Murder & Suicide in Old Marietta
A beautiful spring day was closing on the town of Marietta in May of 1861. Shopkeepers were shutting down their stores; workers were joking and laughing on their walk home. Ohio Street became noisier as the sailors and dock workers climbed up the levee from the boats, heading to their favorite saloons. Overall it was a tranquil evening, the sky turning a soft, dark blue as the sun slipped below the horizon. A door opened on a nice house on Second Street, just above where Scammel Street intersects. A gentleman stepped outside, his appearance orderly and wealthy, and his wife followed him, her wide skirts brushing the door frame on either side. Evening is a pleasant time for a walk in Marietta, even today. However, the tranquil evening was about to turn into violent tragedy.
Mr. Davis Green was a big man about town: a prominent attorney, wise counselor and trusted Judge. For a man like Judge Green, business wasn’t always complete by the time the sun set in the sky. This evening, he prepared to work a few more hours after he escorted his wife to her father’s home for a visit. They parted ways at the corner of Scammel Street, and Judge Green continued down Second Street to his office. After he had passed a few houses, shots rang out and the good Judge slumped to the ground, bleeding profusely.
The town was still finding its way in 1861, and certain parts of the town seemed more like the Wild West than a sleepy New-England style town. Dangerous characters roamed the streets, and oftentimes violence rather than law was the way to settle a dispute. Evenings in old Marietta meant that most people were at home, or at the bar, enjoying a rest after their day’s exhausting activity.
Many people heard the shots ring out in the street, and everyone within ear shot ran to see what was going on. Some had even seen where the shots came from, and were quick to notify police that William McBride had shot Judge Green from the second floor of his home on Second Street. Judge Green was a very popular figure in Marietta; he was well-known for helping the unfortunate and was equal and fair as both an attorney and Judge. The man who had shot him was one of his clients, a man who just a year before had been on trial for a big crime.
William McBride was a man that never knew how to help himself. He was hard worker, but his temper often got the better of him and he had a skewed sense of justice. Instead of blaming himself for mistakes in the past, he would blame anyone and everyone around him. He was not popular in town, many people were wary of him way before his shooting of Judge Green. He owned a grocery business on Front Street. And in 1860, McBride was a partner at Harmar Mills. There was fierce competition between the flour mill in Harmar and Cram’s Mill in Marietta.
There had been bad blood between the two towns for years, in 1837 Harmar actually broke away from Marietta, forming a separate community. It is unclear what was the original cause of tension; it could be that Marietta was made much of as the ‘first settlement of the Northwest Territory’ when Fort Harmar was established 3 years earlier and had both soldiers and their families living in it before the arrival of the Ohio Company in 1788.
Whatever the reason for the contempt between the communities, McBride felt extreme loyalty to Harmar Mills, and was often heard to loudly express his feelings about Cram’s Mill in Marietta. In October of 1860, someone crept over bridge and set Cram’s Mill on fire. It burned to the ground. The obvious suspect for arson was William McBride. Davis Green was McBride’s attorney. Due to the lack of evidence and Green’s excellent representation, William McBride was acquitted of all charges. However, bitter and resentful that many people still believed he had been the arsonist, McBride did not see that he needed to pay the necessary fees to his attorney. Judge Green filed for payment, and William McBride’s grocery business was declared forfeit. Just as loud as he had been about his hatred for Cram’s Mill, McBride was now as vocal about his hatred for Judge Green. On the day McBride shot Green, the goods from his store were sold at auction.
News spreads quickly in a small town, and soon hundreds of townsfolk were surrounding McBride’s house, screaming for justice. Holding lanterns and torches to light the scene, there were shouts of ‘hang him!’ and ‘burn the house!’.McBride was seated in the middle window, pointing his gun out at the crowd and screaming for everyone to keep away. Marshal Kelly quickly arrived on the scene. McBride yelled at him saying “As much as I respect you and your family, I will shoot you if you attempt to open the door. You will not take me alive!” The Marshal and a team of volunteers lit a fire in the street, to cast light into the house. Two men were stationed in front of the house with loaded guns and ordered to shoot McBride if he moved away from the window. However, by the time the fire was lit, McBride had completely disappeared. Movement was seen for a brief second in the window, and one of the volunteers, a man named Hiram Lewis, shot into the house. He missed his target, and McBride fired at him from the window and shot Lewis in the shoulder. This teased the already angry townsfolk into a complete frenzy. Marshal Kelly knew that he had to get to William McBride before the townspeople had their way.
Forcing open the door to the house, which had been completely blocked by couches, chairs and tables, he and a few armed volunteers made their way into the dark house. It was hard to see, and difficult to hear due to the commotion from the townsfolk outside. On top of that, stones were being thrown in the windows at an attempt to hit McBride. He had planned his murder rationally. Barricades were arranged at the foot of the stairs as well as at the front door and the men had to climb over these with a torch in one hand and a revolver in the other, all while waiting for the killer to emerge at any moment. Halfway up the stairs, three shots rang out. Marshal Kelly, fearing for the lives of the townsfolk outside, leapt up the stairs and began breaking the paneling off the door to McBride’s room. Through the holes they could see that a bed had been pushed up against the door. McBride was lying on the bed. Marshal Kelly grabbed his arms as the other men pushed their way into the room but it was fruitless, McBride was already dead. The shots they heard was the murderer committing suicide.
An investigation of the room turned up vials of arsenic and other poisons, rations for a few days, ammunition and liquor. William McBride had written a note to his wife stating that he meant to kill four men who had ruined his life, and for safe keeping he had sent both his wife and her sister out of town on an errand. A tragic day, in the end the only real tragedy was McBride himself. Both Judge Green and H. Lewis survived the shots they received, though Judge Green would die a year later ‘in the prime of his life and the midst of his influence’, due to the wounds caused by the shooting.
Cram’s Mill was rebuilt and became known as ‘Phoenix Mill’, for it rose from the ashes of an arsonist’s flame.
To learn about the seedy side of Marietta's history, join us for Marietta Vice! A 90 minute walking tour through Marietta and Harmar, you'll meet shady characters from the past telling you about the true historic crimes committed in our lovely little town.
$15 per person, ages 14+ Next tour is August 27, 2016
Or check out our Guide to Historic Marietta available now to learn more interesting Marietta history!