in Stephentown, 1863
Troy Daily Times, 13 April 1863
Terrible Murder in Stephentown
Terrible Murder in Stephentown
A shocking murder was committed last night at Stephentown, in this county [Rensselaer Co NY], seventeen miles from Troy. The body of Stephen JENKS, a resident of the town, was found in the barn of William CULVER, a farmer, a quarter of a mile from his home. The deceased had received several wounds from pistol shots, which had proved fatal. In his pockets were pieces of poisoned potatoes.
It is supposed that the person who caused his death placed these articles in his pockets for the purpose of inducing the belief that he had met his fate while engaged in poisoning cattle. Suspicion points very strongly to a person with whom Jenks had some difficulty, in reference to a woman, as the author of the murder. It is stated that this man, a relative of Mr. Culver, went to a neighbor's house last night and said, "I guess Stephen Jenks is gone up this time." He was asked what he meant, and replied that "he had shot somebody, and he guessed it was Jenks." It appears that this man was living on illicit terms with a female, who abandoned him about a week ago, and resided with Jenks. The neighbors went to the farm, and there found the body as above described.
Great excitement was caused, and Captain William DIAMOND was requested to come to Troy at once and procure the services of a coroner and the District Attorney. He started at 3 o'clock this morning and reached here about 10 AM. In company with Coroner MADDEN, he left the city at noon today for the scene of the murder, and a full investigation of the circumstances attending the transaction will be made. The District Attorney, Mr. COLBY, being unable to leave the court, T. S. BANKER will assist the coroner in elucidating the mystery. Further particulars will be awaited with interest.
The Stephentown Murder
Dr. BURTON and Deputy Sheriff HURLBUT arrived in the city at 9 o'clock this morning, from the scene of the Stephentown murder - leaving Madden and T. S. Banker to continue the investigation and conclude the inquest. Officer Hurlbut brought with him William Culver, the alleged murderer, who was taken in custody by Officer GRIGGS and [was] delivered to Mr. Hurlbut on his arrival in Stephentown. Although he had been under arrest previous to the coming of the Troy officials, Culver was not kept in very close custody; but Officer Hurlbut handcuffed him and started for Troy as soon as possible.
The case proves to be of the most serious character. Culver freely admits that he shot the deceased but claims that the act was committed in his (Culver's) barn, where he had concealed himself, armed with a gun, awaiting Jenks's approach - as he suspected that the latter was coming to poison cattle. But the facts seem to throw doubt on this statement of the prisoner and indicate that the murder was committed in Jenks's barn - from which building to that of Culver, where the body was found, there is a track of blood.
It is therefore supposed that the prisoner went to the premises of the deceased with the deliberate intention of taking his life; and when the terrible deed was accomplished, the murderer attempted to hide the traces of guilt by making it appear that the deceased had been killed while engaged in a felonious act. The prisoner failed to cover up his tracks, however, and the evidence against him certainly appears to be very strong.
From the testimony taken yesterday, it appeared that the female who had been living with Jenks during the past year cohabited with Culver previous to that time and still sustained relations with him. Her testimony was exceedingly contradictory. At first, she swore that during the year she had not exchanged a word or written a line to Culver. Notes sent by her to him were then produced - upon which she admitted the falsity of her previous evidence. It appears that on Friday last, she came to Troy with Jenks and caused him to transfer all his property to her. When this was done, no doubt the murder was planned between her and Culver. She stated that on the evening of Jenks's death, he went out about half past nine, leaving her with a girl about fifteen years of age. They both retired to bed in a short time. The report of a gun was soon heard, and the woman and girl went to ascertain the cause of the firing. The former went direct to the place where the body lay, and said to Culver, "Have you killed him?" He answered, "I guess I have." She asked no more question, but went home.
Culver's testimony was also contradictory. While he said that he shot the deceased in a direct line, Dr. Burton proved, by nature of the wound and the direction of the bullets, that the charge came from a point above the deceased and very near his body. The boots of the murdered man were clean and spotless - while the barn was surrounded by mud. This is conclusive proof that he was carried into the building where his body was found. If he had walked, the traces of mire would have remained.
The record of crime in this county hardly contains a more diabolical plot to take human life; and as usual, the very precautions used to evade suspicion proved to be conclusive evidences of guilt. "Murder will out."
Great excitement is caused in Stephentown by this tragic affair, and it is perhaps fortunate that the principal actor was at once removed from the scene and conveyed to a place of safety in Troy. The inquest was held in a schoolhouse, yesterday, which was filled to overflowing. Today, the investigation is being conducted in a church, and the attendance from all parts of the county is unprecedented.
The Stephentown Murder
By the discharge of the various parties implicated [in] the murder of Stephen Jenks of Stephentown, the case is again narrowed down to its former limits, and the man and woman named by the verdict of the coroner's jury as principal and accessory are the only persons in custody.
We saw William L. Culver and his wife in jail a day or two ago. The former [was] confined with a number of other prisoners in a narrow hall, with which their solitary cells communicated. He did not find this close confinement irksome and made no complaints in reference to his imprisonment. He is a rough-looking man, about thirty-five years of age, with a red beard, uncombed hair and untidy appearance. Although by no means prepossessing in face or manner, he does not look capable of plotting and executing a terrible murder; nor does it seem possible that the air of innocence and unconcern which he manifests can be assumed by one who has deliberately taken the life of a fellow human being. Culver talked very coolly in reference to the case - admitting that he shot Jenks, but insisting that the latter had come to poison his cattle and that he did not know, until he procured a light, whom it was he had shot. He said that the accounts of the case in the newspapers were all wrong, but he declined to state specifically the points wherein they were incorrect.
In striking contrast to the gruff, restless man was the meek, subdued woman, who is placed under the terrible suspicion of sharing with her husband a knowledge of the crime before its execution and [of] secretly aiding him to imbrue his hands in innocent blood.
The unfortunate woman's time is occupied in the care of an infant, eight months old, to whom she is assiduously devoted. A female attendant shows her room. The infant seems strangely out of place, so near the grated doors and amid the close air of a prison. Mrs. Culver is by no means young or handsome. She has, in addition, an impediment in her speech, almost amounting to a stammer. Yet, if the theory of the prosecution is correct, the dispute which terminated so fatally was a rivalry for her companionship, and while living with the murdered man, she connived his death.
The busy world outside the jail door pursues its ceaseless round, regardless of the terrible secret locked in the hearts of these two prisoners within the unpitying walls of a cell. Soon the Stephentown murder will pass beyond the recollecton of all save those immediately concerned. A transient revival of interest will occur when the trial takes place and is recorded in the newspapers, and then all will be forgotten.
The Stephentown Murder
Coroner Madden and Mr. Banker arrived in town at noon today, having concluded the investigation of the recent tragedy at Stephentown. The woman concerned in the case, Eleanor CULVER, came with them, in charge of Officer Griggs, and was lodged in jail.
The jury [sic - these were inquest jurors, not trial jurors] rendered a verdict of willful murder against William L. Culver, as author of the homicide, and [rendered a verdict] against the woman as an accessory before the fact. The inquest was not ended until twelve o'clock last night. The [inquest] jurors were C. ENOS, Jr., Jeremiah SOUTHWICK, Janson B. LAWRENCE, J. TIFT, D. B. GRIFFIN, William WHITE, Peter TIFT and Joseph BLY.
The Stephentown Murder
The Stephentown murder is increasing in interest. It will be recollected that William L. Culver and wife are already in jail. On Saturday, District Attorney Colby issued warrants for the arrest of Daniel [Daniel CULVER] and Benjamin CULVER, brothers to the alleged murderer; Levi CULVER, the father, together with Hannah M. CULVER, wife of Benjamin. [Note from the submitter: Hannah M. Culver was a sister of Eleanor, wife of the accused.]
The warrants were placed in the hands of Sheriff BATTERSHALL and Officers KIPP and Hurlbut, and at 3 o'clock yesterday morning, they proceeded to Stephentown and arrested the whole family. The prisoners were placed in wagons, and at 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon, they were lodged in jail. The officers, owing to the excellent manner in which the affair was planned and executed, experienced little or no difficulty in making the arrests.
About one o'clock this afternoon, Officer SLITER arrived in the city from Stephentown, having in custody David LAMPHIERE, who is said to be implicated in the case. He was arrested on a process similar to that by which the Culver family is being held.
Seven persons are now in custody, on the charge of being accessories to the Stephentown murder.
Returned from Stephentown
Sheriff Battershall, Officer Hurlbut, Justice FLAGG, Mr. Banker and others paid a visit to the scene of the murder at Stephentown, returning this morning. They brought with them the dog belonging to Mr. Jenks, the murdered man, which had been without food since the fatal night and was nearly starved. The examination of the prisoners will take place before Justice Flagg tomorrow morning.
Examination in the Stephentown Murder Case
The persons held as principal and accessory in the Stephentown murder case, William L. Culver and Eleanor E. Culver, have not demanded an examination. The other parties, however, claimed the right, and the examination was commenced in the Police Court before Justice John L. Flagg, at two o'clock this morning. The parties were Benjamin Culver, William's brother, and Hannah M., his [Benjamin's] wife and sister of William's wife, Eleanor E.; Levi Culver, William's father; David Culver, William's brother; and David Lamphiere; W. A. BEACH and R. A. LOTTRIDGE were their counsel; District Attorney Colby and T. S. Banker appeared for the people.
At one o'clock this afternoon, only one witness had been examined, and there was every indication that the case would be a protracted one. Up to this point, no important testimony and no evidence sufficiently interesting for publication had been elicited.
The Culver Case
The examination of David Lamphiere [and] Levi, Benjamin, David and Hannah Culver, who are supposed to be implicated in the Stephentown murder, was continued yesterday afternoon and this morning. In order to accommodate the counsel, who desired to attend the adjourned Circuit, the examination was adjourned until 3 o'clock this afternoon.
Thus far, a mass of testimony has been elicited, bearing upon the murder, but in no way connecting the persons under examination with the crime. The prisoner's counsel, Messrs. Lottridge and Beach, offered to admit that Jenks was murdered and desired to begin at the Coroner's verdict - claiming that only the evidence relating to the persons under examination should be received. The District Attorney, assisted by T. S. Banker, deemed that the ends of justice required a thorough investigation of the case. The theory of the prosecution is that the murderer needed the assistance of some other man in carrying the body from one barn to the other, and [that] there must have been a male accessory. The case began to grow somewhat interesting this morning, when a discussion arose between the District Attorney and Mr. Beach. It is not probable that the case will be finished today.
Benjamin Culver, who was indicted by the Grand Jury in connection with the Stephentown murder case, has been arrested by Officer Hurlbut and lodged in jail.
The trial of Benjamin Culver, charged with being accessory to the murder of Stephen Jenks, at Sand Lake, was begun in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, before Judge PECKHAM, at 10 o'clock this morning. Some little time was spent in empanelling a jury. One or two of the jurors were challenged, and George CHURCHILL, of this city, was excused on account of his conscientious scruples. He stated that he could not find a verdict that would hang a man, however guilty he might be. The following  jurors were finally sworn: Horatio VARS; Robert H. CUNNINGHAM; Charles WOLF; E. J. CRIDGE; Nelson M. CHENEY; Jesse K. BRUNDAGE; Reuben AMES; A. PETTS; John R. SIMPSON; George M. GREEN; Peter JORDAN; and John W. BRUNDAGE.
District Attorney Colby opened the case on behalf of the people, and the testimony for the prosecution was commenced - Martin J. TOWNSEND appearing on that side. W. A. Beach and R. A. Lottridge are counsel for the prisoner, an intelligent-looking man, who seemed quite composed amid the trying ordeal.
The trial came to a sudden termination about 11 o'clock, [when] the first witness, Ellen (Eleanor) Culver, declined to swear to the same facts that she gave in evidence before the grand jury, and as the prisoner could not be convicted without her testimony, an acquittal followed.
The trial of William Culver, who is indicted as the principal in this case, was postponed until the next Court of Oyer and Terminer, owing to the absence of David Lamphiere, a material witness, who has enlisted in the army.
End of the Culver Murder Case
The grand jury of the present Court are busily at work. In the Oyer and Terminer, criminal trials will probably be taken up this afternoon. William Culver, the principal actor in the Stephentown murder, was brought into court this morning, after a steady confinement of ten months in jail. He is charged with the murder of Stephen Jenks, about two years ago. The fatal difficulty occurred in Jenks's barn, and its cause was a woman who had deserted Culver for Jenks. About noon today, he [William Culver] was arraigned by District Attorney Colby and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the second degree. Martin L. Townsend, who was associated with the public prosecutor and the District Attorney, made a few remarks - saying that they believed the ends of justice would be met by accepting the plea. Judge INGALLS therefore received it, and Culver was remanded to jail for sentence.
In the upper tribunal, old Levi Culver, who was committed by Judge Ingalls for contempt of court, was released last evening.
William Culver, who pled guilty to manslaughter in the second degree, has not yet been sentenced. The highest penalty that can be imposed is seven years.
Sentence of Prisoners
In the Court of Oyer and Terminer, at 9:30 this morning, Judge Ingalls proceeded to pass sentence upon several criminals, whose cases were moved by District Attorney Colby. William Culver, a man about thirty-two years of age, residing in Stephentown, had pled guilty to manslaughter in the second degree, in causing the death of Stephen Jenks. His counsel, Mr. Beach, submitted the circumstances attending the homicide. The prisoner had fired a gun at the deceased, causing his death, under the supposition that the latter was at the barn of the prisoner's father for the purpose of poisoning his cattle. It was proven that Jenks, the deceased, had formerly been charged with poisoning cattle, and had a bottle with him when his body was found and a potato that contained poison. The counsel said that notwithstanding these facts, Culver was not justified in using the violent means he did, to repel the trespass - so he had advised him to plead guilty to a grade of crime, which presupposed that the deceased was engaged in the commission of a wrong.
District Attorney Colby stated some of the facts developed on the part of the prosecution - that there was a woman in the case who had lived both with the deceased and [with] the prisoner - that there were spots of blood on the ground between Jenks's house and his barn, giving rise to the theory that he had been deliberately killed at the former place, and the body was carried to the barn, where the poison was placed in his pockets. There was no direct evidence to bear out this theory, but circumstances pointed to these facts.
Mr. Beach claimed that there was no proof of these facts at all; that the prisoner had pled in accordance with what would have probably been the verdict of the court and jury, if the case had gone to trial, and [that he] should only be punished in accordance with that plea.
Judge Ingalls made a brief address in passing sentence. He said, "Culver, you have been indicted for the crime of murder, but have pleaded to a much lighter grade, and your punishment will be correspondingly lessened. Instead of suffering the extreme penalty of the law, you will only endure confinement in prison. Yet it is necessary that some punishment be inflicted as a warning against the rapidly growing practice of using firearms and tampering with human life. The sentence of the court is that you be confined in Clinton prison, at hard labor, for the term of six years and six months."