Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February 4, 1885: John A Smythe, Joel J. Wilson, and Cicero B. Jellerson

Today we learn about a lynching that was retribution for another lynching. We read about this through the pages of the Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) dated February 5, 1885:


The Jellerson Murderers Shot and Hanged at Audubon, Ia., by Masked Men.

A Desperate Resistance Made by Wilson and Smythe—Cicero Jellerson Submits Meekly.

The Jail Besieged at 4 A. M.—Panic Among the Prisoners—History of the Crime.



AUDUBON, Ia., Feb. 4.—[Special.]—This morning about 4 o'clock John A. Smythe, Joel J. Wilson, and Cicero B. Jellerson the men who lynched Hiram Jellerson, an old cripple and inoffensive citizen, in 1884, were killed by a mob. The men had been indicted and lain in jail in this city many months awaiting trial. Judge Loofbourow convened court here Wednesday, Jan. 29, and defendants filed a motion for a change of venue on the alleged grounds of prejudice of our citizens. The motions were supported by affidavits of three of their attorneys, and by four other parties residing in the north part of the county, and who are believed to know but little of the state of feeling. This incensed our people and certain indiscreet remarks made by some of the attorneys and boasts and threats made by the prisoners tended to make a very bad state of feeling here and all over the county. The motion was filed last Friday morning. Judge Loofbourow did not rule on it then. Saturday he surprised nearly every one, except perhaps the attorneys for the defense, by announcing that Judge Henderson of Marshalltown would take his place here and open court Monday, and ordered all witnesses for the State in the Jellerson case to be present Monday morning. It was then believed that the change would not be granted; but somehow the rumor got afloat that Loofbourow would grant the motion and did not dare remain and defend his action. From Saturday until Monday the matter was generally discussed and it was plain to be seen the immediate fate of the prisoners rested upon Judge L.'s decision. Judge Henderson arrived from the north about Monday noon. About 3 p. m. he announced Loofbourow's decision—that the case would be changed to Cass County.


 This raised a terrible storm of indignation, and the feeling against the prisoners was nothing in comparison with that against Loofbourow, judging from public expression, and it is no doubt well for the Judge that he did not stay and face the public disapproval. It is said that night before last a meeting was held by indignant citizens, at which from 100 to 150 were present. Certain it is that all night men patrolled the streets and watched every avenue to the jail, as it was rumored that an attempt would be made to remove the prisoners from the county during the night. Last night it was noticeable that a large number of the business-houses were closed early in the evening, and that but few men were seen on the streets, and a rumor was started that another meeting was being held somewhere, and that the Jellerson murderers would never leave town, but those not in the movement hardly believed it would come to a head so soon.


This morning about 2 o'clock Sheriff Herbert and family and Deputy-Sheriffs Workman and I. H. Jenkins, who were sleeping up-stairs in the residence part of the jail, were awakened by a rap at the front door. The residence part is a two-story brick in the northeast corner of the square, the front end facing the east. Back of this is the jail proper, a one-story brick. In the latter is an iron cage containing two cells. The Sheriff responded to the knock by going to a window and inquiring what was wanted. A voice replied:  "Henry, we want to see you." The Sheriff inquired what was wanted of him, and the reply was:  "We want the Jellerson murderers." Herbert looked out and saw what is variously estimated at from fifty to seventy-five men gathered about the jail, and he informed them that the prisoners were in his charge as an officer, and that he would not give up the keys as demanded, but would defend and protect the prisoners. They informed him they not propose to allow the prisoners to be taken from this town in the night, as, it was rumored, was in contemplation. Herbert told them that if they would go away peaceably he would take the prisoners to Atlantic in the daytime and would give due notice when it would be done, but he should neither give up the keys or the prisoners. Then a voice replied about as follows:  "Herbert, every man here is your friend, and we know your duty as well as you do, but we want no fooling about it. We are no mob, but a body of determined citizens. We come for the Jellerson murderers, and we are going to have them at whatever cost. We will not interfere with you unless compelled to, but we warn you not to resist."


Herbert stepped back and, seizing a navy revolver, commenced firing into the air over the heads of the crowd in order to alarm the town, and Workman did the same, but it appears that the town was already  alarmed and present.  At least, no one came to his rescue, and, as a bullet came crashing through the glass close to his head, Herbert concluded that his visitors meant just what they said. In the little room leading to the jail are the stairs leading to the second story. This room is guarded by three doors five-eighths of an inch thick and made of wrought iron. A heavy iron door also opens into the jail from that room. These iron doors were put on to protect the jail from a mob without, but they only served to protect the mob and imprison the Sheriff and his deputies. The latter rushed down-stairs, but the men outside drove iron rods into the keyholes so the doors could not be unlocked.


With sledges the mob speedily broke a large hole through the brick wall of the jail, and before the officers could do anything were inside and had the door fastened. The Sheriff was utterly powerless to protect his prisoners, and was himself a prisoner in his residence. In the jail last night there were seven prisoners, including those lynched. The other four say that they were awakened about 2 o'clock by the mob breaking in the wall with sledge hammers, and in a few minutes nine masked men stepped inside. The cage is known as Pauley's patent steel-clad jail cell and corridor, and is protected by a combination of locks and bolts. Inside the iron cage were two cells. The prisoners slept in hammocks swinging in the cells. Smith, Wilson, and another prisoner occupied the east cell, and Cicero Jellerson and the remainder the other.


At the first alarm of course all were up and dressed. Smythe remarked to Wilson:  "They are after us." He replied, "Yes, and it's all up with us." Smythe and Wilson then took down their hammocks and with them and their bedclothes barricaded the cell door. Between them and their assailants was the cell door securely bolted and locked and the cage door fastened in the same manner. One of the lynchers carried a lantern. It took them nearly an hour and half with sledge-hammers and cold-chisels to break open the door to the cage corridor and during the time but few words were spoken. Once in the corridor of the cage it was easy to break the padlock to the cell door, as one lock secured the bolts to both cells. While they were at work Smythe kept shouting for Herbert to come and protect them. Once Smythe asked what they wanted. The leader replied:  "We want the Jellerson murderers, and we are going to have them." Smythe then called to Herbert to come and stop them, and the leader replied:  "We'll stop it pretty soon." The lynchers seemed to be perfectly familiar with the jail, and evidently, knew just what cells Smythe and Wilson were in.


As they opened the cell-door and called for the prisoners to come out Smythe seized a broom and struck or rather punched a man in the body with the broom-handle, knocking him over onto a table in the cage corridor. The man recovered and with a revolver fired, and the ball struck Smythe square in the left eye, and he fell on his face stone dead. The leaders then told old man Crawford to come out, as they did not want to hurt him, as all they were after were the Jellerson murderers. Wilson told Crawford that if he attempted to step out of the cell he would knock him down, but Crawford evidently thought he had rather be knocked down than shot, so he sprang quickly out the door.


Wilson backed into a corner near the door and told the lynchers that if he died he would die game. A man replied:  "You have got all the game you will get in this world." In the cell were two chairs, and when a man attempted to step inside Wilson would strike at him with them and it was some time before they could conquer him. The cell is made of iron interlaced, having openings perhaps an inch and a half square. A man took a crow-bar and punched through and drove Wilson back a little. Seizing a chair, he rushed for the opening like a wild beast, but a man checked him for an instant with a bullet from a revolver. Wilson kept up the uneven fight until the third shot was fired, when he fell. The prisoners think three or four other shots were then fired into his body. The two bodies were then dragged from the cage cell and taken through the opening in the wall, and the party nearly all left for awhile to hang the bodies to a fence stringer.


During this time Cicero, who was in the other cell and frightened nearly to death, breathed a little easier, and remarked to his companions that he thought they will not kill him. Ryan and Leek told him that they certainly would, and if he had anything to say to say it before they returned. Cicero replied, "if I will tell the truth will you promise not to go back on me and not give me away if I live?" They promised not to do so, and Jellerson there confessed again that he and Wilson were the persons who murdered his father. He also authorized them to make his comfession public in case of his death.


In a few minutes the lynchers returned and told Cicero to come out. He did so promptly without uttering a word. A man threw a rope over his head and started out of the cage and toward the aperture. Cicero followed as meekly as a lamb, and the prisoners think he was so badly frightened that he was utterly speechless. The lynchers all left the jail with Cicero, the leader remarking to the other prisoners:  "Now you can go to bed and rest easy. We have got all we came after." What occurred after they got outside, or whether Cicero made a confession to his captors or not, of course is known only to the latter and will probably never be made public.


Smythe and Wilson protested their innocence to the last. When the third shot struck Wilson he said:  "O, boys! if you are going to kill me, do it straight. I never killed old Hiram Jellerson, and never saw him until I saw him in his coffin. All I ask is a fair trial." Wilson then commenced to cry, but kept up his fight until shot at least three times more. While they were breaking open the cell-door Smythe told Crawford that if he was killed to tell his wife that he died fighting bravely. All the lynchers inside the jail wore masks made of handkerchiefs or black cloth, with holes cut for the eyes and nose. One of them, a short and apparently young man, did most of the shooting, but at the direction of another.


Ryan, one of the prisoners, says that for the first time in his life his nerves failed him, but he fairly wilted in his boots when Wilson was shot down. All the prisoners admit having been frightened nearly to death. They state that Smythe and Wilson had boasted that they went to Atlantic for trial they would shoot those who testified against them, and if they were acquitted they would they would come back and march through the streets of the town in a manner that would strike terror to the citizens. They will hardly accomplish their threats. While the lynchers were shooting Smythe and Wilson, Cicero cowered in his cell and frequently ejaculated, "O my God! O my God!" The prisoners state that the assailants were not a mob at all in the usual sense of the term, but a well-organized body of deliberate men, who went quietly at their work in a systematic manner and accomplished their purpose without any unnecessary noise.


Judge Nichols impaneled a Coroner's jury, who have just returned a verdict that Smythe and Wilson came to their death by shooting and Cicero by hanging at the hands of unknown parties. There is no excitement here whatever, and not a word of condemnation or disapproval of last night's tragedy is heard from any source.


In fact there is a general openly-expressed approval of the act.Seven murders have been committed in this county during the last three years, but owing to the laches [sic] of the law and connivance of lawyers not a criminal has been punished, and it is not strange that the people thought this is a good and proper times to reverse the general rule. It has been reversed, and notice has been served upon murderers, their lawyers, and their friends that hereafter changes of venue for the express and avowed object of defeating the ends of justice will not be granted by the great jury of Audubon County that convened at the jail last night, notwithstanding such order may be made by a man whom they have elected Judge of a court.



DES MOINES, Ia., Feb. 4.—The crime for which Jellerson, Smythe, and Wilson were lynched today was committed about 2 a. m. April 26, 1884. Hiram Jellerson, the victim, was an old man who had resided eighteen years near Audubon, Ia. He had removed from Pittsfiled, Ill., and had raised a family of one boy and five girls. About three years before the crime John Smythe married one of the girls. He was a rough, drinking character, and soon made trouble, and arrayed the mother and children against the father. He accused the old man of an unspeakable crime, and threats were then made by Smythe and the others against Jellerson. Smythe moved to Carroll County, and induced Cicero, the son, and the girl Lucy to go with him. Jellerson was a cripple, and not strong mentally, but strictly honest in all his dealings, and a kind husband and father. Cicero and Smythe so harassed him that at times he was partly insane.


The morning of the murder three horsemen rode up to the house where Jellerson and wife were living alone and boisterously entered the bedroom where old Jellerson was sleeping. The wife at the inquest said it was too dark to recognize who they were. She asked what was wanted and a rough voice told her to keep still. The old man said, "What are you here for?" She answered, "'Tis not Cicero, but it is John Smythe." Jellerson was then seized and violently dragged from the bed onto the floor, she also falling out. Jellerson cried for help. Both murderers put a rope around his neck, pulled his shirt over his head, then dragged him by the rope 340 feet to a maple tree, threw the rope over a limb about eight feet from the ground and drew him up, pinioning his arms, and, mounting horses, rode away. The old lady started for neighbors to give the alarm, and one of the men rode back and told her to keep quiet or they would string her up.


At the inquest a verdict was returned that Cicero Jellerson, John Smythe, and another party committed the deed. Lucy, the girl, was also implicated. She had married a man named Wilson. In the room where the deed was committed was found a cap covered with clay from well-digging, a handkerchief with holes cut in for eyes, also a coat-button. The Sheriff started at once to arrest the suspected parties. Smythe, Wilson, and Cicero were soon brought in, and when arraigned the first two asked for counsel, and when they were taken back to jail Cicero asked to make a confession under oath. That confession was printed in full by THE TRIBUNE at the time. He detailed all the incidents of the crime from the time they left Wilson's house on horseback until they entered the house; he told what was said in the house, and how the rope was put on his father's neck. He said he took hold of the end and Wilson and Smythe behind him and dragged the body naked over the frozen ground. While being hauled by the neck the father spoke, and Wilson stepped back and tightened the rope. Smythe put the rope over the limb while Wilson lifted the body up, and Smythe and Cicero pulled the body clear of the ground, and then wound the rope around the body and left it. He said the others threatened to kill him if he did not go with them. He also said Wilson planned the whole murder. They were all bound over for trial.

I looked up the earlier confession and have decided not to add it since it doesn't add anything except the "unspeakable crime" was incest. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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