Murder in the Metropolis: Part the Fourth (Conclusion)

October 28, 2006 | 6 comments
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Hooper Young was arrested in Connecticut three days after the discovery of Mrs. Pulitzer’s body. He confessed to mutilating and disposing of the body, but denied responsibility for Mrs. Pulitzer’s death. John W. Young wired money from Europe for Hooper’s defense; he did not attend the trial which took place in February 1903. Hooper’s mother came from Seattle and was hosted by former in-laws during the trial. Hooper’s lawyers attempted an insanity defense and for several days Hooper put on quite a show for the jury and reporters, refusing to shave, seeming to sleep through proceedings, and interrupting the court to ask for a rabbit’s foot. When alienists – early practitioners of psychiatry – gave their opinion that Hooper was not insane, his defense crumbled. He pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment at Sing Sing.

Hooper was apparently a model prisoner. He worked as a janitor in the prison chapel, and, benefitting from liberal reforms, was permitted to spend long hours in the prison greenhouse perfecting his “sunshine cure� – a process of distilling water by reflected sunlight, thereby [he said] infusing the water with nutrients from the sun. “I think he is a little ba[r]my,� commented the prison guide to some missionaries who called on Hooper in 1915. He impressed the missionaries on that visit as a pitiable figure whom they wished to see restored to fellowship; for his part, Hooper denied responsibility for his crime, blaming his faults on vague “sins� committed against him by his parents, and seeking to enlist the missionaries to manipulate John W. Young for Hooper’s benefit.

Although sentenced to life imprisonment, Hooper was released before he had served twenty years, paroled into the custody of the Salvation Army. Two diametrically opposing stories are told about his attempt to reconcile with his father, both stories told by purported eyewitnesses: A stranger appeared at a meeting of the New York branch, and, from the back of the room, asked to speak. At the sound of his voice John W. Young, sitting near the front, stiffened. The stranger identified himself as Hooper Young, pointed to his father, and said that he had been imprisoned for a crime he had not committed, and for twenty years John W. had hardened his heart and would not visit his son. At the close of the meeting, the mission president attempted to bring the men together. According to one story, father and son embraced and walked tearfully out of the meeting arm in arm; in the other version, John W. told Hooper he never wanted to see him again, and that whichever branch of the Church Hooper chose to attend, Brooklyn or Manhattan, John W. would attend the other.

The relative credibility of the two witnesses suggests that the story of continued estrangement is the correct one. However, at some point, father and son did reconcile. When John W. Young became ill in 1924, Hooper – then preferring to be known as “Billy� – was his nurse. It was Billy who summoned a brother to make his last visit to their dying father, and Billy who was with John W. at his passing. I have as yet been unable to trace Billy – Hooper – beyond his father’s death, although I continue to follow the trail of numerous Bills, Williams, W.’s and W.H. Youngs in the New York area.

***

Hooper Young’s murder of Anna Pulitzer would be just another sordid story had it not been for Hooper’s kinship to Brigham Young. Even so, the sensation might have been mild and the publicity short-lived had it not been for those two words – “blood atonement� – scrawled on a scrap of waste paper. The Biblical verses below them were innocuous enough (“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,�) and likely would have been entirely unworthy of comment had not those two words – “blood atonement� – headed them. Because those two words were present, however, another dimension was added to the story.

Beyond the simple list of Biblical texts, there is no evidence that blood atonement as a religious concept held any special interest for Hooper Young. To the contrary, one of his last published pieces was a defense of bloodshed in political, not religious, warfare. Citing George Washington and William Tecumseh Sherman, among others, as “beneficiaries of mankindâ€? for their deeds as warriors, Hooper closed a nearly incoherent essay with the claim that “As the blood on the cross cleansed the world, so the blood of humanity, sacrificed for a good cause, cleanses those who live to enjoy it … No nation has yet has been civilized without paying the purchase price in blood.â€?

The burden of dealing with charges that Hooper’s crime was the legacy of his Mormon background fell on the New York Saints, who dealt with it by merely living their usual lives and responding to questions when approached by the press. For their part, the Church in Salt Lake responded with official pronouncements, which do not appear to have been widely covered in the national press.

A speaker at the General Conference immediately following the 1902 murder stated, “They say that the ‘Mormons’ believe in blood atonement. We do believe in blood atonement … We believe in the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, that it will cleanse mankind from all sin … There is not a Christian nation on earth who does not believe or pretend to believe in blood atonement just as the Latter-day Saints believe in it.â€?

The Church also reissued an official declaration first published in 1889, which addressed many questions of ecclesiastical involvement in civil matters. That declaration had been, coincidently, signed by John W. Young as a counselor to the Twelve Apostles:

“In consequence of gross misrepresentations of the doctrines, aims and practices of the Church … [w]e solemnly make the following declarations … :

“That this Church views the shedding of human blood with the utmost abhorrence. That we regard the killing of human beings, except in conformity with the civil law, as a capital crime which should be punished … after a public trial before a legally constituted court of the land. …

“We denounce as entirely untrue the allegation which has been made, that our Church favors or believes in the killing of persons who leave the Church or apostatize from its doctrines. … [I]t is abhorrent to us and is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of our creed …

“That is ‘Mormonism.’ It asks to be judged according to its own teachings and works; not according to the misrepresentations of its enemies. … It is time that more rational methods prevailed.â€?

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6 Responses to Murder in the Metropolis: Part the Fourth (Conclusion)

  1. Jim F. on October 28, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Ardis, thanks very much for this series. I’ve enjoyed them.

  2. Ardis Parshall on October 28, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks, Jim.

    I’m not especially attracted to bloody stories but I seem to keep being thrown into them. The first I ever heard of this was a 2- or 3-sentence summary in one of the recent Mountain Meadows books, where it was presented to suggest that Brigham Young was so fixated on blood atonement that murder became an inevitable part of his legacy, virtually entering his DNA. It seems that Brian Evenson has adopted a similar twisted view. Somebody had to figure out what happened, and I nominated myself.

  3. Proud Daughter of Eve on October 28, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    I second that nomination, Ardis. :)

  4. Tatiana on October 29, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Great story, Ardis! To me it sheds an interesting light on the dissipated lifestyle, on pleasure-seeking and addiction and where they lead. Also on the households of the faithful, on the interplay of free agency, and parental teachings and judgements.

  5. Idahospud on October 29, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    Ardis, you are a wonderful storyteller. Thank you for this interesting saga, as well as the stories of our lesser-known foremothers. I have enjoyed each installment.

  6. Frank McIntyre on October 30, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Very interesting! Thanks for the series, Ardis. It is a good reminder that critics can and will blow things out of proportion.

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