A reading from America’s historic newspapers in the golden age of yellow journalism.
Today I bring you the sad tale of a family massacre.
This will be the first time I’ve reported on a murder/suicide, because you rarely get to hear about the drama that led up to the tragedy, because there’s no one left to tell the story. There are still a lot of unanswered–and over-answered–questions in this one, but I like how the reporter included the details of the family history and their daily lives into the narrative, although I do think they’ve put too much emphasis on the role of the man’s politics in his decision to commit this horrible act.
The descriptions of the photographs and posters on the wall refer to Chicago’s Haymarket Riot of May 1886, a protest by radical labor organizers that went wild. Seven police and one civilian were killed by a bomb thrown that day, and seven men were given death sentences as a result, with four eventually hanged. That’s a good story in itself, and I’m adding it to the list of future episodes.
Francis Lloyd Russell arrived at the jail gasping for breath, holding his hand over the wound in his chest. Sheriff Luther Epperson took charge of the prisoner. Russell begged for a glass of water and drank it in big gulps. Within minutes he had recovered his composure and gave the sheriff a clear story of the tragedy. Sheriff department detectives took down the confession as Russell repeatedly asked for water.
“I had the best brother in the world,” he told the sheriff. He spoke of his mother and recalled that she was born in 1866. His father, Wellington Russell dropped dead a few years earlier while at work in the Champion Coated Paper Company mill. Russell knew the exact ages of his nieces and nephews–and every birthday.
Russell told the Sheriff that he had a $1,600 mortgage due on his home that day and that being forced to move weighed heavily on his mind. The intense heat of the early summer wasn’t helping matters any.
He said that he at first had intended to only kill himself. The interview was interrupted by the visit of Dr. M. F. Vereker, in lieu of taking the prisoner to a hospital. After the examination, Dr. Vereker said that the wound was not fatal. He probed but was unable to find the bullet, believing that the ball struck a bone and became lodged in the left side of Russell’s chest, barely missing his heart.
“The doctor told me that if I fired a little to one side, I would have made it,” was Russell’s only comment. By “made it,” he meant his suicide.
Later, the doctor would ask him why he didn’t shoot himself in the head.
“I was always told the heart was the weakest place for a man of my stature,” he said, “and that any little shock would cause the heart to fail.”
What prompted Lloyd Russell to get out of his bed in the middle of the night and shoot his mother, his brother and his brother’s entire family in their sleep? Find out in A Two Dollar Terror #8, Massacre on Prospect Hill: The True Crime of Francis Lloyd Russell. Available now at Smashwords.com.