A Murder Most Foul, 1876

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It’s June 2016 and I am still carving away at digitizing these obituaries (we’re up to over 1,100 just for the Bs). It’s both a fun and dour project, but I figured it was time for a blog post break!

Hannah Mead Dougherty died June 15, 1876. She was a mother of three and lived in a modest cottage with her husband until she was viciously murdered by intruder, Nick Baker. Baker came upon the house intent on raping Mrs. Dougherty while her husband was away. But, unable to do so, he murdered her and severely wounded a neighbor who heard her screams and attempted to come to her aid. The full Titusville Morning Herald article concerning the crime is reprinted below in its entirety.

columbia farm murder

“About half-past 5 o’clock this afternoon this village and the entire surrounding country was horrified by the rumor that a double murder had been committed on the Columbia farm. Hundreds of people from Oil City, Rouseville and other contiguous places flocked to the scene of the tragedy.

It seems that  Mrs. Dougherty was residing on the Columbia farm, with three children, and, in the absence of her husband, a man by the name of Nick Baker entered the house with the supposed purpose of ravishing the defenceless (sic) woman. Failing in the attempt, the inhuman fiend shot her through the left breast, the ball penetrating her heart, from the effects of which she died in twenty minutes.

Thomas McCool, an aged gentleman in the vicinity, heard the fatal shot, and immediately proceeded to the house to ascertain the cause. He found Baker emerging from the house, and, stopping him, exclaimed: “My God, Nick, what have you been doing?” Baker fired the remaining two shots in his revolver at McCool, who instantly turned to flee, but stumbled and fell on his face. In a moment of frenzy the infuriated murderer rushed upon the old man and with a poignard* stabbed him with repeated force in the lower part of the back and shoulders. The final blow was struck in the shoulder blade, which snapped the deadly weapon and left two inches of cold [steel] in the quivering flesh of his writhing victim. By this time assistance had arrived and the murderer was seized, manacled and lodged to the McClintock House, this place. McCool’s ante-mortem examination has been taken, and at this writing he is not expected to recover. Upon the return of Mr. Dougherty, the husband of the murdered woman, he found his wife a corpse, his children motherless, listened to the horrible details of the assassination, and then became a raving maniac.”

*poignard is the French term for a dagger; also referred to as a stiletto

Later articles reveal that at the time Baker entered the home, Mrs. Dougherty was kneading bread and caring for her youngest child (eight months old) who was seated in a nearby chair. It states, “The theory is that the fiend Baker entered this room where she was at work, pistol and dirk in hand, and made indecent proposals to her under the threat of her life. Like chaste Lucrece of old she preferred death to dishonor.”** After being shot, she ran from the home into the yard screaming for help. Baker then fired a second and third shot at her. Baker proceeded to attack McCool, who heard her screams, and attacked him resulting in eight to ten dagger and bullet wounds to his body.

A month later, McCool was still recovering and did not quickly expire as was expected. The murderer, Nick Baker, claimed he was drunk and had no memory of his actions when a Herald reporter interviewed him in jail in Franklin on June 16, 1876.

After a short trial, Baker was convicted of second degree murder on September 7, 1876. The twelve jurors deliberated for fifteen hours whether to decide for insanity, second degree murder, or first degree murder with the penalty of hanging. The jurors were split – eight thought him insane, two thought him guilty of first degree murder, and two were undecided. Thus, they compromised on second degree murder as the verdict. One juror thought “Baker ought to be hung, and failing to convince the rest, he says now he got one man with him, but the rest were the stubbornest ten men he ever saw. He never was on a jury before in Venango county, and if they have such ‘bull-headed jurors’ as those he never wants to be on a jury again.”

The prison term accompanying second degree murder in 1876 was a term not exceeding twelve years in prison. In 2016 (in Pennsylvania) the minimum sentence for second degree murder is life without parole. It is unknown how long Baker actually served or whether Mr. McCool died as a result of his wounds.

**Rape does not dishonor a woman. I just want to be perfectly clear about this point. This is an antiquated concept, as shown through the reference to a piece of Shakespearean literature (within which Lucrece isn’t merely threatened with rape, but is raped). Rape dishonors the person who commits such a horrible crime. Hannah Dougherty did not choose the honor of death over the dishonor of rape while her children looked on. She was brutally threatened and murdered at the hands of a criminal. Although it is clear this event is 140 years behind us, I believe it is extremely important to clarify these crucial points.

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