The "Cherry Hill" Murder

The year 1927 was full of sensational crime stories.  Just as those in New York were preparing for the start of the trial of criminal idiots, Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray they were hit with another very similar crime, with at least one participant who did not seem to have much more intelligence as his predecessors.  One would think that with all the news that the Snyder/Gary had generated these criminals would have at the very least waited a bit before committing their crime.  They must have thought they were smarter than that, history proved differently.

One of the biggest difference in this crime is that the wife, Elsie Whipple, came from a very prominent local family. As we all know, money and prestige play a large role in the justice system.  The crimes of this era were of no exception.  Her father, Abraham Lansing, died when she was young and she was raised by her mother and grandmother. However, her father's family was wealthy and by 1927 she was living at Cherry Hill, the family homestead with her father's sister, Catherine Van Rensselaer and her family with her husband, John Whipple.  

John Whipple was nine years older than Elsie, who was 14 years old when the next door neighbors eloped.  At the time Elsie's grandfather, Abraham Lansing Sr. was still alive.  He apparently did not like John Whipple and according to the era the inheritance that Elsie obtained upon her father's death would fall into the hands of John Whipple as married women were not allowed to "own" anything and he fought this in court, eventually losing.  The rest of the family apparently warmed up to John and he proved the elder Lansing wrong as he actually added to the fortune.    

Throughout my research on this case, unlike the Snyder/Judd case, I failed to find any allegations of any sort of abuse by John Whipple, be it emotionally, physically, or even financially.  Also unlike the previous case there was no mention of any kind of life insurance, which played a large role in the Snyder/Judd case.  I even failed to find any indication that Elsie was unhappy in her marriage.  However, many things I saw mentioned the fact that Elsie was "prone to hysterics and outbursts" and "undisciplined." The indication was that she "inherited" this from from mother and grandmother.  Beyond those statements I found nothing that elaborated on that.  So the question begs to be asked as to what this actually meant and more importantly, was it true. Was she truly prone to these behaviors? Or could it have been that was a creation of yellow journalism? It is also possible that the family initially put out these allegations to either excuse her behavior or distance her from the family.  We have to remember the time period and how people thought.  Although mental illness would have brought "shame" to this prominent family, murder would have done more so and by placing the blame on her maternal side the wealthy family could excuse it. Again, this is pure speculation on my part.

At any rate, enter stage left.... Jesse Strang aka Joseph Orton.  Jesse had lived in New York in 1925 when he abandoned his wife and four children and moved to Ohio.  Apparently he "faked" his death and reinvented himself as Joseph Orton.  He had headed back to the New York area in 1926 and the story goes that the train system had lost his baggage so he stayed in Albany New York, finding work to wait on his baggage.  He began working at a tavern where he met Elsie Whipple.  He soon went to work at Cherry Hill under the name of Joseph Orton as a handyman.  Soon thereafter he and Elsie began an affair, one in which both confessed to.  Apparently daily letters were passed to each other through either other servants or through the children who lived in the home.  

According to Jesse's later story it was soon after the affair began that Elsie started talking about getting rid of John Whipple.  It appears that this talk came about as the two began discussing running away and spending their lives together.  This required money, money to which neither had access to. However, if John Whipple were to die, Elsie would then have money.  Jesse claims, just as Judd Gray did, that he was reluctant to commit this crime but was pressured by Elsie.  He also claims that prior to the fateful night night in May he had obtained arsenic to which Elsie had given to John.  Apparently the dose was not lethal enough as it only caused stomach pains and at that point Elsie brought up the idea of shooting John.  At this point Jesse began circulating rumors with the other servants and those he encountered about seeing strangers and odd behavior from people around the property.  It seems he was attempting to make it sound as if John had engaged in some questionable business practices and had angered some people.  

Again, according to Jesse, Elsie encouraged Jesse to use one of John's pistols to commit the crime but he preferred a rifle and a few days prior to the murder purchased one.  He claims the bullet used was provided by Elsie.  Late one night he climbed upon the roof of a shed that was near the home and waited until he saw John Whipple through a window in which he shot.  After shooting John, Jesse climbed down and hid the rifle in a nearby area.  Reports vary at this point as to if at this point he went to town to establish an alibi or if he immediately went back to the home and was sent to fetch the coroner.  

A few days later there was a coroner's jury inquest to  which Jesse testified.  It seems that immediately after the crime, as well as at the jury inquest, Jesse was pushing the "stranger" theory to the point that it brought a lot of suspicion to him and he was soon arrested.  Elsie was arrested two weeks later after Jesse began talking.  The following month Jesse confessed to the shooting and told authorities where they could find the rifle.  He continued to claim that it had been Elsie's idea and that she had aided him in this crime. It was said that he claimed to have said these things, stating that he believed that Elsie's family money would save them both.  After he was told that no confession or information of such would save them from this crime he recanted his confession, and at that point it came into question.... well sort of. It is also rumored that while in jail the two inmates talked and those conversations consisted of Elsie telling Jesse that if he had not confessed they would be in Canada already, the destination that they planned.

Jesse was tried first the following month, June. The prosecutor was actually a relative of the Van Rensselaers and publicly stated to Jesse he was guilty, that he would be convicted and he would see that he was hung.  Despite recanting his confession the judge ruled that it would be entered into evidence.  It took the jury 15 minutes to find him guilty.  

Three days later Elsie's trial for "aiding and abetting" began. Jesse was not allowed to testify.  The reason, or at least the excuse, was because he had yet to be sentenced.  Elsie had confessed to the affair prior to trial which is a good thing considering hotel keepers testified seeing the two of them together.  Also there was a slave named "Ms. Jackson" who testified against her.  I found little on what her actual testimony was however.  This was made to be a big deal because when the crime happened in May it would have been against the law for her to do so but within that month the law changed.  It has been theorized that if the law had been in effect longer that it could have made a difference.  I am unsure that I agree.  Although the law had changed, public perception would not have and it was likely dangerous for Ms. Jackson to do so despite the law considering that slavery was still legal in 1827.  In any event, the jury never left the courtroom and acquitted her on the spot.

Many say that this happened because of her money, her families prestige and the fact that she was a woman.  This very well could have been the reasoning. However, there is another way to look at things.  Having an affair obviously does not make someone a murderer.  I think Jesse's reputation and behavior says a lot.  Seemingly, or at least nothing I found, connected Elsie to the murder aside from Jesse. He says she pushed him to do it; he says she attempted to poison John with arsenic he bought; he says that Elsie gave him a bullet for the guy.  Maybe she did do all those things; maybe she did not.  This was coming from a man who deserted his family, faked his own death and then reinvented himself. He then met a wealthy woman while he was working at a bar, found out where she lived and conveniently got a job as a handyman in the home.  Both Jesse and Elsie admit that the affair did not start until after he started working at the home.  In fact, they both stated that after being there a short time Jesse got a note to Elsie about his feelings towards her and asking her response.  It seems to me that although by the time Jesse Strang came into his granddaughter's life Abraham Lansing had died that he had been worried about the wrong man after her money. 

In the end Jesse Strang was hung on August 24, 1927 at the last public hanging in New York and Elsie moved on to marry again.  Little is known about her other than that except that she passed away in 1832.


Popular posts from this blog

Matthew Heikkila

The murder of Jarrod Davidson

Rebecca Simpson