The bodies under the crabapple tree…
The Minister and the Choir Singer The Hall/Mills Murder Case by William M Kunstler
Before the Lindberg kidnapping, the Hall/Mills murder mystery shocked New Jersey. Two bodies were discovered Somerset County. Lying under a crabapple tree were the bodies of a man and a woman. They had been posed with the woman’s head on the man’s right arm, and her hand on the man’s right knee.
The man’s face was covered by his hat and a scarf was over the woman’s neck. Bits of paper scattered around and between the bodies proved to be love letters written by the pair. A business style card was propped against the man’s foot. It was the card of New Brunswick pastor Reverend Edward Wheeler Hall of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist.
The male body was identified as the minister. He had been shot in the head. The lady’s body was identified as Mrs. Eleanor Reinhardt Mills, a choir singer at St. Johns. She had been shot three times in the head and her throat slashed ear to ear. A latter postmortem would reveal that her larynx and tongue were missing. They had been dead around 36 hours, and maggots were in the woman’s neck wound.
The two had been carrying on a not-so-secret affair for some time. Due to the love letters and the certainty of the affair, the minister’s widow, Frances Noel Stevens was suspected of the murders, along with her brothers Henry Hewgill Stevens and William "Willie" Carpender Stevens. The trial was a bit of a circus.
Much of the evidence was given by Mrs. James Gibson, known as “The Pig Lady.” She was dying from cancer and had to be brought into the court in her hospital bed.
The author kind of skirts the idea that the widow and her brothers were well to do and Mrs. Gibson lived in a converted barn. Her story would vary, but the central point, her identification of the suspects never wavered. The lawyers certainly took advantage of wealth and power in suggesting that Mrs. Gibson was not to be believed over her betters.
One point I’d like to make is that the worst of the damage was to Mrs. Mills. Removal of the larynx and tongue, both used in music, seem to point towards revenge on Mrs. Mills. Why wasn’t her husband brought to trial? He had as much motive as the widow Hall, and this was a very personal crime.
I totally discount the author’s idea that perhaps the Ku Klux Klan murdered the pair. They very much were active and murder was not unusual for the outlaw group. Yet the personal attack on Mrs. Mills throat and tongue isn’t something the Klan might do. They would have also been sure they got the credit.
An interesting case from the past, I give the book five stars! One thing this book is not is boring!
Quoth the Raven…