Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Account of Jennie Bowman -- Louisville, Kentucky History

"Walking through Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, you might stumble upon the grave of Jennie Bowman.  The modest monument that sits at her burial plot reads: “Public Recognition of the Heroism of Jennie Bowman, 1863-1887, Faithful To Her Trust Even To Her Death.”  You wouldn’t know by looking at that grave what a horrible ordeal this young lady had been through just before death, but now you will, because I am going to tell you her story so that she will no longer be one of the forgotten.

“The grave of Jennie Bowman will not be a nameless or forgotten one. It will be a humble but proud and sacred shrine, where may shall kindle the holy fires of love and duty. God’s angels watch it with sleepless vigil, and when the glad morning comes that wakes the dead, she, with all who have lived and died for duty and for right, will march into the city that hath no danger, no pain, no tears.” --- Rev. Waltz  

Those words were spoken at Jennie’s funeral on May 10, 1887, at the First English Lutheran Church on Broadway. Crowds of citizens from the city gathered to pay their respects as well as friends and family who were in attendance. Her employer, A.Y. Johnson & his family, who paid for the lot where she was buried, were also there grieving the loss of their beloved housekeeper. 

So, what sort of disastrous event took the life of this young lady? Just before noon on Thursday, April 22, 1887, Jennie Bowman was attacked during an attempted robbery while in the house of her employer at 1522 Brook Street. She was beaten so badly that she lay in a semi-conscious state, lingering between life and death, and suffering in agony for nearly two weeks before ultimately passing away.

Mr. Johnson’s children discovered the ghastly sight upstairs in the sitting room upon arriving home that day with their mother. Jennie, while in and out of consciousness, was able to provide a description of what happened that day, and what her assailant(s) looked like. She claimed that while she was washing glasses, she had heard a noise at the side door, so she went to see what it was. Upon opening the door, she was confronted by a large, black man with a mustache who asked to speak to Mrs. Johnson.

After Jennie explained that she was not home, he pushed his way into the home and locked the door behind him. It was then that he started demanding to know where all the valuables were in the house. After she told him there weren’t any valuables, he grabbed her by the arm with the intent to hit her. She used her other arm to swing the glass at him, breaking the glass on his head.  She tried to get away from him but he attacked her. Grabbing a large poker from the fireplace, he proceeded to hit her in the head with it. At that point, she was in and out of consciousness but remembered him dragging her up the stairs to the sitting room.

When she was somewhat awake again he began his interrogation about the valuables in the house once more. She told him again that there wasn’t any, and he again started to hit her. She said that she tried to get up and fight him, and they both ended up wrestling on the floor as she tried her best to fight off her attacker. Again, he managed to crack her in the head again, this time multiple times with the poker. He then gagged her with a wet towel (presumably the towel had been using to dry the dishes with) so she could not scream.

 She was incapacitated, but could see that he was ransacking the room. He went to the wardrobe and removed a coat and vest and proceeded to start putting it on when the voices of Mr. Johnson’s children coming home surprised him. They were outside in the back yard, and were on their way into the house. He dropped the coat and vest and ran out of the room. Jennie assumed he ran out the front door and escaped. From the very beginning she had mentioned the robber, but during bouts of hysteria and delusions she mentioned not just one, but two men were there. The police began a man hunt for the suspect or suspects that could have committed such an heinous act on a young woman. Soon all the police were on high alert.

           After hearing about the horrible attack on Jennie Bowman, Mary Brannin, a local in Louisville, approached Officer Strohman and told him that she had suspected that a laborer that she had spoken to about having some work done on her house might be the suspect. She claimed that when she went to Albert Turner’s residence to inquire about his services that he came to the door with a big gash on his head and a cut hand. He looked like he had been in a terrible fight and remembering hearing about Jennie’s attack and how she had managed to inflict an injury on his head, she was concerned this might be their man.

           Officer Strohman tracked Turner down to his home on the east side of Century Street between Green and Walnut around 6 p.m. According to Strohman, he found Turner in bed with a young man. Turner had wounds on his face and hands, and found in his room were handkerchiefs and stockings that belonged to A.Y. Johnson. He was immediately arrested and taken down to the jailhouse. They soon after arrested the other suspect, William Patterson.

           Albert Turner, 26, was a known hoodlum in the area. He had previous arrests for beating women and was a suspect in the robbing and beating of a lottery agent for $300.00 just four years prior (1883), but authorities didn’t have enough evidence to convict him of it. All in all, he didn’t have the rap sheet that his counterpart Patterson did.

           Patterson, a known criminal with quite the record, had spent two years in the penitentiary on a larceny charge, in which he pleaded guilty, for stealing a gold watch back in 1876. Then ten months after being incarcerated, he managed to escape. After he was captured and finished his original sentence, he was caught again in 1879 for stealing cattle, which he pleaded guilty to again. He served a year for that conviction, only to be arrested again in 1883 for burglary and larceny, which he served more time. On January 8, 1887 he was released from prison and only few months later he was taken in on suspicion that he was involved in the attack on Jennie Bowman.

          During their separate interrogations by the police, each had their own stories to tell. Patterson said he didn’t know Jennie Bowman, was not involved in any way and refused to speak about the crime further. Turner squealed like a pig the first chance he had, and of course he pointed the finger at Patterson, at least for the more gruesome parts. According to Turner’s confession, he claimed that he was passing the Johnson residence when he saw another “negro” sitting on a carriage mount in front of the house. The man, who Turner claims was a stranger to him, slapped him on his back and asked if he wanted to “make some money.” The man, who later identified himself to Turner as “Bill Patterson” told him that the occupants of the home were gone, that he had watched them leave the house, so he was planning on breaking in and robbing the household. 

          Turner claimed that he didn’t want to be involved, but after Patterson’s insistence he gave in. Again, remember, this is Turner’s claim. It doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate. As his story went on, he claimed that upon entering the house, Patterson went upstairs and he remained on the bottom level where he was confronted by a woman. Turner claimed she struck him in the face with a glass that broke in half over his head. He cut his hand trying to get it out of her grasp and she bit his thumb down to the bone. While in this life or death struggle, Turner grabbed a poker from the fireplace and cracked her over the head with it three times, rendering her unconscious.

         “Patterson heard the struggle downstairs. He saw the woman, and we both picked her up from the floor, he at the feet, I at the head, and we carried her upstairs. We placed her on the bed. Patterson said ‘What are you going to do with her?’ I replied, ‘ Lock her up so we can rob the house.’ Patterson replied, ‘No, let’s do her up.’ He then picked up a poker from the fireplace about a foot longer and several pounds heavier than the one I had used, and struck her a fearful blow on the top of her head. The body writhed and blood flowed from her mouth and nostrils. Patterson then jumped on the bed and kicked the woman seven times: three times in the stomach, and two on the side, and two on the head, one of which broke her jawbone.”

          Turner went on to claim that Patterson had intended to rape Jennie, but that he “prevented” him from doing so. Again, it is hard to believe everything Turner says, but it is also hard to ignore that some parts of his story matches Jennie’s statement. So, we know Turner had attacked Jennie. Just who struck her with that fatal blow would be impossible to determine at this point. Jennie claimed at first she remembered the one man, but during bouts of consciousness she was able to recall other things, including the fact there were two men in the house that day.

          When Turner was in the presence of Chief Whallen, around the time that a large mob of people were assembling outside of the jail, he begged Chief Whallen for his protection from the angry mob. Thousands of people assembled outside, and at one point it looked as if the jail would be overrun by a mob out to lynch Turner.The Chief had all of his police force on duty for 48 hours (non-stop) and even sought out the help of the Louisville Light Infantry, which was an independent militia, to keep order in town. By 10 p.m. 200 men marched on the jail carrying poles, at that time 50 people were arrested and by morning 300 had been charged with disorderly conduct.

          Because of the threat of a lynch mob getting their hands on Turner before he could be tried and convicted in a court of law, the Chief decided to remove his prisoner to another location. At the same time, the other suspect, William Patterson was being held in the jail for suspicion of the same crime. Based on Turner’s confession, it was assumed that he aided in the crime. At that point, both inmates would have to be moved out of Louisville, separately without seeing the other. 

          Authorities banded together and climbed into the wagon with Turner in tow, bound for the train station. I don’t know about you but this scenario reminded me of a scene from the movie 3:10 to Yuma, and I could not help but imagine the tension of that moment was probably so thick, and the fear of what could go wrong was probably overwhelming, but the police went out anyway determined to get their prisoner on the train to Frankfort. While they rolled their way across town, a guard posted in the intersection at 6th Street covered them with a Gatling gun to see that they made it out of town without issue.  Another wagon, with Patterson in it, soon followed bound for the train.

           While on the train, at the stop in La Grange, Patterson asked to use the bathroom. As one of the officers was escorting him there, he made an attempt to escape out the coach door. Apparently since Patterson had been in prison before he didn’t plan on going back. His little attempt for freedom was short lived though, and the officer managed to subdue him and get him to the jail in Frankfort in one piece. During their attempt to see if Turner could positively single out Patterson as his accomplice, additional black citizens of the community in Frankfort, where the suspects were being held, were brought in. This was done because Patterson claimed he had nothing to do with the attack and didn’t even know Turner.

            “The Frankfort colored men who were taken into the jail to confuse Turner, if possible, in his identification of Patterson, were heard to express their belief in the guilt of Patterson, and asserted that both criminals deserved death.”

            After creating a line-up with several other black males, Turner was then brought out to identify his accomplice. As he walked past two of the men, he stopped at the third and placed his hand on Patterson’s shoulder and said: “This is the man I met on the carriage stone, and the one who struck the woman last and wanted to outrage her.”

            It became very obvious that Patterson became unnerved and immediately yelled out: “I am innocent, as God is my judge, and I have got to die, and I know it. If that poor young lady was here, she would tell you that she never saw me.” “No,” replied Turner, “She was insensible when you carried her upstairs and tried to kill her.”  “Albert, you know I am innocent,” Patterson exclaimed. "You are trying to make me die to cover up your crime. I had nothing to do with it. You are lying on me and trying to put my neck in the gallows. You and I both will be tried for our lives, and you know I am innocent.”

             At that point Turner told Chief Whallen to examine Patterson’s body and in doing so they would find blood from Jennie under his clothes. After stripping him down, they indeed found dried blood on him just as Turner claimed.  This was when Patterson said he would murder Turner right then and there for throwing his life away, and that was when he sprang up and reached to put his hands around Turner’s neck, strangling him. It took nearly six officers to break up the two men and take them back to their separate cells.

           According to the newspapers of the time, Patterson had more than the arrest record I mentioned earlier. In fact, he had attempted to murder a policeman more than once, and back in 1880 while on trial he jumped from the dock in the City Courtroom and tried to stab a station keeper in Sinkhorn. On another occasion, he vandalized a restaurant.  As an officer was attempting to arrest him, Patterson tried to swing a meat knife at him and he had to be clubbed until he was subdued.

            All this time Jennie was wasting away in bed at the Johnson’s home, with family and friends keeping vigil at her bedside for nearly two weeks, hoping and praying that she would recover from these horrific injuries, but that was not to be the case. On May 9, 1887, Jennie passed away. Immediately, the Coroner made plans to examine her body to determine which injuries caused her death.

            Coroner Miller, assisted by physicians Dr. Berry, Robert and Hoskins, all determined that the right side of Jennie’s brain, near the base of her skull had a large blood clot, 4 ounces in weight. The inflammation of the brain was throughout the entire skull. They made the conclusion that had Jennie recovered physically from her injuries, her brain damage was so severe that she would have had to be kept in an asylum for the rest of her life.

            Meanwhile in jail, Turner and Patterson were getting mixed reactions from citizens. Besides the thousands of people who wanted to lynch them in Louisville, there were sympathetic people who came out of the woodwork. The newspaper stated “In the minds of many, Turner was not a criminal, but a hero. The brute himself gloried in his importance and boasted of the attention shown him, and order the details of his funeral, conscious that it will attract thousands and give him a delightful celebrity.” 

            As sickening as it sounds, yes, even murderers get groupies who somehow sympathize with them. Women were showing up at the jail to visit Turner, and even gave him money. While he banked on his newfound fame, he even sold photos of himself to those who requested it.  All the while, Jennie’s passing, the concern about getting her justice, or even the plan of giving her a proper burial was just an afterthought in the minds of many. It was so bad that the Louisville Courier-Journal tried to shame the public for showing more care and concern about Jennie’s murderers than Jennie herself, the actual victim in all of this.

            It appeared that once Jennie had passed on, the interest in her personal story diminished, while the fever pitch for the trial of Turner and Patterson was just getting started. The Committee members in charge of overseeing a collection fund to help Jennie receive the honor she deserved was spearheaded by Allen McDonald, W.N. Haldeman, Col. John B. Castleman and Judge R.H. Thompson who all devoted themselves to have her proper memorial erected. All together only a little more than $750 was raised for Jennie’s memorial fund, in order to have her  buried and a decent monument placed at her gravesite. The dedication of Jennie’s monument was held on October 6, 1887. 

             During both trials, Albert Turner always remained adamant that Patterson was his accomplice, while Patterson always claimed his innocence in the crime. One of Patterson’s former cell mates, Robert Crow, claimed that Patterson had confessed his guilt to him as well as other crimes he had allegedly committed, including murdering and attempting to murder other women over the years. At one point Crow’s statements were put into question when  rumors swirled that Patterson’s wife had paid Crow to secure Patterson’s conviction so she could be rid of him. It was also rumored that Crow and Patterson’s wife had an arrangement that they would be together once Patterson was out of the picture. Still, there was no proof of those rumors. Crow claimed he didn’t have any interest in Patterson’s wife, and that he was happily married.

           Whether Crow was telling the truth or making up more to the story, another witness statement that was beyond reproach or doubt was that of Minister Dr. Evans, who witnessed Patterson running out of an alley that day. He claimed that Patterson was bloody and injured and that he saw him running from an alley in the direction that lead to the Johnson’s residence on the day and approximate time of the murder. It didn’t take much for the jury panel in both trials to decide the fate of both men. Albert Turner was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to be hanged until dead, with the sentence to be carried out on July 1, 1887. On the day of his execution, Turner allegedly claimed that Patterson was innocent of the murder, however he didn’t say that he wasn’t there at the scene of the crime. Still, that was not enough to overturn Patterson’s conviction.

Patterson, although found guilty, managed to secure himself with a second trial, to which he was again found guilty. He had only stalled his execution a little over a year. He was hanged on June 22, 1888. At the time of his execution, the noose had not been adjusted properly so when he fell, the knot slipped under his jawbone. Since the fall did not break his neck instantly, he dangled there for over 25 minutes before he was declared legally dead. According to those who watched the hanging, from the time the rope dropped at 6:12 p.m. to 6:22 he was struggling and gasping. By 6:44 he was cut down from the rope and his body removed.

Remembering Jennie Bowman

Going back to the beginning, we must look back on just who Jennie Bowman was, and the life she had tried so hard to live. At the unveiling of her memorial, Judge R. H. Thompson gave a moving speech about Jennie and said this: 

“Jennie Bowman was born in this city, of German parents, poor in purse, yet rich and independent in the sturdy spirit of industry and thrift which always and everywhere distinguishes the German race. It was her good fortune, while still almost a child, to find employment in an excellent family….from the trusted servant she became the affectionate friend, and so it was, that on a bright and sunny day, in the very midst of this great city, with all the streams and currents of its busy life eddying around her, she was left alone in charge of the house which had been so long her home…..She died a martyr to her fidelity, and the universal sign of sympathy and appreciation which welled up from the hearts of the people of this city has found expression in this monument, which today we dedicate to her memory.

 Placed here, in this forest of marble columns, costly memorials of departed worth, tokens of sweet affections, buried hopes, neither speech, nor language is heard among them, but which still speak with so much pathos of man’s weakness and decay---this simple stone gives utterance to a song of life, in it recognizes the great truth that ‘whosoever will lose his life for others’ sake, the same shall save it’…. Jennie Bowman was a heroine long before she faced the brutes that murdered her. Day by day, upon the altar of duty, she had laid the sacrifice of self, and when the hour of trial came her spirit flashed out in resplendent glory before the astonished eyes of men, not as a low worm of dust, but in that adamantine  character whose diamond face reflects in glorious beauty the great white light that shines in Him whose life is the light of the world.

 The historian who shall record the names of those whose life or death have shed their luster upon Kentucky, will dwell with loving pen upon those archives which relate to the story of her women….The name of Jennie Bowman will grace the page of history that records the deeds of those heroic women, and the laurel wreaths which crown them will lose no luster on her brow.”--- (Speech by Judge Thompson, October 6, 1888)


            When I first started researching about the life and death of Jennie Bowman, it seemed so overwhelming. Her story filled hundreds of pages of newspapers at the time and the endless amount of reading and retaining information was a lot to take in all at once. I wanted so badly to share her story with the world and to make sure that her story was told with as much care and precision as a surgeon would use in the operating room. To me, Jennie Bowman wasn’t just a story, but a real person. It is my desire that by sharing her account with my readers, it will allow them to step back in time with me to witness her life, and death, as much as anyone possibly can. Whether you believe who killed her, it is now up for you to decide. The point was to tell the story accurately to get her story told, period.

             Nowadays a lot of stories are shared online, in books, and on television, but how much of what we are reading, seeing or hearing is factually accurate? That is a good question. This is why I stress the importance of thorough research down to your most basic primary (and secondary) sources as being not just important but essential in getting to the facts of a story. Do not rely on others to do the research for you. Do not be lazy. You will find that by going the extra mile you just might discover something even the so-called experts didn’t. Why? Because a lot of these “experts” don’t bother to do their own research either. I know that there have been ghost tours in Louisville in the past, and the story of Jennie Bowman has been shared. Whether their version is accurate or not is not for me to say, but I certainly hope they are doing their homework instead of spreading more misinformation around as so many other paranormal tours seem to do these days. I do not delve into the paranormal lore of people, places or things unless I absolutely have to, as I prefer facts over folklore, so that is about as much as I am going to go with this story. 

              So, if you do head down to Cave Hill Cemetery, and you decide to pay Jennie Bowman a visit, please always remember to be respectful of her final resting place. Remember she was a real person with a heart of gold and strength of character, so much so, she fought her attacker as best as she could to defend her employer’s home, and in the end she paid the ultimate price. Also, remember those final words spoken the day of her funeral as they are the best way I could think of ending her story.

 “The grave of Jennie Bowman will not be a nameless or forgotten one. It will be a humble but proud and sacred shrine, where may shall kindle the holy fires of love and duty. God’s angels watch it with sleepless vigil, and when the glad morning comes that wakes the dead, she, with all who have lived and died for duty and for right, will march into the city that hath no danger, no pain, no tears.”—— "

Photo Credits (Rob Mitchell)

(Copyright 2019- from the book "More Stories of the Forgotten"  by J'aime Rubio, www.jaimerubiowriter.com) 

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