Beaten by a Ghost: A Cleverly Planned Murder and the Vengeance of Heaven
So far this week, we’ve covered people who signed away their own bodies for dissection and later examples of cruentation–the practice of making a suspect touch a murder victim’s body to see if it bled. In keeping with the week’s blend of the legal and the supernatural, here is a story of a man with an unbreakable alibi, who was brought to justice by a ghost. Or (much as I hate to say it) by spirits of a different sort.
CRAFT AND CRIME IN IRELAND
The following singular statement was made to the narrator when in Ireland, not long since, by one upon whose authority he can place the utmost reliance. He does not pretend to account for it. The circumstances are, however, so far as related, strictly true:
Some three or four years ago, the reader may recollect seeing the papers an account of the assassination in noonday of a Mr. C____, a magistrate of Clare, and a man of large fortune. It was in summer that Mr. C. was returning on the outside jaunting-car from the sessions, at a place called Tulla, and was within about two miles of the town of Ennis, when a man raised himself over the wall of a gentleman’s demesne, and fired with a double barrelled gun on Mr. C. as he drove by, wounding him in the arm. Mr C. turned round, recognized the man, who, to make sure, levelled the gun again, and fired at him a second time, mortally wounding in the body. The driver pulled the horse up, and Mr. C. alighting, went into the house and informed the owner that he was shot, and that a man named Molony, a tenant of his (Mr. C.’s) had shot him. The police and magistrate, with surgeons, were soon on the spot—the medical men pronounced the case hopeless. Mr. C. knew it was so, and his fate with singular fortitude. [sic] So quickly, however, did the authorities act, that in a few hours after the event, and before Mr. C. died, the police entered the parlour, on the sofa of which he was lying, having in their custody the alleged assassin. The wounded gentleman raised himself by an effort, and deliberately and distinctly identified him.
“That is the man,” said he. “It was you, Molony, who shot me.”
“God forgive you, Mr. C.,” said the man, firmly. “This is not the first time you have tried to injure me. It was not I who shot you.”
“On the word and faith of a dying man, it was,” emphatically repeated Mr. C.
His depositions were therefore taken, and Molony was committed for trial. The clearness of the identification seemed to require no corroboration, but there were circumstances that further confirmed it. Molony believed himself hardly treated by Mr. C. in some matter of land, and had threatened vengeance. He was known to be a resolute fellow, of little truth, and Mr. C. was not remarkable for much indulgence. The case, then, seemed clear and when it was tried at the assizes, the evidence for the prosecution and the declaration of the dying man appeared to make a conviction inevitable; when the prison’s counsel called witnesses to prove an alibi. Of all the most hackneyed modes of evading justice employed by the Irish criminal, the alibi is the most frequently resorted to, the parties called to prove it being usually their own friends. In this instance, however, the court was startled by hearing the names of two of the most respectable magistrates of the county called.
Mr. M___ ascended the table and took his seat on the chair, which in the Irish courts is usually placed for the witnesses in this conspicuous place.
“Mr. M____,” asked the prison’s counsel, “do you know the prisoner at the bar?”
“Do you recollect seeing him on the first day of the sessions of ____?” This was the day on which Mr. C. was shot.
“Yes, he came to me at T____ (T____was eight miles from the place where the assassination occurred,) and spoke to me.”
“At what time was that?”
“At half past one.” (This was as nearly as possible the hour when the fatal shots were fired.)
“How do you know it was at that hour?”
“He asked me what o’clock it was. I told him. He appeared to forget, returned in about a minute, touched his hat, and asked me again, and I again took out my watch and told him.”
“Do you know the prisoner’s brother?”
“You could not have mistaken his brother for him?”
“No, I am quite clear on that point. I could not be mistaken, for I spoke to the prisoner about the fair.”
The council for the crown asked some questions, but the witness’s certainty on the point could not be shaken. Mr. M____was a clear-headed, clever man, a magistrate of high respectability, and could not have any object in sheltering the prisoner.
Mr. B., another magistrate was next called. His account was nearly the same as that of his brother magistrate. A few minutes, it must have been, after the prisoner accosted Mr. M., he spoke to him, (Mr. B.) and asked him what o’clock it was, repeating the question, and making some observations on the fair.
The result was, the alibi was completely proved and in the face of the solemn dying declaration of Mr. C______ the prisoner was acquitted. He left the dock for freedom, when every one believed he would only have left it for the gallows.
Soon after, Molony’s brother left the country but Molony himself remained. The mystery however so far as men’s minds were concerned, was soon unravelled, though the circumstances upon which the solution was founded were not sufficiently strong to constitute evidence. The prisoner did not fire the shot, and was at the fair of T_______ when the assassination took place.
There is little or no reason to doubt that he got his brother to commit the deed, as he knew from circumstances that he himself would be suspected. His brother resembled him, and to make the resemblance the greater they changed clothes, the assassin wearing the ordinary garments of the other, those with the appearance of which Mr. C________ must have been somewhat familiar. In the meantime, while he took these pains to deceive Mr. C_______, or whoever might be with Mr. C______, as to the identity of the assassin, Molony secured his own safety by a very marked alibi, taking care that his witnesses should be of that class and character who could not be suspected of collusion. In fact, an act at once more subtle and sanguinary could not be committed. It was devised with the most deadly hate and circumstantial coolness. The authorities were morally convinced of this being the case, yet they could not, with the dying declaration of the murdered man as to the identity of the prisoner who was acquitted, take any effectual steps to vindicate justice.
But Heaven’s justice vindicated itself in an awful way. The actual assassin quitted the country, but his instigator and brother remained marked, however, in the belief of most people. He however, appeared to be in no way oppressed with secret consciousness of his guilt. He went about his business as usual and so matters went on until the fair of T______ came round once more, the anniversary of that when Mr. C______ was shot. Molony attended this as others, but did not return to his house until the night was very far advanced and then in such an awful state that his family were terrified at his appearance. His face was livid and swollen, and he seemed in a raging fever. In answer to their first questions, he declared, with hideous fright in every feature, that he had been met by Mr. C________, (the murdered man) when returning home, drawn to the spot by the road where the trees were the thickest, and there beaten by the angry spirit until he was all but insensible. He was placed in his bed in a high state of fever, his body swelled, and he continued delirious, raving about Mr. C______’s ghost, until death freed him from further suffering.
Cool men attributed the phenomena to fever acting on a guilty mind, and possibly that he might have been beaten while in liquor by some one on his way home, and that his own fears alone invested the assailant with the form of the man whose death he had compassed. I suppose these conjectures are correct—at least they are reasonable. Others shook their heads, however, and said Heaven had a way, when human laws failed, of vindicating eternal justice. The matter, however, was never investigated. I have my narrative from a party in the neighbourhood, who knew the facts to be as I have stated, and he related them to me. Bristol Times.
The Daily Sanduskian [Sandusky, OH] 26 March 1851: p. 2
Any other examples of ghostly intervention in legal matters? All rise and send to Chriswoodyard8@gmail.com