Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The murder of Charles Archibold

There are 10,000 stories, at least, hiding behind tombstones in the Chariton Cemetery, including more than a few long-forgotten tragedies.

Take this eroding marble stone not too far from the front gate, for example, inscribed "Charles Archibold, Born in Co. Wexford, Ireland; died Apr. 6, 1886, Aged 85 years." Behind the inscription is the story of one of Chariton's most sensational murders --- an old man killed for his money by neighbors, dumped into a cellar, then dragged before dawn to his own home near the C.B.&Q. depot in the northwest part of town.

Here's how the story was reported under a six-deck headline in The Chariton Herald of April 8, 1886:


An Old Man Most Brutally Murdered at the House of a Neighbor.

After the Deed is Committed He is Thrown into the Cellar.

Afterwards the Body is taken Out and Dragged to the Rear Door of His Own House

And Left There. The Dragging of the Body Makes a Bloody Trail, which Leaves

Little Doubt as to the Place Where the Crime was Committed.

Our citizens were thrown into a state of intense excitement yesterday morning, when it was discovered that a murder had been committed at some time during Tuesday night. The victim was an old and frail man named Charles Archibold, who lived near the depot. The murder was a cold-blooded affair, bunglingly planned and more bunglingly executed. It had about it every evidence of cruelty and brutality, and stamps the authors of the crime as being utterly devoid of any feeling even approaching humanity.

Early in the morning, when Mr. Ed Knipe, one of the train dispatchers for the south branch, was on his way to the depot, he discovered the body of the murdered man lying at the rear door of his house. An alarm was quickly given and on reaching the spot where the body was lying it was discovered that he had been murdered. But it was immediately discovered that the man had not been murdered where he was lying. A distinct trail where he had been dragged was discernable in the soft ground. This was followed up and it was seen that he had been handed into the lot at an opening of the fence at the front of the house. The house stands out flush with the sidewalk, and between the last post of the fence and the side of the house there was an opening barely sufficient to permit a man to squeeze himself through. Blood marks were left on the post, as well as on the side of the house.

It was then discovered that the body had been dragged along on the sidewalk from the west, and the trail could easily be followed until the first cross street had been reached. From this point across the street the evidences were still plainer, the nature of the ground being such that the body, when dragged over it, left a broad and clear trail. The tracks made by the feet of the murdered old man were so plain that no doubt was felt in the minds of any one that the trail was made by the dragging of the body. The trail led directly to the east gate opening into the lot where Thomas Kelley and his wife reside.

Those in charge of the investigation immediately stretched ropes around the body, protecting the trail from the place where the old man lay to the opening in the fence where he was brought in from the sidewalk. The body was lying on the face, and about half denuded. In dragging it, the pants had been pulled nearly off, and the shirt badly thorn. The body presented a ghastly appearance, as it lay there covered with blood and earth. The old man was quite low in stature and very frail, so that his murderers could have performed their devilish deed without the exercise of the brutality that was so apparent.

Coroner Stanton was notified and at once impaneled a jury consisting of W.K. Larimer, W.W. Coles, and D.E. Burns, and proceeded to take testimony. The examination was conducted in the house where the murdered man resided. The interior of the house presented an appearance of squalor and filth that was in consonance with the life of the deceased. He was known to have money and was known also to be a regular miser. He lived alone in the house, and all the appointments in the way of furniture consisted of a rather sorry looking bed in one room which he apparently used for all purposes, a cooking stove, an old stool or two, and a small table. The old man had lived there and alone for many years, and was quite eccentric. It was his habit to carry large sums of money round upon his person, and knowledge of this fact evidently led to the murder.

While the Cornorer's investigation was being conducted in the house of the murdered man, the sheriff, marshal and several assistants were investigating at the house of Tom Kelley. They at once placed Tom and his wife under arrest in the kitchen of his house, placing a guard over them. Then they proceeded to search the house in a careful manner for evidences of the crime. And evidences were by no means lacking. In fact they were so numerous as to place the question of the place of the murder at rest. Blood was found on the carpet of one of the rooms and this is evidently the room where the old man met his death. A soldering iron was found with which the deadly blows on the head had evidently ben given. This had been washed, but in so hasty a manner that numerous blood-stains were left. A bloody club was also found under a cupboard, and numerous other "signs."

Then it was discovered that in this room there was a trap-door opening into the cellar. This was raised, and the theory reduced almost to a certainty that the body of the victim had, in the first place, been dumped down through the trap. The cellar was explored, and here further evidences were found. One of the dead man's shoes, and pieces of his clothing, saturated with blood. A careful search was made of every nook and corner about the building, in hopes of finding that which everyone thought was the motive for the crime. At last the search is rewarded, and


Harrison Williby, one of the young men engaged in the search, had a stick, and in poking among some coal and rubbish in Kelley's coal house, a tin can was unearthed containing $1,230.00. Of this sum there were nine twenty-dollar gold pieces, and the balance was in bills of various denominations. There was the motive, and for the foolishness of carrying this sum around on his person, or concealing it about his house, old Charley Archibold atoned with his life. Shortly previous to the finding of the money, Sheriff Landes had escorted Kelley down to the jail. His wife, being a cripple, and unable to walk, was permitted to remain at the house under guard. But as soon as the money was found, Mrs. Kelley was also lodged in jail.
The officers who had charge of the search are entitled to great credit for the zeal and care with which they ferretted out everything that would seem to throw any light on the crime or its perpetrators. There was no undue excitement on their part, and everything was done in a methodical manner, and with a preciseness of detail that will prove very valuable when the author of the crime is placed on trial. The circumstances wear a very dark hue for Kelley and his wife, although nothing positive is known further than that which has been given above.

The post mortem examination revealed the fact that the utmost cruelty had been used in committing the crime. The deceased was so slight and frail that it would certainly have been an easy task for an ordinary man to have killed him without resorting to the brutality practiced. It was found that both his temples had been fractured, the skull being driven in upon the brain. These wounds were produced by a blunt instrument of some kind, probably the club found. In addition to this his breast was crushed in, and a number of his ribs broken as if the body had been kicked violently, or probably jumped upon with heavy boots.

The murdered man had no relatives in this part of the country, but we understand he has a brother in Michigan, who is in good circumstances. A nephew of the deceased came here a short time ago to pay him a visit, and while here talked freely about the eccentric and miserly habits of his uncle, and the efforts that had been unsuccessfully made by his friends to win him from his habits.

After examining a number of witnesses, the Coroner's jury returned the following verdict:


An inquest holden at Chariton, Iowa, on the 7th day of April, 1886, before T. P. Stanton, Coroner of said county, upon the body of Charles Archibold, there lying dead, by the jurors whose names are hereunto subscribed.

The jurors, upon their oaths do say that the deceased came to his death by wounds upon his head and body with some heavy or blunt instrument or instruments feloniously inflicted, and that said wounds were infllicted by Thomas Kelley and Margaret Kelley.

(Signed) W.W. Coles, W.K. Larimer, D.E. Burns, T.P. Stanton, Coroner


Thomas and Margaret Kelley were arraigned before a grand jury on charges of first degree murder within a few days and confused the issue with their eagerness to testify against each other, creating a complicated he-said, she-said situation.

Margaret told the grand jury that she had been reading poetry to Archibold while they were seated at a table on the evening of the murder when her husband unexpectedly struck him on the head. She exited the room and then the house, she testified, and claimed to have played no part in disposing of the body.

Thomas told the jury that Margaret had first encouraged him to kill Archibold and, when he refused to do so, struck the old man over the head herself with a soldering iron, dumped his body through the trap door into the basement and some time later single-handedly dragged the body out of the basement and to his own home.

Upon indictment, the happy couple demanded separate trials.

In the meantime, in the absence of relatives, Henry H. Day was appointed executor of the Archibold estate and he most likely made funeral arrangements and purchased the lot in the Chariton Cemetery where the old man is buried. Archibold was Roman Catholic and the pastor of St. Mary's Church (now Sacred Heart) had been an occasional visitor --- so he most likely officiated.

There are no explanations of how Archibold came to be in Chariton in the first place --- he was not here when the 1870 census was taken but was living alone with no occupation next to Thomas (a railroad section hand) and Margaret (a washerwoman) when the 1880 census was taken. He seems to have had no family in Iowa.

During September of 1886, Mrs. Peter Falsburth of Chicago, a niece, and Henry Archibold of Essex, Ontario, a nephew, traveled to Chariton to deal with their uncle's estate and sell his property. They most likely arranged for the tombstone on his grave and also pledged funds from sale of the victim's real estate to Lucas County for the purpose of hiring an attorney, Theodore M. Stuart, to assist the prosecutor, newly elected and inexperienced county attorney Josiah Copeland.

Thomas Kelley's trial was held during the November term of Lucas County court, and although the accused was defended by a veteran attorney, A.O. Bartolomew, Copeland and Stuart had no problem convincing the jury to convict Kelley on Nov. 25 of first-degree murder. He was immediately sentenced to life in prison.

Winning a conviction against Margaret during January of 1887, however, proved more difficult --- apparently in part because of the skills of her defense team, partners James A. Penick and Joseph C. Mitchell. The defense asked first for a change of venue, which was denied. Then hours were spent questioning 51 prospective jurors in the process of selecting 12.

And in the end, the defense convinced the jury that while Margaret was complicit she was guilty only of manslaughter. She was sentenced immediately to a five-year term in the state penitentiary.

And that's how one of the stories behind Charles Archibold's tombstone ended. Most likely there are others.

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