THE
SUSPICIOUS DEATH
OF
WILLIAM (ROBERT) WRIGHT

Was is accidental overdose
or was it murder?

William Robert WRIGHT (1830 - 1885), private, Company B, U.S. 14th Infantry and First Sergeant, Battery G, Second Artillery during the Civil War was the recipient of the Medal of Honor for bravery in battle.

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(from The Paterson Daily Guardian, Friday, October 23, 1885, p2:5)

WRIGHT: On Thursday, Oct 22, Robert WRIGHT, aged 55 years, 3 months, and 19 days. The relatives and friends of the family and also the members of Acquackanonk Tribe No. 56 Improved O.R.M., are respectfully invited to attend the funeral from his late residence, No. 177 Beech Street, on Sunday, Oct. 25th at 3:15 o’clock pm and from Holy Communion Church at 3:45 o’clock pm. Interment at Cedar Lawn.

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(from The Paterson Daily Guardian, Thursday Evening, October 22, 1885, p1)

A Very Suspicious Death.
Robert WRIGHT, the day boss in the Passaic Rolling Mill, who lives at 177 Beech Street, came home a little under the influence of liquor last evening and was very sick during the night, his wife says. She states that he was too much under the influence of liquor to get upstairs and remained in the basement and lay on the floor. He was too large and heavy a man for his wife to help up the stairs. He was so sick that his wife gave him some coffee to settle his stomach, she says, and that not sufficing, he was afterwards given some brandy. Despite these remedies, he grew worse and became so bad towards morning that Dr. KANE was sent for. When the Doctor arrived the man was dead, and Corner HOPSON was notified.

The Corner went at once to the place. He was astonished that so large and strong a man should have died from so apparently slight a cause, and he questioned his wife at length as to what she have given him during the night. She said that she had only given him same coffee and brandy. The Corner asked her several times if she had given him any medicine, but she insisted that she had not. The suspicions of the Corner were so strongly excited, however, that he sent for Dr. Kane and ordered him to make an autopsy, and this he did this morning, with the assistance of Dr. MYERS.

The result of the post mortem examination was proof beyond question that the deceased had come to his death through an overdose of laudanum. The partially emptied bottle was also found, and compared with what there had been in it, showed that he had taken about half an ounce of the drug altogether, amply sufficient, the doctors say, to have caused death. Dr. Kane accused the woman of having given laudanum, and she admitted it. She said that she had denied to the Corner that she had given any medicine because she did not think that it was any of his business, or words to that effect. She said she had given the laudanum to her husband to quiet him as she had done before under similar circumstances. Coroner Hopson has accordingly concluded to hold an inquest on Monday night.

It is not known whether the fatal dose of laudanum was simply an overdose by mistake or whether it was intentionally administered. It is believed that the former was the case. No arrests have been made, and unless there is some stronger evidence than there is now, there will be not until after the inquest at least.

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(from The Paterson Daily Guardian, Friday, October 23, 1885, p1)

The Good Side of His Life.
Yesterday we reported the death of Robert WRIGHT, the day boss at the Rolling Mill, who is supposed to have died from an overdose of laudanum, and the inquest on whom will be held on Monday evening by Coroner HOPSON. It was stated yesterday that he came home drunk and that fact was the indirect cause of his death. Now, whatever truth there may have been in that, it is only justice to the man to say that he was not in the habit of getting drunk and had only been intoxicated two or three times in a long while. He was a first class workman and was a great deal thought of by Mr. Watts COOKE, his employer. He was in every respect a reliable man in the shop and a first rate mechanic.

Mr. Wright was an old soldier of the regular army. He was for a long time connected with Company B, Fourteenth Infantry, and was afterwards First Sergeant of Battery G, Second Artillery. First Sergeant in the regular army is the highest position that an enlisted man can attain. He participated in fifty-six battles during the war and after, and in one engagement, he lost one of his eyes, in consequence of which he drew from the Government a pension of $54.00 a quarter. He was formerly a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, but withdrew from active participation in that and other societies when he wanted all his money to pay for the construction of a house that he built. He was, however, an active member of Acquackanonk Tribe of the Improved Order of Red Men at the time of his death. It will be seen, therefore, that Mr. Wright passed quite an active and useful life and despite the unpleasant circumstances connected with his death, he should in all justice be give credit for the part he took in the world.

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(from The Morning Call, Friday, October 23, 1885, p1:3,4)

SUDDEN DEATH.

Was it Opium?
William Wright of Beech Street,
Dies in a Very Suspicious Manner.

Thirty-one years ago, William WRIGHT left Armagh, Ireland and came to this country to make his fortune. At the breaking out of the war, he enlisted in the Union army and served faithfully until the close, when he was honorable mustered out. Coming to Paterson, he after some years was variously employed. He started to work at the Rolling Mill and has been employed there since. His long and faithful service was rewarded by the firm with considerable respect, which has been exhibited during the past few years, by allowing him certain "liberties" which are not enjoyed by the other employees. For instance, he was allowed to go out of the mill during working hours, and go and come pretty much just as he felt like doing. More recently, however, he has abused these privileges by continually going out and getting whisky, to such an extent that it was noticeable, and caused his wife considerable alarm lest he should lose his work. It is asserted though, that those occasions were infrequent, as he would be teetotal for a year or so at a stretch and then go on a big spree during which, while not actually assenting himself from the works, he would be continually running out for a horn and so keeping himself in a prolonged muddle, without losing his employment. This was the more easy, as his work was neither laborious or constant, but consisted chiefly in giving out the oil and being around the place somewhat in the capacity of a day watchman.

On Saturday last, the employees of the works were paid off, and Wright soon after began to drink, but as usual, went to work on the beginning of the week and worked along until Wednesday when Mr. John COOKE, Jr. noticing that the man was sick, told him that he had better go home and lie down. At this Mr. Wright quit work but did not arrive home until about seven o’clock that night, decidedly under the influence of liquor. The deceased when he reached home, handed his wife a bottle containing about a gill of whisky, at the same time requesting her to send out for another gill, promising that if she would do so, that he would not go out again. As Mrs. Wright preferred that he should stay home, she did get another gill of whisky, so that her husband drank two gills of whisky after coming home.

The house occupied by the Wrights is a two-story frame, with basement, and was built by Mr. Wright as a member of the Centio Building and Loan Association. The basement, which is floored, is used as a kitchen, but the walls are unplastered and of hard stone; leading from it to the rooms above is a ladder contrivance in place of a stair, the steps being wide apart and very dangerous, much so that any but a nimble person would be liable to make a miss-step and be dashed down against the projecting corners of the stone wall. It was into this basement that the deceased went when he came home and it was there that he spent his evening. For many years Wright has complained of a terrible pain in his heart and on occasions when the pain would become unbearable, he would ask his wife to place her ear against his breast and listen to the working of his heart, at the same time saying, "I am sure this will take me off, sudden, some day." Mrs. Wright described the action of the heart by saying that "when he would draw a breath a ‘fizzing’ noise was made, and when he expelled the air it would ‘gurgle’ as though there was a hole in the windpipe," the deceased on such occasions saying, "Oh, this is killing me."

As previously described, Wright came home on last Wednesday night and drank two gills of whisky, sitting in the basement until quite late, his wife meanwhile frequently coming in and out to keep him company. As the hours grew towards morning, she bestirred herself as to how she should be him upstairs, but eventually had to abandon the idea; as he was simply helpless, and high weight (200 lbs.) and the awkward stair, prevented her attempting such a feat. Accordingly, she fetched a roll of carpets for him to lie on, and a pillow for his head, thinking that it would be far safer for him to lie there till morning than to attempt the risk of getting him up the dangerous stairway. During the evening he had complained of "the old pain" and his wife had frequently given him hot coffee to soothe and quiet him; but, as the attacks were frequent, and hitherto had resulted harmlessly, she never thought of any special danger and hence felt no alarm. About three o’clock in the morning, she noticed that her husband had brown worse, and called her daughter, Minnie, told her to go upstairs and waken a Mr. FALLS, a tenant, occupying the top floor. When Mr. Falls saw the sick man, he went for Dr. O’GRADY __ was on hand, and promptly assured the family that he was beyond was his skill being in fact, dead.

The above is the statement of Mrs. WRIGHT, an intelligent, middle-aged woman, of perhaps forty-five or six. She indignantly denies that she have him laudanum or anything else, save the hot coffee during the evening. The lady is the mother of eight children, three by her first husband and five by Mr. Wright, the latter being small and helpless. The woman is paralyzed with grief and is certainly honest and thorough in her sorrow, through evidently dazed at the suddenness of her loss. The deceased was a member of the "Redman," but belonged to no other benevolent organization. The house is but partially paid for so that the five little children together with the awful suddenness of the death makes the event one of particular sadness.

The statement of Doctor O’Grady placed the affair in altogether a different light and presents the case as one of fatal carelessness by administering an overdose of laudanum. The doctor says that when he arrived he noticed that the man was frothing at the mouth and apparently dying from the effects of an overdose of poison. He did all that was to be done, but it was too late. The doctor left and notified Coroner HOPSON, who proceeded to the house and began to investigate the cause. He inquired of Mrs. Wright what she had given her husband, and she replied that she had given him nothing but coffee and was totally unconscious of what had caused his heath. Just before this, however, she admitted to Dr. O’Grady that she had given her husband a dose of laudanum to quiet him. The doctor inquired how large a dose she had given him, whereupon the woman replied: "Oh, I don’t know, I did not measure it: I just poured it out in a cup and gave it to him." The doctor called for the bottle and found that it still contained about an ounce of laudanum.

Mrs. Wright, in reply to further questioning, admitted that she had given her husband about as much as there is in the bottle, which was really enough to kill two men. The Corner, after learning the above facts, considered an investigation necessary and accordingly empanelled a jury and ordered Drs. O’Grady and Myers to hold an autopsy, which was done at 10:30 yesterday morning. The result of their examination proved beyond a doubt that deceased had come to his death through an overdose of laudanum, but removed the contents of the stomach for analysis. The jury viewed the body during the afternoon, and the inquest will be held at the Coroner’s office on Monday night.

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(from The Paterson Daily Guardian, October 27, 1885, p3:4)

ROBERT WRIGHT’S DEATH DRAUGHT

The Inquest Opened
The Wife’s Testimony--Children Pray for the Life of Your Father
Adjourned to this Evening

The Inquest.
The inquest in the case of Robert WRIGHT, whose death occurred suddenly on Thursday morning last from an overdose of laudanum administered by his wife, was held at Corner HOPSON’s office last night. Considerable interest is manifested in this case, and a number of people not immediately concerned were present at the investigation last evening. Prosecutor STEVENSON assisted Coroner Hopson in examining the witness.

Mrs. Maria WRIGHT, the widow of deceased, was the first and principal witness. She was dressed in deep mourning and seemed greatly affected. In a straightforward manner she related the particulars of Mr. Wright’s decease and the part she took in it. He went to his work as usual on Wednesday morning, she said, and worked the full day. He did not come home to dinner and she took that meal to him when she found he had been drinking too much. A few words passed between them, but neither was very angry. He came home from work at about seven o’clock, so much intoxicated as to be well nigh helpless. He was a drinking man and occasionally got on a spree. He had been under the influence of liquor to a considerable extent every night that week when he came home.

Witness had some liquor in the house which she gave him, and she afterwards sent her little girl to J.J. SCHMIDT’s drug store for some brandy and ten cents worth of laudanum. The latter she had been in the habit of giving her husband for about ten years when ever he was intoxicated for the purpose of quieting him and helping him over the sprees. She mixed about a teaspoonful of the laudanum with some brandy, sugar, and water in a teacup, the whole when mixed filling about one half of the cup. With the exception of a small quantity of the sugar saturated with the dose which she gave to two of her little children, her husband drank this. After he had taken it she gave him strong coffee several times during the night. He slept the first part of the night but towards morning, he began to be restless and moan. Her two eldest daughters were out to a party and returned shortly after two o’clock on Thursday morning. About the time they came in, the witness began to be frightened and soon called her eldest daughter, Minnie, and said "Minnie, I am afraid I have given papa too much laudanum." The daughter looked at the father and said that she thought not, but suggested sending for a doctor. This was delayed because witness had nobody to send without calling upon another family in the house and she did not wish to disturb them.

Mr. Wright’s symptoms grew worse, however, and she finally, shortly before six o’clock, called on Robert FALLS, of the family mentioned, to go for a doctor. The effects of the laudanum were moaning and restlessness. Dr. O’Grady came soon after being sent for and said that the patient was alive, but that was all, and he was beyond his skill. He shortly afterwards died. Dr. O’GRADY told witness to keep the fact that she had given her husband an overdose of laudanum quiet, as he was sure she had not done it intentionally, and she might get herself in trouble. It was for this reason that she did not tell the Coroner about the dose when he visited the scene. Mrs. Wright was very uncertain about the quantity of laudanum administered, and it was only by much questioning and showing of the laudanum bottle that she was finally induced to say that she thought the quantity of the drug to be about a teaspoonful.

Mr. J.F. SCHMIDT, a druggist, whose place is at No. 1443 Beach Street, was the next witness. He said he could not remember selling laudanum to a little girl on the Wednesday evening. His wife, who sometimes waited on the store in his absence, might have done so. No records was kept of the sale of laudanum. Witness was shown the bottle out of Mr. Wright’s fatal dose was taken, and he said there was about one half an ounce in it, which would be considered a fatal dose. The grade of laudanum in the bottle sold for ten cents an ounce.

Emma WRIGHT, ten years old, daughter of deceased, was then sworn, and she testified to purchasing ten cents worth of laudanum of Mr. Schmidt, together with the brandy. She did not see the laudanum administered to her father. She had bought this drug of Mr.. Schmidt before a number of times. Witness identified Mr. Schmidt as the man who sold her the laudanum.

Two comparatively unimportant witnesses were next sworn, and then Miss Minnie MC CUE, step-daughter of the deceased, took the stand and testified at length, corroborating her mother’s statements. When her mother thought her husband was dying she said: "Children, go up stairs and pray for the life of your father, for the Lord will hear you sooner than he would me."

As there were several more witnesses to examine and the hour was growing late, the inquest was then adjourned till tonight at 7:45 o’clock.

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(from The Paterson Daily Guardian, Friday, October 28, 1885, p3:6)

Inquest of the Deceased Robert Wright
Killed from Laudanum
The Condition in Which They Found the Body
The Inquest Further Adjourned till After Election

The inquest in the case of Robert WRIGHT was continued at the office of Coroner Hopson last night.

John K. COOKE, the general manager of the Passaic Rolling Mill, where the deceased was employed, was the first witness sworn. He testified to seeing Wright on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding his death. He was so intoxicated on Tuesday that witness sent him home, and on Wednesday he was in the same condition, whereupon, at about half-past three o’clock in the afternoon, witness administered a reprimand and again told Wright to go home, which he promised to do. About four months had elapsed since Wright was on a spree. He was a man in whom was reposed great confidence, and no employee at the Rolling Mill had greater privileges or was trusted more implicitly. Witness had never heard of any trouble between Wright and his wife except a separation of four or five days some four months ago. Wright was a remarkably good natured man and when drunk became as docile as a child.

Dr. O’GRADY was next placed on the stand and said he and Dr. MYERS made an autopsy on the body of Wright. The lungs were in the natural state, but the right side of the heart was somewhat affected, and there was considerable effusion in the cavities of the brain, which condition was commonly called "wet brain." He considered that the deceased came to his death from opium poisoning. Witness here related the circumstances of his visit to the dying man, substantially corroborating the testimony given the previous evening by Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Wright seemed much excited when told by witness that her husband was dead, but the excitement was that of fear rather than of grief. From three to six grams of opium were usually a fatal dose, but a half ounce of laudanum which was evidently the amount taken by Wright, contained about twenty-four grains of opium and was a decidedly fatal dose in all cases. A man who had taken a half ounce of laudanum would go into the comatose state in about five hours, and death might not ensue till three hours later, particularly if there was much liquor in the system.

Dr. Myers testified to assisting Dr. O’Grady in the autopsy and gave a statement of the result substantially the same as that of Dr. O’Grady. He was of the opinion that death resulted from opium poisoning. Witness also took the contents of the stomach and was analyzing them. It was by no means certain that any satisfactory result would be obtained, however, as opium was very frequently absorbed and left no tract in the stomach.

Charles WETHERVILL, who resides next door to the Wrights, told of the manner in which he was apprised of the death of Wright at a quarter to eight o’clock on Thursday morning. Mrs. Wright said to him in reply to questions that she had given her husband brandy and coffee, but did not mention laudanum.

John FALLS, living upstairs in the house in which the Wrights reside, testified to his son Robert being called by Mrs. Wright at about five o’clock on Thursday morning to go for a doctor. Witness did not know of any trouble existing between Wright and his wife, and everything was quiet on the night in question.

Robert WRIGHT, Jr. a lad of twelve years, said he went for his father to the mill on Wednesday. He did not see his mother give his father laudanum. His father was downstairs when he went to bed.

Robert Falls testified to going for the doctor shortly after 5 o’clock on Thursday morning. He knew of no trouble between husband and wife except at a time when Mrs. Wright left for 4 or 5 days. Mrs. Wright was excited when she asked the witness to go for the Doctor.

This closed the testimony and Coroner Hopson adjourned the inquest to Thursday evening, November 5th in order to obtain the statement of the result of Dr. Myers analysis of the contents of Mr. Wrights stomach.

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(from The Paterson Daily Guardian, Friday Evening, November 6, 1885 p2)

A DISAGREEING JURY

Conclusion of Wright Inquest Last Night
A Verdict of Opium Poisoning,
but a Division as to Whether Mrs. Wright is
Guilty of Manslaughter

The inquest in the case of Robert WRIGHT, who came to his death on the 22nd of October last from an overdose of laudanum administered by his wife, was concluded at Corner HOPSON’s office last evening.

Dr. MYERS was the first witness. He said he had finished the analysis of the stomach of deceased, but after making two tests, failed to discover any opium. The fact, however, as he had previously explained, did not prove that Wright had taken no laudanum, as the drug was generally absorbed and was very seldom discovered in the stomach after death. In the case of deceased, the liquor probably hastened absorption and death.

Mr. Charles N. JAMES, the weighmaster and receiving clerk at the Passaic Rolling Mill, where Wright was employed, testified to seeing deceased on Wednesday. Wright’s wife came to the mill between two and three o’clock, and they had some words, but these were of a pleasant character. Witness did not know of any trouble between Wright and his wife.

Mr. Benjamin F. PHILLIPS, an employee of the Rolling Mill, said he saw Wright on Wednesday and had a conversation with him. Witness was the President of a target association of which Wright was Adjutant, and as the latter was on a "tear" and neglecting his duties, witness admonished him. Wright said that he was "switching off from the tear now." He had a bottle of whiskey with him, and witness was about to throw it away, when Wright said he must have it to sober off with, adding: "Don’t tell Johnny that I have it. Don’t tell him as long as I live; after I’m dead you can tell him as much as you like." By "Johnny" he meant Mr. John K. COOKE, the general manager of the Rolling Mill. This was the last time that witness saw Wright alive.

This concluded the testimony, and Coroner Hopson briefly charged the jury, telling them that they were to render a verdict upon two points, the cause of death and whether anyone was responsible for the same. If they found that someone was blameworthy, they must settle whether the person was guilty of murder in the first degree or manslaughter. If the laudanum was given with intent to kill, it was for former, but if it was administered carelessly, the giver having a clear knowledge of the dangerous quality of the drug, then the crime was criminal negligence, or manslaughter.

The jury wrestled with the testimony for nearly an hour, after which they returned two verdicts, both finding death to be caused by opium poisoning, but one declaring nobody to be responsible, and the other that Mrs. Wright was criminally negligent in administering the laudanum and therefore, guilty of manslaughter.

Five jurors signed the former verdict and three the latter as follows: Samuel S. WHITNEY, John BLACK, James DECKER, John MARTIN, and J.R. POOL. Alexander SOMERVILLE, foreman; Dewit C. SIMONTON and William B. OSWALD.

Coroner Hopson decided to take no action in regard to Mrs. Wright at present.

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No charges were filed against Mrs. Maria Wright, and she and her family left Paterson shortly thereafter.

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