Matilda Russo Murder
The Murder of Matilda Russo

From the New Jersey Mirror 15 Jun 1921:
The Mystery of the disappearance of the little Matilda Russo, the seven-year-old daughter of Mike Russo,a tailor, living at 113 East Second street, Moorestown, was cleared up on Friday when officers searching for the body of the child in the cellar of Lewis Lively, a colored man living next door, found the horribly muliated remains of the child, buried three feet under the earth floor. All the clothes had been roughly torn from the body. Almost simultaneously with the finding of the murdered child Lively disappeared as completely as though swallowed up by the ground and he has succeeded in eluding the authoriteds thus far, although a countrywide search is being made for the arch fiend.

The Little Italian girl was reported missing on Saturday night, June 4. The last seen of the child was between 7 and 8 o'clock that evening. It was supposed at first that she might have run away because she had been reprimanded by her mother for some trivial offence. When she did not return next day and no trace of her could be found, it was feared that she might hve been kidnapped or met with some tragic fate and the police of Moorestown and county detective Parker redoubled their efforts to locate the child or find her body.To this end every possible clue was followed out. A reward for information or the recovery of the missing little girl was also offered.
In the course of the search, Lively, the next door neighbor, whose house is but a few feet wawy from the Russo home, was called to the township headquarters in Moorestown, to inquire of him what he might know of the case. At that time there was no direct suspicion of the negro. He told an apparently straight story, tending to prove an alibi for himself and describing how he had gone with his family to a small place in south Jersey called Swainton, where had formerly lived. In the process of elimination, detective Parkeer caused an investigation to be made of the colored man's story, and found that it was a fabricaton from beginning to end. This resulted in the discovery that lively, who had lived in Moorestown for only thee months, bore an unsavory reputation in Swainton and that he had served time in jail for various crimes. The negro seemed to know the progress being made by the officers in unravelling the mystery of little Matilda's disappearance. Soon after his grilling at town hall, Lively disappeared from his accustomed haunts but came back and was seen at intervals. The police, believing that somewhere within the four walls of the house would be found some clue leading to the solution of the mystery, boarded up the Lively house in the family's absence. When the officers, with an iron bar, to be used in sounding the earthen floor of the cellar, arrived to search the house, neither the negro suspect nor his family was around. Lively was reported later to have been seen at several places after the discovery of the mudered child's remains , but he always managed to elude capture.

The finding of the mutilated corpse was kept secret during all of Friday in hopes that the negro might be lulled into a feeling of security and return home, but the fiend seemed to sense the situation and while men were patrolling the streets and scouring the countryside for him he is believed to have quietly slipped away to parts unknown. He is believed to have been traced to Kaighn's ferry, Camden, where he crossed over to Philadelphia. Fliers have been sent out to the police of most of the towns and cities within a radius of a hundred miles and the authorites confidently expect to capture the murderer. The search of the negro family's house came after the finger of suspicion pointed directly at Lively as the probable person to have last seen the missing little girl alive. His lying statements, his apparent nervousness when questioned and his bad record all seemed to confirm the belief of the police that he know more about the child's disappearance than anyone else. Added to this is the fact that Mrs. Russo, the child's mother , heard a scream on the night of Matlida's disappearance, which seemed to come from the house next door. This was later reported to the police. The Lively family consists of the missing negro, who is a mulatto, his wife and her little son by a former husband. They came from Swainton. Without attracting the attention of the curious many of whom had been hanging around the Russo home since the disappearance of the child, Chief of Police Bradshaw and Ira Jacobs went to the Lively domicle on Friday morning to search the premises again, a previous hurried examintaion of the house not having disclosed anything. By this time it had become almost a steeled conviction that if the little girl was not being kept secreted in the negro's house, some trace of her might be found there. Accordingly when they arrived with a search warrant they hunted through the upper stories of the house without result. Then the searchers descended to the cellar. Every nook and cranny of the dark place, littered with debris, was looked into without result and repeated prodding into the earth brought no evidence of freshly-turned soil. Finally just as the searchers were about to give up the hunt in that quater of the crow bar struck a spot that seemed to have been recently disturbed. Quickly investigating, it was discovered that the ground had been turned over recently and then closely packed down. Procuring shovels the chief and his associates began digging and before they hd gone more than three feet they found the little form for whch they had been looking. The nude body which had been shockingly mutilated was just as it had been crowded into the hurriedly-made, shallow grave, apparently immediately afer the dastardly crime had been cimmitted. No attempt was made to remove the body at that time, it being feared that the news of the discovery would retard the apprehension of the negro wanted for the crime.

Detective Parker was at once notified and a guard put upon the murder house. Immediate steps were taken to capture the negro fiend. Detective Parker accompanied by Miss Laura Yoos, his stenographer,hastened to Philadelphia where it was hoped the quarry might be picked up , the Detecitive Bureau of the Quaker City having already been notified . It was the desire of the Burlington county officer to secure from the prisoner a verbatim statement immediately upon his anticipated capture. To this end Miss Yoos remained at the town hall in Moorestown up on return from the unavailing trip to Philadelphia, until early Satruday morning , but no trace of the murderer had been reported when the tired officials went to thier rooms to obtanin a few hour of needed rest.

In the meantime the body had been exhumed and a superficial examination made of the corpse. Horrible mutilations were found. The throat had been cut froom ear to ear, apparently with a razor or a very sharp knife, the ghastly gash extending in to the spinal column. There was a brutal blow on the head as though made with a hammer, and the abdomen was deeply gashed, apparently with the same weapon that had cut the victim's throat. At that time it was not possible to say whether little Matllida had been criminally assaulted also. Coroner Belton, of Moorestown, took charge of the remains pending the holding of the inquest and instructions from the Prosecutor's office.

An autopsy was performed on Saturday by Doctors H.E. Longsdorf, of Mount Holly and D.H. Ulmer, of Moorestown, who found the wounds as already described, any one of the three being sufficient to have caused death. There were also indications thah a criminal assault had been attempted. Search for the missing clothing worn by the little Matlida proved fruitless until the officers retured to the shallow grave of the victim in the cellar of the Lively house and there, digging a little deeper, the searchers found part of the dress and under clothing of the murdered child. They were torn to shreds as though ripped from the body of the victim in handfulls. The mother of the child was not informed of th finding of the body of her daughter until Saturday and then only just before the remains were removed to the Coroner's private morgue in Moorestown where the autopsy was made. On Saturday Mrs. Lively was arrested when she returned without her child to the house which the police had taken possession of , and the mother was sent to jail to await further developments in the case. While chafing somewhat over her arrest and detention , the young women shows little nervousness over her fate and disclaims all knowledge of the affair, maintaining that she was away from home when the Russo girl disappeared and for some time afterward.

To all questioning she sticks to her story and it is apparently believed by those at work on the case that she know nothing about the affair. Mrs. Lively is quoted as saying thah if her husband is guitly of such a crime as that charged to him she hoped he would be caught and that she would do everything she could to help convict him if caught. All day on Suday , Monday and yesterday, the hunt for the murderer continued. Detective Parker had charge of the man-hunt and he has little sleep since first apprised of the crime. On Sunday he unearthed a photograph, taken in compay with his wife and from this he has had copies made an fliers sent brodacast. The decritpion given of Lively is that he is 35 years of age, very light colored, with alomost straight black hair and about 5 feet 4 inches tall. He is said to have worn a brown suit and a straw hat when last seen around Moorestown. Lively is a mulatto and is so light that he might easily be taken for an Italian . Lately he had been working in a brush bactory in Philadelphia. Before that he was employed in a street cleaning gang by Conractor E. H. Vare. It is believed that he mingled with the crowd crossing the river on Saturdaly morning and got to Philadelphia unobserved. The detecives have information that Lively was in Philadelphia on Saturday or Sunday and they claim to know where he was but the sly malatto made a clean get-away and has thus far eluded all afforts to capture him. The county detetive's office has been deluged with telephone calls professing to give information regarding the murderer's whereabouts. On Moandy morning a message came from Rancocas that a stranger answering the general descrition of Lively had been seen entering a piece of woods nearby and that he was surrounded by a posse. Deputy Sheriff Stone went down immediatley but no trace of the suspect could be found. There have been a number of arrests, of suspicious character's on the chance that they might be the wan wanted and for whom the township committee has offered a reward of $500 dead of alive. All of these prisoners have been discharged when they proved not to be the man for whom the search is being conducted. There was a new development of the case on Monday when it was discovered from the police in Philadelphia that Lively's prison record is a long one. He served among other sentences a term of three years in the Eatern Penitentiary , for manslaughter. He killed Edward Lee Madden who formerly kept a hotel in Burlinton. It is said that the trouble was over a woman . Lively served his full term for this crime and was released in February, 1920. When arrested for this murder Lively attempted to shoot Detective Frank Lore. The mulatto was arrested after a month's search and when caught declared that while he killed Madden it was in defense of his sister. Lively was also sentenced to 14 years in State prison fo rape but was let out on parole shortly before killing Madden. He also served time for robbery and other crimes.