Sunday, April 19, 2009

Murdered mysteriously, brutally, viciously


Edgerton was once a bustling little village on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad about nine miles north of Colorado Springs (near the present location of Ice Lake at the United States Air Force Academy.) It took its name from one David Edgerton who homesteaded there in 1872. Nearly 350 people called the place home by the turn of the century. There was the railroad platform, V.C. Lewis Hotel, a general store that also served as the post office and was operated by W.M. Smith, a doctor’s office, and even the Cascade Ice Company that cut ice from three reservoirs on the stone damned west fork of Monument Creek. For the most part, it was peaceful haven for ‘lungers’ and farmers, ice cutters, railroad workers and their families.
That is why news of two murders, an elderly woman and her young grandson, on a ranch two miles northwest of the Edgerton post office, was such a shock when reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette on April 29, 1888. Not only murdered, but mysteriously, brutally, and viciously.
Neighbor, S.K. Harris, and Mrs. Kearney’s daughter, a Mrs. Beach of St. Louis, discovered the victims, Mrs. M.J. Kearney and her eight-year-old grandson, little Jimmy Hand. The daughter and the neighbor had been alerted by other neighbors that perhaps something was wrong. Mrs. Beach had traveled here from Missouri after a telegram addressed to her mother, Mrs. Kearney, was undeliverable. The telegram messenger, from Husted, which was the nearest station, found all the doors at the ranch locked and no sign of any recent activity. The neighbor and the daughter decided to go see for themselves what was going on the morning of April 28.
“That afternoon they proceeded to the ranch where they found all the doors locked, strange to say, from the inside,” wrote Carl F. Mathews, in a historical paper called “Unsolved Crimes of the Pikes Peak Region,” in March of 1962. Mathews was a noted historian with the Denver Westerners and a 32-year veteran of the Bureau of Identification with the Colorado Springs Police Department. “Forcing one of the doors, they found Mrs. Kearney’s hat, bonnet and cloak in one room and on the kitchen table two pans of biscuits and some pies ready to place in the oven. A more complete examination resulted in finding two sets of dirty dishes, consisting of three plates each. One set had been used for a meal and set aside; the other on the table apparently used.”
Finding nothing more in the house they continued to search the surrounding ranch buildings.
“They went to a small stable near the house, where they made a horrible and ghastly discovery. In one corner of the little grain room was the body of Mrs. Kearney in an advanced state of decomposition, and the examination of a grain box in another corner disclosed the body of the little boy. So small was the box that one foot was left protruding. His body was not badly decomposed and blood could plainly be seen on the neck, evidently from a wound,” wrote Mathews.
“On May 1st, Coroner Davis, in company of Dr. S.A. Fisk of Denver, a friend of the family, reached the premises and it was found necessary to drag the body of Mrs. Kearney from its position in order to examine it closely. Buried in the right side of the skull was the head of a hatchet with a newly whittled handle about two feet long. Examination of the body of the little boy led Dr. Fisk to believe he had been shot but the coroner found a large gash on the side of the forehead about three inches in length, cause by the sharp edge of the hatchet.”
The police at the time followed several leads and developed a number of theories and possible suspects.
The hatchet was found about three years previous by W.H. Thompson, who had given it to a Mr. Haliday, who at one time rented the ranch.
“Thompson’s cabin was only a few hundred yards from Mrs. Kearney’s house; he cut kindling wood for her, did her chores and carried her mail from the post office for a long time,” noted Mathews in his 1962 paper. “Thompson loved his whiskey and about June 1st came to Colorado City, became drunk and was arrested. On the expiration of his sentence he became intoxicated again and while in jail let fall a word or two conveying the impression that he knew more about the murder than had been told. In one of the saloons he stated in the presence of four witnesses: ‘I killed Mrs. Kearney but I did not kill the boy.’ A preliminary hearing was held on July 24th and twice continued to July 27th, at which time Justice Gorman could find nothing to warrant holding him for trial, so he was accordingly released.”
Other possible scenarios that were suggested but never wrapped up in the form of convictions or even arrests were that the killer was a transient woodcutter hired by Mrs. Kearney, or perhaps a man she had arrested and tried for theft about three years prior to the murder, or perhaps a vagrant wandering through, that supposed she had large amounts of money stashed.
To date, no one is really sure what happened at the house and in the stable located in a deep gulch, two miles northwest of the vanished town of Edgerton. Even the roof of the lonely outpost could barely be seen from the road, and the nearest neighbor was largely considered the prime suspect. The brutal hatchet murder of the elderly Mrs. Kearney and little Jimmy Hand has never been solved.
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