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Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1865
Illustrations from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, January 13, 1866
At three o’clock on Friday, December 15th, Patrick Fleming and William Corbett suffered the extreme penalty of the law, for the murder of Patrick Maloney, about one year ago, at a place called Sand Ridge,1 about six miles from Chicago.
A little more than a year ago, Fleming, Corbett and John Kennedy, all Irishmen, were encountered in a low drinking saloon by a stranger who, it has been averred by Corbett, contracted with them for the assassination of Patrick Mahoney. This portion of the affair is involved still in some degree of mystery, as it is not very positive which of the trio named was the responsible party for the execution of the job. At all events the amount they were to receive would have been about $16 each, but they say they never even got this much, indeed none at all, if we are to believe Fleming and Corbett. The assassination determined upon, its plan was deliberately laid, and in the manner is which it was carried out it would seem as if these villains had become so hardened by a career of unpunished vice that they neglected any precautions to guard against detection. On the night of the 20th of November, 1864, the Sunday before Thanksgiving in that year, these three murderous scoundrels, enlisted in their service, as their guide to the house of their intended victim, an acquaintance named James Finan. The four accomplices then went together to Philip Brennan’s saloon, No. 117 Canal street, and there hired a hack to go to Sand Ridge. William Gibbons, the hackman who served as their driver, was furnished them by Brennan. By their directions he drove out to the vicinity of Six Mile House, the four inmates of the hack got out. Wishing to avoid interruption in their deed of darkness, they ordered the driver to extinguish the hack lights, which he refused from fear of arrest on the return to the city. He, however, turned his vehicle round so that the lights could not be distinguished from the direction in which the men were going, and then he waited while the murderers and their guide went out into the darkness on their Satanic mission. It was now after 11 o’clock, nigh upon the hour when things infernal most on earth appear; but could hell itself have vomited forth fiends more hideous than these stealthy hireling assassins, gliding in the darkness toward their prey? At that hour of the night, all that country neighborhood was wrapped in slumber. Finan went far enough to point out to his comrades the house where Mahoney lived,m and then turned back to the hack and awaited the issue of their visit. He says that Corbett had told him a story of a sick aunt there whom he wished to visit, and that this induced him to accompany them. At all events, he acted as their guide to their unconscious victim. They reached the house. Roused from sleep by their loud knocking, Maloney came down to the door and demanded who was there. “A friend.” one of their voices replied, and they asked admission. He refused to open the door, and they attempted to force it. Fleming had placed Corbett at the side of the door, with a navy revolver in his hand, with directions to shoot Mahoney as soon as he could be seen. The door was partially opened, and Corbett snapped his pistol at the man within. Fleming cursed him for not having his pistol in better order. Maloney now desperately strove to shut the door against his murderers, knowing by this time that it was a struggle for life or death, and no doubt fearing more for his wife and little ones, in the event of their entrance, than for himself. Corbett now fired a shot through the door. The pressure against the door from the inside ceased, a body was heard to fall, and a voice cried aloud in agonized tones, “Honors.” The practiced ears of the assassins recognized this as the death-cry of the victim, and one of them exclaiming “Come along, that will do,” they hastily glided away along the fence and disappeared. Returning to the carriage, Fleming and Kennedy got in with Finan, and Corbett rode outside with the driver. The whiskey bottle was again called into requisition, and in the exuberance of their satisfaction over the completion of their “job,” they fired their pistols from the hack windows as they drove along. Finan got out of the hack at Lake street, above Halsted, on their return, and went home, curiously indifferent as to the object of their mission and its results, if his story is to be believed, and the others came down town with the hack and probably spent the rest of the night in debauchery and jubilation over the excellent night’s work. Meanwhile, the wife of the murdered man hearing her husband in his brief altercation at the door,—the shot—and then that death wail of her name, rushed from her bed to the place where he lay dying, in the darkness, upon the floor. The door was open and three shadowy forms she could discern swiftly and silently moving away. An inanimate form lay before the door, that of her husband, and her feet plashed in the broad pool of blood still warm from his heart—kneeling in his gore in that dark and desolate house, pillowing upon her bosom the head of him whom she so fondly loved, his death cry still ringing in her ears and mingling withe the terrified shrieks of her fatherless little ones, while the wild mournful winds sighed their sad requiem about her lonely dwelling—it is wondrous strange that this poor woman did not go mad., that fiendish mocking faces, like those of her husband’s murderers, and voices as harsh and cruel as theirs should not have filled her distempered fancy, and driven reason on tottering from its throne. Who can unmoved imagine this picture but for a moment? Yet this poor woman endured all this the long night through, and still she lives. A woman sometimes now appears upon our streets, seeming poor, aye, very poor,—and in her thin wan face such great misery appears that even the most careless is startled by it and is forced to think “there is one whose sad heart is laden down with a weary weight of woe, one who has little left to live for.” That woman is “Honors,” the wife of the murdered man, she who knelt in his blood that awful night, she whose joyous heart and life of hope went out that night, with his life, into the darkness. All this we have told is simply fact, and now can anyone knowing all this have a word of sympathy of pity for these assassins?—is there anyone who would breathe a word in favor of a reprieve for them? On the contrary it would almost seem that hanging were not punishment enough for their most horrible crime, and it would require an eternity of a good orthodox hell to do full justice to them.
For a time the Sand Ridge murder seemed an impenetrable mystery, but active and intelligent officers were silently “working it up” for months, and at last aided seemingly by chance, they were led to the
DISCOVERY OF THE MURDERERS.
In the first excitement about the affair, arrests were made of John Williams, James Maloney, and Michael McDermott, neighbors of the murdered man, with whom it was known he had become on terms of hostility; but nothing could be brought to show that they had any share in the foul crime, and they were accordingly discharged. It then became known to the Police that a hack belonging to Philip Brennan had been driven out, with a party of men, to Sand Ridge, on the night of the murder, but before they became acquainted with this fact the man who had been the regular driver of this hack went off to Chattanooga. For some time they did not dare to make any direct investigations, but at length that driver returned, was arrested, and from him they learned that on the night in question he was sick, and his place was taken by a man named William Gubbins, for the occasion. No time was lost in getting hold of Gubbins, but this was not affected until the latter part of April, 1865, about five months after the commission of the murder. Gubbins came to time very handsomely, when he had to. It does seem a little queer that such a very particularly nice young man as he professes to be and such a model of a virtuous hackman, should never have chosen before that time to give any information to the police regarding the murder, although he must have known of it, and been been very certain in his own mind that it was committed by his “fares” that night. But on the “better late than never” principal, when he was cornered be made a clean breast of the four men whom he had driven out in his hack on the night of November 20th, 1864.
This was in the latter part of April, and nothing more was heard of the matter for about ten weeks, although the officers were vigilantly on the alert for parties answering to the descriptions given. On the night of 23d of April, Patrick Fleming and William Corbett committed a brutal assault on Officer Peter Kendelin, of the Second Precinct Police. The officer fought bravely, and although twice or three times severely stabbed by Corbett, managed to arrest him. Fleming fired several shots at Kendelin, without hitting him, however, and then made his escape, as assistance was coming for the officer, but the next morning he was arrested and the two blood-thirsty ruffians were brought up for trial before the Police Court, on a charge of assaulting the officer with intent to kill. Both were bound over to answer this serious charge at the June term of the Recorder’s Court. The charges having been fully proven against them, they were on the 18th of July, sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment in the Penitentiary. The sentence had been passed and they were about to be taken down stairs to the cells to await their removal to the hospitable halls of Joliet, when Captain Kennedy of the Second Precinct Police, and Sergeant Hickey of the First Precinct, who had previously recognized them as two of the men described by Gubbins, arrested them on the charge of the murder of Patrick Maloney on the 20th of November, 1864, and on this superior charge they were remanded for trial. Gubbins, on being confronted with them, recognized them as two of the parties. Practised in the darkest crime, their consciences hardened and their wicked hearts rendered confident by a long course of successful and undetected villainies, they bore a bold front under the stunning accusation and unblushingly denied their guilt, Corbett admitted that he was in Gubbins’ hack on the night in question, in company with Fleming and another man, but averred that they only went out for ride, and when out by the Six Mile House got out of the carriage for for an innocent little ramble. He was even bold enough to allege that the whole charge was a malicious invention of Capt. Kennedy to obtain revenge on him for a “little difficult” with one of the Captain’s force—this being his pleasant euphemism for his deadly and unprovoked assault upon officer Kendelin. Corbett did not remember that he carried a pistol in his hand all the way into town from the scene of the murder, or that he remarked to Gubbins, when on the driver’s seat, that “a man who is not straight ought to die,” and indignantly demanded to know if there were any proof that he committed the murder. But Capt. Kennedy and Sergt. Hickey werer too able and indefatigable officers not to have accumulated a mass of evidence against them, circumstantial necessarily, but nevertheless fearfully strong, and they were both held to answer at the next term of the Superior Court, that Court holding its term before the Circuit. Fleming was silent, non-commital and defiant—taking no pains to explain or defend anything in his conduct, and seemingly confident that no case could be made out against him. The examination at which they were bound over, was held before Justices Milliken and Sturtevant, on July 18th. Gubbins’ testimony was very full and his explanation why he did not at once give information against them was seemingly a very good one—that he was afraid they might murder him also. These two cold blooded scoundrels were so lost to all feeling of sympathy of humanity that they listened unmoved to the testimony of the grief-worn widow if their victim. Even when she uttered the simple sentence, “I staid alone with my dead husband all that night,” in tones of deepest woe, they looked upon her unconcernedly, and if they had a regret in connection with the subject it was doubtless that they had not received the sixteen dollars each for their fiendish crime. They were remanded to jail to await their final trial, and again the officers set to work to discover the other ramblers of the little coterie of professional murderers.
Only three hangings took place inside the Courthouse before the Great Fire of 1871. Two of them on the same day for the same murder.
1 Austin (Sand Ridge) was created in 1865, when developer Henry Austin purchased 470 acres for a temperance settlement named “Austinville” (Chicago Avenue to Madison Street, and Laramie to Austin Boulevard). The town was incorporated into Chicago in 1899.