The Hall-Mills Murder Case

This is one of the few cases that I had not heard of when I stumbled across it while researching other well known cases.  It is one of those cases that easily could have caused just as much of a media frenzy today, as it did in 1922 when it happened.  It involved wealthy suspects, adultery, devote church members, a bungled crime scene and an extremely gruesome crime.

On September 16, 1922 the bodies of Episcopal minister, Edward Hall, and a member of his choir, Eleanor Mills were found under a crab apple tree on a road near what was known as "Lover's Lane" in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Immediately it was pretty well known that the bodies had been posed.  Edward's arm was under Eleanor's head and her hand lay on his thigh.  Edward's hat was covering his face and when it was removed it was noticed his glasses apparently had been nicely placed on his face; his business card (often called a calling card) was propped up against his shoe.  Eleanor had a scarf wrapped around her neck.  When it was removed it was noticed that her throat had been cut from ear to ear.  Between the couple were pieces of love letters written from Eleanor to Edward over the years.  It was soon discovered that Edward had been shot in the head once, while Eleanor suffered from three gunshot wounds.  Over the next few years two autopsies would take place and it would also be discovered that not only was Eleanor's throat cut but her tongue and larynx had been removed also.  There was speculation that due to the position of the bodies as well as the posing that the couple had been found while engaging in sex and had actually been naked when murdered and re-dressed after.  It seems that was never truly established for certain.

It seems that neither Edward or Eleanor tried very hard to hide their affair.  It had been going on for about four years at the time of their death and church members openly admitted knowing about it.  In fact, it seems that everyone admitted to knowing about the affair except for the spouses and families of the victims.  In the beginning both Edward's wife, Frances and Eleanor's husband, James adamantly denied they knew anything about the affair.  Several years later, James would admit that he knew about the affair and that he and Eleanor had several arguments about it.  He said he had threatened divorce but did not have the financial means to do so.  I have found no account that Frances ever admitted knowing anything. However, suspiciously the day before the bodies were found, but the day after they both disappeared she admitted telling James that she was sure they had run off together and were dead.  When questioned about this statement she simply said she thought that was a logical conclusion.  

When the bodies were found, the crime scene was trampled on by investigators, spectators and the media.  There were officers from a few different districts as there was a question as to who had jurisdiction.  It is speculated that because of this less care was taken in preserving the scene and evidence.  Edward's business card was passed around to people as well as other evidence.  

Just as an investigation would begin today, in 1922 the investigators knew that the first people who should be interviewed were the spouses.  I cannot say for certain who they went to first but instinct tells me it was likely Eleanor's husband, first because he was a man and women were not looked at for murders like this and secondly, Frances Hall came from a wealthy family so it is likely they stayed away from making her a suspect, at least at first.

As said, James initially tells investigators that he did not know about the affair.  He was a full time janitor at the church so he knew the minister well also.  He did however indicate early on that there were issues in his marriage, even though he denied knowledge of the affair. He stated that when Eleanor was leaving on the evening of the 14th he inquired as to where she was going but she would not tell him. He said she told him if he wanted to know, he should follow her but apparently he did not take her up on that offer.  He said that around 10:30 he went to the church that was nearby looking for her but she was not there.  He said he went back to the church about 2 am. but again did not find her.  The next day he went to work as usual.  When questioned as to why he did not report her missing he stated that there were times that she would be gone for a day or two at a time so he was not overly concerned necessarily.  James Mills seemed to cooperate fully with the investigators and it appears although they did not believe that he did not know about the affair it seems as though he was never a serious suspect.  

Then there was Frances Stevens Hall.  She had come from a wealthy family it seems from both sides of her family.  It has been said, although I am unsure that it was confirmed, that the Stevens/Carpender (her mother's maiden name) children were related to the Johnson & Johnson family.  Regardless they apparently had obtained their own wealth also.  Frances had two brothers.  One, William Stevens lived with Frances and Edward.  It sounds as if in today's society he would likely be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  Apparently his antics were fairly documented through people that knew him and incidents involving him.  Frances' other brother was Henry Stevens who lived almost 50 miles away in another town.  However, she also had a cousin named Henry Carpender that lived only four door down from her home.

Just as James denied knowing about the affair between Edward and Eleanor, Frances did the same.  She stated that she obviously knew Eleanor and in the last few months had helped her after Eleanor had surgery.  She claimed that Eleanor called the house several times on September 14th and that about 7:00 Edward left saying that he was going to "check" on Eleanor's "medical bills."  She said she played solitaire until about 9:30 or 10:00 and then went to bed. At about 2:30 am she woke up and realized that Edward was not home so she woke up William to walk with her to the church.  To get to the church they had to walk past the Mills' apartment and said that it was dark, so they did not stop. Once she got to the church and did not find Edward she went back home.  She said she called the police the next morning, not to report Edward missing but, to ask if there had been any "casualties" reported.  She did not give her name and when she was told no she simply hung up and says she continued to search.  Later she went back to the church and talked to James Mills who told her his wife had also not come home the night before.  She claimed to not know they had been killed until the following day (Saturday) when a newspaper reporter called her home.  

In 1922 Joseph E. Stricker was in charge of the investigation.  It appears little things trickled out from time to time.  However it also seems that Stricker and the prosecutor in charge differed on what they thought was important information or good leads and Stricker's investigation ended without indictments.  In 1926 Stricker was gone and the governor ordered a new investigation into the case.  I will break this down better in a bit by people, leaving the main characters for last, but on November 3, 1926 the trial against Frances Hall and her two brothers William and Henry began.  Their cousin Henry Carpender was set to have a separate trial later.  The three were being charged only for the murder of Eleanor, likely because it was the most gruesome.  In the end, after 5 hours of deliberation the jury returned with not guilty verdicts for the three defendants.  Eventually all charges were dropped (including those against Henry Carpender) and they were all released.  No one else was ever charged for the murders.

This case was a bit confusing considering how the investigation(s) were handled, all of the people involved and the many years that it took place.  To attempt to make it less confusing I am going to do a list of people and explain the role they played.  Some I have already discussed but in keeping it together I will go through them again. I will attempt to keep the most important characters until the last.

The Media: Yes, I know this is not a "person" and I had said that I was leaving the "main characters" for last but I think it best to put them first and get them out of the way.  This case, both in 1922 and during the 1926 trial was the biggest of it's kind when it came to trials and crime.  It dominated the papers.  And, like many of the cases I have discussed in blogs they exaggerated and out right lied in many situations.  After their acquittal in 1926, Frances Hall, William "Willie" Stevens and Henry Carpender all sued for libel and won an out of court, undisclosed, settlement amount.  This was a time period in which the every day newspaper was more like the tabloid newspapers of today.  Rumors were not always substantiated.  Reporters basically wrote whatever they wanted based on their own person opinions and it was printed as if it were fact.  

Raymond Schneider and Pearl Bahmers:  They were the people who found the bodies on the morning on the morning of the September 16th.  They were soon  under a lot of suspicion.  Schneider was in his 20's and Pearl was 15 or 16. They simply seemed to be strolling along on "Lover's Lane" at the time of the discovery but their relationship was turbulent.  Apparently on the evening of the 14th, the night of the murders they were not getting along.  Schneider was hanging around with two other men, Clifford Hayes and 16 year old Leon Kaufman.  On the night of the murders Raymond says he saw Pearl with another man and the three men started following them.  Pearl says the man was her father and that the men had harassed them.  Schneider later apparently claimed that Clifford Hayes had a gun on the night of the 14th.  At some point soon after the murders Pearl's father was arrested for incest and indicated that Schneider had been the murderer of Edward and Eleanor.  Later Pearl was arrested for "incorrigibility," which I assume is like obstruction of justice as they did not feel she was cooperating.  Raymond Schneider was arrested at some point but there was not any evidence other than Pearl's father's word.

There was a lot of speculation after the trial of Frances and her brothers because neither Raymond Schneider or Pearl Bahmers were called as witnesses.  That was odd at the time, and would be odd today, that the people who first came across the crime scene were not called to testify.  It is believed this was because prosecutors thought the defense could raise some doubt in their stories and their characters and likely take the focus off of Frances and the Stevens brothers.

Leon Kaufman: He was the 16 year old that was with Raymond Schneider and Clifford Hayes on the night of the 14th.  He claims that he was home by 11pm. But it seems both he and Schneider made some claims that Hayes had a gun on that night.  He collaborated Raymond and Pearl's story that she was with another man (her father, although apparently they didn't know who he was) and had followed her at some point.  

Clifford Hayes:  After taking statements from Leon Kaufman and Raymond Schneider apparently the police thought they had enough to arrest Clifford and charged him with the murders.  After Pearl's father was arrested and implicated Schneider in the murders Schneider confessed that he lied about Hayes and all charges were dropped. I found no information about any sort of gun Hayes may or may not have had nor was there any other evidence against him except for the statements of Kaufman and Schneider.  


Jane Gibson:  She was the most colorful character in the story.  Gibson lived nearby on a farm.  Her initial statement to the police was that she had gone outside and had seen the figure of a man near her cornfield and close to the crab apple tree.  She said she rode her horse near the scene and saw two men and two women together.  She says she heard a shot and saw one of the men fall to the ground.  She then said she turned to go back home and heard another shot and turned around to see one of the women on the ground.  She also said that the woman suspect was wearing a gray coat.

Gibson went on to tell another story to the media and yet a third story on the stand at trial.  She was already under scrutiny.  Many neighbors and family members, including her own mother, had reported that Gibson was notorious for lying and making things up.  At least one neighbor that lived closer to the scene said they heard shots but saw nothing, another, who owned a boarding house, Mrs. Fraley, across the street from the crime, testified that neither she nor any of her boarders heard anything. Fraley said she saw Gibson the day after the crime and she mentioned nothing of what she had seen which was unusual for Gibson not to elaborate in situations. During the trial Gibson got very sick and was hospitalized.  She eventually gave her testimony in the courtroom from a hospital bed.  When she entered the courtroom her mother was sitting with defense attorneys and screamed that she was a liar.

Initially, and apparently even later, investigators believed her.  When Frances and her brothers were brought in to be questioned Frances was told to wear the coat she wore that night.  It was not known at the time but Gibson was also there set to identify the suspects.  What did not come out until later was that she failed to identify either Frances or her brothers the first time.  With that said, when she elaborated at trial about how she saw the murders and later saw Frances at the feet of Edward crying and identified Henry Carpender as the shooter, her credibility was pretty shot.

It should be noted, for what it's worth, that Gibson testified that she was contacted by an investigator, hired by Frances, and was told to keep quiet and was threatened.  Gibson had little credibility and her words apparently should be taken with a grain of salt, but she was not the only one who made this claim.

George Kuhn: Kuhn owned a local cigar store.  He testified that William Stevens told him on September 19 to deny all rumors that the Stevens or Carpender's had any connection to the crime.  This happened prior to any knowledge of Jane Gibson.

Louise Geist:  Louise worked as a maid for the Halls and the fact that her marriage was being annulled in 1926 is, in part, what re-opened the investigation.  She had told investigators that she had been at the Hall home when Eleanor kept calling and Edward left.  She also testified to seeing Frances play solitaire that evening before bed.  On 7-2-1926 her husband, Arthur Riehl, filed for the annulment and reported to investigators that Louise had told him that on the evening of the 14th of September 1922 it was she who had informed Frances Hall that she heard Edward and Eleanor were going to elope.  Riehl said Louise knew that Frances, her brothers and cousin were responsible for the murders and that on the following day she went with Frances and received $5,000 to stay quiet.  When confronted with this Louise denied ever saying this to Riehl.

Henry Dickson:  For whatever reason Dickson was independently investigating the murders but in June 1923 he apparently disappeared.  It was common knowledge that he was looking into the case and that he had disappeared and this, along with Riehl is what prompted the re-opening of the case.  Before the trial Dickson was found.  Well, technically he had been found prior to that serving time in a prison.  He testified at the trial of being paid off by lawyers representing Frances, to stop the investigation and leave the state.


Dr. John Anderson:  He performed the 2nd autopsy on Eleanor.  It was through this autopsy that it was discovered that her tongue had been removed.  Anderson determined that due to the blood at the scene that the crime had been committed there (that had been in question at some point which led to questions of who had jurisdiction) and that her throat had been cut after she was shot and likely already either dead or close to it.   

Frank Csister:  Frank was a chauffeur who said that he had been near the scene of the crime at the time and had seen two cars that were dark inside and not plated.  The Halls owned two cars (considering the time period this would be a large indicator of their wealth) and one of the two there was described as being like the car Frances often drove. The issue of two dark cars being present near the scene brought up the idea of the KKK being involved.  This had been considered early on and apparently there are those who still believe this.  I will address this issue at a later time.  

Ralph Gorsline:  Ralph was an interesting character and many find him to be a likely suspect.  It was said that he had previously had an affair with Eleanor and that he was jealous that she had taken up with Edward and often followed her.  By his own accounts he was near the scene of the crime, presumably stalking Eleanor, with another member of the choir of the church who was interested in Edward.  It does not seem that either he or the choir member who admitted being with him were ever considered suspects, at least not in the investigators eyes.  As the years have passed and the crime has been analyzed over and over and speculation made there have been thoughts that he could have been the murderer. 

James Mills:  Husband of Eleanor.  In 1922 he denied knowing that his wife and Edward Hall were having an affair but by 1926, after arrests were made he admitted that he did know about the affair and he and his wife often argued about it.  At some point during this time someone in the Mills household found and sold a stack of love letters from Edward to Eleanor and Edward's diary to a newspaper for $500.  Some reports say this was done by James, other say it was his daughter Charlotte that sold them.  James never seemed to be much of a suspect although I have to wonder why.  His alibi could not really be verified as it was simple... he was home in bed, got up once and looked for his wife, got up the next morning and went to work.  It was not much unlike Frances Halls alibi. The defense made James Mills their prime suspect at trial to raise reasonable doubt.  In my opinion that was a smart thing to do.  

Henry Carpender:  Cousin to Frances and the Stevens brothers.  He lived just a few doors down from the Halls home.  There really did not seem to be a lot of evidence on him.  One presumption was that he was arrested based on the fact that Jane Gibson said she had heard the name "Henry" when she was out in the field.  Of course there was Henry Stevens too.  Carpender's lawyer was successful in having his trial separated from the others. After the acquittal of the other three suspects Carpender was released and all charges dropped.

Henry Stevens: Brother to Frances.  He lived in another town about 50 miles away.  Many believe that he was simply charged and put on trial based on the face that he was an exhibition marksman and it was believe such a character must be involved.  It is likely that he also knew about the affair between Edward and Eleanor.  Edward had told someone that he planned to leave his wife for Eleanor and that one of his wife's relatives had threatened him.  It was never said which relative that was, but could it have been Henry?  At one point two bloody handkerchiefs were turned into the police.  I am uncertain where they came from or who it was who turned them in.  One of them had the monogram of "S" on it and Henry admitted that it was his.  Henry had said that he was fishing on the day and night of the murders some distance away.  During his trial witnesses testified to this being true.   However, there was also a witness who claims that she saw Stevens in New Brunswick the day after the murders.

William Stevens:  William lived with the Halls due to his mental disabilities.  It was learned very early on that he owned a .32 caliber gun and since the victims were shot with this type of gun it was vastly thought to be the murder weapon.  William claimed that the gun had been disabled to prevent him from firing long before the crimes.  Apparently it was done by a third person to prevent William from harming himself or others.  It was said long after the trial that it was proven that the gun had in fact been disabled long before 1922, but that it had also been returned to him soon after the murders.  William was described as impulsive and reckless but most of the time had a "sunny disposition.  He claimed to be in his bedroom from about 8:30 pm on the 14th except for when his sister woke him about 2:30 to go to the church to check for Edward.  However, the local milkman reported that on the morning after the murders the back door to the Hall home was open, which was unusual.  He also reported that William had told him that it was a bad day because he and his sister had been up all night.  On that same day a delivery boy went to the Hall home to pick up a suit of William's to be clean.  He saw spots on the suit, they could have been anything.  The story is that he turned this suit over to the police and that through time it had been lost.  I have a problem with this.  I find it odd that the delivery boy would pick up the suit on Friday before the bodies were discovered the following day.  The bodies were found mid morning on Saturday and it took a while before identification could be positively made and then the news to travel and yet the suit had not been touched.  

Nearly he only solid evidence it seems that they had on William was that his fingerprints were found on Edward's business card.  There was still a lot of controversy when it came to fingerprints in 1926 and the defense lawyers argued against this being viable evidence.  I take two issues with this.  First it was widely known that the business card had been passed around to spectator to spectator, as well as investigators at the crime scene and there seemed to be no talk of other prints on the card.  Even if we are to presume that William was at the scene and involved in the murders and was the one who placed the business card at Edwards foot, this occurred before it was passed from hand to hand.  Secondly, William was a relative of Edwards and in lived in the same home as he.  I do not find it unusual to have found his prints on anything that Edward would have had on his person.


Frances Noel Stevens Hall:  Wealthy wife of victim, Edward Hall.  She never admitted knowing about the affair between Edward and Eleanor despite commenting to James Mills the day after they disappeared, and the day before the bodies were found, that she was sure they had run off together and were dead.  When questioned about this she claims she just thought it was a "logical conclusion."  At her trial the prosecutor indicated that he thought she had got "caught up" in the murders and it appears did not put much on her.  He believed that the three men (her two brothers and her cousin) were the instigators of the crime. Just with other crimes, especially those where there was no conclusion, much speculation has been made of this.  A witness at the trial testified that Frances had scratches on her face on the day of the funeral. Another witness testified that Frances had a brown coat dyed to black after the murders and a lot of speculation was made of this.  The problem is that it was never presumed to have been the coat that she wore on the night of the murders.  She had been asked to wear that coat, which was gray in color, when she went to be interviewed. If Jane Gibson is to be believed the other woman at the scene had on a gray coat. Of course, as discussed earlier Gibson was known to lie.  Presumably she mentioned the gray coat before Frances was interviewed because they had her wear that coat to help Gibson to identify her (to which she did not).  A night watchman that was working across the street from the Hall's home on the night of the murders testified that the lights in the Hall home were on all night which contradicts Frances' statement of going to bed.  But, does it?  Apparently the jury did not believe so.

As with other high profile cases, especially those decades old, over the years there has been much speculation as to who the murderer(s) was and how it was done.  Here are a few of the theories....

Early on it was speculated that the KKK were involved. Today there are some that still theorize this based on the fact that the KKK were against people having loose morals and were very active in the state at that time.  There was never any evidence of this and as some have point out, the KKK were notorious for making clear that they were responsible for any crimes they committed and there was nothing here.

There were thoughts that the murderer could have been another choir member.  It was said that many of the members did not like Eleanor (who the obvious rage led to) because she was favored by the minister.  It was discovered later that a hymn that was a favorite of Eleanor and Edwards was ripped out of several of the hymnal at some point.  This was also speculated because Eleanor's tongue and larynx were removed as if someone had an issue with her voice. One could argue that the murderer was a woman because it appears that Edward was killed first with the one shot to the head, which would have left the weaker of the two victims left but really there is little evidence to support someone in the choir was that enraged.

Ralph Gorsline has also come under fire over the years.  He actually seems more likely a suspect than those mentioned above.  They were able to prove he had previously had an affair with Eleanor and was still obsessed with her to the point of "stalking" her. He apparently did not try to hide it.  He also admitted (along with a woman who was "helping" him stalk Eleanor) to being near the scene of the crime around the time it was thought to have happened.  Yet, it seems that he was not seriously looked into.  

Some believe that William Stevens was in fact guilty and that due to his mental condition and the destruction to particularly Eleanor's body that he had done this in an act of rage.  Some believe he did this alone, while others speculate that Frances (and possibly others) were also involved.  If this were the case I would have to go with the latter conclusion that Frances was involved in some way.  It is highly unlikely if her brother was so enraged about the affair and he lived with Frances that she would not have known about the affair and known her brothers anger about it.

Of course the two main suspects remain James Mills and Frances Hall, at least in the eyes of those looking back.  In reality there does not seem to be a lot of evidence against James Mills.  Today we question his reaction to his wife's disappearance and the fact he denied for at least a few years knowing about the affair prior to the murders.  There are two facts that make it almost certain that one of these two was the murderer or at the very least involved.  First, there are the letters that were torn up between the bodies.  They were letters from Eleanor to Edward.  Presumably she had given them to him so they were with his things, either at his house or the church.  If they were at his house Frances, was well as William, would have had access to them.  If they were at the church one would assume they were likely in his office to which Frances could have had access, but so could James Mills since he was the janitor of the church.  Obviously others within the church could have had access to them but it is less likely that it was someone else because it would indicate that someone other than one of the spouses had premeditated the murders.  Secondly, would be the condition of Eleanor's body which indicated that there was more rage towards her than Edward.  This could be argued against both James and Frances.  Either one could have been more angry with her than Edward.  It is common when a man has an affair that the wife blames the mistress more than the husband for the infidelity.  It Would also not be uncommon for the husband of a cheating wife to have more rage towards her than the man.  James Mills had said he had talked to Eleanor about getting a divorce but could not do so because of finances.  However, I have to wonder in this case if it would have been James.  While the condition of Eleanor's body indicated rage and it could have been committed by either of the non-cheating spouses it seems like an extraordinary amount of rage, even from an angry husband.  

There simply was not enough proof to bring anyone to trial for this and prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, let alone bringing charges against a wealthy family who not only had the means to afford better attorney's but also the society status to have witnesses come forward.  Do I think if this same crime would have been committed today that someone would eventually be held responsible?  I do not know.  The crime scene apparently was so bungled that there would be questions to the credibility.  The defense hung most of their hat on this.  Johnnie Cochran did it in 1995 and it worked too, and I am not sure that case was mishandled as much as this one.  I never heard any indication of a blood analyzes done to indicate there was anyone's blood at the scene other than the victims.    If DNA were available in 1922 I am unsure that would have helped the case unless the killer was someone who did not live in one of the households of the victims.  Without more evidence it is likely that even today the killers would have gotten away with murder.







Comments

  1. I just finished reading "A Sort Of Genius" by James Thurber who wrote on the findings of this case. I decided to look it up and I amazed to see how this story has resurfaced so recently after reading a version from 1937.

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  2. Thanks for the book reference. I will have to look for it.

    I had heard the title of the case before but not a whole lot. When I was researching for the Lindbergh Case blog I came across a little talk of this one due to the fact that Norman Schwartzkopf was involved in both cases, although I didn't find a lot of references of him on this case other than he was involved at one point. Upon look up information I thought it was a very interesting case and not unlike we could see today.

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    Replies
    1. Thurber paints such wonderful characters that it is hard not to be curious about if they existed or how accurate his information is. I have such a literary crush on him. I'll have to look up the Lindbergh Case as well, how interesting that Norman was involved in both.

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  3. Mrs. Hall and one of her brothers with the help of possibly another party most likely murdered the couple. Mrs. Hall had motive.

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  4. I'm a nitpicker but make many mistakes in my own writing, that I sometimes take quite awhile to notice, so I will not carp about the lack of needed apostrophes here nor the unnecessary ones put in against ordinary plurals - these things happen & it is a well-written piece otherwise, a nice collation of facts and speculation. But in the long section about Frances, you called her Eleanor twice - about the coat being dyed & something she said during the investigation. Obviously you meant Frances because poor old Eleanor didn't do or say anything after the crime! I don't know for sure, but I think maybe you should correct this so that it does not confuse any future readers. Other than that, very well done!

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