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My latest nonfiction book, Heinous: Forgotten Murders From the 1910s, was inspired by news stories I discovered while researching A Tale of Two Nations. As I conducted my research, I discovered case after case of murder, suicide, murder-suicide, lynchings, cop killings, doctors and nurses poisoning patients, and fatal traffic accidents. It became clear that crime has always been a problem, and considering the population was smaller more than 100 years ago, perhaps it was once an even greater issue than it is today.
While several murders were considered for Heinous, only 18 made it into the final draft. The following are three of the cases that didn’t make it into the final version of the book because their wasn’t enough information or the details were murky.
Clara Branch Murder
In 1919, 40-year-old Clara Branch was killed with a hatchet in her home.
Marie Warren confessed to the crime, although it took police several hours to get the confession. Warren was initially calm and stuck to her fictional story and alibi.
She remained calm, even while telling police about how she cleaved all the way through Branch’s skull.
In Warren’s version of events, she claimed her steamer trunks were being held at a hotel, and she needed money to retrieve them. Branch had lots of money, Warren said, so she asked for some but Branch refused. In the morning, in Branch’s bedroom, Warren again asked but Branch once more refused, calling Warren a crook.
Branch then took her money out from where she had it pinned it to her underskirt hem. This incensed Warren. Downstairs, Warren found a hatchet. She went back upstairs and struck Branch, who was ill, as she was trying to get up from bed.
“I don’t know how many times I struck her,” Warren told police. “She struggled all she could after I struck her first. I then took the money from the hem of her petticoat and went to New York ….”
Myrtle Styan Murder
Myrtle Styan was in love with Arthur H. Rodway, a married man. The feeling was mutual. Rodway was a clerk who was convicted of passing worthless checks and was out of jail on a suspended sentence. Rodway had an uneasy relationship with his wife and had heard it from a busybody that she was seeking a quickie American divorce.
Styan’s friends tried to persuaded her to leave the relationship. Styan had promised her friends she would break up with him.
“We were up against love that would not succumb to reason,” Styan said.
When she saw Rodway’s brother on the street, she hugged him.
On June 7, 1918, Styan was murdered in an Ottawa apartment house. Her killer then committed suicide by slashing his throat with a razor.
The newspaper accounts of the murder were murky on the circumstances of the crime. Articles said she was murdered by a rejected suitor whose marriage proposals she had repeatedly turned down.
It was unclear whether the murderer was Rodway or his brother.
Mr. Rodway, the men’s father, said his younger son went to war in 1916, and that was when Styan struck up a friendship with Arthur.
The brothers had “a painful episode,” their father said. Sometime later Arthur, the elder son, tried to break the infatuation.
Pasqual Valvano Murder
Twenty-five-year old Alfonzo Giordano had a hatred for his coworker Pasqual Valvano.
“He was always insulting my young wife; I could not stand it any longer,” Giordano told police. “What else was there to do but kill him?”
The two men were employed by the Lackawanna Railway Co. in Pennsylvania and worked under the same foreman.
On the day of the murder in 1913, the foreman denied Giordano permission to go into the city to visit his cousin in the hospital.
Giordano screamed at the foreman that he would see his cousin anyway and quit.
After visiting his cousin, Giordano stopped at the Nay Aug tunnel where his former coworkers were working. There, he later told police, Valvano kept saying he’d get a better job if he were allowed to call on Giordano’s wife.
Pasqual attacked him, knocking him down. Giordano drew his knife and slashed his attacker with the four-inch-long blade, thrusting the knife upward toward the heart.
Pasqual fell to the ground without a sound. Valvano did not wait to see whether Pasqual was dead or not. He ran off.
Several former coworkers chased Giordano and a half hour later, the police also joined the pursuit.
Giordano was captured on the Scranton train fleeing to Erie. He had boarded at the Elmhurst stop. Some railway employees saw him sneaking onboard and alerted the authorities.
Interested in crime history? Read about 18 murders in my book Heinous: Forgotten Murders From the 1910s, now available on Amazon.
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