Monday, April 3, 2017


Cortland Evening Standard, Thursday, January 25, 1894.


How Mrs. Egbertson got Through so Small a Hole Into the Well is Still a Mystery.
   For a week past the little village of Preble and the surrounding country has been in a perfect ferment of excitement over the drowning of Mrs. Lucinda Egbertson, who was found in a well upon the premises of her nephew, Charles Hartman, on the hill two and one-half miles east of Preble village, on the morning of Wednesday, January 17. How she came there was a question, as the well was covered by a heavy platform of plank nailed upon scanting and the opening was only 10 1/2 by 11 1/2 inches in size. Mrs. Egbertson was a woman much above the medium size, whose weight was about 175 pounds and it did not seem plain to all that unassisted she could have squeezed herself through such a diminutive opening to meet the dreadful fate awaiting her.
   People in that vicinity have done little else than talk about the affair ever since. A coroner's jury was summoned on Jan. 17. It viewed the remains that day and the location of affairs and then adjourned until Wednesday, Jan. 24, when the inquest was held in the town hall of Preble. A representative of The STANDARD was present. The hall was packed from the beginning with an eager crowd of listeners of both sexes who occupied every chair and bench and every foot of standing room, and even pressed forward almost to the coroner and the jury itself, so anxious were they to drink in every word.
   The inquest was conducted by Coroner George D. Bradford of Homer, who pushed the affair with energy and questioned the witnesses with skill, but every one was somewhat disappointed when the jury finally brought in a verdict which was in substance that the deceased came to her death by drowning and as to how she came in the well, they said they were unable to state. The main point at issue, as to whether it was a suicide or whether there was foul play connected with it, was thus passed by. It was perhaps a little unfortunate that nearly all of the jury were neighbors of the deceased and that from neighborly feeling for those of the family who remain may have refrained from asking as searching questions as strangers might have done. It was also a little unusual that the foreman of the jury was himself a witness and was thus called upon to pass upon his own evidence, along with that of the other witnesses.
   From facts gleaned by the STANDARD man from friends of the deceased, it appears that Mrs. Egbertson was a widow lady about sixty years of age. Prior to the death of her husband which occurred some four years ago, she lived with him upon a farm about two miles south of Tully village next the D., L. & W. R. R. crossing of the straight road which leads from Cortland through Christian Hollow to Syracuse. After Mr. Egbertson died she went to live with a sister, Mrs. Jacob Schell in Tully, with whom she stayed a year. She left that place two years ago to go to the farm in Preble upon which was the well where she was found drowned, to take care of another sister, Mrs. Hartman. 
   Mrs. Hartman owned this farm which was worked by her son Charles, then unmarried. Mrs. Hartman died a week after Mrs. Egbertson went there and the latter stayed to keep house for her nephew. Last fall Charles was married and took his wife home. Mrs. Egbertson, however, continued to remain there just the same as before. The other facts in the case, as far as shown, appear in the report of the inquest.
   The adjourned session of the inquest convened in the town hall at Preble at 11:10 A. M. on Wednesday, Jan 24, Coroner George D. Bradford presiding. The jury was polled and answered to their names as follows: James T. Steele, Henry Currie, Robert T. Mitchell, Joseph McNeill, Robert Dorthey, Oscar Cornue.
   The first witness was Patrick Galvin, who had an honest face and who, in response to questions, told a straightforward story that no amount of cross questioning could shake. Witness had worked for Charles Hartman, the nephew of the deceased and had known Mrs. Egbertson since last spring. He said the deceased was on friendly terms with the rest of the family, and he never knew of their having any words or hard feelings. He occupied a bedroom off the kitchen. The kitchen was used as a common sittingroom. Went to bed on Tuesday night, Jan. 10, at about 9 o'clock. About 3 o'clock Wednesday morning Hartman arose and came down stairs. He usually arose about 6:30 A. M. Mrs. Egbertson called out to Hartman and inquired what the trouble was and he replied, nothing except that his head ached and he thought he would come down. There was no further conversation. Mrs. Egbertson slept in a bedroom east of that occupied by witness, both opening out of kitchen. Witness did not go to sleep again. Later on he heard Hartman give two or three awful groans. Witness jumped from bed and went out into kitchen. He glanced at the clock. It was 5:45. Hartman lay on the lounge. Mrs. Egbertson was there wholly dressed except [missing line of type here] about her waist.
   Mrs. Egbertson said to witness [Galvin] that she thought Hartman was going to have a fit. Witness inquired if Hartman was subject to fits and she replied that she never knew him to have one. Witness thought that if Hartman was let alone he would go to sleep. Witness then put on his boots and went to the barn, did the chores, and returned to the house at a little before 7 o'clock. Found Hartman sitting by stove with a handkerchief around his head. The table was set and there was a fire. Hartman asked witness if he had seen his aunt, replied, no. Hartman called to her, and there was no reply. Went into her bedroom and found that she was not there. Witness did not enter the bed room. Hartman then called and looked in cellar and woodshed, up in orchard and out in barn, and failed to get any response. Hartman didn't seem to be excited. Mrs. Hartman usually came down stairs from 7:30 to 8 o'clock. Witness proposed going to Joseph McNeill's and to Oscar Cornue's to see if Mrs. Egbertson had gone up there. Hartman didn't want him to go, thought she would comeback herself.
   Mrs. Hartman came down stairs at about 7:30 and they had breakfast, and then Hartman told witness that perhaps he had better go up to Mr. McNeill's and Mr. Cornue's and see if Mrs. Egbertson was there. Mrs. Hartman was surprised to think Mrs. Egbertson didn't appear, but did not appear anxious or excited. Witness swore that he did not remember a bit of the conversation that passed between Mr. and Mrs. Hartman in regard to the disappearance of Mrs. Egbertson.
   Witness drew a pail of water from the well a half hour before breakfast at about 7 o'clock. There was only a small hole and had to let down a five quart pail three times with a line to get water enough to make one large pailful. With the last pail of water a piece of calico came up too, having been caught on the side of the pail. Threw it aside and took water into house.
   All continued looking for Mrs. Egbertson until breakfast time. Hartman finished breakfast first, went outside and noticed the piece of cloth on the ground; asked witness where he found that cloth. When witness had told him he drew it up with the water, Hartman said he guessed he would look in the well; returned in a minute and said that she was there.
   Witness swore that since that morning he has had no conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Hartman concerning this matter. Witness did not see Mr. Hartman look into the well. After Mrs. Egbertson's body was discovered Mr. Hartman told witness to go and call some of the near neighbors, Mr. Cornue, Mr. McNeill and Mr. Steele. Witness did not help get Mrs. Egbertson's body out of well. He left that place about 11 o'clock. Witness saw deceased just after she had been taken from the well. Mr. Hartman said nothing about trying to get deceased out of the well when she was first discovered, only told witness to go after the neighbors. Had never seen the well with the platform covering removed.
   Mrs. Egbertson received a letter from Mr. Van Bergen on the evening before her decease which made her cry. She said it was about some money which she had expected to get and which she would not be able to collect for some time and said she didn't know when she would get it. She had a note for the amount, however. Said it was not a large sum of money, but did not mention the amount.
   The next witness was Edwin D. Crosley, an attorney of Scott. He stated that  he had known the deceased for about two years and was somewhat acquainted with her business affairs. Acknowledged that he knew about the terms of her will but declined to make any statements regarding it, on the ground that such matters were confidential between the deceased and himself as her attorney. It was suggested to him that the will had been read and was now public property, but witness in turn made the suggestion that if the jury desired to know its contents the will itself could be introduced as evidence. He still declined to say anything about it.
   He did say, however, that about two years ago he was summoned to Mr. Hartman's house. Found both Mrs. Egbertson and Mr. Hartman sick and in tears. The former thought her nephew had been treated very shabbily by the will of his mother just deceased. They wanted him to take hold of their financial affairs and see what he could do. Witness assisted in settling the estate of Mrs. Hartman, foreclosed two mortgages against the farm and Mrs. Egbertson bid it off for $2,200 when it was sold at foreclosure sale. Witness declined to state that this farm was ever deeded to Charles Hartman by his aunt, because this would be a violation of confidence reposed in him as attorney, but he did acknowledge that he had afterward drawn a mortgage for Hartman upon this same place, made in favor of Mrs. Egbertson.
   Jacob Schell was then produced and sworn. He was the brother-in-law of the deceased. He had heard Mrs. Egbertson say that she had some money in a Syracuse bank and a mortgage on a farm near Syracuse. Deceased was subject to fits of despondency, and then used to say that she wished she was dead and buried beside her husband. But she quickly recovered from these attacks and then would be all right again. The rest of his testimony was unimportant.
   The next witness was Charles Hartman [missing line of type here] about him that the chief interest of the afternoon centered. He was a tall powerfully built man of about forty years, but he looked as though he was just recovering from a severe illness, as he said that he was. It is understood that he has been unwell much of the time for a number of months past. Coroner Bradford first asked Mr. Hartman if he had any reason to suspect that suspicion might rest upon him for being in any way responsible for the death of Lucinda Egbertson. Mr. Hartman replied in the negative, and was then sworn. Witness said he had resided in Preble since he was a small boy. He had heard Mrs. Egbertson's will read since her death. Deceased willed witness $1,540. Witness had not yet learned the extent of the property of the deceased. He had heard deceased say prior to her death that she thought something of him, but had never heard her say that she had remembered him in the will. Had never known deceased to make any attempts at suicide. Had often known her to feel bad and cry. He had remonstrated with her and comforted her and she always felt better. Never gave any reason for her bad feelings. Witness remembers deceased getting a letter on the evening of Jan. 16. There was a slip of paper in it about Robert Van Bergen being appointed an administrator. She cried over it. Asked why she cried: said "nothing." Witness knew no more about the contents of the letter than what she told him. Didn't know what became of the letter.
   Upon the Tuesday evening prior to the morning when Mrs. Egbertson was found dead, Mrs. Egbertson prepared the supper. Witness [Hartman] was not able to sleep that night. Had a bad headache. Arose at about 2:30 A. M., went down stairs and built a fire. Then lay down on lounge and slept until almost 7 o'clock. Mrs. Hartman came down just after witness awoke. They missed Mrs. Egbertson. Sent Galvin to the barn to look for her. Witness and his wife wondered where Mrs. Egbertson was; they wondered if she could have gone to her sister's five miles away. They looked all around, and then at breakfast. Didn't remember any of the conversation between self and wife about the missing aunt. Then they looked again. Witness passed the well and noticed calico rag lying on ground. Asked Galvin where that came from. Galvin said he drew it out of the well. Witness went right back and looked into the well, saw a person's foot stick up from the water and some clothes. A pole with an iron hook lay close by with which he had sometimes obtained the pail when the cord had broken with which they had dipped up water. Pokes around with the pole and discovered that a person was in the well. Mrs. Hartman was then near, had followed witness outside of the house. Sent Galvin for neighbors at once. Was in the house when they arrived.
   The cover has been on the well for a number of years. It was built of planks nailed upon scanting. There was quite a large opening there at first. Last fall when witness was ill his wife had laid other boards over and nailed them down making a smaller opening.
   When neighbors arrived witness told them that his aunt must have gone into the well of her own accord. He did not assist in getting the body out, for he was not well enough.  A doctor had been called the day before to prescribe for him. He had taken medicine the previous day and night which the physician prescribed. Witness said, it didn't occur to him to try to get the body out of the well with what help he had there when he first discovered that some one was in there; it didn't occur to him to try to save the life of the person then in the well. Witness stated that he did not discourage Galvin in his idea of going to the neighbors' to look for Mrs. Egbertson before they had discovered her body. Witness thought the well was about eighteen feet deep and may be six feet down to the water.
   James T. Steele, foreman of the jury was sworn. He said he lived near Mr. Hartman. He told of being summoned to Mr. Hartman's on the morning of Jan, 17 because "the old lady was in the well." As he approached the well he saw a woman kneeling down and looking into the well. She arose quickly and went into the house. Thought she was Mrs. Hartman but wasn't sure. Witness first looked in the well and saw the clothing, and as he supposed, the body. Then tried all the pieces of the platform to see if he could lift them up. Found them all fastened tight; witness then went through the woodshed and rapped at kitchen door. Mrs. Hartman partially opened the door and stood there holding the door. Witness asked if he could come in. Mrs. Hartman said "Wait a minute." Then she closed or nearly closed the door for a minute or more, then opened it and said "Come in." Witness then entered. In a moment or two Mr. Hartman came in from the hallway at the front of the house. Had no conversation with Mr. Hartman about the matter.
   Mr. Hartman was recalled to the stand. He said Mrs. Egbertson kept her valuable papers, will included, in a valise in her bedroom, Witness carried that valise into the parlor before Mrs. Ebertson's body was brought in. Witness swore that he did not open the valise or see it opened until Mrs. Schell came during the middle of the forenoon. He did not see the will until Mrs. Schell came. He removed the valise because they wanted to put Mrs. Egbertson's body in the bedroom.
   Herman D. Hunt, physician and surgeon, was the next witness. He said that he resided in Preble and was called to go to the house of Charles Hartman on the morning of Jan. 17, and he assisted in removing the body of Mrs. Egbertson from the well. Before removing her, witness observed that the well platform was apparently as it had been for some time, did not seem to have been disturbed. Witness laid a newspaper over the opening and cut a pattern of it. The platform was then removed and ropes were procured, nooses were made in the ropes and slipped over the feet of the body and it was drawn up.
   After a brief examination the body was carried into the back kitchen and witness, assisted by Mr. Van Bergen, removed the clothing. He examined the body carefully for wounds or injuries, none were found except slight bruises on the forearms, the left a little more than the right. Witness had since measured the pattern of the opening and found it to be 10 1/2 by 11 1/2 inches. He summoned the coroner. When that gentleman arrived witness was summoned by the coroner to go and assist in inquiring into the cause of death.
   The previous examination was repeated and certain measurements were made in the presence of the coroner and the jury. The measurement around the shoulders was 41 inches; around chest 38 inches, around hips 39 inches. Height was 65 inches. Witness estimated that the body would have weighed 170 to 175 pounds. She was quite a fleshy person, he said.
   On Jan. 19 witness made a post mortem examination of the body, assisted by the coroner at Mr. Hartman's house. An examination of the chest, heart and lungs showed the signs of death from suffocation. The witness said he was able to form an opinion as to the cause of the death, and should say that it was caused by drowning.
   The coroner then inquired of the jury if they desired to examine any more witnesses. He said that they were to give the verdict and it was his duty to produce the evidence as far as possible if they wanted more. After a moment's consultation the jury decided not to examine any more witnesses and at 4:40 P. M. the inquest was ended and the case was passed over to the jury.
   The town hall was then cleared and the jury left to themselves. Little knots of people hung around anxious to know the result. They had not long to wait for within fifteen minutes the jury submitted to the coroner the following verdict:
   At an inquest begun on the 17th day of January, 1894, in the town of Preble, county of Cortland and state of New York, before George D. Bradford, a coroner of said county, and Henry Currie, Robert T. Mitchell, Joseph McNeill, James T. Steele, Robert Dorthey and Oscar Cornue, good and lawful men of said county, sworn to inquire how, where, when and in what manner Lucinda Egbertson, then and there lying dead, came to her death, and continued Jan. 27, do say upon their oaths that she came to her death by drowning in the well on the place of Charles Hartman in the town of Preble aforesaid on the morning of January 17, 1894. How she came in the well the jury are unable to say.

A Fight With the Fish Pirates.

   A lively fight with the fish pirates in Oswego has lately been going on with E. D. Crosley an attorney [also game warden who lived in Scott, N. Y.—CC editor] for the People and C. N. Bulger employed against him. Attorney Crosley found that some of his witnesses had been spirited away and the sheriff was employed to serve subpoenas. One witness did not obey and an attachment was issued. When he appeared before the court he had forgotten all he knew. One other tried the same dodge. Judge McLennan ordered him to stay in the court room, sent for the district attorney and ordered that his case for perjury be presented to the grand jury.
   The case of the People vs. John Black on account of failure of proof was decided in favor of the defendant—also that of Robert Black. In the case of the People vs. James Burgdorf and John Eagan, the verdict of the jury was against them for $100 each. Judge McLennan held that if several parties were present and saw the violation of law and were in any way interested in it each party were liable for $100 fine. If there was only an attempt to violate, he held that it made no difference whether any fish were caught or not. A judgment by stipulation was entered against Wm. Henryhan, Samuel Baker and James Johnson for $100 and costs.
   Upon the solicitation of the defendants the following cases were settled: People vs. Burton Bliss, W. D. Rhines, (who is a justice of the peace) Wm. Rhines, Wm. Peacock, Martin Rhines, Ira Lord, Patrick Boil. It was universally conceded by all present that violations of the fish and game law [netting fish] were somewhat expensive luxuries. Attorney Crosley asked the court to hear all his cases the week he was there, as he had to be in Cortland on the 15th, and in Morrisville on the 29th. Whereupon the court ordered that all his cases be heard at once irrespective of the rest of the calendar.

Milk to be Examined.
   By direction of the Cortland board of health Dr. W. L. Baker will within the next two weeks call upon all of the milkmen who furnish milk in Cortland and examine all their cows to see if they are in a healthy condition.

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