The New York World — Thursday, 19 September 1889
EVA HAMILTON AT BAY.
THE LATEST CHAPTER IN THAT MOST EXTRAORDINARY OF DRAMAS TOLD BY THE WOMAN HERSELF.
Arraigned in a Jersey Court.
Robert Ray also testifies and tries to shield his wife.
BUT HIS LOVE IS PLAINLY DEAD.
The Wounded Nurse Describes the Circumstances Leading to the Assault — Eva had Quarreled with Hamilton and Torn the Clothes From His Back — She Wanted to Have Him Arrested, and Called Mary Vile Names — Then the Two Women Fought and Mrs. Hamilton Used the Knife — the Husband’s Story.
[Special to The World]
May’s Landing, N.J., Sept. 18 — With all her tigerish nature in check, cunning, crafty, and alert Mrs. Robert Ray Hamilton appeared in the Atlantic County Court-House to-day to answer a charge which, while of no great significance itself, brought to light one of the most astounding stories of conspiracy, of turpitude, of plot and counter-plot, ever revealed outside the realms of improbable fiction. The overacting that she did in real life was duplicated on the witness-stand today. As cleverly and successfully as she played her first parts in the drama which so nearly resulted in a tragical dénouement, she missed her lines when it came down to a cold recital of facts as they were told before a relentless judge, a persevering prosecutor and twelve unsympathetic arbiters.
Until Mrs. Hamilton undertook to testify in her own behalf the prospects for her acquittal, or virtual acquittal through jury disagreement looked bright enough. Her distinguished husband was her best witness. True to his chivalric instincts, he came manfully forward and told a story, not altogether to his own credit, it is true, but one that helped the cause of the woman who bears his name. The wet-nurse, too, Mary Ann Donnelly, State witness though she was, helped the defense more than she did the prosecution. The physician who attended the wounded woman, the policeman who made the arrest, and the policeman who searched the cottage after the assault, all contributed in a measure to the fabric woven by the attorney for the defendant. It was practically a matter of compulsion for Counselor Perry to put the accused understand. Had that step not been taken it would have given the State the opportunity for an argument that is invariably convincing with a Jersey jury, namely — that the defendant feared to injure her case by testifying.
Mrs. Hamilton was a disingenuous witness. While she had an intuition of the purpose of the questions put to her, she could not avoid the inevitable chain of circumstances that led surely to the point that the prosecution sought to reach. To combat this she assumed a modesty and reticence strangely at variance with the testimony given by her own witnesses. A naïveté that was altogether unbecoming and perfectly transparent did not help the story she told, and it was with an apparent air of relief that her counsel saw her drop the active part as a witness and take up the positive rôle of a prisoner.
There were three or four petty cases of minor crimes to be disposed of before the principal case of the day received consideration. The plain little court-house, with its whitewashed walls and rare old bits of bric-à-brac, called tipstaves, was filled with farmers and farmers’ boys, who strolled leisurely in a few minutes after the clanging bell had announced the opening of court. Presiding Judge Alfred Reed and Lay Judges Byrnes, Scull and Cordery were on the bench before half the audience had been seated. Assistant Prosecutor Clarence Cole busied himself with clearing up the desks for his principal, while Capt. Perry engaged himself with a bundle of papers. Prosecutor Thompson sharpened a lead pencil with the dagger with which the assault had been committed, and at 11 o’clock moved for the trial of the cause “The State versus Hamilton.”
Judge Reed, who wastes no time and sentiment, immediately ordered the Sheriff to bring the prisoner into court. Mrs. Hamilton was waiting in the parlor that adjoins the jail and came out in a few moments escorted by her lawyer, who had gone to meet her, and the Sheriff. Close behind followed Nurse Donnelly and Mrs. Elizabeth Rupp. Mrs. Hamilton wore a blue cloth coat, which enveloped her graceful figure completely, and a Gainsborough hat trimmed in black ostrich plumes. The nurse looked shabby. She had on a rusty black coat and a dress of dark stuff that hung in limp folds. Pretty Mrs. Rupp wore an ordinary waterproof that came down to her heels.
The defendant’s face looked pinched, and her eyes, which are wonderfully bright and expressive, showed perceptible traces of tears. Without looking at the Judges she seated herself in a chair at a table next to her lawyer, and between him and the jury-box. Her lips were compressed and an unfeigned nervousness was betrayed in the clasping and squeezing of the dainty handkerchief that she held in her gloved hands. Mrs. Rupp took a chair inside of and next to the railed inclosure set apart for lawyers a newspaper representatives. Mr. Hamilton sat down beside her.
Sobs for the Jurors.
Then, in accordance with the quick, sharp command of the Presiding Judge, the selection of a jury was begun. As the fourth man took his place Mrs. Hamilton put her handkerchief to her eyes and began to sob. Mary Ann Donnelly‘s face was impassive as a piece of marble. She looked at Mrs. Hamilton’s swelling neck and the merest suspicion of a contemptuous curl came to her lips. When the eighth juror had answered that he had neither formed nor expressed an opinion on anything in general, and the Hamilton case in particular, Mrs. Hamilton began to sob more violently than before. The cords in her neck swelled out and her ostrich-plumes trembled. After that she became more composed, and her conduct from that time forward ceased to be natural.
The sprucest-looking man on the panel was Charles Evans, the proprietor of the Seaside House. He declared frankly that he had formed an opinion and the defense challenged him. Judge Reed asked Mr. Evans whether he could render a just verdict on the evidence presented and the answer being in the affirmative the challenge was overruled and the juror took his place in the box. At 11.30 o’clock the twelve men were in their places, and after being sworn Prosecutor Thompson presented the facts, as he expected to prove them, in a five-minute speech, relating substantially the version of this the assault as already published in The World.
Dr. Howard Crosby, the physician someone to attend Nurse Donnelly immediately after the stabbing, was called by the State to explain the nature and possibilities of the wound. The witness found the nurse on a sofa in the Noll Cottage, bleeding freely from an incised wound in the abdomen. The membrane covering the intestines had been lacerated, but the intestines had not been punctured. A two-edged dagger with a sharp point and a bone handle was shown to the doctor and he said that such a wound could have been made with such a weapon. In response to a query as to Nurse Donnelly‘s present condition, Dr. Crosby said he considered her well and out of all danger. The cross-examination did not discover anything important. Counselor Perry tried to add emphasis to the constant improvement in the condition of the patient, which led the Court to dryly remark:
“Had the improvement not been made this defendant would have been held for murder instead of assault. “
The Nurse Tells Her Story.
While the physician’s testimony was an important part of the case, it did not excite great deal of interest in the audience. The buzz and murmur of comments ceased instantly when the prosecutor called Mary Ann Donnelly to the stand. The witness glanced at Mrs. Hamilton, who had again covered her face with her handkerchief, walked up to the clerk of the court and swore to tell the truth. There was a gleam of defiance in the nurse’s eyes as she grasped of the sides of her chair with both hands and braced herself for the ordeal. After telling that she was in the employ of Mrs. Hamilton at the time of the assault the witness went on as follows:
“On the day that I was stabbed I first saw Mrs. Hamilton in the morning, about 5.30 or 6 o’clock. Both she and Mr. Hamilton were up. Mrs. Hamilton came to her door and called me to come up and unlock a trunk. I went into the room and then went out again. She commanded me to come back. I did go back. Mr. Hamilton was naked. She had torn the clothes off his back and” —
The defense objected to this last statement as not being the personal knowledge of the witness, and the nurse was cautioned.
Wanted Hamilton Arrested.
“When I went back,” she continued, “he had the bed-sheet around him, and Mrs. Hamilton was abusing him. I unlocked the trunk and went out, returning in about fifteen minutes. She told me to go out and get an officer to arrest Mr. Hamilton. I went out and although I saw plenty of officers I told her I couldn’t find one. I didn’t want to disgrace the house. Meantime the expressman had come for Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton’s trunks. Mr. Hamilton didn’t want his to go. Mrs. Hamilton insisted that it should go, but Mr. Hamilton was firm. The expressman went away, came back in fifteen minutes, and went away again without either trunk. “
Nurse Donnelly’s tone was hard. She kept turning her head to look at Hamilton, who had his eyes fixed on the floor in front of him. He never saw the glance that asked for approbation.
“I had asked Mrs. Hamilton’s permission to go out,” continued the nurse, “and I went over to the Verona cottage to tell Mrs. Swinton and Mr. Mann that Mrs. Hamilton was quiet, for she was on the bed with the baby when I left the house. When I came back I picked up a silver cup which she had thrust at Mr. Hamilton. I had bought a bottle of whiskey by her orders and was putting it in the closet where she grabbed me by the head when she grabbed me by the head.”
Judge Reed became impatient at this point and suggested that the history of the assault be reached as quickly as possible.
A Regular Rough-and-Tumble.
“Well,” said the nurse, looking hard at Hamilton again, “when I came in for the third time Mrs. Hamilton was in the middle of the room and Mr. Hamilton was sitting down in a rocking-chair. This was between 12 and 1 o’clock. After striking at me with the whiskey bottle, which only gave me a slight touch on the nose, she called me out of my name and I pushed her on the bed to make her take it back. Before that she had tried to hit me with the baby’s bath-tub. Mr. Hamilton jumped up but she pushed him between the bed and the wall. Then she gave me the knife. ‘Look,’ I cried to Mr. Hamilton ‘she has stabbed me.’”
“Was this the knife used?” asked the prosecutor, holding up the dagger.
“I don’t want to look at it,” replied the nurse, turning away her head. The squeamishness was only of a moment’s duration, for she looked again and continued:
“Yes, that’s it. She took it out of the bottom of the trunk which I had packed.”
A torn coat and a pair of trousers slashed in the upper part of the right leg were shown to the witness and identified as Mr. Hamilton’s.
The cross-examination was conducted in a quiet conversational tone, and the concluding statement of the nurse as she left the stand injured her case materially.
“Are you married?” asked Counselor Perry.
“Yes, I married.”
“When did you last see him?”
The witness bridled up instantly. “I won’t answer you,” she replied hotly, but upon being pressed she admitted that she had seen him in May, but had not lived with him as a wife for over a year.
“You were a wet-nurse for Mrs. Hamilton, were you not?” asked the lawyer.
The witness instantly saw the implication in the question, and when asked again about her husband refused flatly to answer. Then the lawyer questioned her rapidly as to whether she had ever fought with her husband and whether she hadn’t once struck him in the face with a hatchet and whether she had not been discharged from service at one time for fighting. To each of these queries a sharp denial was given. Gradually it was wormed out that Mrs. Hamilton had given the nurse a five-dollar bill to buy a bottle of whiskey, and when she stopped at the Verona House to see Mrs. Swinton she took a drink out of another bottle with “Josh” Mann.
“It was a half wine-glassful,” explained the witness spitefully.
A Question of Money.
Questioned further as to what was going on when she went back to Mrs. Hamilton’s room, the witness said that the husband and wife were quarrelling over the question of allowance. She was asking Mr. Hamilton if he was willing to give her $5,000 a year, and, when he said yes, she jumped up and said she wanted $6,000 a year; that he had an income of $18,000, and that $12,000 was enough for him. Robert Ray began to chew the ends of his mustache when he heard this, and kept his eyes fixed on Mrs. Rupp’s shoulder.
Capt. Perry then asked a series of questions concerning Mrs. Hamilton’s diamonds and their custody, which the court ruled to be irrelevant. Then came the clincher for the defense.
“What did Mrs. Hamilton say after you had struggled with her?”
“She hollered, ‘Murder, police.’ I guess she thought I was going to murder her.”
“Going to what?”
“I guess she thought I was going to murder her.”
Policeman Biddle was called to settle that he found Mary Donnelly on the porch of the Noll cottage. She cried: “My God, I’m stabbed,” as soon as she saw the officer, and he in turn exclaimed, “My God, woman, who did this?” The answer was returned: “That — — upstairs.”
A physician was summoned (Dr. Crosby) and Mrs. Hamilton was arrested and taken to the City Hall. “I cut that nurse in self-defense,” was all she said. Sergeant of Police Samuel Loder was asked by Mrs. Hamilton why her husband couldn’t be with her, and then when he asked why she cut Mary Donnelly, she told him it was none of his business. He asked where the knife was and she said it was either in a closet or on the bed.
Charles Boggs, another policeman, told of making a search of the Noll cottage for the knife, and after the dagger had been offered in evidence the State, at 2.20 o’clock, rested.
Hamilton Called to the Stand.
The presentation of the case for the defense was equally as brief as it had been for the prosecution. Counselor Perry said, in substance, that he expected to prove that his client was not guilty as charged in the bill of indictment, but that she had acted in self-defense, believing herself to be in great bodily danger. Dr. Crosby was called to prove that Nurse Donley was under the influence of liquor when the physician was called in to attend her, and that inferentially she was quarrelsome and dangerous. The doctor said the nurse was under the influence of some sort of alcoholic beverage when he saw her and his testimony evidently made the impression that it was intended it should.
“Robert Ray Hamilton.”
The call was a sudden one, and the interest which had been growing every minute became more intense. Mr. Hamilton arose slowly from his chair. His head was bent; his eyes were half closed as he walked slowly to the witness-stand. Mrs. Hamilton covered her face with her handkerchief and put her black fan in front of that. The witness was sworn and he then dropped into the chair behind him. The man looked ill. His face was sallow and his eyes dull. Nevertheless he betrayed no nervousness and answered the questions put to him frankly and without any apparent attempt at concealment. It was clearly evident, however, that he made the best possible showing he could for the accused. Albeit, perfectly truthful, he got in quick replies where he saw an advantage or delayed answering where the cause of Mrs. Hamilton might be injured.
He Shields Her, But His Love is Dead.
In speaking of his wife Mr. Hamilton almost invariably referred to her as “the defendant in this case.” It was only where he could not avoid it by reason of the nature of the question that he spoke of her as “Mrs. Hamilton,” but never during the entire examination as “my wife.”
Prosecutor Thompson plunged into the subject at once by asking the witness to relate so far as he knew the circumstances connected with the stabbing.
“I remember the day of the cutting,” said Mr. Hamilton, in a low but audible tone, “because I was there that morning. Nurse Donnelly had been in our employ for several months. She was given to being rather abusive and was quarrelsome.”
“Did you see any evidence of this disposition before the affray in Atlantic City?”
“Yes. One night, in New York, I came home about 7.30 o’clock and found the defendant in a great state of excitement. She said the nurse had gone out early in the day with the baby and had not yet returned.”
“What has to do with the cutting?” asked Judge Reed, who was pacing up and down behind his brother judges.
Counselor Perry explained that it was intended to show that the nurse was rather a dangerous character.
The witness told of the defendant’s avowed intention of discharging Mary because she was abusive and got drunk, When the judge again interrupted and ruled that if the nurse made any threats it would be competent to offer evidence of that fact. “But,” he said, “get down to the threats.” Mr. Hamilton then confined himself to a history of the assault.
As the Husband Saw It.
“The nurse came to the room about 6.30 o’clock to say that the expressman had come for the trunks. I saw her again shortly afterwards when she brought up coffee. At 11 o’clock she brought in two letters; she handed one to me and one and kept the other. Mrs. Hamilton was then on the bed with the baby. She got up and asked Mary what had become of the other letter, and what she meant by retaining it. The nurse became abusive, and the defendant told her that she was discharged. I said: “Come, Mary, go out now. You must leave. You must leave this afternoon.” The nurse squared off and said: “I won’t leave for both of you.” Then she made a rush for the defendant and used abusive language. She grappled with Mrs. Hamilton and got her fingers in Mrs. Hamilton’s mouth. Mrs. Hamilton got her fingers in Mary’s mouth. The defendant then got hold of a bottle and Mrs. Rupp came up and took away the baby.
“Mary called the defendant a vile name and said she had seen her marriage certificate, and announced her as a disreputable woman before her marriage. She followed this by exclaiming, ‘let me at her.’ Mrs. Hamilton went to the window and called ‘police, help, murder.’ Mary was then out of the room. She came bouncing back in a few minutes very much excited and drunk. She used the same kind of language and added ‘let me kill her, let me kill her,’ and she grabbed the defendant by the wrists. Then, with Mrs. Rupp’s assistance, Mary was put out. Mrs. Hamilton called to Mrs. Rupp to get the police. The nurse rushed up and passed me, going over to where the defendant was standing, aiming a blow at her with her left hand, striking her in the head. Then the defendant struck with the knife and the police came up soon afterwards.”
Mr. Hamilton was exceedingly vague in describing the actual assault, although minute and specific in his preliminary statements.
“I didn’t know that Mary was cut,” he went on. “I couldn’t keep her away from the defendant.”
“What sort of language did Mrs. Hamilton use?” asked the prosecutor in his cross-examination.
Robert Ray look thoughtful for a moment, paused and then answered, slowly:
“She called her a d — — .”
“Were you dressed?”
“I had on my trousers,” replied the witness, boldly.
“How was your coat cut?”
“The defendant tore it.” The answer came with great reluctance. “It was during the dispute about the trunks. I said I wouldn’t let might be sent to New York. She insisted that it should. We quarrelled (sic) about the railroad tickets.”
“Did the defendant strike you?”
“No, she tore my night-shirt.”
Here all the tipstaves rapped for order with their staves.
“Did Mrs. Hamilton beat you with an umbrella?”
“No, she struck me with a parasol.”
“Did she say she would make a lively day for you?”
Robert Ray parted his lips in a smile. “No,” was his answer.
“Why did she tear your night-shirt?”
“She said if I wouldn’t get up she would fix it so I couldn’t stay in bed.”
The Dagger Was His.
The defendant covered her face with her fan, and tried to look shocked. Mr. Hamilton denied that his wife had spat in his face, and shielded her again when he told how he had knocked the portable bathtub out of her hand. Then he explained how the dagger — which was his property, and which he had bought in Norway — came to be out of his possession. It had been removed with other articles, and was thrown on the bed. This little bit helped to prove that Mrs. Hamilton had not taken out the weapon for the express purpose of using it on the nurse
In his redirect examination the witness said he had seen bruises on Mrs. Hamilton’s body which could’ve been inflicted by no other person except Mary Ann Donnelly. Then Robert Ray stepped down, and, without as much as a glance at “the defendant in this case,” took his place again beside Mrs. Rupp.
Dr. D.B. Ingersoll was called corroborate the latter part of Mr. Hamilton’s statement as to the bruises on Mrs. Hamilton. He did so with painful particularity, even to describing the defendant’s skinned thumb. He prescribed liniment for her.
Comely Mrs. Rupp, in a low and gentle voice, told what she knew of the fracas, giving the same story, in substance, as told by Mr. Hamilton, but adding what his unwilling ear did not hear, the remark made by the defendant: “Ray Hamilton, you will have me on the gallows yet.”
As She Tells It.
Then came a witness that did more harm to the defense than all the others had done good. It was Mrs. Hamilton herself. She assumed the air of an ingénue, but she didn’t do it well at all, and before she got back to her seat she had been considerably embarrassed by the prosecutor, who insisted on asking her whether Baby Beatrice was her own flesh and blood, and asked her to tell all about her first acquaintance with Mr. Hamilton. The witness began to speak in a low voice. Occasionally she would lift her dark eyes and look at her counsel or the Judge. She never turned her head in the direction of her husband or of the jury. She began by telling of the visit of Mrs. Swinton to the Noll cottage and of the impudence of Mary Donnelly, who asked her (Mrs. Hamilton) why she didn’t let Hamilton alone and cease “deviling him.”
“I was always afraid of Mary,” said Mrs. Hamilton in a tearful voice. “I never could say that my soul was my own, and Mr. Hamilton upheld her.” The witness put her handkerchief to her eyes and sobbed. Hamilton never moved a muscle. “She said,” continued Mrs. Hamilton, “that she would cut my heart out and show it to me. The reason I told her to get an officer that day was because I had discharged her and if she made any trouble I could have her taken away.”
Then coming down to the assault, the witness described how she had heard “my baby” crying, and knew that Mary had neglected it. This testimony was given in a dreamy voice and with an air of weariness. “I was pasting a letter in a scrap-book when Mary came in and lifted me out of the chair by the hair. We called up Mrs. Rupp and with her assistance got Mary out. Yes, I had that white wrapper on (when a torn garment of fine texture was shown) and that is where it was torn by Mary.
“Was the skirt torn too?” asked the lawyer. There was a very audible titter all around as this remarkable knowledge of women’s wear was displayed.
The witness admitted that she had struck at Mary Donnelly with the whiskey bottle. “I picked up the knife and ran to the baluster crying for Mrs. Rupp to bring up my baby. ‘It’s not the baby, it’s you I mean to kill!’ cried the nurse. With that she came rushing at me. She threw me on the bed and grabbed me by the throat while she put one knee on my stomach. Then I knew she meant to kill me. Mr. Hamilton was between us, with his back to me, trying to push her off. I cut her with a knife. I didn’t know that she was cut at all, for when the policeman came I said I wanted her arrested.”
“When did you first meet Mr. Hamilton?” was the Prosecutor’s first thrust.
The defense objected, but the Court admitted the question. After twenty seconds’ pause Mrs. Hamilton replied:
“I met him at a friend’s house.”
“What was the name of that friend?”
Silence for half a minute. Question repeated.
“Mrs. Brown, I think. I went there with a friend — a Miss Craycraft.”
“Was Mrs. Brown a married lady?”
“When did you meet Mr. Hamilton again?”
“On the street, I think.”
“At my boarding-house on East Twenty-first street. I don’t remember the number.”
“Are your father and mother living?”
The witness gets red in the face. “No, sir,” she replied.
“How were you supposed before you met Mr. Hamilton?”
“By money left by my father.”
“Where did your father live?”
An appealing look to counsel. Objection overruled.
“Sullivan County, Pa.”
“How long have you lived in New York?”
“Two years before meeting Mr. Hamilton.”
“Before that where did you live?”
Another long pause. Then: “In Scioto Vale. I moved thence to New York. “
“What relationship does Mrs. Swinton bear to you, Mrs. Hamilton?”
“None. She’s not related to me. I met her six or seven years ago in a boarding-house. №10 East Twenty-eighth street. She had a child or grandchild (with a yawn) and a young man with her. Don’t know whether he is her son or not.”
“What is his name?”
“When were you married to Mr. Hamilton?”
“In January, 1889, at Patterson, N.J.”
“How old was that baby when Mary Donnelly came to you as a nurse?”
Tacitly admits the imposition.
“Where was the child born?”
“Northern part of Pennsylvania.”
Mrs. Hamilton became very much distressed, and asked Capt. Perry whether she must answer. Hamilton was listening with all his ears. The Court ruled that if the answer tended to criminate the witness she need not answer, and she reluctantly admitted that her answer would tend to criminate her.
“Are you the mother of that child?”
This was a deeper thrust even than the other. Mrs. Hamilton’s assumed artlessness left her instantly. Again she appealed with a look, and again her counsel came to her rescue. She was excused from answering on the same ground as before. Robert Ray never lifted his eyes.
Officers Biddle and Loder were recalled on an unimportant point and the defense rested. The Court will charge the jury to-morrow. Mr. Hamilton and his friend Vollmer went to New York tonight. The probabilities are that Robert Ray will never see his wife again until he meets her in a divorce court.
David Blixt is an author, actor, and fight director based in Chicago, where he’s allowed to co-exist with an awesome woman and a pair of really cool kids. His new book, WHAT GIRLS ARE GOOD FOR: A Novel of Nellie Bly, is available now on Amazon Kindle and print. Follow David on Twitter @David_Blixt, on Facebook here, and on his website at www.davidblixt.com. Sign up for David’s Mailing List here and get free books and more!