"BY THE NECK UNTIL DEAD"
". . . be taken from the Bar of this Court to the jail
"They Say I've Been Killing Someone":
For sheer, wanton cruelty it would be hard to better the murder of Greenberry Hood by his adopted father, Stephen Hood. It badly shocked Clevelanders of 1873 and became the only child homicide which sent a man to a Cuyahoga County scaffold (unless one counts the pitiless slaughter of child-woman Tamsen Parsons by Dr. Hughes in 1866). And its horrible details still have the power to shock today, even to a public saturated with such Herod-like atrocities as the murder of Amy Mihaljevic and the drowning of the Smith boys down in South Carolina. Suffice it to say that Stephen Wood was the kind of step-parent to make one think that Hansel and Gretel got off easy.
Greenberry Hood's last day on earth began early. Awakened August 17, 1873 at 3:30 am by his stepfather Stephen at the family home on Webster St., Greenberry and his stepbrother Fred struggled into their threadbare clothes and staggered downstairs to the modest breakfast provided by their stepmother Eden. They knew better than to protest their rude awakening and short commons: Stephen Hood was a violent man and often beat both the 14-year-old Greenberry (known as "Green" to his family) and the 17-year-old Fred. He had an especial aversion and cruelty for Greenberry and the two boys obeyed without a word when Stephen ordered them to search for valuables in the empty lot where Barnum's traveling circus had just played an engagement at Payne's Pastures. (The area now bounded by East 18th St., East 21st, Superior and Payne Avenues).
Greenberry and Fred searched without success until daybreak, about 5 am, when Stephen Hood joined them at Payne's Pastures. Telling them that he was going fishing, he demanded that they accompany him. Fred was loath to do so, but Greenberry was willing and, in any case, the boys knew they didn't really have a choice with their bad-tempered and violent stepfather. So they followed along while the 32-year-old Stephen led them up to Perry St. (East 22nd St.), down Perry to Prospect, up Prospect to Willson Ave. (East 55th St.) and south on Willson until they crossed over the Cleveland city limits into Newburgh Township. Somewhere along Willson, Stephen stopped at a German beer garden and bought a pop bottle filled with whiskey. Then it was south again on Willson until the road disappeared in the wilderness of undeveloped woods that lay just south of Cleveland.
No one knows exactly how far they threesome walked that July morning. When Fred Hood later tried to reconstruct their route for the police investigation, it appeared that Stephen Hood must have led them back and forth over essentially the same ground for several hours in an attempt to both confuse and exhaust the boys. Fred remembered walking by a sawmill, seeing a group of laborers in the woods and a deep gully where the road from Cleveland disappeared. Finally, about 9 am, Stephen Hood called a halt at a point perhaps a mile and a half south of the Newburgh township line and about a half mile from the Cleveland & Newburgh dummy railroad line tracks. Sitting down under a poplar tree in the Newburgh woods, he offered whiskey to the two adolescent boys, saying, "Here, take this, it will keep you from catching cold." Fred refused it, but Greenberry, probably wishing to pacify his touchy stepfather, shared the bottle with him. Within half an hour the bottle was empty and Greenberry was passed out on the ground. Placing a handkerchief over his face, Stephen turned to Fred and demanded that he go back along the path they had taken until he found a saloon. There he was to purchase another bottle of whiskey and some more pop and to bring it back. Fred didn't want to go but he left, lest he have to deal with his stepfather's anger alone.
No one knows exactly what happened while Fred Hood was gone. He was away only about fifteen minutes, he would later recollect, and returned when he couldn't find the saloon Stephen had mentioned. When he got back to the spot by the poplar tree, he found Stephen but Greenberry was gone. More ominously, he noticed that there were some spots of blood on the trunk of the poplar tree and on Stephen's boots, as if someone had bled from a bloody nose. When he asked Stephen where Greenberry was, he became angry and said, "I don't know. I think maybe he is lost. Come on, let's go to town. Green's gone home." And when Fred, who already feared the worst, suggested that they look for him, Stephen got even angrier, insisting that Greenberry had gone home and he wouldn't even let Fred holler out his name in the woods. Reluctantly, Fred followed Stephen back towards Cleveland, watching warily as his half-drunken stepfather lurched ahead of him. Somewhere on Willson, Stephen Hood went into the Three Cent Saloon and began drinking whiskey and ale. He soon fell asleep and Fred Green took the opportunity to "cut" and run all the way back to his home on Webster St., a little south of Erie Cemetery.
When he got home about 4 pm, Fred told his stepmother Eden and Mrs. Josephine Johnson, a woman who lived with her husband in the same house with the Hoods, what had happened that morning. They already knew enough about Stephen's animus toward Greenberry to agree with Fred that Stephen had probably killed him out in the Newburgh woods. So when Stephen Hood returned home shortly before 5 pm in an ugly mood, Eden, Mrs. Johnson and Fred fled the house, followed closely by Hood as they walked up the street. Accosting Patrolman Patrick O'Day at the corner of Webster and Brownell St. (East 14th St.), they told their story to him. O'Day was skeptical but they insisted, so he finally walked them up to Woodland Ave. and Chapel St., where he hailed Sgt. Egbert E. Morse off a streetcar as it was going by. Pointing at the still-shadowing Stephen, he explained the situation to Morse in words that spoke volumes about the status of black families like Stephen Hood's in Gilded Age Cleveland:
Here's a drunken darkey, who has been out in the country with his two boys and has returned home with only one of them; the boy who came back says he saw drops of blood where he last saw the other boy and the woman fears that the man has done some harm to the boy. It's a quarrelsome family, I wish you would look into the matter.
Sgt. Morse probably knew it was a quarrelsome family: sometime during the previous year the Cleveland police had been called to intervene when Stephen laid violent hands on Eden. But Morse had Eden repeat her story, followed by Fred and Mrs. Johnson. Then he turned to Stephen Hood and said, "What have you done with the boy?" Stephen replied that he had given him to a man named Jack Leonard to take to Pittsburgh. Stephen only spoke a few sentences, but in the story he told Morse, as in his later repetitions of the same, he managed to contradict himself. First he said it was "Jack Leonard," then it was "Jack Lyde," and finally he said it was "John Lane" who had taken the boy. "That's too thin," responded Sgt. Morse and arrested Stephen on the spot and had him taken to the Forest St. (East 37th St. and Woodland Ave.) station and booked on suspicion of murder. (The next day's Cleveland Leader would characterize Hood's reaction thus: "The negro showed his ivories, looked frightened and trembled.") Then Morse, O'Day and Fred Green left the Forest St. station at 5:40 pm to see if they could locate the spot where Greenberry had last been seen.
It was almost sunset before they got to the poplar tree, after a journey of several hours over the criss-crossed trail charted from memory by Fred Hood. It must have been a terrible evening for the young boy: tired and frightened after the events of the long day (he had been up since 3:30 am), he eventually had to be goaded by threats as he led Morse and O'Day on their ominous quest. Just before sunset, however, after passing by the sawmill they found the poplar tree and some broken branches, just as Fred had described the scene.
After searching around the poplar tree for bloodstains and finding none, Sgt. Morse, O'Day and Fred Hood fanned out from the tree in a triangular quest to look at the surrounding ground. After a few minutes, Morse's foot stepped on a portion of ground that "gave." Standing back, Morse noted that the area looked disturbed, with some broken branches lying as if they had been dragged there. "This doesn't look right," he said to O'Day and started digging at the ground with his bare hands. The dirt was loose, and when he got down about 14 inches his hand pulled out a piece of wet cloth. Seconds later, he and Patrolman O'Day pulled out the dead body of Greenberry Hood.
It must have been a ghastly sight in the fading twilight of that otherwise peaceful woods. The corpse was so covered with blood, all the way to the waist, that they couldn't identify any specific wounds. Greenberry was lying with his face down, his right arm twisted back as though tied, and his left arm in a crippled position at his side. As they laid his forlorn form on the forest floor, it began to rain steadily.
Leaving O'Day to guard the corpse, Morse returned to the city with Fred, sent a squad to pick up the body, and returned to the Forest St. station. Picking up Stephen Hood, he brought him to the Central Police station, where he was severely interrogated by Morse, Superintendent Jacob Schmitt and Sgt. Henry Hoehn (who would become well-known for his brave role in the Blinky Morgan affair and would eventually become Cleveland Police Chief). Throughout the third-degree session, Stephen Hood stuck doggedly to the story he had originally told Morse and would tell everyone until the day he died: he had taken Greenberry to the Newburgh woods, handed him over to "Jack Lane" to take to Pittsburgh and returned home. He had not been drinking, he had never mistreated the boys and he had no idea why Fred would tell such brazen lies about him. When asked why he thought he had been arrested, he laughed and said, "I don't know, but they say I've been killing someone." Otherwise, his demeanor was said to be calm and expressionless: " . . . cool and seemed to show no emotion of guilt or fear, but only an impassive, stolid expression," said the Leader, which also described him as looking like "a respectable, well-behaved but careless colored man."
The inquest into Greenberry Hood's death opened the next day in the basement of the Central Police station. Chaired by Cuyahoga County Coroner T. Clarke Miller, the panel called Fred Hood, Sgt. Morse and Dr. W. J. Scott to testify. Scott had done the post-mortem on Greenberry and a grisly business it had been. He found a wound running from the mouth back to right ear that had broken some facial bones, loosened teeth and appeared to have been inflicted by a two-edge weapon, perhaps a thick board. There was a contusion in the groin area, as if it had been severely kicked and another contusion and more broken bones behind the left ear. Removal of the scalp showed that several pieces of the back of the skull had been broken and driven into the brain, probably causing instantaneous death. Greenberry's fists were clenched tight and his eyes shut, "as if death had been cruel and painful." His feet were bare and his body was dressed in a coarse cotton shirt and shabby jeans.
Then it was Stephen Hood's turn, who was sworn in after County Prosecutor Homer DeWolf had warned him plainly, "Hood, you are charged with the murder of the boy Green . . ." Hood began by repeating his flimsy story about John Lane. He said he had originally met Lane by the poplar tree on Wednesday, July 16 to arrange having Lane take Greenberry to Pittsburgh and then to New Albany, Indiana, where Hood's brother Andrew lived. Within scant minutes, DeWolf's shrewd cross-examination had entangled Hood in an exitless maze of contradictions and obvious lies. He tried to claim that he had met "John Lane" in the army and seen him several times in Cleveland -- but he admitted, when pressed, that there was no one else who could verify that "John Lane" existed or that he had ever been in Cleveland. Carefully prefacing all of his answers with the conditional phrase "If Greenberry is killed," he actually attempted to make the inquest panel believe that there were two or even three men named "John Lane"" and that he had no means of corroborating the existence of the one he had met in the Newburgh woods. His version agreed with Fred's story up until the moment Fred left for the whiskey. It was then, almost as soon as Fred was out of sight, that John Lane took Fred away, presumably to Pittsburgh. At the end of the session Hood signed the record with an "X" because he couldn't write and the panel's verdict was that Greenberry Hood had been murdered by his stepfather.
Cleveland Leader, July 18, 1873
The Cleveland newspapers of the era could have taught Louis Seltzer a thing or two about "pretrial publicity." Characterizing Stephen as an "ignorant, beetle-browed individual," they competitively vilified him up to the moment that he stood on a scaffold nine months later. Although his motive for the alleged murder was unknown, it was no stretch for a Leader editorialist to analyze Hood as "a depraved and ignorant nature, sunk into the lowest depths of every vile element that can enter into the composition of man and stimulated by the use of strong drink." Even before the inquest was over, the same paper insisted that Stephen Hood had murdered Greenberry "with only the mere reason that he was tired of keeping a little boy whom he had, with the sanction of the law, adopted as a son." Altogether, the "negro brute" reminded Cleveland scribes of nothing so much as . . . John Cooper. As one scribe had it:
He is a good match for the negro Cooper who was hanged for the cold-blooded murder of Swing. The two murderers were born to just about the same complexion, save that Hood has a tinge more of black in his color. [The Plain Dealer would insist, to the contrary, that Hood was "yellow" colored]. Hood is above the medium in height, is stoutly built, has a broad, round head covered with a mat of close curling wool and has small, sharp eyes. His manner is dogged with an evidently assumed air of innocence.
There was obviously a lot more to Stephen Hood than such pejorative profiles but history has left little other record of his biographical facts. Born in 1842 in Veron, Indiana to a free black farmer, Ephraim Hood and his wife, Hood had seven brothers and one sister. By the time he was a teenager he had already left farming for the more romantic life of a deckhand on a Mississippi River steamboat. He was said to have liked the riverine life but he had to be careful, as there was always the danger that he might be kidnapped into slavery when in the Southern states. Normally he was protected by his steamboat captain, who kept up the necessary pretense that he was Hood's "master," but there was at least one close call in New Orleans, where Hood was jailed as a runaway slave until the captain showed up with his birth certificate. Shortly before the Civil War broke out, he married a free black, Eden Jones, with whom he quarreled to the end of his life. When the first black regiments were formed during the Civil War, Hood joined the 28th (Colored) Indiana Volunteer Regiment. Before earning an honorable discharge, he served 34 months as a cook and was present at the battles of Chickahominy, White House Landing, Halifax Court House and Petersburg, where he was wounded in the hip by a shell fragment and in the wrist by a musket ball.
It was while Hood was away in the army that Eden wrote to ask if it were all right if they adopted a three-year-old boy from the Brownstone, Indiana poorhouse. Hood agreed, the boy was given the name of Greenberry Hood, and was formally adopted by his stepfather when Stephen returned to civilian life. Several years later, Greenberry acquired a stepbrother, Fred Hood, who joined the family at the age of eight (probably in 1868) when both his parents died. After the war, Stephen tried farming at various places and worked at a quarry in Vernon before coming to Cleveland in October, 1870. Up until the morning of the murder, he worked as a hod carrier for small-time Cleveland masons and contractors.
Considering public opinion and his own uncommunicatively surly attitude, Stephen Hood received a sterling legal defense at his trial in December, 1873. That was solely owing to the talent and dedication of John P. Green, the legendary black Cleveland lawyer. Green was just at the beginning of his illustrious career, during which he would become the "father" of Ohio's Labor Day observance and become the first black elected to office in Cleveland before dying, covered with honors at the age of 95 in 1940. He and his assistant, William Clark, pulled out all the stops for Hood before the jury and presiding Judge Robert F. Paine. But it couldn't have looked good going in, for opposing Green and Clark were Samuel Eddy and Homer DeWolf, who had already made a fool of Hood at the inquest.
Although it lasted four days, Hood's trial revealed nothing more about the death of Greenberry. Hood stuck to his idiotic story about "John Lane," despite the fact that not one single fact could be discovered or verified about this mythical individual. (John Leonard Whitfield, the 1923 killer of Cleveland patrolman Dennis Griffin would rely on a similar defense with identical results). Everyone who had spoken at the inquest repeated their testimony, including star witness Fred Hood who favorably impressed everyone except his stepfather with his precocity in the witness box. John Green didn't dare put his client on the stand and he had little to go on in supporting an insanity defense. A friend of Stephen's, William Buckley, testified that Hood's health had sometimes been bad and that he was subject to fits. But all the other defense witnesses merely testified to Stephen's alleged good character, so the burden was left to Green's closing argument. And it must have been a powerful one: Green spoke for almost two hours and it was widely reported that he reduced his audience to frequent tears with his impassioned plea.
After DeWolf's closing argument and Judge Paine's instructions, the jury went out at 5 pm, December 17. It returned the next morning at 9 am with an announcement that they had found Stephen Hood "Guilty." Prosecutor DeWolf, recalling the debacle of James Parks' first trial, immediately requested to order the jury out so that they could reformulate their verdict to the proper length and wording: "Guilty of Murder in the First Degree." From the opening moment of the trial on December 15 until the proper verdict was uttered on December 18, Stephen Hood showed no emotion or reaction to what was going on around him. It was a striking contrast to Eden Hood, who could be seen weeping at his side throughout the four day session. Nor did he react much on December 31, 1873, when Judge Paine sentenced him to death. When asked if he wished to say anything before his sentence, Hood replied, "No, I have nothing much to say, only that I am an innocent man." Judge Paine then pronounced sentence in harsh words reminiscent of his sentencing of John Cooper two years before:
It is sufficient for this occasion to remind you of the events of the seventeenth day of July last, when you enticed the little boy Greenberry Hood, whom you had adopted and upon whom you had bestowed your own name and taught to look to you as father and protector, into a lonely and unfrequented wood, and there persuaded him to partake of intoxicating liquors until he became unconscious.
While in this condition you inflicted upon his head crushing blows with some heavy weapon which caused his death, and then threw his body into a hole in the ground, hastily prepared and covered it with brush, leaves and mud. It is difficult to conceive of deeper depravity than that which controlled you and nerved your arm in the commission of your terrible crime. . . . It now only remains for me to pronounce the sentence of the law, which is, and it is the judgment and sentence of the Court, that you, Stephen Hood, be taken from the bar of this Court to the jail of Cuyahoga county, and that you be safely confined therein and kept in close custody until the time of your execution, and that on Wednesday, the twenty-ninth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-four, between the hours of ten o'clock in the forenoon and two o'clock in the afternoon of said twenty-ninth day of April, you be by the Sheriff of Cuyahoga County hanged by the neck until you are dead; and may God have mercy on your soul. The Sheriff will see this judgment executed.
John P. Green had not given up yet. Hailed with "hearty praise" for his Herculean efforts in a lost cause, he filed a motion for a Writ of Error and took it all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. The crux of his argument was the charge that Judge Paine's bailiff had allowed the jury to leave their sequestered room during their all night deliberations and further, that they had entered the adjoining courtroom, where some of them consulted law books on the subjects of "malice aforethought" and the definition of "first degree murder." In support of said charge, Green submitted affidavits from the bailiff and several of the jurymen. But both Judge Paine and, eventually the Ohio Supreme Court, rejected his argument, admitting that the allegations made in the affidavits might well be true -- but that existing Ohio law forbade jury members from impeaching their own verdict. As for the bailiff, well, he was only to be commended for letting the jury move into Judge Paine's courtroom, which was warmer than the juryroom in the December cold.
Although his stolid indifference contrasted sharply with John P. Green's wasted eloquence, Stephen Hood hadn't quite given up either. On March 25, Cuyahoga County Sheriff Pardon B. Smith discovered a plot to effect the escape of Hood from his death row cell in the County jail. While escorting nine prisoners to the Columbus penitentiary that day, Smith noticed one of the prisoners fiddling with his ankle chains and found that they had been neatly sawed through. Calling in more guards, he interrogated the prisoners and finally succeeded in getting one hardened felon named Rover to talk. Rover told him it was all part of a plot to free Hood back in Cleveland. It developed that some days before, Hood's wife, a frequent jail visitor, had brought her husband a large rice pudding. The next day's Plain Dealer humorously enlarged on the pudding's attractions:
It looked delicious. Yet we venture to say that nothing edible could have been so luscious to his palate as the pudding was satisfactory to his mind. He probably did not eat any of the dish. At least we presume he did not; it was composed of such extraordinary ingredients. The recipe she used is not to be found in any cook book. We will not pretend to give the exact quantities of the several component parts but we should judge they were in about the following proportions: One half cupful aqua fortis [nitric acid] in a vial. One large cupful blue putty. Four ounces steel saws. Rat-tail, square, three cornered and other files to taste. Hood no doubt keenly relished such provender . . .
Sheriff Pardon B. Smith, for one, was not so amused. When he got back to Cleveland he examined Hood's cell and found that two cell bars had already been sawn through, the acid speeding the process and the blue putty disguising the work. Hood feigned complete ignorance about it all until Smith threatened to have him chained to the cell floor for the duration. Hood then surrendered the tools, putty and acid and retreated back into his habitual silence and indifference.
He maintained his passivity right up until the end. He showed no reaction the day before his hanging when a reporter informed him that Governor William Allen had turned down his last appeal for commutation. (A petition for such had been circulated within Cleveland's black community but had found very few signatures). During his last few hours he received spiritual counseling from the Rev. J. P. Underwood of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Ohio St. and the attentions of the inevitable Rev. Lathrop Cooley. The night before his hanging he released two statements to the newspapers. One was a thank-you note to the Rev. Underwood for his attentions and asking that he preach his funeral sermon. The other was his last will and testament, a self-pitying document in which denied all guilt and blamed the police and his nephew Fred for his fate. Claiming that Fred's testimony had been coerced, he charged that Sgt. Morse and others had threatened to send Fred to reform school if he didn't implicate his uncle: "I suppose they thought they would be benefited by it, as well as get their names and reputations up by bringing an innocent man to the gallows." (Morse, in fact, had testified at Hood's trial that he employed just such a combination of presents and threats to persuade Fred to "tell the truth.") As for Hood himself and the dreadful events of July 17, "I know no more about that than a child never born." Demonstrating that all his time spent with the Reverends Jones and Lathrop had not been wasted, a good half of his lengthy statement invoked God's superior judgment and foresaw "a time when all truth will be brought to light."
Throughout his final hours Hood remained in character. His last meeting with his wife was at 10 am, April 29. They forgave each other for any wrongs done and a few minutes later she departed, weeping loudly, in a carriage for home. Just before being led out to the scaffold, Hood met for the last time with Fred Hood. He unctuously forgave him for testifying against him, told him to be a good boy and said that he hoped to meet him in heaven. About the same time, Prosecutor DeWolf dropped in and Hood thanked him for a fair trial and his many kindnesses.
At 11:40 am Hood was led out to the gallows. As he passed by the cells of his fellow prisoners, he shook hands and cautioned several to "live right." Wearing his best clothes and boots that he had himself blacked that morning, he strode to the gallows "with a firm step and calm demeanor." At the foot of the scaffold, Sheriff Smith asked him if he wished to make a final statement but he shook his head and said, "I have nothing to say." Shaking hands all around, Hood stepped to the drop and, like Cooper, bounced lightly on it as if to test its solidity. His arms and legs were pinioned and the rope adjusted around his neck. Seconds later the black cap came down and at exactly 11:54 am Stephen Hood fell six feet through the very same drop traveled by James Parks and his successors. It was not a clean hanging: spectators could clearly see that the rope had slipped up towards Hood's face and they watched in horror as he strangled for the next five minutes, his agony clearly exhibited by his convulsive shudders as he swung slowly back and forth in the northeast corner of the County Jail. His pulse finally stopped beating at 13 minutes and his body was taken down at 12:14 pm. After the necessary autopsy, his corpse was put in a plain coffin and given to Mrs. Hood. Late that afternoon, spectators were lining up at a second-floor room on Ontario St. where's Hood's body was on exhibit for anyone wishing to pay admission. It is said that Fred Hood was seem there taking the admission fees for several days before Hood's corpse received the proper obsequies from the Rev. Jones at his Ohio St. church.
Shortly after Hood's execution, a story was circulated that he had made a confession to a fellow jail prisoner named Stanley, several days before his hanging. The gist of his admissions was that he had killed Greenberry with a club and buried him on the spot. That is probably exactly what happened but the tale of Hood's jailhouse confession is incongruent with his generally sullen, silent demeanor from the moment he was arrested until he fell through the drop. It is possible, of course, that all reported characterizations of both Stephen Hood and John Cooper's behavior were simply the puzzled incomprehension of white witnesses, who did not take into account the masking of personality that must have been second-nature to blacks living in late 19th century Cleveland. And, on a sadder note, the last heard of Fred Green, in 1889, was that he was in constant trouble with the police.
ã Copyright 2000 by John Stark Bellamy II and Cleveland State University. All rights reserved.