Murder: Story of Dissipation, Quarreling and Death 1875


A respectable looking and intelligent Scotchman, named James B. Maxwell, is locked up in Raymond street Jail on a charge of murder. Yesterday afternoon James McDonnell, a tenant of house No. 299 Nevins street found Mrs. Maxwell lying dead on the floor of her apartments. He immediately gave the alarm to the police, and shortly after Captain Campbell and a squad of men visited the place, and investigated the murder. The woman, Catharine Maxwell, lay on the floor beside the stove. Both her eyes were horribly bruised. They were, to use the expression of Officer Owens, "bunged up." Her face was discolored and swollen; in fact it had been beaten to such an extent that the features were scarcely recognizable. Her right arm was broken just above the elbow, and from appearances it would seem as though she had been struck by her husband with some heavy weapon, such as a chair or an iron poker. Her ribs, some of them, were broken, and she was otherwise discolored and bruised. Her only clothing consisted of a dirty loose wrapper, a skirt, chemise, and pair of gaiters. The room in which she and her husband lived was the rear one on the third floor of the dwelling, which is a large tenement house and filled with families. There was scarcely any furniture in the place and what little there was was of the commonest description, such a scene of squalor and misery could not be excelled, and to add to it, there were the children of the dead woman, one a boy about seven years, and the other a girl hardly two; both were crying, the boy because he realized to a certain extent the nature of the horrible tragedy, and the little girl was most probably screaming for being hungry and neglected.

Investigation showed that Maxwell and his wife, who were of intemperate habits, had had a quarrel and had fought, and Captain Campbell naturally surmised that Maxwell had beaten his wife in this brutal manner, and seeing the serious condition in which she was in yesterday morning had fled. He therefore ordered his men to make a thorough search for the husband, but, fortunately, Officer Evans, of the Tenth Precinct, who had been first apprised of the murder, caught Maxwell at the corner of Nevins and Union streets, and at once arrested him. Maxwell was beastly drunk at the time of his capture, but when Officer Evans told him the nature of the complaint to which he would have to answer, he seemed sobered and staggered at once.

"Catharine ain't dead, is she?" he asked.

The officer told him that she was, and led him off to the station house.

"My God, my God, what shall I do!" said Maxwell, and then he stoutly denied having been instrumental in the death of his wife.

Officer Evans told him that his best policy was to say as little about the matter as he could, and he was then locked up.

The Tragedy

The Maxwells came to live at 299 Nevins street, about three months ago. The other inmates of the house soon found out about their intemperate habits, and were considerably annoyed and disturbed by their frequent nocturnal quarrellings. From what can be learned all the money that Maxwell got was spent in liquor, and the children barely received the necessities of life, in fact they had to depend more upon the generosity of the neighbors than upon their dissipated parents. Maxwell was a peddler of tea, and earned but a precarious livelihood. At such times as the pair were under the influence of liquor, they are said to have been very violent and abusive; Mrs. Maxwell especially would use such vile and indecent language, that even the men who heard her were shocked. She seemed to have lost all respect for herself, and would not hesitate to take the first thing that came to her hand and belabor her husband most unmercifully if she could get the upper hand of him, and he stuck, beat and kicked her as though she was a man instead of a woman. Singularly enough that while the couple were almost devils when drunk, they were very quiet and peaceable when sober, and whether under the influence of liquor or not they were never known to cause any disturbance among their neighbors. When they quarreled it was in their own rooms and alone, they never invaded the premises of the other tenants. last Monday Maxwell came home very much the worse for liquor. His wife was lying on the bed at the time and was also intoxicated. The neighbors heard them quarrelling, and shortly after a scuffle and the sound of blows was heard. This lasted for about ten minutes and then all was quiet. The neighbors had become so habituated to the sound of words and blows in the apartments of the Maxwells, that they did not pay any attention tot his particular quarrel. Maxwell since then has been under the influence of liquor, but nothing seems to have been seen of his wife. Yesterday morning the young man, James O'Donnell, was passing down the stairs to go out of the house, and the door of the Maxwell's room happened to be open. As he passed he looked in and saw Mrs. Maxwell sitting on a chair. She was groaning loud and O'Donnell saw THE FEARFUL CONDITION OF HER FACE, still he did not like to interfere, and went out of the house merely remarking that Maxwell must have used more than his ordinary violence on his wife. About half-past two O'Donnell returned, and on going up stairs he saw the door of the Maxwell's room still open, but Mrs. Maxwell was half on and half off the chair, her head and arms hung listless, and O'Donnell supposed that she was in a swoon, he then went in and found her dead. He at once gave the alarm as has been stated, and this was followed by the arrest of Maxwell.

This evening an Eagle reporter called on Maxwell, in cell No. 12 at the jail, and the following interview occurred:

In answer to the reporter's first question he said: "It's a bad business this drinking, and I'm sorry that either she or I ever got to touching a drop of liquor, we might both have been doing well today."

REPORTER__This row that you had on last Monday yesterday week was that the last time that you struck your wife?

MAXWELL__Yes, sir, as well as I can remember it was lat Monday; I know it was the beginning of last week, but I don't remember the day; she struck me first, see here (showing a scar on the top of his head), that's what she did with the teapot.

REPORTER__ What were you quarreling about?

MAXWELL__I was drunk when I came home, and so was she, and she wanted to get more liquor, and I wouldn't give her any money; I didn't have any to give her any way, and then the row commenced, and she struck me.

REPORTER__Well, how do you account for her arm being broken?

MAXWELL__I don't know; she must have done it when she fell over the stove.

REPORTER__Did you strike her with anything except your fist?

MAXWELL__No, I did not; when she struck me with the tea pot I hit her with my fist and knocked her down, and she fell over the stove, as that's the way she must have got it; I know her arm was hurt because she bandaged it up last week.

REPORTER__Did she tell you it was broke?

MAXWELL__No; she never said anything to me about it at all.

REPORTER__Were you in the house yesterday?

MAXWELL__Of course I was, and she never said anything to me about being bad. I did not leave the house till two o'clock, and I could not believe that she had died since I saw her. You see it's over a week ago since I hit her, and now that she is dead, it must be from her liquor drinking.

REPORTER__But you must have seen that she was very badly hurt for her face and body bore unmistakable evidence of that fact.

MAXWELL__Well she never said anything to me.

What Came Of Going With Captains Wives.'

REPORTER__How long has your wife been in the habit of drinking liquor?

MAXWELL__I'll tell you; before I went to Liverpool she was the nicest woman you ever saw. I am a dry goods man by trade, and was for fifteen years a clerk in one store in Glasgow. I was born in Glasgow and got married there. I saved up about L4,000, and in 1860 I went down to Liverpool and put my money in the dry goods business. I had a nice store in Church street, and for a time did pretty well. But I guess when I was my own boss I got a little loose, and then the effect of the American War ultimately ruined me. At this time my wife got acquainted with some sea captains' wives who lived near where we did, and she used to call on them and there got into the habit of drinking toddies. She acquired a liking for it, and I always drank but never like I have done lately. After I failed in Liverpool I came here and I've been living from hand to mouth ever since. The whole story is liquor; rum was at the bottom of all my troubles.

Maxwell spoke very affectionately of his wife, said that when she was sober she was one of the nicest women that ever lived, etc., he frequently cried in the course of his narrative, and seems to feel his position keenly.

He is about thirty-five years old, a very intelligent man, and speaks with a pleasant Scotch accent.

Coroner Simms committed him to jail t his morning, to await the result of the inquest. The body of the murdered woman is at the Morgue, and there Dr. Shepard will make a post mortem examination this afternoon. The two children, now being cared for by the tenants of 299 Nevins Street, will ultimately be sent to an Asylum.


Website: The History
Article Name: Murder: Story of Dissipation, Quarreling and Death 1875
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle August 10, 1875
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