guard's two minute absence and tried to slash his wrists with the broken glass chimney of a kerosene lamp thoughtfully provided so he could read his Bible. His wound proved superficial but Sheriff Frazee had him manacled until he vowed to die like a man.
Cleveland Leader, November 19,1868
The grim day loomed at last, a dark and stormy one of wind and lashing torrents of rain. Having been baptized the day before by his spiritual counselor, the Rev. A. H. Washburn of Grace Episcopal Church, Davis finished his earthly departures, meeting with his brother and his forlorn wife. Utterly indigent and forsaken by all because of her connection to Davis, she left the jail weeping and moaning, "I'm left alone in the cold world now." Shortly after 8 am, Davis arose and was offered a breakfast of beefsteak, pork chops, rolls, buckwheat cakes and coffee but partook only of a few sips of coffee. Trying hard to master his emotions, he would only say, "It is very, very hard!" To the surprise of onlookers, he encountered his prosecutor, J. M. Jones, who warmly shook his hand and whispered something in his ear that seemed to make him very happy. At that very moment, Sheriff Frazee's deputies were soaping the noose with soapstone and soft soap to make certain it did its deadly work well.
At 12:23 pm, Davis walked to the gallows before a small crowd of invited witnesses and hundreds of others gathered in balconies and perches outside the jail yard. Dressed in black pantaloons, a dark vest and fine boots, there was little hint of his inner state, save a slight quiver of the lip and an occasional involuntary tear. Kneeling on the steps of the scaffold, he listened while the Rev. Washburn intoned the moving words of the Episcopal service for such occasions. Then he climbed the steps and submitted calmly to the grisly procedures, offering his hands up to be manacled by Sheriff Frazee and his assistants.
Asked if he wished to say anything, he merely shook his head and whispered "Nothing." His arms and legs were pinioned and the black cap placed over his head. At 12:28, Sheriff Frazee shouted "Hats off!" and the crowd suddenly silenced itself, in impressive contrast to its unseemly, carnival-like behavior during the death preliminaries. Four minutes later, at 12:32, Sheriff Frazee touched the spring and Davis fell through the drop. He twitched but little, there being no movement after four minutes, no pulse after eleven and the consensus of the seven doctors present was that his neck was broken instantly. Davis' body was taken down at 12:47 pm, placed in a plain, pine coffin by undertaker D. W. Duty and turned over to his friends. After a funeral from the widow's house on Broadway two days later, it was returned to Westfield, New York for burial.
Unexpectedly, the end of Lewis Davis was just the beginning of the unraveling of the Skinner murder skein. No one except the Cleveland police authorities was satisfied by the execution of his supposed killer. Many wondered why his life had not been spared until at least some of his accomplices had been put on trial. Still more began to entertain doubts about the suspicious ease with which the Cleveland police had solved the violent crime.
The real story began to leak out after Thomas Mulhall was captured in Albany, New York, where he was discovered working as a railroad brakeman in November, 1868. Brought back to Cleveland, he was briskly convicted of Murder in the First Degree and sentenced to hang. But his verdict was overturned by presiding Judge Prentiss in April, 1869, when it was argued that one of the Mulhall jurors had been prejudiced. By the time his second trial commenced, his partisans had made enough of a stink to bring about the arrest of John Kilfoyl, who had been living unmolested back in Cleveland for several months. Kilfoyl's subsequent indictment opened up the complete can of worms at last. Heavily publicized testimony revealed to a stunned Cleveland public that Kilfoyl--the primary instigator of the robbery that took Skinner's life--had been employed for some years as a "secret detective" by Superintendent Thomas McKinstry of the Cleveland Police. It was obvious to most citizens that "secret detective" was merely a euphemism for stool pigeon and it was further suspected--if not legally proven--that Kilfoyl had long since crossed the line from police informant to become an agent provocateur in the Cleveland underworld. Testimony by Mulhall, Kilfoyl and others disclosed that McKinstry had known all about the Skinner robbery within hours of its occurrence, thanks to the voluble Kilfoyl--and may have even had advance knowledge that it was going to happen. McKinstry stoutly maintained his innocence and insisted that he had simply followed good police procedure. But the whole mess stank in the nostrils of the public and when it was found that Kilfoyl had been carrying a pistol given to him by McKinstry at the time he was arrested, McKinstry resigned in disgrace.
The final box score after a half-dozen trials and several years of legal maneuvers was a complex and ultimately unsatisfying record. Thomas Mulhall was convicted of first-degree murder a second time but had his sentenced commuted to life imprisonment. Eventually pardoned after he lost some fingers in an Ohio Penitentiary accident, Mulhall returned to Cleveland, before disappearing after a bitter stove moulders' strike. John Kilfoyl was tried as an accessory to the murder and earned a long prison term. Pardoned out, he was active in the Y. M. C. A. for some years but was reported in 1889 to have returned to a life of crime. Butterfield and McKenna served three and five-year penitentiary terms, respectively, for their participation and then disappeared from sight. The last to be captured was William Folliott, who received a twenty-year term, but was said to be working in a Cleveland bakery in the late 1880's. Whether justice was served by the varying results of these trials and the corresponding failure to punish implicated parties among Cleveland's finest are questions still unresolved.
It was rumored but never proven that Lewis Davis wrote out a 140-page confession before he died, hoping that the sale of his testament would provide financial support for his impoverished wife. It was said to include his admission that it was his gun that fired the fatal bullet into David Skinner that September night. He hadn't meant to kill Skinner but he had underestimated the sensitivity of the trigger on Jacob Schmitt's pistol and he was as surprised as anyone present when it unexpectedly went off in his hand. If so, Davis' confession died with him, perhaps destroyed by his despondent and disgraced wife, along with some photographs taken the day before he died. Future researchers in the annals of Cleveland crime might well wish to unearth these items, not to mention the full story of what just Thomas McKinstry knew about the Skinner murder--and when he knew it.
It would be remiss, before taking leave of the Skinner tragedy, not to relate an irresistible anecdote about David Skinner's father gratuitously included in the news coverage of his son's murder. Nothing else quite so captures the casually discursive and defamatory flavor of the journalism of the age as this item from the Cleveland Herald, which appeared on the Monday following Skinner's Saturday night murder:
The deceased, David P. Skinner, was about 36 years of age, a strong healthy man, hereabouts, and possessed of many eccentricities. His father, Ichabod L. Skinner, was an old settler in the county, living on the farm to which David succeeded. The old man died on a winter night eight years or more ago. He had been out two or three miles, and coming back a little the worse for liquor, slipped partially under the broken ice as he was crossing Quarry Creek, not far from his home. He was found in the morning, frozen to death, in a sitting position, his legs and body up to the waist under the ice, a huge cake of which was before him like a table, and on this his elbows rested and supported his head, while by his side was a bottle.
ã Copyright 2000 by John Stark Bellamy II and Cleveland State University. All rights reserved.