The Dastardly Crime
The Hartnett family lived at number 25 Walker street, near where sycamore street wound up to Mount Auburn. Patrick Hartnett (38) and his wife Mary (34) shared five children and Mary was expecting their 6th. Patrick, a laborer and alcoholic. Being more alcoholic than laborer, he decided that he didn’t want to work in the winter. He’d worked in the summer and it was somebody else’s turn. To try to close the gap, Mary took in laundry and the couple’s oldest son, John (14), got a job.
On the morning of January 31, 1884, Mary got up to fix breakfast for her son but was ordered back to bed by her husband. He’d been drunk and was known to have a temper so Mary obeyed. After awhile, Patrick got up and walked to the kitchen. She followed him, hoping to make the breakfast. Patrick, still not wanting her to make breakfast, (Super out of character for a drunk person if we’re honest) took an ax and loomed in the doorway staring at her. She tried to escape through a window but he commanded her to come back. She stopped moving. He pulled her back through the window to the middle of the room where he forced her to kneel in front of him and kiss the floor. He accused her of cheating and told her to kiss the floor again to prove she was sorry. There are conflicting reports of whether she kissed the floor a second time. Some accounts say that she did and then she was struck, others that she refused and then was struck. Either way, the first blow from the ax hit her hip. Patrick struck her another four times, crushing her skull. Reports describe her skull as having been “literally mashed to a pulp” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1884). That’s extra impressive because back then literally actually meant literally.
The couple’s children watched this happen. One managed to run away to try to find help. By the time police arrived, Patrick cut a hole in the floor and tried to shove his wife’s body into it. He only managed to get half of her into the hole, which was only two feet deep. If I said, at that point is when it got weird, you would argue it was already pretty bizarre, but it’s about to get real weird.
Patrick spread a cloth over his wife’s, half buried in the floorboards body, and laid a crucifix and candles on top. He then danced around the room singing a song and playing a harp. When police got there, he’d danced himself out and was sitting next to the body and mumbling to himself.
The officers had significant issues bringing Patrick in. They attempted to lasso him. LASSO. Multiple times. He managed to evade. Eventually they used a stanchion to pin him to the wall by the stomach. In context i wasn’t sure what this meant. After a bit of research, I think they got a long pole and used it to pin him to the wall. While he was held, two officers beat him with clubs until he was subdued.
Patrick’s defense was insanity. Which makes a lot of sense. A year before the murder, there was an inquiry into Patrick’s sanity. On the testimony of several of his neighbors he was deemed a drunk but not insane. The New York Herald printed this story and wrote the neighbors were now probably very uncomfortable with their part in the saga. That seems obvious enough without using your newspaper to poke at them. In Patrick’s first trial, his defense offered no testimony. They claimed that the State’s case established his plea. His son, Johnnie, testified against him. The verdict, after only 10 minutes deliberation, was guilty. This verdict was then thrown out on appeal. The grounds were that the trial was not correctly adhered to a new and recently passed jury law. He was tried again and again convicted. This time he did employ a defense, but it didn’t help. He was scheduled to hang, but his case was appealed to the Supreme Court. They declined to give him a new trial. There was a fair amount of discontent shared in the newspaper at the length of time it took to actually hang, but by modern standards it was a very quick process.
Patrick was very nonchalant about his impending doom. In a discussion with the warden and deputy warden Hartnett, who’d been given a nice breakfast, said he was ready to die.
“If turned out of here I would be of no account, and it is better that I should die.” – Hartnett 30 Sept 1885
Having some time to kill, he shaved. It’s unclear if he was maintaining the facial hair from the photo above. An obvious oversight by the reporter in not explaining. Patrick also exercised around his apartment and then was visited by a priest though he declined to discuss spiritual matters. Another priest (this guy was lousy with Holy friends) had offered to travel from Cincinnati to Columbus to speak with him but Hartnett said no.
He was taken to the battlement at the top of the western cell block to watch his last sunset. As he looked at it, Hartnett said, “When that goes down again I will be flying about among the little angels.” Which feels inaccurate, but, sure. His last meal was two fried eggs, a piece of meat, potatoes, bread, fish, crackers, canned oysters, and an onion. He smoked continuously throughout the day and into the night. Then at 1:25 AM Hartnett was hanged.
A new execution law had been put into effect, and this was only the second execution under it. The body fell seven feet. When it was still, a gurgling sound could be heard and blood poured onto the stone floor. The black hood that had been placed on him was lifted and they found he was nearly decapitated. Only a small strip of skin at the back of the neck was holding the head attached. The coroner asked for the body to be taken down before it fell. Those that assisted the coroner in removing the body ended up covered in blood themselves. The Enquirer said, “Even Pat Hartnett deserved a more humane death”. It’s my opinion that he should have thought of that before he axed his wife.
Story compiled from various newspaper accounts in The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and New York Herald.
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