A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

History: Monmouth County Fugitive Killed By Bounty Hunters in Virginia (1900)

In the articles below, an African-American vegetable peddler kills the Red Bank night marshal in November 1899 as the marshal attempts to serve him a summons on a five dollar debt as a favor for a constable acquaintance in Freehold. Convicted of first degree murder and facing the hangman's noose, the peddler escapes the county jail and becomes a fugitive, settling down on a farm near Portsmouth, Virginia. He is ultimately located and killed by bounty hunters, who disguise themselves as hunters and fill him with buckshot. One of the bounty hunters is later indicted by a Grand Jury in Norfolk for the peddler's murder, much to the surprise of the editors of The Matawan Journal.

The circumstances surrounding both shootings are far from clear.. Certainly there is more about this story in The Red Bank Register and the local Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia papers. For now, here's what I've unearthed.

The 16 Nov 1899 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that William Bullock had shot and killed James Walsh while the latter was serving Bullock a summons as a favor for a Freehold officer who had had difficulty locating Bullock on multiple previous occasions. The summons was on a debt of five dollars related to a property matter, something Walsh reportedly thought would be easily resolved. Walsh, who was 60 years old, had served on an off as constable or local policeman for the past fifteen years, even as Red Bank chief of police for one term. At the time of the shooting, he was the night marshal in Red Bank.

An argument ensued as Walsh presented the papers and as many as five shots rang out. Walsh received two bullets in the groin and one through the eye and into the brain, the latter killing him instantly. Bullock fled the scene. He ran halfway to Fair Haven, hired a boat to cross the river into Middletown, then later caught a freight train to South Amboy, where he pulled a large knife on a night watchman. The watchman subdued and detained him overnight.

Bullock was taken to Matawan by train the following morning, and then to Freehold in the company of four law enforcement officers. The article described both Walsh and Bullock in some detail.

The 25 Jan 1900 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that a jury was selected to hear the case against Bullock. The case started Tuesday the 22nd, closing arguments were delivered Thursday the 24th, and the jury returned a verdict the following morning, Friday the 25th. They found him guilty of murder in the first degree and the expectation was that Bullock would hang.

"Tuesday the trial of William Bullock, the colored man who shot James Walsh, chief of police of Red Bank, on Nov. 13 last, was commenced at Freehold. . . .

Dr Edwin Field testified that Walsh's death was caused by a bullet penetrating the brain. This and two other bullets found in the dead man's leg were shown in court.

Herman Frost, a colored boy, said he was near at the time of the shooting. He said that Walsh read a summons to Bullock to appear in an action of debt. A dispute followed. He heard Walsh tell Bullock that he would take him to Freehold jail dead or alive. Four or five shots followed.

The defense opened with the statement that the shooting was done in self-defense. It was also argued that Walsh's bond having expired he was no longer an officer, and was a trespasser when he was shot.

Bullock has said that he intended to shoot the officer and that he expected to hang for it.

Bullock went on the stand and told his story of the killing. He declared that Walsh told him he would take him to Freehold, dead or alive, and that he thought that Walsh was about to kill him when he shot him."

Tthe 13 Sep 1900 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that Bullock punched a hole in the cement floor of his cell at Monmouth County jail, dug a passage under the jail and made his escape to parts unknown. A $500 reward was issued for his return. A hole under his bunk, partially covered by a newspaper, was discovered after breakfast was delivered to his cell and Bullock was found missing. An investigation suggested that Bullock was aided in his escape by an accomplice outside the jail, who used a pickaxe, threw dirt, and pulled Bullock through an amazingly narrow passage.

The 6 Dec 1900 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that Bullock had been cornered outside of Portsmouth, Virginia by bounty hunters, who intended to collect the $500 reward. When Bullock tried to escape, they shot him and critically wounded him. He was not expected to live.

"Two strange men, who said they were detectives, brought to Portsmouth, VA last night and lodged in the county jail a severely wounded negro who they said was William Bullock. . . . He broke jail and came here. They said they tracked him and discovered that he was working on the farm of Millard Parker, five miles from Portsmouth. Disguised as hunters, with shotguns they sought him there.

They ordered him to halt when they saw him; he ran and they shot him. They fired low, riddling him from the waist down with buckshot. Bullock will hardly recover, so severe are his wounds. That the detectives convinced the officials that their story is true was evident. The detectives said there was a reward of $500 offered for Bullock's arrest.

The above appeared in this morning's New York Sun, sent from Norfolk, VA." 

The 21 Feb 1901 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that the revolver that Bullock used to shoot Walsh, as well as a photograph of Bullock in handcuffs, was on display in a curiosity case maintained by Red Bank Chief of Police Stryker. The article catalogued the various weapons used in the Red Bank area, as well as related miscellany, which could be found in the glass case.

"The revolver with which William Bullock killed Chief James Walsh is just below the center of the case, and beneath the revolver is the picture of Chief Walsh. To the right is the picture of Bullock with the handcuffs on, being escorted from the court room back to his cell in the jail by Chief of Police Stryker and Joseph Johnson. The picture was taken about half way from the court house to the jail without Bullock knowing what was being done."

The 25 Apr 1901 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that one of the bounty hunters who shot Bullock was being brought up on charges of murder based on evidence presented to prosecutors by Bullock's attorney.

"A. E. Dorsett, a North Carolina lumberman, has been indicted by the Norfolk County, Virginia, grand Jury, for the murder of William Bullock, the slayer of Chief of Police Walsh of Red Bank.

Dorsett and a man named Meyer planned to secure the $500 reward offered by Sheriff Davis for the arrest of Bullock, who escaped from Freehold jail while awaiting his fourth trial for shooting Chief Walsh. On the afternoon of December 5th they trapped him in a small store near Portsmouth, Va., and leveling their short guns at him, demanded that he surrender. Instead of giving himself up, Bullock ran and Dorsett fired the full charge, striking the negro anil causing wounds which killed him.

The reward was paid over to Dorsett and it was supposed that this ended [the] matter, but early last week evidence was presented to the Norfolk County Grand Jury, which resulted in the indictment. It is said that the evidence was secured by a Monmouth County lawyer named Leonard, and it is supposed that William J. Leonard of Atlantic Highlands, who was one of Bullock's lawyers and who was in the South, was the man who worked up the case against Dorsett. Just what grounds there were for the indictment are not known."

Note: The quotes above are passages from larger articles. View the linked images of the newspaper for a complete accounting.


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