Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tenement Living: Domestic Violence/Brutal Assault (1)

Topic: Brutal Tenement Murder: Woman's Face Split Open 1902

With her face split open by the blows of an ax and her skull crushed, Mrs. Mary Ann McCusker, 60 years old, was found murdered in her apartment on the third floor of the wretched tenement at 79 Thomas street, Manhattan, at 5:30 o'clock, this morning. Her husband, Patrick, 70 years old, is under arrest at the Leonard street station on suspicion of having knowledge of the crime.

Mrs. McCusker was the housekeeper of the tenement and with her husband occupied two squalidly furnished rooms in the rear of the third floor. They had lived there about ten years. McCusker, who is a war veteran drawing a small pension, did no work. He formerly peddled umbrellas. The other tenants of the house say that he and his wife apparently got along amicably, although sometimes he drank, and when under the influence of liquor was erratic.

McCusker went to the station house shortly after 5 o'clock this morning and reported to Sergeant Brown that his wife was dead. He did not say that she had been murdered. When Sergeant Frank relieved Sergeant Brown shortly afterward he sent Detective McKenna and Patrolman Olpp to the house to investigate the woman's death.

The policemen found the body of Mrs. McCusker, attired in a tattered wrapper, lying diagonally across the bed with her head toward the wall. The dead woman lay on her back with her arms outstretched, the bed clothing under her head being stained with blood. Diagonally across her face, from a point over her left eye, extending half way down her right cheek, was a deep gash, evidently made with an ax, the result of several blows. Her right eye was forced out on her cheek. There was no evidence of a struggle, and the blow had evidently been unexpected and had stunned the woman so that she was incapable of crying our or offering resistance. The bedroom in which she lay had no windows and was quite dark.

McCusker was found pacing up and down the other room. McKenna asked him what had happened to his wife, and he replied: "Some one has murdered her." He said he had slept in a vacant room downstairs last night, and did not know anything of his wife's fate until he went up to call her this morning. When asked if it was not peculiar that he should have slept in an unfurnished room, when his own apartments were at his disposal, he said no, that he had often done it before.

Hidden in a corner behind the bed McKenna found a blood-stained ax, which McCusker admitted was his. Questioned further, the old man said he had a suspicion that the crime might have been committed by former tenants with whom his wife had had some trouble.

The police say that McCusker had evidently been drinking last night, and that he was very nervous when taken into custody.

In the room on the floor below in which he said he had slept McKenna found a crazy quilt that was spotted with blood. He also found a coat belonging to McCusker and a waist that had been the property of the murdered woman. These, too, were stained with blood and were wet in places, as if an effort had been made to wash away the tell-tale marks.

When McCusker was taken to the station house he was taken into Captain O'Brien's room and the captain put him through a severe cross examination. The result seemed to strengthen the opinion of the police that McCusker knew who murdered his wife. There were blood stains on his trousers, on his waistcoat and on his shirt, but none on his hands. He told the captain he kept the ax that had been found as a weapon to be used against burglars, of which he frequently dreamed.

The floor above that on which the McCuskers lived is occupied by a Mrs. Kane. No one in her household heard any unusual or suspicious noises in the McCusker apartments this morning. The woman was alive last night.

The floor on which the murdered woman lived was partially vacant, she and her husband being the only tenants. The rooms immediately below are also vacant. Nobody in the house had heard anything to excite their suspicion, and all were astonished to learn that the housekeeper had been murdered.

Later the police made a second arrest, on account of a story told by McCusker. He said that he was awake last night when he heard someone stirring in his wife's room. As he went to find out if anything was the matter he saw a man leaving the room, and recognized him as John Helm, a lunch man, now living at 43 Beach street, Manhattan, but who had at one time lived in the Thomas street house. Acting on this story, in which, however, they place but little faith, Helm was arrested and together with McCusker taken to the Tombs Police Court, where at the request of Captain O'Brien, and with the advice of Assistant District Attorney Smythe, Magistrate Cornell remanded them back to the Leonard street station until Monday.

Coroner Goldenkranz went and viewed the body of the murdered woman.

Captain O'Brien says that Helm called at the station house on Monday and complained that McCusker had ordered him to vacate his room and had refused to allow him to take his clothes with him. An officer was sent with Helm and managed to get the old man to allow Helm to obtain his things. McCusker told the policeman there had been a fire in Helm's room, and he had an idea the latter had caused it.

Helm, Captain O'Brien says, is only in custody as a precautionary measure, as all the attending circumstances go to disprove the story told by McCusker.

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle November 8, 1902

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