The Hall-Mills Murder Trial in the Old New Yorker

A hundred years earlier this week, on September 16, 1922, a married young man and his teenage lover discovered the bodies of Edward Hall and Eleanor Mills on an abandoned farm near New Brunswick, New Jersey. Hall, who was wearing a dark suit and a panama hat covering his face, was shot once, the bullet piercing his right temple before exiting from under his left ear. Mills, who was wearing a polka-dotted dress and black stockings, sustained three bullets to the head and a wound that nearly cut her neck. The worms had already infected her remains. Someone arranged the bodies under an apple-crab tree in an intimate pose, then within another scandal by placing the victims’ love letters between their bodies. Hall was a prominent Episcopal minister and husband of a blue-blooded wallpaper heir with family ties to Johnson & Johnson. Mills, a working-class housewife, was a soprano in his church choir — and the diocese of Sexton.

Over the next two months, the killings became a staple on front pages across the country, casting celebrities from an eccentric cast of supporting characters: an eccentric man, a teenage flapper, and a theatrical hog farmer, nicknamed the Pig Woman who lived near the site. in which the bodies were found. Despite the case’s notoriety, the initial investigation proved puzzling, and only after public interest intensified did authorities turn their eyes to some of the most obvious suspects: Hall’s rejected widow and two of her male relatives. Prosecutors failed to persuade a grand jury to return any indictments, and readers moved on to New Sensations, a specialty of journalism in the roaring 1920s.

Four years later, the Hall-Mills case is brought back to life with the help of a start-up newspaper in New York City, daily mirror. An unjustifiably low market tabloid – “90 percent entertainment, 10 percent information” – Mirror I was William Randolph HearstResponding to the nation’s number one tabloid, the widely successful New York daily news, founded by Joseph Medel Patterson in 1919. General Philip Allan Payne, obsessed with circulation and newspaper circulation, saw opportunity in the story, and hired one of his best reporters on a secret investigation, a project that produced enough questionable “evidence” to convince the governor of New Jersey Democrats reopened. the case. In July of 1926, after Mirror The exposé flew off newsstands, and Edward Hall’s widow, Frances, faced trial once again. This time, she wasn’t so lucky – a second grand jury decided that she, her two brothers and a stockbroker’s cousin should face their day in court.

The Hall-Mills Trial was back in the Jazz Age The case of O.J. Simpson It became seventy years later. (The former’s fame might have persisted had the murders not been eliminated, in 1932, by another major New Jersey crime, the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s twenty-month-old son, from his bed on the second floor of a secluded mansion outside Princeton. .) Throughout the summer and fall of 1926, hundreds of journalists – including stars such as Damon Runyon And Dorothy Dix — disembarked in New Brunswick, an hour by train from Manhattan, and nearby Somerville, where the trial will begin inside the Palladian-style Somerset County Courthouse. Invading journalists booked hotels and rented houses, making the experiment big business for local landlords, business owners and banAlcohol promoters. The journalists’ work will be occupied by twenty-eight telegraph keyboard operators and an array of copiers. Four stenographers in court recorded the proceedings while one hundred and thirty reporters watched from three rows of hotly contested folding chairs.

Among the writers was an ambitious twenty-seven-year-old named Maurice Markey, a tall, bespectacled reporter from Virginia. After serving in World War I, Markey cut his teeth in Atlanta magazine Before his adventure in New York, where he entered the tough newspaper market with jobs in daily news and New York Globalism. Now, as the trial in central New Jersey has become a national obsession, Markey has provided stories for a new publication with a very different sensibility: a one-year-old weekly magazine called New Yorker.

I came across beta coverage of Markey while researching “Blood and Ink: The Jazz Era Scandal Double Murder That Connected America to a True Crimepublished this week to mark the centenary of the murders. The Markey Dispatches from late 1926 offer not only a time capsule of a largely forgotten scandal, but also a snapshot of New Yorker in its early stages. Founded the previous year by Harold Ross, its first editor, and his wife Jane Grant, the magazine had begun to pique the curiosity of Manhattan intellectuals, but it still struggled to break through. In his memoirs about New Yorker In its early days, James Thurber called the magazine “the outstanding twists of 1925 . . . and the only failure that lasted.” (Thurber himself was revisiting the Hole Mills crimes as part of a series of “Where Are They Now?” series, written under the pseudonym Jared L. Manley, in 1936 and 1937.) New Yorker He was developing the distinguishing features that distinguish him to this day. It was Marky, in fact, who created the title Pilot Reporterwhich featured a trilogy of Hall-Mills pieces and continued nearly a century later.

Markey first reports, “Mystery Revival“before trial, in the August 7, 1926 issue, and a sketch of the revival of the case by Payne, who Mirror The investigation included a complicated marriage dissolution, a presumed used confession, thousands of dollars in alleged silence money, a shady private investigator, witness tampering accusations, and nearly a year of shoe leather to piece it together. Markey’s account of Payne’s crusade in the tabloid has raised suspicion. “I came out of New Brunswick quite confident that the outcome of the present excitement, with all the midnight arrests and the promise of sensations to come and new clues washing the beach every hour or two, would be absolutely nothing,” Markey wrote. “Whatever is true, I think the authorities are as far away at this moment from convicting the criminal as they were four years ago. I do not think that woman The evidence has any actual value, except of course because it serves the purposes of sensational journalism.” (In one of Marche’s earliest works for the magazine, from October 1925, he gave a satirical appraisal of the “burning rubbish” he printed Mirrorand popular newspapers in general.)

Markey returned to central New Jersey to report on the curtain-raising event,”rites of justice,” shortly before the trial that began on November 3. “It is the culmination of the most absorbing crime—considered qua Crime – In American History,” he wrote. He completed:

He introduces to the public for the first time the most puzzling and inquisitive character associated with the episode, Mrs. Hall herself. It shows us once again to what extent lawmen will go to show their ingenuity when they are put in the spotlight. And it gives us a new opportunity to note the futility of the pursuit of justice when justice is tied to politics, personal ambitions, and the astonishing stubbornness of small-town gossip.

Unlike the formulaic version that filled daily newspapers, Marche’s prose was bursting with attitude, wit, and literature, although he sarcastically admitted that his rivals did not have a certain allure. “This trial deserves to be followed in the papers,” Markey advised. “Indeed, a citizen who allows himself to miss a single letter punishes himself severely. Covering the trial, in the first place, is the only thing newspapers do very well . . . and my particular recommendation is that you find the paper that prints the most, and follow it firmly.”

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