Murder in the Metropolis: Part the Third

October 27, 2006 | 8 comments
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Hooper never told the full story of his association with Mrs. Pulitzer; such accounts as he did give were conflicting and incomplete. It appears that he and Mrs. Pulitzer had associated prior to the night of her murder. Their meeting on September 16 was not by prearrangement, but when the well-known prostitute shopping for her husband’s supper was approached by Hooper, she willingly accompanied him.

Hooper had beer to share but no money for anything else. He spiked her drink with chloral hydrate – “knockout drops� – and she soon passed out on his bed. At some point during the night, Hooper discovered that Mrs. Pulitzer was not breathing, nor could he find a pulse; he believed she had died of a chloral overdose.

Hooper’s first instinct was to cover his actions with a lie about another man who, Hooper would claim, had been left with the woman while Hooper went to buy more beer; upon his return he had found the woman dead and the man gone. On his way to the police station to report this tale, Hooper said, he panicked. Instead, he thought, he would dispose of the body.

Returning to the apartment, he selected a scimitar from the fashionable Oriental decor of his father’s parlor. “[I] cut into the body,� he confessed, “intending to cut the body up so I could get it into a trunk. When I made the first cut the odor was so awful that I could go no further.�

Ironically, the coroner would determine that Mrs. Pulitzer had not died of an overdose – she had in fact been alive when Hooper attempted to dismember her. Bleeding so profusely from the six-inch gash on her abdomen that blood soaked the bedding, spattered the walls, and pooled on the floor, Mrs. Pulitzer bled to death as Hooper dragged her from the bed and hid her body in a closet.

Hooper made no attempt to clean up the apartment, but he did bathe, in the process spattering bloody bath water onto the shirt a missionary had left on the floor. Within the next 24 hours, Hooper had pawned Mrs. Pulitzer’s diamond earrings; bought a battered second-hand trunk; rented the horse and buggy from the Hoboken stable; returned to the apartment and folded Mrs. Pulitzer’s stiffening corpse into the trunk; enlisted the aid of the apartment bellboy in strapping the heavy trunk onto the buggy; driven to rural New Jersey; strapped the lead weight to the body and dumped it in the canal; returned again to the apartment and packed the trunk with his own and Mrs. Pulitzer’s bloody clothing and her wig and false teeth, the knife, part of the bloody bedding, and the pawn ticket linking him to the victim’s earrings; driven to the train station to ship the trunk to a fictitious person at a non-existent Chicago address; returned the horse and buggy to Hoboken; and disappeared. Before another 24 hours had passed, police had identified Hooper as the probable murderer, and were chopping their way into the Young apartment.

***

The four missionaries living at one end of the apartment were singing a hymn preparatory to evening prayer when they heard the police commotion. Peering into the hall, one elder asked what was going on; a policeman ordered the missionaries to stay in their own suite. Three of them did; the fourth elder dived out the window and down the fire escape, and ran the few blocks to the mission home. President McQuarrie returned with him, where they found an excited crowd gathering at the front entrance; they realized for the first time that Hooper was involved in the murder that was filling the headlines.

The two men climbed the fire escape in the rear of the building to reenter the apartment, and held a hasty mission conference. No attempt would be made to shield Hooper or provide any excuse for him. The elders would answer any and every question truthfully and fully and would cooperate with authorities in every way, no matter how personally distasteful the inquiry nor distorted and threatening the published reports might be.

And so the elders responded. In multiple interviews with police, they told everything they knew of Hooper, his background and his movements. The elders denied that any Mormon would shelter him, even out of respect for his family and certainly not through any directive of the Church. The elder whose shirt bore traces of Mrs. Pulitzer’s blood was closely questioned as a possible accomplice. All four missionaries answered endless questions about Mormon doctrine, patiently and consistently.

This last point became especially important when police sorted through Hooper’s papers and found a scrap listing six Biblical quotations headed by the phrase “blood atonement.� Newspaper headlines screamed: “Mormon Boy Murdered Mrs. Pulitzer in Obedience to Mormon Doctrine;� tabloids carried gruesome tales of Danites, secret Mormon blood rituals, and claims that Hooper was being shielded by the Church, which would pay any sum and pull any wire to protect this prince of a royal Mormon family.

Public excitement was so high in the days immediately after the naming of Hooper as a suspect that, President McQuarrie recorded, “I am quite sure that if it had happened in a less populous city, or in one of the Southern states, none of us would have escaped lynching.� All tracting and street meetings were halted, and missionaries decided to postpone the scheduled baptism of a female convert – the last thing the Church needed, they thought, was for elders to be seen by detectives and reporters escorting a young woman onto a secluded New Jersey beach for a baptism. They had no way to reach their young convert, however, and decided to meet her train– assuming she had courage enough to keep her appointment – and explain why the baptism would have to be postponed.

“Rather to our surprise,â€? President McQuarrie recorded, “not only [the convert], but almost every active member in the Branch was on the train. … It was a great joy to us to know that none of our friends had been shaken by the terrific blow of adversity. [With the branch serving as chaperone, w]e proceeded to the appointed place and went through the ceremony and enjoyed the lunch that the thoughtful sisters provided.â€?

Members of the branches in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “inexpressibly shocked� by the episode, played key roles in helping the Church weather the severe storm of bad publicity by continuing to attend their meetings. They responded to the questions of the reporters who swelled their congregations, and soon the mainstream New York press was printing a surprising number of accurate, sometimes favorable stories about Mormon history, doctrine, and practice. The elders resumed their proselyting activities, although the charge of being “Hooper Young’s apostles� was thrown by hecklers during street meetings.

To be concluded

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8 Responses to Murder in the Metropolis: Part the Third

  1. Proud Daughter of Eve on October 27, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Aw man. I was hoping it was just a set up and he’d had nothing to do with it.

  2. Proud Daughter of Eve on October 27, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    Er, sorry for the double post but I’m surprised that they even had knock-out drops back then. I thought that was a more recent invention. Um, why did he need them anyway? She was a prostitute and she knew him… and they had alcohol. *scratches head* No, that line of thought is too disgusting to pursue.

  3. Ardis Parshall on October 27, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    PDOE — Hooper had beer all right, but he couldn’t pay for anything else. He drugged her and *took* the, um, “anything else.” (This is my reading copy for an oral presentation — when I have only 20 minutes for a big story, sometimes the dots aren’t always connected as explicitly as I might like. Sorry for any ambiguity.)

    The availability of knockout drops in 1902 didn’t surprise me, but I was startled to read Pres. McQuarrie’s line in part 2 referring to “dope.” Maybe there really *is* nothing new under the sun.

    What did you think of how the NY members handled the publicity? For me, that was the one redeeming feature of the whole mess.

  4. J. Stapley on October 27, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Chloroform was used medicinally dating back to the 1840′s. By the 1860′s you find it regularly in even far flung Utah. There was a tremendous amount of pharmacology going on back then. Opium was ravaging in the 19th century as well.

    I just can’t get over the idiocy. OK, maybe he was hammered…and maybe he was an addict…and maybe he was mentally unstable…but cutting into a comatose living person takes something just a bit more.

  5. Mark B. on October 27, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Just one minor quibble: Did Hooper say that the body was stiff when he put it into the trunk? We should ask the physicians the details but apparently rigor mortis is, unlike a family, not forever. I don’t know whether the body would indeed have been stiff after a day and a half–my only experience with the dead was dressing the body of a man for burial, and four or five days after death the body was not stiff.

  6. Ardis Parshall on October 27, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    Is there a doctor in the house?

    I asked my-cousin-the-orthopedic-surgeon to look over news accounts of the volume of blood in the apartment, and he agreed with the coroner that Mrs. P. had been alive when she was cut or else she couldn’t have bled so much; he also said Hooper “nicked the bowel” when he saw the reference to odor. I didn’t ask specifically about the stiffening, though.

    Hooper packed her into the trunk 6 or 8 hours after death, so far as I can tell. News accounts are a lot more detailed than we’re used to today, in a current investigation. Every lead the police turned up, complete with detailed reports of what witnesses had said, appeared in the papers within a few hours. By that, we know approximately when Hooper bought the empty trunk and when the bellboy helped him load it (filled) into the runabout. The detectives did a phenomenal job without doing much beyond asking questions..

  7. Jim F. on October 27, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    I assume you’ll tell us what happened to Hooper in the concluding installment?

  8. It's Not Me on October 30, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    Having been involved in a few murder cases, I seem to recall that rigor mortis dissipates in a period shorter than a day and a half. I’m sure someone could google it.

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