Dateline: Boulder Island, Missouri
October 11, 1893
The St. Charles COSMOS
An Old Man Slain–Tied in a Sack–Weighted Down
and Thrown in the River
“Murder will out” is an old saw that is constantly being verified. The evidence of a most dastardly murder were revealed last Saturday by an inquest held by Coroner S. R. Johnson. The Coroner was accompanied by the Prosecuting Attorney who took notes of the testimony and Undertaker Dallmeyer who interred the corpse.
The body of a man about 50 years old was found near the head of the Boalter Island last Thursday, by Dave Styers and Tony Brock, two fishermen. Boalter Island or Boulder island is in the Mississippi River west of north of St. Charles.
The men observed a sack in the shallow water of the slough and pulling it in so as to get better inspection found that it enclosed the upper half of the body of a dead man. Following the prevailing but mistaken idea that the dead body cannot be disturbed until the arrival of the coroner the fishermen let the body alone and coming into town Friday reported the ghastly find. The coroner went out Saturday, as stated and the revelation of the evidence and testimony were shocking.
The old man had been shot in the head by a 22 calibre rifle ball and the back of his head crushed with some blunt instrument. The knees were tied together and a rock tied to the end of the rope. About the neck was another rope with a fifty pound rock attached. A gunny sack was pulled over the head and tied about the waist. The body emitted a stifling odor. The dead man was described as being 5 feet 8 inches, light complexion, 55 years old, a German, dark hair, light moustache. On the left arm there was tattooed a rose in full bloom with two leaves. On the right arm was tattooed a heart with the figure or letter “L”. He was evidently a member of the G. A. R. Had on a blue vest with army buttons and had on an army badge. Among the few articles found in his pocket was a small paper having on it the card of M. B. Curtis, fish dealers, St. Louis, Mo., and written in lead pencil the name of Joe Taylor.
The deceased in company with a man named “Joe” came down from Quincy so it was thought, about two weeks before the discovery of the tragedy. The “old man” as he was called and “Joe” fished and were fairly successful. They sold fish to the fisherman about and must have made a little money.
A week or so after these two men struck camp at the head of Boulder island another party came down consisting of a man, woman and two children, aged 13 and 15. This party joined the two men. The old man did not have much regard for the new arrivals whom it is also supposed came from near Quincy. It is thought the old man must have had about twenty-five dollars about his person at the time of the disappearance. He was also to have gone soon to Grafton, Ill., to forward pension papers when it is said he remarked he would have plenty of money.
On the night of September 25th shooting was heard about the camp. The next day the camp was deserted and all the camp outfit including the property of the old man had disappeared.
The coroner’s jury rendered a verdict declaring that the old man, name unknown, had come to his death from a rifle shot through the head and by being struck on the back of the head with some blunt instrument, both wounds inflicted by a man named “Joe” and an unknown man.
The unknown man is described as dark complexioned, 45 years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, 155 to 160 pounds, soft hat, roughly dressed, black beard of two or three weeks growth, black moustache, leaned a little.
“Joe” is described as 5 feet 2 inches, 165 pounds, about 20 years, few scattering sandy whiskers, stout build, went bare feet a good deal.
The skiffs are described as follows: The large one is red, about 23 feet long, small tank near stern, three sets of oar locks. Another skiff was white with black rim, two sets of swivels, a strip skiff man in yawl fashion. The third skiff was brownish red, about 18 to 20 feet long with stern seat low.
The dead man was last seen alive on September 25th at 8 p.m. at the house of James Carpenter and in the company of the man “Joe”.
Sheriff Steiner has sent telegrams to various points below and he feels assured that the party will be captured soon. Several fishermen living near the island think they know the names of the men wanted and think they could locate them but they are not disposed to do so unless there is what they consider a sufficient reward offered. A reward of $60 has been offered for the capture of the men.
Dateline: St. Charles, Missouri
March 13, 1895
The St. Charles COSMOS
Joseph Pente, Sometimes Called Corbett, Receives a Sentence
of 45 Years in the Penitentiary
for the Murder of Zude Gilbert
The Boulder Island Tragedy of 1893 Investigated Before Court and Jury
The Case Against Frank Williams Called Monday
The jury in the case of the State against Joseph Pente, sometimes called Corbett, rendered a verdict, Saturday night last, of murder in the second degree and assessed his punishment at forty-five years in the penitentiary. The attorneys for the defense made a hard fight and had some very hard and stubborn evidence to combat by argument. The prisoner was the only witness for the defense and he admitted the killing of Gilbert, but claimed that Williams did the deed while he only looked on powerless to prevent. It was a bloody recital and at times made even the blood of the most hardened court rounder run cold. The recital by the prisoner, left room for doubt as to his having taken an active hand in the killing and the attorneys worked on this feature of the case with effect. The arguments on both sides covered all the points and were examined.
In the fall of 1893, the body of one Zude Gilbert, and old soldier was found in the water of the Mississippi river, near the shoulder of Boulder Island. The shocking details of finding the body tied in a sack and its swollen and decomposed condition; the inquest; the capture of the alleged murderers have all been published. It was a terrible tragedy and it was believed at the time that the old man had been murdered for his money.
Gilbert, the deceased and the persons who were charged with the guilt of taking off lived in a colony on the island and were supposed to make their living by fishing. The morning after the night that the shooting was heard, the two men and the woman and her daughters who composed the remaining members of the colony disappeared. It was first thought that they had succeeded in escaping the officers of the law, as for a long time nothing was heard of them. Finally, however, Joseph Corbett, Mrs. Lulu Taylor and Frank Williams were arrested for the murder of the old man. The woman was not held. The grand jury found indictments against the men and the Corbett case commenced Thursday afternoon. On this day a panel of forty was selected to try Williams and the men were not discharged until Monday. Corbett was represented by Messrs. William and Daudt and Judge Edwards. The state was represented by Prosecuting Attorney, T. C. Bruere.
The jury selected to sit in the case was composed of the following gentlemen: J. H. Schneider, John Tiedemann, R. H. Pitman, John Morris, Conrad Barthold, Paul Yahn, Wm. Meiser, George Ferber, Phil Vierling, Charles Magerkort, G. W. Fellner. The prisoner is a stout young fellow about twenty-three years of age.
Dr. S. R. Johnson, was coroner of St. Charles county at the time of finding Gilbert’s body and he held the inquest. Dr. Johnson told of holding the post mortem and described the gunshot wounds on the body of the deceased and also the wounds supposed to have been caused by some blunt instrument. The verdict of the coroner’s jury was in the effect that deceased came to his death from a gun shot wound and a blunt instrument in the hands of unknown parties one of whom answered to the name of “Joe”. Undertaker Dallmeyer testified in regard to the interment of the body. Witnesses Styers and Brock stated that Zude Gilbert and Corbett lived together in a tent on the island. They also identified prisoner as Corbett. On Friday morning when court opened George L. Anderson, surveyor, testified to the topography of Boulder island and vicinity.
Theodore De Sherlia said he had occasionally visited the island and saw the deceased and Corbett there. Witness and another fisherman discovered the body and at once hastened to town and notified the coroner of the ghastly find.
John Bobb, a fisherman residing in Calhoun County, Ill, had visited the Boulder island camp a number of times before the tragedy. Gilbert and Corbett were always together. Had seen a .22 calibre Winchester rifle in the tent. Saw Corbett, Williams and three women at Grafton on the 28th of September. Corbett in rely to a query said the old soldier was camping with another man. Prisoner tried to sell witness the rifle. Last time witness saw the soldier alive was on the 23rd. The party seemed to be in a hurry and started down the river. George Robbins said he saw the deceased Gilbert and the prisoner together on September 25. The rocks that had been used to sink the body were brought to town and turned over to L. H. Breker, who was then Prosecuting Attorney of St. Charles County. An ax found on the island was in a battered condition presumably from braking rocks. Saw Corbett, Williams and the women leave Point landing in three skiffs.
Mrs. Lulu Williams testified that she heard a gun shot on the fatal night and saw Corbett drag the soldier’s body from the tent and Williams placed the limp body of Zude Gilbert on the shoulders of the prisoner. The latter carried the body to a skiff, they weighted the corpse with rocks. Corbett pulled the skiff out into the slough. The two men lifted up the limp body and let it fall into the slough. The witness testimony as she rehearsed these sickening details, was listened to with the closest attention. The witness said she, Frank Williams and her two daughters were camped above Boulder island up to September 23. Corbett came to the witness’ camp and said he would get rid of Gilbert and requested Williams to move down. They went to Gilbert and Corbett’s camp on the 25th of September. Gilbert bought fish from Williams and paid five dollars and over which still left him some money. Witness and Williams retired about 8 o’clock; a little later she heard the gun shot. Then, what she saw is related above.
Dan Osborne testified to the friendly relation between Gilbert and Corbett.
Joseph Newberry, raft pilot, met Williams and Corbett at Beck’s landing on September 23. He met Corbett before at Clarksville; had known Williams about two years; Gilbert told witnesses about some trouble with the Taylor woman. Deceased said that the woman had spoken of trouble she had had with Williams. Shortly after the woman’s arrival, Williams was seen coming and, so deceased stated, the woman proposed to shoot Williams. Deceased objected to this and the trouble smoothed over.
James Carpenter had met Gilbert and Corbett several weeks before the murder; had traded deceased a skiff and $8 for a rifle and fifty pounds of fish, but, did not pay the money then as Gilbert did not want it. On evening of Sept. 25, Corbett and Gilbert, came to witness’ house and remained until about 8 o’clock. Next day (after murder) Corbett came to witness house and collected the money and Corbett said that Gilbert had gone to Grafton.
H. Breker, who was Prosecuting attorney at the time of the tragedy said the rocks that served to anchor the sack containing the body of deceased had been brought to town and placed in charge of John Steiner who was then Sheriff of St. Charles county. He also testified to the written statements that Corbett and Mrs. Williams had made to him, the witness. These statements were strong against the defendant. All evidence that Mr. Breker had secured in the case had turned over to Mr. Bruere, who now holds the office of Prosecuting Attorney of St. Charles County.
THE PRISONER ON THE STAND
By far the most thrilling incident of the trial was the testimony of the prisoner. He does not look like the murderer that the imagination usually pictures. After stating that his name was Joseph Pente and that sometimes he was called Corbett; he said his home was in San Dorus, Ill. The dead man had lived in the same town and witness had known him intimately about ten years. Deceased was a painter by trade and had a wife and several stepchildren living in Illinois. In July 1893, Gilbert and witness decided to take another trip. Went to Hannibal, bought a fishing and camping outfit. Witness had 17 dollars. Both had rifles. We met Williams and the Taylor woman near Clarksville. A man named Bill White or Hall also, had met up with the party again. Hall finally left on account of a fuss with Gilbert. A stop of two weeks was made at Sterling Island. It was here Gilbert followed in a skiff and got the pants. Two days after the others had left, Gilbert and witness went to Boulder Island, where by stayed two weeks and a half. Coming down to the night of the murder, witness said that he and Gilbert came in from Point landing about eight o’clock; Williams was at the bank, near the camp and Williams and Gilbert commenced to fuss, Williams accusing Gilbert and Corbett of stealing nets and the lie passed. Gilbert stooped down as if to pick up a hatchet when Williams grabbed witness’ gun and shot Gilbert. Witness jumped up from where he was sitting and said “Great God, what have you done?” Williams told witness he must keep still as one was as deep into the killing as the other. Witness was commanded to get a sack, which he did, and Williams put the body in the sack, while Corbett held it open. Corbett carried the body part of the way to the river; Williams carried it the rest of the way. The sack was weighted with rocks and Williams laid the body across the stern of the skiff, rowed out and dropped the corpse in the water. Next morning at suggestion of Williams the party went down the river. The prisoner’s story was closely listened to and he stood the cross examination better than expected.
WILLIAMS ON TRIAL
On Monday morning the following jurymen were selected for the case of the state against Frank Williams alias Rice: W. F. Hammerle, Lorenz M. Fuhr, Charles Spannaus, Henry Struckhoff, Alf Nahm, James White, Fred Kuester, E. H. Waulker, H. H. Barklage, John Koelling, Arnold C. Hoefner, John Meier. The indictment for murder in the first degree for the killing of Zude Gilbert on Boulder Island in the fall of ’93. The Prosecuting Attorney, as is usual, made an opening address to the jury. T. S. Cunningham for the defense stated to the jury that his client would make a case of self defense in the slaying of Gilbert. The testimony in the case was commenced Monday afternoon. The evidence was in and the arguments commenced yesterday afternoon.
About 3 o’clock, Attorney Cunningham commenced his argument to the jury and he dwelt a good deal on the unreliability of the testimony of the Taylor woman. The speeches of both, Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Bruere were listened to by a crowded court room. A good deal of testimony was not materially different from that in the Corbett case.
The defendant, Frank Williams was put on the stand and he swore that he killed Gilbert while he, Gilbert was stooping down to pick up an ax. He said just as Gilbert’s hand was touching the handle of the ax that he, witness, grabbed Corbett’s gun and fired the fatal shot. They were about 8 feet apart when the fatal shot was fired. The rest of the story was about as told by Corbett.
The Judge gave instructions in the various degrees of homicide down to manslaughter in the second degree. Mrs. Lulu Williams, “the woman in the case”, was also a principal witness in the case against Williams. She related what she had seen in regard to the men carrying the body in a sack, which story has already been told. The woman says she is about 38 years old; born in Stoddard County, Mo., her husband died 2 year ago from drink; next married a man named Linder; after three months she left with one John Tillot for Clarkesville, went to cook for a man named Vohn Puhl in Illinois and there she met Williams. After him her life brings her down to the events connecting her with the Boulder Island tragedy. The case was given to the jury late yesterday evening.