First Murder in Kenosha County, Wisconsin


The murderous transaction in the town of Bristol, in this county, on Thursday last, reminds old settlers that the first murder committed in this county was in this city of 23rd July 1850, now nearly forty years ago. The murder was John McCaffrey and the victim was his wife. We are enabled to state the circumstances attending this first murder with considerable minuteness.


The house in which McCaffrey resided is still standing; it is a small brick building on the west side of the railroad, a short distance north of where the old match factory stood. The evening on which the crime was committed was bright, moonlight and delightfully pleasant. McCaffrey and his wife, as well as their neighbors spent the early part of the evening sitting out in front of their dwelling. Later, when all had retired indoors for the night, McCaffrey and his wife remained, but engaged in lively conversation, the wife being heard to indulge in loud laughter. At eleven o'clock a terrible shrieking was heard; neighbors as soon as possible went out to learn the cause. There was a shallow well of water never used for drinking purposes, which had become stagnant and unfit for domestic use. From this well, McCaffrey was seen to emerge, his clothes  dripping with water and muddy.  The thought at once suggested that McCaffrey had been dealing harshly with his wife. The woman was found dead in the well, and apparently thrown in head-foremost and trodden upon until strangled to death.


Policeman Philip Care was soon at the scene; he notified the Mayor only a few blocks away. McCaffrey, who in the meantime changed his clothes, putting on a pair of white linen pants, was found sitting on the side of his wife, whose body had been lain on the floor. McCaffrey was asked for an explanation: he persisted in repeating that he knew nothing about it, that it was all a mystery. He was taken to the Council room, a building then standing on Market Square, and was the next day committed to jail.


McCaffrey was tried in the Kenosha County Circuit Court, Judge Edward V. Whiton presiding and found guilty of murder in the first degree, capital punishment then being in force in this state. His gallows was erected on the then open prairie in that part of the town where the brass works are now located. N. K. Allen was at that time Sheriff of Kenosha County. Capt Quigley with his uniformed military  company was present as a matter of form  not necessary as no one dreamed of disorder. The doomed man had no sympathizers, although there were then citizens opposed to the capital punishment who petitioned the Governor for his commutation to imprisonment for life. His execution occurred on a pleasant day, free to all who chose to witness it. The crowd of spectators was not as large as might have been expected. Mccaffrey continued stolid and apparently indifferent to the last.


He was advised to employ counsel for trial and had the legal services of E W Evans, a lawyer of ability, and as he had no heirs, he  gave lawyer Evans a deed of his house and lot for his services. The time for hearing the concluding speech of Mr. Evans being announced, the Court House was crowded to hear what could be said in defense of a man who had none. Evans entertained the people for an hour under all the disadvantages, with a speech of moving eloquence.


As an appendix of this account of this revolting murder, the stories of the haunted McCaffrey house may be briefly noticed. The house in which McCaffrey and his wife had resided was for rent. There is a strange hallucination which has more or less prevailed, that houses that have been the scene of murder are haunted. So it was with the McCaffrey house. Different tenants occupied the house after the murder, but vacated, alleging that the disturbing noises nights, were such they could not sleep. The story of the haunted McCaffrey house became so noised abroad, that curious people came to stop in it over night. Some of these with vivid imaginations, thought they heard some strange things while those of well balanced minds failed to hear.


[Published The Telegraph Courier, published October 24, 1889, Kenosha, Wisconsin


Copyright � 2001, Robert W Fay LLC. All rights reserved

Monday, October 01, 2001

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