Saturday, November 15, 2014

Secrets in the Creek, The Mystery of Ella Newton


On the late afternoon of December 5, 1892, news spread quickly through Mount Vernon, New York, that the body of a beautiful young woman had been found, drowned in East Chester Creek. The circumstances surrounding her death at the immediate time were unknown. All that the Coroner and Police Department knew was that something terrible had happened.

When they found the lifeless body of this lovely young lady, it was noted that she was quite striking. Her slim figure, beautiful pale porcelain skin, and her glossy, raven colored tresses "hung loosely about her shoulders" as they pulled her body from the watery grave. 

She had been discovered in a swimming area of the East Chester Creek in Mount Vernon in the late afternoon approximately around 4-5 p.m. according to my research. Several newspapers mention that this was near the Webber's Hotel, although records indicate it was closer to the Invermere Hotel. Her body had been anchored down with a tight rope wrapped around her waist, and two heavy stones knotted to the rope to act as a weight to hold her down. The Coroner believed she had been in the water 36 hours, but I believe this was a typo in the newspaper and meant to read 3-6 hours given the time frame in which she was seen around town earlier before she disappeared.

On her person, inside the pocket of her dress the Coroner found these items:

  1. $. 35 cents
  2.  A pocket book 
  3. A blank piece of paper with letterhead of the Mott House (Tarrytown-on-the-Hudson) that only had the word “Dear", written on it.
  4. A business card that said “Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co., Silver Plated Ware, 36 East Fourteenth Street, Union Square, New York." The back of the card had handwriting that read :"6-46, Sat, Oct 22."
  5. Part of an envelope that was addressed: Lulu Newton care of G.Newton, Merchant Tailor, 158 Tenth Ave, New York City. (Post mark date illegible.)  
  6. Unused toothbrush (new) 
  7. Sewn into the lining of the waist of the dress, a rabbits foot (a symbol of good luck).
The Chief of Police searched the area for any clues as to what exactly happened to this lady and came up with nothing.  However, allegedly hours later, two other men who decided to do some "amateur sleuthing" claimed to have discovered more evidence that the police allegedly missed and basically claimed to have solved the case.

George Clough, Proprietor of Invermere Hotel, and employee John Grace claimed that after the police left they did their own “investigating” of the premises where Ella was found. This is what Mr. Clough had to say: 

“I found tracks that were such as hers in the snow, leading towards the end of the horse railroad towards the merry-go-round.  None of the conductors or the drivers on the road remember her, so it is supposed she walked the entire distance. I followed the tracks back to the shed, where the merry-go-round is stored, through a hedge, and there picked up a small cake such as bakers sell.  A little further on, we came to the big willow tree on the bank of the creek that is a landmark. It had been recently blown over, and the roots standing up in the air leave a big hollow. In the hallow we found the coat and hat of the girl.  The coat was neatly folded and the hat had in it a white silk handkerchief*, with a long hatpin run through the whole.  There was also a crumpled paper bag, from Stubbin’s Bakery with some crumbs in it. This tree is on the bank of the swimming pool, and the girl could have stepped off into water plenty deep enough to drowned her. The tracks of the girl led directly to the place, and were unaccompanied by other tracks.”—Quote from George Clough in New York Times.  

(* It was later reported the handkerchief had the letter "K" embroidered on it.)

Now this would be great if the information is true but upon researching into this deeper, I found myself asking more questions about just who Clough really is and how and why he came up with all this information?  

First of all, the young lady's body was found late in the afternoon. The Coroner stated her body had been in the water 3-6 hours. As you continue reading this story, you will see that there was a witness who reported seeing her alive around 1 o'clock in the afternoon. So if she was dead anywhere between 3-6 hours and her body was found around 4-5 pm, there was not much sunlight left in the day for anyone to go "investigating" after police finished up for the day. In fact, if Clough was being honest that they had actually gone back hours later, they would have been wandering around in the dark. In that case, it was highly unlikely that they found anything at all. Also, how were they were able to track the lone female footsteps after the police had canvassed the area in the mud and snow, hours before? That isn't even logical.

By the next day, the body had been identified as Miss Ella Newton, step-daughter of George Newton, and daughter of Lucy Newton, of New York. Newton was a tailor and had married Ella's mother when Ella was only a baby. According to the 1880 Census, Lucy and Ella were both originally from Massachusetts, while Mr. Newton had came from England, but were now all residing in New York.
Cortland NY Standard, 1892

Ella's step-father came to Mount Vernon, identified her body and had her returned to New York for burial.  Upon inquest into her family life, it was mentioned by neighbors that Ella was a model girl who was "quiet, unassuming, pretty...and a devout Catholic." The family lived at 1787 Amsterdam Avenue in New York, just above his tailor shop for the last six months. Ella had a good relationship with her step-father but had a very complicated relationship with her mother. As several  papers reported, Lucy Newton was a very heavy-set, harsh and unpleasant person. She was overbearing, controlling, verbally and possibly physically abusive. She had complete control on her husband's business affairs, the household and most of all, her husband. 

According to Mrs. Alfred Newton, the Ella's aunt, there had been an argument between Ella and her mother on Sunday, December 4th, which prompted Ella to walk out of the house and over to her aunt and uncle's home. Ella's aunt told her that she was welcome to stay as long as she liked but Ella was determined to go out and find a job and make it on her own. She spoke of the argument she had with her mother, and that she wanted to go to Tarrytown or Mount Vernon to find a job. She stayed the evening of Sunday, December 4th, and after helping serve breakfast the next morning, she decided to leave. Her aunt begged her to telegram her mother, at least letting her know she was alright. She even gave Ella $.25 cents but Ella never sent any telegram.


It appears that once Ella left her aunt's home at 455 Seventh Avenue, New York, she rode the train 18 miles up to Mount Vernon. According to a man by the name of Mr. Kearn, Ella went directly from the train station to his tailor shop in town. Two years previously, her aunt had sent Ella there to work as a seamstress, although Ella didn't take to the job as well as she had hoped and quit. She came back hoping that Mr. Kearn could employ her again. Unfortunately, he told her business was slow and he had no jobs available for her. He did refer her to a lady by the name of Mrs. Meyers who ran the local employment agency.

Upon arriving at Mrs. Meyers' office, she was sent to call on Mrs. George Bard at 129 Sixth Ave. Mrs. Bard had inquired with Mrs. Meyers for a nurse. Not knowing her way around town, Ella went back to Kearn's to ask for directions to the address on Sixth Avenue and went off on her way. When Ella arrived, Mrs. Bard refused to hire her after being unable to provide a home address at Mt. Vernon. Ella returned back to Mrs. Meyers and explained what happened. She left disappointed shortly before 1 o’clock in afternoon, not saying where she was going. Only hours later, her body was discovered in the creek.  

So what happened to Ella Newton?

Coroner Frederick Drews was convinced that it was murder from the beginning, although autopsy physicians, Dr. Smith and Dr. Wiess were convinced it was suicide. One strange note though, Dr. Smith argued that Ella had been assaulted before her death, while Dr. Wiess claimed that he saw no sign of any sort of assault. At least a half dozen "Hawkshaws" (or detectives) got into the mix of this investigation hell bent that Ella had been murdered and were determined to help solve the case.


What about the rope that was wrapped around Ella's waist and anchoring her body in the creek?  The autopsy physicians reported that the rope was bound so tight that it left bruising around her waist under her dress.
According to a man named Sailor Jack, he and other “seafaring men” swore that the fashion that the rope had been tied to the stones could have only been done by a man or person with experience in sailing. The knot used was a typical seaman’s fashion used to anchor or secure a boat. They believed a young lady, such as Ella, who was raised indoors as the daughter of a tailor, would not have had any knowledge on how to tie the rope in such a way.   

Newspaper account reads: “There was a splice in the rope near the body such as sailors put in ropes . The whole formed an anchor such as sailors use in boats hereabout. But no such boat has lost its anchor,  as found up to this time.” 

The New York Times reported that the police mentioned they believed Ella had been assaulted, murdered and her body was moved in a boat and placed there to appear as if she walked up to the bank and jumped in. --- they were NOT convinced it was a suicide at all.
Police were searching every possible lead they had, which led them initially to James Meyers, Mrs. Meyers’ son. James was a 22 year old, 300 lb loafer, who spent most of his time drunk in saloons or passed out in the back of his mother’s employment office. 

Then there was the possibility of two African-American men by the names of Walter Landrine and Joseph Aaron Pugsley who both lived in Pugsley Hollow in New Rochelle just  a town away. 

The police arrested the three men and held them overnight under suspicion of murder, but all three were able to secure alibis for themselves which allowed their release. James Meyers claimed he was with his mother Monday afternoon, and his mother swore that it was true.  Landrine claimed he was working, loading potatoes until after 5 p.m. Monday night, while Pugsley’s odd alibi put him at Flynn’s Saloon in New Rochelle around the time of the murder.

The police continued on in their search for suspects, eventually suspecting two more men, a man simply known as “Mr. White,” and James Rafferty.  White was the keeper of the Sportsman’s Retreat, a saloon that was located only a half a mile from where Ella’s body was found. It was also located on Post Road which was on the Street Car Line where they thought Ella may have gotten off on Monday afternoon. It was assumed she may have inquired about employment at the Saloon and became the object of attention from some very vile men who may have followed her upon leaving. 

According to White, he was very upset to hear what had happened to Ella and even stated that if he found out who did it he would physically harm them.  Rafferty was only a suspect because of his big mouth. It seems that while drunk he made up some stories, including that he spent the night with Ella at the Mott House in Newburgh, which raised suspicion. But it was impossible that Ella spent any time with this gentleman in Newburgh because she had spent the prior evening with her aunt and uncle in New York.  More than likely he had read about the items found on her, including the letterhead of the Mott House when her body was discovered. So trying to sound important he probably made up lies about being with her.  Neither men were arrested or held on suspicion.

What about the handkerchief with the letter "K" embroidered on it? The only person mentioned in this story with a K in his name was Mr. Kearns who Ella visited twice that day. Could she have gone back to his home after leaving Mrs. Meyers? Did he possibly give her a handkerchief to wipe away tears of disappointment in not being able to secure herself a job? This is still a mystery.


During the inquest, Mr. Clough testified that he had previously worked for Simpson, Hall & Miller’s Co. in New York. He also stated that a fellow employee of the establishment, a gentleman named Albert Dimmock of Woodlawn, ran into him on the train 3 days before the inquest and the conversation of Ella Newton’s death arose. Dimmock told Clough that he knew Ella quite well and that she would regularly visit him at the store. District Attorney Hunt recalled the card found on Ella’s body from Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co., so he subpoenaed Dimmock to testify in the inquest. During the inquest, Ella’s step-father, George Newton, claimed that he didn’t believe that Ella made any trips to Simpson, Hall, Miller, & Co. at any time, but that Albert Dimmock once lived above their tailor shop at 1787 Amsterdam Avenue only about six months earlier. He also mentioned that she was friendly with Dimmock’s family and that she would spend time regularly at their home and even mentioned her planning to visit them in Woodlawn in the future. 

Upon testifying, Alfred Dimmock, a salesman for an agent office of Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co., claimed he had seen Ella often at her father’s tailor shop. He also said his wife was fond of her and after moving to Woodlawn, she wrote Ella a letter asking for her to come visit them and possibly work for them. He claimed that the card found on Ella’s body had been sent with the letter and the information on the back of the card was the instructions for her to meet them at the 125th Street Station on Harlem Road for the “6:46 departure on Saturday, October 22.” He said that he didn’t think she got the letter, because she didn’t show. He also provided a letter from his employer, Charles Casper claiming he was working in the New York sales office on December 5th, providing him a much needed alibi.

Ella’s step-father, George Newton, stated for the papers that he knew nothing of any proposed trip to the Dimmocks. This actually contradicts what he had stated before, that Ella would spend time with the Dimmocks when they rented the house above his tailor shop and that she planned to visit them. He also made a strange statement in regards to his feelings towards Dimmock. “ I have no feeling against Dimmock other than that expressed here tonight, that he deceived us in planning to take Ella away. We are friends and will be.”
Dimmock’s stated in the inquest that it was "an outrage" to bring his name into Ella's death. "I know nothing about it, and never had twenty words in conversation with the girl in my life.”— This also seems to be contradictory to what he told Mr. Clough on the train. 

According to the New York Times, a boy named John Mandy of South Mount Vernon testified that he saw a hack (taxi carriage) that went down the Invermere Road the day of Ella's death. He also claimed that he saw a girl standing near the coal sheds as if in waiting for someone. He said the hack stopped and a man proceeded to get out of the carriage and was speaking to the girl, who he now believes was more than likely Ella. 

Despite this new clue into the murder of Ella Newton, something or someone seemed to be able to make it disappear. In fact in all my researching, I have never found such a story that the Coroner, the Police Chief and the District Attorney were certain that it was murder, yet in every step of the process others were attempting to discredit that theory. In this instance, by running with Mr. Clough's ideas they were taking the word of an ordinary citizen over the results of the original police investigation. An exception to this was the claims of another police officer, H.C. Beckwith, who went on the record claiming that he took Ella's shoe and went back to the scene of the crime a day later and followed the steps in the snow and mud that led him directly to where her body was found, stating that no other footprints were visible. Again, that is impossible, being that the day they discovered her body, there were many people walking around that area and the crime scene was basically tainted with foot prints after that time. Just like Mr. Clough who made such preposterous claims about going there hours after the police and finding her lone footprints in the snow and mud, this police officer's account is not only physically impossible but I would say is a lie. But why?

Was he paid off to make Chief Foley look bad?  Foley was adamant when Clough came the first time with his theory of finding Ella's coat and hat in the hollow tree that it was not there when he  investigated the scene. It had obviously been planted there later. Why was a fellow officer going by what Mr. Clough stated instead of his superior? 

Either way, the theory that anyone discovered "lone footprints" made only by Ella near the creek is not possible, unless the men who pulled her body from the creek, the police who investigated the grounds, Mr. Clough and his friend, and Officer Beckwith were hovering off the ground or flying because each and every one of them would have left sets of foot prints in the mud and snow. 

No, my friends, there is something terribly wrong with this story and sadly it gets worse...

On December 22, 1892 , despite the urging of District Attorney Hunt, Coroner Drews and Police Chief Foley, along with many other private detectives convinced that this was a murder, the inquest jury came back with a very odd verdict.  They didn’t rule it a suicide, but neither did they rule it a homicide. Instead, it was ruled that she “drowned by a person or persons unknown to the jury.”-- 

It was a big upset to everyone who had worked so hard to seek justice for Ella. With all the twists and turns to this story, I still find it quite odd that the man, G. Clough, who strangely claimed to have found new evidence to support the suicide theory, happened to be friends with Dimmock, who had lived just above Ella's parents tailor shop in New York.  How could so many people be so adamant that she was murdered, yet the jury chose not to lead to that conclusion? Could they have been threatened? Paid off?  

Could Ella's parents have been involved in any way? What about the envelope and the card found on her body? It appears as if Ella eventually received the letter Dimmock's wife had sent months earlier. Could she have found the letter at home, and upon asking her mother about it, that brought on the terrible fight that forced Ella to leave? We may never know for sure.

And now we are left with that unsettling feeling of uncertainty. Just who killed Ella that day? Who was the man she met near the coal shed? What did they speak about? How did she end up at the bottom of the creek with a rope wrapped around her waist, tied to stones in the fashion of a seaman's knot? Most importantly, why were so many people making such a stink to just brush Ella's death under the rug as a cut-and-dry suicide? Was there no compassion for this beautiful young lady? 

Ella died December 5th, 1892, nearly 122 years ago...and still we may continue to wonder forever, just who killed Ella, and most importantly, why?

(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications)

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