Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Mysterious Murder in Pelham in 1870

In 1870, the body of an unidentified man washed ashore near City Island in the Town of Pelham. The man had been murdered. Pelham's Justice of the Peace, Judge Sparks (after whom Sparks Avenue is named), conducted an investigation and authorized burial of the body without notifying the coroner to permit a coroner's inquest. Quite a scandal erupted as a consequence. What follows is the text of an article about the events that appeared in the June 10, 1870 issue of the New York Herald.



Tragedy on Long Island Sound - The Corpse of a Stranger Washed Ashore Near City Island - Conclusive Evidence of Assassination and Robbery - The Body Buried Without a Coroner's Inquest - An Obsequious Justice of the Peace.

The brutal murder of an unknown man, whose body was cast ashore by the waters of Long Island Sound within the past week, has, through the bungling interference of a justice of the peace, remained hitherto almost unnoticed. Last Friday some fishermen discovered the corpse of a stranger near City Island, and in the town of Pelham, Westchester county, and the occurrence having been mentioned to Justice Sparks that official, without notifying one of the Coroners, proceeded on his own responsibility to hold an inquest. A jury having been summoned, an examination of the body took place, which disclosed a deep cut under the right ear, which had penetrated beyond the jugular vein, sufficient at once to produce death. Two gashes were also found on the left wrist, as though inflicted while the deceased was endeavoring to evade the knife of his murderer.

The body is represented to be that of a German, apparently about five feet six inches in height, and was genteelly dressed in dark clothing. A gold ring was found on one of the forefingers, in order to secure which it was found necessary to amputate the digit. In one of the pockets a small amount of money was discovered, and hanging from the vest was a portion of a watch chain with seal attached, leaving little room to doubt that the watch had been secured by the murderer. In view of these facts the jury rendered a verdict that the man came to his death by wounds inflicted by some person or persons unknown to the jury. The body was subsequently buried on City Island by the poormaster of the town of Pelham.

Having been first notified on Wednesday of the unwarrantable proceedings attending the inquest, Coroner Bathgate, at the request of citizens living in that vicinity, visited City Island and had an interview with Justice Sparks, to whom he expressed in sever terms his disapprobation of Sparks' conduct in usurping the functions of the county coroners, and at the same time giving the former to understand that if a repetition of the unwarrantable proceeding occurred he (Bathgate) would bring the matter before the Grand Jury.

In the HERALD of the HERALD of the 5th inst. a paragraph under the heading 'Suspected Foul Play' appeared, setting forth that a German named Frederick Etzold, a resident of Union Hill, N.J., and who was an agent for Wheeler & Wilson, had gone on a visit to Bridgeport, Conn., since which time no traces of him could be found.

It was ascertained yesterday afternoon, through Captain Leviness, who lives on City Island, and who saw the body, that the appearance of the corpse corresponded, to some extent, with that of Mr. Etzold, and the wife of the missing man, having been notified, intends visiting the spot to-day, when the body will be exhumed for her inspection."

Source: A Mysterious Murder, N. Y. Herald, Jun. 10, 1870, p. 5, col. 6.

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