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Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1888
Amos J. Snell, the West Side millionaire, was shot dead yesterday morning by burglars in his residence, at the northwest corner of Washington boulevard and Ada street. The murder was committed shortly after 2 o’clock in the morning, but was not discovered until nearly 7, when the coachman entered the house from his quarters over the stables and stumbled over his master’s dead body. The only clew to the murderers is a box of burglar’s tools which they left behind them. About an hour before the murder occupied Sergt. Hartnett arrested two suspicious characters who were hanging about the premises. These are believed to be the outside confederates of the burglars who robbed the safe in the office in the basement floor and murdered its owner. The booty is valueless to them, as it consists of $1,600 worth of county warrants and $5,000 in checks son indorsed that it has been possible to to stop payment on them. No money, jewelry, or plate was taken.
The murder is the most sensational ever committed in Chicago. The murdered man was active, powerful, and fearless. For years it had been his custom to seize a revolver, always kept within reach of his bed, and search the house alone in the dark whenever suspicious noises awakened him. So addicted was he to this habit that it was a standing family prophecy thatb he would meet the fate that overtook him yesterday morning. Appreciating his strength, agility, and fearlessness as they do, his friends say that had the aim of the burglars been less deadly one or both of them would probably have been captured or killed outright by the man they were endeavoring to rob.
The only occupants of the Snell residence besides its owner might before last were tow female servants and two young grandchildren. Mr. Snell occupied a room on the second floor; the children slept with the servants on the next floor above. The servants were awakened by a number of shots coming from somewhere below. They were too badly frightened to go down to see what was the matter, and ran to the window to give the alarm from there. The window was frozen fast, and they were unable to raise it. Across the street they noticed carriages being driven away from the entrance of a hall where a ball was in progress, and they knew it must have been midnight. By this time all was quiet below, and they crawled into bead shivering with fright, there to remain awake and trembling until the coachman should enter to build the fires.
At 6:30 Henry Winkelhook awoke as usual, dressed himself, and walked across the back yard between the stable and house toward the kitchen door. Before he reached the door he noticed footprints in the snow leading from the partition fence to the walk upon which he stood. It was ajar, and a few inches above the spring lock was a jagged hole the size of man’s hand made by boring a circle of holes with a half-inch bit and knocking out the centre, and through which it was perfectly easy to throw back both lock and bolt. The coachman’s fears were confirmed, and he ran hastily through the kitchen and hall to the millionaire’s office in the front part of the basement. Here everything was in confusion. The safe-door stood wide open, the drawers of the desk were drawn out, two trunks were turned bottom upwards, and the floor was littered with their contents. The now thoroughly-frightend coachman wasted no time in the office, but started up the stairs leading to the first floor, intent upon awakening his master and alarming the house. The stairs were dark, and he had to grope his way carefully. He reached the top step, and with his hand on the railing turned toward the front door. He took one step forward, when his foot struck something, and as he fell forward with his right hand on the railing his left touched the object against which he had stumbled and was smeared with clotted blood. He sprang to the half-open folding-doors separating the front parlor from the hall, and as the light streamed in through the parlor windows he saw the dead body of his master lying on its back in a pool of blood on the hall floor, the feet spread apart, two paces back from the parlor doors, and the head resting near the railing on the top step of the stairs leading from the basement. The left breast and side were covered an inch deep with clotted blood, and from a hole in the murdered man’s head blood was still oozing and adding size and depth to the sickening pool in which his head rested.
“Rosy! Ida!” called the coachman up the stairs. “Rosy! Ida! Get up, get up! Burglars have been here, and Mr. Snell is murdered!”
Then he dashed out at the front door and around to the opposite corner on Randolph street, to the residence of A. J. Stone, son-in-law to the murdered millionaire. He told Mr. Stone what had happened, and by his orders ran to the West Lake Street Station with the news. A quarter of an hour later Officers Benjamin Williams and John P. Hines and a dozen neighbors were on the scene of the murder. Officer Hines took charge of the premises and Williams secured the box of burglar’s tools and made a systematic search for further clews to the perpetrators of the crime.
Coroner Hertz was notified, and by 10 o’clock had arrived, accompanied by Drs. De Wolf, Moyer, Gray. So great was the general confusion and excitement that it was noon before the inquest could be held. At that hour, however, Mr. Hertz impaneled a jury consisting of Commissioner George B. Swift, Ald. J. J. Bademoch, T. F. Mitchell, Thomas Parker, De Witt Curtis, and M. J. Richards, all of whom were old friends and acquaintances of the murdered man, and had hastened to his residence immediately on hearing of the tragedy. The jury viewed the body and the inquest was adjourned until next Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the Coroner’s office.
When the first excitement occasioned by the murder had worn off the relatives of the dead man found themselves confronted by a delicate and difficult task. Mrs. Snell, wife of the murdered man, who was visiting friends in Milwaukee, was known to be suffering from heart-diseas, and Mrs. McCrea, his youngest daughter, was lying a few doors distant dangerously ill. The day before Mrs. Snell had been telegraphed that her daughter was much better. It was feared that any sudden shock would kill her. So a dispatch was sent which read simply:
Come home at once.
An hour later her reply came:
Meet me at the train, 1:30.
At 1 o’clock Dr. Moyer and an assistant had not yet finished their examination of the body. Undertaker Jordan was present and Volk the sculptor had just arrived for the purpose of taking a death mask. It was learned that if Mrs. Snell arrived with the house in such condition she would suspect the truth at once and that she would not survive the shock. Accordingly S. H. McCrea, the youngest daughter’s father-in-law, accompanied by Dr. Knox, the family physician, took a carriage and went to the depot with instructions to drive homeward as slowly as possible in order to enable the doctors to finish their work and the undertaker make the body presentable before the widow should arrive. But she insisted on knowing the truth before reaching the house, so it was broken to her gently. Her terror and anguish were pitiful, and it was hours before her daughters, Mrs. A. J. Stone, and Mrs. F. N. Collins, were able to calm her. Precautions were taken to prevent Mrs. McCrea from learning anything about the tragedy at present.
Mrs. A. J. Stone, eldest daughter of Mr. Snell, was, with her husband, at the house all day. Mrs. F. N. Coffin, another daughter, Mrs. W. S. McCrea, has been ill some time and was not informed of the murder. The sons-in-law, with the exception of Mr. Coffin, were present, and Albert J. Snell, the son. The last-named gentleman told Capt. Lyman Lewis yesterday that he should today offer a reward of $20,000 for the capture of the murderers.
Northwest Corner of Washington Blvd and Ada Street
Robinson Fire Map
There were a couple of stories of confessions of the Snell murder, which only The Inter Ocean covered. It is believed these stories were made up in order for the dying men to gain some immortality. They didn’t.
The Inter Ocean, November 12, 1899
The Inter Ocean, December 4, 1910
BY WALTER NOBLE BURNS.
JAMES GILLAN, a professional crook, confessed on his death-bed in the county hospital that he killed Amos J. Snell, while burglarizing the millionaire’s West Side home on the night of Feb. 8, 1888.
He declared William B. Tascott, who has been hunted for the murder to world’s ends, had nothing to do with the crime.
He said that another man was concerned with him in the burglawry. But he did not name his accomplice. With a thief’s honor, Gillan went to his grave without revealing a secret that might have hanged another man.
For twenty-two years the Snell murder has been the most impregnable myster in Chicago’s history of crime.
In the small hours of the night the retired and venerable capitalist was shot down in his home after a revolver duel in the dark. His body was found lying cold and stiff the next morning in his hallway. The parlor doors had been pierced by bullets. Holes made by bullets were in the walls. The safe in the basement had been rifled, after being unlocked by some one who apparently knew the combination. Business papers haqd been scattered about the floor. What was taken or whether anything was taken only the dead man and the thieves ever knew.
William B. Tascott, the black sheep of a wealthy family, suddenly disappeared. The Snell family offered a reward of $50,000 for his apprehension. From the day of his disappearance until today nothing has been found that would supply the faintest clew to the whereabouts of the fugitive. With the police of a continent searching for him with an alertness and persistency to which only the unprecedented reward could have spurred them, Tascott passed from sight as completely as if the grave had closed upon him.
This is the Snell case in a nutshell. Nothing has been added to it in all these years. It has been a stationary mystery. The police have guessed and theorized, speculated, and suspected,but they have been unable to get anywhere with the problem.
Gillan’s confession is the first ray of light on the utter and hopeless darkness that has wrapped the case. But while it clears a part of the mystery, it adds a mystery of its own.
Who was the other man?
The Chicago Police believe they know who Gillan’s accomplice was. The man they suspect is alive and residing in Chicago today. There is no proof against him. The police believe the crime never will be fastened on him unless—perhaps, when he, too, comes to die—he decides on his own accord to divulge it.
It is surprising how thoroughly the details of this old tragedy that once shook Chicago to its foundations have been forgotten. Most of the leading actors in the drama have died. It almost seems that fell Nemesis has pursued them, hastening to seal their lips in death, that the mystery of the might remain inviolable to the last. James B. Tascott, father of the young man charged with the crime, has passed away. His two other sons, Frank and Frederick, have joined him in the beyond. Of all the immediate Tascott family only Mrs. James B. Tascott, the fugitive’s step-mother, but no blood relation, remains alive—a white-haired, gentle old woman now of nearly three score years and ten.
Snell’s wife is dead. As if there were a curse upon the Snell millions, Albert Snell, his only son, having run through his patrimony, died a year ago in a 10 cent lodging house in Clark street. A. J. Stone, the son-in-law of the murdered capitalist, still lives, broken in health and in reduced circumstances. Grace Snell (pictured, right), the once beautiful daughter, has achieved national notoriety as the most frequently married woman in the United States. She has married husband after husband, divorced them and married them again in her continuous comedy of matrimony until she has acquired a list of names so long and involved that the memories of her intimate friends are taxed to recall them.
Of the policemen who worked night and day to unravel the enigma Chief George W. Hubbard, Insoector John Bonfield and Inspector Michael Schaack have gone to their reward these many, years ago and the lichen is gray upon the stone that marks the last resting place of State’s Attorney Joel M. Longenecjer.
So in attempting to feel one’s way about in the cryptic silence and darkness of this tragedy of yesterday one not only encounters many ghosts but realizes withe a sense of wonder how quickly and surely the busy world forgets the most atrocious of crimes.
Even the old Snell mansion at Ada street and Washington boulevard has shared the blight the murder seems to have cast upon the family fortunes. A boarding-house in a dingy region of boarding-houses, it stands gray, forlorn and weather-beaten, its tessellated floors, its long mirrors in their tarnished gilt frames, its high ceilings, with a touch of frescoing here and there, the only reminders of the magnificence of its prosperous days. Once pointed out as one of the most handsomest residences of the West Side, the dilapidated old house now attracts only the most casual attention. So surely has oblivion closed about it that its next door neighbors and even some of its inmates are not aware that its faded and gloomy halls are haunted by the memories of crime.
But in stirring the bones of the old Snell tragedy one fact particularly challenges attention. This is that the police theory regarding the murder is not the same as it was twenty-two years ago. The general public has gone on believing that Tascott killed Snell. The police once believed that. But today the officials of the police department are practically unanimous in thinking that Tascott had no hand in the crime. They believe that Tascott was a scapegoat either forced into the role or hired for the occasion. They are agreed that the Other Man of Gillan’s confession either killed Tascott or had him killed.
Gillan’s confession is given on the authority of Lieutenant Andrew Rohan, formerly one of the heads of the detective bureau, who retired from the police force Nov. 1 after thirty-six years of service. Lieutenant Rohan was told of Gillan’s confession by John Stanton, who heard it from the dying thief’s own lips. After listening in horror to the recital, Stanton drove a priest in a carriage to the county hospital at midnight, that, through the confessional, Gillan might relieve his soul of the secret of murder that weighed upon it and depart this life in peace.
Gillan died of consumption a year after Snell was murdered. Why such a confession in such a tragedy should not have been made public before will seem unaccountable at first blush. That this is strange is not to be denied. Perhaps it was a blunder on the part of the police. But at any rate the confession is a fact—the most important fact turned up in this famous mystery since Millionaire Snell fell dead in his home under the bullets of midnight assassins twenty-two years ago. This should suffice.
Lieutenant Rohan said:
I did not tell the newspapers of Gillan’s confession at the time because the police were working on the Snell case under orders of secrecy. I investigated the confession in every detail upon which investigation could be brought to bear and found it correct. After the police had ceased to work actively on the murder I neglected through mere thoughtlessness to tell the newspapers. Moreover, I could see nothing to be gained by having Gillan’s confession published. Snell was dead and Gillan, his murderer, was dead and the confession gave no information of any further working value to the police. So I kept quiet and the let the incident remain closed.
Gillan in his time had been a desperate and noted criminal. Gillan, Mike Crowley and James Colan hold the sinister honor, according to police, of being the first hold-up men who ever operated in Chicago—the earliest pioneers in that branch of crime that has since disgraced the city so abundantly. In 1878 the three desperados committed the first of Chicago’s highway robberies when they lay in wait for a messenger of the Illinois Central road, threw red pepper in his eyes and robbed him of $10,000. The crime was committed in what was knoiwn as Dearborn square, on the site of the present public library building.
Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1923
DISMANTLE FAMOUS MURDER MANSION
The building at 1326 Washington Boulevard in which Amos J. Snell was killed in 1888. The crime is an unsolved mystery.